Altering XP for Rappan Athuk

I just got a copy of RA for Pathfinder, and I've gotten my group fairly excited about playing around with an old-school meat grinder of a megadungeon. I definitely want to up the old-school feel of the module, but I also want to deal with the lethality by giving the players plenty of back-up characters so no one is stuck at the table without playing for too long. To that effect, I'm planning on implementing some XP adjustments and house rules to (hopefully) achieve these goals. I thought it would be a good idea to outline these ideas here to see if I'm completely barking up the wrong tree.

First, back up characters: I plan on using a variation on a rule that comes from the Dark Sun campaign setting. Basically, each player has a stable of 4 characters each starting at 1st level. Only one character is active at any given time, and that character earns XP normally. However, whenever the active character goes up a level, the player gets to level up one of his other three characters automatically putting that character's XP to the minimum amount to get them to the new level. These back up characters can be subbed in either when the party is back at town (at which point the currently active character gets put into the stable with the two remaining back-ups), or if a character dies one of the back-ups can be dropped in with some hastily constructed DM Fiat ("Wow, we're sure lucky you happened to be in this part of the dungeon - let's try to get out of here!"). If a character is subbed in after a PC death, the player makes a new 1st level character to add to their stable. I'm not sure how to handle equiping the back-ups - I could just say typical WBL until they're played and once they hit the "real world" they lock in their equipment and from there it's whatever they have or loot.

Second, treasure for XP: I'm thinking about adjusting XP from killing stuff down and adding XP from treasure to increase the motivation of exploration and clever problem solving. My basic thought is axing all XP from wandering monsters (that makes them resource sinks with basically no reward, so stealth and speed are important), and only granting 1/10th the noted XP value for "laired" monsters. Any treasure the party finds that's just worth money (coins, gems, art objects, etc.) would grant XP in a 1 GP of value = 1 XP awarded ratio. I think equipment and magic items will not grant XP as those are fundamentally useful and make the PCs more powerful (I am considering giving them 1/10th XP for sold items, but even at that reduction one powerful magic item could really skew the curve, I think). I haven't really dug into the amount of treasure available in the dungeon to know if this will keep them moving up the power level at a reasonable rate, but I am definitely digging the basic idea behind it. And it's not like Rappan Athuk is known for it's balanced encounter design in the first place.

Third, character advancment: I have gamed through several scenarios using the above ideas, and I realized there is a potential problem - wildly disparate party levels. In 3.5 there was the built in mechanic of lower level characters getting more XP for the same enounter. The math was cumbersome and it took longer than I liked to calculate (though a spreadsheet I finally made helped). That said, the built in catch-up mechanic was nice for this sort of situation. I do think that it is possible to replicate something like this using Pathfinder. My idea is setting the basic advancement to the Medium XP track. Any active character that is more than one level below the Average Party Level would use the Fast track, and any active character more than one level above the APL would use the Slow track. That should help pull up any lower level replacements while slowing down any higher level PCs. Once all the characters are back to parity, then everyone would be back on the Medium track.

Sorry for the wall of text; I appreciate anyone who has read this far. I'd like to hear any feedback regarding these basic ideas - do you think they will game out like I intend, or have I laid traps for myself.

Limper's picture

Hmmm. I've ran RA in all its iterations (3.0, 3.5, Complete, S&W). There are a few encounters which really have no "guardians" your party could potentially stumble upon that would make them fabulously wealthy (i.e. make them get a huge XP boost). Like that pillar in the purple worm cave. Or stumbling upon Lord Navarre and getting all his loot.

Funny story about Lord Navarre: I once had a party of six 8th level PC's and they were roaming Level 9A, checking things out. Their party wizard used stone shape to create a large encampment "nook" using the cavern's ceiling, so they could all just fly/teleport up there and rest without being disturbed. Well, one day, as they ventured forth to find a way out of Level 9A and the lower levels, they happened to swing by the river just below them, to grab a quick drink. For some reason or another, that party wizard cast detect magic and happened to wave it in the direction of the crypt underwater. He picked up the powerful necro spell on the sealed tomb door (pure luck, ha!).

Well, being a party of curious PC's, they decided to go into Lord Navarre's tomb without really knowing what it was. They somehow survived the death effect at the door, and when they got inside the cave, the six of them were nervous but ready for a fight. 

Then Lord Navarre stomps out of his crypt, in full battle-rattle CR 23 mode. 

As we rolled initiative, the party members decided to break for a quick smoke out on my patio. I patiently looked over Navarre's stats, thinking to myself (Oh, man--here comes the first TPK!), but when they all came back inside and sat down, my players had this grin on their faces that told me something was up.

Suddenly, three of the PC's (the monk, barbarian, and one other fast dude) dashed around Lord Navarre and ran inside his crypt as the other three PC's (the rogue, druid, and fighter) attempted to attack him and "hold him off" they kept saying. At first, it didn't click what they were doing. So I attacked the fighter and chopped him to pieces with my greatsword in the first round. 

Now, I should mention that Navarre can only stomp 20' in any direction like most heavy plate skeletal dudes as a move action, and the three fast PC's could zip about the map like cheetahs. (The monk was at like 50 or 60' movement, if I remember right.) 

When they got inside his crypt by the end of the first round, the monk player goes, "Rob, do I see any treasure?" And I go, "Yes, three chests."

The player nodded to the others and said, "Let's mug him."

My jaw dropped. At first, I thought, "There's no way this'll work."

But they had initiative on the slow-moving death knight. They grabbed his chests and ran outta that place hasted faster than you can say "Bippity-boppity-boop!"

Lord Navarre (i.e. Me), enraged, hurled a power word kill at the druid, killing a second PC on the second round. But guess what? That didn't matter. Because they could Raise the Dead out of each other, no problem. And the druid's wolf companion already had the signal to drag his master's corpse back to the water tunnel if he went down. 

The others ran past as the hasted rogue helped haul the fighter back to the water tunnel, too.

Navarre stomped after them, but--get this!--they all jumped in the water and the dwarf cleric sealed the tunnel up with stone shape after he emerged on the other side. Navarre had no way to get out without chopping through 40 or 50 feet of stone! And he couldn't with a greatsword very well.

They straight up mugged, at 8th level, a CR 23 monster.

They were howling with laughter all the way back to Eralion's Keep (which was now their keep).

And then...the story gets even better. As they counted their loot, right then and there, the rogue saw this little crystal box in one of the three chests, and he goes, "Rob, I open up that box. What's inside?"

And I just smile and say, "Deserach."

Limper's picture

And the story would end there, with all the PC's dying a horrible death, you'd think. But no. No, they didn't die. In fact, the 8th level party of adventurers, with approximately normal WBL, turned around and killed a CR 29/30 demilich who surprised them.

How, do you ask?

What transpired next became my worst defeat in all my 25 years of GM'ing. As the demilich rose into the air from the "box of holding" just like Acererak did in Tomb of Horrors, scanning them all one by one and summarily judging them as weak and worthy of immediate and instant death, I opened combat with a time stop and prismatic sphere (one of them was quickened). The sphere was centered over the six PC's and the three chests of fat loot. The time stop allowed Deserach to activate her power suite of awesome, nigh-unbeatable buffs.

And the players, unable to escape the prismatic sphere (they were just too low level to cast all of the spells to kill the prismatic effect), just sat there panicking in circles inside the sphere, as I had Deserach finally attack. She floats inside the sphere, casts horrid wilting, which instantly kills 4 PC's right then and there, dead. But guess who survives? My brother's dwarf cleric--the same dwarf cleric who stone shaped and trapped Lord Navarre. He grabs the "box of holding" from the rogue's hand, even as the demilich moves back out of the sphere and out of range of any attack.

Then he goes, "Rob, I ready an action as soon as the demilich comes back into the sphere."

I go, "Okay," again, laughing to myself, like, "You might have pulled a fast one on Navarre, but I just pulled an even faster one on you!"

The demilich had an AC that was pretty much in the 70's by this point with all her buffs. But funny enough, even with all those buffs, the demilich's touch AC was only in the low 20's.

I move her into the sphere, fully intent on repeating the horrid wilting attack to slaughter the last two PC's for good. 

But the dwarf cleric's action--his name was Balin Ironfoot--goes off first. Now, if I remember right, at some point earlier in the dungeon, maybe it was even in Navarre's treasure chests (I can't remember exactly), they had found a portable hole.

My brother attacks the demilich...with the box of holding, trying to just swing it down over her skull in order to re-catch her. We did the numbers really fast and realized he would need to roll a natural 17 on the dice to achieve this feat.

He rolled.

He got a 17 on the money. 

Everybody cheered. And then, the dwarf slammed the box shut, pulled out the portable hole, and in good ol' 1E AD&D fashion, tossed that box of holding right inside the portable hole, instantly destroying both objects and everything inside them.

That included the demilich.

An 8th level cleric single-handled, by the book, killed Deserach AND, with the help of his fast hasted buddies, mugged her death knight consort. 

You can't make this up.

Surely, I have been interred in the halls of shame and defeat among those with the honor--nay, the responsibilty!--of properly running the Dungeon of Graves.

Limper's picture

The moral of this story is this: your players will surprise you, they will find the biggest trove of treasure in the entire dungeon right away, and then they will mug your death knight and box of holding/portable hole insta-kill your demilich. And you will rue the day that you gave them XP for treasure in 3E. Rue. The. Day.

michaelsandar's picture

You can't even complain about players with chutzpah like that.  Congrats to them!

That story is FANTASTIC! So Epic.

Actually, if anything your story has made me more likely to count treasure for XP. This is exactly the type of creative, outwit-the-monsters sort of play that I'm trying to encourage.

I think I may limit the amount players can level up at any one time - perhaps rule when leveling, any extra XP over and above what gets your character to the next level is capped to one point below what you need for the next level. So a third level character that lucks into a huge pile of treasure could level to fourth, and their total XP would cap at one point below the needed amount for fifth level. Obviously, they would level again very soon, but it would keep the possibility of skipping multiple experience levels in check.

Thanks for the feedback!

Limper's picture

Ha! Thanks, Justin.

All kidding aside, I think the "gold for XP" would work just fine, to be honest. It would certainly change the focus of how the players deal with challenges. And that's probably how Bill Webb initially designed RA when he wrote it way back when.

Let us know how your game goes!