Looking Over Book of Challenges: Release the Hounds
Some creatures set an ambush in a room of antimagic zones.
The boxed text includes smells and sounds. I think the PCs should notice them before entering the room, given that the entrances are both raised portcullises by default, but regardless, describing multiple senses succinctly is always welcome.
I’m always a fan of dropping a portcullis to split the party.
The first paragraph of the sidebar on using antimagic zones has good general advice about letting player use their PC’s abilities/spells, varying challenges to avoid any on feeling stale, and being mindful that NPCs and creatures should also be affected by tactical hazards.
The tactics of having the wolves shepherd their targets into antimagic zones for surrounding while the kytons harass at a distance with their chains is a solid combination.
The potion is a nice treasure, assuming the PCs can get it before the kyton uses it.
The advice to scale up the encounter by replacing the wolves with hellcats is an interesting way to make the encounter harder in an interesting way rather than just increasing numbers or stats, since it adds an active choice about whether or not to use light.
While it’s good that the boxed text mentions odor at all, it’s weird that it mentions two different ones in the span of two sentences: “[t]he thick scent of wet fur” and “[a] horrific stench”. Those should go together, e.g. “The light sound of rattling chains emanates from this dark passage. A stench of wet fur mixed with some putrid musk hangs in the air, but its source remains unseen.”
The room is described as having cells, but the portcullis controls (dropping both sides simultaneously but raising only one at a time) suggest the room is more likely a security checkpoint or a kill zone than a holding area. One possible exception is a kennel for the wolves that they’re trained to not leave while the portcullises are raised, but that alone doesn’t explain the antimagic zones.
The central structure interferes with movement and surrounding. Either getting rid of the four outer blocks or replacing the central cross with a vertical rectangle would open up much more space while still having constricted paths.
The intro tries to provide some justifications for the antimagic zones, but they beg the question of why the zones are spread haphazardly instead of having a continuous area or a sensible arrangement. That seems like a contrivance added for game reasons.
I’m so glad someone thought to write “Unless the PCs have a light source, the area remains dark.” I can’t imagine how I would’ve adjudicated the situation without that brilliant instruction.
The boxed text mentions the sound of rattling chains, but the room description says “[the] chains don’t touch one another, and none of them are moving.”
The sidebar on using antimagic zones says “Players feel much less manipulated if the zones are used to accent a tough encounter, instead of being the sole reason for its design.” I have no idea what this is trying to say, and the poor comma use makes it all the more irritating.
The “Creatures” section says each kyton is hiding in an antimagic zone, but the map has all of them starting outside of those zones, and the “Tactics” section points out that they can’t use their abilities in those zones.
After having one of the book’s best drawings in In Media Res, this has one of the worst. The little clouds from the wolf’s mouth, the bone spurs on its forehead, and its eyes all look like they were drawn in on top of everything with no attempt to make them fit, the kyton’s various chain blades just look goofy, and the black background is trying too hard to be intimidating.
The mundane equipment on the former adventurer’s remains is going to be of zero interest as treasure at EL 11.
Most of the advice for scaling the challenge is just about varying the number of creatures, and the point that “[t]he kyton favors hit-and-run tactics” is both out-of-place there and completely unnecessary.
To be transparent, I don’t like kytons. They strike me as a purposeless creature in terms of the role they’re supposed to fill (because of hamatula predating them); their ability to control chains that sprout blades and barbs spontaneously is some of the most idiotic, juvenile, “so edgy I can walk between raindrops” bullshit that I’ve seen; and there are so many better ways to do a BDSM-inspired creature that I don’t understand why anyone would like them. I’ve never used them in a game I’ve run, and I don’t expect that to change.
That all said, this encounter doesn’t actually need kytons specifically, so they’re easy to replace with something better that can hang out in the chains and attack with reach/range. Doing so ends up with an interesting combat with opponents swarming from multiple directions and elevations while the party is dealing with both physical separation (until the portcullis is overcome) and likely denial of special abilities. I think this would be an awkward fit for a climactic encounter, but it’s a great fit as part of an otherworldly stronghold, and it can work well even without the antimagic zones (though that would obviously make it much easier than EL 11).
All in all, this is a great encounter for making the players feel overwhelmed while keeping things fairly simple for the GM. It may not be the high point of an adventure, but it could easily be the high point of a play session.
PS: I had to check the standard kyton stat block to remember how they worked, and it contained this gem: “A chain devil’s most awesome attack is its ability to control up to four chains…, making the chains dance or move as it wishes.” It sure seems like someone at WotC really wanted their specific fetish codified, and then someone at Paizo went all-out with it in Pathfinder.