The PCs had used up a lot of resources in the earlier fights of the day, and I wanted to make them feel the pinch a bit. Plus, they knew that they had been scried upon by Melisande, the vampire wizard who's the henchman of their current nemesis, and the vampires' castle is not far away--so it seemed necessary for her to harass them.
So I sent a zombie dragon after them, describing it as a Frankenstein-like hodgepodge of miscellaneous parts kluged together into the shape of a dragon. At CR 9, it seemed it should be a fairly easy fight for the level 10-11 party--especially since they could see it coming from several miles away.
It was a very nasty fight, though, and even left Turok at -3 hit points at one point. The zombie's spell resistance made it hard for them to assault it with spells, and its massive attack bonus made it hard to face it in melee, even though it only had one attack per turn.
The next day, then, (after Prolix made his previously-played bid to get his spellbooks) they delved down underwater to fight the ocularon (a sort of flying jellyfish that rips creatures' eyes out, fills the eyeballs with poison, and sends them floating out to harm the hapless). The party talked with a group of chuul pearl-farmers first, and used an arcane eye to spy out the location. With poison-protection for everyone, freedom of movement effects for Turok and Liandra, and an effective languor spell, they made short work of the ocularon (although they had a somewhat frustrating time figuring out what attacks would keep it from healing up). Despite the CR 12 of the ocularon (which I raised to 13 because I put it underwater), they had a fairly easy time of this fight, much easier than the zombie dragon.
They managed to choose two eyes to fill Bertolf's empty sockets, and left the Lake of Optalis before nightfall.
Now, I'm not sure whether it's a good thing to talk about what I had in mind or not. So I'll lj-cut it. I'll keep it to might-have-beens, without spoilers for the future.
- I meant for Liandra to have a chance to have a starring role with her superior water powers. I'd have given her a chance to fight against the chuul and win, then have her discover the ocularon and turn back to bring the other PCs. But it turned out that water breathing was so potent that it could apply to everyone for a very long time--so there was no reason for her to go alone, and the usual good reasons not to go alone. I still need to find ways to let her be the star once in a while.
- I meant for the ocularon to rip someone's eyes out. Replacing the eyes when they were freshly removed would have conferred magic vision powers. And it would have been a strong emphasis on the recurring theme that fighting this war and healing the land really changes the characters. But the PCs were too efficient; it had no chance. They toyed with the idea of trying the Eye of Vecna trick, but they didn't do it--which I approve of, really.
The ocularon was weakened by having DR 10/magic instead of the DR 15/+2 it had in the 3.0 edition Fiend Folio. I think I didn't choose the battlefield well, either; it wasn't able to use its 90-ft fly speed effectively.
- I wanted to have the PCs spend another night at the Lake of Optalis. I had plans to throw another monster at them. It's not invisible in the Monster Manual, but it made sense from a story point of view that it would be invisible. So I was going to describe it as being invisible, but the potent effects of the Lake of Optalis would let them see it anyway. I might reuse the monster, but I can't easily use the invisibility description anywhere else.
Ah well. Next the party is heading off towards the Gorge of Fire, which is giving me planning problems of its own:
- I'm not sure how the physical structure of the place will work. If it's just an open gorge, the PCs are likely to just teleport straight to the juicy bits.
- Most of the fire-related monsters that I've been reading about are fairly... straightforward. They hit you and possibly set you on fire, but they're all vulnerable to cold and mostly don't have a lot in the way of special abilities. The environment is hostile too, but in fairly predictable ways. There doesn't seem to be the sort of variety that I got with sonic monsters in the Caverns of Laryn, or with eye monsters in the Lake of Optalis. The net result is that with a bit of preparation and good spell choice (particularly endure elements, resist fire, and protection from fire), the PCs can kick a lot of fiery butt. So I need to get creative if things are to be interesting.
- Another hugely effective spell is quench. This third-level druid spell does 1d6 per level damage to every fire elemental within a shapeable area of a 20-foot cube per caster level. So Liandra could blast an army of fire elementals with a couple of castings. On the one hand, I definitely want to make this a useful choice for Liandra, and I always like giving her a chance to shine. But I'll have to get creative to make sure there are encounters interesting or challenging enough to stand up to a quench or too.
- Treasure is also something of a challenge here. Lots of treasure would not easily be found on the ground here--particularly not scrolls, but there are lots of other inflammable magic items as well. Another thing I'll have to figure out.