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3-24 The Golden Serpent (Spoilers)


Pathfinder Society GM Discussion

Grand Lodge ***

As a GM I liked this scenario a lot. It was easy and fun to prep as it had a nice level of believable detail and background story. The NPCs for the two sub-tiers were also levelled in such a way to make them easier than usual to switch between them - so less prep required.

I had no issues at all with the flow of the scenario and the faction missions were good, fun even.

Handling the boon was tricky. They didn't trash the place and they saved injured customers, but didn't do anything particularly noteworthy and weren't particularly into the role-playing with Sendeli at least at first, so I originally only gave them a temporary boon bonus (one of the PCs would have failed their faction mission but for their restraint in the combat). I wasn't planning on giving them the full boon at that time. However they returned after the scenario to get the promised free meal and discussed the outcome with her to gain the full boon.

I also liked the artwork used in the scenario which I cut out and used for scene setting. This also avoided the issue I have with some creatures from the non-core assumption Bestiarys in other scenarios - where I know everything about the creature except what it looks like...

The opening scenario is going to be a pig to draw if you don't have a suitable tavern/restaurant flip mat. Any tavern floor plan should do the job well enough with some improvisation.

The other floor plans are much easier to draw, though would have benefitted from being fully predrawn or printed.

For the initial social encounter I handed out menus with the note attached to one of them (I used the Ghostly Minstrel menu handout from Ptolus). This seemed to go down well.

A difficulty I had was nailing down who took the (ahem) item after the first encounter without tipping them off that something was up. And the fact it was stored in a backpack rather than used made it a further problem later.

In general I found the combat tactics weak throughout which meant I was trying to eke out every bit of their build (while sticking to base tactics) to make them a proportional challenge, without much success, This was against a group that were playing up and so the NPCs should have been a challenge without trying. My group avoided the optional encounter which might have been a challenge. A PC caster took a full ranged attack from the big bad without too much inconvenience. Then the BB went down quickly - so didn't get a chance to get away.

I note that the thugs in the first encounter have the Vital Strike feat when I don't believe they can legally have it.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Thank you for your kind remarks!

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
Handling the boon was tricky. They didn't trash the place and they saved injured customers, but didn't do anything particularly noteworthy and weren't particularly into the role-playing with Sendeli at least at first, so I originally only gave them a temporary boon bonus (one of the PCs would have failed their faction mission but for their restraint in the combat). I wasn't planning on giving them the full boon at that time. However they returned after the scenario to get the promised free meal and discussed the outcome with her to gain the full boon.

It is tricky to handle. I have heard reports that some GMs indiscriminately give it to everybody, and some withhold it, and some give them a second opportunity at the end. There is no wrong answer, you have to go with your gut. Mark and I discussed this, and we knew different GMs would handle it differently. I HOPE that GMs will be thoughtful about it, but remain realistic at the same time.

The thing is, GMs who post to these boards want to be trusted and ask to be trusted. So I granted that trust and the responsibility, knowing that some would handle it better than others. The fact that you hesitated and made the PCs work for it a little bit more is all I could ever ask. Perfect. So good job you!

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
The opening scenario is going to be a pig to draw if you don't have a suitable tavern/restaurant flip mat. Any tavern floor plan should do the job well enough with some improvisation.

Sorry! I fought for that Flip-Mat. :D

The Golden Serpent was presented to me as a bit of lore from early in the campaign setting. It easily predates PFS Organized Play, and there was the mandate that I try to honor the original intent. A simpler map was suggested, but I advocated for this one because it really captures the concept. I was really pleased they relented. Sorry if it's hard to draw.

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
For the initial social encounter I handed out menus with the note attached to one of them (I used the Ghostly Minstrel menu handout from Ptolus). This seemed to go down well.

Awesome idea!

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
A difficulty I had was nailing down who took the (ahem) item after the first encounter without tipping them off that something was up. And the fact it was stored in a backpack rather than used made it a further problem later.

I knew that would be tricky. That is not a symptom of PFS, that would happen in any style of play (homebrew, campaign, etc) because it represents a situation where "the GM is all of suddenly interested in something they've never been interested in before in the previous ten years of my playing experience." It is an issue inherent to the creature. The alternative is not to use the creature at all, which I think is less fun.

But... here's a suggestion for next time. Prior to even starting the scenario, as part of your introduction, ask if there is a default person who carries most of the loot. Or who you should assume is carrying some stuff. That may raise some suspicions, but they have a lot of encounters to wonder about, if you don't pull the trigger until the very end. They might just let their guard down.

Alternately, if they can't or won't specify—you're free to roll randomly as to who has it, within the confines of common sense. (The Str 8 wizard probably doesn't carry it)

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
In general I found the combat tactics weak throughout which meant I was trying to eke out every bit of their build (while sticking to base tactics) to make them a proportional challenge, without much success, This was against a group that were playing up and so the NPCs should have been a challenge without trying. My group avoided the optional encounter which might have been a challenge. A PC caster took a full ranged attack from the big bad without too much inconvenience. Then the BB went down quickly - so didn't get a chance to get away.

Ah, this is driving me nuts even though it's not your fault. I always expect GMs to use the best tactics for the situation and not rely on the tactics provided unless they're stuck.

I tried to design a fair encounter for 4 players, with the expectation the GM will run the best encounter they can with the stat-block and tools provided. The tactics (in my thinking) are a suggestion and not intractable script that has to be adhered to.

I have been told some other adventure kicked a hornet's nest where there is a need to follow the tactics is somehow required because of the way the encounter was designed. I don't know any more than that, and that is all I need to know, but respectfully I'm not sure I like the sound of it. I believe in empowering GMs and letting them do their jobs. But if I don't provide good tools in the first place, then shame on me.

So, I'm probably going to be frugal with tactics from here on out.

This is a very detailed spoiler, hence the tags:

Spoiler:
Check out Maelpheta's stat-block and you'll notice she has the alarm spell. That's not because I couldn't think of a better 1st level spell to give her! That's so that if the party doesn't hurry back and she does a mental check in with her familiar, she'll start laying those alarm spells down throughout the hide-out. She can set them to warn the sorcerer, the twins, and even give herself additional warning.

This is just an example of what I mean, if the situation is fair and logical, I expect GMs to adjust each and every encounter to the situation in a manner that is both fair to the players and challenging to complete. I always understood you couldn't change the creatures or the stat-blocks, I never imagined that would apply to tactics too.

GM's, I beg of you, don't nerf your encounters on my account.

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
I note that the thugs in the first encounter have the Vital Strike feat when I don't believe they can legally have it.

Oops, you are correct. My mistake. Mea culpa.

Grand Lodge ***

Jim Groves wrote:
The Golden Serpent was presented to me as a bit of lore from early in the campaign setting. It easily predates PFS Organized Play, and there was the mandate that I try to honor the original intent. A simpler map was suggested, but I advocated for this one because it really captures the concept. I was really pleased they relented. Sorry if it's hard to draw.

I did have the map, and I have several others that could have susbstituted. I mentioned it because I like to point out where issues might lie for others (and I have seen GMs draw out detailed maps like this before - theater anyone?).

I also was happy with the choice and it allowed me to use the Ivy District map from the wiki too. Handouts are good.
Jim Groves wrote:
I knew that would be tricky. That is not a symptom of PFS, that would happen in any style of play (homebrew, campaign, etc) because it represents a situation where "the GM is all of suddenly interested in something they've never been interested in before in the previous ten years of my playing experience." It is an issue inherent to the creature. The alternative is not to use the creature at all, which I think is less fun.

That tends to work OK in PFS where you generally don't know the GM - at least at conventions - where I do all my PFS GMing. Anyway I got away with it, by making it about recovering treasure. I think they thought I was being picky about treasure for max gold.

Jim Groves wrote:
Ah, this is driving me nuts even though it's not your fault. I always expect GMs to use the best tactics for the situation and not rely on the tactics provided unless they're stuck.

Oh, that's ironic. I am a major believer that GMs _should_ be able to balance encounters (its even the reason for my current alias). However I understand the rules are that you must follow the tactics as written at least initially. I would be delighted to be wrong on this.

I do a lot of encounter prep to ensure I can play creatures to the max of their abilities without changing anything. Though in seasons 0-3, where 4 players is the assumption but 6 is the norm, action economy usually wins quickly and also destroys singleton creatures before their exit tactic/condition can be activated.
Jim Groves wrote:
So, I'm probably going to be frugal with tactics from here on out.

Excellent.

Jim Groves wrote:
This is a very detailed spoiler, hence the tags: ...spoiler omitted...

Thats the sort of thing that goes into detailed GM preparation - and then only if you are think there will be scope to change tactics. Spotting one spell from a long list is highly unlikely during a session.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Fighting Fantasy GM wrote:
Oh, that's ironic. I am a major believer that GMs _should_ be able to balance encounters (its even the reason for my current alias). However I understand the rules are that you must follow the tactics as written at least initially. I would be delighted to be wrong on this.

:D

Odds are I'm wrong.

But as we agreed, the solution seems straight forward. Limit the tactics in order to grant more license to the GM. Someone else pointed out that Before Combat (as pertain to daily spells cast) and Morale are rarely the problem.

Its that one in the middle. :)

Ah, it came from a desire to be helpful. Mea culpa Part II.

Andoran *****

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

I noticed an error on the Items Found list on the Chronicle.

You have the +2 Glamered Mithral Shirt listed at 7900 gp, it should be 7800 gp.

Andoran *****

How willing should Narius, Noys, and Maelpheta be to join earlier combats if the PCs are making a lot of noise or set off alarm spells?

While Maelpheta is waiting behind a trap at least, I can't see a reason for Narius and Noys to not join in the combat in rooms C4/C5 if they hear it. Alternatively, if Maelpheta knows the PCs are coming, it seems that she might join a combat the PCs are having with Narius/Noys if it gives her the best chance of success.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Tristan Windseeker wrote:

How willing should Narius, Noys, and Maelpheta be to join earlier combats if the PCs are making a lot of noise or set off alarm spells?

While Maelpheta is waiting behind a trap at least, I can't see a reason for Narius and Noys to not join in the combat in rooms C4/C5 if they hear it. Alternatively, if Maelpheta knows the PCs are coming, it seems that she might join a combat the PCs are having with Narius/Noys if it gives her the best chance of success.

I'm not ignoring this Tristan, I'm just not sure the best answer—especially in light of recent discussions. I think it has to remain an individual GM judgment call. If I tried to make a blanket statement, someone somewhere might take it too far and abuse it.

Certainly I provided the tools to make that possible. Whether to use them or not has to be trusted to your instincts. Does it make for a challenging game, especially in light of the fact that its one of the last 4 player assumption scenarios? Or does it make for unfun and unfair monster dogpile on the PCs?

Trust your instincts.

Andoran *****

Jim Groves wrote:
Tristan Windseeker wrote:

How willing should Narius, Noys, and Maelpheta be to join earlier combats if the PCs are making a lot of noise or set off alarm spells?

While Maelpheta is waiting behind a trap at least, I can't see a reason for Narius and Noys to not join in the combat in rooms C4/C5 if they hear it. Alternatively, if Maelpheta knows the PCs are coming, it seems that she might join a combat the PCs are having with Narius/Noys if it gives her the best chance of success.

I'm not ignoring this Tristan, I'm just not sure the best answer—especially in light of recent discussions. I think it has to remain an individual GM judgment call. If I tried to make a blanket statement, someone somewhere might take it too far and abuse it.

Certainly I provided the tools to make that possible. Whether to use them or not has to be trusted to your instincts. Does it make for a challenging game, especially in light of the fact that its one of the last 4 player assumption scenarios? Or does it make for unfun and unfair monster dogpile on the PCs?

Trust your instincts.

Thanks for your response! I'm running this tomorrow, and the scenario looks like it will be a lot of fun. After reading it over, I think my behavior for the enemies is going to be based a lot on exactly how much advanced warning they get.

Thanks for writing a great scenario!

Silver Crusade **

Played this yesterday.

I opened a door. Baddie's readied action went off, shooting me in the face with those six energy beams. I shrugged off 11 points of the total damage, made ALL my Fort saves, and just kept coming.

A proud moment indeed. :)

Andoran ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Minnesota—Anoka

Thomas, the Tiefling Hero! wrote:

Played this yesterday.

I opened a door. Baddie's readied action went off, shooting me in the face with those six energy beams. I shrugged off 11 points of the total damage, made ALL my Fort saves, and just kept coming.

A proud moment indeed. :)

I don't think you failed a single save all day!

I really enjoyed running this scenario. It was a ton of fun seeing a table full of folks who've played for 20+ years go, "what the heck is that!" to almost all the creatures in this one.

Silver Crusade **

Andrew Christian wrote:
I don't think you failed a single save all day!

Yeah, apparently I siphoned all my bad rolls into my spiritual weapon attacks and Perception checks. A single natural 1 snuck into my saves, but I cleaned that up with a Character Folio reroll. ;)

Quote:
I really enjoyed running this scenario. It was a ton of fun seeing a table full of folks who've played for 20+ years go, "what the heck is that!" to almost all the creatures in this one.

Having played for just under two years, it was nice to finally not be alone in that ignorance!

Cheliax ****

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Modules Subscriber

So, just to confirm - there's no official swap for the illegal Vital Strike feat on the thugs, so we should run it with that feat available?

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