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Douglas Muir 406's page

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber. 9,985 posts (10,731 including aliases). 5 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 alias.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
gustavo iglesias wrote:
I'd be more interested in SS than in Second Darkness or WotR, to be honest

Firm agreement. WoTR has an excellent opening and there's much to like in the first half. By the back half, though, the Mythic rules really turn it into rocket tag -- and if the players are competent, then it's rocket tag that they're always going to win.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Adam Smith wrote:
Based on what you both are saying and what I've seen on the boards for SS, it seems that there might be some interest in seeing an AP that the community finds difficult to run as-written, played in its entirety by a group that specializes in running material as such?

Well if that's what you're after, there's always Second Darkness...

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Adam Smith wrote:

It's interesting that you mention Souls for Smuggler's Shiv, since as GM I am constantly tearing through published material trying to figure out where we'll go next. I stopped immediately when I hit Jacobs's adventure, and read the entirety in one night. I've been considering Serpent's Skull as a fun throwback for a while now after being so inspired by PF37; you may have just helped me sell the group on it, since we all loved In Search of Sanity, as evidenced here. Thanks again!

1) Souls for Smuggler's Shiv is amazing. There's general consensus on this. It's one of the best AP modules ever, and might be the best Volume 1 of any AP. The only reason I say "might" is because there are some players who won't love the hardscrabble, bare-hands aspect of the first half of the module, where you're starting with no equipment and have to worry about stuff like diseases and tropical rainstorms. But IME those guys are a minority, and anyway this module offers so much more -- cool encounters, all kinds of tropes. It's just really solid and well done.

AFAICT this is the general consensus on the forums: most people like SfSS a lot, and many people absolutely love it.


The rest of the AP is a very, very mixed bag. Volume 2 is (IMO) okay to good, a race against rival factions across the savannah of not-Africa to find a lost city. But after that it gets wildly uneven and famously grindy. There's some good stuff in there, including a cool fight with, basically, King Kong. But pretty much everyone agrees that there are also major flaws. The back half in particular is notorious for being super grindy.

Again, AFAICT this is the general consensus on the forums: many people like SS, but a large minority are very critical of the later modules.

3) My understanding is that you Amber Dice guys run the APs absolutely straight, as written, with no DM adjustments or tweaking. If that's how you plan to play it, then ask around first, because a lot of people think the latter part of SS, as written, is... troubled.

Whatever you do, I'll be watching with great interest!

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Here's a system I posted back in November on the Strange Aeons subforum. I used it IMC and the players liked it. YMMV.

* * * * *
I love the amnesia aspect of ISoS. What I don't like so much: that the PCs, after the opening encounter, immediately find all their stuff and start off pretty much unscathed. I think the horror aspect is likely to be ramped up if the PCs have a more realistic "wake up naked in an asylum" experience. Yes, ISoS is a pretty tough module. But I have a party of six, so I'm okay with handicapping them a little. I think this system would also work with four 20-point characters (since the module assumes 15 points).

Before starting, I'm going to tell the players that they have six Starting Points, which they can distribute among four categories: Stuff, Physical, Mental, and Fugue. They can spend up to three points in each category -- so, for instance, a PC might start with Stuff 2, Physical 3, Mental 1, and Fugue 0. What I'll tell the PCs: "Stuff 3 means you start with lots of stuff. Physical 3 means you're in great physical shape, Mental 3 same. Fugue 3, you have the least possible effects from the fugue. Lower numbers are less good." No details beyond that.

So what will these mean? Well:


Stuff 3: You find all your starting equipment in the first room. Since your character used to be a favored servant of Lowls, I will add a useful item of up to 2,000 gp value into your stuff... a magic weapon, minor magic item, a spellbook with extra spells up to fourth level, or the like. Your stuff will also contain a clue to your past (embroidered initials on fine clothing, or some such.)

Stuff 2: You find all your starting equipment in the first room. It's the normal equipment for a 1st level PC, with no clues.

Stuff 1: The DM determines one item that is definitely present -- a weapon, spellbook, or holy symbol, whatever the character most needs. Everything else, have the player go down his character sheet and roll: 50% chance it's there, otherwise it's marked "missing". Missing items will be found with Winter and the refugees, and can be claimed as soon as they trust the PC (attitude friendly or better).

Stuff 0: You got nothin'. You'll find one critical item (as above, weapon or spellbook) in the possession of the first ghoul or doppelganger you encounter in area B. After that, the refugees may have some of your stuff: roll for everything else, 50% there, 50% lost forever.


Physical 3: You were dosed with a powerful stimulant that will temporarily increase either your Con or your Dex by +4. The stimulant wears off four hours after you wake up.

Physical 2: You're fine.

Physical 1: You have an injury (half your hp) that also affects your movement: either one arm isn't working, or you're at -10' on your move. The latter effect will disappear once you have healed the hp AND have a night's good rest (i.e., in the chapel... there's no good rest anywhere else).

Physical 0: You have the Sickened condition, and will have it until you have a night's good rest AND someone makes a DC 15 Heal check on you. You also have either a disease or an addiction (DM's choice); if a disease, you're already past the incubation period.


Mental 3: You awake with your mind strangely clear and strong. You are immune to San damage for the next four hours. If not using the Sanity system, then you gain +4 on Will saves for the next four hours.

Mental 2: You're fine.

Mental 1: You're disoriented and distracted. You are at -4 to either Wis or Cha,and whenever confronted with a stressful situation (such as combat) you must make a DC 15 Will save in order to place yourself in danger. (If you fail the Will save by 5 or more, you can do nothing but cower.) You can retry the Will save each round; once it's made, you can act normally for the rest of that encounter or situation.

Mental 0: You seem fine at first, but in fact you have gained a madness as per the DMG -- either paranoia, mania, or phobia (DM's choice). The madness DC is 15. The madness passes if you can get a good night's rest and then make the Will save, OR you get a good night's rest after someone has made a DC 20 Heal check on you. The Heal check DC is reduced by 1 for every ten minutes the healer spends sitting with you and speaking calmly.


Fugue 3: You still get occasional flickers of memory from your past life. The DM may use this to give you hints or clues at any time during the first two modules. Additionally, during the first week after waking, you may reroll up to three attacks, saves, or skill checks, as the fading memories of your past self briefly inspire you to greater competence. These rerolls are a limited resource; once you've used them, they're gone.

Fugue 2: As per normal.

Fugue 1: You no longer remember your name. The DM or the other players will give you a name based on some characteristic ("Scarface", "Twitchy", or the like). Also, some of your memories are slow to recover. Whenever you attempt to attack with a weapon, use a skill, or cast a spell, there is a 20% chance you are unable to bring those memories to the fore. For a weapon or a skill, you are treated as non-proficient (-4 to attack rolls, no +3 bonus on skill checks). For a spell, you are unable to cast it, but you do not lose the spell or slot. Once you have used a particular weapon or skill, or cast a particular spell, you no longer have to make this roll. You can try to reroll a failed roll after at least ten minutes have passed. This condition passes after a good night's rest.

Fugue 0: As above, except the failure chance is now 50%, and you don't remember how to read or how to speak any languages but Common. The condition persists until you can get a good night's rest and then make a DC 15 save, OR you get a good night's rest after someone has made a DC 20 Heal check on you. The Heal check DC is reduced by 1 for every ten minutes the healer spends sitting with you and speaking calmly.

If you do use it, please let us know how it works out!


Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Here's my own version, spinning off the half-demons from Demons Revisited. Start with the standard half-fiend template, then modify as follows.

* * *

Type: The creature’s type remains the same but it gains the shapechanger subtype. Do not recalculate HD, BAB, or saves.

Armor Class: Natural armor bonus improves by +4.

Defenses/Qualities: Gains darkvision 60 feet; DR 5/ good or piercing; and SR equal to creature’s CR + 11 (maximum 25).

Speed: No change; the creature does not gain a fly speed.

Melee: A half-rakshasa gains two claw attacks and a bite attack. Damage depends on its size.

Special Attacks: A half-rakshasa does not gain Smite Good or any other special attacks.

Alternate Spell-Like Abilities: Instead of Darkness 3x/day, Enlarge Person or Reduce Person (either) once/day. Instead of Desecrate, Detect Thoughts 3x/day. Replace Unholy Blight with Suggestion. Replace Contagion with Lightning 3x/day. A half-rakshasa gains no spell-like abilities for having more than 10 levels or hit dice.

Abilities: A half-rakshasa gains Str +2, Dex +4, Con +4, Int +2, Wis +2, and Cha +4.

Shifter: The half-rakshasa gains the SQ change shape (any humanoid of its own size category, alter self), with the limitation that it can only change its shape up to 3x/day

Deceiver: A half-rakshasa gains +4 racial bonuses to Bluff and Disguise checks.

Vicious Heritage: Once a half-rakshasa reaches 10th level, it ceases to gain spell-like abilities and its SR can no longer increase. However, if it seeks out and kills an actual rakshasa with at least as many hit dice as the half-rakshasa, then it takes that rakshasa's place on the Great Wheel. The half-rakshasa immediately becomes a full rakshasa (keeping all its earned experience and character levels), while the rakshasa is reborn as an ordinary mortal.

* * *

Notes: Trying to use the Paizo half-demons as a model here. This guy has no fly speed and no smiting; to balance, he gets better SLAs than most and a nice natural armor bonus. The "enlarge/reduce person" SLA is a nod to Ghatotkacha, the most famous half-rakshasa from the Mahabharata. The Vicious Heritage is my own addition, but it does help explain why there aren't a lot of these guys around, and it gives many (though not all) of them a built-in motivation. A sufficiently arrogant rakshasa might deliberately spawn a half-breed to be a terror to his relatives or rivals, and the Fearless Rakshasa Hunter may actually be a half-rakshasa with an agenda of his own...


Doug M.

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FWIW, Rocksauce is an exception. Her attitude towards most of you seems to be Neutral. Her attitude towards Mrakala is an exception to the exception: it's pretty clearly Hostile.

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The guard leader's eyes widen. "You actually... uh, wait here while I get Winter." He does a double take. "Wait, is that Rocksauce? I mean..."

"Duh." This gets the trifecta: hair flip, eye roll, and sneer. "I told you I'd be fine."

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Big Amber Die fan, love these reports.

Doug M.

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Your Phantom, Doctor Lomar, is a unique Dedication phantom. He has all the usual powers, with the following modifications:

-- His skill is Heal. Obviously his ability to actually heal is limited when he's incorporeal, but he can still make helpful suggestions (Aid Another).

-- He has more free will and autonomy than a normal phantom. His alignment is Lawful Neutral and his motivations are to guard the asylum, fix whatever is wrong with it, and help the patients. You can command him like a normal phantom, but if you instruct him to do something that goes against his alignment or motivations, he'll resist, and you'll have to win a contested Cha check. You don't know what will happen if you fail the Cha check.

He also has a personality: he's a bit fussy and pedantic, and a bit bossy and superior. He's a doctor, young lady. Pushing him around in ways that are not consistent with his personality may get his back up and force a Cha check.

-- You can ask him questions about the asylum, patients, etc., but his memories have been damaged. Not as severely damaged as yours, but something crushed in his skull. (This is also why he has a working Int of 7.) You notice how his speech was becoming confused towards the end? He doesn't like to admit it, but he's missing a few pips on his dice. So, his ability to answer questions may be limited.

-- Spiritualists are not a common class, at all; most people would have no idea that such a thing even is possible. Also, you're in Ustalav, where pretty much everyone has excellent reasons for being paranoid about the occult.

-- If you don't like this, you can (at this point) cast him out. You know that you can say, "I revoke my invitation!" or words to that effect. This means rejecting the Spiritualist level. It may not always be an option, but it is right now.

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You have gained a level of Spiritualist. You are now a Bard 1 / Spiritualist 1. Give yourself an extra Hit Die, adjust your saves, add skill ranks, and so on and so forth.

It is unclear how long this will last. Or what will happen when it ends. But for now, you're second level.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
WagnerSika wrote:

@Douglas Muir 406
Your version of Kargeld was really intimidating, do you have some stats for him? And what exactly was the statue of Two Queens? If Kargeld had maanged to set it off what would have happened?

As it happens, we had a conversation about building the good Captain over in the campaign's discussion thread. Here are the relevant posts.

Designing Captain Odenkirk (Mechanics):
The original Captain Odenkirk was a Neutral Evil barbarian. No change there. But he needed a significant power-up and redesign to give him a chance to face this party. With eidolon, dog and ogre you have a total of nine characters who can act every round. That tips the action economy far in your favor. So I knew that mechanically I'd have to build him carefully if I wanted him to last past the first round.

I made him a Bbn 8 / Expert 1. The Expert level was to reflect his captaining skills and long experience at sea, and also to nudge up his skills and Will save. His feats started with the usual barbarian trio Toughness, Power Attack and Cleave. I gave him Iron Will because I knew he'd be facing a lot of spells targeting his Will save, and also because it was thematically appropriate.

After some consideration, I gave him Improved Sunder. The Sunder CM doesn't get a lot of play because it's so cruel -- it targets your beloved weapons, and leaves the fighter types standing helplessly with nothing. But the Captain *is* a cruel bastard, and I felt it would be totally consistent for him to smash your weapon, render you helpless, laugh at you, and then kill you. I gave him an adamantite axe so that he could sunder all day long and, well, you can see how that's worked out.

For barbarian powers I gave him Defensive stance to nudge his AC from bad to mediocre, followed by Spirit Totem and Superstition. If you're following along, this meant that his Will save would gain up to +2 expert +2 Iron Will +3 Superstition +2 rage in addition to the normal +2 for a barbarian and whatever his Wis bonus is. His other saves would also be respectable. Very important when facing four spellcasters at once! (I don't love Superstition for the same reason I don't love Haste -- it's so good that almost everyone takes it. But, hell, you guys took Haste. What's a DM to do? It's an arms race, you gotta keep up.)

He got some special powers from his connection with the Kraken. After some consideration, I decided that (1) he would get regeneration like a troll as long as he was near salt water, and (2) he'd get a better version of Spirit Totem -- among other things, it has a 10' reach and does 2d4 instead of d4.

There was no way to make his AC better than so-so without redesigning the whole character. Ultimately I shrugged and decided that he'd rely on Toughness and raging to bring him through.

He has a 10 Int and only put a single rank in Sense Motive, which meant that -- up until the final boss fight -- you guys were able to scam him pretty effectively. This was deliberate. If I'd made him smarter or cranked his Sense Motive up to the max, he might have seen through you, and that could have been lethal. Putting you on a boat with a powerful hair-trigger paranoiac who was *also* incredibly sensitive and perceptive would have been unfair.

Now, Bag'o'Bones had a high Sense Motive. Luckily for you, you decided to kill him as fast as possible, and his lizard too. (Yeah, the lizard could have been trouble.)

Designing Captain Odenkirk (Roleplaying):
One thing about running an evil campaign is that you guys get to spend a lot more time in the company of evil NPCs. In a standard campaign, you'd just be killing them. Here you get to hang out with them first. So, I've been trying to present different kinds of villainy for your consideration. The Cardinal, Tiadora, Irin, Zargo, and now the Captain... they're all evil, but they're evil in very different ways.

The Captain was mostly straightforward, but there were subtleties. I made him cruel, domineering, paranoid, violent and greedy. Not randomly or recklessly so -- he'll keep his oath to deliver the weapons, and you, to your destinations -- but he's ultimately too selfish and greedy to be trustworthy. In other words, pretty much pure Neutral Evil. Displaying his character to you was a mix of "show" (his constant brutality towards his sailors) and "tell" (the kraken backstory with him sacrificing a shipload of refugees, Nimpy's story, the first mate).

Does the Captain have positive aspects? Well, he's utterly fearless (as seen in the encounter with the Mountain That Swims). And I did give him a faint hint of a softer side: his melancholic yearning for Homeland. He loves his cruel, savage native land. But his brutality and violence got him exiled, and his greed means he'll never pay the blood-prices that would let him go home. So he's really a man trapped by his own character. You could almost feel a tiny bit sorry for him. Of course, this just makes him more violent and cruel. So, maybe not so much.

The Captain's drinking was almost a throwaway line -- he goes onshore sometimes and drinks, but not on the ship because it makes him ill tempered. (As opposed to his normal kindly mild-mannered self.) You guys somehow got the idea of a drinking contest. That's a common fantasy trope, it's true, but not in this case. The Captain is not a social drinker! Quite the opposite.

Anyway. I wanted him to be a fairly well realized NPC; and then I wanted you guys to be wary of him, if not outright frightened by him. You can tell me how well that worked or not.

Depending on your party, you may want to adjust the details. For instance, if you have a standard party of four (mine was six), then lose at least one level of barbarian. But the Captain's low Sense Motive means a clever party *should* be able to get him into a bad situation, and then action economy takes over.

Thank You For Sailing Frosthamar Cruise Lines!

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

A data point: yesterday there was a special election for the Connecticut State Senate. It was for the 32nd District, which is the reddest district in an otherwise purply-blue state. The 32nd is rural and exurban, and demographically it's oldish and very white. It hasn't sent a Democrat to the Connecticut State House since 1891.

(Why do I know this? Because I used to live in that district, and I spent some time phone banking for the Democrat over the weekend.)

Nobody expected to win this one -- and we didn't. However, the numbers are interesting. In November, the 32nd District went 66-34 for the Republican State Senate candidate. Yesterday, it went 55-45. That's an eleven point swing. This is the second special election in two weeks, and the last one (in Delaware) also saw a swing towards the Democrats. In that case, the swing was about seven points; since it was a purple district to begin with, the Democrat won comfortably.

Special elections happen all the time, and usually nobody pays much attention. But over the next few months, they're going to be a lot more important. If you live in Pennsylvania or Louisiana, you have special elections coming up in March; if you live in Alabama, Kansas or Georgia, you get your chance in April. The Kansas and Georgia elections are for the US House of Representatives, so they'll get extra attention.

Throw a few bucks at a candidate, sign up for a phone bank and make some calls, maybe go knock on a few doors. What the hey.

Doug M.

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"She seems nice."

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Meanwhile, let me try to answer your questions.

-- How quickly can you do the opposed charisma check? I would say immediately. In fact, my interpretation is that it MUST take place immediately. Otherwise, the balance of the spell tips in favor of the caster, who can leave the creature stuck in the circle for ten minutes while he goes to powder his nose and cast a bunch of buffs on himself.

-- What kind of action is it? Normally this is not an issue. Planar Binding takes ten minutes to cast, so whether you do the subsequent check as a free, standard, or full-round action is pretty irrelevant. However, the Blood Summoner's Fiendish Calling Ability happens in a single round, so now time becomes a concern. If you can do it as a free action, that's great. If it requires a standard, then effectively this spell requires two rounds (one to call, one to do the check), making this ability almost useless outside of combat. RAW gives no guidance, so you're on your own here.

Personally, I think requiring a standard or even a FRA is completely reasonable. Yes, it nerfs the Blood Summoner a bit. You know what? The Blood Summoner is pretty cheesy to begin with, and Fiendish Calling is super abusable. Requiring a round of bargaining isn't going to break it -- you can still require your called creature to stick around for days, after all.

-- "If you can immediately make a check is the trap even necessary?" Yes, because if you FAIL the check, the creature is then free to do as it pleases -- attack you, teleport away to wreak chaos on the material plane, or simply roll its eyes and plane shift back home. The trap prevents these things... the creature is stuck for up to days/level, and you can come back and attempt a new check every day.

Note that this is another reason not to use the Blood Summoner's ability in combat. In a normal planar binding, you can accept a failure chance of (let's say) 30%; if you fail, you just try again tomorrow. Use Fiendish Calling in combat, and that's a 30% chance that you've just added another enemy.

-- "So, is the trap part of the magic of the binding, or is it only highly-advised?" The latter.

-- "And what if you want to call a creature, but not bind it (e.g. an allied outsider from a different plain, or a creature that you worship)? Can you in this case leave the trap away?" Normally that's impossible, because a normal Planar Binding selects a random typical creature of that particular type... you get a randomly selected ice devil or whatever. The only exception is if you have the creature's true name, in which case you can summon it again and again.

-- "Does the creature have to inform you when its task is done? Can it not inform you and stay on the current plain indefinitely?" -- Oh, clever. Well, let's see: the duration of the spell is days/level, so at that point the spell would expire, sending the creature back home. Most called creatures WANT to go home; they have lives and jobs, and they don't want to hang around on the material plane. But, okay, there will be exceptions. Presumably most summoners will include a "report back promptly" instruction, but this is not required. So *if* the summoner forgets or neglects to include this instruction, and *if* the creature has some reason or motivation to hang around on the material plane, then yes, it could stay here for up to days/level of the caster.

-- "What does unreasonable mean here? Such commands that are not logically consistent? Otherwise what marks an unreasonable command?" The RAW is not clear. However, one definition of unreasonable is "extreme". IMO, this includes commands that would cause the creature to die; or to have a very high likelihood of death; or that would cause it to violate its alignment.

Good questions. The Planar Binding spells are not very well written, and the Blood Summoner just adds another level of complication.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I addressed most of these questions in DMDM's Guide to Planar Binding, which can be found here and also here (second part) Where rules and FAQ don't give clear answers, I try to fill in the blanks as best I can.

If you're looking for things to call with the Planar Binding spells, google "Crowdsource Planar Binding" -- there are three threads, one for each of the PB spells, with dozens of creatures discussed. If you're playing at high levels, or planning to, google "miniguide Gate".


Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Reduxist wrote:
@Douglas Muir there are also the Caller's Feathers which are one-use items that can boost your HD limit. At 2,000 GP or 1,000 if crafting it, it's a steal at 15th level. There also racisl traits that augment Planar Ally such as the Aasimar's Planar Negotiator, which reduces bargaining prices by 10%, or the Drow's Blasphemous Covenant , which specifically targets demons, but reduces the cost by a whopping 20% on top of giving demons you summoned via Summon Monster additional health.

Someone has read my Guide to the Diabolist!

Or if you haven't read it, and you knew that stuff anyway - then go read it, please, and tell me if you have any comments. Well-informed input is the very best kind.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Reduxist wrote:
Just realized something (again); this was probably coincidental and a bit of a reach, but due to the charisma dependency and the fact that you can use the Void domain, you can also specialize in Planar Binding spells.

Wait, the Void domain gives you *all three* Planar Binding spells?

Oh hell to the yes. Suddenly this Archetype makes all kinds of sense. Right now, all the core planar binders have a problem: wizards usually have crap Cha while sorcerors are handicapped by their low spells known. And clerics, of course, can't use planar binding at all -- they're stuck with the distinctly inferior Planar Ally spell instead. But this cuts right past all those problems. AND you have access to the human or tiefling FCB, which lets you pretty much ignore SR! Sweet. Sweeeet.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Dreikaiserbund wrote:
I suspect it will never be particularly optimal, but a Cleric (Elder Mythos Cultist) / Sorcerer (Aberrant, Impossible, or Ghoul Bloodline) / Mystic Theurge would be thematic as hell.

Oh, heck yes. A Bad Touch Cleric with a 10' reach? SAD everything on Cha, go Aberrant. Yeah, you have to wait until 8th level before you get your Theurge on, but you get oh, so many spells to play with. Even if weakish as a PC, you'd have an awesome NPC cult leader or something.

Doug M.

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Slight tangent: I was inspired to come back to PBP and run this particular AP because I ran a short Lovecraft-based campaign that was a tremendous amount of fun. Well, a tremendous amount of fun for me. Most of the PCs died. But the players also seemed to have fun!

Anyway, I mention this because it was FTF - tabletop using the 5e rules. And one of the players was a relative newbie who decided to compensate for his lack of gaming experience by reading the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and DMG very carefully. Bless his heart.

So they're nearing the final session, down in the basement of the museum, near the pulsing heart of the madness, the portal to Aucturn torn open by the mysterious artifact unearthed from the tomb. And they've been dealing with a lot of fungal-themed craziness, because the Fungi From Yuggoth Aucturn have been basically playing Lego with human and animal body parts plus the odd bits of this and that lying around the museum's basement, all glued together with fungus.

And now, as they approach the final room, the door swings open... and into the room slides a pygmy- or halfling-sized idol from the Mwangi Expanse, its dark wood covered with alien mold, its head removed and replaced with a pulsing human brain, also covered with mold. The idol is legless, but it's sitting on a bronze shield, using it like a sled. The shield/sled is being pulled by half a dozen rats like little sled dogs. Each rat has been infected by an alien fungus and has a mushroom growing where its brain should be. Long strands of fungal filaments connect rats, sled, idol and brain together, entwining them into a single composite organism.

So when I'm done describing this, there are several seconds of silence... and then New Guy suddenly bursts out, "That's not in the f#$~ing Monster Manual!"

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3rd / PF nerfed them a bit. The 1e version could induce truly cripping levels of paranoia. Good times.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I have to disagree about the racial Favored Class bonuses for humans and tieflings. +1/level against Spell Resistance is flat-out amazing. As a very general rule, outsiders have SR that's around your level +10, so that you have around a 50% chance of getting through. So once you hit +10, you can _pretty much ignore SR_. This is totally worth 10 hp or 10 skill ranks! Think of it this way -- you can get +1 hp/level from Toughness, but you'll only get +2 against SR from a feat (Spell Penetration). So this Favored Class bonus is like getting Spell Penetration over and over again every two rounds.

It's great for any cleric, but it's *even more* great for you. Evil outsiders are like your whole thing! You'll be probably be going against them even more than normal clerics. So anything that gives you an edge is solid gold.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Heretic_CrossbowmaN wrote:
Oh, and here is another question! How can contract devil go onto Material Plane to contact party?

Contract devils have Plane Shift plus Greater Teleport as SLAs. In fact, this devil has a lot of SLAs that are designed to help it find people. Behind the scenes, it can work like this:

-- Contract devil gets a notice from Hell's bureaucracy that someone is abusing the Summon Accuser Devil spell in [location of PC]. The notice includes whatever the accuser devil knows about the PC, which presumably would include a name and basic description.

-- Devil plane-shifts to Golarion (or wherever), then use its Locate Creature SLA to get the PC's precise location. Then it uses Teleport to move close to PC.

-- Devil can now use Arcane Eye to spy on PC, or Vision to get information about PC's needs, desires, and vulnerabilities. If you really want to twist the knife, have the devil bring an accuser devil along with it -- this bends the rules slightly, but you could IMO justify it, and now the contract devil has a little invisible flying scout. This is not strictly necessary, but you want to see the look on the player's face when the accuser devil that it's been summoning materializes on the contract devil's shoulder, or crawls into its lap to be petted like a cat...

-- When the devil is ready, it uses its at-will dimension door, i.e. to PC's room a few moments before PC walks in.

-- Once negotiations begin, don't forget the contract devil has Detect Thoughts at will and +26 Sense Motive (but is itself completely immune to enchantments, suggestions, and all other mind-affecting effects).

-- If the PCs attack, remember this is a CR 10 creature with a lot of useful SLAs, including a 50% chance to summon a bone devil. In fact, if the PCs seem likely to challenge the accuser, it might use its summons ability in advance, and then have the bone devil lurking invisibly nearby -- bone devils have good Stealth and quickened invisibility as a SLA. Alternately, it could use the bone devil as part of a "good cop, bad cop" act -- bone devils are vicious torturers and inquisitors, after all. If negotiations go very badly, the devil can just shrug, drop a delayed blast fireball (13d6 damage, DC 23 save, and the devil itself is immune to fire) or a bestow curse, and teleport away.

Some of the Paizo fiends are kind of goofy, but the contract devil is actually pretty well designed -- its SLAs work neatly with its game function. Also, they have Int 24 and Wis 23, so you're justified in playing them as smug know-it-all bastards who always have a backup plan. They're a lot of fun IMO. Good luck!


Doug M.

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Wannabe Demon Lord wrote:
What are a Kudimmu and a Shrike Worm?

The Kudimmu:
The kudimmu is a large CR 16 plant, a giant evil tree-thing with interesting undead-related powers. It's loosely inspired by Mesopotamian legend. It's used as an encounter in the module, but would actually make a pretty interesting and unusual boss foe for a group of 12th-13th level PCs.

The Shrike Worm:
Large CR 15 aberrations, the shrike worms are based on the Cambrian creature Hallucigenia, only big and evil. They have a suite of illusion and hallucination related powers, and also will impale you on their back spikes.

I'm less enthusiastic about these guys, if only because I wanted Hallucigenia to evolve into a race of gentle, brilliant poets and philosophers. Surely Anomalocaris is all the Cambrian monster you could ever want!

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Scratch off a day's worth of rations. The rat is large and hungry, and what it cannot eat it will carry off, Pizza Rat style.

Feeding the rat will allow Kyleen to ask it questions equal to her Cha modifier -- in this case, +2. Once it has answered those to the best of its ability, it will depart. Note that it's still an Int 2 animal, and it's spent a lot of time cowering under a boiler, so don't be surprised if it doesn't have anything terribly useful to say.

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Thelemic_Noun wrote:
Actually, I'm wondering why people even bother negotiating with outsiders at all when you can simply cast geas/quest on them. There is no save, and since they are going to be stuck in the circle for a while, the 10-minute casting time is not a problem. If you fail to penetrate their spell resistance, just try again.

1) There's nothing to stop the creature from teleporting or plane shifting away and finding a suitably powerful caster with Remove Curse. Yes, it'll have to pay that caster, or owe it a favor, but that's probably preferable to being compelled by you.

2) There's also nothing to stop the creature from teleporting etc. to the nearest Magic Shoppe and picking up a couple of wands of lesser restoration. At 4500 gp each they're not cheap, but they'll fend off the effects of the geas until its duration expires.

3) If it comes to that, there's nothing to stop the creature from teleporting etc. to a safe quiet place and then just gritting its teeth and eating the ability score damage. -12 to all stats is pretty brutal, but the damage can't reduce its stats below 1 or kill it, and the spell only lasts day/level, and after the end of that period it will heal the damage normally. For an immortal outsider that's probably the equivalent of a couple of work days lost to a really nasty flu.

Now, here we may go down the still-unresolved rabbit hole of whether a creature under a geas MAY choose to refuse and eat the ability score damage, or whether it MUST try to comply, only taking the damage if it is prevented from compliance. AFAIK this has never been FAQed or otherwise resolved. Someone asked James Jacobs and he replied, "Perhaps". So it's a more or less official area of doubt and uncertainty!

Speaking for myself, I think geas is pretty OP to begin with. Yes, it has a ten minute casting time, which means it's not a combat spell. But extremely powerful effects + no hit dice limit + no component costs or other limiting factors + ***no saving throw*** = cheese with a side order of extra cheese, IMO. So in the absence of an official ruling, I think the course of wisdom would be to go with the interpretation that makes this spell slightly less fromage-tastic.

Sure, it wouldn't necessarily prevent them from murdering you, but you can also put in a backup geas saying "You will not intentionally harm me or [list of allies] until [task] is complete" and "You will report to me, then depart to your home plane when [task] is complete."

It's an open question whether you can lay multiple geases on a single target. The RAW doesn't seem to forbid it, but at high levels it can lead to pretty absurd results, and then of course there's the contradicting-geases problem: I geas you to save the princess, and then geas you a second time to absolutely refrain from saving the princess! Bam, no matter what you do you're going to end up with -12 on all your stats, no save. Even for a sixth level spell that seems a bit much. Again, there's no formal ruling on this AFAIK. I'd say that brings us to the "when in doubt, don't make the cheese cheesier" principle cited above.

Still, let's say okay, sure, you can multi-geas. You'll want to lay at least three geases -- don't hurt me or my friends (gotta do that one first), do this task, and then report-and-depart. That's three slots burned and three rolls to overcome SR, so success at one go is by no means assured. Remember that a called creature gets a chance to break loose from your circle once/day, and has a flat minimum 5% chance of success. So, unless you have Fast Study or are willing to burn a bunch of scrolls, you're running a small but real risk of it busting loose and ruining all your careful preparation.

How this plays out becomes a minigame depending on the intelligence, temperament and resources of the called creature. If you're 15th level and you're calling up a couple of barbed devils to keep an eye on your penthouse while you're out of town I'd say, sure, go for it. If you're calling something right around your own CR? I can think of three or four different ways to make this potentially problematic for a PC (and I'm sure you can too).

Doug M.

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Thelemic_Noun wrote:

I also find it weird that a good-aligned arcane caster that wants long-term aid from an angel has to yank them from the Upper Planes against their will and trap them in a circle smaller than your average solitary confinement cell to do so.

"Haziel the Unbowed, will you protect Lanna's orphanage from the depredations of Belphegor's infernal legions?"
"Yes, I shall. But only because I choose to. You colossal ass."


But yeah, good-aligned casters summoning angels is an odd case. You can argue that a good-aligned caster shouldn't do that, because (1) compelling creatures to serve against their will is pretty close to slavery, (2) it's even worse when you're compelling an *angel*, for goodness' sake, and (3) there's a perfectly good spell (Planar Ally) whereby you pay the angel to serve, no compulsion required.

But if you want to game it out, then (1) Planar Ally is only available to clerics, and hey -- only rich people are allowed to ask the Higher Heavens to help them? and (2) arguably it's cool if you're calling a creature that's on the opposite corner from you on the law-chaos axis. I mean, you're a lawful good caster? Get that azata to stop fluttering around babbling about poetry and do something useful for a change. You're CG? Hey, that uptight archon needs to be pulled out of its comfort zone.

And, as always, repeated use (and abuse) of this spell is likely to attract attention. YMMV, but if you're calling angels to save the orphanage, perhaps Heaven may be willing to accept it as an unusually loud and insistent call for help. But if your justification is "we need more firepower for this level of the Emerald Spire -- a CR 11 angel should do nicely", then your DM would IMO be perfectly justified to say something like "the night after leaving the Emerald Spire, you wake up find three beings standing by your bed. Tall, winged, glowing and gorgeous, they are gazing at you more in sorrow than in anger. One of them holds out a shining parchment towards you. You see that it is a summons to explain your actions before the Merciful But Very Lawful Celestial Court of High Justice. 'Will you come peacefully?' asks the one in the center, while the one on the left hefts a sword whose blade dances with silver flames, and the one on the right raises its slender hands in a gesture of perfect grace and beauty, ready to cast..."

Doug M.

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Vitae: He seems sincere. (And if you can't trust a guy named "the Sly", who can you trust?)

Back half of Round 2; everyone but Ghelik / Vitae can act now. In addition to talking as a free action, of course.

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Oh, I like that. In that case, yes, mission accomplished indeed.

I'm thinking of describing the zoog as "like a raccoon crossed with a squid". And, as everyone knows, raccoons were not meant to be, and adding cephalopods to the picture makes things even worse.

Doug M.

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Plausible Pseudonym wrote:
Yes, he can't cast it secretly while observed. It's one of the WTF were they thinking implications of the manifestations FAQ for traditionally stealthy monsters like these rakshasha, and succubi.

Ugh. Just... ugh.

Not going to play by RAW on those, because this is a case where RAW makes the game less fun and interesting. Raks and succubi are supposed to be creepy, subtle opponents who can read your mind. As to doppelgangers, "you can detect them with an infinitely spammable 0 level cantrip" combined with "you can see when they're trying to read your mind" nerfs them into complete pointlessness.

I generally prefer to run things as close to RAW as possible -- a single unified ruleset just keeps things fair. But there are edge cases where, no, RAW just fails. In the particular case of this module, at least I can handwave "these are weird variant dopps created by interaction with the Dreamlands, so they may not follow RAW". But I won't be using dopps going forward.

Doug M.

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Ashkar wrote:
Douglas Muir 406 wrote:
Hm. Cite for this? "What can Detect Magic do" is an endless source of debate, but this is the first I've heard of it being able to pick up on a (Su) ability.
Here's the answer from James Jacobs.


I accept the answer as canon, or nearly so. (James Jacobs speaks with authority, but not final authority -- he could be overruled by an official FAQ answer.) But I think it's a really bad answer. Detect Magic is already painfully overpowered for a spammable cantrip; it can be used to detect the presence of invisible creatures, determine when someone is under an enchantment, and effectively detect illusions. Now it can be used to detect shapechangers too? That's just not balanced.

Note that this blows two of the encounters in _In Search of Sanity_ right out of the water.

In Search of Sanity:
There's an encounter early on where the PCs encounter an injured woman, pinned under some wreckage. The "victim" is of course a doppelganger trolling for prey. Judging from the PBPs, most parties aren't fooled, but the trap does usually trigger a lively discussion, with a minority of players either believing the woman or willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Several parties have at least helped the woman out from under the rubble and talked to her before deciding what to do. It's an interesting encounter -- which is of course the point.

This rule interpretation kills that dead. The PCs now stand 30' away and cast Detect Magic. When they get a hit, they kill the doppelganger (which, let's note, is prone) with missile weapons. It turns an interesting encounter into a stupid one.

The boiler room encounter a bit later, same same. Half the interest there is trying to figure out which of the NPCs is the hidden dopp. One cantrip, and the PCs know which cup the pea is under, and can immediately focus all their fire. Again, this turns an interesting encounter with a lot of RP potential into a straightforward and rather pointless combat.

I have to say, _In Search of Sanity_ does not read as if the writer knew that hidden doppelgangers could be revealed by a simple cantrip.

Doug M.

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Also, just for fun, see if you can match the archetypes with classic band member stereotypes. No offense intended to any actual band members on this forum...

Singer / Lead Guitarist -- prima donna, center-of-attention, very outgoing/vocal, prince/princess. High maintenance, sex machine, airhead. Never shuts up.
-- What he/she wants: you to pay attention to him/her.
-- Note: May turn bi after third round of tequila shots.

Rhythym Guitarist -- Loose cannon, crazy, belligerent, energetic. Large ego, unless songwriter, in which case immense ego.
-- What he/she wants: to be recognized for the genius he/she is.
-- Note: May be secretly (or not so secretly) jealous of Singer / Lead Guitarist.

Bassist -- Quirky, obsessive, chill, shy. Chain smokes and does a lot of drugs yet, oddly, may be most responsible member of band.
-- What he/she wants: you to listen to this 30 minute experimental bass solo.
-- Note: May be ADHD.

Keyboard -- the "smart one". Sophisticated, snarky, but secretly just happy to be in a rock band after 14 years of Sunday piano recitals.
-- What he/she wants: to talk to you about music theory.
-- Note: Superficially cheerful but may actually be dangerously depressed.

Drummer -- Hairy-back dude who left school in 8th grade. Last one to set up, first one to go for a beer, but gets obsessive about arrangements.
-- What he/she wants: you to buy another round of tequila shots.
-- Note: May be passed out in jail.

Sound Man -- Self-esteem issues, sweaty and nervous. Has facial sores.
-- What he/she wants: to make it through the night somehow.
-- Note: May be worried about boyfriend/girlfriend who is passed out in jail.

Doug M.

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That's really interesting. Thank you, Gratz.

I notice that the number who've played a particular module in an AP consistently drops from ~95% for the first module (presumably the other 5% started with a module after the first) to around 30% for the last one. That makes sense, and is consistent with my own experience -- it takes a lot of time, and is not always easy, to complete an entire AP.

Also, some APs are clearly better / more popular than others. For a particularly sharp example, look at the numbers for "roleplaying potential", "combat", "plot" and "would you recommend" for Curse of the Crimson Throne vs. Second Darkness.

Doug M.

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Mrakala wrote:
...after reading the spells in that book I'm convinced Mrakala was an evil, child-sacrificing cultist. Animate dead? Contact entitty? Black tentacles? Scare? Vampiric Touch? Oh my god. Either he -was- an evil Cultist OR his..future..doppleganger self is/was? My head hurts.

Maybe he just had a deep academic, professional, purely technical interest in... you know, driving people insane with fear, draining their life energies, and then turning them into zombies.

He traces fingers over the mokele-mbembe..he's seen one of these before..or perhaps he only wanted to. He vaguely recalls a dark-skinned, grinning face over his shoulder while the broad, scaled creature leaned down to eat from a proffered basket of greens. These memories..are any of them real?

Seems like a reasonable question.

Turning through the last book, he pauses at the inscription. "V. Jeggare?"...

The Jeggares are a wealthy family of Chelaxian aristocrats.

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Storyteller Shadow wrote:
Age of Worms, you are looking for the Age of Worms. It's 3.5 but it is the second AP that Paizo did when they were printing Dungeon and it is a classic.

It starts with a long -- some might say overlong -- dungeon crawl. That's classic, fair enough.

But as a practical matter, you'd have to buy... what, ten back issues of Dungeon magazine? Twelve? They're available as pdfs for a few dollars each, so it's cost-competitive with other APs. And you get a bunch of other 3.5 adventures, some of which are pretty good. However, you'd have to juggle about twice as many pdfs, and there isn't all the support stuff (artwork, pawns, flipmats, etc.) that exists for the Paizo APs.

Doug M.

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As I said, I hadn't read it, and was working off an impression. Obviously some people like it a lot. That said, as Gratz points out, it's probably not what the OP is after (even if it's pretty interesting otherwise).

Meanwhile, I'd be interested to see a link to the survey that Gratz cites. IMS there have been several over the years, and I haven't really kept up.

Doug M.

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-- And is Iron Gods any good? I can't answer that, because I've only glanced at it. However, I have the strong impression that, as Adventure Paths go, it's considered pretty midlist -- not amazing, not bad. Which would make perfect sense from Paizo's POV. They wouldn't want to put one of the weaker, less popular APs out there (they're using Humble Bundle to try to attract more customers), but neither would they put one of their most popular best sellers up (would cost them sales).

Doug M.

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Mind, if money is an object, go to Humble Bundle RIGHT NOW and plunk down $15. That will get you the entire Iron Gods Adventure Path, all six volumes, in pdf format. I don't think it's quite as good as either RotRL or Curse, but it's not bad either, and it's JUST FIFTEEN BUCKS which is amazing.

By way of comparison, sticker price for the pdf of a single module of a recent AP is $18 -- meaning you'd pay $108 for the complete six-volume AP. Older APs are cheaper ($14 per pdf, $84 for a complete set), and Paizo pretty regularly has sales or discounts so you don't have to pay sticker price if you're patient -- they're doing 10% off everything right now (check the blog for the discount code). Meanwhile, the AP collections of RotRL and Curse are $60 for the physical hardcover and just $40 for the pdf. That makes them a very good deal, especially since they contain additional new material from the original modules. But they still can't compare to JUST FIFTEEN BUCKS for an entire AP.

You can find the Humble Bundle offer right over here. It ends in two days, so if you're going to do it, do it soon.

Doug M.

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Rise of the Runelords or Curse of the Crimson Throne. Both have come out in excellent single-volume upgrades. Both have some really wonderful set-pieces -- I would call out the haunted house and the creepy hillbilly ogres in RotRL, and the plague, the insane "emperor", and the Cinderlands in Curse. Both throw a wide variety of different experiences at the PCs -- a rooftop chase scene, a fight in a glass factory -- while still keeping a very "classic" feel.

I'd say a difference is that RotRL is a classic *adventure*. Curse is a classic *urban adventure* (although 2 of the 6 modules are out of the city). Personally, I slightly prefer Curse because you will meet NPCs at 1st level who will still be important and relevant at 15th level as you race to the finish; this is not really the case in Runelords.

In terms of player engagement, I think Curse pulls most players in more strongly even though the stakes are actually lower. Without spoiling too much, the end goal in RotRL is "prevent this ancient evil from rising and menacing the world again". That's certainly classic! But with Curse, it's "prevent the tyrant from turning your beloved native city into a horrific slave state". That gets players engaged and worked up in a different way.

It's macro vs. micro. If your players are going to get excited about stopping The Mighty Ancient Power That Will Spread Darkness Far Across The Land, then go for RotRL. If they're going to respond more strongly to "your city is a place of fear and oppression, your first grade teacher was thrown in jail and then enslaved, and also your favorite tavern has been knocked down to build a new monument to the Tyrant", then go for Curse.

Doug M.

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Light posting the last couple of days, due to holiday / family stuff. But fear not -- the fun shall continue! For certain defined values of "fun".

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Savannah Broadway wrote:
That said, the Dreamlands are a Lovecraftian facet that I'm not quite as familiar with (mostly through Horror on the Orient Express) and it did make me eager to read those parts of the mythos.

Minor spoiler for Dreamlands stuff:
The Dreamlands stories are mostly earlier and mostly slighter, though they do have some interesting bits. They also tend to be a bit more experimental in form -- "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath", for instance, is a 30,000 word novella without a single line of dialogue. Possibly for this reason, reactions to the Dreamlands stories are often quite varied, from "pfft" though "meh" to "OMG that was amazing!"

But anyway: if you want to dig deeper into the Dreamlands, do yourself a favor and dig down past Lovecraft to Lord Dunsany. Dunsany was a huge, huge influence on young Lovecraft. A lot of Lovecraft's early stories are Dunsany pastiches, plain and simple. But Dunsany did Dunsany better, yes? He wrote a lot of stuff, and the quality varied, but the better stories are just fantastic. And while they were very influential, they haven't survived nearly as well as Lovecraft has. So there'll often be the pleasant shock of discovering something familiar but altogether new.

Doug M.

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Is there a spell you know that's not getting the love it deserves? Post a brief discussion of it as an "underappreciated spell".

Today's entry: Puzzle Box. Bard 2, Sorceror/Wizard 3, no material components -- that's important -- and a standard casting time. So what's it do?


This spell causes even commonly used objects to become conundrums. When cast on a creature, the target loses all weapon and shield proficiencies. The target also forgets how to use all spell-completion, spell-trigger, and use-activated magic items, as well as any mundane items used as part of a skill check, imposing a –5 penalty on all ability and skill checks attempted with such items. These effects last for 1 round per level. As a move action, the target can attempt a skill check to negate the effects of this spell for one object. Weapons, shields, and mundane objects require a successful Craft skill check of the type required to craft the item in question, with a DC equal to the spell's save DC. Magic items require a successful Spellcraft or Use Magic Device skill check against the spell's save DC.

Alternatively, this spell can be cast on a single touched object that weighs up to 5 pounds per the caster's level. Use of this object becomes a puzzle even to those previously familiar with it. Any creature attempting to use an item affected in this way is treated as though the creature was the target of puzzle box for that item only. When cast on an object, the duration of this spell is permanent.

The first use is a nice situational anti-fighter buff. It's particularly good against big powerful melee brutes with low Will saves: bam, the frost giant chieftain just forgot how to use his sword -- -4 to all attacks. Pretty much no melee fighter ever puts ranks into crafting weapons, so if the target fails that first Will save, he's stuck with the penalty. Yes, a Bestow Curse is worse, but Bestow Curse is a touch spell -- this can be tossed from 30 or 40 feet away.

Unfortunately, this isn't going to shut down the enemy wizard with his wand -- he's got a better Will save to begin with, and then he probably has Spellcraft or UMD. So, its application in combat is fairly limited.

-- The second application, though. That sparkles with potential. First and most obviously, since it's free to cast, any wizard over 8th level or so can use it to lock all his magic items. A wizard with a +4 Int bonus will have a save DC of 17 or so; by 9th level his Spellcraft or UMD will be 9 ranks + 4 Int + 3 class = +16, so he'll always make the check. But if he's puzzle-boxed his wand, a lower level wizard may find it works only spasmodically, or not at all if he hasn't maxed out the relevant skills. And since this spell lasts forever, it provides an interesting way to balance certain treasures -- if the PCs find a puzzle-boxed item, it may only work for them 75% (or whatever) of the time until they're high enough level.

Of course, there's no reason to stop at wands. The +2 sword found in the dead king's barrow has this spell cast on it; the king had a court bard, and he really wanted to take it with him. (It's a curse effect, so Remove Curse should work.)

And then, this spell provides amusing opportunities for fraud and fun. The local fair has an archery contest -- but the bow provided to the PC archer is puzzle boxed.

So it's a decent little spell. But I never see anyone use it.


Doug M.

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Some brief, general and non-spoilery discussion of Lovecraft and his world-view. I don't think this is anything that's going to affect your enjoyment of the AP, but I'll put it behind a couple of spoiler tags just in case.

Adam Smith wrote:
As GM, I've really enjoyed playing new monsters, since running a good many published adventures over the years it's hard to be surprised anymore. The research and investigative elements of the campaign have been really unique too, it's fun to just watch the players piece it all together. We are all so into the research (and research rules) that we even have a "research theme" on our soundtrack that we use every time we tackle some of the immense quantity of written material in the path.

Brief note about Lovecraft the man:
This goes all the way back to Lovecraft himself, who was a book-loving research nerd of the highest order. He grew up in a house full of books, and his day job was working as a ghost-writer, including what today we'd call popular science articles. Books and libraries play an important role in several of his stories, and protagonists are more likely to be academics and scientists than two-fisted pulp heroes.
Aerick Lim wrote:
Regarding the Lovecraft mythos, it’s hard to believe that people came up with these things a hundred years ago (it seems WAY ahead of its time) because I can’t imagine anything else that could’ve be out there back them that’s even remotely as horrific.

Why it feels so modern:
Well, there were a couple of things in the zeitgeist that Lovecraft really picked up on. One was the psychic aftershock of World War One. Twenty million young men had died, and... for what, exactly? The horrors of the trenches, the billions spent on new and devastating ways to kill, empires destroyed, millions thrown into misery and poverty... and at the end a few borders get shifted and there's a League of Nations that nobody takes seriously.

Meanwhile, there were all these absolutely insane advances in science, especially astronomy, geology and physics. In 1900 you could still believe that the Earth was 20 million years old. By 1920 it was clear that the Earth was billions of years old, and the universe was much older. In 1900 it was thought that the universe consisted of the Milky Way galaxy. A generation later, it was clear that there were thousands, perhaps millions of galaxies, each with billions or hundreds of billions of stars. And then of course there was relativity, which announced that matter and energy were interchangeable, that time and space were the same thing, and that space itself was expanding over time. For two hundred years, Western science had been built on Isaac Newton's complex but comprehensible clockwork foundation. Now that had been replaced by a rubbery funhouse.

Most people just shrugged and went along with their lives, of course. But if you were a studious young man who took this stuff seriously, it was absolutely mind-blowing. The universe is incredibly huge and incredibly ancient. Maybe humanity isn't that important after all. Maybe we're just a local epiphenomenon thrown up by the cold laws of physics. And -- given the recent history -- maybe we're not likely to be around for too long.

To bring it back: Call of Cthulhu models this by setting up a game-world where PCs are fragile, both mentally and physically; where the "win" conditions are often quite difficult to achieve, and failure is very much an option; and where victory, when you do somehow manage to pull it off, is usually contingent, heavily qualified, or temporary. As Adam notes in the introduction to the first book, this is radically different from the default heroic fantasy setting for a Pathfinder campaign. So it's a testament both to the flexibility of the Pathfinder system and the talents of the writers that they've been able to make a CoC-like Pathfinder game.

Doug M.

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This makes me curious: what are you and your players picking up from / about the Lovecraft mythos by osmosis? Are you thinking "Okay, I see the appeal of this -- I'd like to sit down and read some of his stuff afterwards?" Or is it more "once a philosopher, twice a pervert?" (1)

Doug M.

(1) attributed to Voltaire, the morning after a walk on the wild side.

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I'm sorry to hear of your loss.

I very much enjoy reading your updates, and hope you continue with them!

Doug M.

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AFAIK Pathfinder doesn't use the 3.5 "reform back on your outer plane" rule for called creatures any more. That's one reason it's canon that they don't like being called. "If you die in Canada, you die in real life" -- an outsider called to Golarion, that dies on Golarion, stays dead.

Same-same with the Hag Countess: 3.5, not Pathfinder. (And let's note that even in 3.5, she only got to rule a little while until Asmodeus allowed her to be overthrown. As it turned out, she was just a chair-warmer for the one he really wanted in charge.) Pathfinder's Hell is noticeably more organized and, well, Lawful than WoTC's. I almost think they've overdone it myself -- it's clear that some of the designers think Asmodeus is the bees' knees; instead of being a mere devil he's now one of the original gods and the Keeper of the Key to the Apocalypse -- but that's what it is. Also, no more Blood War.

"Do Diabolists often find their lairs under siege by infernal squadrons?" -- Well, maybe sometimes, sure. A Diabolist who summons devils to do evil on the mortal plane is basically a subcontractor to Hell. He has some autonomy, but he's broadly serving Hell's goals. (And, of course, it's literally written into the character class that he's already signed his soul over to Hell.) So from Hell's POV, he's just a minion with an unusually long leash. He's allowed to borrow the toys, and reasonable wear and tear is acceptable. Randomly murdering Hell's servants for his own convenience, though? Probably not. In general, if he starts getting uppity, sure he'll get slapped down.

I wrote the Guide to Planar Binding and the Guide to the Diabolist, and in both of those I note that if you screw with extraplanar creatures -- especially Lawful ones like devils, who are part of a hierarchy -- you're basically asking your DM to retaliate. But that idea is hardly original to me. The question came up in the endless Ask James Jacob thread, and his response was basically "darn straight, if they're abusing Planar Binding feel free to have the PC's reputation spread to related outsiders, with consequences".

"I can kill the balor" -- Well, if you're powerful enough to kill a balor, then the argument about not being a blip on Hell's radar sort of falls flat. You can say you're not worth Hell getting concerned about, or you can say you're powerful enough to mow down balors, but you can't really claim both. Also, I'm getting the vibe that we're moving into theorycrafting rather than discussion of actual play. Which can be interesting in its way, but.

[shrug] If y'all are having fun, you're having fun. That's really the last word.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Crimson Throne: The orphanage went bankrupt after a few "bad apple" goblins ruined it for everyone. Lamm generously offered to take it over. Of course, he simply fired the existing staff and enslaved all the kids.

This one comes with a couple of plot hooks: (1) the former staff may still be out there. They're good and kindly people, the sorts who would, well, run a goblin orphanage. You could run into them through the course of the AP; at low levels they can offer help, later on they can be threatened by the Blood Veil or whatever. (2) the "bad apple" goblin graduates of the orphanage are still out there. One or more may turn up working for the Spider King, or Pilts, or even the Queen. They're determined to live down to their reputation and they have nothing but contempt for the PCs who have swallowed a bunch of lies and turned themselves into weird un-goblin longshank-wannabes.

Oh, and (3) because of the "failure" of the orphanage, almost everyone in Korvosa dislikes and distrusts goblins. Having everyone start with a default attitude of Unfriendly is going to be tricky if you don't have a face in the party -- and goblin characters don't make the best faces -- but if your players are up for it, it could be an interesting challenge. Sworn to protect a city that hates and fears them...

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Baval wrote:

Ive done it plenty of times, Im in fact doing it now to get a set of Fiends of Possession Succubus to possess me for bonuses (3.5 has rules for possessing creatures buffing items and people)

This gets into "if I were your DM..." territory, and there's no percentage in that. If both of you are having fun, then great.

Besides, as a necromancer I would totally be down for the DM to have an army of devils come to try and hunt me down. The roleplaying options would be glorious. No kingdom is going to just let an army of devils march around, so suddenly they have to team up...

Well, I guess if your DM is playing devils as really stupid. Since a lot of them have 20+ Int and Wis, and it's canon that they're devious and subtle, that seems odd, but chaque a son gout. Me, I'd be thinking more in terms of, umm, maybe a kill team of half a dozen advanced fiendish invisible stalkers, led by a bone devil who's a rogue/fighter/assassin? Everyone is invisible, everyone can fly, the "hello" is a death strike attack and a wave of attacks from the stalkers. Or an attack led by mortals -- at Hell's instruction, a wealthy worshipper of Asmodeus bankrolls a strike force of a bunch of ambitious evil NPCs looking to curry favor with Hell, including a high level Diabolist and his squad of bound devils. Or bribes, blackmail and magic used against your associates, including your fellow PCs, to turn them against you -- would you trust all your fellow players not to turn on you if offered a vorpal sword? or the chance to rule a kingdom? Or, heck, a pit fiend just burns his annual Wish to wish you into Hell; you're just about to have breakfast when, bam, you're sitting in the dimension-locked dock of an infernal court and the trial for your offenses is about to begin.

-- To be perfectly clear, I'm fine with clever players abusing the rules. But when PCs start abusing /the game world/, then realistically the game world should respond. And that response may not be proportionate or level-appropriate. If your murderhobo PC kills a couple of city guards in Lawful Neutral Town, you can't really complain when a posse of Hellknights show up to take you down.

But, again, if you and your DM are both having fun, then pray carry on.

Doug M.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The Spell Sage is a really interesting Wizard archetype that has never gotten much attention or love. I'd like to write a guide on it, but I could use some help.

The Spell Sage is an archetype that sacrifices two of the Wizard's best class features -- Arcane Bond and Arcane School -- in return for two completely *different* class features, Focused Spell and Spell Study. Here's the complete description:


Focused Spells (Su)

At 1st level, once per day the spell sage's understanding of spells allows him to increase his caster level by 4 for a single spell cast. He can do this twice per day at 8th level, and three times per day at 16th level.

This ability replaces arcane bond.

So, in return for giving up arcane bond, you get the ability to occasionally overclock and cast a spell at +4 ECL. ECL affects a variety of different things, but mostly it's about spell duration; dice of damage on blasts; and spell penetration against spell resistance. For the first, duration is usually pretty minor and not worth blowing your daily Focus. At first level you can cast Mage Armor for five hours, or Vanish or Summon Monster I for five rounds. That's nice, but not really worth the sacrifice of arcane bond. (You could perhaps get some interesting synergies with Extend Spell -- for instance, at 8th level you could burn a second level spell slot and walk around with Mage Armor all day long.)

For the second, though -- ah, now we're talking. 5d4 damage from Burning Hands at 1st level will drop most nonboss opponents. 9d6 damage from Fireball at 5th level is very strong too. And that's before you start piling on more dice with Spell Specialization, Pyromaniac, etc. etc.

As to SR, being able to increase your roll to overcome it is pretty handy at higher levels -- although you can get the same effect by investing in a metamagic rod of Piercing Spell, so it's not *that* great. And finally, let's note that if you can cast Gate, this will give you another four dice of powerful outsider. Again, there are other ways to accomplish this, but it's still nice.

Okay, so Crowdsource Question #1: Besides the obvious ones mentioned above, what are some good spells for leveraging that +4 ECL?


Spell Study (Su)At 2nd level, the sage's understanding of the spells of bards, clerics, and druids is so great that he can use his own magic in an inefficient, roundabout way to duplicate those classes' spells. Once per day, a spell sage can spontaneously cast any spell on the bard, cleric, or druid spell list as if it were a wizard spell he knew and had prepared. Casting the spell requires the spell sage to spend 1 full round per spell level of the desired spell (if the spell is on multiple spell lists indicated above, using the lowest level from among those lists) and requires expending two prepared spells of that spell level or higher; if the spell's casting time is normally 1 full round or longer, this is added to the spell sage's casting time. For example, if a spell sage wants to use spell study to cast cure light wounds (cleric spell level 1st), he must spend 2 full rounds casting and expend two prepared wizard spells of 1st level or higher.

At 6th level and every 5 levels thereafter, a spell sage can use this ability an additional time per day (to a maximum of four times per day at 16th level).

This ability replaces arcane school.

This is a super interesting ability. It sort of makes the Spell Sage into the anti-sorceror. The sorceror has a limited list of spells, but in combat he can switch among them freely. The Spell Sage has the biggest list of spells in the game -- bigger than the Mystic Theurge -- but the doubled slot cost makes him conservative, and the increased casting time means he can't ever use them in combat. But he's an incredibly flexible tool for everything outside of combat, and sometimes for avoiding combat too. Some examples:

-- The entrance to the fey kingdom is between two gigantic oak trees, but the gateway won't open unless you speak the password phrase. The Spell Sage casts Speak With Plants and asks the oak trees what the pass phrase is.

-- The orcs have thrown you in a dungeon and taken all your stuff. The Spell Sage casts Animal Messenger to use a rat to go for help.

-- The biggest treasure in the dungeon is a statue that's worth several thousand gold pieces. Unfortunately, it weighs 800 lbs. The Spell Sage casts Ant Haul on the party fighter. (Note that Ant Haul is a bard spell *and* a wizard spell -- the Spell Sage gets access to it by the back door, as it were.

-- Area of dense magical darkness ahead, darkvision doesn't work, and you're pretty sure the DM has put something nasty in there? Cast Echolocation on the party tank and have him lead you through.

-- Someone got zapped with a curse, and the cleric doesn't have Remove Curse prepped. Exit the dungeon and wait for a day... or just have the Spell Sage cast it. Blindness, deafness, diseases, poison and ability drain, same-same.

You get the idea. Not only do you have access to a huge mass of utility spells, but you also can access all those weird, super-situational spells that nobody ever uses. No wizard is going to memorize Soothe Construct, but if you're trapped in a room with the berserk golem bashing down the door, suddenly you've got it. Need to solve a murder mystery, fast? You have access to Red Hand of the Killer. Dungeon turns out to be unexpectedly full of bugs? Repel Vermin.

(Note that a few bard/cleric/ druid spells -- Scry, Enter Image, Remove Curse, Tongues -- are lower level than their wizard equivalent. So the Spell Sage can cast Remove Curse at 5th level, instead of waiting for 7th.)

Anyway -- Crowdsource question #2: what are some spells that are particularly likely to be useful?

Thanks in advance,

Doug M.

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Originally, back in 2014, this grew out of reading Brewer's classic Guide to the Blockbuster Wizard right after reviewing the "alchemical power components". Most of the alchemical reagents give pretty modest benefits -- +1 to damage here, a caster level here, an extra but of duration over there. But I wondered: if you piled them on each other, could you get some interesting results?

It turns out, yes. Yes you could.

I've made some tweaks and updates to this, and have added a couple of variant builds. Comments are very welcome!

The Alchemical Blaster Wizard: Getting Started:

Human wizard, 15 point build: Str 8 Con 12 Dex 14 Int 18 Wis 12 Cha 8. (Human because this build is feat-hungry at lower levels.) Evocation specialist with the Admixture subschool -- this lets you swap energy types (fire, acid, cold, electricity) on your spells 8x/day. Bonded object instead of a familiar. Traits: Magical Lineage (fireball) and, oh I don't know, Reactive. (You'll carry that trait for six long levels before it's useful. But then it will be very useful indeed.) Feats are Spell Focus (Evocation) and Spell Specialization (Burning Hands). Skills, meh, the usual. If you do the cyphermage dip (see below) don't forget to throw some ranks at Linguistics.

First Level -- Starting spells: Burning Hands, Grease, Mage Armor, Summon Monster I. If your party lacks a meat shield for you to cower behind, you cast Mage Armor before entering the dungeon. Otherwise, you take nothing but Burning Hands, baby. Your feat and your specialization = basic Burning Hands for 3d4+1 damage, DC 16 Reflex save for half. That'll sweep the street clean of most first level opponents.

But wait -- there's more. You invest in some alchemical reagents. 40 gp gives you a flask of liquid ice, which you can use as a spell focus for Ray of Frost, making it do +1 damage. The flask is not consumed, so you can use it endlessly. Together with your evoker bonus, that means this endlessly spammable cantrip now inflicts d3+2 damage on a +2 ranged touch attack. That's almost always going to be better than messing around with a silly crossbow. For your first couple of levels this will be your default attack.

For your main blast, use your admixture power to turn Burning Hands into Cold Hands, toss in some urea and you're now doing 4d4+1. Why? Because for just 4 gp/dose, urea gives you +1 caster level on cold spells. That's crazy good, and you're going to leverage hell out of it. At first level, it means 11 average damage, which will seriously dent most nonboss opponents and will simply wipe out a mass of low level opponents even if they save (which at a DC 16 Reflex, they probably won't). In the unlikely event you meet something that's immune to cold, you keep some other reagents in your back pocket -- brimstone (+1 damage on acid spells at 2 gp/spell) and saltpeter (+1 damage on fire spells at 3 gp/spell). For when you just want to add a little something extra to show you care, there's black powder (+1 damage on all evocation spells). At 10 gp/spell it's a bit pricey for you, but sometimes you just want to make the moment special. So if that cold-resistant creature shows up, you just shrug and throw Acid Hands for 3d4+2 or 3d4+3.

Oh, and you also carry around some spirits of wine in a flask. Those give +1 to spell level on summoning spells for duration purposes only -- so for 3 gp you can make your Summon Monster I bring something for 2 rounds instead of 1.

Finally, when you have a little money pick up a couple of flasks of acid. For 10 gp per casting you can use these with your Grease spell to inflict 1 hp/round of acid damage on anyone that stays within the spell's area of effect. And for just 5 gp/casting, alchemical grease adds 1 to this spell's save DC.

Second Level -- Pick up Magic Missile and a utility spell. You won't use MM very much for a while, but one day you'll be spraying a bunch of Dazing Magic Missiles around at a bunch of mooks. Meanwhile, your Cold Hands now do 5d4+2, or 5d4+3 if you blow the 10 gp for black powder. This is a quiet level for you. Don't worry about it; things are going to get interesting fast.

Third Level -- Take Intensified Spell (allows five more levels of damage on spells, +1 spell slot) as your third level feat. Learn Flaming Sphere and Summon Monster II. In your second level slots you can now carry Flaming Sphere for 3d6+2/round, or Intensified Cold Hands for 6d4+1 -- remember, the feat lets you go past the normal 5 die limit on this spell. In your first level slots, Burning Hands with saltpeter / Acid Hands with brimstone = 5d4+2.

But wait! If you throw in a flask of alchemist's fire as a material component (20 gp), your burning hands will set one enemy who failed his save on fire. This is only an additional 1d6/round of damage, but it's totally worth it just for the visual.

Leveling Up:

Fourth Level -- Get a utility spell, like Web or Glitterdust or Invisibility, and then also take Fox's Cunning. Because, oh hey: that's a transmutation spell, so for 3 gp/casting you can use magnesium to make it last as if you were a level higher, five minutes instead of four. No big thing, but that should get you through a couple of encounters. Put your +1 boost on Int, raising it to 19. Pick up a first level Pearl of Power. Intensified Cold Hands now do 7d4+2, or Intensified Burning/Acid Hands do 6d4+3, or Flaming Sphere does 3d6+2/round.

Fifth Level -- Fireball, baby. (Take Haste for your other spell, so that the other players stop going on about how you never buff them.) Take Greater Spell Focus and Varisian Tattoo, aka Mage's Tattoo on the PFSRD -- +1 caster level on all evocation spells. From here on out you can probably afford to add black powder as a default. Buy it in bulk, you'll be using it a lot. So now Fireball (or Acidball, or Lightningball) does 6d6+4, while its urea-powered Freezeball variant does 7d6+3. In your second level slots, Intensified Cold Hands do 9d4+3.

Sixth Level -- Take Communal Resist Energy. With a pinch of cold iron, you cast this at +1 caster level, meaning that at 6th level you can now grant 20 points of resistance. But wait! If you throw in a flask of liquid ice (40 gp) or of alchemist's fire (20 gp), you can add 20% to the resistance granted by this spell to fire or cold respectively: 24 instead of 20.

You're now high enough level to afford an Int-boosting item; get one, raising your Int to 21. Switch Spell Specialization from Burning Hands to Fireball. Your Fireballs now do 9d6+5 damage, average 36.5, or 10d6+4 for Freezeballs. In a pinch -- say, if the party is being swarmed by very large numbers of weak foes -- you can cast Communal Resist Energy on the party, then Fireball them and yourself. The party will still take damage if they fail their saves, but you'll clean out the enemies toute suite.

Seventh Level -- Take Empower Spell. Take Dimension Door -- you need the tactical flexibility and it's grapple insurance. There are several okay fourth level evocation spells... I'm fond of detonate (at this level it's 8d8+5 damage to everything around you, or 9d8+4 if cold) but yeah, you're probably better off with Ice Storm or something. Pick up a rod of Selective Metamagic. (This will finally stop the other PCs' pathetic whining about you catching them with your fireballs.)

After six long levels, Magical Lineage finally kicks in: you get Empowered Fireballs as 4th level spells. That's 10d6 (x 1.5) +5, or average 57.5 damage. With your Fox's Cunning on, that's a DC 22 Reflex save. Your 2nd level spell slots have Cold Hands for 8d4+4.

The Master Blaster:

Eighth Level -- You're going to start meeting things with SR, so pick up a rod of Piercing Spell while you're shopping for a better (+4) Int booster. Put your level-up point on Int, so you're now rocking a 24. You can now throw Intensified Fireball as a 3rd level spell for 11d6+6, or Intensified Freezeball for 12d6+5.

You now get the goofy Elemental Manipulation aura, which is mostly worthless but could be situationally a lot of fun if everything clicks. Here's what you do: before entering the Glacial Rift of the Ice-Themed Monsters, you set your aura to convert cold attacks to fire. Then you cast Communal Resist Energy (fire) on the party, throwing in a 40 gp flask of liquid ice to give everyone fire resistance 24. That takes care of winter wolf breath and such like. Then when the party is in melee with a bunch of frost giants or whatever, you get right in among the monsters and cast Fireball centered on yourself. Okay, the party will still take average 23 points of fire damage each... but the cold-based monsters will take average 70.5 each. (And, come on, the party rogue will probably evade.)

Finally, pick up Black Tentacles. Not only is this a fine utility spell for those confusing moments when you can't immediately blast something, but for 50 gp/casting you can use a tanglefoot bag as a component, allowing you to reroll your grapple check against one opponent. (I think this verges on OP, myself, but it's RAW.)

Ninth Level -- Icy Prison and Fire Snake are both fine 5th level evocation spells. Icy Prison is suck-or-suck; if the enemy fails a DC 24 Reflex save, it's helpless, and even if it succeeds, it's entangled and taking damage -- 15 on the first round, and then 11 per round thereafter, until it makes a DC 26 Str check to escape. Meanwhile, your Intensified Enhanced Freezeball is up to (13d6 x 1.5) +5 or about 73 points.

For your feat, Quicken Spell is tempting, but it's just a bit too soon -- you'd be using a precious fifth level slot to throw a simple 5d4+5 Quickened Burning Hands. It can wait until 11th level, when you'll be able to make any blast more interesting by adding a Quickened Fireball for another 10d6 +2 damage. Meanwhile, an interesting option is to take Cyphermagic so you can dip a level or two of Cyphermage. Casting from scrolls now gives you +1 caster level -- more dice of damage. For one level of Cyphermage, you take Focused Scroll; basically this means that once/day you can ignore SR. If you were to dip a second level, you'd take Enhance Scroll, because you can save just a sick amount of money with this one.

But for now let's keep it simple and go with Spell Penetration. SR is starting to be a common thing at this level. You're a blaster; if something at resists your magic, you've just wasted your round and accomplished nothing. So you need this feat. It stacks with your Piercing Spell metamagic rod, so you're always at either +2 or +7... and those will get doubled when you get Spell Perfection, heh heh.

Tenth level -- Speaking of Spell Penetration, it's probably time to invest in a few doses of Dweomer's Essence. Though not formally an alchemical reagent, this acts just the same way: it's a one-time consumable that you mix into your spell to add +5 to your spell penetration check. At 500 gp /shot, it's not cheap, but sometimes you want to be very sure that you're taking that bad guy down.

(Oh, and while you're in the Magic Shoppe? Blazing, Shocking or Voidfrost Robes: ECL +1 on all spells with the appropriate energy descriptor. 11,000 gp, but at this level you should be able to afford it.)

For your 10th level bonus feat, there are a couple of attractive options. One is the Alchemical Affinity arcane discovery. This neglected gem gives you +1 ECL and +1 on DCs for any spell you cast that is also on the alchemist's spell list. Tragically, this does include Fireball, but it does include a bunch of fun spells from Detonate to Magic Jar. And it's pretty solidly thematic. That said, if you're playing strictly by the numbers then you're probably best off taking Dazing Spell. It's everyone's favorite metamagic feat for a reason. Your Dazing Fireballs will only do 10d6+6 damage, but anything that fails that Reflex save is SOL. And it's not like you can't do raw damage -- your Intensified Enhanced Freezeball is averaging 80 points of damage, and you can throw 13d6+6 Intensified Fireballs around like Mardi Gras beads.

Variant: So Evil:

Here's a variant build for evil campaigns: at 5th level, reluctantly give up Greater Spell Focus and take Cyphermage instead. You'll miss the +1 on your spell DCs, but the extra die of damage from scroll-cast spells will somewhat compensate. Then take one level (6th) of Cyphermage to snag Focused Scroll. Then starting at 7th level, go Diabolist. You can enter the class by casting Lesser Planar Binding from a scroll, and your +2 from the Cyphermage feat means you'll almost certainly succeed.

Why a Diabolist? Well, first off, it's one of Paizo's best PrCs, and one of the few that really shines for evil PCs. It's not underpowered and it's nicely thematic. Second, at your second Diabolist level (8th, in this case), you'll get Channel Hellfire. This basically gives you a fifth energy type to play with. Hellfire does half fire damage, half unholy damage -- and the unholy stuff does double damage to good-aligned creatures. Facing a paladin? At 7th level, your Empowered Fireball can become a Hellfireball that does 15d6 (x 1.5) +5, or average 75 points of damage. That's one order of Paladin Vindaloo, served hot. If you're in a campaign where you're regularly fighting good-aligned creatures, this is just too good to turn down.

But wait! There's more! The Diabolist also gets an imp companion. Been missing a familiar? Bound object very handy, but just not the same somehow? Now you get an evil little buddy who scales with your total class level. And you also get bonuses on binding devils with Planar Binding spells. Oh, and as a cherry on top you get Augment Summons as a free feat, so you have another thing to do when you're not blasting. About the only downside of the Diabolist is that you're damned. Mechanically, that means that once you enter the class, you want to stay in it until at least 5th level, when you pick up Hellish Soul. Once you've done that, you can snag a second level of Cyphermage for Enhanced Scroll -- the cost savings on that one get really crazy at high levels -- then just continue with Diabolist or Wizard, as you prefer.

Any drawbacks? Mmm well, if you want to get the full benefit of being a Diabolist you'll want to start with at least a 10 Cha, better a 12. In a 15 point build that means weakening something else. What can I tell you? Evil has its price.

-- There's a subvariant where you ignore Cypermage entirely, and just enter Diabolist at 6th level. That's great if it works, but be aware that you have to buy a scroll of Lesser Planar Binding, which at 5th level is really expensive, and then roll with a dangerous 20% of failure. If you're willing to take that risk, okay. In any event, if you're going this route, go look up DMDM's Guide To The Diabolist, and have fun playing a horrible hybrid superblaster / summoner / caller. Grow a goatee, for me.

Variant: The Explosive Wisdom of the Sage:

In this variant, you go Spell Sage. That's painful -- it means giving up Arcane Bond *and* school specialization. But once or twice per day, it lets you overclock yourself and throw a single spell at ECL + 4. Let's pause a moment and run some maths on that:

Level 1: Burning Hands, any energy type, 5d4+1
Level 3: Intensified Cold Hands, 10d4+2
Level 5: Fireball, any energy type, 10d6+4 or Freezeball 11d6+4
Level 7: Empowered Freezeball, 14d6 (x 1.5) +5
Level 9: Empowered Fireball, any energy type: 15d6 (x1.5) +5

And, as gravy, your +4 ECL counts against overcoming spell resistance. -- Now, you only get to do this once (or, at 8th level and up, twice) per day. So you get one Moment of Awesome, and then the rest of the time you're a bit underpowered. However, this is partly compensated by the Spell Sage's other power: the ability to use cleric, bard and druid spells (albeit with a longer casting time and double spell slots). That ability is useless in combat, but becomes really strong if you have time to prepare. So if you're going this route, take a trait that gives you Stealth as a class skill, throw a few ranks at it, and take invisibility early. Then if blasting won't solve the problem, you can sit in a corner for a few rounds, find the precise cleric, bard or druid spell you need, and cast that.

Consider this build if (1) your party is small, four or fewer (leverages your spell flexibility); and/or (2) you're in a module or AP with a lot of 15-minute adventuring days (leverages your once/day power)(looking at you, Kingmaker).

Some notes on playing a Blaster Wizard:

-- At low levels, Burning Hands is your go-to blast, and it's short range. So if the party doesn't have a meat shield, be prepared to take the occasional hit. Keep your AC up, put your favored class points in hp, and stay friends with the party cleric. If the party does have a meat shield, then you glue yourself to his six. Make sure Mr. Fighty understands that if there are multiple foes in view, he is not to charge forward and leave you unprotected. Fighter types can be strangely dim about this. You may have to explain gently and carefully: "I love you, man, but if you're more than 10' ahead of me you're in my blast radius".

--These builds are designed to be viable across all levels. There's no slow startup. At first level your blasts are already doing serious damage (for first level). And there's no dip, so you don't have to wait an extra level for everything. (Looking at you, crossblooded orc-dragon sorceror.)

-- Sooner or later your GM will start getting tired of watching his monsters get flash-frozen, melted, and blasted to bits, and will start throwing golems and suchlike at you. This is why this build uses a bound object, not a familiar. "Your ready spells are all blasts, right?" "Gosh, yes they are." "Heh heh -- " "Sure glad I have my bound object with me! Grease." At higher levels, scrolls add even more flexibility; this is why going cyphermage and Enhance Scroll is so attractive.

Phew. -- Thoughts and comments welcome!

Doug M.

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Plausible Pseudonym wrote:
Does anyone's campaign include outsiders dedicated to punishing mortal spellcasters who abuse Planar Binding (whether murdering the outsider after they do their job, Stone to Flesh a succubus after receiving a profane gift, or Efreeti wish shenanigans)?

Not as such, but I like where you're going with this. In my Guide to the Diabolist and Guide to Planar Binding, I mention the possibility of outsiders organizing to curb-stomp you if you get too uppity, but I don't go into anything like this level of detail.

Efreeti Enforcers: Working out of the Mage's Quarter of the City of Brass under the aegis of Grand Vizier, this group of Efreeti take revenge on spellcasters who do not bargain fairly for the wishes they receive. They rely on reporting from offended Efreeti, as well as divination when one fails to report for annual musters. When a target is identified, several Efreeti with class levels prepare an ambush around a Dimensional Locked killing ground, then have their mortal slaves use granted Wishes to transport the magician to his fate. Those who surrender are enslaved, those who resist are killed and their corpse paraded through the Grand Bazaar. So efficient, consistent, and well known is the operation that only the most powerful, cautious, or insane mortal spellcasters dare to coerce Efreeti into wishes rather than bargain (un)fairly.

Yeah, I think there almost has to be something like this. Otherwise any mope who can cast Planar Binding can get a free Wish. Gotta figure that the Efreeti, a Lawful Evil race of arrogant, malevolent creatures, would have long since shut that down.

Diabolic Department of Discipline: Special units of devils take reports of disappeared or abused minions of the Archdevils. The devils, however, play a more subtle game with their quarry. First they observe, then they approach to offer a deal. If this fails, local agents on the relevant material plane may be tasked for revenge. Only in extremis do the Pit Fiends who lead these units use their precious annual Wishes to pull the perpetrators in for punishment.

Wishes are much less of an issue here, because only Pit Fiends can grant them, and there aren't going to be a lot of mortal casters that can call these guys -- you need to be at least 15th level and also have some sort of bump, either the Augment Calling feat or a Caller's Feather or three levels of Blackfire Adept. The bigger issue from Hell's POV is that the mortal caster is dragging employees away from their jobs and using them for their own mortal purposes. I definitely think Hell would have a whole array of tactics for this, ranging from complex and subtle to "screw it, a couple of advanced Cornugons plane-shift in and the offending wizard disappears in an expanding cloud of plasma". Hell being all about corruption, domination, and bad deals, I would guess that there are probably agents -- either devils or mortal servants -- who are tasked specifically with approaching mortal spellcasters and recruiting them.

Abyssal Avengers: Demons lack the organization and individual accountability of Efreeti and Devils, but cabals of Nalfeshnee dedicated to the honor of the Abyss work randomly to punish those mortal offenders who their oracles (or reports from vengeful demons) reveal have repeatedly insulted or destroyed demons. Their Glabrezu partners force humanoid slaves to Wish for the transport of these offenders, where they are destroyed or corrupted - often by the offer of a treacherous wish from another Glabrezu.

I'm in near total agreement on this: it would be the nalfeshnee doing it, and they'd probably work with Glabrezu (who have the most to lose). Against midlevel casters, a Succubus with character levels could also be extremely powerful -- caster levels let a Succubus crank her Bluffs and her save DCs into the stratosphere, and it should be pretty easy for the demon to impersonate someone harmless and get close. (Killing a colleague or cohort of the wizard and taking their place would probably be a go-to tactic.)

I'm not sure the celestials need a similar organization, but if their personnel are getting abused I'm sure they would have similar approaches. In any case, GMs trying to rein in player abuses should consider developing one of these ideas and spreading it as common knowledge among the magical populace.

Firm agreement!

I see some people are suggesting that the Inevitables might step in. I'm less sure. If a Chaotic Evil wizard is abusing a bunch of demons, I think the Inevitables would shrug and move on. More generally, "stopping someone from gaming the system" doesn't seem like a very Inevitable sort of thing. They've got enough on their perfectly and precisely circular plates.

Finally, I'll note the one group that probably *wouldn't* have something like this: elementals. Most of them are dumb as dirt, and they don't seem to organize well. Also, plain vanilla elementals have weak Will saves and no Sense Motive, so it's painfully easy for a wizard to convince them of some nonsense or other.

Doug M.

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