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Undead Painting

Mary Yamato's page

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber. Pathfinder Society Member. 809 posts. 9 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 1 alias.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Some technical comments and corrections:

I really appreciated the "down to X" / "up to Y" indications on all the stairways. These are great and should be on all maps! However the one that says "Up to F10b" on the first floor map should say "Down to F10b", which caused some confusion.

The rents in the force field are underdescribed. How big are they? Does finding one completely negate the force field? Also, how far down does the force field go? Apparently it isn't meant to cover the engine level?

Where is the cloud? The giants in the engine level are supposed to fire at the PCs, yet the chains pass through the cloud and it is supposed to hamper the yaoguai. The art shows the engine level completely inside the cloud on p. 23, probably also on p. 8 (though in that one the bottom of the stone sticks out). If so, the giants firing downward are useless.

The GM should work out in advance which rooms have broken walls allowing access. My PCs flew around outside and it was hard to inform them--I missed one and they were annoyed. I believe they are F51, F54 and F56 (all trapped). Also it may help to know that F56, shown in an inset map, is (I think!) on top of F55.

GMs should be aware that a night attack makes it very easy for the PCs to bypass the whole ash-giant segment, as nothing will ever be able to see them. (The giants are "keeping a close eye" on the passage from over 500 feet away.) If you don't want this, I recommend lighting the whole cavern with pools and rivers of lava. Some lava "waterfalls" would be scenic!

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FatR writes:
As about the actual solution, may I propose, you know, reading the AP beforehand and replace trash encounters altogether, if you are not satisfied with "okay, I'm not going to roll the rest of this effortless stomp, time to move onto something more interesting".

This is of course true. But it's disappointing that from module 3 on this is somewhere between half and two-thirds of the encounters. That's a lot of rewriting. I am puzzled by the heavy reliance on too-weak foes. What were the rukhs in #3 supposed to accomplish, for example? There is a risk that "move on to something more interesting" becomes "skip the whole module."

And heaven help you if you use EXP, because this is never going to work. I replaced every single hellhound in #5 with a Nessian hellhound, and nearly doubled the number of giants. If I'd have been using EXP my problems would be made worse instead of better by the resulting doubling of EXP awards.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Two bits of advice for this one:

The temple priests have Magic Vestment as one of their third-level spells. This is practically useless to them as they already have +1 armor. Their other domain spell would be Magic Circle Vs. Good which might at least help them vs. summoned creatures.

They also have an incense of meditation each, meaning a total of six. If your party has any divine casters with damage spells, you are likely to regret this. (The temple priests get very little good from it themselves, but you should still have them use it up to improve their healing magic, if they have warning of the PCs' arrival.)

My player managed to "convince" the giants to make their last stand in Tesharak's cave. The king, princess, two priests, two lieutenants, three regular fire giants, the two frost giant emissaries, Tesharak and two red dragons--vs. three PCs and an NPC troll fighter. The fight was over in 2.5 rounds due to clerical damage magic, mostly Cone of Cold, and that blasted incense (which makes everything Maximized for a day). The player then said, "Let's get rid of the incense, that was a complete disappointment."

Tesharak dove under the lava, cast Greater Invisibility, poked her head up to see that everyone was dead, and wisely decided to swim away; the only survivor.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

There are two possible problems: I don't know which one you're worried about.

PvP is totally avoidable. We did _Council of Thieves_ with a party in the same neutral/evil neighborhood that could work for _Hell's Vengeance_. The PCs had strong ties to each other and were smart folks who understood that backstabbing loses allies.

The problem that has killed a few evil campaigns locally is that if you do well-fleshed out, vivid characters who actually respond to the events, a game with too many vile deeds can turn out not to be any fun. We did a Shadowrun game where the PCs were Insect Totem cultists--four sessions, and I for one was tired of doing awful things well before the end.

The Black Company is a great paradigm for having characters you can care about and root for, despite the fact that they are working for the Big Bad (and they know it from quite early on). I'd also mention Glen Cook's short story "Filed Teeth"--my husband ran an adaptation of that story which worked beautifully. It had the "swear a pact" aspect of _Vengeance_: half the PCs did and half did not, and it made for a lot of unease amongst them. There were many late-night discussions of whether our employer ought to be offed, whether we *could*, what would happen with the pact-bound PCs.... In the end we never did turn on him.

I have not read _Vengeance_ but my GM read it and will not be running it; he felt that smart, ambitious evil characters would balk at the plot and this would be hard to fix. The word "thugs" came up a lot in his review. I'm not overly interested in being a thug.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

In my experience the player response to something like a troop of hellhounds is not "oops, guess we were overconfident, we'd better play more carefully." It's "gosh, that's cheesy and hard on suspension of disbelief. Okay, if that's the way you want it--" followed by game-destroying levels of PC escalation.

I need my players' goodwill to make the game work, and for whatever reason, troops really rub them the wrong way. They rub me the wrong way too, and I'd be very unhappy as a player with the proposed solution to the hellhound problem. It breaks my understanding of how creatures and combat work, and without that understanding I don't feel I can play well. Should I be developing a new set of tactics to break up groups of creatures, on the grounds that any group may suddenly develop unexpected new abilities and immunities and turn into a lethal threat? Is that the general understanding in the gameworld? (If so, arcane casters will be even more favored than they are now--they are best at this by far.) Or is it actually impossible to break up groups? Why? How? Can we turn into a troop of PCs and become unbeatable? :-)

If your group lacks the immediate reaction of "This is not how the world works" then this solution could work for you. But it doesn't for us.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Tangent101 wrote:

As for fighting hell hounds with higher-level characters? It's doable, using the Troops rule. Having 8-12 hell hounds attacking as a swarm that does automatic damage and can't be hit by single-target attacks does change how those encounters would play out, and also would allow for an encounter that is in some ways more thematic - having adventurers fighting a dozen or so foes at once while lessening the number of die-rolls required by the GM.

This was featured in _Reign of Winter_, which I ran for our multi-player group. It didn't go over well. Players who are familiar with how the encounter would play out with normal rules balk at the fact that the troop rules suddenly make it lethal. It'd be better to use creatures that are legitimately a threat (I recommend Nessian hellhounds, which I've been using exclusively; at +20 to hit those can occasionally hit a PC) rather than deciding that creatures which are known to be unable to hurt the PCs suddenly become lethal when there are 8-12 of them.

(In the case of regular hellhounds vs. PCs, fly plus fire resistance still seems like a perfect defense. Nice high ceilings here. But in general I don't think I can use the troop rules.)

The other problem is that creatures immune to single-target attacks shut down martials, which frankly is the last thing we need: the only parties for which Giantslayer seems to really shine are melee-centric martial parties.

Luckily I don't use EXP so I don't have to worry about the effects of substituting Nessians and bumping up the numbers--and worse, my player has decided *not* to collapse the barracks but to chokepoint them and kill a squillion giants instead.

Modules 3, 4 and 5 have earnestly assured me that OF COURSE the PCs can't face the whole giant army. Unfortunately while they can't face it in the open, if they can chokepoint it or break it up they totally can. I saw a party take out the giant army in _City of the Spider Queen_ many years ago. It was a crashing bore and I would never run something like that again, but it is totally feasible.

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taks wrote:

Your player? Like, a single person?

Either way, I've been puzzled by the low CR level, too. When a group of 4 brand new players (and a PC played by me) walk through a battle that is labelled a "scourge," in 1 round... This is why I think the Sunday group will have an easy time at the end of book 2.

Yes, one player/three characters; pretty standard for our house games. This is what happens when two gamers marry each other....

We're playing #5 now and still there are all these too-low encounters. What are regular hellhounds (CR3) supposed to accomplish vs. 12th level PCs? Maybe realistically they would be there but the resulting fights need to be abstracted away; playing them out is a waste of everyone's time. (If you are attacking fire giants in an active volcano fire resistance is a no-brainer....)

Also there are ettins and ogres. Really? The premise that this is the elite training base where only the best are sent is a GREAT way to justify only having higher-level giants here; instead we get basic ettins and ogres?

I'll stick this one out to the end. It is not the most flawed AP Paizo has done. But it may be the most boring, at least from my side of the table.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

In episodes 2-5 (I haven't looked at 6 much as we're just starting 5) there is a LOT of use of foes 3-6 CR below the party level. We are finding those fights completely unengaging. The numbers aren't large enough to be any threat; if I jack up the numbers until they are, the fights take too long. I don't know why Giantslayer does this so consistently.

My player has taken to deliberately provoking 2, 3, even 4 encounters to happen at once. This does add to the challenge, but the huge fights are a pain to run. For example, at Shimmerman's Rest (#3) he managed to lead almost the whole force to the village and beat it there. The final battle of #3 was against about 30 giants and other creatures, at longish range, and was a moderately easy win for the PCs.

I can see that it'd be a different story with a melee-heavy party. The PCs befriended a troll fighter a while back and she gets pounded into a regenerating pulp just about every fight. But for any tactic but straight melee, the giants have a lot of problems. They can't handle archery (they are bad shots with their stones), or invisibility, or stealth, or charm magic, or reflex saves, or anti-movement magic (Stone Spikes is my player's go-to since we banned Damaging Entangle). That's a LOT of things not to be able to handle.

And I have to echo the general perception that there is some imaginative stuff in #1 and #2, but #3-#6 are pretty colorless. The dead Frost Queen is kind of cool but not much is done with her. My player really wanted to do Giantslayer and seems to be enjoying it, but frankly, I find it the most boring AP I've yet run (RotRL, Second Darkness, Reign of Winter, Kingmaker, Shattered Star, and chunks of Carrion Crown). To my tastes it could really use some more occult or weird elements. After #2 those seem to dry up.

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Mostly done with #4 now.

It is more interesting than #3 but still not very challenging. What it really needs is a serious response force to react to alarms. Sending two frost giants is utterly inadequate. (My PCs don't move around at night but I think the night response force is even weaker.) I am currently building a force of 8-9 giants and wolves as a second-response team.

So far the PCs have 1 outrage and around 15 sabotage points, meaning that the giant camp will disband soon. They are being fairly careful, which does make the game more interesting. However, they are pushing to do as much as possible each day, which renders many of the giant responses (increasing watchtower staffing, etc.) irrelevant: I think there will only be 2 days of raids in total, and a third day for the Tomb.

The Tomb may be much harder as most of the foes are not giants; but that was true of the temple, and the PCs crushed the forces there even though they pretty much fought them all at once.

My player has made things enormously harder for himself by avoiding many effective spells and pushing to speed-run the whole plateau. Without that I think it would be too easy to be engaging.

The encounter with the dragon is problematic. If she offers information about the Storm Tyrant it tends to push the PCs toward #5 before they are ready. (There is no solid reason they need to finish #4 first, as far as I can tell, other than not leaving a functional giant force behind.) If she doesn't, either she refuses to help, which leaves this whole encounter doing nothing, or she does help the PCs, which will make a rather easy scenario completely trivial.

On my initial read-through #5 was my favorite. I hope it's a more appropriate challenge. Throughout #3 and #4 we get repeated encounters with small numbers of low-CR foes. If you throw CR5 enemies at a level 11 party they will never be able to hit anyone--the only question is how the PCs can minimize resource use. (The bolt ace may run out of bolts eventually, forcing them to waste two teleports to get more!)

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Halfway through this now.

The conceptual issue with Giantslayer is that the PCs have a whole AP to become optimized to fight giants. Giants are generally pretty simple. Don't let them melee you; especially, don't let them get full attacks; if you can manage that, there are few problems.

The authors generally do a good job throwing in other opponents and mixing things up a bit, but Giantslayer is still, in our hands, troublesomely easy. I have had to say twice, in #3 and #4, "Yes, the plan you outline could take out the whole giant camp. Please don't. I don't think it will be much fun and I really don't want to run it." Even so, the PCs provoked about 5 encounters worth of #3 to happen all at once, twice, and won easily both times; #4 is not different so far.

There is also a problem with timescale. #4 assumes that the PCs will attack repeatedly over many days, because otherwise the giant responses to Outrage such as adding night patrols don't matter at all. But the giants are sufficiently easy to kill that my players' approach went like this:

Day 1: take out the main commander, two watchtowers, the temple, and the brewery, and disrupt the main camp.
Day 2 (projected): take out four more watchtowers, the drakes, the svathurim, the slave camp, and two more targets to be chosen on the fly.
Day 3 (projected): take out Svirkatla.

So, a heads-up to GMs: I recommend adding more giants almost everywhere. Give the commander another pair. Put the second giant underneath every watchtower in a tent from the start. Maybe start the Outrage counter a bit higher so that there are night patrols. Give the witch in the brewery a couple of assistants (that fight could have been genuinely interesting if he wasn't alone). Double the size of the force that responds to alerts. All of this, of course, depends on your PCs--if they are very weak you won't want to do this--but for PCs of normal or higher strength and decent tactical ability, you'll probably need it.

I want to note that my player deliberately gimped his characters--this is not a case of strong optimization. We agreed not to use Deadly Aim, each PC took some levels in an off class to slow the progression, and we banned or refrained from using a bunch of anti-giant spells such as Dominate Person. (Just think what you could do if you Dominated the camp commander in terms of manuvering other giants to locations where they could be killed easily.) But giants are just horrendously vulnerable to magic and archery. I think if we hadn't been restrained in the character designs there would be no challenge at all.

I'm not sure what the module authors could do about this, frankly; it's a basic problem with the giant theme, and also with the enormous power difference between a haphazardly made and played PC party and a well-made one, let alone a vigorously optimized one.

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We are now mostly done with #3. The PCs have muffed escaping from the Cathedral with prisoners and are now going to have to fight a whole lot of giants. I believe they will win it, though.

#3 seems severely underpowered. For example, there's an encounter with a CR5 and five CR3 opponents one room before the purported final encounter. The PCs are either 9th or 10th by then. This is not even a speedbump. The enemies have nothing but melee and have trouble hitting the PCs. (My player spared me this fight by Bluffing through.)

The crossbowman with tanglefoot arrows can mop up giants in the open. Tanglefoot is a no-save slowdown preventing the giants from closing effectively. They can't hit at range. Ironically, the AP's deficit of places to shop for magic items set me up for this: he could not find any big magic items to buy, so he bought 60 tanglefoot bolts instead, and really nothing could have been better!

The psychic with confusion can win giant fights single-handed: confusion, vanish, eat popcorn while watching the giants fight. Hold person, slow, and even color spray are also highly effective, as is entangle when outdoors. Note that only one of these is a "person" spell so the defenses against "person" spells are not sufficient. Toppling or dazing metamagics (used with magic missile) are also outrageously strong, so strong the player deliberately removed the feat from his character after one session. He also removed damaging entangle. Giants' reflex saves are almost as bad as their will saves.

My player graciously gave me a party with minimal invisibility and no greater invisibility: the giants are unable to deal with it, except for a small number of ones with animal pets.

On the player's request, I wrote up rules for breaking the morale of the giant camp in #3 based on the ones in #4. I don't really recommend this as it will make #4 feel repetitious. I don't think they are working anyway. The camp is well centralized and the PCs don't have invisibility: their optimal strategy is just to kill the giants piecemeal until they have "accidentally" killed enough leaders to break the camp morale.

The player is talking about abandoning the AP as it's just too easy. He is running only 3 PCs, not terribly optimized, and he's a player who enjoys low-challenge games, but not this low-challenge. I have been giving the giants a bit of help here and there but I didn't sign up to rewrite the whole module....

I hope #4 is better.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Okay, we have now played most of #2 and I am looking at the transition to #3.

I wish the action went back to Trunau. I will probably have to write that bit myself.

Despite my player trying to be circumspect, the game is rapidly losing its challenge. The giants are so vulnerable to magic, and their tactics are so predictable (get close and hit!), that they are sitting ducks. A short list of things they have trouble dealing with: hold person, slow (this single spell effectively ended the boss fight of #2), tanglefoot arrows, invisibility, fly.

The fey sequence in #2 was admittedly a change of pace from this, but I don't see anything like that in upcoming modules, and giants are just not working out well for me as a challenge.

The player proposes forcing all PCs to take a level in an off class, slowing down the spellcasters' progression. I frankly don't think even that will do it. I forsee #3 being fairly easy even with the PCs' current abilities. We'll see how it goes.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

We have played #1 and I have read #2 and #3 in detail, and looked at comments on #4-6.

There's a lot to like in terms of scenery, some good NPCs, colorful details. But there are pervasive structural problems which are really getting me down. I have a player who wants to understand what is happening and make long-range plans to deal with it. The plot of #1 did not handle this well. The plot of #3 will fall apart completely. (Probably #6 as well, though as I haven't read it I'm not as sure.)

There's an overall premise problem in that there's an army of giants. I don't want my player to fight an army of giants. I have seen him do it before--it is a lot more feasible than the module authors think. He came up with a strategy to take out over 200 giants in _City of the Spider Queen_ and the same tactics will work here. It's just very, very boring. But the alternative is to assume that the army of giants is harmless without its top leadership, and I don't think the modules make that apparent at all. I greatly fear that the player will turn to me and say "I'm so sorry, but the PCs have to get rid of these giants." And I will have to reply "Okay, we'll abstract it"--and there goes much of the appeal, for me anyway.

I would compare this AP to Rise of the Runelords 4-6. If your group really enjoyed those, this should work about as well. If they gave you trouble, this will too. If they worked okay, but not great--this is a whole lot more of the same. Consider running just #1 and #2, which make a good story about orcs, and then stopping.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

We just finished playing this module. My player is a stickler for logic--he likes to analyze situations and try to understand what is happening--so I had to change a lot of things.

I could not see how the orc raiders got into the Inner Quarter in the amount of time available, and through a closed gate: so I looked at each encounter in this section and either moved it to the lower city or replaced the orc raiders with half-orc saboteurs. That worked pretty well. It also cured another problem, which is that several encounters are so close together it's unreasonable that they wouldn't interact--in particular it seems almost impossible to reach certain orc raiders without interacting with Omast and setting off his timer.

Something I didn't fix, and regretted, is this: where did the barricades at the lower gate to the Inner Quarter, manned by Omast and no one else, come from? It strains plausibility that one drunk soldier set up over 100 feet of barricades, including salvaging fences from nearby homes and *sharpening* them, in the amount of time it took hustling PCs to get down there from the pyre. Frankly that sounds like a dozen people over ten minutes or so, minimum. Who? When? Why? My player commented on this and then just rolled his eyes and played it as a video game scene.

I already knew that I was not going to ask the PCs to do the tomb on the same day as the town defense. So when I saw that the Omast fight was going to be very easy for them, I gave the beastmaster some dogs, and added another three-orc wave close on the heels of the last one. It was still very easy for them, and the player said that another full wave would have been good.

In retrospect I also wish I had reversed the order of Crusher and the catapult. Having the PCs run back and forth emphasized the absence of the town militia too much. I see why Crusher was put last, as a grand finale, but I don't care about that as much as I do giving a feeling of real events. So the PCs should have met Crusher and his handlers when they came down to light the Hopespring Beacon. (Fight was a total anticlimax anyway due to _hold giant_.)

I really like the bodies-create-obstacles rule! We marked bodies in pen on the battlemap, so it was easy, and it had great flavor. I'm tempted to just institute this as a general house rule, but my player fears it would favor casters and archers over melee types, and that's not a direction we'd want to go.

It should be noted that the bit of the module that says "Grinseldek becomes impatient and--" is false, as Grinseldek is not present and not, as far as I can tell, able to communicate with the raiders in any way.... If your players care about this sort of thing, watch out for persistent "How did the bad guys move so fast? How did they find out so quickly?" issues throughout this module. Also watch out if the PCs manage to capture Daktini and/or the flood troll, because *they know there's an orc army out there* and it's not clear how subsequent events survive the PCs telling everyone about this.

We had fun with the scenario but it was really frustrating to GM because nothing could be relied on--every single detail had to be logic-checked and fixed if necessary. I had particular trouble with the orc raiders on the wrong side of the Inner Quarter gates: you can make a story about how that happened, but it feels really contrived. Why aren't those orcs in the lower city where they belong?

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Katina Mathieson wrote:

Hello Mary,

I've taken a look into your order, and it seems that it's being held up by the Bigger Basic Flip-Mat. Right now, those are out of stock, and I have not heard when we can feasibly get more of them. Since the rest of your order will want to wait for everything before shipping out, the best bet would be to remove it so I can get the rest of the items processed and shipped out.

As for the mat, I can either put it into your sidecart to be sent out with a future subscription shipment, I could move it to a separate order to send out on it's own once it becomes available, or I can just cancel it from the order entirely. Either way, once I move it, I can get everything else on the way to you. Just reply to let me know what you'd prefer, and I'll make sure that it gets taken care of.

If there are any further questions or concerns that you may have in the meantime, please feel free to ask and I'll be happy to help you.


Thanks for the quick reply! Please move the flipmat into a separate order (I knew I shouldn't have waited to place that one.)


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Hi, I placed an order on July 29 and I haven't seen any emails suggesting it's gotten any further in processing. If this is just the usual post GenCon delay, no problems. If there's something holding it up is there something I can do to help speed it along?

Thanks! You'll do really good work under trying circumstances.

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It turns out my credit card company was blocking the card due to
"suspicious" activity. It has been cleared up and they claim that transactions from Paizo should now go through normally. I can't seem to find a way to get the order charged again--could you fine customer service folks do that for me (and hopefully ship my subscription and sidecart stuff)?

Thanks for all your hard work,

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We are nearing the end of Jade Regent with two players and four PCs (each player has two). If you have two players who can make clear roleplaying distinctions between the PCs (not a problem in this game) this works fine.

We are halfway through module 1 of Jade Regent with one player. He is playing two PCs (a level higher than usual) and there is a party NPC. I plan to be somewhat more encouraging of recruiting Spivey, Ulf, etc. than the GM of the first mentioned game was, but it's a delicate balance--I bog down as a GM if I run too many complicated people in combat. I may have to ask him to do an NPC or two at some point.

In the second game the player is essentially playing the Ameiko role (we don't have Ameiko and her group)--it'll be interesting to see how that works out. Of course I had to delete the kami subplot in module 1, as it wouldn't do to put one PC out of commission for half a module.

I also reset the game to start geographically in a village in the Forest of Spirits: it will go north (putting Ravenscraeg in the Hangul lands, and giving the PCs a quest to go to the Crown rather than to cross it) and then back south. I've felt that the biggest artistic flaw of Jade Regent is that it's supposed to be about Minkai but takes a really long time to get there, so the PCs never get a good sense of the place. I hope the resetting helps. So far it's not hard.

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We scrapped both romance and caravan rules; no regrets. The GM tried for a level or so to have us "put points into NPCs" and the players just weren't interested at all.

The PC/NPC and PC/PC relationships ended up quite adequately complex. Koichi (priest of Tsukiyo) is in love with Ameiko but decided long ago that this was contrary to his duty, so he keeps it a secret (when Lindy asked, he told her the story of Shiziru and Tsukiyo only meeting during eclipses....). Lindy (ranger) is very slowly and shyly building a relationship with Shalelu, and is oblivious to the fact that Jinko (rogue) has had a serious crush on her all campaign long. Nith (necromancer) treats Koya as his mentor and advisor, which caused a fracas when Nith made one supernatural deal too many and started turning into an undead. And Jinko recently seduced Nith in the hopes of swaying him from his necromantic doom and is now clashing with Koya over the best way to save his life. (Does she love him? I frankly don't know. I don't think she knows.)

The only person no one clicked with was Sandru. Just couldn't make any connections there; but I doubt mechanics would have helped.

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This was a memorable fight for us because we had disguised the necromancer's undead dragon as a cow for the cross-country trip, and we'd forgotten it was still a cow when we hit the courtyard. The GM had *not* forgotten and the archers totally freaked out when attacked by a flying killer cow.

Disguising our Large buddies as other things has been a recurrent theme, actually: the ranger's beloved giant wolf gets to play kami, dragons, horses, etc. quite often. Currently she's passing as the daughter of the great white dragon, with the rest of us pretending to be her sycophants--got us well into an enemy fortress before we ran into someone with Truesight.

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We used the area east of Belkzen and north of Ustalav. Far enough from the Worldwound to be somewhat sane, lots of diversity with orcs, Mammoth Lords, Ustalavi, etc. Unfortunately the campaign ran into snags but I think the choice of location was sound.

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We don't use them anymore. I had too many bad experiences with needing to put in filler in order to reach a plot-necessary level. Sometimes there is really no way to do that (Runelords 5 was a good example). Also I hate bookkeeping with a passion.

We also tried one AP (Shattered Star) where we didn't do loot either--just wealth by level. The player liked it fine, but I didn't; since he didn't need the loot he didn't look at it, and I felt that lost some of the setting-building qualities. Also it felt too artificial to me. (The reason we tried is that we kept not having enough loot--he would bug me to put in more to keep up with wealth by level, and I'd forget, and it was just stressful. But I don't think abolishing loot is a solution I'll try again.)

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The scenario in which I'd expect to see a perfectly reasonable and cooperative group of players end up fighting with Iomedae would go something like this:

The PCs are followers of Sarenrae, or at least of her philosophy. They have spent the previous four modules working extremely hard to redeem enemies and have been pretty successful. So, when Iomedae asks question #2 they answer immediately and with no trace of hesitation on anyone's part, because they have long ago settled this to their satisfaction.

They take a little damage and Iomedae appears angry.

They say to themselves (and to each other--in my experience parties of this level often have Mind Link)--"Oh my gosh, this is a demon lord pretending to be Iomedae!" The players roll initiative, planning to make a brave fight of it, or possibly Plane Shift away. In their minds they are not fighting Iomedae, they are fighting a demon lord pretending to be Iomedae, and doing the best they can with this very bad situation.

Frankly, if my players did this I would have to retcon that they were correct--I think it's the only way to save the campaign at this point. Certainly if I permanently maim them the game is over, even if they are somehow later healed.

I do have players who will generally try to cooperate with the scenario, but I submit that they have NO WAY to know that the situation isn't exactly as I outlined it, except for the one detail that the initial teleport was no-save. As a player I wouldn't want to use that information, since it's very meta, and I also might assume it was just a railroading device to avoid splitting the party.

I do not think players have to be stupid or uncooperative to provoke a disaster here. They just have to be different than expected, and the party above is different in a fatal way while still being honorable, good, and respectful.

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James Sutter wrote:

If other folks in this thread are concerned about it, I recommend dropping the number of seugathi, or having some additional Duskwardens join the fight, etc. Sorry if folks were blindsided by it!

Adding more Duskwardens makes things worse. They cannot make their saves any more than the PCs can, and they hurt the PCs in two ways: by attacking them directly, and by deflecting "attack nearest" PC results into attacking them rather than seugathi. (Your best tactic in a confusion melee is to try to get the top fighter on the far side of the enemies from everyone else, so that "attack nearest" works for you: this is harder the more allies are present.)

If you want the Duskwardens to help, have them deploy a weakish golem or some zombies or ghouls. Still distracting to the PCs, but at least not actively hurting them, and they could hurt or distract the seugathi.

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Rogue Eidolon wrote:

Our group knew exactly where she was from the friendly ghouls, prebuffed (assuming she was also prebuffing since we knew with her Perception she could hear us doing it), hit her early with a dimensional anchor as a precaution and then proceeded to annihilate her.

Our fight looked exactly the same. I think it took two rounds, but Cadrilkasta never got an effective action.

Throughout the AP, there were combat instructions for major NPCs that wasted one or more rounds. With the fast pace of decision at high level we found these instructions to completely ruin the combats. I ignored most of them past module 2. Even with NPCs acting effectively as soon as they could, the PCs had high initiative and often had surprise, and many fights were over before the NPCs acted even once.

My experiences with this AP were blighted by a problem that I have had repeatedly, notably with Age of Worms and Rise of the Runelords. There were very hard parts early in the AP, and these signaled to my player that he'd better optimize his characters. Having done so, he cut through the rest of the AP without effort or challenge, and it wasn't much fun to run. I don't know how to fix this. When you have just handed someone a TPK you have no standing to say "Don't optimize." But it really ruins the later modules if almost every fight is "The PCs attack the enemy and it falls instantly." (It wasn't just high damage, but a combo of high damage, high initiative, and optimization for obtaining surprise. The entire party would often get a surprise round and a full-round action before the NPC acted, which is fatal at high level.)

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As far as I can tell, it's impossible to make someone humble by force. You can humiliate them, but it's just not the same. So I wouldn't try.

What would Iomedae pressingly want to know? Well, was there some weakness in her Herald that led to this disastrous capture? If the GM could develop an idea about such a weakness, then it would make sense for Iomedae to be testing for it.

I don't know this part of the story so I can't guess the Herald's actual weaknesses, if any. But some ideas:

--He clung to justice when mercy was needed, or to mercy when justice was needed (the paradox of the LG alignment in many cases)

--He had some pride or ambition that the demons could work on; he wasn't content to be Iomedae's servant. (After all, Iomedae was once a Herald and now a god--why not him?)

--He didn't have the wisdom to see through a deception; he mistook a subtle demonic evil for good. (There's a nice example of this in the backstory of Shackled City which might be inspirational.)

--He became too invested in a personal friend, beloved, place, group, or project, and that became a weakness the demons could exploit.

--His trust in Iomedae faltered, either because of an actual flaw in her, a weakness in his own personality, a demonic deception, or something involving the fall of Aroden. Without faith he couldn't withstand the demons.

Once you know what went wrong with the Herald, it would make sense that Iomedae would be trying to find out if the PCs share that flaw--if they do, sending them to the Abyss would just be throwing good money after bad. So she'd ask questions germane to this, such as "When were you in situation X? How did you resolve it? Looking back, were you right?" for some appropriate situation.

She might also test for fracture points in the group, but you can't do that unless you know the PCs in question. We just had a nice scene in Jade Regent along the lines of "What about the PC necromancer? Do you take responsibility for him--not only for what he may do now, but what he may someday become?" That was a suitably hard question for my priest of Tsukiyo, and may have been a turning point in his taking moral responsibility in a broader sense. So, a GM might think about ways the party might split, and challenge those. Have the more Good characters been in denial about their comrades' real natures? Is there someone here not willing to sacrifice themselves for their comrades, and if so, how do the comrades feel about that?

This kind of scene is best tailored to the PCs, though of course the module-writer can't do that, so module attempts will always be somewhat generic.

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Lochar wrote:
No, because for the second question if no one is conflicted about their answer, then it's an auto failure of that question. Even though they answered it to the best of their ability.

Yeah, this was the deal-breaker for me. Iomedae's question is very unfortunately worded: I don't have the book in front of me, but it's essentially "Is redemption an option, or must evildoers always be killed?"

Suppose that you're a worshipper of Sarenrae. Are you going to be the least little bit conflicted over being asked to choose between "redemption is an option" and "redemption is never an option"? No. Sarenrae teaches with 100% clarity that redemption is an option. So you'll answer correctly by the precepts of your faith, and then you'll get blasted because you weren't conflicted.

Suppose that the whole campaign has been an ongoing struggle over this exact question, and the PCs have spent a huge amount of time working on it (our current Jade Regent party has, to some extent). Suppose that therefore the PCs have a clearly worked out group consensus, and they present it. And they get blasted; they're not conflicted or hesitant or unsure.

Furthermore, Iomedae doesn't rebuke them with an explanation; she just blasts them. If I say "Sarenrae teaches that redemption is always possible" and I eat 20d6 sonic damage, I am not going to understand that Iomedae thinks I should be more conflicted. I am, frankly, going to think that what I have here is something pretending to be Iomedae, probably a demon lord. And then we will get to try out the "what happens if the PCs fight Iomedae", or "what happens if the PCs teleport away and don't get the mission." Which is really not what anyone wants out of this scene.

I think this scene is a reflection of a basic mistake. Humility is a good thing. Humiliation is a bad thing. You can't make someone humble, you can only humiliate them: not useful, unless your real goal is to cow them into doing what you want. And that is not a viable approach to 18th level Mythic characters.

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We don't use exp, just handing out levels. That said, I would certainly buy an AP that was designed for fewer levels per module. I find the current level way too fast, forcing the GM to add a *lot* of side adventures to keep the players competent with their characters. (We call it "level burn" when either the player can no longer handle the character's abilities, or the player can no longer understand the character's personality. "Last week I was a farmboy, now I'm a superhero. Yikes. I guess next week I'm either a god, or stark raving mad....")

When we played Shattered Star, there were segments where the PCs were going up a level every session (real time) and every day (game time). It was insane. Sometimes more than one level. (Module 3 in its entirety was two sessions of about 4 hours each and 1.5 days game-time.) The player in that game is a very good rules mechanic, but even he struggled, and I would have been hopelessly lost.

I don't expect to get this, though, as it's apparently a minority taste. We mainly cope by tucking other modules into the innards of the AP. (Shattered Star didn't work well with this, though--it's too goal-focused and dungeon-heavy.) Some combos that have worked well for us:

Savage Tide 1-2 in Council of Thieves
Realm of the Fellnight Queen in Kingmaker
Carrion Crown 3 in Kingmaker
Legacy of Fire 4 in Skull and Shackles
Ruby Phoenix Tournament in Jade Regent (highly recommended)

You could probably tuck Second Darkness 1 and Shattered Star 1 into Curse of the Crimson Throne pretty well, too.

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Hi, I placed an order for some minis and a map pack on Nov 8 and it's
still pending. I sent an email last Tuesday, Nov 26th enquiring
about it. Could you please let me know the status of my order?

thanks for all your hard work!

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We do a custom rules document for each campaign with "in" and "out". For the current one, a Kingmaker-style set north of Ustalav, it's CRB plus about half the APG classes and a subset of the APG spells, and nothing else unless it's specifically vetted and allowed. (We also banned a significant number of CRB things.) For the previous one, which was a high-power _Shattered Star_, it was pretty much everything goes. It's a matter of what the GM and player want from each campaign, and I find it works best when this is a joint decision.

(The one thing I can ALWAYS use is more Bestiaries. Just got #4, yum. But this is not to say that all of those critters exist in the gameworld.)

I would rather ban something up front than spend a lot of energy trying to mitigate it, personally. And I share the other poster's view that if I allow PC witches, that means there are witches in the gameworld and people have to know about them to some degree. They are not, mechanically, just wizards with cats. Hexes are Su or Ex, not spell-likes, and this matters in play!

I don't really understand the reluctance to ban. A lot of the time we're banning something because the game will be more fun *for the players* without it. In Kingmaker style games we find that Fly/Overland Flight/Teleport weakens the PCs' connection with the landscape, so we don't have them; I love that as a player because the landscape thing is really important to me. It's not about a GM power play, it's about having rules that support the game you want to play.

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I much prefer the new skill-point system: you just couldn't be competent at mid to high levels in a non-class skill in 3.x, which led to unmotivated multiclassing. This frustrated me a lot. Consolidating the skills also helped, though our home games always give extra skill points as I think there are still too few.

I like at-will cantrips, and also the school, domain and bloodline powers that give low-level casters something to do once their few spells are gone. They aren't perfect yet (my sorceress has a notably useless one) but they're definitely in the right direction.

I like CMB/CMD. We always avoided manuver-using characters because the 3.x rules seemed so broken. In a recent Pathfinder game we actually had the scene where two characters open a door behind a guard's back, grab him, drag him through the door, and close it before anyone notices (okay, the Silence spell helped)--using the rules as written.

I like the attempts to unify the monster rules and to clarify what, for example, increasing or decreasing a monster's stat does to its abilities.

I really, really like that Paizo seems to listen to its players. I hadn't had that feeling about WOTC/TSR for a long time.

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Also, if evil NPC allies *always* betray the PCs at the climax, it gets very predictable and takes away the "will she or won't she" question.

It's like the time FASA put out a run of five modules in which the PCs' employer betrays them at the end of the job. Once was a surprise. After five the PCs were so jaded, they just stopped taking jobs at all (they hung around preying on idjits who took jobs, instead....)

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My group polymorphed Ardathanatos into a frog right in front of the doors, then beat on the frog until it died (they never picked up on any clues that he might be redeemable, and frankly would probably not have done it even if they had). Then the door opened and Yamasoth picked Ardathanatos up and took him away. Oops. We had to retcon this as it was clearly not an acceptable outcome.

My player really disliked the door-opening scenario. If there had been some hint that Ardathanatos' death was a tactical problem (as opposed to a moral problem) it would have helped, but we didn't encounter any. So it's just two rounds of "there's nothing you can do, you lose" plus a side dish of "you're too low level for this scenario." I think it came close to ending the campaign.

This scenario reminded me of "The Infernal Syndrome" from Council of Thieves (no spoilers here I hope) in that the module would be more interesting if the PCs took it very slowly and looked at everything carefully, but there are a lot of internal cues that there is time pressure--my player picked up on those early and played it as a do-or-die run. So the PCs went up two levels in one day, plus they never had time to really look at things, plus they skipped as much as they possibly could. As a result much of the really neat stuff in the module didn't get any chance to be neat. It was frustrating. I'm not sure what's to be done about this.

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I played in it, though I think the GM dropped the rival party idea. It was seriously creepy (the curse scared the PCs very, very much--and they don't scare that easily) and very difficult. If your players are not into old-style dungeon delving, you may want to warn them. Plunging in rashly may well get them killed; it's important to take it slowly and be careful.

My rogue still has nightmares about the old guy in the room full of string.

We did not like the sequel as much: the PCs are pushed to do something that the module apparently fiats must fail, and I didn't enjoy that at all.

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Doubling the hit points doesn't do much good if the enemies only hit on a 20 and do minimal damage when they do hit, does it? It just makes a pointless fight last slightly longer.

We call this "Blackwall Keep Syndrome" after the third module in Age of Worms, where the author seems convinced that the mass of lizardfolk is a huge threat (in theory it's about CR11) and gives lots of warnings about how the PCs musn't let themselves be engaged--but in fact the PCs can just stand there fighting lizardfolk until they are all dead, because they can't hit, and on the rare 20's they do a d6 or so. No amount of those is actually a CR11--not ten, not fifty, not a hundred. Probably not a thousand. They just don't scale that way.

And then you get the disaster when a GM feels s/he has learned that lesson, and applies it to the wrong creature--something where several of them really is much more dangerous than one. Harpies are a good one. Seugathi are a *great* one (ouch). CR is something of a black art.

Babau demons are more in the first category. If you can handle them, you can handle a lot of them, extra hit points or no. Succubi, in the other hand, are in the second category: unless you are totally immune to their wiles, you don't want to see ten succubi because you *will* miss a save.

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James Sutter writes:

"Most folks can't cast passwall until 9th level..."

They used scrolls. I think they have 2-3 more of them stocked up just waiting for Windsong Abby. (If they passwall into the bottom of that they may bite the big one, though.)

They did have fun. I'm just glad we're neither relying on module EXP nor module treasure, because they got maybe 25% of each.

I was sorry not to see the artificer's house; I'll keep it on tap for a later game. It should stand alone just fine.

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Andrea1 wrote:
She married Aberian? Talk about going for the Big Mac when you could have the filet mingeon. :p

Who would you prefer?

I personally think Eccardian was the best match for her personality and drive. Unfortunately she killed him.

The current most powerful man in Westcrown is Vasindo Dravinge, but while Aberian is old enough to be her father, Vasindo is old enough to be her great-grandfather, and that does put her off. Also it would upset her cute little balance-of-power game with Vasindo and Ertein.

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It's my favorite AP, but we changed it a LOT.

We had the PCs be the last heirs of a minor noble house whose big goal was regaining power and gaining more--so that the idea of becoming Mayor of Westcrown, instead of coming out of left field at the end, was the culmination of a campaign-long plan by the lead PC.

As a nice side benefit, this meant that the PCs looked at the Children of Westcrown as dangerous troublemakers. The only reason they'd overthrow House Thrune is to take its place! (Which is where we might be going with the post-AP continuation of the game--we'll see how that works.)

We reversed 4 and 5, and broke up 6 to scatter it through 3-5, and added Savage Tide 1 and 2 plus some side adventures. This allowed the GM to build up the BBG's plan a lot, and for the PCs to have time to diligently investigate it--from about 3 onward they knew they had a shadowy enemy who was going to wreck Westcrown, but it took them a long time to find out who, partly because they naturally confused Eccardian and Ilneric.

The PCs were a mix of borderline neutral/evil folks, as you might expect from Chelish nobility. One of my favorite roleplaying bits was that the lead PC became somewhat less evil over the course of the game, as she developed a personal stake in Westcrown's wellbeing. But she tended to regard her better impulses as temptations, and for a long time she kept blaming the Good party NPC, Calsienica. "I can't torture the guy. Calsienica wouldn't like it." No one got to hear that actually *she* didn't like it.

I agree that Westcrown could use a sourcebook. Figure on doing a lot to build up the noble families, the Temple of Asmodeus, and the general political situation if you want to run it as a political game (as we did).

Also, the player hook for module 2 is really, really weak. The PCs need to do this bizarre risky thing to get into Aberian's Folly--but there is nothing stopping them from just getting into Aberian's Folly, besides which they are not really motivated to get in there in the first place. In retrospect, Aberian could have asked the PCs to do the play in return for patronage--that would have worked a lot better for us (they'd have jumped on it).

My lead PC ended up as (a) Mayor of Westcrown, (b) married to Aberian, and (c) the head of the Council of Thieves. That pleases me more than any combat goal I've ever accomplished--though finally getting Eccardian after three near misses was also excellent.

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We just finished this module, and I have to recount what happened.

Session 1. The PCs go up the cliff, skipping the Halflight Path entirely. They meet their guide, hear about the bizarre behavior of the Therassic Guild, and decide that's their clue. They use clairvoyance and similar means to find where the dungeon entrance is, passwall in, subdue some elderly librarians, tell the Therassics in no uncertain terms not to intervene, and go down.

Session 2. The PCs go into super-stealth mode and open doors a crack, peer in, swear, and close the door again. (They named this the "Hall of Horrors" about five doors in.) They fight the three Therassic agents (all three go down in a round or less), the hellwasps, and the caged fish. They skip *everything* else. When they reach the caulborn, they come to the natural conclusion that the caulborn are what made the NPCs insane (they never understood about the trap) so they subdue the caulborn and mind-read their Brain to find out how to work the menhir.

They retreat and free the coatl, then enlist its help in reverse-engineering the caulborn ritual, with aid from a planar ally summoning.

Session 3. The PCs pop out of the menhir and retrograde away from the rot grubs. (In retrospect I gave them a round more warning than the module intended.) They scout the Black Keep and enter the tower windows to take out the three wyverns. (By the way, the art, the map and the room descriptions totally disagree on where or how many windows there are in this keep.) Having finished those (and alerted other denizens--it was noisier than their usual attack) they cast Fly, move to the uppermost part of the keep, and passwall into it. They grab the Shard. The Horseman flings open the door and attacks, doing a little damage. They kill him and fly away.

I ruled that Olanna and the hounds realized where they were going and raced to the menhir to stop them. The PCs flew down, taking one round of attacks from Olanna and the hounds (they had cast Remove Fear so weren't in much danger of panic) and went through the menhir. They thanked the coatl and skipped town.

That's it! Three sessions of maybe 3 hours each. They skipped ALL of part 1, 2/3 of part 2 and more than half of part 3. Only one fight lasted more than 2 rounds (the hellwasps). Thank the gods I'm not using EXP or this would have been a complete disaster with the PCs at least one if not two levels too low by the end.

I can't fault their play. It accomplished all of their goals with minimal danger, no loss of innocent lives, and informing as few parties as possible about the Shard. But boy, shortest module EVER.

(If anyone is wondering, this is five characters, built for stealth: barbarian, oracle, wizard, rogue/fighter, cleric/fighter. Not particularly optimized for anything but stealth and operating in darkness.)

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Here's my take on _Council of Thieves_:

The good: No gimmicks here. Relatively slow level advancement (which I prefer). Setting restricted to a single city and surrounding area, so I really got to know it. Several good NPCs, at least in my GM's hands. Acting out the play in #2 was surprisingly fun. The city is decently well described and has good scope for play.

The bad: I really disliked the extraplanar dungeon in #2. The logic behind the PCs going there was weak, and it was not fun once we got there either. We also had trouble with #4; it imposes a lot of pressure to move fast, but is only interesting if you go slow and look at details.

Things we changed: The GM changed a *lot*. He reversed modules 4 and 5 (I recommend this--it's an improvement plot-wise and not as bad as you'd think for difficulty level) and added about 1 module worth of new material for every module in the AP. Without that I think it would have been too thin. Savage Tide #1-#2 makes a good mix-in for CoT #1-#2.

Our PCs were Chelish nobility, the heirs to a minor noble house, and mostly neutral or a restrained flavor of evil. This helped avoid the early red herring that the campaign might be about overthrowing Cheliax, since it is NOT. Some groups hated CoT because they got the wrong expectations.

The extra material allowed for a long drawn-out cat and mouse game with the BBG, so when we finally found him we knew exactly who he was and why we wanted him dead. The scene where we had finally solved the plot mystery and confronted a major NPC with it was one of the most satisfying ever.

The GM also connected the PCs' backstories with the events in the module really well. This is what the player's guides are supposed to do, but we have never had good experiences with those so I tend to ignore them. Having the religious artifact McGuffin belong to the PC cleric's cult was *great*. The confrontation over that artifact was another of the really intense scenes in the AP for me. (Also one of two climax scenes in which the fight ended before it really began--surprisingly, this was fine.)

Finally, I think it really helped that our PCs developed a concrete plan for making the city safer early on, and a concrete plan for hunting down the BBG later. I enjoyed getting to be active rather than reactive.

I'd recommend it, but only for a GM willing to flesh it out a lot. In particular I'd really want the reason for the second half of #2 to be replaced, and reversing #4 and #5 is better than letting them stand. And the PCs definitely need more ways to find out about the BBG than the modules provide. (This is a common problem across many APs.)

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Removing alignment from the game is certainly an option (I've done that in some campaigns). If the campaign is meant to be RAW, though, these spells undeniably have alignment-specific aspects; unfortunately they are written very confusingly so there is no consensus on what they do.

This matters to me as I run an LN charm mage myself. Enemies do not tend to have Pro Law in Cheliax; they have Pro Good or Pro Evil or Pro Chaos. If those spells work against her it matters mechanically.

Has anyone seen worked-out errata for these spells? They drive me crazy.

As for Spell Immunity, it helps against casters (though Dominate Person is lower level than anything which could stop it) but is (if I read the rules correctly) useless against supernatural abilities. We have had two near-TPKs due to monsters with Confusion supernatural abilities. (It's quite unclear to me, incidentally, whether Pro Evil blocks Confusion.) Witch hexes raise similar issues. And the more you allow non-Core spells, the less use Spell Immunity becomes.

We are considering revising all of the save-takeout spells to work more like poisons, with ongoing effects that build up to the final disaster if not stopped. It's a big revision and will doubtless mess up other things, but these spells are a problem for us--either defenses are so high that they don't work at all, which makes people like the charm mage no fun, or they *do* work, which makes combats very dicy and short. (The charm mage has settled a frightening number of boss fights with Hideous Laughter.)

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There'd been a lot of killing in this module already, so we let many of the warriors live--but they ran screaming into the night and may have been eaten by snow leopards. We didn't inquire.

We meant to save Helva, but when she started casting--we hadn't known she was a caster--she got a lethally sharp response from frightened PCs.

Alvig, alas, got our party's standard treatment for people oath-bound not to talk under questioning. We cast Detect Thoughts and questioned him until he realized what was happening, whereupon the curse killed him messily. I admit that my character Jinko, the party advocate of "we have to kill them, we can't keep them or let them go" sometimes connives to make sure this happens, rather than a fully successful questioning session that leaves the prisoner alive. (The ancestral spirits told Jinko that her role is to do the awful things Ameiko's honor won't let her do, and she took that to heart.)

The PCs' opinion of that curse was conditioned by the fact that the first time they met it they assumed it had been imposed by force on unwilling people. They carefully preserved the prisoners' lives (after the first one exploded) and paid a huge sum to the high priest of Torag to break the curse. Then they found out it was done willingly, and after that they weren't nearly so compassionate.

They still didn't kill those prisoners, though. They kept them at great risk and expensive, arguing constantly about what to do with them, until one night Jinko slipped into the wagon and killed them all. I think the other player knows this, but the other PCs haven't caught on. On the other hand, there's a definite pattern of Jinko doing awful-but-necessary things and waiting for Koichi or Ameiko or Spivey to protest--and the protests never come. Power corrupts....

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Tangent101 wrote:

Having run a test run of a revamped antagonist for the Scarlet Son module, I do have to say that there is one surefire way to turn the most optimized party into a "we're dead" moment. Dominate the high-damage fighter/ranger/barbarian of the group.

My PCs in Council of Thieves worry about this obsessively. They are well aware that the fighter could kill the whole party, two characters per round, and they'd have only a very few chances to stop him. They haven't found a satisfactory defense. (Pro Evil presupposes that your enemies are evil; not always the case. And it doesn't stop Confusion.)

The charm sorceress might also be able to take on the entire party and win (start by Dominating the fighter; he definitely can't make that save). So if she is Dominated, same outcome.

It is not actually hard to challenge high-level AP parties, if by "challenge" you mean "kill". What's hard is to get an interesting fight that isn't basically over by the end of the first full round.

We are currently in Jade Regent #3 and just finished a very complex and tense fight which went 7 rounds. It reminded me of how strongly I prefer this to the "death in the surprise round" effect that sets in at higher levels. The keys to that fight were heavy use of area denial by the enemy, plus forewarning. But those tactics seem harder and harder to use at higher levels.

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Our lead PC married Aberian immediately after her own inauguration as Mayor of Westcrown. Purely a political marriage, though she's become somewhat fond of him. If you think about it, Aberian's not a powerful spellcaster or a highly connected politician, but he survived as Mayor of Westcrown for *20 years*. He has something on the ball, namely an ability to avoid making enemies and a positive knack for seeming biddable and harmless without actually turning into any specific faction's pawn.

I suspect that, down the pike, she will find out the hard way that she's still not taking Aberian quite seriously enough. She's used to using mind-reading to remedy any gaps in her understanding of the people around her, but Aberian has mind shielding. And he's been playing his (admittedly somewhat purposeless, but still challenging) political games in Westcrown since before she was born.

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We had excellent success with both Kingmaker and Council of Thieves, but not out of the box--I'm not sure you *can* run Kingmaker out of the box (picks up empty box and rattles it in puzzlement).

Council of Thieves has the most extended non-combat sequences of any AP (in book 2) and is relatively dungeon-light. But you will need to flesh out the politics a lot.

Kingmaker is an awesome opportunity for PC/PC and PC/NPC interaction, but it's more like an outline than a worked-out adventure; figure on adding 2 episodes for every 1 episode the AP gives you.

I hesitate to recommend Second Darkness as most of it is, in my opinion, highly problematic. However, module 4 is a great roleplaying arena, especially combined with the support material in the back. It would be worth considering running it as a stand-alone (whatever you do, don't follow up with #5, often regarded as the low point in AP modules).

In all of the APs, we have found that the roleplaying tends to dry up past module 4. I don't like high-level play much anyway; if you have the same feeling, it's worth looking for ending points before module 5. (I ran Skull and Shackles 2-4 plus Legacy of Fire 4 as a mini-campaign, which was...okay, but pirates are not really our thing.)

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I am also frustrated with the combat advice, which can include up to 3 rounds of prep casting--for an encounter that's in the tens of feet range. The result of this is invariably that the foe dies before doing anything. In my current Shattered Star game the length of the average combat is probably 1.5 rounds (counting the surprise round--they are stealth experts). You *have* to do something aggressive with your action as it's the only one you will get!

A similar weirdness happens at the other end of the combat strategy--the NPC entry will say "flees when reduced below 5 hp." Needless to say, with each character's action delivering 20-40 points of damage, this will occur only due to a rare fluke.

I don't think optimization is the whole story. I played in a game where there were two experienced (but restrained) adult players and a teenage newbie. He slapped together an archer character because he liked to shoot things, and just took basic Core feats that support archery. The adult players helped a bit with the math to figure out what those feats did. The campaign ended suddenly when someone cast Dominate on the teenager's archer and he killed the entire party (both of my characters in the first round, both of the other player's in the second round). It is very easy to make an effective archer. You don't need splatbook feats or strange race/class combinations or creative rules interpretations. You just need to pick up the feats that any "advice for beginners" will point out.

Also, there is a pattern that so far has destroyed two of my AP games. The player agrees to be restrained with character design. He then hits a ruthlessly hard module #2, often with a TPK or close, and decides this agreement was a crock. He redesigns his PCs to be capable of handling module #2 at the given levels. Nothing in the AP ever challenges them again. I suspect it will happen again with Shattered Star (though with #3, not #2 as usual).

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My main experience with the Pathfinders is in _Council of Thieves_. (Possible spoilers follow)

They do not come across favorably there, though I guess you could blame it all on a couple of bad apples. But my impression is that they are indeed Victorian gentleman-adventurers, motivated by glory, curiosity, and greed, but able to think of themselves as good guys because glory and curiosity come first, and because they're brave and daring.

They were the kind of people who go into a Mwangi tribe and take their most holy artifact away and put it in a private museum in a distant nation. (That thing was holy to my PC's deity, in an inspired piece of backstory-connection by the GM. I took it personally.) And then never understand it, and allow it to cause immense harm.

That's not Indiana Jones, that's the other guy.

I don't mind this portrayal. My PCs have one Pathfinder friend; they don't trust the organization as a whole, no more than they trust the Expeditionary (which means they'd murder any Pathfinder who posed a threat to them, if they could get away with it, as they've murdered an Expeditionary captain already; they're Chelish aristocrats and not nice people themselves).

But attractive? No. No more or less than the Expeditionary. One grabs other peoples' stuff for the glory of the Decimvirate, the other for the glory of the Empress. And they are both pretty much informational black holes, which would bother any PC of mine who was devoted to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.

My player refused to do Pathfinders for Shattered Star--we have developed too clear a view of them as a basically bad group, and a group that would logically and necessarily want to do the wrong thing at the end of S*.

I do agree that many more nations than Cheliax would ban them. Consider the centuries of conflict between the Egyptians and the British Museum. Tomb-robbing is not attractive when it's your ancestors' tombs, on your land, and the stuff is being carried off to a distant country that is probably not your friend. I'm not troubled by their presence in Magnimar because the Magnimaran government is weak and conflicted; equally with Riddleport; but I'd be a bit surprised if Mendev or Andora would tolerate them.

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I think there are two related issues here.

It's hard on me as a player if I'm asked to attach to something and then forced to leave it. When we did CotCT we had to quit when the game left Korvosa, because I was invested in Korvosa and just had no interest in two whole modules set elsewhere, doing something entirely unrelated, while my city went to hell.

We dodged this bullet in Second Darkness by making the PCs agents of the Winter Council, but I have heard that it derailed many other groups' campaigns; you attach to the Goblin and then it's gone, and you don't re-attach.

We also had this problem with _Age of Worms_. My player got very invested in Diamond Lake and then the AP left it forever. Later it asked him to invest in Alhastor, and the response was "You have to be kidding, why would I want to go through that again?" (And with good reason, given what happens to Alhastor.)

Our best APs so far have been Kingmaker and Council of Thieves, both of which encourage the PCs to attach and then allow them to stay attached for the entire AP. Speaking for myself as a player, I don't find myself willing to do the "build up a place you care about a lot" thing more than once per AP: blow off the first one and I'm done, frankly. (We knew better than to even attempt Legacy of Fire after the failure of CotCT.)

A separate problem, though they sometimes travel together, is that while it's upsetting to have something you care about destroyed, and it's annoying to be railroaded, it's INFURIATING to be railroaded into having something you care about destroyed. Legacy does this, and then tells you it's your fault. I can't think of a better way for a GM to squander a group's willingness to cooperate! After that's happened once, why are you going to go along the next time? Shattered Star, in my opinion, does this too. For me as a player this is one of the few non-negotiables. You can refrain from railroading; you can railroad me into something fun; but you don't get to force me to do something and then beat on me for doing it.

I know there are groups which are okay with both of these--we're a very diverse lot. But they're recurrent problems for a lot of groups--you can see that in the messageboard threads. I would certainly jump at an AP that promised (a) to maintain the attachments it makes early on, and (b) to railroad the PCs only to do things that are reasonable and have at least a chance to work out, not to do things that end in disaster and humiliation.

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Brandon Hodge wrote:

If presented as "OK now you just hand the shards over to a bunch nobodies you've ever heard of before," then you are doing yourself and your players a disservice. This ceremony and meeting is the literary equivalent of the Council of Elrond...and even a relatively-naive Frodo knew he was in the presence of some of Middle Earth's greatest movers and shakers, and this should be played similarly.

Thanks for the comments; they're very helpful.

I don't think I could run it that way, though, because there is a huge difference in my mind between the Council of Elrond and the Decimvirate of the Pathfinders. By and large, the Council of Elrond represents good people who are trying to save the world, and Frodo can reasonably know this.

That is just not how the Pathfinders' Society comes across in the material we've played so far (specifically in _Council of Thieves_). They are not altruists. They are Victorian gentleman-adventurers looking for fame, glory, and knowledge for themselves and their organization. And the secrecy of the Decimvirate can very easily be interpreted as a broad hint that whatever one may think of the rest of the organization, the high leadership are something more sinister. My player says that _Seekers of Secrets_ reinforces this view further (I haven't read it myself). It is therefore hard to expect the PCs to trust them. It seems rather likely that the Sihedron is the key to *becoming a Runelord* and that is one heck of a temptation to put in the Decimvirate's way.

My other concern is that if I play up the presence of abundant high-level good guys willing and eager to help the PCs, then...they would help the PCs throughout, which we all know is an undesirable outcome. But the alternative is that they are eager to help reassemble the Sihedron but not to deal with any of the adventuring, and to someone suspicious-minded like my player that reeks of ulterior motives.

Tolkien got away with having the Council sit back because the Council members are wise, but not mundanely powerful in quite the way that high-level D&D characters are. Even then there is a lot of in-book puzzlement over whey they don't help more....

Basically, I feel I'm caught between "The Pathfinders and allies are good guys who want to help" (in which case, why don't they help more, and won't that bog down the game?) and "The Pathfinders and allies are sinister and enigmatic, so better do this ourselves" (in which case, why do we take their bad advice at a critical moment?)

Note that this is a problem about feelings. It may be perfectly logical for events to play out as you describe. But if my player then resigns the campaign in disgust, the fact that it was logical is cold comfort, as the game is ruined. In my estimation the events shown would ruin the game for him (and would for me, if positions were reversed). (I ran it by him, so I am pretty sure of this assessment.) Mileage of course varies.

We get bit by this every time the AP threat is really big (Rise of the Runelords, Second Darkness, Age of Worms; and Reign of Winter looks like another one). The only thing I know to do about it is to keep high-level trustworthy allies off stage as much as I possibly can, as their presence will either break suspension of disbelief or the game contract that requires the PCs to be the ones doing stuff. Shattered Star #6 puts them on stage making a key (bad) decision; this just doesn't work for me.

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I'm partway through GMing #3. So far I don't have a problem with the heavy dungeon crawls (and it is certainly easier to run than Kingmaker, our previous AP!) But everything outside the dungeons feels prefunctory and disconnected, and that's making the whole thing feel soulless to me.

Four points that were particularly a problem for me:

In #1, Sheila Heidmarch's actions make no sense to me from one end to the other. Once she realizes the PCs have a shard of the Sihedron, too busy to bother with it? We're supposed to assume both that being a Pathfinder is sufficient motivation for the PCs to pursue the shards relentlessly, and that it's not at all a motivation for a Venture-Captain? She'll give 8000+ gp worth of stones to a beginning party, but she can't be bothered to send someone with them....

She comes across as a cardboard cutout, not a person. But as soon as you try to make her a person it messes up the AP. What she and the senior Pathfinders would actually do is likely NOT to leave the PCs in the driver's seat. So it's a quandary. (My player relieved me of some of the problem by refusing to play Pathfinders.)

In #2, everything points, emotionally, at Korvosa. Sorshen is buried there. The Gray Maidens are from there. It ought to point at *going* to Korvosa--but instead you are supposed to ignore all that and go elsewhere. I found this made the PCs feel really detached, like all the Korvosa stuff was just stage dressing. The Gray Maidens deserved more.

In #3, the Therassic Spire's motivations again make no sense. We did something we shouldn't and need to hide it, so we...shut down, alerting the ENTIRE CITY to the fact that we're up to something? Then we scatter hints around to get everyone's interest up? And then, we hire strangers to rescue our team we sent to get the Uber Artifact, and casually mention that the strangers can keep the Uber Artifact when they find it?

It plays as a transparent cover for "We just need you to do this, so do it, okay?" Which is something I remember from 1970's dungeon crawls, but not with fondness.

And looking ahead, #6 requires the PCs to be so bloody unconcerned that they will let strangers get their hands on the Shards, in a public venue where anyone could try to teleport in and snatch them--and then that works out terribly. It's not a good idea to fiat that the PCs are stupid and then punish them for stupidity.

The dungeons are pretty and well designed and (except for the seugathi) well balanced. But there's nothing holding them together, and I'm finding that boring and somewhat alienating. I think they would work better as drop-in additions to another AP. The motivations driving each episode are like placeholders for some real but campaign-specific motivations, and inserting them into something else might make those motivations apparent. I haven't figured out which AP yet, though.

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