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What are a spiked gauntlet and a morningstar giving you here, exactly? A thief rogue, by 5th level, is sporting a similar setup (and even has the option for Dexterity-based Trips using a finesse trip weapon), except that they do not actually need Strength for it.

The brawling critical specialization is okay, though the club critical specialization is on the more situational side for a rogue.

The longspear gets a ruffian rogue d8s for damage and reach, which is fairly useful for raw damage and more positions from which a flank can be established.

I do not know. The sword critical specialization seems like the second most valuable for a rogue, since unconditional flat-footedness until the start of the rogue's next turn helps, especially for something like Opportune Backstab.

The best critical specializations a rogue would want are the flail and hammer critical specializations for knocking people prone, good for flat-footedness and denying mobility, but unfortunately, there are no simple flails and hammers at the moment.

As far as I can tell, the longspear is the best niche that the ruffian has over a thief.

It is page 25 that says, "But Harriet had the last laugh on us—we found that lion a pride that would accept her and left her out on the plains to live with her people, only to find six months later that the lion had come back to the jungle! Shows what we know! I’m not sure how Harriet eats without any spots to hide her hide in the forest, but she’s certainly fat enough for a lion, so who am I to argue?"

Nketiah does not know how Harriet successfully operates as a "leopard" in the jungle, or why Harriet left the pride to begin with.

Is there something special about Harriet?

Yes, so the ruffian rogue receives a front-loaded benefit: critical specializations right at 1st, rather than at 5th. From 1st to 4th level, a ruffian is enjoying a meaningful benefit that, say, a thief does not have.

At 5th level, the relative advantage disappears, and one is left wondering why they chose a ruffian build over a thief build. At that point, from a mechanical perspective, all the ruffian has to their name is longspear sneak attack builds. Maybe that is fine if the plan was to wield a longspear to start with, but for any other ruffian weapon setup, the benefits over a thief rogue are slim at best.

There is very little support for ranged weapon rogues as far as class feats are concerned (Felling Shot at 12th, for the most part). This is mostly because of how hard it is to land ranged sneak attacks, short of someone else constantly knocking enemies prone or using bottled lightning.

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One of the PCs in my party is a gnome with Animal Elocutionist. Thus, they can speak to Harriet.

What is Harriet's secret? Why is she a lion who thinks herself to be a leopard? Clearly, she can operate and hunt in the jungle as though she was a leopard herself.

Is it purely left to the GM to decide what Harriet's secret is?

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I have another report for my game. We played for ~4 hours today, and I handed out an extra 4 Hero Points beyond the baseline. In future weeks, we will be playing twice per week for only ~4 hours each session, and I will likewise give out only 4 Hero Points beyond the baseline each time.

We started off with another real-time hour of banter and conversations with the very anime version of the avatar of Dahak inside the Huntergate waystation. I figured that the party was deserving of a narrative reward. For one, they did knock out every single non-construct, non-ooze, non-undead enemy in Hellknight Hill that could be knocked out (aside from an accidentally lethally-critted giant bat), even the Cinderclaws. For two, they did take the time, this session and the last, to genuinely befriend the avatar of Dahak, enough that the avatar favored them over the Cinderclaws. For three, the bard did land a critical success on a Make an Impression on the avatar; even though the disposition change was temporary, I thought it should be acknowledged.

The narrative reward I came up with was that the avatar granted each PC the ability to conjure a very special symbol of Dahak. This symbol operated similarly to a Word of Truth: it would inform an enemy worshiper of Dahak that the symbol-bearer was favored by Dahak, and that the symbol-bearer was challenging the enemy worshiper to a trial by nonlethal (yet still very violent and destructive) battle. If the symbol-bearer won, the enemy worshiper would have to submit to the symbol-bearer; acknowledgment of authority would be instantaneous, though there would be a grace period of a few weeks wherein the worshiper does have to actually do anything for the symbol-bearer.

In narrative terms, this accomplishes a few purposes. Firstly, it gives an incentive to knock out the Cinderclaws in the hexcrawl around the Mwangi Expanse. Secondly, it prevents the party from having to drag along a cage of prisoners. Thirdly, it reconciles how the party has befriended the avatar of Dahak yet is still fighting the Cinderclaws; the PCs are simply proving their authority over the Cinderclaws. Fourthly, it leads to an angle of the eventual redemption of the Cinderclaws (who are antagonists only up to book #2 anyway), and perhaps much later, the avatar of Dahak herself.

That contrivance aside, the PCs, mostly through the bard, assured the avatar that the party would eventually release the avatar. (It is just that, presumably, this would happen only post-redemption.) Additionally, they rationalized towards the avatar that the PCs would merely be "tricking" the Ekujae elves on the Mwangi side of the portal. To prevent any misunderstandings between the avatar and other people, they also instructed the avatar to conceal herself within Huntergate for the time being, and to hide from anyone else passing through the waystation; being quite friendly with the PCs, and patient from many millennia of imprisonment, the avatar was happy to comply.

The PCs stepped into the Mwangi Expanse proper. Now, this chapter of the adventure, I like a fair bit. I think that Cult of Cinders is leaps and bounds above Hellknight Hill in terms of writing quality, and this first chapter is the best of Cult of Cinders, showcasing a wide variety of noncombat and social challenges. My only issues with this chapter are that, one, there were too few suggestions for critical successes on some of the skill checks in this skill-heavy chapter, and two, it was tough for me to integrate the long and varied lists of major NPCs' "likes" and "dislikes"; it did not help that the prepackaged dialogue suggestions seldom integrated the "likes" and "dislike" themselves.

I did a little shuffling of events and NPC appearances here, not because I disliked the pacing of this chapter, but because I personally thought that a different order would be more suitable for my GMing style. I do not regret my decision. For example, I had Akosa present right at the start in the temple of Ketephys, because I figured that it would be a more natural introduction to the unfriendly Akosa, contrasting with the more amicable Jahsi, whom Akosa was deeply attached to anyway.

The bard critically succeeded on the opening DC 15 Diplomacy check, so I figured that this would manifest as more hospitality from the elves overall, and the bard's songs being imitated around Akrivel. Conversation with Jahsi went smoothly enough, but the players did not seem too interested in Jahsi. It was easy to push Jahsi from friendly to unhelpful right out of the gate. The party critically succeeded on the Religion check for the pillar, regularly succeeded on the Identify Magic check, and critically succeeded on the Crafting check to identify the poison on the gold bar, because Ageless Patience is a hell of a drug. Thus, the party was able to piece together and share with Jahsi many pertinent pieces of information. This was one of "Jahsi" likes, so Jahsi immediately offered the Spellguard Shield, a decent item for its level.

The paladin champion put forth various topics concerning gold, and how it would be profitable for the Ekujae to take over the Cinderclaws' gold mine and export it. I had Jahsi give the spiels about the Ekujae and gold, including what was supposed to be Nketiah's explanation later. Jahsi denied any proposal to have the Ekujae mine gold, though I told the players and their PCs that the Ekujae could be convinced with some evidence that the arsenic was not actually brought down by Dahak. The champion raised a good point; the book never contemplates the possibility of claiming and cleaning the Cinderclaws' gold mine.

The party took to Akosa with greater interest. Maybe I simply portrayed Akosa more vividly. Breaking through the "me no speak Common" act was as easy as opening up in Elven. I let the PCs make the Perception checks for Akosa, in this early appearance, in exchange for denying the Perception checks the following day. One of the strangest things about Akosa is the strong implication that the huntmaster is actually vegetarian, preferring to "to hunt for fruits, nuts, and vegetables," which seems rather odd for a huntmaster, and the book never explains this. I had to improvise and play up this seeming incongruity.

It was midnight by this point, so the party was off to Akrivel. The elves were in a hospitable mood, and so carried the sleeping party in stretchers/litters/palanquins. I showed the lioness in the branches, but had her be sleeping at the time, so the PCs did not see a reason to approach her. Jahsi and Nketiah's DC 15 Acrobatics or Athletics parkour chase was easy enough that all of the party landed it with Hero Points, and the champion and the fighter critically succeeded; no critical success suggestion was given, so I simply had the observing elves be especially amazed by the athletic display. For pacing purposes specifically for my game, I ran the entirety of Nketiah's spiel on the Cinderclaw situation and the blindness, and Q&A with Nketiah. The party seems only cursorily interested in Nketiah; I do not know if that will change.

So far, Jahsi is helpful, and Nketiah and Akosa are still indifferent and unfriendly. The party's Perceptiion checks have ascertained some likes and dislikes (going in the order listed in the book and crossing them off the list), but there have been few opportunities to exploit such likes thus far. The ranger plans on showing off ranged weapon prowess during the hunt for Akosa's sake, at least.

All this time, the party has simply avoided mentioning their conversation with the avatar of Dahak inside Huntergate. It remains to be seen whether or not the PCs will disclose the full extent of the avatar of Dahak situation, or if they will keep it to themselves. It is going to be interesting.

It seems strange to me that a ruffian rogue gets a special benefit that applies only from 1st to 4th (critical specializations), but said benefit no longer exists compared to other rogues from 5th onwards.

As it stands, given that finesse trip weapons work for Dexterity-based trips, the only real combat niche a ruffian rogue has is sneak attacking with a longspear.

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It is true that I run combat in this game in a very wargame-y fashion. That is how I like running my game, and I do not think that is going to change.

I do not think that champions "get a number of very powerful abilities that are balanced by various non-numerical restrictions." Even completely disregarding their tenets, champions are merely on the same level as barbarians, monks, and rangers: martial classes who are good at straight-up combat, but still ultimately lag slightly behind the sheer accuracy and free Attack of Opportunity of the fighter. Barbarians, champions, monks, and rangers are all equally strong, in my opinion, simply with different strengths and weaknesses; a champion is a good tanky defender who can heal both in and out of combat, but they are not so spectacular in terms of offense or mobility, all fields that barbarians, monks, and rangers can shine in in separate ways. Again, this is all completely disregarding the tenets.

So no, I do not believe for a second the idea that champions have stronger abilities than other classes, balanced out by their tenets. As far as I am concerned, the tenets are essentially just flavor.

But let us go over this. For reference, the champion in question is a paladin of Irori.

1. At no point do the actual tenets ever stipulate that a champion has to use their favored weapon. The flavor description of Deific Weapon is just that, flavor. There is nothing obligating a champion to use their favored weapon. I do not think Irori is seriously asking his paladins to use unarmed attacks, particularly when it would not even benefit from the damage die increase.

2. Calmont was set towards a good cause and served capably in that role. Calmont is now willingly turning themselves in (Alak Stagram, Pib, Zarf, and Renali are assisting with this task). Thus, the town council's request to arrest Calmont has been fulfilled, and Calmont has already performed some community service along the way. It remains to be seen whether or not the town council will allow Voz's dream of an assassin and necromancer school, but they could certainly be convinced that there are merits to allowing such a place to be built, and I can see even a paladin making a case that such a school's presence would at least regulate such people. Voz is, after all, explicitly a follower of the Reaper of Reputation aspect of Norgorber, the one aspect that allows neutral worshipers.

3. In my games, genuine friendship goes a long way towards turning people to a good cause. Doing such a thing for the aspect of Dahak may take the entire adventure path (including an inevitable fight with a rampaging manifestation of Dahak), but who is to say it is not worth the effort? I am running a game on the more idealistic, power-of-friendship side here.

I do not see why the redemption angle needs to be redeemer-exclusive, much like how honor does not need to be paladin-exclusive.

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As it turns out, I did, in fact, make a transparency error. I thoroughly studied page 521, the page that covers disabling a hazard, for rules concerning how PCs know how to disable hazards.

It is page 520, which covers the rules for detecting hazards, that contains a passage on identifying a magical property's disabling methods: "Determining a magical hazard’s properties thoroughly enough to disable it requires either the use of more powerful magic or a successful skill check, likely using Identify Magic or Recall Knowledge. Magical hazards with a minimum proficiency rank cannot be found with detect magic at all."

This is just awful, awful organization. The page that covers information on disabling hazards lacks this information important for disabling hazards; it is actually in the page for detecting hazards. Come on. Also, this does not cover non-magical hazards at all.

In my game, given that this hazard rolled low initiative and everyone rolled high initiative, it ultimately may not have mattered too much, though.

To clarify the point on the hazard, I do not feel bad about being transparent with it, because what kind of PCs' first instinct upon seeing such a thing is going to be, "Get on one's knees and start praying for salvation from some other god"? The hazard-disabling solutions are really quite obtuse in this game.

And to clarify the point on juggling friendships, I like to implement some intrigue and complicated relationships in my games. Befriending the main villain and reconciling that with fighting against the forces of said villain is a storyline I am reasonably experienced with running.

Another report. We had a ~5.5 hour session today, and it was our slowest-paced session yet, because it was a chiefly "roleplaying filler" session. I handed out no Hero Points beyond the baseline. The party is currently 5th level and in Cult of Cinders by this point. The party is a maestro bard, a flickmace paladin champion, a guisarme fighter, and a crossbow Precision ranger. The bard is a gnome who, thanks to having taken Ancestral Paragon for Burrow Elocutionist at 3rd, now has Animal Elocutionist at 5th, which may come in handy for the upcoming challenges in the wilderness hexcrawl. The other three PCs are all half-elves, thus letting them select Ageless Patience.

For those who are unaware, Ageless Patience is a 5th-level elf ancestry feat, and it is probably the single best ancestry feat in the game for skill usage. Outside of combat encounters, there is very little downside to taking twice as long for various actions and activities, be it Recall Knowledge or Make an Impression. Being able to gain a +2 bonus to such checks, on demand, and insulating oneself from critical failures is incredible. This is fantastic for anyone serious about using skills. The one big downside, aside from the time cost, is that it does not stack with Aid.

To clarify the point on Ageless Patience's insulation against natural 1s, consider that if a character has a 55% chance of landing a success or a critical success, then they need to roll a 10+ for a success or a critical success. A natural 1 would be a critical failure only due to the natural 1 rule. Ageless Patience is granting a +2 circumstance bonus to the check, so odds are usually better than a 55% chance of landing a success or a critical success, assuming that the character is actually trained or better in the skill. Consequently, three-fourths of my PCs now have some top-notch skill checks.

The group spent the first two real-time hours bantering with Alak Stagram, Calmont Trenault, Pib, Zarf, and Renali over various matters concerning Alseta's Ring and the deed to Citadel Altaerein. Since these NPCs would be leaving the party, I thought it appropriate to give them a warm farewell. It was decided that knowledge of Alseta's Ring should be disclosed to the Breachill residents while loosely kept an open secret from others, at least until the party and the citadel grew stronger. The party did, after all, complete all of Hellknight Hill in a single adventuring day, so they were quite aware of their inexplicable leap in power, expecting more.

Alak Stagram would report the citadel's ownership (but not the portals) to the Order of the Nail, Calmont Trenault would turn themselves in while potentially becoming a teacher for Voz Lirayne's school for assassins and necromancer, Pib and Zarf would do some research on the ancient gold wyrm's scale that and the collapsed lair entrance that they had identified due to a critical success (Zarf obliquely suggested that Lamond Breachton was the ancient gold wyrm in question, but it was oblique enough that nobody really commented on it), and Renali would spend some time in Breachill performing the job hunt of her backstory.

From there, it was onto a freshly-repaired Huntergate. Now, I should reiterate that I run my game in an extremely moé anime style. Everyone is some sort of cute anime girl, essentially everyone is sympathetic to some degree, and virtually all NPCs are trustworthy in that they are very honest and open with their intentions. NPCs perform zero attempts at deceptive motives (except if a premade adventure deliberately says that they do), and everyone is worth saving. It is a Saturday morning cartoon, and the PCs have successfully knocked out every single non-construct, non-ooze, non-undead enemy in Hellknight Hill, with the exception of an accidentally-lethally-critted giant bat.

I saw no reason whatsoever to exempt the avatar of Dahak from this tone, thereby creating my biggest narrative divergence from the original adventure thus far. I telegraphed this well in advance: Malarunk and Renali both attested to the presence of an avatar of Dahak inside the Huntergate waystation, and Renali reiterated her warning after Huntergate was repaired.

This is where the original adventure simply has the avatar of Dahak manifest a "vision of Dahak," an 8th-level hazard that blasts around the characters with fire damage until the PCs succeed on some skill checks. But I did something different.

I introduced the imprisoned avatar of Dahak as an actual NPC, visually represented by the Fae of Fire Emblem Heroes. The PCs took a reasonably friendly approach with the avatar of Dahak, and so I, in turn, took a friendly approach as the avatar. They spent the rest of the session bantering with the avatar of Dahak and essentially befriending her. One gimmick I implemented during this conversation was having the avatar of Dahak go all happy and excited whenever her name was spoken; this is for maximum contrast with the Ekujae elves later, who deliberately avoid using the term "Dahak."

The fighter happened to critically succeed on a couple of Recall Knowledge checks I called for over the course of the conversation. Due to Wisdom 18, expert Religion, and Ageless Patience, they knew a fair bit. This was how the fighter knew, for example, everything there was to know about "The Pyre of Dahak" (the god's sacred text, with a rather lurid history of dragons tearing their eyes out and declaring themselves atheists), and the divine side of the Age of Darkness and Earthfall.

Over the course of the conversation, they spanned a wide number of topics, ranging from the silly and the superficial, to more serious subjects on the history of Dahak. I played up Dahak's familial clash with, Apsu; and how Dahak really liked to destroy things, especially worlds. I also played up that Dahak had some cognitive dissonance in that Dahak helped stop Rovagug from destroying the multiverse, even when Dahak supposedly relished in destruction. I tried to make the avatar more approachable by demonstrating limits to her power in her imprisoned state.

I relayed the story of the avatar of Dahak's infiltration into Golarion; Dahak has been to many worlds and planes, and thus explicitly used a computer security analogy to explain the backdoor of Huntergate, which the players understood even when their PCs did not. The avatar explained her subsequent defeat and imprisonment at the hands of the Ekujae elves, talked about how lonely it has been for thousands of years (especially due to being cut off from the "real" Dahak running free in the multiverse), compared herself to the similarly imprisoned Rovagug, and genuinely thanked the PCs for being the first people in millennia to sit down for a genuine conversation with her. The Cinderclaws who passed by earlier just tried to rudely awaken her, which caused the recent malfunction with Huntergate.

The avatar of Dahak, therefore, likes the PCs more than she favors the Cinderclaws. I did eventually ask the bard for a DC 20 Make an Impression check; she critically succeeded, thanks to her one Hero Point. Ultimately, the PCs came out with a positive rapport with the avatar of Dahak. The paladin did note that the avatar has technically done nothing wrong for the past thousands of years. The bard declared her love for the avatar of Dahak. I still ran the "vision of Dahak" hazard, but couched it as the befriended avatar "playing" with the PCs and cutting loose with her power after so many millennia.

I asked the players whether they would prefer full transparency, or more opacity. The votes leaned more towards transparency, so I saw no harm in telling them the gimmick of the hazard, including the DC 26 Religion (expert) check. The fighter had higher initiative than the hazard, and so, on her first turn, the fighter landed the check with a Hero Point's help. They opted to invoke Alseta, explained as the equivalent of calling up tech support for the security flaw in Alseta's Ring. I narrated this as stopping the flame breath mid-blast.

We will continue next session with a little more banter with the avatar of Dahak, and then we will move on to the Ekujae elves. The avatar of Dahak has heavily stressed how much she hates the Ekujae elves and how she trusts the PCs to never, ever befriend said elves in turn. I have already informed the players that the entirety of 5th level is about befriending the Ekujae elves, so they are aware that they will have to juggle friendships between the avatar of Dahak and the obviously anti-Dahak Ekujae elves. It is going to be interesting.

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Steve Geddes wrote:
PCs generally have lots of cool abilities to do things, knowing them doesn't really help the monsters (in a similar way, the PCs knowing how much damage the big, hulking brute is going to do isn't as useful to them as knowing it has a terrible will save in terms of ending the encounter).

Conversely, the monsters and NPCs do, in fact, know AC and saving throw values across the PCs, and can take actions accordingly.

Steve Geddes wrote:
Monsters are often designed with weaknesses/vulnerabilities and the PCs derive more benefit from knowing those (PCs, in contrast, have weaknesses that are more "not focussed on this area as much as other areas" so knowing them often isn't the game changer it is if you learn a monster's weakness).

I do not hand out resistances, immunities, and weaknesses for free. Those take Recall Knowledge.

T'Challa wrote:
Taking randomness away favors the PCs. This means when you strip away basic boundaries about fighting capability (like AC and HP targets), you are making things easier for your players. Each side may make equally tactical decisions, but only one team has true consequences to their actions.

I am not so sure this logic holds up. Why, exactly, does it favor the players given that the enemy side is also cherry-picking and targeting low defenses?

If this favored the players, then the players would have been able to eke out even a single victorious chapter/scenario during the playtest. But no, due to the same brutal tactics and focused fire being used, the players TPKed roughly two dozen times.

Again, my tactics have not changed between the playtest then, and the full release today. What did change was the math, and as we can clearly see, that can spell the difference between multiple repeated TPKs and much fairer fights.

T'Challa wrote:
This also minimizes or negates any benefit to scouting in the classical sense of observing your prey. The same applies to divination rituals and effects.

I am not so sure that scouting is ever going to reveal finicky, exact statistics like ACs and saving throw modifiers.

T'Challa wrote:
There are still consequences to the choices, even if you don't see all of them.

You do not have to so patronizing here.

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Your monsters should act logically and attack weak enemies with tactics and stuff.

I do not see why the same courtesy should not be extended towards the players. I would prioritize transparency and earnesty over some semblance of "mystique."

I get to focus my fire, cherry-pick defenses and work around PC special abilities.

The PCs get to focus their fire and cherry-pick defenses, except that they do not get to work around special abilities that much (Attack of Opportunity transparency aside), because they need to use Recall Knowledge for information on special abilities and the like, consuming actions each time.

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There is nothing here that gives the players an advantage over the GM. The GM has more information than the players, for example: monsters and NPCs know all special abilities of the players, whereas players have to manually use Recall Knowledge to learn monster and NPC special abilities, bit by bit, using their own actions.

Monster tactics have changed in no way whatsoever from my playtest runs. They still focus their fire and use very cheap tactics, cherry-picking defenses.

I cannot see how you would say that the players have the bigger advantage here. These are still the same tactics being used during the playtest TPK runs.

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Okay. I was using the exact same transparency policies back during the playtest adventures, as my players can confirm. And you are likely aware of the roughly two dozen TPKs during those playtest adventures. I was using brutal tactics and focused fire.

Today, in the full release, I am using the same transparency policies, and I am still using brutal tactics and focused fire. Notably, there have been no TPKs, though fights have come close sometimes.

I am still having monsters and NPCs play in a very metagame-y and focused fire fashion, and the players still have only as much information as they did in the playtest adventures wherein they were constantly TPKing.

Revised math is, once again, a hell of a drug.

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Could you please explain your reasoning here? I unashamedly metagame my monsters and NPCs. They know everything the PCs are capable of in a fight and can focus their fire and adapt their tactics accordingly.

The PCs can do something similar with their knowledge of defensive values, but they do not have instant knowledge of actions and special abilities short of Recall Knowledge.

This is the exact same policy I was using in the playtest adventures, and my players can confirm as much. It did not exactly lead to any victorious playtest chapters or scenarios.

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Ruzza wrote:
I think it's more, "Yes, of course the module is going to be easy if you run encounters that way," and less, "You are having fun the wrong way."

Is it really going to be easier if the transparency cuts both ways, and the GM is just as free to cherry-pick defenses and try to play around, for example, Attacks of Opportunity? I have NPC/monster spellcasters gun for low defenses whenever possible, for example, and AC values heavily inform my focused fire tactics.

The transparency certainly did not help the players during the playtest run, and my brutal tactics certainly have not changed between then and now.

Ruzza wrote:
Also it is a little odd that I remember Colette's Playtest posts, but the first I've heard of this level of transparency. You can definitely play your own way, but with the Playtest, I assumed that you were encouraged to run the rules uniformly before giving feedback.

The playtest rules never once gave any guidelines for transparency. There was never anything like, "You should reveal to players only X and Y statistics to start with." I was fairly clear on a transparency policy when running the playtest.

In this thread in particular, I believe I made the transparency quite clear from the very first post.

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RicoTheBold wrote:
All that is fair, but the part I have a hard time reconciling is that presumably all this was true when Colette ran the playtest and repeatedly slaughtered the party in every adventure.

There are a couple of caveats here.

For one, yes, I did, in fact, use the exact same policies back when I was running the playtest adventures. Three out of four of my players are the exact same players I had throughout the run of the playtest adventures; they can confirm that they have had the same transparency privileges back in the playtest.

For two, the transparency cuts both ways. If anything, the NPC and monster side has even more knowledge of what the PCs can do than the NPC and monster side. This means that, for example, I am aware of the ACs and saving throws of all PCs, and I can cherry-pick my targets appropriately. I can have ranged-weapon-users target the lowest-AC and lowest-HP member of the party (this is why I went for the bard in the Guardian's Way encounter, for example), I can have spellcasters use their save-forcing spells against whoever has the lowest saving throw of a given category, and I can have enemies keep Attack of Opportunity capacities in mind and take Steps accordingly.

Is this realistic or immersive? Obviously not. But it makes for a more mechanically-focused, wargamey-tactics-inclined experience, where most of everyone's metaphorical cards are on the table. That is how I like my games.

How is the Legendary Negotiaton skill feat actually supposed to work? It is a three-action, 15th-level skill feat that does the following: "You can negotiate incredibly quickly in adverse situations. You attempt to Make an Impression and then Request your opponent cease their current activity and engage in negotiations. You take a –5 penalty to your Diplomacy check. The GM sets the DC of the Request based on the circumstances—it’s generally at least a very hard DC of the creature’s level. Some creatures might simply refuse, and even those who agree to parley might ultimately find your arguments lacking and return to violence."

However, Make an Impression can bring a hostile creature up to indifferent at most, and that is on a critical success. You can make a Request only on friendly or helpful creatures. How does this feat actually work?

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A new report. We played for a shorter, four-hour session, during which I handed out 4 extra Hero Points on top of the baseline. The party has completed Hellknight Hill and reached 5th level, all in a single in-game adventuring day. They have spent zero consumables, and they have knocked out every enemy in Hellknight Hill that could be knocked out, with the exception of a giant bat that was accidentally killed. This has been a ~99% pacifist run of Hellknight Hill.

For reference, I write these recaps under the assumption that whoever is reading them has already read and familiarized themselves with essentially the entirety of the adventure. I do not feel like summarizing plot points and scenes for people unfamiliar with the adventure.

With regards to transparency, I try to be as transparent as possible. For example, as far as combat statistics are concerned, everyone can see monster Perception, special senses, AC, Fortitude, Reflex, Will, Speeds, hit points, Attack of Opportunity capacities, and active spells simply by hovering the token; other monster abilities, I keep behind Recall Knowledge, for the sole reason that I am trying to actually respect the existence of knowledge skills and give an incentive to invest in them.

In other situations, if the adventure allows for skill checks to help resolve a scenario, I flatly and openly tell the PCs what skills are open to them and what the DCs are. I generally let players know all DCs, so that they are absolutely certain what they are getting into, and they can decline to make a given skill check if they are worried about critical failures. All rolls are out in the open; the core rulebook allows GMs to declare that secret rolls are instead made out in the open, and I do that for every check. This is simply my GMing style: heavy transparency, no fudging from either side, and players are entitled to a peek behind the curtain to see how the mechanics of a given challenge tick, even if it is something as simple as a skill check's DC. This has been my GMing style for years.

I really hate critical failures on Recall Knowledge, too. I see nothing good that can come from them, with regards to my GMing style. They are anathema to my style that emphasizes transparency and earnesty. Whenever a critical failure for Recall Knowledge happens, which is quite frequently, due to some of the rather high DCs in this adventure, I just hand out some completely ridiculous and bogus factoid, and the players play along with having their PCs believe such a thing. They are very diligent about this.

I do essentially automate exploration mode, because I really, really hate its execution. I do not like dungeon crawls at all, and Hellknight Hill has not made me like them any more. I assume that the PCs take their sweet time in each room (because really, there is zero time pressure and nothing in the way of consequences for going slowly), I tell them to make any relevant Recall Knowledges, and I assume that they spam Seek enough to discover whatever can be found with Perception, because there are no critical failures on Seek actions.

To recap, the party is a maestro bard, a flickmace paladin champion (multiclassed into fighter for Opportunist at 4th), a guisarme fighter with Brutish Shove and Powerful Shove, and a crossbow Precision ranger. Joining them are Alak Stagram (effectively a 2nd-level NPC fighter), Calmont Trenault (effectively a 3rd-level NPC rogue), and Pib and Zarf (effectively 2nd-level NPC sorcerers). Nothing in a paladin champion's code prevents bringing along an evil associate. You might think that this has made encounters terribly easy, but no, I have been ramping up and combining encounters considerably.

For example, during 1st level, I combined the warg and the graveshells, and the giant bat and the skeletons. Back at 2nd level, when only Alak and Calmont were tagging along, I had the warg mother as an elite winter wolf. The next encounter was the two emperor birds, then the elite soulbound doll and the gelatinous cube both arriving at the start of the second round. When Pib and Zarf joined up, the next encounter was three boggard warriors and two boggard scouts; then, five charau-ka all arriving at the start of the second round. When the party reached 3rd level, the Guardian's Way encounter was the five Bloody Blades mercenaries plus Dmiri up on the tower (which screwed over the party due to the horrifically bad Climb rules); then Voz, the tixitog, a spider swarm, and two skeletal champions all arriving at the start of the second round.

4th level, then. The party found Voz Lirayne reasonably adorable in a dorky sort of way due to her ambitions for an edgy school, so she has been spared and left out in Guardian's Way.

Onwards to the Goblinblood Caves. For this final encounter of Hellknight Hill, I threw together the six hunting spiders, Ralldar the greater barghest (already buffed with Blink), Malarunk the charau-ka cleric, the two boggard scouts, and the two charau-ka as a single massive encounter, in one wave all together. I should mention by this point that I pre-type almost everything, and the players play along with pre-battle banter. Thus, I had Malarunk and Ralldar go back and forth, explaining the situation with the failed Cinderclaw invasion, the malfunctioning Huntergate portal, the dead goblin worshipers, and so on and so forth. I was very thorough in laying out plot points, as usual.

The setting of the fight was the spider nest: "The floor of this chamber is covered in sheets of tangled spiderwebs, creating a sticky mess that turns the floor of this cavern and the tunnels leading out of it into difficult terrain. The webs that cover all of the walls here are similar to those in the corners of area C7. As a result, any creature who ends their turn adjacent to a wall must succeed at a DC 18 Reflex saving throw or spend an action on their next turn pulling themselves from the sticky webbing." One thing I really hate about Paizo maps is that, for anything other than a geometric-angled building (and sometimes not even then), the map is unclear on where the "walls" are and where creatures can actually stand. I have to manually draw out the walls each time and lay out markers for which squares can actually be occupied.

Now, the entire cavern was difficult terrain, which meant that nobody could Step. The party had a grand total of three reach-weapon-users with Attack of Opportunity: the flickmace paladin champion with Attack of Opportunity, the guisarme fighter, and Alak Stagram the 2nd-level NPC fighter, who was given a +1 halberd. Since nobody can Step into difficult terrain by default, this meant that Attack of Opportunity proved extremely effective in locking down enemy options and screwing over enemies.

The maestro bard opened the fight with the usual Inspire Courage + Lingering Composition, then caught four spiders and the two charau-ka mooks in a Calm Emotions. This may have devastated the enemy side, but the four spiders luckily managed successful Will saves, one charau-ka critically succeeded, and it was only one other charau-ka who critically failed. Pib and Zarf, effectively 2nd-level NPC sorcerers, spread out their Magic Missile castings to make the most of Inspire Courage, and the martials of the party were able to knock out the mooks (the spiders, the boggards, and the charau-ka) quite effectively. The mooks did accomplished nothing of note throughout the whole fight; their raw statistics were low, and their d20 rolls were unlucky.

Malarunk was quite nasty. Malarunk managed to catch the entire PC side (i.e. 8 characters) in a Fireball all with no friendly fire. Later, when it was just Malarunk, the greater barghest, and a single mook left, Malarunk fired off a 3rd-level, three-action Harm with d10s for dice, catching the entire PC side as well. Given that there were so many GMPCs, Malarunk was blasting the living daylights out of the party. The bard critically failed Fortitude against the Harm, due to being out of Hero Points, thus knocking out the bard. This was unfortunate, because the bard spent their last turn on an Illusory Creature with the intent to sustain it and have it deal damage, meaning that the spell could no longer be sustained.

Fortunately, due to good positioning from the guisarme fighter and Alak the 2nd-level GMPC fighter that had entrapped Malarunk, both of Malarunk's castings each provoked two Attacks of Opportunity. Malarunk was ultimately knocked out before the cleric's turn in the third round, and the champion was able to bring back the bard with a Lay on Hands.

The greater barghest was a terrifying juggernaut. I had Ralldar start off with Blink, since it was, after all, at-will, and the enemies were ready for the party. This meant resist 5 all, except for force damage, which 2nd-level NPC sorcerers Pib and Zarf were able to put forth using Magic Missile. The greater barghest's Confusion would have been nasty had it landed, but fortunately, a success shrugged it off. The greater barghest's 4th-level Enlarge was fair game for casting on the greater barghest themselves, which made Ralldar clumsy 1, but also gave Ralldar +4 damage and 15-foot reach, absolutely horrifying given that a greater barghest has Attack of Opportunity. Speaking of which, Ralldar's castings of Confusion and Enlarge both provoked an Attack of Opportunity from the paladin champion multiclassing fighter due to good positioning, although Blink did reduce the damage both times.

Even when the greater barghest was the last enemy standing, things were very dicey. Ralldar could deal tremendous damage and had Attack of Opportunity with 15-foot reach. Calmont risked a Attack of Opportunity to Stride twice and enable a flank from the melee combatants, though, and that let the party more accurately beat down on the fiend. The resist 5 from Blink was proving greatly annoying. The party lucked out on this one: the bard cast Command during the fourth round, and the greater barghest critically failed. This allowed the party to finally gang up on Ralldar and knock out the greater barghest by the middle of the fifth round, though the guisarme fighter themselves got knocked out due to suffering from Ralldar's fangs' persistent poison damage.

It was a very brutal fight against a large number of enemies, and the entire PC side ended the combat with heavy damage. Fortunately, it was nothing that Medicine checks and a champion's Lay on Hands could not solve.

The entire enemy side was knocked out. The party found Ralldar's tragic backstory of dead worshipers to be sympathetic, so they conversed with the fiend, or at least, my specific portrayal of a greater barghest. After some talks, they befriended Ralldar to a reasonable degree. They even provided the greater barghest with not one, but two spider-heads mounted on humanoid skeletons, simply by heading back to the caves where Voz's skeletal champions fought giant spiders and rigging together something from the remains. Maybe I am too much of a softie, but I let even Abyssal fiends like greater barghests potentially be redeemed. The PCs picked up the goods from Ralldar's treasure room, including the many bones of past victims.

Remember when I mentioned hating secret checks and critical Recall Knowledge failures? I hate them when the adventure stipulates high DCs specifically, because it means that PCs are ofttimes more likely to critically fail than regularly fail, which means being inundated with faulty and misleading knowledge. Nobody dared make the DC 30 Arcana check on the golden scale. I had Pib step up with Dragon Lore +10, and Pib critically succeeded. Of course, all that really revealed, as per the adventure, was that the scale belonged to an ancient gold wyrm. That was rather disappointing; critical success on a very high DC should surely grant more actionable information than that, right? The plan is to excavate the collapsed tunnel leading to what can only be the ancient gold wyrm's lair; the books give no guidance whatsoever on how to let this happen, so I will have to improvise something on my own.

The party picked up Renali without incident. Knowing my players and my aesthetic, Renali did not even bother with any disguise. They happily accepted the spider-girl into the merry band. It is worth noting that this adventure has many arachnids and arachnid-related creatures in it: the two spider swarms in the kitchen, the spider swarm and the tixitog in Guardian's Way, the six hunting spiders in Guardian's Way, and now, Renali.

The pit of fungi was easy to deal with. Electric Arc spam, and done.

Lotusgate Waystation was yet another case of very high Recall Knowledge DCs. The players tried their luck this time, so I came up with my usual bits and pieces of nonsense "lore," which the players played along with. The GMPCs had better fortune. Renali critically succeeded on the DC 30 Identify Magic check, revealing that the breath of an immensely powerful dragon beyond most mortals' power had ruined the chamber. Calmont critically succeeded on the DC 20 Society check, unveiling that the carvings were of a pre-Earthfall elven civilization. Maybe it is just me, but these critical successes were on the disappointing side, particularly the Identify Magic check; it is all non-actionable information, the ancient elven nature of the ruins is plainly obvious, and the cause of the destruction becomes dead-obvious later on anyway, when the PCs learn of the Ekujae elves' ancient conflict with an avatar of Dahak.

Thus did the party reach Alseta's Ring. This is where plenty of the NPC incompetence came to a head. In previous weeks, I have lamented just how stupid the NPCs in Hellknight Hill, but the Alseta's Ring takes the cake.

Let us be clear here. The goblinoids of the Goblinblood Caves, including some more intelligent hobgoblins, were unable to stumble across Alseta's Ring. Human soldiers later discovered Alseta's Ring, but doorwardens drove the troops away, and nothing ever came of these soldiers' discovery of a portal network. Later on, Ralldar the greater barghest was somehow entirely unable to discover Alseta's Ring as well. Then, the entire Hellknight Order of the Nail found Alseta's Ring, and even built a small shack inside it, but they wholly failed to realize its significance as an international portal network; do Hellknights not have signifers for exactly such a thing?

How is it that so many people either were unable to find Alseta's Ring despite their proximity to it, or did find it, but totally fail to realize its significance? The Identify Magic DC for the elf gate network is DC 22. It is not that high. The entire multiverse has bent over backwards so as to make all previous explorers and inhabitants of the Goblinblood Caves and Citadel Altaerein totally incapable of finding and/or realizing the significance of the portal hub. It is bad writing.

Then, the Order of the Nail simply... abandoned Citadel Altaerein. They could have gifted it to Breachill, who could have made use of the castle's resources. But no, they just left Citadel Altaerein to be looted by outlaws (the same outlaws the Nail swore to put down!), inhabited by savage monsters, and defiled overall. Why? Because "the lictor at the time had no interest in retaining a presence in Isger, but he had a mercurial and whimsical streak in him that compelled him to leave the deed behind, so that anyone brave and resourceful enough to find their way to this deepest part of the fortress would be rewarded." Really? A lictor of the disciplined and lawful Hellknights trusting in a mercurial and whimsical streak, thus letting Citadel Altaerein rot in the grasp of savagery, rather than gifting it to the local town?

It is also rather implausible that, in the original version of the adventure, the Cinderclaws were unable to get out of Alseta's Ring and link up with Ralldar the greater barghest. Do the charau-kas not have climb speeds? What makes them incapable of just climbing their way out of the same hole that the PCs used to get in? There is no explanation for this.

Well, whatever the case, Hellknight Hill is complete. The party has reached 5th level, and I have informed the PCs that the entirety of 5th-level content includes no creature combat. The GMPCs, Renali included, are leaving the party to head back to Breachill and report the party's findings. The PCs are heading straight into Huntergate and the Mwangi Expanse from here. They are just about to meet my shamelessly anime take on an avatar of Dahak inside the Huntergate waystation; this is one of the few ways in which I am diverging from the premade narrative, because I believe that the avatar of Dahak needs some characterization and presence in the storyline as an actual NPC.

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The deed separates "local, national, and Hellknight law." What would be the case under Isgeri law, then?

Breachill seems oddly sequestered from Isger at large, for that matter.

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The deed to Citadel Altaerein "grants legal rights and ownership of the citadel to the deed’s possessor, by local, national, and Hellknight law."

Does the deed to Citadel Altaerein grant actual titles of nobility in Isger? If so, then I take it that the nobility would have to be split up, in a way, between the PCs. Is it considered hereditary nobility?

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How many days does it take to excavate the collapsed section of the Goblinblood Caves that leads to the hidden lair of Mengkare? Presumably, some players might be interested in clearing out the collapse.

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I mean that the standard operating procedure has been agreed upon to have one person use Scout when about to enter a new room.

Are there any plans for Dahak's other notable minions, listed in Inner Sea Faiths, to make appearances in this adventure path?

I am talking about Aashaq the Annihilator (CE female great wyrm red dragon cleric of Dahak 7), Emissary Rixmar (unique contract devil), Kronoroth (herald of Dahak, unique ancient white dragon), and the Roiling Mass (unique Medium magma elemental).

How could these be integrated into the adventure path? What would their respective creature levels be?

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Okay. If Subsist says, "Unlike most downtime activities, you can Subsist after 8 hours or less of exploration, but if you do, you take a –5 penalty," then this means that "most other" downtime activities require you to devote essentially the entire day to it, right after waking up and all the way until you go to sleep, with no travel or other exploration mode activities in the same day. That is on the stricter side, but maybe it is for the best.

How much time actually goes into the "working" part of a downtime day? Suppose the party travels for 8 hours; can they spend the remaining 8 hours on a one-day-long downtime activity?

I can find nothing in the downtime rules clarifying how much time is actually spent working during a downtime day.

The rules for rituals say 8 hours per day, but that is specifically under the context of using rituals in exploration mode.

Suppose a downtime "day" is actually just 8 hours of work. What is stopping a character with the spare time from just working for 16 hours, thus squeezing in two downtime "days"? Or, alternatively, what is stopping a character from dedicating a downtime "day" of 8 hours of work, and then spending a couple of hours adventuring somewhere?

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One point of frustration I have been having with Age of Ashes as a GM thus far is that many encounters mix in boggards with non-boggards, in both books #1 and #2, which means that the boggards will be friendly-fire frightening their non-boggard allies.

Is the elananx monster in the bestiary supposed to have Stealth +14? Its Pounce does not work too well with no Stealth training.

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Purely as an aside for Age of Ashes, I like how a key plot point of the adventure path is names that end in "-gate," like "Huntergate," "Lotusgate," and "Vengegate," which makes it sound like the PCs are dealing with all kinds of juicy political scandals.

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The dance-off mechanics in Cult of Cinders are rather weird. The competitors are trying to touch anklets affixed to their opponent, which is resolved as unarmed attacks against AC at a penalty, with some Acrobatics or Performance checks. This means that, say, a fighter multiclassing into champion (perhaps to pick up Ranged Retribution and Champion's Reaction on a flickmace build) can enter the dance-off enjoying the high AC of their full plate, making their anklet harder to touch for some reason, and can likewise use Strength to touch the anklet on their opponent. Maybe this would have been better handled with Thievery checks against Reflex DC, rather than with unarmed attacks against AC.

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Page 27 says, "they will not come across any encounters in the hexes they pass through unless the encounter specifically indicates in its description that it cannot be missed," but I can find no references in the text to encounters that cannot be missed.

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The exception does not seem particularly well-explained; it inexplicably doubles the PCs' rate of travel throughout hexes with no justification given. Also, there is still the confusing bit about encounters that cannot be missed; I can find no references to such encounters in the adventure.

Also, how can the indigo pillar mind control four gripplis, if the indigo pillar explicitly notes that it can mind control only three creatures at a time?

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Vlorax wrote:
Each hex is 10 miles, are you under the impression that the Temple and the Fortress of Sorrows both have a 10mile radius and occupy the entire hex?

That is not how hex maps work. If the hex scale is 10 miles per hex, and two hexes are adjacent to one another, then something in one hex is generally understood to be 10 miles away from something in the adjacent hex.

The only way this would work is if the temple of Ketephys was at the very northwestern edge of its hex, while the Fortress of Sorrow was at the very southeastern edge of its hex.

I am still not getting the travel times, the river mechanics, or the encounters that "cannot be missed," either.

Also, on another topic entirely, disabling a dragon pillar takes "Athletics DC 26 (expert) to push the pillar over, or Thievery DC 26 (expert) on the pillar to erase the magic runes that power it, or dispel magic (4th level; counteract DC 22) to dispel the pillar’s magic." Do the Athletics and Thievery checks take two free hands? One free hand? This is very important in determining just how difficult the dragon pillar encounter fights. The Shove action, for reference, takes one free hand, but this dragon pillar might require two hands, or even none at all.

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A2, the temple of Ketephys, is 5 hexes away from A13, the Fortress of Sorrows. Therefore, it is 50 miles away, within the blindness radius.

What is this picture, if not A2 being 5 hexes away from A13?

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The Ekujae elves are first encountered in the temple of Ketephys, which, as per this hex map, is within 50 miles of the Cinderclaw fortress. As per page 27 of Cult of Cinders, "Any Ekujae (including a half-elf of Ekujae descent) who comes within 50 miles of the Fortress of Sorrow (area A13) is immediately blinded. When a blinded Ekujae leaves the area, their vision returns after 24 hours, but this effectively renders the elves unable to directly oppose the Cinderclaws." So how are the Ekujae elves not blind in the temple of Ketephys?

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There are some things I would like to handle in a by-the-book fashion. The wilderness exploration hexcrawl is one of them; I would like to keep accurate track of the passage of days during this hexcrawl, and precisely how long it takes for them to move, particularly when the adventure stipulates that there are four separate patrols each trying to track down the PCs.

The adventure stipulates one thing, and refers the GM to the core rulebook for more detail. However, the adventure's listed travel speeds contradict what the core rulebook would actually allow. Given that, again, the book is referring the GM to the core rulebook's exploration mode rules, I do not know what the adventure book's actual intent for travel speed is.

Also, speaking of the patrols, I am worried about the part where this adventure contains a sequence involving four repeated iterations of the exact same fight.

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I am trying to keep track of days in the adventure, and I am trying to handle the hexcrawl in a by-the-book fashion; that is what I consider most entertaining for those at the table.

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Cult of Cinders' hexcrawl segment is really confusing me. First there is the discrepancy between the adventure's stipulated travel times and the core rulebook's stipulated travel times, and the adventure specifically directs the GM to the travel speeds in the core rulebook while simultaneously contradicting them. (Halved speed due to difficult terrain and 10-mile hexes means that there is no way to cross two hexes in a day with Speed 25, even with no exploration activities.)

Taking the river is also fuzzy, because it says that the PCs can move east and west more quickly, when the river also has a north-south branch, and there is no provision given for how the the second and separate river on the southern side of map works. The river also says, "Traveling on a raft allows the PCs to move at their normal travel speed (twice as quickly as they can through the jungle itself)," which means that characters are now moving through four 20-mile hexes per day (80 miles) if they do nothing but travel.

I just do not get how this is supposed to work. I was initially excited for Cult of Cinders, because it was looking to be a major step up from Hellknight Hill, but then my usual hesitation over the nitty-gritty of wilderness exploration hexcrawls and the inconsistent rules usually associated with them started to creep up.

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I am just curious as to what was actually intended from the adventure book, because this looks like a discrepancy between two sources to me. There are some parts of the adventure I would like to run reasonably by-the-book, and this is one of them; this is what I believe will be most entertaining for those at the table.


Taking a raft upriver or downriver allows the PCs to move east and west more quickly

Does the river help in no way when traveling north or south? The river does have a north-south branch.

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Pages 26-27 say how many hexes the players can move through, but they also direct the player to the core rulebook's rules on exploration mode, which stipulate that even traveling at full speed and with no exploration activities, difficult terrain means that a Speed 25 party gets to move only 10 miles per day.

The two books are in disagreement. Which is correct?

As for the hunt, if the PCs want to compete, they are sabotaging themselves, because they take the worse roll.

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But it is impossible for them to move 2 hexes in a day. There is difficult terrain halving their speed. Thus, a speed 25 party would normally be able to travel 20 miles per day, but halved speed from difficult terrain cuts that down to only 10 miles per day, which means only one hex per day.

If they Investigate or Search, they further go down to 5 miles per day, which means exploring only half a hex per day.

I still cannot see how this is genuinely supposed to work.


The hunt itself takes 3 hours to complete, so any PC involved in the hunt won’t be able to participate in any other events that PCs take part in back in Akrivel. If more than one PC joins the hunt, a PC decides whether to roll or help another PC with their roll. If multiple PCs roll, use the worst roll to determine the result of the activity. Any PC who chooses to help instead rolls against the same DC, using the Aid action.

Why would the players ever have multiple PCs roll if it will simply sabotage the party's efforts? Also, what events in Akrivel are mutually exclusive with the three-hour hunt?

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Generally, what I have been doing is combining encounters together, which more or less reduces dungeons to small sequences of set piece battles. I generally prefer it that way, but even then, it is still a bit stilted, because the adventure clearly was not designed for such a thing.

Age of Ashes, for me, runs head-first into one of the issues I take with Golarion as a setting. Narratively, I greatly prefer it when gods are not that much stronger than the most powerful of mortals, archfiends, and similar entities. I am a fan of the power scaling in the setting of, for example, 4e: gods really are not much stronger than the most powerful of mortals, archfiends, and similar entities. Top-level heroes in 4e can engage full-on gods, though the heroes do need to quest for relics and anathemas if they want to kill off the deity for good, rather than just discorporate the god for a lengthy time. This gives a nice capstone for campaigns, and it explains why gods might think twice about direct intervention: they are far from truly immortal.

Golarion's gods are different. They are explicitly entities far beyond the power scale of even the strongest mortals, and the only reason they do not directly intervene more often is because other gods would step in. That is a decent design direction, but it gets sketchy when an adventure path's narrative calls for deicide, imprisoned gods, and directly fighting gods. Age of Ashes clearly wants to run exactly those themes, with the Ekujae elves having defeated Dahak (book #2 even refers to them as "children of the godslayers"), Dahak being imprisoned in the Huntergate waystation, and Dahak being the final boss of book #6.

Thus, the adventure path has to pussyfoot around all of this with "Actually, the real Dahak is totally fine and still on the loose; the Ekujae defeated only an avatar, only an avatar is trapped in the waystation, and only an avatar is the adventure path's final boss," as confirmed by James Jacobs. It is quite stilted to me, and the real Dahak and Apsu being distant players in these affairs is even sketchier. I do not like contrivances like these made solely to preserve the untouchable power level of the divine.

Essentially, the narrative themes call for the defeat of a god in the past, the imprisonment of the god, the release of that god, and the subsequent defeat of that god in the present age. But since gods have to be of an untouchable power level in this setting, the adventure path has to skirt all around this by saying that it is not actually a god that people are dealing with, just an itty-bitty aspect, and the real god is still flying around the multiverse somewhere. The real Dahak is so strong that it does not matter to him what happens to this teensy-weensy aspect being fought. That is on the more contrived side to me.

If the narrative has the adventurers squaring off against that god and performing deicide, then make it against that god for real, rather than skirting around the issue with "after all is said and done, the real Dahak is fine, everyone."

The thing is, Paizo actually has done similar themes before, back during its Dungeon Magazine run. Both Age of Worms and Savage Tide end in the party fighting and killing multiverse-tier threats, namely, Kyuss and Demogorgon. How does the party manage it? By collecting artifacts and running sabotage on their awesome cosmic power, so that, for example, Demogorgon drops down from a daunting CR 33 to a much more manageable CR 23.

Paizo seems reluctant to do anything similar with cosmic-level entities in its Pathfinder adventure paths.

I will quote a contact of mine here: "To summarize my stance on it, I think it's fine to have gods be untouchable but do not write adventures about fighting against gods directly then. At least not if you do not have some interesting take on it and inventing contrived excuses like avatars that are just dangerous enough to threaten the world but not dangerous enough to draw divine attention is not interesting."

I think it would have been very cool to have Age of Ashes have the real Dahak imprisoned, with each adventure unlocking keys with which to reduce the genuine god's power and then finally eradicate him from the multiverse once and for all.

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I am very eager to learn of the rules for adventuring on other planes, namely, planar traits.

I am even more interested in learning about the rules for higher-powered games, like "gestalt" characters with two classes, or characters who effectively power themselves beyond 20th level.

I also second the inquiry about removing alignment from the game.

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That is not possible. If there is difficult terrain, then a speed 25 party is moving at 10 miles per day, as per the core rulebook. If a hex is 10 miles across, then it should not be possible to move at 2 hexes per day at all.

How is this actually supposed to work?

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I never adjust encounters to be on the easier side. I do not run dungeon crawl adventures for the most part; I never liked them, and I still do not like them. I am more of a "set piece battles exclusively" person, which is why I really struggle with a dungeon crawl adventure like Hellknight Hill.

There is another matter I would like to gather opinions on. Essentially, I am running a Saturday morning cartoon here. The heroes never try to deliberately kill anyone, and it is very rare for someone to die on screen. Everyone is friendly and endearing to some respect, everyone is cute, and almost nobody is worth killing rather than capturing. This would work out well if I was running, say, D&D 4e, my preferred game, where anything that drops an enemy to 0 damage can simply knock out that enemy, but I am not running 4e.

Unfortunately, Pathfinder 2e has limited options for knocking people out nonlethally. Most of the time, it requires a -2 penalty to the attack roll declared beforehand, which is a serious drop in hit chance and critical hit chance. It feels bad for the PCs to constantly be taking a -2 penalty to attack rolls, because they are worried about accidentally rolling a critical hit and killing someone. The bard has even fewer options for nonlethal takedowns.

All throughout 1st to 3rd level gameplay, the PCs have successfully knocked out every single enemy in Hellknight Hill that could be knocked out, every mook, every bad guy, every animal, except for a giant bat that was accidentally killed by a lethal crossbow Precision critical hit. For context, for the finale of book #1, since the party is willingly bringing along many GMPCs, I am supercharging the final battle by smashing together all of the encounters for 4th level. Afterwards, the GMPCs will leave, and it is back to mostly by-the-book encounters.

I see four solutions here. Which of these seems like the best solution?

A. The group carries onwards with their lethal damage weapons. If they want to take the high road and keep on capturing enemies, they will just have to suck up the -2 penalty to attack rolls. This will increase encounter difficulty, and perhaps that is a good thing if, during book #2 onwards, I will be running encounters mostly by-the-book.

B. I allow the champion and the fighter to instantly retrain into monks (ideally of differing builds, like one a Mountain Stance monk while the other a Tiger or Wolf Stance monk). The ranger is still sucking up a -2 attack penalty, though, and the bard still has meager nonlethal options.

C. "At the GM’s discretion, villains, powerful monsters, special NPCs, and enemies with special abilities that are likely to bring them back to the fight (like ferocity, regeneration, or healing magic) can use these rules as well." I interpret this to mean that all NPCs are special and worth saving. All NPCs and monsters use the PC dying rules, which means that they can be knocked out with lethal damage, and simply stabilized later. It may be a pain to keep track of their dying conditions, however.

D. I accept that my Saturday morning cartoon GMing style is fundamentally at odds with Pathfinder 2e, and implement a house rule. Whenever a PC drops an enemy to 0 hit points, the PC can choose to nonlethally subdue that enemy. Nonlethal damage no longer exists; anything that would have dealt nonlethal damage by default either deals 1 more damage per weapon die, or 1 more damage per spell level.

Another thing I could do is employ option A or B, but have there be actual, tangible benefits to knocking out all of these enemies. It is doing things the hard way and out of a sense of compassion and redemption, so there could be rewards for taking the high road.

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That would not explain moving through 2 hexes in one day with no exploration activity, then.

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The narrative, the plot points, and the NPCs are more or less the same. I cannot change those as easily, so I go with what is written in the book, however flimsy the plotline and however incompetent the NPCs may be.

Sometimes, I do make narrative alterations, and I usually note when I have applied such things.

I really do not like the combat encounters of this book. After the first session, I started to ramp up the combat difficulty considerably.

I give my overviews based on an assumption that the reader has already familiarized themselves with the adventure.

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I would also like to add that handling loot identification is a huge pain, unless someone has Quick Identification and/or Assurance in an Identify Magic skill. Identifying an item takes 10 minutes, and there are critical failures, so there is no way to simply automate it. The player has to manually roll to identify everything, in case a critical failure comes up, and even a regular failure delays identification for one day. It is really, really dull to roll dice dozens of times after a dungeon crawl just to automate the arduous process of item identification, and the critical failures are just awful.

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