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Haunts In Pathfinder Society - An open letter to scenario authors


Pathfinder Society® General Discussion

Cheliax ***

9 people marked this as a favorite.

I bet more than a few of you have read that title up these and given a little sigh before clicking on this thread. I can't say I entirely disagree – if there's one aspect of PFS that's been overexposed recently, it's haunts. This situation is only compounded by the fact that many people are still shaky on the way that haunts actually work; and even for the rules-savvy of our community, there are still some grey areas on how they function.

I'm not intending to talk about the mechanics of haunts in this post. That topic's been done to death all over the place. I'm also not intending to harp on about any haunt in particular. This post is on haunts in general, and their use in Pathfinder Society Organised Play scenarios.

In recent seasons, haunts seem to have become extremely popular with scenario writers. Every other scenario I pick up has a haunt in it somewhere. Enough is enough. I believe that there's a right way and a wrong way to use haunts, and far too many modules of late have been using them in the wrong way.

First and most importantly: A haunt is not a trap.

Read that sentence a few times. Engrave it into your brain. It's the most important part of this post.

As most of you probably know, haunts originated in Pathfinder #2, The Skinsaw Murders. The haunts in that adventure told the story of a doomed family, torn apart by insanity, jealousy and betrayal. As characters explored an ancient, crumbling manor house, they saw the ancient fall of the manor's former owners play out before their eyes – indeed, they themselves were forced to re-enact some of the horrific events of the past, possibly with fatal consequences.

Can you spot the most important detail of that paragraph? The key element that every haunt should possess, the element that differentiates them so absolutely from being a trap by any other name?

Information. It's that simple. First and foremost, a haunt is a way to provide the player characters with information that they have no other way of discovering, and to do it in a creepy and interesting way. If you're using a haunt, you're able to give the characters ringside seats to ancient secrets, hidden tragedies known to not a single living soul.

Too many haunts in recent scenarios provide no information whatsoever. They're simply traps by another name. When these haunts are over, the players have no more information about the plot of the scenario than they did before.

So please, scenario writers. Before you include a haunt in your module stop and think. Ask yourself this question: What does this haunt tell the players? What information do I need to impart with this encounter that I can't impart in another way?

And if you're not telling the players anything with the haunt, then please consider replacing it with a trap. A trap doesn't have to tell a story.

Please stop cheapening haunts, and let them return to the rare, evocative, informative encounters that they were initially designed as. I can only hope such behaviour will result in less haunts in modules, and improve the quality of haunts in those cases that they do appear.

A haunt is not a trap. Please stop treating haunts as if they are.

Grand Lodge ****

CR-appropriate traps are usually spotted and disarmed without a second thought, while haunts usually "get" someone because they are harder and less players are read for them. I agree, they should be more than that, but in many scenarios, putting a trap in is just a way to say, "This is the important door/chest/item" because it was trapped.

All of this to say, I understand why authors are using haunts as traps... because traps are ineffective at mid-to-high levels. But I agree that they should be more special than that, and help convey all that great back-story. The haunt should convey the main plotline's back story,a s well, not it's own little back story which is totally irrelevant to the players.

Andoran *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

It does not help that the Game Mastery Guide mention traps when talking about haunts..

GMG wrote:
The distinction between a trap and an undead creature blurs when you introduce a haunt...
GMG wrote:
Although haunts function like traps...

That said as a GM I love Haunts, because there is enough information normally to bring out the story of the haunt to give the players that spooky feel, but as a player I hate haunts because I don't find many GMs that run haunts like that.

*

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Scott Young wrote:
CR-appropriate traps are usually spotted and disarmed without a second thought, while haunts usually "get" someone because they are harder and less players are read for them.

This points to a problem with Trap CR. Probably a fundamental one, although word-count wouldn't have to change to fix them. It's just a poor estimate on the appropriate DCs to spot/disarm/avoid the trap, after all. But that would have to go through the devs, who may be reluctant to make a big change like that at this point.

Grand Lodge ** RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

A haunt done right:

Spoiler:
The Green Market

It's actually part of the plot, instead of something that hits you and then you get on with the actual mission.

Cheliax ***

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Jiggy wrote:

A haunt done right:

** spoiler omitted **
It's actually part of the plot, instead of something that hits you and then you get on with the actual mission.

I played that module last Saturday evening, and I absolutely concur.

Another example of a good use of a haunt is in
Spoiler:
Echoes of the Overwatched, where a haunt is your first encounter and helps set up the plot.

Andoran *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

One of my favorite recent Haunts was the Haunt in...(Season 4)

Spoiler:
In Wrath's Shadow, I was really able to bring the creep out of this one. When they started hearing angrily muttering mob I had all the bodies hanging in the cave slowly turn towards them with their mouths wide open as if screaming in anger. That one was fun and I enjoyed creeping out the whole group that entire scene in that cave.

Cheliax ***

Dragnmoon wrote:

One of my favorite recent Haunts was the Haunt in...(Season 4)

** spoiler omitted **

Heh, you should look at my review of the module in question. I actually had a real beef with that haunt because it *didn't* give any information, despite the fact that the players have no idea what's gone on in that area and it's a place where a haunt 'info dump' would be perfect.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

I am going to comment carefully... and briefly.

The Season Four Guidelines are quite a bit different from previous seasons in how how many encounters one has, and what defines an encounter.

(I don't have the guidelines with me while I reply at work, so I am going from memory.. and it might take a few sentences to explain what this has to do with haunts.)

We are now tasked with evaluating whether an encounter is major or minor, and we're assigned to so many major and minor encounters. No longer is there a blanket statement of "X amount of fights" and "X amount of social encounters" and "X amount of traps, haunts, and other stuff".

Instead we kinda look at the complexity and the length of time the PCs might be fooling with the encounter. This speaks to an adjustment in time management for the scenario.

But the side effect for haunts is that they shouldn't be quantitatively equated to a trap as a "minor encounter". Heck, TRAPS shouldn't be automatically dismissed as a "trap", as in "it's just a trap, so have 3 or 4 of them throughout the area."

This should encourage authors to look at a haunt, perhaps decide that it is a major encounter—lavish some love on it and only have one of them in the entire scenario.

Hinojai Spoiler

Spoiler:
I know with Hinojai I was dropping a combat and substituting at least two haunts in exchange. It was like Weight Watchers! We swapped out menu items! I still think Hinojai is fun, but there were too many haunts and it can run long. No apologies, but we learn as we go.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

For what its worth, they were some fun design space but I'm definitely viewing them as a spice that can get overused. If Green Market's story didn't require it, I think we would have avoided using one. I'm glad it worked out though.

Andoran *****

Chris Kenney wrote:
Scott Young wrote:
CR-appropriate traps are usually spotted and disarmed without a second thought, while haunts usually "get" someone because they are harder and less players are read for them.
This points to a problem with Trap CR. Probably a fundamental one, although word-count wouldn't have to change to fix them. It's just a poor estimate on the appropriate DCs to spot/disarm/avoid the trap, after all. But that would have to go through the devs, who may be reluctant to make a big change like that at this point.

I agree with the problem. Here's my thoughts on Trap CRs.

Largely, the DC's are tied to the CR, and the CR in a scenario is determined by the Tier or sub-tier being written for.

But an average rogue worth his salt, is probably going to have a decent Perception (able to notice a challenge trap for his level at least 80% of the time) and a decent disable device (able to disable a trap for his level at least 75% of of the time).

Approach this same scenario with a rogue specifically built to handle traps, and they can neuter an entire scenario. My wife's (yeah, since Thursday, I get to call her my wife now!) level 10 rogue (trapsmith) basically turned Rebel's Ransom into a cakewalk, as she was able to perceive and disable all the traps with a 3 or better. They were playing tier 8-9, and I think the rogue was only level 7 (might have barely been 8) at the time.

Approach this same scenario with no rogue, and basically the traps will hit someone, if not the maximum number, all the time. So since the mechanics of a trap (damage, to hit, DC to save vs., DC to perceive, DC to disable) are all dependent on the CR, if you up the CR of a trap to make it a 50/50 endeavor to even an average rogue, then the damage it does or the reflex save DC's are likely to mean a save or die roll.

So unless the entire mechanics of traps is overhauled, you can't really put more challenging traps into a scenario, as not every group is going to have even an average rogue, let alone a trapsmith.

Qadira ** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, Contributor

Ninjaiguana wrote:
In recent seasons, haunts seem to have become extremely popular with scenario writers.

Not with this one. Seems like every time a GM runs haunts at a table I'm playing at they spend more time scratching their head over the haunt rules than actually running the game. They are almost always less spooky and more frustrating. I'm not sure if the rules need to be scrubbed more or GMs just need more time to get used to them, but for the moment I'm not a fan.

Andoran ***** Venture-Lieutenant, California—Fresno aka Sarta

3 people marked this as a favorite.

The sad thing about haunts I've learned as a player is this: if you notice something weird in a creepy place, run like hell and hope the haunt's CR is low enough for you to get out of range. Otherwise, assume the position (fetal of course).

Even if the author has written a wonderful story to tell in the haunt's manifestation, survival says it's a story my character does not need to learn. Basically, those stories are consolation prizes for those about to be violated.

Grand Lodge *

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Slightly off topic.

I'd like to see some complicated traps ala Grimtooth Traps (back in the 80's this magnificent bast**d wrote some truly amazing -albeit sometimes silly- traps for players who thought they knew it all) that couldn't be disabled with a summoned critter etc and in fact would be worsened by "disabling the trap with hitpoints"... heck it could even be an alarm that ups the CL of the rest of the adventure as the monsters fall into a planned and supportive defence.

Trapfinding becomes a useful and needful skill at that point, especially if its a skill challenge of sorts to disable the trap.

Shadow Lodge **

Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.

Cheliax ***

BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.

Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.

EDIT: Ignore this post, I'm being incorrect.

*

Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.
Trapfinding wrote:
A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Nope, just to disarm them. Years into PF, this is still probably the most common DM mistake.

It is why people complain about the rogue, since a cleric with an astronomical perception and dispel magic prepared can do a rogue's job just as well.

Shadow Lodge **

Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.

Trapfinding: A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Unless they're hiding it somewhere else, anyone can spot a magical trap as long as they're looking.

Cheliax ***

Saint Caleth wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.
Trapfinding wrote:
A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Nope, just to disarm them. Years into PF, this is still probably the most common DM mistake.

It is why people complain about the rogue, since a cleric with an astronomical perception and dispel magic prepared can do a rogue's job just as well.

Ugh, I knew that! Clearly it's too early in the morning for me to be posting on the boards..

Shadow Lodge **

Ninjaiguana wrote:
Saint Caleth wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.
Trapfinding wrote:
A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Nope, just to disarm them. Years into PF, this is still probably the most common DM mistake.

It is why people complain about the rogue, since a cleric with an astronomical perception and dispel magic prepared can do a rogue's job just as well.

Ugh, I knew that! Clearly it's too early in the morning for me to be posting on the boards..

Its not just you :) . My Rogue wanabe druid runs into that "rule" a LOT. And for some reason the idea that you can't try to pick a lock more than once. (which as far as i can find goes all the way back to second edition... 3.5 explicitly has Lita retrying on locks)

*

BigNorseWolf wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
Saint Caleth wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.
Trapfinding wrote:
A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Nope, just to disarm them. Years into PF, this is still probably the most common DM mistake.

It is why people complain about the rogue, since a cleric with an astronomical perception and dispel magic prepared can do a rogue's job just as well.

Ugh, I knew that! Clearly it's too early in the morning for me to be posting on the boards..
Its not just you :) . My Rogue wanabe druid runs into that "rule" a LOT. And for some reason the idea that you can't try to pick a lock more than once. (which as far as i can find goes all the way back to second edition... 3.5 explicitly has Lita retrying on locks)

Do you really encounter that opinion about locks? I'm not sure where people are pulling that from, as since 3.0, Picking locks has been the textbook T20.

Cheliax ***

BigNorseWolf wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
Saint Caleth wrote:
Ninjaiguana wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Just a reminder that you don't actually need trapfinding to find traps anymore.
Non-magical traps, at least. Trapfinding is still required to locate magical traps.
Trapfinding wrote:
A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

Nope, just to disarm them. Years into PF, this is still probably the most common DM mistake.

It is why people complain about the rogue, since a cleric with an astronomical perception and dispel magic prepared can do a rogue's job just as well.

Ugh, I knew that! Clearly it's too early in the morning for me to be posting on the boards..

Its not just you :) . My Rogue wanabe druid runs into that "rule" a LOT. And for some reason the idea that you can't try to pick a lock more than once. (which as far as i can find goes all the way back to second edition... 3.5 explicitly has Lita retrying on locks)

Well, I can at least say I run it right at the table...I just had a momentary lapse when I came to post. The lock thing I don't see as much, these days; most people I see just take 20 on it, so they know straight-out whether they succeed or fail with their level of skill.

Qadira ***

Could someone start a tread for the Trap discussion - I'd love to join in but I feel funny derailing this from haunts, with I think are very important to discuss.

Qadira ***

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Let's invent a new form of haunt. One that gives you the "vision" information if you make the Perception roll. We can even call it a Haunting Vision. Gives you the creepies, and all that, but doesn't do anything else. Sets the mood, creeps the PCs, lets the judge play it up big... and doesn't attack anyone. So it's not "an undetectable trap".
.
I can see it now.

judge - "roll init"
players roll and anounce.
judge - "perception check?"
players anounce...
judge - "Kn. Religion from you Joe"
Joe - "Fark - it's a Haunt! I hate these things... I got a 12 Knowledge check"
Judge discribes creepy murder as a vision.
judge - "on Init 10, everyone make a Will save."
PC 1 - "24"
PC 2 - "Damn, 15?"
PC 3 - "19"
Joe - "Nat 1! I hate these things!"
Judge - "Ok, now what do you do?"
Joe - "what happened?"
Judge - "nothing you detect"
Joe - "wooo.... that's creepy... Nothing?"
Judge "nope"
Joe - "something wierd is going on here. What was that 'vision' again?"

Grand Lodge ****

Like it... a lot.

Grand Lodge *

nosig wrote:
Could someone start a tread for the Trap discussion - I'd love to join in but I feel funny derailing this from haunts, with I think are very important to discuss.

Done and Here

Cheliax ***** Venture-Captain, Nebraska—Omaha

There have been a few good haunts like that already, and I'd love to see more of them.

FWIW, I loved Haunting of Hinojai. Done right, this is a VERY creepy scenario.

*

Todd Morgan wrote:

There have been a few good haunts like that already, and I'd love to see more of them.

FWIW, I loved Haunting of Hinojai. Done right, this is a VERY creepy scenario.

I agree. I love DMing that scenario.

Spoiler:

There are an awful lot of haunts though. One time when the Wayang attacked the party with his Energy Wall ability, the party actually thought it was a haunt manifesting. Until they got blasted with lightning the next round.

Shadow Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, Washington—Eastern Washington aka WalterGM

Todd Morgan wrote:

There have been a few good haunts like that already, and I'd love to see more of them.

FWIW, I loved Haunting of Hinojai. Done right, this is a VERY creepy scenario.

Agree. Everytime its been run here, the haunts/fights have scared away PCs from actually clearing the mansion. That old house has more bodies in it than the Dalsine manor. And my players like it that way :P

Qadira ***

Haunting of Hinojai:

I try not to read anything on Haunting of Hinojai, to avoid spoilers. Though it's kind of silly, as I plan never to play it. Yeah, I hate haunts that much. Just the name turns me off. It's the only scenario below Tier 7-11 I haven't played (besides the ones just released).

Grand Lodge *** Venture-Lieutenant, Australia—Melbourne aka KestlerGunner

You should play it Nosig, it's good stuff.
Preferably at night, with candles, and Chinese folk music playing softly in the background.

Grand Lodge *

There is some creepy music there on the intertubes.

Google Chinese funeral music. A lot of it doesnt sound anything one way or the other - cymbals, upbeat beat, whistles and flutes but there is some real melencholy stuff there too that creeps out some ppl

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