I have been part of a group where the GM tried to play Reign of Winter as written and to this day it remains the only Adventure Path we did not finish because nobody was really having fun. We ended the game somewhere during book 5, but motivation started slipping away as early as book 3. Finding a fitting motivation for my character to keep following the rails felt incredibly hard compared to other APs.
So I'd say out of the 5 APs I know Reign of Winter is the hardest to GM.
I second the assessment that there is no reason the clasp wouldn't work. Especially as the immunity most definitely results from its swarm traits. Paizo usually doesn't just add immunities to a creature without giving it a source. Typically the source is either their type/subtype or a special ability, which is written down at the end of the monsters statistics block. The Bionanite Swarm has no additional ability that grants immunity of any form.
Also keep in mind only swarms of Fine or smaller creatures receive the full immunity to weapon damage, while Tiny creatures receive half damage. Avoiding confusion is probably the main reason Paizo writes down the exact kind of immunity or damage reduction a specific swarm receives. This holds true for all swarms I checked, not just the Bionanites.
I can't yet comment on book 6, but regarding your other points:
It probably doesn't hurt to declare that one of the magical protections of the Spindlelock Facility prevents it from being found unless directed to it. Both Eliza and the players get that information from the Constructs, so they are covered.
As for other explanations:
ii) I intent to use the idea from the previous books thread to make Auberon basically a couch potato. In my version his plane allows him to see misfortune that happened all over the world and he has so much fun watching others suffer that he doesn't really care adding to it. This has the added benefit that his plane can be used as another opportunity to give the group some details about the Earthfall they may have missed before (like some HD pictures of Amazmen dying after absorbing its magic, which Auberon finds hillarious). It is a bit goofy, but should be a good fit for my group.
iii) Durvin Gest found a lot of interesting stuff, give this guy a break. Revealing Wayfinders and Decumvirate Helmets probably kept him occupied. If anything it is a bit strange there weren't other experienced exploration teams following his footsteps.
iv) Helekhterie isn't interested in azlanti ruins unless they help her with the ritual, so even if she knew about the Spindlelock Facility she probably didn't care.
v) Captain Ancorato wouldn't really want to travel too far from the coast and isn't interested in archeological finds either.
About the PCs actions in book 1:
1) They are not the leaders of the colony and they can't simply tell everyone what to do. The settlers are mostly noncombatants and Ramona is afraid they will immediately try to get away from the island if they see something too gruesome. If this happens the whole expedition is basically over. This is why she needs the PCs to explore and secure the area first.
2) They also can't force the ship to sail around the island, because the captain is only paid to bring the settlers to the island and his crew is already frightened after the ship stopped moving and stuff. He wont risk his life, his crew and his ship (and the money he would make by returning right away) for some people he doesn't know. This is why the world needs heroes like the players.
3) They aren't tasked to race from one end to the other, they are tasked to map out the area and find valuable ressources. I don't possess Ultimate Campaign, but if it claims all this can be done in 4 days on an overgrown remote island of that size, then Ultimate Campaign is the book you want to change.
I use random encounters, but only if they serve a purpose. I wouldn't send something random against them when I know the party will beat the encounter without really spending any ressources. I also won't use the same random encounter twice, unless there is a very good reason. This naturally limits the amount of encounters they will face.
We are playing the AP to experience a story after all and random encounters typically don't add to it in a meaningful way. You still want to use some of them to show the players the area is dangerous, but devoting most of your session to simply fight random stuff feels like a waste of time.
To make the six day limit appear less superficial, I explained to my players that the partially burned ship will be ready to sail within that period of time. Many settlers already declared they don't want to live in proximity to whatever attacked them, so they will seriously consider their opportunity to get away.
In short the colony is likely to take a major hit if the PCs don't succeed in time. To ensure the campaign doesn't end even if they fail they can replace lost settlers with those freed in the cathedral of course, but if they want the colony to flourish they better calm down the current ones before they have the chance to leave.
I fault our GM for running the books as written (or so I believe), even when it was obviously no fun for us. There was a glaring lack of allies who were invested into us succeeding and could give us hints or tell us what was even going on starting book 3. It felt like running into encounter after encounter and every bit of story we discovered made it only seem more erratic. "Ok, so she put another set of keys here we couldn't even reach if we hadn't found the first one. So instead of one possible point of failure there are now two. The plan of a true genius!"
But I feel like we are getting a bit too specific for a general thread. Lets just say the AP didn't work for our group for several reasons. It has some cool scenery but a weak story from my perspective.
I guess our problem was that Reign of Winter didn't tell us that we better make characters that are fine chosing the lesser evil. The Players Guide instead gave us archetypes and backstories to create characters that hate witches. Then made us serve a witch. Then made us fight said witches other (sometimes unwilling) servants, resulting in player character deaths. And when we decided we needed to look for help instead of dying left and right without having any real idea what was going on, the geas started to set in.
I won't deny our GM could have done a lot to salvage the mess, but the need to do so in the first place hints at a badly written AP, which is why I listed it here. It is simply not an AP I would ever recommend to a new GM.
Personally I'd advice against Reign of Winter. The story often doesn't make sense or doesn't get properly communicated. This leads to trouble keeping the players motivated and the the AP decided to solve this with the most blatant form of railroading: during the first book the entire party receives a geas that lasts for the entire AP.
When reading through the Kineticist class I realized they have the option to switch out wild talents at various levels. For example you can switch one of your infusions for another one of equal or lower level at 5, 11, and 17.
Does this include infusions you were forced to pick because of your archetype? On the one hand it seems a bit odd, as they could just added the blasts as options if you were not forced to pick them. On the other hand nothing in the rules seems to indicate they can't be switched. Have I overlooked something or does this really work?
Kineticist class description wrote:
At 5th, 11th, and 17th levels, a kineticist can replace one of her infusions with another infusion of the same effective spell level or lower. She can’t replace an infusion that she used to qualify for another of her wild talents.
Blood Kineticist wrote:
Bleeding Infusion (Su): At 5th level, a blood kineticist can infuse her blasts with a vicious power that causes internal or external bleeding. On a failed Fortitude save, the target takes 1 point of bleed damage for every die of the blast’s damage. A target that fails its saving throw against the wrack form infusion does not receive a saving throw to avoid the bleed damage from bleeding infusion on the same blast. This is a 2nd-level substance infusion that costs 2 points of burn and can be used with water and blood blasts. This ability replaces the 5th-level infusion.
In rounds and only counting nonstop action a recent swarm battle should be pretty high up. A level 1 player without any meaningful bonus to attack used a torch to fight a cockroach swarm. In a swarmsuit and with a healer nearby to fix any damage the swarms 1d6 would sneak past the 5/- reduction.
We made a couple rolls and then just agreed to extrapolate from there, so thankfully it didn't take that much real life time, but technically they were trying to kill each other for 30+ rounds, before the party was finally victorious.
The alternate interpretation is that one simply recalculates the maximum fleet size when a character with that boon is lost. As this very likely comes with losing a squadron, it would have little effect in actual play.
Still fun if you somehow get a significant character to switch sides or to abandon his former allies. The wording under this interpretation clarifies the entire squadron mutinies with him, despite technically commandeered by the fleets admiral.
I'd probably look at Lord of the Rings for inspiration. Sauron weakened his opposition by manipulating their leaders long before they realized he was back, which sounds like something Ochymua would also do. Like giving someone a powerful but corrupted artifact (Palantir) or using a disguised lackey to influence some places politics (Wormtongue).
He doesn't need to conquer anything after all, he just needs to make sure people are occupied while he gets to the doomsday device.
Underwater Combat wrote:
Attacks from Land: (...) A completely submerged creature has total cover against opponents on land unless those opponents have freedom of movement effects. Magical effects are unaffected except for those that require attack rolls (which are treated like any other effects) and fire effects.
So spearfishing is illegal.
If the Faceless Stalkers play their cards right it should be hard to notice them early. They would use the first replacements to get as much information about potential threats as possible, so they would likely know if one of the players was able to use Detect Evil and make sure to have countermeasures in place (like a potion of Misdirection when interaction with the PCs is neccessary and staying in the background elsewhile). Additionally they would mostly act while the PCs are away, so those don't have many opportunities to notice the changes. But most importantly by this point the PCs shouldn't really know what exactly happened to the first wave. Even with some foreshadowing the PCs should ideally be unable to figure the plot out before things are already set into motion because they act on incomplete information.
If the players reveal the Faceless Stalkers early regardless, their number would still be far lower than at the point they deliberately attack. Most likely they would just attempt to flee and come back for an attack later (triggering the actual encounters during book 3 as intended).
That is not saying the events can't be rewritten to potentially flow a bit better of course. I'm just offering suggestions how they might work well enough as written because I'm to lazy to change it. Or rather think the amount of work wouldn't be worth the payoff for me, which might be different for your group of course. My group missed enough hints that I think it is very unlikely that they really see things coming. On the other hand it might feel very rewarding if your players figured everything out and actually get to twart the Stalkers plans due to this.
Ochymua likely offered information in return. Most importantly he can read minds, giving the Faceless Stalkers very important information they probably wouldn't get otherwise. I don't have the book at hand to check this, but possibly the Aboleth also simply didn't know about the settlement. Giving the information there are suitable test subjects nearby alone might have been a favor.
And of course the fact that Ochymua could simply read the aboleths mind to get all the information needed. Offering collaboration was merely a courtesy.
One problem I see with your changes is that they remove the pretty cool scenario of the players slowly realizing they are reliving the demise of the first colony when things start becoming odd. I'm hesitant to remove that bit, because deception is supposed to be a major theme of the AP. Our group just started, so I can't tell yet if the structure will cause problems. My plan is basically to throw enough quests and missions at them that they are too busy to look for the main plot.
Of course I'd be interested if there are any GMs willing to share how the early books worked for their group (either with changes or without).
As for the travel part, Id assume initially the big bad helped them to reach the island (easy enough as a high level spellcaster) and now they have the boat from the first wave of colonists. They'd be smart enough to travel the sea by night (using their darkvision) and land at some hidden spot, so it should be really hard to foil their attempts in advance.
The APs are written well in advance, so at the time the author did his homework the Ioun Stone would have still worked as described in the book. That being said Azlant is known for its incredibly potent magic, so saying the stones simply were more powerful back then is very believable.
I'd use the most recent version.
There are no written rules to handle this that I'd know about, so it is likely a GM call.
Losing skill points is already bad enough, so I'd allow the player to pick. I would insist however, that he takes the exact skills again should he ever get rid of the cursed item to prevent a free reallocation.
Another way would be to remove the newest ones.
As the outpost won't be playing a major role (mechanically), I wouldn't bother to use a strict ruleset.
So instead of giving them a list of options to do each downtime, I'd just let them decide on their own what they want to do. If they spend time to improve the outpost make sure people appreciate it. If they just want to skip to the next part of the main story that's fine as well.
Doesn't seem too far-fetched actually. A spellcaster could use sending on the captain of the ship currently at the island to receive a list of items the players ordered.
You usually don't even wear a Ring of Sustenance if you are out for efficiency. That ring slot could have been something so much better. There are grade 1 spells that negate the need to sleep for the whole party.
I understand that the OP wants to get rid of those spells as well, but personally I already hate random encounters for being a waste of time more often than not. They don't become more fun if you take away the tools to make them a little bit more bearable.
I never liked CLW wands. If you want tension there has to be a chance of failure. If you can always heal up and mostly use classes that aren't very reliant on daily ressources you will quickly find yourself in a situation where tension can only be generated within a single fight, but not really over the course of several small skirmishes.
This can be problematic, because I believe skirmishes are overall a better option. A small group of goblins wouldn't challenge your fully healed party. But they might be able to down one or two adventurers if they find the group injured. Fortunately chances are good the rest of the party will eventually prevail and get their uncoincious mates into savety.
If their enemy was of higher CR balanced to threaten a fully healed party, then chances increase drastically it will defeat the whole party with some lucky rolls. High CR encounters always threaten a TPK, which is why they are usually reserved for important boss fights.
Basically what I'm saying is that CLW wands require the GM to raise the threat level and make every encounter a boss fight. I prefer a bruised retreat over death, so we usually agree to stay away from wands or use them very sparingly. The only exception would be Pathfinder Society, where they are pretty much expected and you play with people you don't know.
Mixed feelings. I think Pathfinder needs an update.
So why mixed feelings? From the blog it sounds like Paizo tries to fix problems I've never seen as such. Pathfinder allowing for small adjustments and a ton of feats is one of its most important niches. I like browsing through hundreds of feats and think about possible combinations and builds. I like putting just a few skill points here and there. My character might be decent at acrobatics because he tumbled around a lot as a child, but if the new system is anything like what I'm afraid it will be I'll probably have the choice between being untrained or being an olympic jumper at higher levels.
A lot of people have chosen Pathfinder because they like the math and the fairness that comes with it. My biggest fear is that Pathfinder 2 will turn out steamlined and arbitrary. Don't allow this to happen.
I'm aware as someone who actually disliked the fact Paizo mostly ditched the advancement by HD rules for monsters from 3.5 I may not be representing a majority, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone either.
I guess we simply have a different opinion about what should be possible in a high fantasy setting. In my mind it should allow for the story of the incredibly skilled arena fighter, who manages to end fights before his opponent even realizes what is happening.
The defending arena fighter doesn't stop or anything like that either. He probably starts closing in to take a swing, but his nimble opponent bolts forward before he has any chance to read his movements. Dodging an attack is almost impossible if you don't have a read, much less retaliating. Mechanically the attacked guy didn't move of course, but the action during a combat turn happens simultaneously from a narrative standpoint, so it is perfectly fine to describe him basically walking straight into the rogues attack, falsely believing to be the aggressor in this confrontation.
You can't think of being flat-footed as standing around drooling either of course. It is simply a state of not being fully immersed yet, so your reflexes aren't quite as fast as they could be.
In short I must admit I don't fully understand the problem with the concept of being just a little bit too slow to react to an attack in an appropriate way. Do you think it is bad in a narrative or a mechanical way?
Pathfinder is still high fantasy. While I don't think we quite need gunslingers faster then their own shadow, performing an unarmed sneak attack against your guard with incredible speed (and thus without provoking) sounds about right. As the guard is both aware of you and your potentially hostile intentions there wouldn't be a surprise round. The rogue needs to exploit his flat-footed condition.
If someone has trained to overcome this weakness he can simply pick the Combat Reflexes feat, allowing him to perform attacks of opportunity even while flat-footed.
One idea I had while playing this (as written) was that it could work well enough as an attack on Whitethrone as well. Our group was pretty attached to the events there and it felt like a wasted opportunity to just abandon the city.
Basically in the alternate version the players attack Elvannas palace (mostly using the siege from the attackers perspective). They don't find her, but some messages she exchanged with a mysterious ally (Rasputin), as well as a description of the keys required to get there.
Make it so that one of the keys is guarded by some northern tribe (replaces the attack on the commander after the siege) and one guarded by a powerful dragon (you guess it).
This creates a stronger connection to the main plot, while also giving your players some more agency. I feel like directly opposing Elvannas forces would have done a lot to motivate us.
Sure thing. One major problem was that the story didn't really create a strong incentive to rescue Baba Yaga, but a lot of obstacles. I believe that while our GM could have done better to provide motivation or context, it was at least as much a fault of the AP.
RoW did just that for us. A lot of threats you face are servants of Baba Yaga herself. When the campaign eventually fell apart every character was either a replacement or died at least once to the minions of the very being we were supposed to save. Now add the fact that we could at best hope she might help us, but there was no guarantee at all.
Enough so that we eventually just wanted to head back to Irrisen and search for hints of Baba Yagas current location (or maybe just try and face Elvannas) rather than keep running around like headless chicken when the third set of keys didn't really seem to get us any closer to our goal (and the huts defences killed yet another character).
Just then we realized that a powerful geas affected our characters and they literally couldn't do what they wanted without slowly dying. This basically put the final nail in the coffin. We were forced back on the rails, but a few sessions after this we called the whole thing off when nobody was really having fun any longer.
So how to prevent this? We desperately needed allies that could cheer us up and drop a hint every now and then. This worked really well during book 2, where we all were invested to help the resistance against the evil queen, but in the end this made book 3 feel even more jarring. Basically everyone but one women (didn't know anything and was escorted out) in the dungeon would hinder our progress and most likely try to kill us. We got one fey to surrender and talk to us, but she had very limited knowledge as well. An old hag approached us during our first rest and might have been willing to talk, but she had attacked us the day before, so we were cautious. When one of our characters drew a weapon she literally disappeared (the next time we saw her she tried to kill us again). Later two characters died in an insanity pit, as they had no idea what it was until it was too late (I assume the hag could have told us?). Overall there was no real conclusion, just a bunch of confused players moving on with the keys.
It didn't really get better after that. On the ice planet the guys in their castle assumed we were there to invade them and attacked us when we wouldn't give them all our magic items. We already agreed to give them our weapons and they really only had to wait a few minutes until the lady that kind of recruited us would arrive (we tried to teleport), but for some reason they didn't. I assume this was at least in part poor communication by our GM, but I can't be sure of course. In either case it prevented us from really bonding with those guys and we mostly went along helping them because we assumed this was the intended behavior in the AP.
Book 5 had the grim reaper dude in the begining and a fey in the camps lake that would tell us at least a little bit, but again not too much useful information and both were not really interested in our success and felt more like neutral observers. The main antagonist himself was nice enough to tell us most of his plans, so when he offered us to ally up we were actually willing to do so, if only he freed us from the geas. Unfortunately he was apparantly just messing with us and attacked instead. During all of book 3,4 and the part of book 5 we played, we met less memorable and helpful NPCs then in either book 1 or 2.
RoW offers cool scenes and crazy settings, so you can totally have a great time with memorable sessions, but to me the overarching story felt pretty weak from book 3 onwards. It is a good read from what I've heard, but it does assume very specific behavior from the players and is no fun if they don't want to follow the heavy handed rails. It requires a good GM to prevent the players from feeling like they have no agency of their own. Don't expect it to run as smoothly as CoCT likely will is all I'm really trying to say.
Our game fell apart during book 5, but if you are interested I can share some impressions I got as a player up to that point. It is not a journal, but maybe it can still help.
Skulls & Shackles
Then again I have only finished 2 APs so far and Rise of the Runelords (the other one) was a pretty good as well.
Personally I hand out one "get out of jail" card for every character that has a written backstory, which grants one free resurrection (or rather miraculous instance of survival). So far this has been enough to ensure there are no permanent deaths until the party could effort raise dead with some effort.
I also trust my players not to game the system too hard, so I wouldn't penalize a new character. If I wanted to, I guess WBL would be the most sensible option.
What I am doing is following it up with the Ruins of Azlant AP. One of my players showed interested in the ancient ruins on the island of empty eyes and basically made their base there a centre of knowledge over time.
This gives me plenty of opportunities to reference the old campaign (the grindylow queen escaped for example and the new characters will find her there), while also being remote enough that the previous PCs are not directly involved.
I haven't read through the later books of the AP, but I'd be surprised if the shackles weren't threated by the developments and if there is no cool situation to have a pirate armada supporting the heroes it is easy enough to add.
I've only skimmed the first book, so I can't really comment on the exact details, but to me it sounds the APs theme simply isn't something that resonates with you. Which is fine. I stayed away from other APs for that very reason.
But that being said: if your players read the Players Guide, their characters should already be motivated. That guide tells them they are supposed to be the guys that help a colony thrive, so any potential threat or trading partner near to the new colony is automatically connected to the story. Discussing plans with the NPCs should be something that comes naturally as well, so it is always possible to guide them in the right direction.
Personally I actually like the exploration aspect and look forward to learn more about cultures that haven't already been heavily featured in the past.
I don't think there is any disadvantage supernatural abilities have compared to spell-like ones that would ever come up, so I'm not really sure what you are getting at.
As far as the caster level goes I'd stick with class level for the spell-like abilities, regardless of when you picked them. The focus powers are all pretty similar to spells and effectively granted by a supernatural ability.
I strongly believe this is how it is intended to work, because in Pathfinder the order of your choices is not supposed to matter when you check a characters validity.
I was the GM of a S&S game we just finished. One of my players was a pretty arrogant and overconfident charmer in stylish clothes with a sword cane and a foppy hat. He instantly recognized how similar he and Conchobar were and of course they hated each other.
Another player fell in love with Sandara, but had to watch her die close to the end of book 1 before he could even confess his love. Eventually he managed to get the clerics from besmaras throne on his side so they could help him to resurrect her, but that wasn't before the end of book 4.
The Eel simply uses the time when the PCs are greeting the pirate captains at the docks to start luring in the rats. As written the food tinkering took place before it even reached the island, so your PCs never get the chance to see him doing that either way. He is careful to a degree that borders paranoia, so its also very plausible that he would wait for the PCs to leave before doing anything in the weeks prior to the feast. He should still have plenty of time to explore everything.
We had a Cavalier in our Skull & Shackles group that used the Daring Champion archetype, which adds some Swashbuckler deeds in place of a mount. With Precise Strike and Challenge you add 2x your level to attacks (and that is before you use any active deeds) and become very deadly whenever you manage to full-attack your foes.
So if you want to explore the Orders that might be a nice option. If you want to play an armored knight not so much, as you'd rather use light armor and dexterity to damage stuff with that archetype.
Personally I'd go with the interpretation that only stuff listed under class features is affected and thats what the examples given suggest.
While class skills do count as a class feature for the purpose of archetype stacking there is no indicator this is the case for anything else. Otherwise you could argue that every skill that is based on intelligence is mentioned to do so under the "class skills class feature" and thus gets changed to charisma. At that point it gets silly.
The chelish armada conquers most of the shackles as described in the book. Once they have taken port peril they will spend some days executing pirates and declaring themself the new rulers. Eventually they will obviously start attacking the other isles, including that of the PCs. Their fleet size isn't really impacted by the previous battles, as they replaced their losses using defeated ships.
In essence the PCs have limited time to gather the remaining pirates (shouldn't be complicated, those who don't flee are basically looking for some leader to gather behind so this part can be mostly glossed over) and form a new fleet in a last ditch effort to stop the chelish threat. As there is no hope to beat the chelish armada in a fair fight after the devastating defeat at port peril, the PCs are supposed to attack Druvalias flagship directly while their allies keep the fleet occupied as long as they can. You can play the fights as written (some devils try to stop them from reaching Druvalias ship etc), simply ignoring the fleet battle itself.
If they manage to beat Druvalia, the chelish fleet retreats to reform itself, giving the players some time to get rid of Druvalias uncle as well (forgot his name). Druvalia will readily offer advice in case she survives (as she knows her uncle has to die before her if she doesn't want to lose her soul) and the players should know about the secret entrance from Harrigans notes. They could either use the remaining fleet as a distraction again or sneak in at night.
Replace the hurricane king with Druvalias uncle and some of the piratey enemies with more fitting chelish stuff/devils and you can run the fortress part without too many changes as well. Just describe how this place obviously got raided and is currently redesigned to be a chelish outpost. The final boss is Druvalias uncle, who is planning to use the hurricane crowns power to reclaim the sargavian colonies after executing every pirate he can get a hold on.
If the PCs manage to stop him they would obviously be the ones to fill the power gap (with most of the other pirate lords being dead).
In case you feel particularly burnt out you could skip the fleet part completely of course. Just make sure the PCs know where to go (lucrehold). In this case they arrive while Druvalia is still there.
I think the biggest problem with the feat is that it eliminates a weakness that doesn't feel unfair to begin with. In a balanced game some builds can be stronger or weaker against specific opponents and if archers struggled against elementals for example (DR x/-) that doesn't sound unreasonable to me. Its not like you only meet such enemies.
On the other hand stuff like Fickle Winds or sundering the archers weapon are effective tactics, but easily take the fun out of the game as they flat out deny the archer to use his favorite style at all. So in essence its too binary between standing there full-attacking enemies and doing barely anything at all. Damage reduction would be the gradual balance tool that slightly changes a characters usefulnes in one direction or the other and might allow the STR based bararian to shine, while not completely negating others (unless it is really high of course).
The attack in the bilges will be pretty deadly if the attackers have PC levels. Its dangerous enough as is.
Personally I didn't even use all the NPCs during the mutiny, because that would just slow down the fight to a crawl. Some of the more colorful NPCs participated (Sandara and Owlbear for the PCs, Conchobar for Plugg), but the rest was just described as fighting and keeping each other occupied (team sizes were relatively even).
I believe the GM is used to the 3.5 edition rules where hydras had a special clause that allowed it to gain additional attacks of opportunity equal to the number of its heads. A hydra could also attack with all its heads as a regular attack action. It was never quite clear how those abilities were supposed to interact with each other.
Fortunately the pathfinder version is far less ambiguous as there is nothing allowing the hydra to attack with more than one head unless its uses a full-attack. It got pounce as a compensation, but that doesn't affect attacks of opportunity.