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PF1E Challenge: Help me make a mountain climb interesting for my epic level players

Guilberwood

First Post
Hi guys,
My ten-year-long epic level campaign is drawing to a close (only 4 sessions left). In the next session, the characters will return home after a trip through the planes. They’ll be leaving Mount Celestia (Dome of Creation) and will arrive at their home plane in a high mountain pass where the gate is located.

The party consists of a Monk, a Ranger, a Paladin and a Wizard of 22nd level. Even though they are very high level, they don’t have access to teleportation spells, which means they’ll have to climb down the mountain the hard way. They can use spells like fly and spider climb to move through tough spots, but the duration of these spells is not long enough to allow them to simply fly the whole way down.

During the next game session, I don’t want to extend this climb too much and turn it into a drag, but I don’t want to simply say “You spend X days climbing down the mountain” either. Thus, what I’m looking for is a way to make this climb an interesting event for my players, something that transpires the difficulty of climbing down a huge mountain. I wonder if that is even possible with characters of this level.

Has anyone done anything similar? Any tips or ideas for enhancing this part of my next session are welcome.

Thanks in advance,

Guilberwood
 

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am181d

Adventurer
"Climbing down a mountain" sounds pretty blah for an epic level campaign. I might arm waive it. (Particularly if the PCs just say "We use fly and then wait for a day. Repeat.")

But if you really want to make it epic:
a) Dragons
b) Massive Earth Elementals (think The Hobbit)
c) A passage through the Mountain (with whatever Underdarky monsters you want to throw at them -- I'd probably use this option because it gives the opportunity to insert a story hook -- a besieged dwarven hermit, say, who may be pivotal to the final quest)
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Mass fly. 220 minutes of fly speed 60 feet/round = 133,200 feet.

Unless you have a mountain that defies all scale, then this shouldn't be an issue for the epic-level wizard. If the 22nd level wizard doesn't have mass fly (why on earth NOT?), then casting a bunch of fly spells can do the trick.

Fly. 22 minutes of fly speed 60 feet/round = 13,200 feet.

So descending a mountain comparable to one of Colorado's Fourteeners is a cake-walk for the wizard casting fly as well. If the mountain is an Everest (23,622 feet), then the PCs just need to rest one night so the wizard can prepare more fly spells.

Unless there's more happening than just descending a mountain (story-wise), I see no reason to make this anything more than a sentence or two of color for your epic-level party.
 

Aenghus

Explorer
To me Mount Celestia would dwarf all prime material mountains, which would pale by comparison, so travelling from Mount Celestia and being challenged by an ordinary mountain sounds wrong, frankly. If the PCs are epic I would do the opposite and have mortal mountains feel more like foothills after the planar experience.

To me you are fighting against the idea of epicness, though. PCs should gain something from being epic, and there shouldn't be an obligation to make them feel small in the face of mundane obstacles.

It's your game, so if that doesn't fit so be it. A living mountain, dragons, titans etc
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
Here is the bad news: Not all game challenges are level appropriate across every single level. In fact, I'd say that it's far more likely that a challenge type does not span every possible level, at least outside of class challenges. Climbing a mountain is an extraordinary accomplishment at 1st level, some place just above 0-level Commoner. Climbing a mountain in the epic levels is probably bypassed every time rather than performed yet again. It's too easy. The PCs have far too much access to movement magic, by spell or magic item, to gold for spell services, and to powerful friends who could help them shortcut to their destination.

Here's the okay part: Sometimes the PCs just want to climb a mountain anyways. And they will fight the stone giants and charge into the red dragons lair rather than shy away and laugh in the face of blizzards while at 20,000 feet. This stuff is all very difficult and will challenge the players and their PCs, but it will still fall short of epic challenge. They will be playing down like going back to kobolds after a few levels of advancement. Now it's possible players will have started at epic levels, so they don't know what to do with all the powers they have, but that's a different kind of challenge. That's about the lack of mastery of their character than level appropriate challenges.

The other road you can go is start removing the option for the players to use their PCs abilities. EDIT: Think of high level dungeons often so poorly made. It's a cliche to limit magic use within them and stock them with monsters that are immune to most of the strengths of the party. Personally, I think that was hack design twenty years ago and would still be a poor design today. But it isn't all that uncommon. Find out what your players would like.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
As others have said, right now there's nothing story-wise you've indicated that should make this anything more than a hand-waved time skip.

If your looking to make the descent into a story (which seems to be your intent), here are some ideas:

1 - hypothermia or blizzards, possibly caused by an unnatural force (either an old enemy of the PCs aware of their return or a new force that's cropped up while they've been gone)

2 - asphyxiation; high mountains are known for their rarified air and some mountains require breathing gear to navigate

3 - spirit/entity of the mountain that takes offense to the party's presence and sends legions and/or itself confronts the party ("For trespassing upon sacred ground of the barbarian lords of Arrat, we quest you to return the toothed necklace of our foe, the Tarrasque. Fail, and in three days time your heart will stop cold. Now go!")

4 - Native creatures of the mountain interfere in the party's trek or perhaps ask the party's aid in some endevour ("You, white-hairs of the mountain peak, surely you hail from the gods," states the King of the Frost Giants,"My daughter needs be wed - tell me who among these suitors is fitting to take her hand?")

5 - An old enemy of the party harrasses the group on its way down. Perhaps disguising its work as "natural phenomen" of the mountain (" Damn that avalanche was close. Wait - do you hear cackling or is that the wind?")

6 - The party finds a lair/dungeon/ruin in the mountain that leads to some artifact or other item the party has been searching for or otherwise would have never found if they hadn't returned via the mountain.
 

Mordikenn

First Post
In the end the mountain would have to have some pretty tough monsters in order to make it a challenge for a party of that level... The party is just too strong against normal things.

What's the main fear of any mountain climber? Falling. In the RAW, falling has a maximum of 20d6 damage. One hit for 70 average damage on someone isn't going to make anyone quake in their boots at levels higher than 20 at all, in fact if the party felt like completely breaking character they could hurl themselves off the cliffs and simply heal the damage to get down the mountain faster. That's also completely ignoring the fact that there are half a dozen ways to get around falling damage BESIDES simply flying down.

This mountain could have a few things to make it more challenging than a traditional mountain climb, some good suggestions were posted above.

You could have a number of environmental enchantments on the mountain like enhanced gravity, which could make falling deal x2 to x5 damage and climb checks more difficult. It would also make it more difficult to travel for long periods without resting. Another possibility would be constant hurricane winds, that would make it pretty difficult to fly down anywhere and possibly knock people off their feet or down the mountain in exposed areas.

In my game I've experimented with changing the rules for falling altogether to make it scale higher as people gain more hit dice. This helps preserve some realism as they level up. Every tier of 5 hit dice the falling victim has, falling damage gets another multiplier. This tends to make falling very dangerous for someone of any level, just like it is for a level 5 character... and they have to think about ways to actually avoid it. Falling damage still caps at 200 feet.
1-5 HD: 1d6 falling dmg/ 10 feet
6-10 HD: 2d6 falling dmg/ 10 feet
11-15 HD: 3d6 falling dmg/ 10 feet
16-20 HD: 4d6 falling dmg/ 10 feet
etc, etc
 

Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=15692]Guilberwood[/MENTION] IIRC in the Planescape version of Mt. Celestia, you had to pass tests of virtue to ascend. So, maybe there's a worldly counterpart to descending from such lofty heights? A series of mini-encounters with mundane folk designed to test the spiritual lessons the PCs learned on Mt. Celestia...if they take time and resolve these mini-encounters well they can learn extra information pertinent to the rest of the game session/adventure. If you do something like this, it will help to have an angelic figure at the start of the session who advises the PCs of a metaphysical law: "All who leave the Mount will be tested by six mortals, and one devil in mortal guise."

Would be primarily role-playing, wouldn't eat up much time, gives epic-level PCs an incentive to explore (rather than race to the bottom), allows you to recap/reaffirm/further develop the point of their adventures in Mount Celestia (eg. How has the world changed?), and even lets a tempter devil in your campaign (if there is one) make a reappearance.
 

Stormonu

Legend
@Guilberwood IIRC in the Planescape version of Mt. Celestia, you had to pass tests of virtue to ascend. So, maybe there's a worldly counterpart to descending from such lofty heights? A series of mini-encounters with mundane folk designed to test the spiritual lessons the PCs learned on Mt. Celestia...if they take time and resolve these mini-encounters well they can learn extra information pertinent to the rest of the game session/adventure. If you do something like this, it will help to have an angelic figure at the start of the session who advises the PCs of a metaphysical law: "All who leave the Mount will be tested by six mortals, and one devil in mortal guise."

Would be primarily role-playing, wouldn't eat up much time, gives epic-level PCs an incentive to explore (rather than race to the bottom), allows you to recap/reaffirm/further develop the point of their adventures in Mount Celestia (eg. How has the world changed?), and even lets a tempter devil in your campaign (if there is one) make a reappearance.

A great idea, but I'd be cautious - at 22nd level the party has many a way to detect a "devil in mortal disguise". You might have to get tricksy with the meaning, or bulk up on the magic disguise(s).
 

Slamm321

Villager
I have been running a campaign designed around climbing as an extreme sport. They look for and map the most difficult and dangerous climbs they can find. Monsters often appear partway through the climb. There are lots of monsters to waylay the group. Burrowers and flyers are great and due to spending so much time on the mountain they understand that knocking people off walls helps to keep them safe. Intelligent enemies could use illusions, ice, grease, falling water. The more magical the lands can add puzzles either natural or magical. I actually came here to come up with more ideas for a party whose main reason for is that next great climb. One of the things they use to descend big climbs is wingsuits which, combined with the fly skill can allow them to ride thermals and go very long distances to get where they need to go quickly which I find to be a good thing for moving the story along.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
I’ve played in three campaigns over the years where the characters were at or above 20th level. I can’t imagine a mountain climb being any sort of challenge for characters of that level.
 

Stalker0

Legend
To me the key here is not to turn this into a "challenge", that is simply swimming upstream. Instead, have it be a fun exploration moment.

Maybe they find the initials of another high level character, and can remark on how they now walk the same steps as the old greats. Have them find a fun npc nearly frozen on the mountain...again nothing crazy or nefarious, just some light easy roleplay.

Instead of trying to up the challenge, do the opposite. Note how mundane and easy everything is, and let the players see how much they have changed since there great journey. Maybe they are happy to be home....maybe home doesn't really feel like home anymore...but either way things are different, and that is what this leg of the story highlights.

If you have already done some of the climatic moments....than let the players enjoy the epilogue.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
b) Massive Earth Elementals (think The Hobbit)
Think bigger. The mountain IS an earth elemental. And a terrasque lives in its armpit.

But since the campaign is drawing to a close, just have several points along the mountain that remind the PCs of past events, and have cut scenes back to those moments. Rolling dice while re-creating them is fine, because memories evolve. Use this for inspiration:
 

Have everyone make a Dexterity check; the character with the lowest result trips and falls onto the character with next lowest result, then both fall on the character with the next lowest result, and this continues until the whole party are sliding down the mountainside in a big, chaotic heap, trying to steer themselves in the right direction/away from trees, Goonies-style, until they all arrive at the bottom of the mountain in a giant tangle of arms, legs, and snow.

That's an epic end to the whole campaign right there.
 

Here is the bad news: Not all game challenges are level appropriate across every single level. In fact, I'd say that it's far more likely that a challenge type does not span every possible level, at least outside of class challenges. Climbing a mountain is an extraordinary accomplishment at 1st level, some place just above 0-level Commoner.

Depends on the mountain. I can see only two ways (other than with magic, which pretty much renders the issue moot) where the epic party will fare better:

1) Climb skill. To some extent one person with climb skill can traverse problems and use a rope to get others past it--but note that again and again we see that highly skilled sherpas are limited in their ability to get unskilled people safely up Everest. Note, also, that the hardest part of it simply is functioning in that environment, thus:

2) The fighter types will have improved Constitution which I would interpret to make altitude less of a burden, but the arcane types won't have nearly the benefit.

I would expect your level 1 fighter to fare better than your level 20 wizard (not counting magic) on a major mountain.

Also, note that the nature of the mountain means a lot more than it's size. Long ago I attempted one of the Seven Summits--as a level-0 commoner, albeit with a skilled guide. I failed but only because of endurance--we ran out of time and had to turn back. A level-0 commoner has no business on any of the other six even though three of them aren't as high.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
As the party descends (using whatever means they decide), they notice a pair of boulders spinning around one another. That's curious enough to warrant a closer look.

There, they find a Galeb Guhr (a paltry CR 6 creature), and he's as old as the mountain - and hella lonely. Noticing the PCs descend, he decided to get their attention, so that maybe they'd come talk to him.

The Galeb Duhr could be a lot of things - interesting distraction - maybe he's just wants to play some games with the PCs, or he could be a kind of sage. Maybe he has information that's useful. The Galeb Duhr might also know of a secret entrance into an isolated cave deep in the mountain. Centuries ago, an earthquake closed off the cave, sealing a dragon inside that made it his home. The dragon never escaped, and likely died in the cave, along with all his treasure. Assuming some Xorn haven't shown up and eaten it all by now. Or maybe the dragon somehow became a dracolich? Or maybe something else found its way into the cave, and is using it as a base. Or maybe the inside of the mountain lies an imprisoned villain (via the imprisonment spell).

Of course, the Galeb Duhr will only hint at this information, and won't show it unless the PCs agree to a game of boulders (marbles).
 

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