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Improving RoTRL for hopefully 5 year conversion (Spoilers!)


Rise of the Runelords

101 to 114 of 114 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | next > last >>

There was no metagaming. The players saw a tower and decided to enter from the top on the suspicion that the important things would be high up, while the lower floors would be guards and traps. It's not an unreasonable assumption and one that's been made several times by different people in this forum. Players trying to avoid the obvious entrance is not unusual in any way - at least not in out group.

With potion of spider climb they get a climb speed so they can make stealth tests without penalties; and distance penalties plus her not standing on guard guard paying attention to everything does add quite a bit - and her perception frankly sucks. With only +2 chances are good that she won't notice anyone climbing up and if she should look down, she still wouldn't see anything (she also has no reason to suspect that there is an attack coming). Look up distance and distraction penalties - they do add up quickly! I assumed she took 10 on her perception, so the players auto-succeed on every roll but the final - and then they'd need to roll a 1 to fail (even with ACP their stealth is higher than her perception). As for rickety tower - I considered imposing penalties, but it wouldn't have made any difference in the outcome as it was and I'm not certain if the background noise from the city shouldn't have negated the advantage, so I'm thankful it didn't matter.

She took suboptimal attack, because she was minding her own business and had no idea there was a threat until she was poked twice and two brutes appeared around her. I actually gave her an advantage and let her have all her combat gear on and her weapons in hand! She felt plenty threatened, which was why she went for a full attack - she didn't have the time to think about what would be her best action and went for a good action instead.
I'm also not certain what action would have been better for her - hitting a foe and then triggering the Impaler of Thorns burst of despair is a very good choice. From her perspective casting invisibility defensively might appear somewhat better, but wouldn't have been. Casting D-door defensively isn't easy and full withdrawal wouldn't have allowed her to avoid attacks of opportunity (and she didn't know if there were more invisible enemies around either). Mirror Image would have a fairly good chance of success, but since she actually likes to engage in melee, I decided she wouldn't think of it in the second she had - she had to commit to one action within a second of being hit and realizing that she was under attack and couldn't think things through after all.
And lets be honest, had she hit with her attacks, she'd have done a lot of damage. Just because she rolled low doesn't mean I pulled any punches.

I'd like to hear what you think she should have done, because as I see it she didn't have a whole lot of good options.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber

My guess would be that when they surprised her, Xanesha should have been lounging on her silks right next to the open edge, correct? Now, if I'm sitting there lounging in silence and peacefulness and suddenly there are four people around me stabbing me with pointy things, my very first reaction would be to remove myself from the situation and gain the edge.

Essentially, I 5'-step it off the edge of the clock tower and cast fly on my way down. Now I've gotten separation from them and have a moment to plan on my own terms. Now she can cure herself a bit, perhaps even charm a couple of the PCs from afar, as she can do that at will with a high DC with it and it'll prevent the weakest-willed ones from attacking her. She also has the ability to pelt the PCs from range with a couple of her spells, and probably use outlying buildings as cover against their long range attacks. In addition, it gives her minions time to get up there and pin the PCs on the roof.


Sub-Creator wrote:

My guess would be that when they surprised her, Xanesha should have been lounging on her silks right next to the open edge, correct? Now, if I'm sitting there lounging in silence and peacefulness and suddenly there are four people around me stabbing me with pointy things, my very first reaction would be to remove myself from the situation and gain the edge.

Essentially, I 5'-step it off the edge of the clock tower and cast fly on my way down.

If she were lounging right at the edge, she'd still need to 5'-step while prone (which provokes), she'd probably been in her run-away range anyway, and thus defeated; the prone penalties mean that neither fighter nor paladin could miss on anything but a one. And she'd have to hope that she a) manages her concentration check for casting while falling (likely, but not certain) and b) that there isn't a caster ready to counterspell her fly.

More likely she would be more than 5' from the edge and not be able to get off the roof in the first round, regardless of how the battle began.

I had her near the center of the roof contemplating her next move while enjoying the view. Having her start prone and without a weapon in hand would have made the encounter ridiculous.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber
Old Drake wrote:
I had her near the center of the roof contemplating her next move while enjoying the view. Having her start prone and without a weapon in hand would have made the encounter ridiculous.

Sounds to me like the encounter was ridiculous anyway, and with your party makeup even had she connected with all three attacks it wouldn't have made a difference in the end. Even with the AoOs from 5'-stepping, it gave her more chance at survival than facing full attacks all the way around again in a fight she was completely unprepared for, and counterspelling shouldn't have been a possibility if she won initiative that round (that I know of, anyway).

It's all moot, of course, as the encounter setup pretty much determines tactics, and where she was positioned pretty much did her in regardless.

Besides, I'm not one to talk! I had to work at keeping my party alive when they faced off against her! My group consists of a monk, two sorcerers (infernal and undead bloodlines), and a druid with badger familiar. Had I played the encounter as written, Xanesha probably would have TPk'd them in two rounds tops! ;)

They had no clue what they were in for by the time they'd gotten up to her, and the door guard had beaten them up a bit.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

@Old Drake
Why did you have her take 10 instead of rolling her perception each time?
Sure the invisibility spell gives you +20 while moving and the DC begins at 25 (20 invisible + 5 distracted) and to that adds distance and of course the player's stealth roll.....
..............
nevermind i just run the numbers, due to the bonus of invisibility she couldn't notice them even with a 20.

Andoran

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Card Game, Companion, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Actually, Xanesha's poor Spot/Listen (in the original version) would have earned her the victory over my PCs had I not decided that she didn't get to win because she sucked at something. Knowing she was a spellcaster, the PCs had shelled out a fair amount of cash for a custom CL 10th dispel magic scroll; when they got to her, though, she had rolled so badly on her Listen checks that she hadn't prepped any of her spells, and they hit her with the scroll before she had time to put up more than a single buff. That meant she could have simply cast them all afterward and steamrolled the party - but I said no.

Andoran

Old Drake wrote:
There was no metagaming. The players saw a tower and decided to enter from the top on the suspicion that the important things would be high up, while the lower floors would be guards and traps. It's not an unreasonable assumption and one that's been made several times by different people in this forum. Players trying to avoid the obvious entrance is not unusual in any way - at least not in out group.

1) Assuming the "important things" would be high up is the definition of metagaming. At best the players know at this point that a lady

She isn't the only thing on guard. Not by a long shot.

2) The tower is described as

"Hidden beneath the grimy blackened goliath that is the Irespan, the
lesser works of men huddle like weeds at the foot of the great trees
that are the ruined bridge’s stone supports. Near one of these supports
leans a decrepit and sagging clocktower, a dying structure of
weathered stone, wood, and rusted metal supports that teeters to
an unlikely height of nearly one hundred and eighty feet. High above,
near the tower’s roof and barely fifty feet from the Irespan’s stony
belly, a tangle of scaffolding sits near a section of the structure that
has fallen away. The tower’s clock face is frozen in time, defiantly
(and falsely) proclaiming it to be three o’clock, while above, a stone
statue of an angel, her wings crumbling, leans precariously, almost as
if she were preparing a final leap from her decaying perch."

Hardly a structure that someone climbing would go unnoticed on...which is probably why she chose it. The idea that a group of armored adventurers could climb that tower completely unnoticed is not only unrealistic, but contrary to the description of her being careful to turn invisible before she leaves and comes back.

Not to mention the nature of the tower itself isn't exactly conducive to climbing without things breaking off of it.

3) Why wouldn't anyone able to climb a 180 foot tower unnoticed, past all of her guards, not bring her to full alert using her best strategy?

I stand by what I said already.

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber
Old Drake wrote:

I've just played a test game against Xanesha again; the players didn't know what they were up against, just that a BBEG was in the tower.

Your players' prep was based upon knowledge that other players lack (that she is a BBEG).

Your players tactics were those of experienced players using metagame knowledge. I'm fairly sure that, for example, my current set of players (all new to the game) will try to climb the tower - having to say hello to Scarecrow and a falling bell on their way.

JJ has already announced that Xanesha will be redone - the awesome awesomeness of your awesome players does not really make up for the 90% of reports on this site of GMs who were either forced to fudge or had TPKs.

Even if you were right - you've just described an uninspiring, insipid BBEG encounter which won't give the players any great sense of achievement. So you are simply providing further evidence of the need for a rewrite.


ciretose wrote:

1) Assuming the "important things" would be high up is the definition of metagaming. At best the players know at this point that a lady

She isn't the only thing on guard. Not by a long shot.

Well, we have definitely different ideas of what a 6th level adventurer knows. What common people in that world know.

The players know that the boss of the murder cult has made her lair in the tower and when we played and they saw the tower their first thought was: 'bet you she is right at the top and the whole thing is filled with traps'. After their experience in Foxglove manor they wanted to avoid another track through a deadly building, so starting upstairs and working their way down was what they decided on.

In the test game, the players were divided between roof and cellar, but when I mentioned that they were in a port city, they all agreed that anything important would be upstairs, well away from aquatic creatures that may try to take it.

ciretose wrote:

2) The tower is described as (snip)

Hardly a structure that someone climbing would go unnoticed on...which is probably why she chose it. The idea that a group of armored adventurers could climb that tower completely unnoticed is not only unrealistic, but contrary to the description of her being careful to turn invisible before she leaves and comes back.

Not to mention the nature of the tower itself isn't exactly conducive to climbing without things breaking off of it.

It is structurally sound or there'd be a chance of the tower collapsing; never forget that. If it is structurally sound, then you can climb it (with spider climb) without breaking off anything - that's what the stealth roles were for.

Other DMs may rule differently, but as far as I'm concerned things only break off automatically if there is a chance of the structure (or at least wall) collapsing in the first place. And while the players may feel like it is a threat, we know it really isn't.

Oh, and look at the description again. You could easily climb the Ire-span instead and then drop down onto the tower from above with featherfall or something similar, if you ruled that climbing was impossible. The situation would have been almost the same, except the players would have been able to observe her and talk about tactics without being overheard before engaging her.

ciretose wrote:
3) Why wouldn't anyone able to climb a 180 foot tower unnoticed, past all of her guards, not bring her to full alert using her best strategy?

Well, I guess our groups have different play-styles. Someone completely surprised by an attack will rarely use the most effective action, but the most instinctive/reactive one. Xanesha likes to wade into melee and beat her enemies hand to hand, so I ruled her instinctive response would be to hit back, as hard as she can, while she gets her bearing and thinks about how to deal with the enemies best. I know it's not in the rules, but we consider that common sense. The same applies to the player characters, if they are caught totally off-guard - and we consider that good roleplay.

If there had been a way to withdraw, she might have taken it, but there wasn't. And if the players had surprised her in her nest instead - well a prone enemy would have been cannon fodder no matter what happened.

GeraintElberion wrote:
Your players' prep was based upon knowledge that other players lack (that she is a BBEG).

They are hunting down the boss of the murder cult; I would suspect that most players would consider her a BBEG. Regardless of how they found the tower, they should be aware that the boss is in there - why else would they go in there?

GeraintElberion wrote:
Your players tactics were those of experienced players using metagame knowledge. I'm fairly sure that, for example, my current set of players (all new to the game) will try to climb the tower - having to say hello to Scarecrow and a falling bell on their way.

I wouldn't bet on it. Don't forget they just passed through the Misgiving - they're currently hating buildings and interior areas in general. All it takes is one player looking for a way not to go through the tower and new players often come up with ideas that even veterans wouldn't think off; they aren't always practical and sometimes don't know how to pull it off, but the basic idea could come up easily. And as DM I would point new players to spells and magical items that could allow them to realize the idea they just had - while the players may lack the knowledge, any spellcasting character has it.

GeraintElberion wrote:
JJ has already announced that Xanesha will be redone - the awesome awesomeness of your awesome players does not really make up for the 90% of reports on this site of GMs who were either forced to fudge or had TPKs.

I've checked the obituary and found very few mentions of Xanesha. As for potential TPK - of course it's there. She is an APL+4 encounter and everything above and including APL+3 is a potential TPK unless handled competently or if the dice fall unlucky. That's the nature of the challenge. A challenge APL+6 should be a guaranteed TPK, with players only being able to run, if the enemy lets them go.

Unlike say the dino skeleton in Council of Thieves, Xanesha is correctly tagged as APL+4, and that means any DM should know that they have to take care with the encounter, especially against a single enemy. While it's been a while since I read the core rules, I believe that's noted in the GM section; it certainly was in 3.5 - that's the reason why the XP chart didn't cover all CRs for all levels.

GeraintElberion wrote:
Even if you were right - you've just described an uninspiring, insipid BBEG encounter which won't give the players any great sense of achievement. So you are simply providing further evidence of the need for a rewrite.

True, and if it were a campaign, I would have fudged things a bit, probably given her a contingency healing. But that's also the nature of the game; Xanesha should have hit the Paladin twice on average, taking her down a lot. Instead I rolled utter crap, and a player critted. There's many BBEGs that have fallen to that combination and are forgotten. Nobody has been able to present a solution, except DM improvising.

I can tell you I wasn't happy with the way the dice dominated the confrontation, but that happens. I can tell you that the confrontation in the AP was more interesting, but that was with 3.5 characters and I wanted to see how Pathfinder characters could handle her.

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber
Old Drake wrote:


GeraintElberion wrote:


JJ has already announced that Xanesha will be redone - the awesome awesomeness of your awesome players does not really make up for the 90% of reports on this site of GMs who were either forced to fudge or had TPKs.
I've checked the obituary and found very few mentions of Xanesha. As for potential TPK - of course it's there. She is an APL+4 encounter and everything above and including APL+3 is a potential TPK unless handled competently or if the dice fall unlucky. That's the nature of the challenge. A challenge APL+6 should be a guaranteed TPK, with players only being able to run, if the enemy lets them go.

There have been a lot of Xanesha threads since RotRL. People probably focused upon the Xanesha threads and, like I said, there were a lot of super-fudge reports as well.

I don't think we can pretend that the CR rules are consistent or especially reliable. I hope you'll accept that Xanesha is near unkillable if you don't get the drop on her (not something that should ever be assumed). This alone means she is too swingy.
Xanesha's tactics, equipment and location (silence spell, tower, mask power) are working in tandem to an incredible degree. Her mask has huge auto-kill potential (fail a save and she'll soon smash you to smithereens on the street below, if her initiative is good enough she can do this before anyone else even has a go).
Her custom weapon is debilitating and, like the mask, designed for a one-encounter-a-day PC slayer.
Once she's picked out the toughest foes she's got a DC20 deep slumber to work on them three times.
Etc. etc.

She's a CR10 opponent on level ground in a big flat space with equal preparation time for both sides.
On her turf, with prep. time, and gear designed for those circumstances she is no longer a CR10 encounter. I would say that a +2 is probably appropriate in those circumstances, giving her an auto-TPK status even by the standards you recite.

And don't forget, any party that fails to get the drop on Xanesha has probably had to deal with the Scarecrow, falling bell and faceless stalkers before getting to the top.

Just to be clear about what PCs know:
"If the PCs haven’t already determined that Ironbriar wasn’t the
mastermind behind the murders, his journal makes it clear
enough that someone he refers to as the “Wanton of Nature’s
Pagan Forms” has stolen his heart and provided him with a new
method of murder. There’s not much information about Xanesha
in the journal, but the book does reveal that he’s visited her
dozens of times at the Shadow Clock."

The first time I ran this they presumed they were 'mopping-up' the person who made the skinsaw masks. They thought that Ironbriar was the BEG.

An experienced group who interpret every clue correctly and carefully plan their moves can beat almost every paizo-published encounter with ease. They should never be the baseline.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'd second GE's analysis.

Xanehsa is a near-guaranteed TPK unless you play her really really dumb, not like the incredibly patient, quite-intelligent being she is.

Even with the players totally getting the drop on her (i.e. they somehow decide without any real available intel to buy a wand of invisibility and potions of fly and somehow coordinate a simultaneous attack while not being able to see each other), her first move is to Dimension Door somewhere 800' away and safe (combat cast if no 5' step is available, can't fail with 3.5 rules, succeed 75% of the time with Pathfinder rules and on a 2 and above if she has combat casting with one of her extra PF feats), turn invisible, cast fly, get that AC up to 34 in 2 rounds, cure herself of 6d8+30 HP with CLW in the next 6 rounds and start hunting.

I honestly worry how my projected 7th/8th level party will do against her when they bump into her again in Fort Rannick, knowing what she is and having been whupped (and enslaved for years and left for dead on a sinking gambling barge) by her once before.


I can accept that Xanesha is an appropriate APL+4 encounter; the iconic APL+4 encounter as far as I'm concerned is a PC group meeting themselves, including all items and abilities. In short an encounter where surprise, preparation, and dice decide the outcome.

I can accept that the players may think it's a mob up mission before they encounter the scarecrow and the stalkers; by the time they reach the roof however they should have realized they're about to face a BBEG and buff themselves. If they aren't buffed, they are walking into a TPK and at least according to my understanding of the CR system, that's how it's supposed to be. If they met their mirror selves and only one side had combat buffs up, who'd win? It wouldn't be a real contest.

And while I hearty agree that the encounter shouldn't require highly experienced players, I think they should not be too lenient with players who deliberately or through negligence put themselves at a major disadvantage. Paizo has a reputation for great and challenging adventures and I would hate to see them go too easy.

You say that the battlefield gives her an advantage equal to +2 CR; I have to very strongly disagree. The battlefield gives her little to no inherent benefit, it's only if she buffs pre-combat that she prepares the battlefield. I think that the difference between a buffed and un-buffed party could be considered the equivalent of two levels, perhaps even more. So the situation remains - if they go to the slaughter unprepared, they die. If they buff, they have a fighting chance and the dice decide.

The CR system includes the assumption that the players use buff spells somewhat effectively; if they don't, you will continue to have problem in most challenging adventures.

I wouldn't call Xanesha unkillable, even if fully buffed; AC 34 is harsh, but hittable. +20 to hit before situational modifiers isn't impossible at this level, +18 should be the minimum of the melee character. I've had a fighter that had +20 (4d6+22/19-20/x2) or something thereabout when buffed normally (Vital Strike, Greatsword, bull's strength, power attack, furious focus, ...). A paladin would have even better chances to hit. And since even fully buffed her touch AC is 17, Alchemists and others using touch attack will have a fairly easy time hitting. The fight was very harsh under 3.5, the main reason why there is the image of a TPK machine Xanesha, but Pathfinder characters are a lot more powerful.
The mask is hardly an auto-kill. Even if you fail your safe, Xanesha will have a hard time throwing you down without taking a lot of AOOs. And let's not forget that at this level the party should have some serious de-buffing capacity at their disposal - with CL 8 every dispel magic should break a spell.

The deep slumber is dangerous, however it is against her tactics. She does like to get close and personal in melee, and only goes for spell combat if seriously hurt. The ranged combat part would probably the hardest part, but her damage potential is also somewhat limited and shouldn't outstrip the parties ability to heal; and resist energy will neuter her damage potential. And even if she gets someone with deep slumber, the rest of the party can defend the person until he is woken.

Personally I'm more concerned with the charm spells, even with the +5 bonus for hostilities, but Protection from evil is readily available and if the party fails to use it, oh well. It'd be better if the party had encountered such a challenge before, but they should still realize that it is necessary. The Judge's diary is strange enough that magical coercion appears at least possible; and if he is captured should be obvious.

GoB: There is a difference between playing her dumb and following her personality as described in the book. Most of us do things others consider stupid, because of a wide variety of reasons that make sense to us. At no point does it suggest that she would disengage for a short time and then return - to me she seems like someone who succumbs to battle lust and fights until she's badly hurt (Weapon focus, improved critical, power attack - yeah, she wants to go hand to hand) and then panics and runs far away for days before coming back for revenge. With Wisdom 14 and Int 16 there is no reason to play her beyond character foibles - unless your players roleplay only outside of combat, of course. There's few things I dislike more than enemies without personality and quirks and affect their action in combat; it's acceptable for mooks, but no BBEG should suffer from that!

Oh, and GoB, her spellcasting is only at CL8; it's her spell-like abilities that are at CL10. That means she has a 65% chance to cast Dimension door. 35% chance to totally waste a round is not something to do lightly, especially when hard-pressed by the enemy.

I don't know how much treasure your 7th/8th level party has, but if it's level appropriate and is useful for their character, she should not be too much of a problem. Your characters will have an extra feat (maybe ability increase), 4th level spells, and all kinds of useful class abilities, in addition to more powerful magical items. Unless your players are very bad at using buffs before and debuffing during combat, she should be no problem, as long as the dice play along.

Of course if she's right in your parties blind spot, something that will happen regularly in pre-designed adventures, you will need to adjust it to your party, but that's something you always have to keep in mind. The boss monsters are merely the most dangerous examples of what happens if you don't.

Andoran

Old Drake wrote:


I wouldn't call Xanesha unkillable, even if fully buffed; AC 34 is harsh, but hittable. +20 to hit before situational modifiers isn't impossible at this level, +18 should be the minimum of the melee character. I've had a fighter that had +20 (4d6+22/19-20/x2) or something...

I'm calling BS.

Now you snuck up a 180 foot tower, all characters fully buffed with the buffs remaining in effect by the time you got up the tower making all your stealth against everything in the rickety tower (that by the way was described as looking like it is on the verge of collapse) with at best, level 8 characters (since you haven't gotten the XP from the tower itself) using only the AP to acquire loot.

Post, at minimum, the Paladin build or it didn't happen.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If we're being correct, she has AC35 with haste and has mirror image up if prepared. Combine that huge AC with a bunch of copies for the lucky hits to remove (25% for the first iterative attack in that +20 BAB guy and 5% for the second iterative attack) and 150HP to boot and she's got the defence covered.

She's invisible so gets to choose who she full attacks first (I'd start with some bow guy or someone far away from that full-plate two-hander guy myself) at +26(invis)/+22/+17/+12 - a near guaranteed 3 hits anyway for an average of 16hp a crack unless she crits for 48hp (way more than enough to knock out an average 6th level non-fighter). Each full round attack takes out anything but the most heavily armoured guy and usually takes them out as well.

My group is composed of 25-year veterans of D&D campaigns and there were 5 6th level pathfinder characters with appropriate wealth by level. They fought the scarecrow, went up the stairs, the bell came down, she started casting, waited to hear the fight with the Faceless Stalkers, cast the rest of her spells and waited per the instructions. By this time, many of the buffs they had cast originally had expired and the cleric was down about a third of his spells.

I had a plan for what to do when she TPK'd them so I had adjusted her spear to optionally do nonlethal damage and even so, I was at risk of doing double their total HPs (enough to make that non-lethal into lethal) and killing characters against my wishes. They never had a chance.

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