So, we had another session, in which we progressed... not a lot. Strange session, something was wrong, as the game just didn't flow... It felt too complicated, uninspired, like we weren't fully in the game. I still don't fully know what happened, though I talked with a few players. Hmmmm... I'll get to that later. As to what went on the session:

Session 9, Part 1- Battle of Keeper's Canyon

On the last session we ended just after the party won the battle at Vilroth Ford. We started by seeing if the armies gained more moral, learned new tactics, or if the leaders gained new boons. The PF rules don't elaborate on that, so I had my small method. Some players liked it, some players didn't like starting with rolling dice though... Most armies moral picked up, and Mad Dog learned the "defensive tactics" boon.

As to the disappearing Brimorak. The party guessed that their surprise advantage was blown, though Nurah said that few demons report failure totheir superiors- a common practice amonst demons was to "reward" failure by a quick execution... If you have the "march to Drezen" map, you'll notice that a bit west of Vilroth Ford there is a way to scale up the plateau, and travel it towards Drezen. The spoiled surprise, along with the hazards of traveling inside a canyon (Reall, who have thought up THAT idea?) made traveling the plateau far more appealing.

A big discussion started. Sean asked Nurah of the dangers travelign the Plateau. She said the main danger was... unpredictability. The chaotic nature of the worldwound meant that there can be all kinds of random threats upon the steppe, amongst them changing landscape, elemental storms and more. There are only a few constant features of the world wound (The Ahari river bed one of them). So it was up for the commanders to decide their approach.

Tell the truth, going through the Ahari river bed sounded like a really strategically bad approach to me as well, so I gave the party this option, and planned the approach through the plateau. If they went there, they'll need to map. Which brought me to this:

Spoiler: March to drezen hex map
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If you have read the third module, you'll notice it's not exactly the same. Things are moved a little. Checking both modules, one of them got distances and positions a bit wrong. Anyway, if the party had went up the plateau, they would need to navigate some hexes, which may have a few unexpected effects and terrain.

The uncertainty of the plateau decided the matter finally, and they decided to go through the Ahari river bed. Buuuuut, they will make sure they were properly defended! Expecting an ambush from the ridges, both Julian and Sena's player wished to place part of the forces (Those that could climb the cliffs) up in protective escort above the river. This led to a whole new discussion, of how IF to put forces there (Andera's player objected fiercely, not wantign to split the army, as it would take 1-2 turns to climb the cliffs. A lot of time in mass combat), HOW many forces? (Different opinions across the board here. The Queen's Knights, The Silver Banner and The Knights of Sarenrae had to go through the gorge, due to horses and siege weapons) and ON WHICH side of the Ahari river bed (Some thought to split, some not). In short- it was a real bugger. Andera's player tried to metagame, saying that the module probably assuemed that the army will all go in them middle of the gorge and could handle things, but this was met with disdain from the party. That said, we seem to have way too many military minded people (Comes from the entire party having served in the army, and some being history and strategy/ tactics students)

i probably should have intervened and put a stop to the arguing, but I usually consider the GM's job to give the situations to the party, and let them deal with it however they want. Still, this was a time killer... Finally they have agreed that all forces that could climb, will go on the north edge of the gorge, giving cover fire from above.

Approach to Keeper's Canyon
The party was edging to go. So we moved on. Sena had another idea, and decided that his mongrelfolk unit will scout ahead of the main force (About an hour distance). They were stealthy, crafty, and so made a good advance force. He joined them, but they kept him mostly in the rear, with his armor clanking. Amused by him, they tried to show him their skirmishing style, and the use of their strange language- mimics of animals, natural sounds and more. Sena tried to imitate, but was met with amusement. Lann moved at the front. (Sena wished to enhance their connection. He now intends to learn their language).

The first day march was now near the steppes, on the other side of the river, where the Worldwound touched a bit. I gave some description on the parched land, the scarcity of normal natural life, and so on... The army was on the verge of the cursed land, and could get a glimpse to it's effects. Also, Mad dog entered his favored terrain! (We decided it would be considered "desert")

The next day Sena's unti moved ahead again. Near sunset it reached the proximity of Keeper's Canyon. But the unit stopped, as it's foremost scouts detected enemy forces- dretches at the entrance to the gorge!

Spoiler: Keeper's Canyon battle map
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The top is north. The dark units at the bottom are the PCs' army. There are hills and cliffs to both sides of the gorge, and the dry river path, now all sand is depicted by the orange blobs. The mongrelfolk noticed only the dretches at this point- the two green armies at it's opening. The rest were hidden...

Lann returned to consult with Sena. Immediately they sent one of the folks back, to warn the army. "We need to learn more!" They decided to climb the western cliffs. They seemed quite hard to climb, but with a few accessible places. Luckily for them, a perception roll noticed the wires attached to make a collapse. (I loved Sena's player's face- he didn't expect that!") Lann motioned to him- "To try and cut or go down?" Sena was always a daring one. "Cut!" He motioned. Luckily for them, they are all rogues, and with another successful roll, disabled the massive trap and alarm.

Stealthily, they climbed up, and moved slowly forward, until they suddenly saw other figures on the cliffs- tieflings! Armed with bows, looking down, in ambush to attack any who might approach the dretches. They relied on the trap to alert them if something happened, and were not expecting such a large force to succeed getting so close.

Still undetected, Sena told the army to hide, and await the others. As they hid, but a 150 feet or so from their enemies, Sena and Lann planned. It is worthy to note t this point a small but important fact I forgot to mention- Aravashnial was accompanying the troop as a support caster as well. Together with Sena, the force has 2 powerful casters on their side.

Spoiler: Sena's position as the army arrives
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The mongrelfolk are the most western troop, just south west from the tiefling. (Each square is 100x100ft)

Now it was time to wait for the main force to arrive...

The main army arrives, and the attack!

Julian somehow was regarded as the general army's commander (Though I don't quite understand why...). As the messenger arrived, She hurried the army, and grabbed to her horse tightly, as she sent her hawk familiar to fly above Keeper's canyon, and see through it's eyes.

Damn those hawks have terrific perception! It quickly located both hiding tieflign forces, each on the cliffs aside the gorge. But the north ones seemed more serious, with longbows, better armor, and the rocks and such arranged as simple fortifications. The hawk returned to Julian, and she ties a message for Sena with what she has found (The hawk found them as well) and the hawk Reaches Sena, which is now very worried aboutthe long ranged archers. They might hit his force quite hard! He needs some way to stop it.

The army reaches it's point at the bottom of the battle map, but here the party goes into a very long discussion about who will attack, how, where, and so on. This drags for some time till I end this, saying they make so much noise and stall for so long that the enemy forces have spotted them. On to battle!

On the whole, it looks like two battles from this point- the mongrelfolk on the cliff, and the rest hurrying to meet the dretches and the long range archers. But a few complications occur.

Our mass army rules have 5 stages for any round (1 minute): reconissance, allocating strategy and tactics, ranged combat, movement, and melee. Sena whispers to his troops: "In the name of the first ascendents, in the name of Sarenrae! Fire!" And the mongrelfolk come out of hiding, launchign a volley on the highly surprised tieflings! "First ascendents! Charge!" yells Lann, and they close in on the shocked mongrelfolk, and manage to take them all down ij a quick battle (The unit has the "ambush" tactic, which really helped here. Sena himself cast bless as they charged, and Aravash? he threw fireballs at the long ranged tieflings, across the Canyon. To complete the attack Sena yells "Smoke sticks! Now!" And the troops use their alchemical items (Some of the provisions they got. They have 3 uses of various effects) to crate a smoke effect that will hinder the effectiveness of the long ranged archers.

This initial assault was HIGHLY effective and impressive, I'll give the kudos to the player. The shrieks of tieflings, with quite a few of them just fallign of the cliffs, driven by the mongrelfolk, plus the fireballs and sudden huge smoke cloud were enough of a signal for the rest of the army. "Charge!" The Queen's knights pushed forward, along with the silver banner, and even the Lions of Sarkoris (barbarians' fast movement). They closed most fo the distance, but at Julian's command will not come to the range of the long bows. So far, things were looking up!

Excorius, Incubus of pain, and other troubles.
The mongrelfolk success did not go unnoticed. The Long bow tiefling launched a volley on them, but the massive casualties that would have been had were halved by the smoke effect. "Aravash! Distraction!" yelled Sena, and the elf put a rain cloud spell (Forgot the name. 3rd level) over the archers. This will suffice for 1 round. "Fold back! Fold back!" Said Lann. Their short range was no match for the other archers.

But as they were moving back, a demon materialized before Sena, teleporting from the archers force. This was Excorius, the leader of the force. The module just mentions him as the army's commander, and that he might try and seek revenge later on. But I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to test how individual PCs might be targeted. Excorius held two Wakizashi (One of which magical, was supposed to be loot for Andera. He is far behind the others in terms of loot). I changed aa few of the demons's feats and such, to make it a bit more formidable.

Excorius mocked Sena, and engaged him in a fight. Sena was worried about the mongrelfolk, but asked them to go back, way from range of the bows. Some, Lann included, decided to stay, but couldn't much hurt the demon. But... that wasn't needed, as Sena was not hit even once! Sena has a very high AC compared to the others (27, where the rest are up to bout 20), and the demon just kept on missing him. Sena cast a few spells (mostly of protection), but moved on the offensive quite fast, managign to del not high damage, but decent...

Meanwhile, with Aravash' distracting spell, the troops felt sure to engage the dretches. As the mounted forces and the Lions of Sarkoris clashed with the two demon armies (Who summoned 2 other smaller armies (-2 ACR)) Something suddenly went wrong... Mad dog felt... something... inside him, as if ripping him. He felt as if his muscles were growing, and spikes were coming out of his skin, his face hardening, and another sense- a sense for life, for blood, rushing into his head, dominating him, trying to throw him into a maddened frenzy! ("I become more badass? cool!" the player chimed!) The lions were terrified, and put some distance between them and Mad dog, making signs of protection, yelling "demon!" ("What? I'm losing my army? Crap!" the player became very worried). AMd dog was able to control his rage, bu the urge to kill was strong within him.

But he was not the only one going through some... "revelations". Julian grasped her head, as a multitude of voices barged into her mind- those of the Bartlet's fighters, of the Queen's knights, but also of... the dretches! And these were clearest of all, speaking of hunger, despair, their miserable lives and more... Emotions, thoughts, urges and more threatened to overtake Julian. With a great power of will, she manged to function, barely, but the Bartlet's were suspicious of this.

Excorius challenges
Now, there may be a problem with our battle rules, when relating to single characters entanglements. A single "army combat round" is 1 minute, in which a commanding character can do 2 "just a PC" actions (Such as cast a spell or use an ability) and still command her army. but support characters (Such as Aravash, Nurah and so) or characters who face an enemy more directly get to play the full 10 rounds of 1 minute. This meant that as Sena played some rounds, the rest were waiting, and this is NOT a good way to run a combat.

Sena proved to difficult to Excorius, but he was attracted to the new development in the battle in the sands below, and so teleported to face Mad Dog. "interesting, interesting! And what might YOU be?" Now, as much as the battle was one sided against Excorius in the fight with Sena, here it was completely one sided against Mad Dog. he has a much lower AC, and got hit by a few crits (Wakizashi and improved crit means 15-20 range. And the demon causes another 2d6 damage on each crit as pat of his powers). Mad dog was soon fell, and as he did so, the transformation of his body- size, spikes, and blood rush reverted back.

Now here I may have been a bit merciful. This is her first character, and the defeat was a bit unfair. So instead of killing her, I decided that Excorius will want to see what happened with this new development, and let Mad dog live- perhaps this new holder of the Wardstone's power can be corrupted and turned? But there needed to be some loss, so it took his Ranseur of the Gargoyle (I knew the player was quite a hoarder, and she indeed take a HUGE offense at this. Possibly more than if Mad dog was killed? ). It could be used to scry them later as well. I don't usually coddle my players, and my usual rule is "deal with it". But this was the player's first character, so I was a bit merciful. Only once though. Meanwhile the Lions fought the enemies, and gave these two demons a wide berth, not sure what to make of this.

The demon then moved to Julian, and tried to fight her, (With some halflings trying to help, ineffectively). Julian managed to concentrate through the rush of thoughts in her head, and deployed mirror image spell after spell, and tried to use Aboleth breath on Excorius, but with a need to concentrate, touch attacks, spell resistance and saving throw, nothing worked! But the battle was a stalemate. Excorius couldn't destroy the images fast enough, and she couldn't affect him with her spells. Finally he smiled, bowed, and teleported away.

Single PC battles in a big battle, and PC power levels.
Spoiler
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First of all- I should avoid single PC combats in the midst of a big battle if I can help it. This quite sucked. The battling player felt rushed because the others were waiting, and the others were... waiting. I'll need to think of a solution for this. Currently my idea is just- don't do it. Avoid it if at all possible.

Exocrius single challenges (This was not planned!) helped me realize the wide power and optimization disparity in the group. Sena could have probably taken him all by himself, without much damage. With Julian it was sort of a draw, and was up to a lucky hit, lucky spell, or Julian's spells running out. But with Mad dog? It was slaughter! i knew he was more vulnerable, but didn't realize by how much! Sure, he has tons of hit points, but when you are hit nearly every time, it doesn't help much. I will try to help her (perhaps with the other players) to rectify her low AC)


Meanwhile on the BIG battle
The Dreatches were dealt with, but their relentless brutality tactics, along with stinking clouds, enabled them to deal substantial damage to the Queen's Knights and the Lions of Sarkoris. Though it was not enough to inflict permanent casualties, that was "corrected" by the long bow archers, who caused some fatalities within the Queen's knights. They were soon dispatched by the tiefling host (Who made a detour to get to them) and a retributive volley from the Bartlet hounds.

The Battle of Keeper's Canyon was won! But not all was well. The Queen's knights has some casualties, and there were no replacement on this march. Mad dog's and Julian's forces were highly suspicious of them, ad the two of them didn't have an ide of what the hell just happened! And last but not least- Where did Excorius go to?

Entering the worldwound seemed to cause some complications. It was time to deal with the battle's aftermath.
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We stopped for a Humus break and some talks, trying to figure out what happened and where to go from here. In the next part!