I killed two characters today.
I was GMing Pathfinder and Children of the Void, slightly modified by me. On the eastern end of the island there is a ruined lighthouse. With little poking around the PCs managed not to break their necks by falling of the cliff and found the magical sword hidden nearby. What they didn’t find was the wraith lurking in the ground beneath the lighthouse.They think the mostly intact lighthouse is a good campsite on the hostile island. The druid even uses various stone shaping spells to fix the place up.
Come night and the vengeful spirit rises and proceeds to suck life out of two completely surprised PCs. One PCs got away by riding his harpy zombie to safety and the fourth was away from the camp scouting their opposition.
PCs are around 4-5th level and the wraith is about same level. What makes it particularly nasty in this context is that it is incorporeal undead. In fact I think it is the first incorporeal undead in whole Adventure Path so the PCs didn’t know they should prepare for one. PCs of the party’s level have very little effective means against incorporeal undead besides clerics and the party had none. Their oracle almost had enough levels to try to control the creature (he needed one night of rest to ding 5th level) and couple of magical weapons and offensive spell which weren’t very effective.
This encounter got me thinking that although it looks like standard combat encounter with magical sword as price it plays more like trap. The trap might trigger the next night after the PCs have visited the site (the wraith pursues them), during the day the wraith hides because it is powerless in sunlight. The PCs can come and get the magic sword and slip away without ever facing the wraith. Or if they make camp at the lighthouse they invite surprise visit from the restless dead. There is very little warning that there might be nasty undead, besides mentioning that the island is haunted. Of course there is dead body with the magical sword but this D&D, when does dead body mean anything besides loot!
All in all, cruel way to kill of 5th level PCs.
It kind of reminds me of the wizard in the Tower of the Stargazer. The difference is that the wizard can’t do anything without the PCs letting him out, so the PCs have to decide (whether knowingly or not) to let the shit hit the fan. And the PCs can talk with the wizard. In this case, it’s hit or miss. Either they get out without problems with the loot or somebody dies.
The question is, is this good design for adventure?
The cruel bastard in me definitely likes this. Anything to see the PCs in trouble and having to earn their XP and magical loot. On the other hand, it kind of suck to have your PC die on basically “save or die” way. But I’m leaning towards old school gaming so I guess that it is okay.
Yeah, it’s brilliant.