I was extremely excited to run this book as it meant we could play with armies ... something my solo player would be quite keen to do. So when we grabbed the Armies Character Sheet and popped in the Heirs to the Wardstone paladin army and his custom tiny Rosethorn Army, we were excited to see how it played through. I wasn't as sure about Part C as I tend to find dungeons quite boring but this one worked out pretty well. My only petty gripe is that there were a number of blank rooms in the dungeon and I had no idea what they might been used for beyond defensive measures. It wasn't such a big deal as I have a vivid imagination but it still made me occasionally pause to think.
I'll admit it. I don't have a head for rules. I can deal with the basics but I'm likely to forget the meaning of certain feats and spells. Rather than have my head in a book for most of the game, quickly cross referencing and checking, I either ignore it, query my player (who has a better head for rules) or use the online SRD quietly while he's busy setting up his four characters' next actions.
That's right. Four characters! He doesn't roleplay them all, only Alfie and very occasionally the new guy when he can think of something snippy to say to the dragon (now a very young dragon rather than a wyrmling). He does control them during combat and level them up occasionally. Other than dealing with their inventory, he's enjoying it pretty well. Taking Sosiel in the second strike at Castle Drezen tipped him over the line on occasion a few times but as that cleric was only Level 5, he was relegated to walking healer anyway.
So who was the magical fourth helper?
I thought this game was heavy on demons and light on celestials, so I threw in a Vulpinal as support - sent by Shelyn herself. After all, why is the Worldwound *only* a mortal concern?
It's not a fault with the adventure path, which focuses on players actions after all, but I saw an opportunity so I took it. My player therefore equipped the Vulpinal, Harri, with some of the loot that he found and the game progressed.
So the first strike at Castle Drezen found them badly affected by the fireballing brimoraks in the gatehouses and they only survived that because the Vulpinal teleported into one of the rooms and unlocked it from the inside, allowing them all to flee inside and heal up while the brimoraks came out of their room and entered from the outside. They took out the vrock with better ease this time, in part due to the dragon's increase in damage die and number of attacks.
They had to fall back after the encounter with the succubus - she managed to charm them all after suggesting that the vulpinal state she isn't evil and then commanded three of them to wait outside in case of enemy attacks while she had a conversation with Alfie. She proceeded to try to find his resentment toward Drezen but, failing that, decided to simply seduce the fool. She inflicted four negative levels before he managed to succeed on the Suggestion roll to stop kissing her. Realising he'd been injured by her broke the charm effect and he grabbed her in a grapple and started damaging her. It was a rough fight but he managed to kill her in a nook, using her as a defense against the charmed crusaders.
They then headed back to base with Alfie feeling very sorry for himself - having lost his first kiss to a demoness! Lex, the Umbral Dragon, didn't help when she regaled him with how those who die from a succubus' kiss are damned to the pit and their bodies rise again as undead. She also poked fun at his obvious anxiety about discussing sex, calling Mendevians prudes. Then she grew bored and went to sleep, leaving him to have a heart to heart with Eliska. Eliska tried to coax out of him any aspects of his tiefling nature, but other than a destructive and impulsive personality, he was pretty good. Gooder than good almost.
She pronounced him an aasimar in disguise and they had a little laugh about that, before she mentioned that she and her team were once Nidalese slaves who had been washed in negative energy as babes in their mothers' womb so that they could work a particular mine. She was the most dhampyr of the lot of them (the others were a variant dhampyr of my construction - they gain darkvision and negative energy affinity but retain the bonus skills of a human). She stated that their inhuman nature draws them to depression and suicide, which was a sobering thought.
Once fully healed and rested, they had to face a tiny army of man eating aurochs who were part of a herd just outside Drezen. They won, easily, and Alfie took his team back into the castle - choosing the tower entrance rather than enter that gateway again. The dragon flew up a knotted rope and it was an easy climb. Once inside, Lex declared that she should be allowed three nights to sleep on all the treasure as payment for her work and that she should also be allowed to keep the tower. Alfie promised her a new tower but she wanted that one.
I also realised that just as unintended evil actions pull someone toward evil, so should unintended good actions pull someone toward good, so since Lex was raised as a hatchling by Eliska and hasn't had much opportunity to do many evil things (other than take real sadistic pleasure in the kill as desecrating bodies can hardly be a sin to a carrion eater), I'm shifting her toward neutral. She'll still have evil urges but they've been weakened by the wardstone. She still thinks of herself quite proudly as Chaotic Evil, though. I doubt she could ever become good. She wouldn't see the point.
Anyway, they found the succubus who self-charms herself so that she can look like a charmed victim and swashbuckler tied to a bunk and chose to keep her in manacles but release her from the bunk and temporarily suppress the charm spell using Protection from Evil. She trailed after them up until they defeated Joran's babau guards and were attacked by Staunton Vhane himself who rode in on his wasp (10 foot high ceilings, remember) and threatened to kill Joran for his weakness.
On the second turn, just before she would have attacked, she was approached by Harri with a clearly helpful look on his face as he reached out to cast Dispel Evil on her to help against the charm.... She failed her Spellcraft roll and thought he was about to release her from the manacles. Instead she abruptly failed her save and was banished to the pit. Surprise all round but it significantly prevented this battle from becoming a slaughter.
The next surprise was that after Staunton Vhane struck Lex for some crippling blows, he then failed his roll against Joran's suggestion to drop his weapon and flee the castle. Lex and Alfie followed him, striking him in the back for two rounds before he came to his senses and attacked them in turn (as his previous command became obviously fatal). The others focused on the two fiendish minotaurs but, proving how much weaker they were at combat than Lex and Alfie, they still needed those two characters help to end the battle.
Finally they all retired to Staunton Vhane's room to regroup, catch their breath and read Staunton's diary. In desperation, Joran has thrown his lot in with them and renounced his god, Droskar, for failing to provide him with any real benefits. And that's where I've left these daring heroes ... with Lex curled up on the bed, Alfie reading, Harri on guard, Joran moping on the edge of the bed, and Eliska reading over Alfie's shoulder but wishing she could just drink some dwarven ale and head to bed.