The Final, Fatal Battle of the Skinsaw Murders
For a lot of groups, The Skinsaw Murders ended up being the last module in the series, as the final encounter was enough to destroy most challengers. The internet, particularly the Paizo forums, are awash with stories of how the Lamia Matriarch was enough to annihilate their PC’s, often without suffering serious damage at their hands. There were support groups to talk about the kill counts of Xanesha, the Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms.
Yeah… I should just stop right there. This was another of the writer’s attempts to puff up the name of something beyond what it could reasonably bear. Much like ‘The Misgivings’, it’s one of those nonsensical bits that never quite worked. There’s no flow to the nickname, and even if it did roll off the tongue, it doesn’t fit with anything about the character. Sure, Xanesha does flit around the Magnimar underground to casually sleep with guys in her human form, but that only covers the ‘Wanton’ bit. She’s not particularly pagan, largely unnatural, and she has exactly two forms that she can shift between. Whee.
I feel like Peter Serafinowicz’ character from ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy.’ “This is Xanesha. She’s also known as ‘The Wanton of Nature’s Pagan Forms’.” “Who calls her that?” “Herself, mostly.”
Anyway, where was I?
Xanesha holds an interesting place in Pathfinder lore, in that she’s an almost certain kill in her original form in the second module. It’s so bad that most people consider it a better idea to substitute her sister, the Lamia Matriarch from halfway through the next module, instead, as that would be a marginally more fair fight. And as it happens, Lucrecia doesn’t have a dopey title that she insists on calling herself.
As originally written, Xanesha is disastrously powerful, well-prepared and has complete tactical superiority. She’s got a solid repertoire of spells available, high mobility and can answer any threat that comes after her. All in all, it takes an overprepared part of characters and a bit of GM grace to take her down in her original form, especially when you consider that the party has already faced two fairly difficult combats on the way up the tower. They revised her down to a much more manageable level with the Anniversary Edition, which is likely the result of player feedback and careful consideration on the part of the Paizo editors.
The original scenario has the characters find enough clues to lead them to an abandoned clock tower beneath an ancient Thassilonian bridge. The backstory for her character has her sent by Karzoug (the Runelord that the module series generally refers to) personally, with other sisters sent across the breadth of Varisia to continue his bidding. Her job is to harvest sacrifices for his power, which is generally meaningless at this point in the Adventure Path’s progress. Her sister shows up in the next module, although her role in Karzoug’s return is just as murky. (For most intents, the broad scope of the plot doesn’t start to make sense until about Module #4 or thereabouts.)
Once at the clocktower, the characters face off against a powerful flesh golem in the guise of a scarecrow, have a cinematic climb up the winding stair of the crumbling edifice and come face to face with the creature that’s been manipulating a cult of murderous thugs for her own ends. And in the original version of the adventure, this is where they meet their untimely end.
All Paizo spellcasters have a tactical outlay of spells, with an order for them to be cast. During the characters’ ascent of the tower, her minions made certain that she was aware of the approaching threat by dropping a massive bronze bell on them, with the hopes of either killing them or driving them away. When Xanesha hears this, she casts the following spells on herself: Fly, Mage Armor, Shield, Mirror Image, Haste, and Invisibility. She’s starting out with a solid 26 AC, and this spell kit bumps that up to 35 AC. She also drops Silence on a spare piece of wood within her rooftop lair, thereby shutting down any spell support that the party manages to bring with them. She also activates False Life and casts Divine Favor, which enhances her hilariously powerful spear. (Because of her weapon focus with the spear, it has a x3 Crit modifier, with a threat range of 19. If it gave her Reach, it would be all over for anyone who happened by.) She also has Spell Resistance and a stack of spell-like abilities with DC 20 saves.
Suffice to say, there’s a reason that most parties died to her deadly caress. She’s a CR 10 creature that is facing 7th level characters. Her ability to Fly gives her an immediate advantage, the Silence pretty well covers the entire area of the battle and she even goes to the point of casting a Major Image to keep the party off-balance.
The revised version of Xanesha removes almost all of the advantage that she had in the original version, lowering her hit points and armor class as well as taking away all of her spell kit except Invisibility. She’s still a CR 9 encounter, after the two CR 7 encounters that had to be dealt with on the way up the tower, but in comparison, this is almost a cakewalk. Also, given the slight power creep in converting characters from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder, I’d have to think that she’s a challenge, but not an unreasonable one. The original version was just so much death.
I figure I’ll wrap up the rest of The Skinsaw Murders with one more post, but I’m already looking at taking a break from blogging for a little while after next week. I’m not sure how much of a hiatus I’ll be working with, but next Thursday marks my third full month with this blog, which makes for a clear point to put things on hold. I’ve been managing to update daily since the middle of March, and by the time next week rolls around, I’ll be able to figure out how much verbiage I’ve put into these updates. I aim for 1,000 words per post, with unfailing daily updates, so that should put me somewhere above 100,000 words overall. Not a bad mark to have managed.
In the mean time, I figure I’ll be able to update as I can, but it won’t be a daily thing. There are too many other things that need my attention at the moment, so this is the gig that has to go to the back burner. Hopefully, once the real life aspects iron themselves out, I can go back to regular updates.
But that’s not until next week.