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"Mystaraizing" the Savage Tide: Here There Be Monstersby David Keyser
This adventure appears in Dungeon Magazine #142, the fourth adventure of the Savage Tide AP, and the first adventure on the Isle of Dread.
Going back to review X1 The Isle of Dread, I can appreciate just how much effort Paizo writers and editors made to keep their 3.5 adaptation true to the original module. The original X1 featured a sandbox campaign on an island with a Lost World theme. You have both dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals and birds featured in either fixed encounters or wandering monster tables(or both). You also get a hodgepodge of new races that live in small enclaves on this island who are introduced for the first time to D&D including the aranea, kopru, phanatons, and rakasta. Odd to think of all these races as making their first appearance at the very same time as D&D Known World countries like Thyatis, Glantri, Ylaruam, Rockhome.
The original X1 could be played in any number of ways, I suspect the default for many of us was first a visit to the peaceful natives on the southeastern peninsula followed by a typical mapping hex-crawl to explore the island in order to find all the major encounters and then a treasure hunt in the lost city on the center of the island. One page has some alternative suggestions, but the cover artwork of X1 suggested another possible starting point..both the blue and orange covers depict a party arriving on the island from the sea only to encounter a Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Or is that an Allosaur on the blue cover?)
So this adventure in the Savage Tide AP takes that latter theme and runs with it. Shipwrecked off the coast and without support, the PCs and surviving NPCs have to hike it down the east coast of the island. First encounter on the Isle of Dread is a hungry TRex. An excellent choice.
In preparation for this writeup I went through all the fixed monster encounters and the wandering monster tables in the original X1 in order to compare the original to the monsters used in this AP. I will leave the full details of that analysis for the next adventure where Paizo put in their own random encounter tables, but I will go through some of the choices made for the planned encounters in this adventure.
First, however, you need to be prepared in case your PCs decide to sit tight on the beach and wait for rescue. It is possible through sending spells or other magic that the party is in touch with Lavinia, whose Blue Nixie should be arriving or have already arrived at Farshore.
There apparently was something written up about this by the author of the adventure, but it got cut for lack of space. I would recommend Lavinia giving them a report of a badly damaged Blue Nixie limping into Farshore at the time they reach her, but asking them to try and make their way south to get closer while repairs are made. If Lavinia already knows about Emraag the Dragon Turtle, that is even more of a reason to start moving. (Aside, I plan to put a recommendation about an Emraag appearance at the end of Sea Wyvern's Wake, see that thread for details in the future.)
So assuming the players do take the planned route...
The beach and jungle the PCs must enter on the way to the mountains are the hunting grounds of a monster from the 3.0 Fiend Folio called Terror Birds. Sure enough, they made an appearance in the original X1 as Phorohacos or "Sword Beak" in the wandering monster tables and in the monster appendix at the back. The PCs will likely know the name terror bird from Isle of Dread ecology notes that they helped Lavinia recover from the Vanderboren vault in the first adventure of this AP, but for fun you have the NPC Urol Forol insist that the proper term is Sword Beak. Or maybe Axe Beak, at some point it got changed in one of the Creature Catalogs.
Most of the remaining encounters in this adventure include appropriate monsters which showed up in X1 somewhere, whether it be from fixed locations(the gargoyles from the aerie on the vulture-head east peninsula), or wandering monster tables(you can roll up to 3 mummies appearing on Wandering Monster Table 1 from the orange X1). Of those few that aren't in the original material we have a mix of classic D&D monsters(like the black pudding) and others which appear in Mystara fan material(like the spirit naga).
So there really isn't a need to change much in this adventure, and as it stands it captures both the X1 feel and a feel of being part of Mystara. But I will still make a couple of small tweaks, the first one being the aranea encounter, which I will detail in my next post.
It was an interesting choice to make the only set encounter with aranea in the Savage Tide AP be a role-play opportunity instead of a standard fight. I am happy with the encounter itself, although I am unhappy with how aranea got converted to 3rd Edition D&D, something that wasn't Paizo's fault.
It was an innocent mistake, someone simply found the 2E AD&D stats for aranea in the Savage Coast Monster Appendix and updated the monster for 3E in the Monster Manual. Unfortunately what they didn't know is that the orginal aranea was never a shapechanger...that was specific to aranea from Herath who are native to the Savage Coast.
That idea came from Bruce Heard during his Princess Ark series, but aranea elsewhere in Mystara lacked such magic. Aranea living in subterranean regions bordering Shadowelf lands, the Isle of Dawn, and, of course the Isle of Dread. The non-shapeshifting aranea 2E version is in the Monstrous Compendium Mystara Appendix, but apparently that was overlooked.
So this encounter has the PCs meet an aranea in human form, surrounded by spiders, who is interested in talking. They most likely won't realize she herself is a spider until she leaves.
Well, IMO, any encounter with aranea on the Isle of Dread needs to be done in spider form only. So despite the fact that this increases the likelihood your PCs will start fighting first and asking questions later, here is a version of Lithira who is a spider-only aranea. Instead of using the 3.5 Monster Manual's baseline, I have used the Pathfinder version of an aranea, which essentially advances an aranea two extra hit dice and caster levels as a magical beast.
I then added two more levels of sorcerer to her in order to give her access to 3rd level magic including the tongues spell. She will cast that first in order to properly communicate with PCs, to make it a little easier to have this be a non-combat encounter as intended. If you prefer the 3.5 Monster Manual version, you can just add 3-4 levels of sorcerer instead of two.
Since she is described as old, I applied the middle and old age stat modifiers. Thus her Str, Dex and Con are at -3 and Int, Wis, and Cha are at +2. I am not sure if an Int bonus retroactively applies to past levels for skills but I went ahead and gave her an extra +5 skill points for her 5HD and +8 skill points for the two sorcerer levels.
The following box text can be used as they approach the clearing in the center of the ruins where the aranea and spiders are to be found. Aside: I am not sure if aranea were ever officially given a power to control or at least direct spiders and giant spiders, but that seems to always be a universal assumption by game writers that use them...starting with GAZ13.
As you approach the center, you see a throne made of webs and bone. A spider the size of a small pony clings to the throne, its greenish-brown body extending over the back rest even as its front legs crouch in the seat. A massive odd-shaped lump is notable on its back, something you have not ever seen on a spider before. It moves its front limbs, and you realize they end in flexible digits...almost like fingers!
A spellcraft check with a -2 penalty will tell a PC with the skill that a tongues spell is being cast.
Assuming conversation is opened, the PCs hear the aranea with the voice of an old woman. It is likely she is aware of Thyatian incursions to the island, so instead of saying "I have not seen your like in an age.", she might say, "I have not seen your like in a generation." or "40/80 seasons", instead of generation.
Aranea 2nd level sorceror
AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 17 (+4 armor, +2 Dex, +3 natural)
Hit Dice (5d10) + (2d4) hp 38
Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +8
Str 8, Dex 14, Con 11, Int 16, Wis 15, Cha 18
BAB +7, Grp +6
Attack Bite +8(d6-1 plus poison) or web (+8 ranged, DC 14, hp 5)
Feats: Eschew Materials, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Weapon Finesse(bite), Improved Counterspell
Skills: Climb +13, Concentration +10, Escape Artist +7, Jump +12, Knowledge(arcana) +8, Listen +7, Spot +7
Sorcerer Spells (CL 7th)
3rd (5/day) - Hold Person(DC 17), Tongues
2nd (7/day) - Blur, Invisibility, Mirror Image
1st (7/day) - Charm Person (DC 15), Color Spray(DC 15), Mage Armor (1 already cast), Silent Image (DC 15), Sleep (DC 15)
0th (7/day) - Daze (DC 14), Detect Magic, Flare(DC 14), Ghost Sound (DC 14), Light, Mage Hand, Resistance
Should combat begin Lithira will favor Hold Person and should she paralyze all the PCs she will start (a one-sided) conversation again, while allowing her spiders to climb all over them in order to make them sweat.
In addition to Lithira's spider companions, she also has a bugbear bodyguard. The original X1 had bugbears and aranea as friendly, with bugbears patrolling the ground below the aranea web lairs. Nowhere else on Mystara can bugbears be found having cordial relationships with aranea, so next is a little historical background on how bugbears came to the Isle of Dread and why they have partnered with aranea.
In the year 827AC, a high-ranking Hulean military official returned from Davania with a calculated plan. The city of Sasserine had always been able to withstand assaults by Hulean/Garganin naval and land forces, in large part due to its defensive fortifications. But this official had observed that its plantations and farms outside the city were much more vulnerable, albeit difficult to reach due to the surrounding swamp and jungle.
For the next five years, Hule embarked on an unprecedented and extensive military training program, recruiting the most aggressive and warlike bugbears that lived in the nation. Despite this being the period of the "Long Conquest" enough gold and resources were provided such that several large companies of bugbears, nearly a thousand in total, were able to complete the program. Taking advantage of a bugbear's natural stealth, they were now trained to survive in jungle and swamp terrain, as well as guerrilla warfare tactics.
A small fleet of ships was assembled to transport these bugbears first to Garganin, and from there to the jungles near Sasserine. There the bugbears would begin launching small scale attacks on vulnerable Sasserine targets as well as build alliances with local frogmen. They would work to bleed Sasserine by a thousand small cuts until the next major Hulean assault on the city could be conducted.
But the meticulous plan came to nothing when the small fleet was nearly annihilated by a fierce storm as it crossed the Sea of Dread. Only three shattered ships survived, the rest lost with all hands. The remaining ships were lashed together and the survivors floated in the sea for two weeks. Eventually the human sailors were eaten, along with some of the weakest bugbears.
The ships washed ashore on the Isle of Dread. The numerous dangers of the island took a further toll on the survivors, but their training, size and abilities allowed them to persevere. Eventually the bugbears came into contact with the aranea, and soon an accord was reached. The aranea are the dominant partners in this alliance, occasionally even using the bugbears as a food source, but overall this alliance has allowed both races to prosper and survive.
The bugbears have lost most of their Hulean culture, they even allow the aranea to name their young.
Bugbear 2nd level rogue/1st level ranger
AC 16, touch 11, flat-footed 15 (+1 Dex, +3 natural, +2 leather armor)
Hit Dice: 3d8+3 + 3d6 +3
Fort +5, Ref +9, Will +3
Str 15, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 9
BAB +4, Grp +6
Attack Morningstar +6 melee (d8+2) or Composite Longbow +7 ranged (d6+2)
Feats: Alertness, Weapon Focus(Longbow), Track, Iron Will
Skills: Climb +5, Disable Device +6, Hide +11, Knowledge(nature) +2, Move Silently +11, Survival +4, Listen +4, Spot +4
Special: Sneak attack + 1d6, trap finding, evasion, wild empathy
Favored enemy: Animals
Thuraniran was assigned to Lithira when he was a young whelp. He started as a hunter and eventually became her most trusted bodyguard. When Lithira was exiled he chose to follow her rather than abandon her, and continues to serve as her protector and companion.
Thuraniran is well-hidden thirty feet away and currently has his bow trained on the party. He will not fire unless Lithira is attacked directly. Should this happen his first shot will target a PC who is flatfooted, preferably a spellcaster. He will then switch targets to any animal companions among the party before continuing to target spellcasters.
Should the party detect him while conversing with Lithira he will reluctantly emerge from his hiding spot to stand near Lithira while remaining silent.
The final major location in this adventure is a shrine dedicated to Demogorgon. A couple of encounters in that shrine will get some further treatment.
Mob of Fiendish Rock Baboons
In the shrine there is a clan of fiendish baboons which attack as a mob, and while the Savage Tide AP mentions rock baboons elsewhere on the Isle of Dread, Paizo didn't distinguish them at all from normal baboons in the Monster Manual. So in the shrine they applied the fiendish template to the standard baboon from the Monster Manual, then made them a mob, rules for which are found in the 3.5 DMG II.
Rock baboons did feature in the original Isle of Dread, so let's upgrade this clan.
Upgrading the fiendish baboons to fiendish rock baboons doesn't significantly increase the power of the mob, as mob rules make a number of stats fixed, including number of creatures(48), hit dice(30). base attack bonus(+22) and Wisdom(10). So using the baseline stats for a rock baboon from Pandius, we modify the remaining part of the stat block as follows...
Strength increases by 1 to 16
Constitution increases by 2 to 14
Fort save increases by 1 to +19
Grapple increases by 1 to +37
Climb increases by 1 to +11
Listen increases by 1 to +5
Trample now does 2d6+4 points of damage
Everything else is the same. You could up the 165 hit points of the mob to take into account rock baboons have an extra hit dice compared to ordinary baboons, make it say 195 or 225 hp. But be careful especially if the players have never fought a mob or swarm before as this encounter has resulted in at least one TPK for a group playing the campaign.
According to the DMG II mob rules, once the mob is taken down to 0hp the mob is broken with 60% casualties, half of those 60% dead and the other half at 0hp. That leaves about 19 fiendish rock baboons with some hit points left that could continue the fight as individuals if you are so inclined. Slap the fiendish template onto the 3.5 stats at the link above and you are good to go.
For anyone using BECMI/RC D&D, there is a precedent for something like the mob rules in the adventure module M5 Talons of Night. So a rough conversion to BECMI/RC D&D could be done as follows-
Take this mob and break it into 4 squads of 11-12 rock baboons each. Each squad attacks as a HD monster of the total hit dice of all the rock baboons remaining in the squad. So 11 rock baboons would attack as a 22 HD monster. Assign a penalty to the to hit roll to take into account the baboons are feral and uncoordinated. A -4 or -6 to hit would be good. A -4 to hit means that each attack by the squad has a Thaco of 8, meaning an attack hits AC0 on an 8 or higher.
Importantly each baboon squad has to roll a dice for their effective number of attacks each round. That die has to be the same size or smaller than the number of baboons in the squad minus the leader. So an 11 baboon squad will roll d10 for their number of attacks each round. When one baboon is killed, that squad now rolls a d8, and so on until there are no more than 4-5 baboon left in which case they fight as individuals, or split up and buttress the remaining squads.
At full strength with four squads, the baboons will be able to make roughly 22 club attacks and 22 bite attacks each round doing d6 and d3 hp of damage respectively for each hit. Assuming they hit 60% of the time, that translates to about 65hp of damage per round in total. This will naturally be divided up as squads split up to attack different characters. Use those numbers as a baseline and adjust according to your party's strength.
Another encounter in the shrine is Ilzytik the spirit naga.
I wouldn't consider a spirit naga native to the Isle of Dread, but spirit nagas are native to Ochalea, so let's give her a name change and some background as to how she came to the island.
Shek Xingjuan served a powerful evil spirit in Ochalea who moves among human society undetected. Serving him as his foremost assassin, Shek's skills were instrumental in building and maintaining his power. Devoted and loyal to him, she regarded her relationship as something more than just servant and master.
His last assignment for her was to put to death a sea merchant and his closest companions when they were far away from Ochalea. She stowed away on their ship and completed the murders soon after the ship arrived at the Thanegioth Archipelago. She had been told a one charge teleportation helm would then transport her back home safely, but to her shock the device did not function. She barely escaped the ship with her life, feeling rage and despair over being abandoned to fate.
She began to wander the islands, eventually making her way to the Isle of Dread, in hopes of finding new allies who could eventually help her achieve revenge. Only able to make contact with the exile Olangru so far, she bides her time hoping to achieve greater power through Demogorgon and his minions.
As part of her tactics, the text of the adventure says, "Once alerted, she casts disguise self, changing her appearance to that of a zombie naga so as to trick opponents into underestimating her."
I never heard of a "zombie naga". I do know of a bone naga which is an undead type of naga. I think the author meant applying the zombie template to a naga, which technically is a "naga zombie". Considering that most PCs will not have encountered a naga before I am not sure how they are supposed to underestimate the naga zombie. But I do see this tactic being useful if she can get the PC cleric to waste a round turning undead and possibly another PC throwing something only effective against undead at her.
A brief comment on demons or fiends
The masters of the shrine in this adventure are the first significant demons in the Savage Tide campaign. Although in the second adventure, The Bullywug Gambit, a frogman priest is capable of summoning dretches if he gets lucky. The demons here are bar-lguras and designed to be a powerful challenge for 8th level characters. This fits with earlier editions of AD&D and how Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms portrayed demons.
But the perspective on demons/fiends for Mystara was quite different due to the rule set, where there needed to be challenges for 30+ level characters and Immortal-level PCs. In the Master level modules there were a couple of demon Immortals that could be killed by a very high level party wielding at least one artifact. In the Immortals box set the demons got a power boost being Immortals themselves, a major "tribe" in the Sphere of Entropy, able to go toe to toe with Immortal PCs. This put them out of reach of mortals except in the most unusual circumstances, such as the use of truenames(see the box set itself for details).
Much later, the Wrath of the Immortals box set pushed these demons down a bit to "Lesser Fiends" who are Exalted creatures, a level between Immortals and mortals. These exalted demons still have access to enough power points to gain 36th level spell-casting however. It was possible to take down an exalted lesser fiend if you won initiative and put enough damage on it before it could cast something...since their hit points weren't too high. But otherwise an Exalted demon played intelligently is likely to lead to a TPK for most mortal parties. Banning certain spells, such as timestop shenanigans, will of course dramatically change probability outcomes.
Regardless, if you look through all the products for Mystara you can find hints at the assumption that there really are hordes of lesser/least demons in the Abyss that don't even reach the level of Exalted. Mostly I would chalk that up to the built in assumptions of writers that were drawing on D&D general lore. In GAZ3 there is a beautiful wizardess who offers to marry the man who can kill the demon that scarred her face, that goal is supposed to be achievable in theory.
In any case, should you adhere to the original Immortals box set cosmology or Wrath of the Immortals cosmology, or a mixture between the two, you need to figure out what you are going to do. IMO, there certainly is room for "standard" demons that make up most of the hordes in the Abyss. I am playing with that assumption, along with the idea that some of the demons have achieved exalted status making for exceptionally powerful vrocks or succubi, just to provide two examples. And there are also some greater fiends which still keep their classic form they had as a "standard" demon.
If you prefer to come up with a completely different explanation, Bruce Heard and Havard discuss this a bit here which may give you something to work with ...
While it has been awhile since I made a Savage Tide post on The Piazza, my campaign is still ongoing. In case you are interested in my conversion work and are otherwise unaware of it, you can find both CRichardDavies and my Mystara conversion notes in Threshold Magazine #4. All of my efforts for converting Savage Tide's first eight adventures, as well as Dungeon Magazine #114's Isle of Dread adventure, went into that article and issue.
But as I continue to play through the campaign, I am making changes and new additions here and there, so I decided to revive these threads to add some additional pieces which might be of use to others.
First up is the Shrine to Demogoron which forms the last major encounter area in Here There Be Monsters. Specifically Location 7, The Shrine of Duplicity. The encounter itself caused a significant number of problems for numerous campaigns, because it combines a magical trap with a magical portal you need to enter to continue on to the rest of the shrine.
In my campaign, one of the players was a mixed wizard/rogue who was working on making the transition to arcane trickster. Since he combined the trap finding skills of a rogue with the spellcraft proficiency of a wizard, I came up with the following table he could use once he detected the trap as well as the enchantments in the room.
Should a PC with the Spellcraft skill find the trap after searching, they may make a Spellcraft check to determine how the magical trap interacts with the suspected magical portal in the chamber...
Spellcraft 15 - The trap and the portal are linked such that you have to set off the trap in order to activate the portal.
Spellcraft 20 - Both mirrors must be activated in order to use the portal.
Spellcraft 25 - The trap itself is linked to a compulsion effect.
Spellcraft 30 - There is a secondary trap on the candles with an evocation effect.
Spellcraft 35 or 40 - You figure out the correct sequence to activate both trap and portal.
This next encounter can be placed anywhere in Part Three: Cliffs of Dread. I found the section a bit sparse so I added the following haunt. Haunts weren't part of the 3.5 D&D rules, but a later addition by Paizo once they started producing their own adventure paths. Haunts easily work with 3.5 though.
You can read the mechanics of haunts here, and I will describe it according to their table.
Name: Oltec village despair CR 5
The PCs come upon another abandoned collection of Oltec huts with a few canoes nearby as night approaches. The trail up this point is along a beach but at the village the beach ends and the trail ascends some sixty feet until it reaches another well-trod path overlooking the sea. Soon after dusk, the haunt activates, replaying the final fate of this Oltec settlement when the gargoyles of the aerie attacked.
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Area: 40-ft radius(focused on shrine above the village)
Caster Level: 5th
Notice: Listen DC 20 (to hear a faint high-pitched keening)
Reset: 1 day
The haunt begins with ghostly images of Oltecs retiring to their huts to sleep. Suddenly ghostly gargoyles swoop down upon the huts and break in, attacking and slaughtering the inhabitants. As the men attempt to fight off the gargoyles, a band of women and children flee up the rocky trail to a small open Oltec shrine situated against the mountainside sixty feet above the village. Gargoyles begin plucking stragglers from the trail, and only a few make it to the shrine where they desperately look for a place to hide. The gargoyles finish slaughtering the men and one by one the remaining Oltecs are plucked from the mountainside.
All but one, an elderly woman is either overlooked or perhaps the gargoyles have taken all they can carry. The ghostly woman creeps back to the shrine and watches as all of her kin are carried away by gargoyles who fade in the distance. She wails one long cry and then turns and looks down at the sea and rocks below. She suddenly jumps off the edge.
The haunt targets all PCs in its area of effect with a Suggestion spell (DC 14 Will Save to resist). All who fail to resist are compelled to jump off the cliff. Those who do so take 6d6 hp of damage when they hit the rocks in the water below. This haunt is not persistent.
A DC 25 search check in the five foot deep water directly below the shrine will allow the PCs to find the bones of the elderly Oltec woman. Giving those bones a burial in the village will dismiss the haunt.