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Carrion Crown - final review (spoilers)


Carrion Crown


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Since I'll finish up Carrion Crown in a few weeks, I'd like to give some final thoughts on the AP before moving on to Jade Regent.

Carrion Crown in general has an excellent mix of roleplaying opportunities and interesting combat scenarios. A lot of investigative work is required of parties going into the AP, so it is recommended that player stock up on Knowledge skills, Perception, Survival, Diplomacy and Sense Motive. On the combat side, having a Cleric ( or someone else who can channel energy ) is almost required, as the AP has lots and lots of Haunts, ability damage, energy drain and, of course, undead opponents.

Since the AP is a travelogue through Ustalav, you will see most classical horror monsters appear at one time or another, including a pretty out-of-place Cthulhu mythos sidequest module. Diplomacy can be quite helpful in some of the modules. Other modules are just "see them, kill them" in how they are built. Be mindful that having characters which cannot tolerate negotiating with evil creatures means that you will miss out on a lot of the roleplaying potential of some modules.

Combat in the first half of the AP is pretty deadly, although the latter part of the AP skews towards being too easy ( at least for my group ). Some of the encounters take place in way too cramped confines, so that the opponents are easily boxed in, or have to begin combat in so close proximity to each other that the party casters will have no problems decimating them with area effect spells.

Also in the latter half of the AP, monsters pretty much run into the usual problem of Pathfinder that they won't be able to reliably hit ( i.e. 40% or more ) player characters with their melee attacks. It is quite likely that GMs will have to hope for 17+ rolls to connect even once. This is less a problem of the AP, though, but of the game system, which allows AC to ramp up way too quickly and have creature attack bonuses not follow fast enough.

Now for the bad parts:

The AP almost completely lacks emotional punch. The most emotionally charged scenes happen in the side-trek module Wake of the Watcher, where your players will be confronted with the truly horrendous fate of whole generations of women of a fishing village with dire connections.

Outside of that, few truly emotional moments are in the AP as written. Recurring NPCs are non-existent, as the party will travel from one location to the next on a very hurried schedule.

Worse, the connection to the main plot of the AP is very flimsy, with the main opponent, the Whispering Way, not being a personal antagonist. Players will have little motivation to actually follow the antagonists, outside of receiving bribes to do so by one-time NPCs they meet. Only quite late in the AP a greater overachieving motive for actually following the villains is provided ( "they want to resurrect the Whispering Tyrant!" ) and the end boss of the AP is first seen ( and almost heard of... the players only will have a name until then ) minutes before the final encounter. The developers tried to patch this up somewhat in the foreword of the final module of the AP, but it is hard to understand how such a glaring oversight slipped through the entire writing process of this series of barely related modules.

For people who want to see their heroes grow up to higher power over a long time: Avoid this AP. As written, the whole story sees characters grow from first level to level sixteen over the span of less than two months. The final two modules have, as written, no time between each other and the players are expected to immediately ride off to rescue someone from a dire fate. Magic item crafting should be strongly discouraged by GMs, as players will get little use out of those feats.

Finally, the last module breaks with the general structure of the AP, focusing exclusively on combat encounters. There is literally one non-combat encounter in the module ( well, maybe, depending on player actions ) and more than fourty combat encounters, half of which are once again useless trash which will do nothing but eat up a few hours of your gaming time, but constitute no challenge whatsoever to a typical group of player characters. I'll put the blame on that on Paizos insistence of using the medium XP track, which necessitates lots of filler encounters to reach the XP cap to level.

---

All in all, a worthy AP to play, but be aware of its weaknesses, which should be built around by keeping some early NPCs as recurring aquaintances, inserting the main villain very early and ( IMO ) shortening up the last module to be less of a slog through endless trash encounters.

Compared to other APs, I'd still put this one quite high on the list.


Some interesting stuff in there. I don’t agree with all of it but I do agree with some. My group is currently in Renchurch but has yet to descend into the catacombs after 2 assaults on the cathedral so far.

magnuskn wrote:


Carrion Crown in general has an excellent mix of roleplaying opportunities and interesting combat scenarios. A lot of investigative work is required of parties going into the AP, so it is recommended that player stock up on Knowledge skills, Perception, Survival, Diplomacy and Sense Motive. On the combat side, having a Cleric ( or someone else who can channel energy ) is almost required, as the AP has lots and lots of Haunts, ability damage, energy drain and, of course, undead opponents.

All true. Energy drain and negative levels become especially prevalent towards the end and almost a constant in part 6. I’m not sure what a group would do without a cleric but, since we play core only, I’m sure there are some crazy cleric emulation feats and such out there for monks or whatever. For my core vanilla group though the cleric has been paramount.

The investigative stuff manages to be useful for 5/6 of the AP. Part 6 really has none in it, which is fine by me, but something to keep in mind. In addition most of the investigative work the PCs do will uncover enough plot to move them along but no amount of investigation will reveal what the Whispering Ways (or more specifically Adivions) plan is until the AP is ready to divulge it and then the information becomes automatic for everyone. So in hindsight the “investigation” was a bit of a smokescreen.

magnuskn wrote:


Since the AP is a travelogue through Ustalav, you will see most classical horror monsters appear at one time or another, including a pretty out-of-place Cthulhu mythos sidequest module. Diplomacy can be quite helpful in some of the modules. Other modules are just "see them, kill them" in how they are built. Be mindful that having characters which cannot tolerate negotiating with evil creatures means that you will miss out on a lot of the roleplaying potential of some modules.

My group for some reason did not have any real moral quandaries about dealing with the evil creatures. It seems to me they always kept the “greater good” in mind. The Cthulhu stuff was certainly out of place. This area to me is a specialty of Paizo and to see it shoehorned into this AP at this level was very disappointing. I know Paizo can do better with the Lovecraft inspired material. I really think part 6 should have been where the Dark Tapestry foes were confronted, not part 4. I hope the Dark Tapestry material gets the focus it deserves in a future AP.

magnuskn wrote:


…stuff about the combat being too easy.

Throughout this AP my group has been regularly challenged at every level. They have even commented that this AP has been the most difficult one they have done so far (this is their 4th), by far. Not coincidentally this is the first AP we have done using the PF rules. I believe since my group is core only the difficulty of this AP is significantly ramped up for them. I have read a few comments that the latter half of the AP (especially) is not very challenging for many groups but this has absolutely not been the case for mine. It’s been tough, and at times really tough. Part 6 so far has been very deadly and resource intensive.

magnuskn wrote:


The AP almost completely lacks emotional punch. The most emotionally charged scenes happen in the side-trek module Wake of the Watcher, where your players will be confronted with the truly horrendous fate of whole generations of women of a fishing village with dire connections.
Outside of that, few truly emotional moments are in the AP as written. Recurring NPCs are non-existent, as the party will travel from one location to the next on a very hurried schedule.

I haven’t really thought about it in these terms but I guess I would agree. However, having an “emotional punch” is not something my group looks for in an AP, so not a big to deal to me. If any other groups expect to be emotionally involved in the story I would agree that Carrion Crown is probably not the one to run.

magnuskn wrote:

Worse, the connection to the main plot of the AP is very flimsy, with the main opponent, the Whispering Way, not being a personal antagonist. Players will have little motivation to actually follow the antagonists, outside of receiving bribes to do so by one-time NPCs they meet. Only quite late in the AP a greater overachieving motive for actually following the villains is provided ( "they want to resurrect the Whispering Tyrant!" ) and the end boss of the AP is first seen ( and almost heard of... the players only will have a name until then ) minutes before the final encounter. The developers tried to patch this up somewhat in the foreword of the final module of the AP, but it is hard to understand how such a glaring oversight slipped through the entire writing process of this series of barely related modules.

The issues with Adivion are well documented (and with some work, solved) on the forums, no need to rehash that. I understand why the authors wanted to keep Adivion inaccessible to the players with all the divination and domination magic available in the world but they went a bit too far here. In any case, what kept my players going and involved in the story was the fact that they, as players not PCs, wanted to progress through the AP so they manufactured a motivation to continue when none seem to exist. If a GM had a group of players that made every decision based on the motivations of their characters I agree that at times it would require some significant legwork on the part of the GM to keep things moving. As they are written, the WW and Adivion don’t give much motivation for someone to pursue them. Certainly clever for a real evil organization but probably a bit too clever for a make believe evil organization in a game where the whole point is to progress through levels and story.

I do wonder if Tar-Baphon himself was originally intended to be the BBEG of this AP and at some point Paizo decided to alter that, subsequently revising the outline. I’m not saying Adivion is a total loss but he does seem to be missing something as far as Paizo BBEGs guys go, almost like an afterthought, albeit from a very talented and inspired group of people, but still an afterthought.

magnuskn wrote:

For people who want to see their heroes grow up to higher power over a long time: Avoid this AP. As written, the whole story sees characters grow from first level to level sixteen over the span of less than two months. The final two modules have, as written, no time between each other and the players are expected to immediately ride off to rescue someone from a dire fate. Magic item crafting should be strongly discouraged by GMs, as players will get little use out of those feats.

The AP certainly moves quickly (in game time) as it is a bit of a chase. Between part 5 and 6 there is little down time, agreed. For my group though I didn’t make the “rescue” of Galdana a necessity. It did not seem plausible to me that the PCs could rescue him in time anyway so by the time they reached Renchurch poor Galdana was already a blasted husk awaiting transportation to Gallowspire. The rescue mission failed spectacularly despite the PCs best efforts (I guess there was some emotional punch). This has also inspired them to finish the job with Adivion. Otherwise, as written, if the PCs rescued Galdana I never understood why any group would continue on to Gallowspire. What would be the point?

As far as magic item creation, in the entire history of my group of players, we’ve never created a single magic item in any edition of the game. So no big deal there for us.

magnuskn wrote:

Finally, the last module breaks with the general structure of the AP, focusing exclusively on combat encounters. There is literally one non-combat encounter in the module ( well, maybe, depending on player actions ) and more than fourty combat encounters, half of which are once again useless trash which will do nothing but eat up a few hours of your gaming time, but constitute no challenge whatsoever to a typical group of player characters. I'll put the blame on that on Paizos insistence of using the medium XP track, which necessitates lots of filler encounters to reach the XP cap to level.

I’m not sure it breaks with the structure of the AP except that the “chase” ends here, by design it has to. I think it has a few opportunities for non-combat encounters (Knights of Ozem, Natisha (the vampire), Belarzarra (the wounded lich)) but not many. I’m fine with that though.

I do agree that the combat encounters and XP awards in this section get a bit out of hand. Since the players need to progress at least 2 levels (mine need three) before the end game this requires a minimum of 40 CR equivalent encounters according to PF math. At early levels it’s easy to reach this number but at these higher levels the combats are more involved, take more time, and take longer to recover from. I think the problem here is not in the AP but in the design of the game. The higher level progression should take into account how high level battles unfold. I think 20 encounters at low levels equals 10-12 encounters at high levels in actual playing time and I think the XP progression in PF needs to take this into account. It just takes way more actual playing time to advance at higher levels even though you are doing the same number of encounters.

I thought the deadly weather of Virlych was an inspired way to award non-combat XPs to the party. I thought the ridiculously inflated XP awards for the “Whispering Tyrant haunts” in Renchurch was whatever the opposite of inspired is. 30,000XPs for surviving a persistent haunt that you can just walk away from? Not good design, I don’t think.

Again, the real problem here is not the AP, but the fact that the PF flat 20 encounters per level does not take into account the complexity of and recovery from those encounters at high level and the effects that has a real time game play.

---

Overall this has been a fun AP for my group and very challenging (a good thing) for a party only using only the core rules. As GM this has been the most work for me out of any other AP I have run (not a good thing). I’ve done more massaging, replacing, retooling, and otherwise adjusting in this AP than anyone before it. Part of that is due to the rules creep, part of that is due to the legwork to get the BBEG into the campaign, and part of that is due to the XP anomalies. I’m not sure if CC is an odd-ball in these areas or the new status quo for the APs, I guess we’ll see. Next up for my group will be either Serpents Skull (since it will be as close to a core rules only AP that exists) or nothing at all (maybe we’ll try a Call of Cthullu campaign, never played it). None of the other complete and in print APs appeal to me at this time.


magnuskn wrote:

All in all, a worthy AP to play...

Compared to other APs, I'd still put this one quite high on the list.

After reading your (excellent, btw!) review, it sure didn't read that way!


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Oh, it definitely is a good AP, but by writing this while GM'ing the last module ( party just arrived in Adorak at the end of the session ), the currently happening problems were more in my mind than the good things of months past.

Some of the described problems are endemic to the system and not the AP, so take that into account. But for a very connected story... look elsewhere. Curse of the Crimson Throne would probably one of the best choices for that kind of AP. This one here is more a string of barely connected vignettes.

Grand Lodge

I gotta agree with a lot of what you said - as written, without adjustment - I think you nailed it. HoH was great, TotB is a great premise but suffers from a few big holes (ie why use the beast at all when it could have been better done themselves or local gang to smash and grab given the crappy defenses of the place and the less said about the Schloss the better) and by the time I got to Broken Moon, it sort of was just wierd. WotW? Glad to have Lovecraft make an appearance but its like players are trying to kill their way through an index of the Necronomicon in some encounters.

That said? With some patching and re-writes I think this is a fantastic AP. Introducing AA early is a must, a quick re-write on the University in TotB gives motivation for WHY the Beast was needed and linking the Order, Professor and the reason why he didnt just raise dead on his wife (and also giving him a reason to have ties with the WW) is something one of the forum members came up with that is just Brilliance! Some clues and maybe something else to drive the players to BM and they well and truly know about the WW and have their scent.

Contributor

magnuskn wrote:
...more than fourty combat encounters, half of which are once again useless trash...

Care to elaborate in a constructive manner?

I don't recall turning in "useless trash," but maybe we have different ideas of what constitutes worthwhile and/or thematically appropriate encounters.

Grand Lodge

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Take a step backwards BH - I know you are close to this one but its not you he's talking about.


Brandon Hodge wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
...more than fourty combat encounters, half of which are once again useless trash...

Care to elaborate in a constructive manner?

I don't recall turning in "useless trash," but maybe we have different ideas of what constitutes worthwhile and/or thematically appropriate encounters.

FWIW, I think part 6 was the best volume of this AP and the best part 6 of any AP I have GMd to date. Thanks. :)

Contributor

Thanks, Cibet, and I honestly appreciate both viewpoints, and am being sincere, rather than defensive, in engaging the topic. I've got another AP finale in the pipe, and might be writing another high-level chapter in another AP, so I encourage a dissection of the criticism to see how that situation might improve given the confines of the encounter structure writers are given to work with in APs. Now that you've gotten mostly through SoG, what worked? What didn't? Anything you think that might solve this little encounter conundrum?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

First off, I probably should clarify what I meant with "trash" encounters. I come to this terminology not from the standpoint that the encounters themselves were "garbage", but from the view of a long-time MMO player.

"Trash" in MMO terms are encounters with lesser monsters, which eat up time between "boss battles". The Renchurch novices would fall under that, as would a lot of the other encounters where, after looking at the stats, I was convinced that the opponents would do nothing more than inconvencience the party, while being pathetically unable to hit them on less than an 18+ on their rolls. As would the encounter with Berezna, only that managing 40 zombies is a chore, not fun. So I cut that encounter, too, with Berezna being mostly alone ( not that she would have been any danger to anyone in her state... three rounds to do anything useful? Most battles at high level take two rounds maximum. ).

"Boss battles" would, in this particular case, constitute encounters which had a chance to actually take some battle resources from the party and be thematically appropiate for the AP. Meaning opponents like Nalthezar, Urca Namat, the Urgathoan Fly and of course the Black Friar + Juju Zombies ( which, btw., were swept aside without ever getting close to grappling anybody... that tactic didn't work out at all ).

Brandon, I know this module was your baby and you are quite defensive about it... but please understand that those "trash" encounters take up a lot of time. We only got about three to three and a half hours a session and one session per week. We get two to three ( mostly two ) encounters done in a session, due to mapwork and players simply having so many option at levels 13-15 that we are getting into "options paralysis".

I am completely unwilling to spend close to four months wading through an endless sea of encounters, without much opportunity for actual roleplaying. And, yeah, I cut out some encounters which would probably be quite interesting ( like the Omox demon, the Augnagar Qlippoth and the Leng Spider ), because they thematically had nothing to do with a module about the undead. I had to take my choices how best I could challenge my players and finish the module in a timely manner.

To compare, the other modules took mostly two months or a little more ( i.e. eight to ten sessions ) per module. This one will, too, but only because I cut so many encounters. Otherwise it would have been four+ months. Maybe me and my players are not old-school enough to appreciate a really long drawn-out dungeon slog anymore or we are too old and have not enough time for it. But I'd really appreciate less murderizing monsters and more roleplaying for your next work.

That being said, the way you set up the encounters and the flavor text was very, very good. There's really a mood of decay and horror in Renchurch and Adorak.

My suggestion, if you are looking for advice ( which I infer from your last post ): Less combat encounters, more roleplaying encounters, make up the XP difference by giving story awards. A 50% ratio worked out very well for the other modules and was one of the main points which made this AP so good.

Cheliax

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Question to Magusun What classes were your group using and what point buy? Also how many players?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

15 point buy ( with 5 additional points distributed to non-combat relevant attributes ( i.e. Charisma and Intelligence ) to round out characters by me ), five players.

Original group was:

- Undine Gunslinger ( with one level of Alchemist )
- Aasimar Paladin ( Undead Slayer )
- Human Cleric of Pharasma
- Halfling Sorcerer ( Arcane bloodline )
- Human Transmuter

The Paladin later changed out against a Aasimar Fighter ( two-handed, with a No-Dachi, because the Paladin aggravated the other players by one-or-two-hitting most monsters and the player was okay with it ) and we have a new intermittent player ( Human Barbarian ).

And I know that this is quite above the AP expectations of a "four player, 15 point buy" build. However, taking that in mind, I changed out a lot of encounters and buffed up other opponents ( changing out three Stone Golems for three Iron Golems ; the Urgathoan Fly from an Iron Golem to a Mithril Golem, buffing up Nalthezzar and Lucimar substantially, changing out the Renchurch Novices from completely useless Monks to quite better Alchemists, maximising HP on the latter half of Renchurch ) ... and they still demolished those encounters without a problem.

However, that doesn't really pertain to one part of the problem with the "trash" encounters I was alluding to: Player ACs can very easily scale much faster than monster to-hit bonuses. Especially in cases where multiple lower-CR monsters are used in higher numbers against high-level players, the antagonists will almost never hit the players. Well, except our Barbarian, who rather than going for AC went for an ungodly amount of hitpoints.
That is what makes those encounters "trash" ( in the MMO sense ). They cost game-time, they cost the party no to almost no resources, they don't challenge the group, endanger no one, they mostly don't even drop loot.

And I know the philosophy of "let the group notice how powerful they have gotten". They get that when overwhelming a more difficult encounter, too. Only that in that case the hour and a half of gaming time was well spent.


Brandon Hodge wrote:
Thanks, Cibet, and I honestly appreciate both viewpoints, and am being sincere, rather than defensive, in engaging the topic. I've got another AP finale in the pipe, and might be writing another high-level chapter in another AP, so I encourage a dissection of the criticism to see how that situation might improve given the confines of the encounter structure writers are given to work with in APs. Now that you've gotten mostly through SoG, what worked? What didn't? Anything you think that might solve this little encounter conundrum?

Sure, no problem.

First off, as I mentioned a few times already, my group uses the core rulebook only. This probably makes the PCs a bit underpowered compared to groups that use the APG and the Ultimate’s. Here is a list from Virlych and Renchurch and a few others tidbits:

What worked:
- The teleport traps and witchgates in Virlych. My group really enjoyed figuring out what was going on and how. It caused quite the kerfuffle when they couldn’t simply teleport to (or near) Renchurch.
- The violent and dangerous weather. I thought this was an ingenious way of making the (now forced) overland journey more dangerous and unpredictable and award XPs along the way. Initially the PCs (12th level at this point, mind you) didn’t even have a tent when they started moving across Virlych! That did not last long.
- The Knights of Ozrem encounter was a great way to give the PCs some information about Virlych and allow them to rest for a night amongst these (as I played them) morose and paranoid knights. Lacrimona (possessed Varisian) was a nice touch although her story of a wandering Varisian caravan in Virlych is a bit of a stretch, considering how much trouble 12th level characters were having in the area, so I didn’t focus on her backstory. The players did like that she ultimately gave them a “key” (the gauntlet of rust) to get out of the final teleport trap.
- Renchurch Abbey was evocative and detailed but not overwhelmingly so. As GM I felt I had exactly the right amount of information to make the abbey exciting and dangerous but it wasn’t so much that I had to keep paging through the AP volume for details. The wandering monster tables were a huge help with this. Sitting here right now (with nothing in front of me) I can still remember each location in the abbey, what’s there, what it reacts to, and how. To me as GM, this is vital because it allows the players to investigate at will and I can easily roll with whatever they decide.
- The details of the exterior and overall construction of Renchurch Cathedral were spot on from my GM perspective. Again, in just a few paragraphs I knew the makeup of the cathedral and all its points of entry, information that is so very important to the GM but often either gets left out or is spread out across multiple pages.
- The Quickwoods and Attach guardian combination was fun and different. A good combination, I thought.
- The bog mummies were fun and weird (in a good way).
- The nightmares in the stable made no sense to me until my players pointed out (in game) what a good idea flying mounts were in Virlych since you can’t teleport anywhere, and I thought to myself “Oh yeah, duh.”. Nice touch
- The consequences of using Detect Evil or Detect Undead in the cathedral itself was great. I’ve seen this kind of thing before but I always like to point out how much I like it. It’s got to make sense so the players just don’t feel like they are getting shortchanged though, and in the cathedral it made sense to the players, so well done.
- The corpulent ghouls were fun and freaky and combined with the daemon made a great rolling encounter.
- The Renchurch novice monks. Now I don’t often run monks (and I’m not even sure what a “Hungry Monk” is) so I probably didn’t run the novices very effectively but those guys were not much of a challenge to the PCs at all –but in an awesome way. I think the first combat with a group of 5 novices lasted about 4 rounds. I don’t think we stopped laughing the whole time. This was on the heels of the Daemon/corpulent ghouls battle that was just a deadly chess match, so it really gave the players (not the PCs) a fun breather.
- I thought Natisha (vampire) was a good choice for an adversary as she could go either way, friend or foe, as the GM desires, as opposed to everything else in the cathedral. I used her as an ally due to the events the PCs went through in part 5. She was the players “reward” for helping the vampires in part 5. She gave a bunch of info to the PCs and let them rest undisturbed.
- The guy in the Lazarus stone (can’t remember his name) was also a nice touch. Of course the players thought they rescued him, only to find out the truth moments later.
- Both my players and I enjoyed the (what seemed to me at least) hunger theme in the cathedral itself. Everything in there was eating, or wanting to eat, or existed to eat other things, even the players got into the act (by force of magic of course!). Fun.
- The catacombs were again very evocative (mistus in the jugs, sludge daemon) but to me had some story problems (see below).
- I loved the wounded lich (Belzarra?). Loved it. Who gets to see a lich like this? Where did he come from? Who did this to him? Why don’t all liches store the phylacteries in Renchurch, the place is practically impregnable! These all things my players said during this encounter.

What did not work:
- Haunts. I just don’t like them at high levels. I think they are a great evocative mechanic for low level cleric traps and storytelling devices but at high levels they are out of place. I think Haunts are getting overused in the APs in general and found this especially so in part 6 of this AP.
- The Tyrant Whispers persistent haunts. I thought they were hard to run mechanically as GM and easy for the players to avoid, and way, way too many XPs. One or two would have been fine but the constant “whispers” just did not work for me. I think the best thing about Haunts is the way they can tell a story or give the PCs crucial information. The “whispers” haunts were completely lacking in this area, they came with no real flavor when they could have been used to tell pieces of Tar-Baphons rise or fall, or whatever. Instead they were just these nebulous spell effects (some from the APG, which I don’t use, Grr.) with poorly defined areas of effect and vague mechanics. Bleh. Dropped.
- Dropping the haunts left me with a significant XP gap that I had to figure out how to fill though. My PCs are still behind the level curve (by a full level) so I still have some work to do. This is not what I wanted to deal with at the climax of the whole campaign! Ack.
- The “rescue” of Galdana made little sense to me. If the PCs were able to rescue him and, of course, they already have possession of Ravens Head a crucial piece of the Carrion Crown formula as far as they know, what is the point of continuing on to Gallowspire? From a story perspective they have already “won”. They broke the formula and took back the vessel so the best course of action is to escort Galdana safely home and get out of Virlych without giving the WW a chance to recapture him. Instead the adventure assumes the PCs blindly continue on to Gallowspire to confront a now impotent Adivion and leave Galdana to his own devices in Renchurch, which just means he would immediately get captured again. Oof. I had to have the rescue fail in order for the plot to make sense to me, so I did. Galdana “dies” at the hands of the Grey Friar and is just an empty husk by the time the PCs get there.
- I appreciate the effort put into the “where is Galdana” set piece. It was pretty original but I’m not sure it works at this high level and does not seem to make much sense story wise to me. I don’t see the Grey Friar pulling off this kind of hide and seek tactic, maybe an evil fey lord, but not an evil undead Whispering Way high priest. Either way though, due to the above with Galdana, I didn’t use it.
- The Alchemist Lich (don’t remember his name) was not something I wanted to see. I don’t know what an alchemist does mechanically; I don’t care to know, so I just replaced him with the lich from the bestiary. Almost two pages (lich stat block) of adventure content wasted for me and more work I had to do on my own in beefing up the bestiary lich a bit. Double Grr. I know, I know, Paizo wants to support all its publications but this stuff just grates on me. In addition an alchemist lich does not make much sense to me. I’m not sure what the two have in common thematically. I’ve beat this dead horse a few times but it still seems to me like someone said: “Hey, this is a good place to put some APG content; this guy is now an alchemist lich. Cool!!”
- Lucimar the lich-wolf. I was not sure what was going on here. It seems like this guy has some kind of backstory (other than what is in the AP volume) but I have no idea what it is. I feel like I missed something with him. He was not involved in the Carrion Crown plan or even mentioned (that I remember) in any of the other volumes so I didn’t know what to do with him. There is something about him not liking Adivion, but other than that I missed his connection to the plot if he had one. Mechanically though, I thought he worked fine. In addition, the artwork for him seemed to me to be leftover or Photoshop altered werewolf artwork that was just recycled here. I do not think that artwork represents what this guy is supposed to be at all. He is not a werewolf with weird runes on his fur (does that even make sense, how do you get runes on fur?). To me, this was a new low from the artwork department for Paizo.
- The artwork in general for this volume was not impressive. I can’t think of a single piece of artwork in this volume I liked. I don’t think any of it matched up with any of the actual creature descriptions enough to satisfy me. In addition to Lucimar (see above), I thought the Renchurch novices art work was from some other adventure (are those turtle shells on their faces? why do their daggers glow? They use poison not magic!), the corpulent ghouls may have been literally correct but that picture does not match their stealthy, fast, rogue like mechanics at all, the liches looked like something from a bad over styled comic book, even the Ravener picture was very lackluster. I have not shown a single piece of artwork to the PCs yet. I think if you page through the AP the artwork looks good on the page (assuming you like the styles) but many of the pieces just don’t match the adventure itself and don’t aid the GM in story telling at all.
- There seem to be many more adherents to the Whispering Way that are more believable as the mastermind of the Carrion Crown plan then Adivion. In fact as these guys start to show up in this volume, it becomes increasingly difficult to (as GM talking to my players) believably justify why Adivion (a human that is not even necromancer, and is not even an agent of the grave) is in charge of this entire plan to resurrect the most powerful Whispering Way agent ever. The Grey Friar, Lucimar, Marrowgarth, any of the liches in Renchurch, all seem to make much more sense. It was hard enough to thread Adivion into the AP on my own but now I have to justify why he is the one the PCs are looking to stop when all these very powerful, very intelligent, very undead, leaders are not really involved? Ugh. At this point I’ve decided that the PCs will eventually learn that Adivion is “the way” to make the Carrion Crown formula but Marrowgarth is “the will” behind the whole plot. He’s smart enough, old enough, dead enough, and powerful enough to be the engine that runs the whole plan, but he just can’t wander around in human settlements looking for artifacts and human vessels (but his lackey Advion can!) so I’m going to go ahead and make the change. In addition, he has a direct link to Tar-Baphon, he actually knew the guy! After all this time and effort on my part ultimately Adivion will just be a 13-14 level necromancer and one more encounter on the way to the real climax. I tried my best to thread him in to the story, make him real, and make him fun but it ultimately ended up being beyond my capabilities as GM to do it in a way that satisfies me and (I feel) my players. I guess too much was stacked against me.


magnuskn wrote:
First off, I probably should clarify what I meant with "trash" encounters...

I know using a word like “trash” in a criticism is inflammatory but aside from that there are salient points here.

Overall, I think one is that there are some problems with the leveling in this volume. Magnuskn ran into it because he felt some of the encounters were unnecessary and eliminated them, I ran into because I dropped almost all the XP laden haunts. With this in mind I think you can see a common problem with leveling.

A big part of the issue, I think, is the 20 CR equivalent encounters per level design of PF. Sure you can fill this requirement anyway you want as GM but giving out inflated XP bonuses seems like it invalidates the whole system. In general I think Magnuskn is correct in that a high level adventure needs less combat and more other ways to get the required XPs. The problem is making those “other ways” feel earned to the PCs instead of just given to get to the next level. To me, things like haunts and story awards always seem like handouts and not earned XP, but I’m not sure what good solution would be.

Personally I’ve always thought skills were way underused as XP sources, especially in high level adventures. Maybe that’s some food for thought…


cibet44 wrote:
A big part of the issue, I think, is the 20 CR equivalent encounters per level design of PF.

I know this was mentioned a couple times in this thread, but I don't think the 20 encounters per level is the problem at all.

You can easily have 20 of a variety of encounters to get enough XP for a level gain. The earlier adventures do it, so there's zero mechanical or design reason why later adventures can't, either.

The true problem is the inappropriately low page count available for higher-level adventures. That's where the problem lies. Yes, it comes with the AP territory (6 books of x pages of adventure each), but that doesn't matter - the end result is the same. It's the AP format that hamstrings the later adventures in an AP, not the game system design.


Arnwyn wrote:
cibet44 wrote:
A big part of the issue, I think, is the 20 CR equivalent encounters per level design of PF.

I know this was mentioned a couple times in this thread, but I don't think the 20 encounters per level is the problem at all.

You can easily have 20 of a variety of encounters to get enough XP for a level gain. The earlier adventures do it, so there's zero mechanical or design reason why later adventures can't, either.

The true problem is the inappropriately low page count available for higher-level adventures. That's where the problem lies. Yes, it comes with the AP territory (6 books of x pages of adventure each), but that doesn't matter - the end result is the same. It's the AP format that hamstrings the later adventures in an AP, not the game system design.

Well. I’m all for more pages, but Paizo has made it pretty clear that’s not possible. While we’re at it I’d also like fewer and smaller stat blocks. After CC and its rules creep, I’m ready for the “book and page number” method --wholesale. Give me a bestiary entry or an already existing stat block in a published product. I’ll use it if I have it, buy if I want, or replace it otherwise. Use the AP space saved for other fun things, thanks. Also, can we invent a small footprint, easy to read “combat stat block”?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

That's why I waive XP book-keeping completely and just assign levels where appropiate. That way no player will nit-pick why there technically aren't enough XP to level them. ^^

Contributor

I really appreciate the both of you taking the time to elaborate. Glad we cleared up the "trash" talk miscommunication, because Magnuskn's always has keen, valuable insights on the messageboards. I agree with a big chunk of the various viewpoints given by both you guys, and wish I had the freedom to elaborate more regarding some of the lessons learned and how they were applied to upcoming projects, and I can't wait to revisit some of these problems (and ones in the "Organ Grinder's Monkey" thread) -and some of the solutions I applied -when my next AP finale comes up. It'll be a while, unfortunately, and I really can't say anything at all, but I can't wait for you to see what's coming up and how some of these issues get addressed, because I was keenly aware of many of them during writing.

I do think you both maybe missed a chance with the Tyrant's Whispers, but that's largely a matter of taste. The Whispers were the most consistently-lauded aspect of that adventure I received at PaizoCon. Their use, as well as Luicimar's harassing tactics, are the key to bolstering some of the less-challenging encounters. In fact, the Whispers are the best way to making the acolytes worthwhile, since you have endless buffs at your disposal with haunt's limited wish. The only other argument I'd put forth is that some of Magnuskn's cut encounters were pretty thematically appropriate, in that justified variation from the undead creature type is a must -can you imagine the furor otherwise if it wasn't mixed up (and with the Tyrant's animate dreams, what better consumer of them than a Leng spider)? But I also understand the time constraint issue, so we all gotta do what we gotta do for the health of our home games, but every adventure has that challenge in one way or another, and it only amplifies at high levels for the prescribed reasons.

In short -thanks to the both of you for taking the time to clarify and provide some input, and I'm happy to report that there's been a lot of musing and solutions on many of these issues with upcoming chapters, because I see these problems as a player, GM, and designer, too.

And Cibet -Lucimar's one of the main antagonists of Tim Hitchcock's 3.5-era adventure Hungry are the Dead, which involves one of the Tyrant's seals. I agree with you on the mis-matched art, but he's got significant canon in Golarion and Whispering Way history, and I was told "Put Lucimar in there...and make sure he DIES." Hahahahaha. I hope you killed him like you were supposed to, or else Wes might have something to say about it. =-)

Cheliax

Oh, Brandon, one quick question regarding the Knights of Ozem encounter. You hadn't recently seen Season of the Witch when writing that, had you? ;)

(When my guys get there, the lead Knight is totally getting played by Ron Perlman.)

Contributor

Arnwyn wrote:
The true problem is the inappropriately low page count available for higher-level adventures.

True dat. See Cibet's aforementioned page-and-a-half alchemical lich statblock reference. My turnover just has a straight bestiary short-statblock to conserve space for some other encounter areas, but with one development shift, there goes TWO encounters sacrificed to make room for it. As levels increase, so do all those monster statblocks and abilities, so you're trying to cram a much larger content into the same wrapper. That is a problem when tackling the high level writing.

Ninjaiguana wrote:
Oh, Brandon, one quick question regarding the Knights of Ozem encounter. You hadn't recently seen Season of the Witch when writing that, had you? ;)

Actually, I've yet to see that one. The catalyst for that group actually had its roots in the Rival Guide. When the freelancers were first pitched the assignment, we had to vie for which group we wanted and throw ideas out to the developers. I pitched a group of rivals to match the Carrion Crown AP that were basically a bunch of inquisitors and paladins totally overwhelmed and charmed by a demon-possessed witch they'd captured, which I thought made them awesome antagonists that blurred the line between good and evil in a totally killer. SKR didn't agree, so I got the Second Darkness group, and Neil got Carrion Crown. My guys could totally kill his guys. =-)

RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor

Brandon Hodge wrote:
My guys could totally kill his guys. =-)

Hah! Your guys would totally become undead minions of my guys. And the Whispering Way would keep right on rolling along...


Brandon Hodge wrote:
Arnwyn wrote:
The true problem is the inappropriately low page count available for higher-level adventures.
True dat. See Cibet's aforementioned page-and-a-half alchemical lich statblock reference. My turnover just has a straight bestiary short-statblock to conserve space for some other encounter areas

Oh bless your heart. Thanks for trying!

Brandon Hodge wrote:
I hope you killed him like you were supposed to, or else Wes might have something to say about it. =-)

Yup. Dead.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm happy that my feedback has been of help! :)

Contributor

Well, you know how to get my attention. ;-)


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'll give clearer nomenclature explanations in the future when using MMO language. ;) Sorry for the first misunderstanding.


I've got nothing to add to the greater discussion yet, but this surprised me:

magnuskn wrote:
However, that doesn't really pertain to one part of the problem with the "trash" encounters I was alluding to: Player ACs can very easily scale much faster than monster to-hit bonuses.

My group is new to Pathfinder, CC is our first AP and we're just at the end of the second volume, but from reading the forums here I got the impression it's actually the other way around. Since AC, unlike BAB, doesn't scale with level/HD, unless you absolutely focus on increasing it, you will get hit A LOT. And that focusing on AC is less effective than increasing your own damage output. I thought most classes couldn't go for an AC-based defensive approach, that it has to be "kill them before they kill you". Our little experience, comparing the fights in the second volume to the one in the first, already seemed to confirm that.

Did I get this completely wrong?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

AC scaling can work both ways. If you got a group which neglects the stat, monsters outstripping ACs can happen. But that mostly is the case with parties where people focused on maximising their attack power at the expense of defense, i.e. two-weapon or two-handed weapon melee types. We got an intermittent player whose Barbarian has low AC but 250+ HP when raging.

But in the case of my group, most melee people work on having a decent ( not maximised, though ) AC. The Cleric and Paladin both are weapon+shield types in full plate and the Gunslinger has one level of Alchemist, which allows him to boost his AC for important fights from already impressive amounts to nearly unhittable values ( although that may have changed in the last 2-3 levels, but it is difficult to find out, when most combats are now over in two rounds ). The replacement Fighter for our Paladin was using a two-handed weapon, but by using Combat Expertise, having a decent Dexterity and getting a powerful Amulet of Natural Armor and a Ring of Deflection he still manages to get his AC to something like 43 if he wants.

The arcane full-casters have of course by far not as good an AC, but since armor class never has been the main mode of defense for Wizards and Sorcerers, it doesn't matter that much.

Silver Crusade

I just want to chime in and say that I whole-heartedly agree that the Carrion Crown is a flawed jewel.

I disagree with the assessment of the final module - I cannot wait to run it, and the encounters are all very interesting, thematic, and exciting. Marrowgarth in a collapsing city? Top notch! Indeed, while the combat is heavy, they are so interesting that there is lots of room for role-playing during them and leading up to them. After all, the first half of the books are very roleplay heavy, and an all-out dungeon crawl at the end (which is imaginative and doesn't feel like a dungeon crawl) is a welcome chance to get stuck in.

And while I agree that haunts seem to be used as a way to inflate XP totals quickly and easily, I have the same criticism of many of the RP encounters. (Some of the "deductions" in Trial of the Beast are so laughably simple that I'm astounded to be giving out XP equal to slaying a troll!)

Of much larger concern to me are the clearly visible railroad tracks throughout the module, a lack of good motivation for the characters to do almost anything, (especially given how frightful and deadly some of the encounters are), and a general lack of cohesion between modules.

What makes Carrion Crown worthwhile are some of the incredible locations and encounters. HarrowStone Prison, Schloss Coromarc, and Renchurch are all fantastic locations. (And did I mention Marrowgarth in her domain?)

Aside from straight adventure content, I would give my eye-teeth if APs adopted the Encounter format from the end of 3.5 in modules such as "Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk" where you have everything you need to run even a complex, high-level encounter on two pages. Nothing makes combats slow down like juggling rule books

Chop out the fiction, articles, and the Bestiary and I think it could be done. If you have great source material/fiction for the campaign, release it in an AP "Module 0" which hits the streets alongside book 1. Not only would the APs be more useable, so would the "extra" content. I mean, how many of us wish we had the article on the Whispering Way which appears in Broken Moon when we started handing out clues about them in Trial of the Beast? Or the info on the Church of Pharasma which appears in Trial of the Beast when there is ZERO interaction with Gravecharge in that module but one of the key NPCs in HoH is a Priest of Pharasma and an important location is a Pharasman temple?

I know the AP model is probably set in stone, but I think that would be a massive improvement to the product.

Anyhow, thanks to the OP for the summary and everyone else for chiming in.

(And did I mention thanks for creating that encounter with Marrowgarth? I CANNOT WAIT!)


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm pretty sure that it will end up with Marrowgarth trying to create a sinkhole and failing its save, while my party saves easily and gets to rain destruction down on its trapped self. ^^


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Nathonicus wrote:
I mean, how many of us wish we had the article on the Whispering Way which appears in Broken Moon when we started handing out clues about them in Trial of the Beast? Or the info on the Church of Pharasma which appears in Trial of the Beast when there is ZERO interaction with Gravecharge in that module but one of the key NPCs in HoH is a Priest of Pharasma and an important location is a Pharasman temple?

The correct methodology is to never - ever - run an AP until you have ALL the books available to you (and read). To all those who don't - you're just doing a massive disservice to your players. (With some sympathy [though not much] to those who must do so out of necessity and not choice.)

Cheliax

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Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Arnwyn wrote:
Nathonicus wrote:
I mean, how many of us wish we had the article on the Whispering Way which appears in Broken Moon when we started handing out clues about them in Trial of the Beast? Or the info on the Church of Pharasma which appears in Trial of the Beast when there is ZERO interaction with Gravecharge in that module but one of the key NPCs in HoH is a Priest of Pharasma and an important location is a Pharasman temple?
The correct methodology is to never - ever - run an AP until you have ALL the books available to you (and read). To all those who don't - you're just doing a massive disservice to your players. (With some sympathy [though not much] to those who must do so out of necessity and not choice.)

A bit off topic but...

off topic:
I more or less agree. I never even start a AP until after all the books have been out for a bit. One so I can read all of them and add in extra stuff to make it fit together better and Two so I can read what problems, solutions or neat idea's the rest of the fans come up with on the forums.


Arnwyn wrote:


The correct methodology is to never - ever - run an AP until you have ALL the books available to you (and read). To all those who don't - you're just doing a massive disservice to your players. (With some sympathy [though not much] to those who must do so out of necessity and not choice.)

100% agree. I would add: you should read the entire AP TWICE before you start it.


Some good points here, thanks for writing everything. While my group isn't completely optimized, they are tore through some encounters in the first module with shocking ease. Very helpful as I am at the beginning of 'Trial of the Beast'.


I'm kind of iffy on the fiction in the AP since I tend to skim over it.(I have burned out on game fiction since I have been reading it since way back in the Crysta Shard/Forgotten Realms days.) That space would be better used, IMO for more content for the AP. Perhaps offer the fiction for download here.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Andrea1 wrote:
I'm kind of iffy on the fiction in the AP since I tend to skim over it.(I have burned out on game fiction since I have been reading it since way back in the Crysta Shard/Forgotten Realms days.) That space would be better used, IMO for more content for the AP. Perhaps offer the fiction for download here.

Won't happen, James made that very clear on multiple occasions. For what it's worth, I agree with you. But the problem is that the space dedicated to the actual adventure is really the best they can do physically for that, so if the fiction were to be replaced, it would be with something else unrelated to the adventure module.


six months ago i would've agreed about the fiction, however i gave it a chance and its really started to grow on me. especially the stories in The Jade Regent and Kingmaker. now if they can only get R.A. Salvatore to write some that'd be awesome!!.
my vote is to keep the fiction (not that anyone is counting votes)

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