Hardest / Most challenging AP?


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Insain Dragoon wrote:
Not Paizo, but the Way of the Wicked AP has been pretty difficult. So far everything has required a lot of planning, role play, and a decent amount of luck.

Oh, and by the way I think that Way of the Wicked is probably the best example of fair difficulty among adventures from 3.0 to PF. Age of Worms or RotR or even RHoD are difficult because a good number of encounters early on are just sudden difficulty spikes that kill less than competent and optimally prepared parties, particularly if villains act somewhat sensibly. Way of the Wicked makes all major acts into sandboxes. Success is not the matter of luck, I disagree here, but of planning and of PCs' proactivity. Each sandbox after perhaps the first module gives quite enough resources to curbstomp the supposed opposition. If you do everyting perfectly or near that, by the middle of Part 3 you'll have a force of badass and mostly loyal minions that can clear many encounters by itself, particularly if GM allows more of them than Grumblejack to gain a few levels in the course of your adventurers. But if PCs are lazy, don't bother with gathering information and seeking out allies, or are poor diplomats/roleplayers, they will be constantly facing bad odds, at least until the levels where a competent party just goes beyond the impossible and the CR system stops working.


Judging from RotRL and RotRL anniversary i have to say that either the PF adventures are purposely made easier than the 3.5 OR the PF system buffed the PCs more than it buffed the monsters (in the transition between PF and 3.5).


Carrion Crown and Skulls and Shackles are the two hardest from my experience running them.

Carrion Crown is the only AP i've had a tpk on (Ghost killed the mage, no one was a cleric, and they may have not had any means of dealing with the problems after that).

But the prize for deadliest module definitly goes to Skulls and Shackles at the moment. So far there have been 7 character deaths and we're only at the begining of the Isle of Eyes. The list of deaths is pretty entertaining though.

- Human Barbarian survives shipwreck only to get eaten by the whale trying to save Fipps, an npc that they managed to turn to their side through a combination of intimidation and saving his life...3 times by this point

- Gnome Sorcerer gets dragged off the ghost ship by the ghost captain and drowns before the rest of the party can rescue her or break the bell

- Half-Orc Druid gets torn to shreds in one round by the four armed sahuagin boss where the cursed throne was located.

- Goblin Witch Necromancerthingy eaten by the monster that protects the aboleth near the sunken ship they were trying to salvage.

- Human Bloodrager killed session after creation, when the party storms the herbalist hut during the day, by all of the guards.

- Halfling Rogue killed in boss fight between the alchemist who's running the chellish spy network and her pet and the rest of the party. (Almost was a tpk but the alchemist was stopped one round before the two bleeding out members of the party would have bit it. This is also the only character to be successfully revived because the other party members went and sold enough stuff to revive her)

- Human arcanist(Formerly alchemist) murdered being greedy by the Great Mother (Trapper) in the cyclopes lair. When the monster crits for 77 points of damage and instagrabs the caster....they're kind of out of luck. Later revived by the genie in the well with her one wish for the year....without any of his spellbooks. Since as an arcanist he carried all of his books with him, and had never made any copies. So now retired and still effectivly dead.

This is....2 sessions in to book 4 at the moment. My party has already decided to ignore the fort, not look around the rest of the island, and leave setting up a base camp to the crew near the cyclopses docks. They also want to go back to the actual fort the cyclopses hold out in, and clear them all out tomorrow...after they've found the murdered corpses of their friends. I'm expecting a lot of people to die, especially since it'll be a boss fight, and one of my players always dies on boss fights or pre-boss fights (She made the barbarian, gnome sorcerer, goblin witch, and the bloodrager).


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My group has played through most of the AP's. Skulls and Shackles had the most player deaths including 5 in one game session during book 4.

But overall no matter how much I up gun stuff the final book of each AP is always a cake walk for the PC's. They just get too powerful. At level 15 they are taking down CR 24 creatures in just a few rounds.


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This is going to go against the grain.

IF you play Wrath of the Righteous and buff the enemies with the same mythic type abilities for Humanoid NPCs as you do PC's....it can get really nasty (basically, who hits first in a battle, wins the battle).

This is a LOT of work though...and plays all those nasty mythic tricks people talk about...on the players instead.

This can mean you have anywhere from a 25% to 50% chance of a TPK every mythic encounter that occurs post book 3.

Of course, that's a LOT of work and reworking of the combats, with a LOT of buffing and stuff...so not really the pure AP that you'd want.

Most other AP's can be deadly and challenging, depends on who the GM is.

If you go with AP as it is written with not heavy modification...I haven't played enough of them to say which is toughest yet, RotRL has some possible TPK moments though, and probably as far as the unmodified ones we played, that's been the toughest...though we played it under 3.5 rules with that AP instead of the AE one.

Liberty's Edge

Rise of the Runelords got harder and harder towards the end of the game, and even with the special Magic weapons we got we won the last battle by a thread.

Scarab Sages

There's nothing that really stands out. Pretty much all of them can be dangerous early on, but the only times I've killed players in later books is with SoD encounters.

However, Shackled City back in 3.5 days was consistently challenging all the way through. Not a great campaign though.


So, no mention of Crimson Throne at all... does that just fall in the middle of the pack? Or is it at the low lethality end of things?


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I can't imagine Giantslayer would be easy with a party of 4 and 15-point builds. Mummy's Mask does not seem as difficult through the first 2 books, IMO.


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muklowd wrote:
So, no mention of Crimson Throne at all... does that just fall in the middle of the pack? Or is it at the low lethality end of things?

The Scarwall section can be particularly brutal to some groups.


Kingmaker. I have 37 dead PCs in my graveyard notes, and they didn't even finish book 5. That ranged from failing swim checks after investigating an earth elemental dug tunnel from thieves that stole the kingdom's treasury under the lake, to attacking a grizzly bear and trying to use command spells to order it to stop, and putting up a rope trick inside of Irovetti's palace for 15 hours and letting Irovettil gather up all of his minions, prep, and then blitz the party with rogues and his generals. Harkgulka critically hit a charging cavalier with his club due to reach and killed him, plus the dancing lady killed 2 with her charming dance.


muklowd wrote:
So, no mention of Crimson Throne at all... does that just fall in the middle of the pack? Or is it at the low lethality end of things?

Crimson Throne's difficulty depends a lot on how you convert the 3.5 stuff to Pathfinder. I've been using pfsrd when it's available and some fan conversions when not. I'm also running with a five player party, which makes things easier for the PCs.

Now that it's being re-released and updated to PF, I expect it's going to get a lot harder.

So far I think my party's toughest fight was

Spoiler:
Lady Andaisin. She has the defensive spells and the toughness to stick around for a few rounds, and she can dish out damage with the best of them if she's lucky. But the Inquisitor made his save against Slay Living, two of the party (Paladin and Monk) were immune to her diseases, she rolled poorly on her healing ... so no deaths.

The Party is now in book 4 and I don't see anything that they should be too worried about.

Spoiler:
Cindermaw might digest someone if they're stupid
, and I intend to play
Spoiler:
The final Red Mantis attack
absolutely mercilessly, but I don't see anything that they really need to lose sleep worrying about until Book 5, when, holy crap! Welcome to Scarwall ;)

Liberty's Edge

It also depends a lot on party composition.

Spoiler:
For example, my group included an Urban Druid with the Charm Domain. They used Charm Monster, made friends with Cindermaw, and rode him back to the Shoanti where they reenacted the whole 'being swallowed' thing right in front of them. The adventure does describe Cindermaw as enjoying theatrics...

Anyway, that combat encounter just flat-out didn't happen and it wasn't the only one. They also made friends with Beiriwash later. And several incidental monsters along the way.

Liberty's Edge

Mummys Mask has been a butt-kicker so far. We are at the end of book 5 and the body count has been pretty high. Love the plot and setting though. Been one of my favorite APs so far.

Dark Archive

Strange Aeons has seemed much rougher in the earlier parts then ROTRL. ROTRL holds up well at the end, which is not easy to do. After pulling some punches at the end of book 2 I have 1 kill and a TPK. They spent half of book 1 doing 1 fight and half the party being knocked out and needing to sleep to recover resources. This included skipping what is considered one of the worst encounters in the book.


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A few factors to consider here.

1) Stat build and number of PCs. Using the recommended 15 point buy (my preference too btw), makes every starting AP chapter potentially lethal. Min/Maxxers help a little but not much at this point buy with 4 PCs barring a party full of classes that can heal like Paladins, Clerics, Druids, Oracles, Witches, etc.
Having more than 4 PCs also significantly reduces the danger level.
If you look at most of the complaints about APs being non-challenging on the forums, there is a pattern. Most are using a 20+ point buy build with more than 4 PCs on top of it.

2) "Save or Possibly Die" encounter mechanics. I know Paizo doesn't have many of these but some creatures combined with a single missed roll will do you in at early levels. A Ghoul with paralysis + failed save for example, could potentially end your AP before it starts if it ends with a TPK.

3) Gung-Ho players. Do i even need to explain the "No Retreat, No Surrender" types? :P
Some do this on purpose when they get bored of a particular character. You can usually spot these coming from early on and valhalla sendoffs can be interesting if run right.

Example 1) is solved by using the right build/number of PCs. If you have a large group, your GM has to get his hands dirty and adjust all of the encounters. Not a dealbreaker for me when it comes to larger parties.

Example 2) is usually fixed by a GM screen and some kindness, but balanced by his/her opinion of his players. Stupid player decisions shouldn't always be a get out of jail free card.

3) Unfixable to a point without some OOC discussion before and through the campaign. Some players just like rerolling alot.


No votes for Rappan Athuk? Not that it's really an AP, more a hack-&-slash killfest dungeoncrawl.


APs that have finished coming out since the last post (April 7, 2016) in this thread before yesterday's Necromancy:

Hell's Vengeance (was part way out in April 2016)
Strange Aeons (already mentioned above)
Ironfang Invasion
Ruins of Azlant (only part way out so far)

Known upcoming APs:

Ruins of Azlant (the rest of it)
War for the Crown
Return of the Runelords (don't know if this will be near the top of the list for hardest/most challenging, but it should be)


Of what I've run (which is a lot):

1. Reign of Winter, hands down, most PC deaths of any AP I've run.
2. Strange Aeons has gotten very very close more than a few times. Several deaths have been avoided by sheer luck or very smart tactical choices.
3. Shackled City (3.5). First dungeon is a monster, super easy to die.
4. Rise of the Runelords, classic is as classic does.
5. Mummy's Mask can be brutal, but if you play genre savvy to tomb raiding, not so bad. Play fish out of water types to the genre.... deadly.

And on the flipside, for least dangerous (to my group at least):

Shattered Star, 3 manned, 15 point buy, healing cleric, sunder barb, shadow illusionist wizard. No deaths. Final boss killed in round 1.

Giantslayer: 4 pcs, unchained rogue, grapple brawler, aether kineticist, vermin druid. Only one death halfway through, and that was from a willing tactical mistake for the sake of roleplaying. Final boss died out of initiative, CdGd while sleeping.


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

We've found Giantslayer less than challenging, too. Mostly because of loot, IMO, but also because the party is really optimized for killing things with reach, particularly giants. I'll find out how the end boss works shortly, however.

Now that I'm a bit better at running games, I'm expecting Ironfang Invasion to be difficult.


Haven't seen this myself (except in filtered form in Giantslayer PbPs that I have looked at), but I have heard on these messageboards that

Spoiler:
a certain unnanounced encounter very early in Giantslayer often turns out to be a party killer.


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

Haven't seen this myself (except in filtered form in Giantslayer PbPs that I have looked at), but I have heard on these messageboards that ** spoiler omitted **

the glass cannon podcast interview the author. he was asked why he jammed all these super hard stuff into the module, and he straight up admitted that he didn't have time to playtest parts of it before submitting it to paizo.

still, i think giantslayer 2 is a great adventure. very fun stuff.


The most difficult campaign I tried was Savage Tide. Nothing compares.


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

Haven't seen this myself (except in filtered form in Giantslayer PbPs that I have looked at), but I have heard on these messageboards that ** spoiler omitted **

One encounter in book 1 is a TPK as is, and the final stretch of the book is arguably unplayable as is. There's one bit in book 2 that could cause some parties trouble, but it quickly becomes a cakewalk after that.

Book 1 is otherwise fantastic, just mechanically impossible without GM intervention. I agree overall, too, Yakman.


How much GM intervention do you need (minimally)?

Spoiler:
Is the GM dropping forewarning sufficient?


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taks wrote:
UnArcaneElection wrote:

Haven't seen this myself (except in filtered form in Giantslayer PbPs that I have looked at), but I have heard on these messageboards that ** spoiler omitted **

One encounter in book 1 is a TPK as is, and the final stretch of the book is arguably unplayable as is. There's one bit in book 2 that could cause some parties trouble, but it quickly becomes a cakewalk after that.

Book 1 is otherwise fantastic, just mechanically impossible without GM intervention. I agree overall, too, Yakman.

if you actually play the orc ferocity rules on all those fights... i dunno if a second level non-optimal party can get through book 1. i never played it, but it's just fight fight fight fight fight... thoughts?


Surprised I haven't seen more mentions of serpents skull. That ap killed so many characters and eventually tpk'd us in a hilarious way. I won't give away the details but let's just say we took over 100d6 and were vaporized instantly within a single round.


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

How much GM intervention do you need (minimally)?

** spoiler omitted **

Spoiler:
No, forewarnng is not sufficient.

Do you want me to send a more detailed reply over the messenger?


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Yakman wrote:
taks wrote:
UnArcaneElection wrote:

Haven't seen this myself (except in filtered form in Giantslayer PbPs that I have looked at), but I have heard on these messageboards that ** spoiler omitted **

One encounter in book 1 is a TPK as is, and the final stretch of the book is arguably unplayable as is. There's one bit in book 2 that could cause some parties trouble, but it quickly becomes a cakewalk after that.

Book 1 is otherwise fantastic, just mechanically impossible without GM intervention. I agree overall, too, Yakman.

if you actually play the orc ferocity rules on all those fights... i dunno if a second level non-optimal party can get through book 1. i never played it, but it's just fight fight fight fight fight... thoughts?

The first time I ran it I did not use orc ferocity. It was maybe my 10th session as a GM (other than "fight of the week" stuff), so I wasn't up to speed on running complicated combats. The second time, entangle. Ugh. I made different mistakes for this one, however.


Age of Worms has one battle that is designed to be impossible, but also not necessarily won. A few of the battles are rather tough, but on the whole it is not very deadly. The BBEG, despite its power, wouldn't have gotten to act unless the DM had tripled its hp, when we played.

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