You forget - crafting armour is impossible. You can only buy it.
Act III, Part V: Tomb Raider
We’re chugging along the plot train as we continue to explore the jungle-covered ruins of Kurast on our creepy Oz-inspired search for a brain, a heart, and nerves (attached to an eye.) After shooting off a quick postcard to Duriel and Kashya ( “Visit the Picturesque Kurast Racism-Zone!”) we’re off to visit Kurast proper.
The first (and least necessary) full-sized region we pass through is Lower Kurast. Random enemy CRs here range from 2 (even more Warped One, as though we still need enemies from the beginning of the game) through 4-6 (most of them), with the occasional CR 9 Infidels and CR 20 River Watcher encounters.
Lower Kurast is slowly being consumed by the jungle, and there are five fixed encounters. The first is a fight against six Tree Lurkers (a CR 11 encounter) who drop out of the trees onto the PCs. We get this gem:
DC 20 is difficult for 1st-level PCs. It becomes average at about Level 5 (8 ranks + 2 Wisdom) and trivial by Level 15 (18 ranks + 2 Wisdom.) So this ambush fails as long as anyone purchased Spot off their extremely tiny skill list.
Then there's another River Stalker ambush (still not a thing, but still probably CR 20), three Hell Buzzard Champions (your daily reminder that the rules for champions don't say how much to boost them by, but the base creature is only CR 3 so this encounter is probably about CR 7), the ability for the PCs to ambush six sleeping Zakarumites (a CR 9 encounter even if you wait for them to wake up and get their things), and a fight against a unique CR 12 monster and his retinue of five CR 8 monsters (a CR 14 encounter.)
So to summarize: CR 11 and 20 ambushes against you, a CR 9 ambush against someone else, and a CR 7 and 14 regular encounter. Good to know we're not trying to even these out at all. But hey, unlike previous acts, every one of these fixed encounters lists specific numbers of enemies instead of "as a CR whatever encounter."
With literally nothing else of note in this entire region, we move on to the Bazaar, where we get… we get… oof.
There are six tombs scattered through the Bazaar, Upper Kurast, and the Kurast Causeway. One of them has a book you want for a sidequest. The other five are empty and useless. There are no clues for which tomb is the right tomb. There are no clues to tell the PCs how many tombs exist. The GM is encouraged to pick one at random. Each tomb has only 3-4 rooms, but they have very high chances of random encounters. One of them has a boss. It may or may not be the one with the treasure. Getting into any given tomb requires a DC 20 Strength check to force the door, with no consequences for failure, so I think you can just take 20.
The boss in question is Battlemaid Sarina, an undead warrior about which no flavour text or interesting facts are given. She is a CR 9 encounter who fights alone, so the fact that she can heal when she hits you doesn’t matter that much. If the book is with her, you get 3,000 XP (not that much at Level 25+) for bringing the book back to Kurast, plus presumably a stern lecture from Deckard Cain about the fact that you are on a timer, guys.
Aside from the tombs, the Kurast Bazaar has a great bit of GMing advice.
Because Fuck Your Players said:
7. Ambush: A monotonous buzzing sound is heard. Players who do not state immediately that they are going on guard will be caught flat-footed by 6 Hell Swarms that suddenly descend to attack them.
No, you can’t make a Spot or Listen check! I told you there was buzzing! Anyway, each Hell Swam is only CR 3, so even with the ambush this CR 8 encounter is unlikely to be a serious concern.
Oh, wait, I just glanced at their writeup and each swarm can automatically deal 1d6 Constitution damage (no save) every 1d3 rounds, and they have good initiative, so there is a real chance that a surprise round will allow them to take 5-6 Constitution off every character.
We wrap up by going into a second weirdly spacious sewer system. This one is getting choked with ooze and vines as the jungle grows into it, and is a goddamn two-level full-sized dungeon that leads both backwards and out. The Heart is on the lower level.
The upper level includes several attempts to trick-murder the PCs. The first is a dozen low-level enemies, and then a surprise attack from a CR 21 Stygian Watcher as soon as the PCs are engaged. The second is a set of eight Soul Killers (CR 7 each), with three Horadrim Ancients (CR 11 each) hiding just in range to raise them from the dead without being spotted - this is a CR 16 encounter, plus hidden ambush powers. The third is a CR 5 unique bat with seven buddies (a total CR 9 encounter) that is uninteresting. The fourth is an attack by four CR 21 Stygian Watchers that ambush the PCs. The Stygian Watcher is a much stronger version fo the Water Watcher we discussed last time. That is a CR 25 encounter, plus ambush and water features, involving enemies who attack twelve times per round each and deal Constitution damage, immediately after a CR 9 encounter.
*EDIT* Oh, for those taking notes. The Stygian watcher attacks eight times per round for 1d8+13 damage (two attacks at +33/+28/+23/+18), three times per round for 2d8+13 damage (+28/+23/+18), and then throws spit (+17 ranged touch attack) for 1 permanent and 5d6 Constitution damage (Fort Save DC 29 to resist.) It has 290 HP.
This is ludicrously bad.
The good news is, if you can survive the CR 25 encounter, you can grab the heart and run, and never come back to these extremely dumb sewers again. Maybe Duriel can come down here and freeze them all solid.
A lot of this stuff actually seems like it wouldn't be too bad for a normal high level party who can use Delay Poison or Hero's Feast to mitigate a lot of these Con damage threats. But the Diablo classes are kind of crippled in comparison to high level normal casters.
If you know that the threat is coming, absolutely. The problem is that if the party hasn't dropped total poison immunity ahead of them, there is a ludicrous chance of the Stygian Watchers one-shotting them.
5d6 Con damage kills a Con 12 character 94% of the time. It kills a Con 16 character 70% of the time. And with the Fort save set at DC 29, a typical Level 25 character who favours Fort still saves less than half the time. So on average, the first round of combat is likely to kill two PCs.
Okay. We have our three parts of Khalim (really want to know what magic tore that guy apart in a way that leaves his bits perfectly preserved forever) and now it’s time to go see the Wizard, in…
Act III, Part VI: Council Is In Session
Having left the Kurast Bazaar behind, we’re now in Upper Kurast. This involves crossing a massive bridge in the sky, to find a set of about twenty buildings filling the region. Mostly we're fighting CR 4 Zakarumites here, but there's also a bunch of different CR 5-8 monsters. No more CR 20 encounters, I guess the sewers were just too much.
There are only really two things worth noting here. The first is a magic trap. Once again, the DC to find it is only 15, and to disable it is 20, but this time if you mess it up you and everyone in a line behind you takes 6d6 lightning damage (Reflex DC20 to half). So at least it's a real trap.
The other thing worth mentioning is the word-for-word reprint of the rules for the temples from the previous section. Between reprinting the rules for the stairs to each of the two temples in this area, and reprinting the rules for what the temples look like (including random encounters and such), this covers a full half-page of reprinted text from two fucking pages ago.
How hard would it have been to have the six temples in their own, single section, with a reference for where to go to them in each of the three regions they're found in? I mean, come on! But I don’t know, at least it is a new and exciting way to absolutely waste our time.
We take some snapshots of the decorative temples, send them to Duriel and Kashya, and resume our journey by stepping onto the vistas of the Kurast Causeway. The Kurast Causeway is clearly supposed to be a cool setpiece battle. Fortunately, this allows us to get a new and exciting series of failures.
So. The Causeway is a map that is 300 feet long and 15 feet wide - a single, massive bridge connecting two areas hundreds of feet above the jungle. There are two plazas with buildings near the middle, with enemies lurking in them.
And it gives us the following rules:
The Causeway is the most unusual, and undoubtedly the smallest, wilderness region. Place one CR 1 encounter on each side of the causeway, just outside the stone buildings (use the Travincal encounter table). When the PCs move to assault either group, vile reinforcements join in from the other side. It's likely that some of the foes here are spellcasters with ranged attacks, and this can represent a formidable challenge.
Guys, I have figured it out. I think I know what’s up with all of these “CR 1” encounters.
I think when they were writing these sections, they weren’t sure what level the PCs were expected to be at, so they just wrote “CR1” as a placeholder while they worked on the monsters, and then no one ever went back to fix them, so now we get things like this.
And then we get another full half-page reprint of the text for the six tombs. The exact same reprinted text as before.
It’s failure all the way down.
So. Casually strolling through that battle and basically just pretending that it doesn’t exist takes us to Travincal.
A pair of golden circular pillars, encrusted with unfriendly horns, mark your departure from the Causeway and into the deepest heart of Kurast[.]
Here, enemies range from CR 5 to 8, although a third of them are those spellcasters who are CR 6 enemies that can throw spells as 9th or 11th level sorcerers. This region is perfectly square, and has both buildings and pools of polluted water, plus a giant dais that leads to the building containing the High Council, the Flail of Khalim, and the Compelling Orb - your targets for today. There’s also a Fixed Encounter in which another pair of CR 17 water watchers ambush the players, but we’re pretty much used to that by now.
And then we get into the Council room, and it all goes wrong again. Here, there are three Council Members, plus three High Councillors (the “true threat”.) Only… there are no stats for Council Members. They’re not a monster type.
The High Councillors are a trio of CR 10 enemies, so only a CR 13 encounter. One of them has good AC and curses anyone he hits so that they take extra damage per additional hit. The second one just does a lot of fire damage and is immune to fire. The third one deals ice damage, and also has a Stoneskin power that gives him +8 AC, but which is not listed in his writeup (his AC is 19, compared to 19 and 20 for the other two.) Please feel free to guess - is he meant to have Stoneskin while the other councillors have armor, and to be just AC 19, or is he supposed to have AC 27 and be ludicrously harder to hit than his buddies?
Who cares. It’s a CR 13 encounter at the almost end of Act III. They die.
Khalim’s flail is a +3 Flail; empowering it with all of Khalim’s bits gives you a +5 Flail that deals double damage to everyone. You might be tempted to use it. Don’t! Flails are Hardness 8, Durability 15. Assuming a high-Strength character, this one will deal at least 2d8+22 damage on a hit, taking an absolute minimum of 8 Durability damage per successful hit. One or two hits, and the flail explodes, and you lose the campaign.
And anyway, if you were carrying the Horadric Cube, you can build the flail right there in the council room, use it instantly, and then watch it explode when it destroys the Compelling Orb.
Destroying the Compelling Orb frees the people of Kurast from the control of the High Council, which does not change the encounter tables in Kurast at all, nor does it make the city any safer. All of the Zakarumites and cantors and whatnot are still running around murdering people. One assumes that they’re doing this while weeping, “I didn’t mean to!” But this also opens the way to the Durance of Hate, where we can fight Mephisto and end this Act!
I've been trying to think back to 2nd edition encounter building (which I'm not sure I had a strong grasp on even then). If you pretended this was a thing designed by people who only understood 2nd edition and made encounters that would work there and then never updated it to reflect the new stuff in 3rd would that explain any of it? I don't think so but I'm not sure I remember 2nd edition well enough to comment.