Thoughts on the Grauls

I've seen it mentioned on the Paizo forums that the Graul homestead encounters would likely have be presented as optional, if they had though to do that in the first few Adventure Paths. The thinking apparently being that the Grauls are a sideline from the main adventure through-line of "rescue Fort Rannick, save the dam, defeat Barl Breakbones". Myself, I disagree with this, based on my play.

The Graul encounters were important to change the general tone of play and the shift in general deadliness that occurs once you start fighting giants. While there's elements of horror in the first two adventure installments, the shift to slasher-film and gore in the third is something that, I think, needs to be gradually introduced.

The descriptions and situation at Fort Rannick are pretty graphic and paint a picture of ogre society that is extreme. Without the transition provided by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel of the Graul, I suspect that the appearance of such grotesques would be very jarring.

Another important role the Grauls play is introducing the really high damage output of the giant-types. Up til now, the players have mostly been fighting human-scale opponents with human-scale damage. With the bump to giants, suddenly they face the possibility of one-shot kills (ogre hooks are, by the way, very nasty weapons). The ogre-kin of the Graul provide a little warning of what the party will be facing for the rest of this adventure, and most of the next.

The Grauls themselves are opportunistic hunters. Many folks wonder how they could surive so long, so near civilization. I suspect its because they're selective and careful about who they take, and that they probably have a fairly large hunting ground. What we're seeing in the Adventure Path is the Grauls having lucked into a find – a group of wounded and vulnerable Black Arrows. It isn't their normal modus operandi to grab a large group like that, but given the state of the Black Arrows, they couldn't pass up the opportunity.


Catching Up

Sorry I let this lay fallow so long. We're still playing and making progress.

To quickly do a partial update (we're now into Fortress of the Stone Giants) …

The fight against the Graul was definitely a highpoint. We had moments of grim slapstick, mixed with horror and a good amount of kicking ass. It was during the fight with the Graul that I added a new feature… at some point, either when they first appear or when they've been defeated, usually… I will give the players a little cutscene. This cutscene gives either the NPC background, or an example of their personality. The result has been effective, both in impressing the players with the details that are included in each adventure, but also in making them feel like they're doing more than just killing bags of hit points.

A cool moment that stand out in the fight against the Graul are Valak opting to do a scouting mission of the farm alone, refusing to get invisibility cast on him before hand by Lymka, and then getting critted and killed in one shot by Crowfood. This immediately established the Grauls as serious opponents. The party was able to recover Valak's body, retreated, and scraped up enough to get a Raise Dead cast on the monk. Now, whenever anyone suggests a plan that involves something extremely dangerous, the party will ask if the PC wants invisibility cast on him.

The rest of the Homestead proved a tough fight, with the party having to retreat one more time after clearing (and burning down) the barn. The fight against Mammy was a little anti-climactic (though revolting), mostly because its hard for anyone to survive a fireball and a lightning bolt.

The fight to clear the Fort was also enjoyable. For the first time in a very long time, I was able to actually bring a group of players to speechlessness with description (in this case, with the description of the Infirmary). In the big fight, the PCs dropped Jagrath in 2 rounds of massive damage dealing. This was a bit faster than Jagrath had expected, so when on round three Dorella joined the fight, it was too late for him. Dorella, however, proved to be a tough nut to crack. An initial confusion spell neutralized the spellcasters and forced Valak the monk to use non-lethal damage to actually drop half his own party before they killed each other. After that, it was a long and tough battle between Dorella's spells and Valak's high saves… in the end, Valak came out on top.

I'd made a mistake running the Fort, and forgot to have Lucretia in her room under the fort when the PCs came through. I rolled with the mistkae, though, and had her coming back to the fort after paying a visit to the work on the Dam. This worked to let me get in a bit of expostion, when the PCs overheard her telling the ogre's at the wall gate that things were going slow at the dam, but a breach was expected soon. It twigged the PCs to the fact that something was happening further north, and tied into the observations by Dolgunn the ranger that weather was too wet in the region.

Lucretia was ambushed and dropped fast in a well-done bit of work by the PCs. It is impressive, sometimes, when a player plan actually comes together exactly as planned. Following her defeat, the PCs used some alchemists fire and their superior position to finish of the remaining ogres in the Fort. With it cleared, they had a choice: return to Turtleback or head to the Dam…

Using the cutscenes when introducing new NPCs and monsters has been really effective. It was a great tool for establishing the ogres as EVIL monsters, unlike the cute/scarey goblins or the horrific ghouls they'd previously fought. Mostly, though, I just like being able to share some of the excellent work that has gone into the adventures.