Life is rough. One minute you're buying one of the APs, marveling over 15+ levels of well-developed campaign and debating with online gamers about the merits of slings in the current PF game, secretly wishing they weren't so restrictive to use in some builds.
Then suddenly the shelves thin out at the game store. Your online debates no longer have developers weighing in or FAQs being created from them. We all hemmed and hawed with the grey areas of PF1, some of us DID in fact call for a 2e, but when it finally came... when the edition we were playing was slated to end...
Life is rough.
Sure we can make our own content and I intend to keep doing just that. We can also shop 3PP stuff as well. But we no longer have the thrill of seeing something from Paizo drop online or hit the shelves and then, when we have a question about the monster stat block on page 7 being able to have the creators comment on it in realtime on these forums.
It leaves a gap. One of many I suspect that lots of us have in us. I can empathize with the melancholy. Once something is gone we can celebrate it, ritualize it or enshrine it in some way but we can't deny the fact that, officially, its gone.
PF1 is gone.
But we can take solace in each other. The online community for this system is still pretty strong and as long as there's players with cash 3PP folks will likely still put stuff out for us.
I know guys IRL who still play D&D 1e, Marvel Super Heroes and other older games. The 1e folks have gotten new modules at least, after a fashion, with Dungeon Crawl Classics.
So chin up folks. Its a bummer certainly that PF1 is over, but it will live on in the tables and forums where we choose to breathe life into it. We can soldier on. We can endure.
Life is rough. We can choose to carry on through this challenge though. I look forward to the worlds and wonders you will all create and hopefully I can add to them as well.
I still come back to the 2 tactical reasons mentioned above: for one its a Standard that draws AoOs if threatened and for another the fiend may go from full health to dead in one round if PCs are well built for damage.
Beyond these there are planar reasons a GM might consider in the fiend's thought process. Demons have to answer to their layer of the Abyss and the demon that rules it; Devils have a noble boss to deal with. Both planes have a mechanism of punishing lesser fiends by stripping them of their status and power and reducing them to the primal stuff of the plane. Perhaps that's what's happening to the fiend that has to wait 100 years to return.
Then again, there's the promise of power itself. Adventurers will go to great lengths and risk their very lives for treasure. What is the commodity of fiends? Mortal souls. What if a nice, squishy wizard stood just 40' from you and you had every confidence that before his three friends turn you to dog chow you could rend the wizard's soul from his body? You might spear head for the spell caster and ignore the hazard to claim your prize.
That way, when the massive damage dealt to your physical manifestation in the Prime sends you screaming back to your home plane you could actually claim a victory, another mortal soul slain or possibly even captured! Imagine your potential promotion opportunity!
So cursed items can be identified, albeit with a -10 penalty to the check, so I suppose you could detect THEM with Detect Magic. Spells cast to evoke curses would also be governed under the rules of using Detect Magic for spells being cast/lingering spell effects.
If being afflicted with a magical affliction curse such as Runecurse the curse itself becomes an affliction. You might be able to detect it like a disease, but I would say not with Detect Magic. However if someone offered you a cursed object that would pass the Runecurse TO you, that object could be detected with Detect Magic.
If you're looking at Craft or Profession skills to base a career on and have a Wizard, regardless of specialization, they have Mending and Prestidigitation which are the 2 most employable out-of-combat spells you can have.
You can clean, mend, and generally maintain any small, physical object in reality. As you gain levels you can use Mending on bigger objects. Think about that - you could make a fortune just running a simple salvage company, 10 minutes at a time.
Throw in Cantrips like Create Water, Mage Hand or Spark and suddenly you have little need for much other than a basic set of tools to run a workshop. Take the Familiar option, give yourself a Valet archetype Familiar and you've got an instant helper on all your projects.
Kaleb Kimberfrost, and his wolf animal companion, Magnus.
Kaleb is a NG M Halfling Hunter 3/Warpriest (Erastil) 5. While his father endured a minor tragedy escaping Irrisen, Kaleb was raised relatively happy.
He made friends with a powerful grey-white wolf as a pup and they became inseparable; he helped his father establish a hunter's lodge and dedicate a shrine to Erastil; Kaleb became a deputy and eventually sheriff of his tiny village before feeling a compulsion of wanderlust. Eventually however snow fell upon the northern border in midsummer and Kaleb took up the task of discovering the power of the White Witches.
Needless to say when I played the character and we got to some of the more grizzly, macabre stuff that the evil NPCs do in the Reign of Winter AP, I acted mortified. I went off on one of them and even had a period of ennui through 2 sessions as Kaleb grappled with the very real horror of the lands of Irrisen.
If you're really into playing your character and acting out a role, playing a happy backstory character can be just as grueling as one born of tragedy. Its just a different kind of arc.
I feel like Color Spray is the superior of the 2 for utility beyond level 1 and the ability to affect more creature types than Sleep. The one drawback of the spell however is the range/area of effect. With a fixed, 15' cone you better have a LOT of confidence your spell is going to work. Otherwise you're a potentially level 1 spellcaster, standing 15' from something that likely has a good chance of knocking you out in one shot.
This is why I don't discount Sleep as an option. Having 100' or more distance between you and your targets is a big bonus when you might only have 8 HP. And to the point that unaffected foes can wake up sleeping ones, that means that for that round, that enemy's Standard Action is taken up.
Both still have value in my opinion. Color Spray is the best deterrent between the 2 but imposes the most risk on the caster; Sleep affects fewer types of foes but provides plenty of buffer zone between caster and enemies.
Oh, and one last thing: Sleep takes a Full Round action to cast. However you're targeting foes 100' or more away. If you START casting when the bad guys are a ways off, chances are high that they won't even be able to get into Attack of Opportunity range by the time you finish. I'm not saying this tactic works EVERY time, but it may help some of the time.
A level 10 Arcanist should not have to worry about getting hit in combat, even if being surprised. A 10th level Arcanist should have so many tricks to avoid combat at this point that it would be laughable to target them. A 10th level Arcanist could easily have Quicken Spell, either from their own feats or a rod; if your friend doesn't have this advise that they pick this up.
A 10th level Arcanist, armed with Quicken Spell, could be dropping either a Quickened Vanish (50% miss chance as well as other penalties) or a Quickened Mirror Image (multiple illusory dupes to soak up hits) right off the bat STILL allows said 10th level Arcanist to lob a fireball into the midst of combat with a Standard action that same round.
But moreso than counseling you or the player of the gnome on how improve the Arcanist's defenses, I think the best course of action is to help that whole group of gamers be more effective in combat.
Yes, new players will be eager to charge the front lines. However GMs should be applying a bit of logic to their combats too. Even in the middle of an open field, unless the PCs are outnumbered or at least even matched in quantity of foes, said enemies wouldn't be able to completely surround the party.
This means that, if the PCs aren't completely surrounded, the foes may be using this reasoning: say, there's a bunch of enemies before me and 3 of 4 are well-armed, slavering maniacs trying to hack us to pieces, but there's that ONE guy riding around back there on a mechanical bug. He looks like a soft target so I'll just avoid all these OTHER opponents and bee-line for THAT guy!
TL/DR: talk to your buddy, his fellow players, and even the GM. See if they can tighten up their tactics and the GM his combats.
Don't forget your Familiar. Seriously.
IF you choose to take a Familiar AND said Familiar has a way to open/manipulate things i.e. having hands, gaining at will Open/Close and Prestidigitation, etc, giving your Familiar a carrying device isn't a bad way to go, Familiar Size permitting.
I had a Wizard that only made it to 3rd level but she had an Owl Familiar with the Valet Archetype. She also had Craft: Leather so with some of her money at level 1 she constructed a Bandolier for the bird as well as a "masterwork backpack" stylized as a satchel with accordion file inserts.
She also made a truckload of scrolls.
Routinely She stood at the back of the party using either utility or battlefield control spells from scrolls. Her Familiar would use a Full Round action plus his at will powers from the Archetype to draw out a new scroll to hand to her. I think it helped that she took Cypher Magic as her level 1 Feat.
Anyway, the goal eventually was to put Handy Haversacks on both the bird and the wizard. It doesn't have a slot so technically the owl could wear it; the device only ever weighs 5 lbs and even at Tiny the owl's Light Load is 10 lbs. Never underestimate the utility of your Familiar.
You don't need to run the big, set piece encounter to remind the players that splitting the party is a bad idea. But then, that's what it comes down to doesn't it; the horror of splitting the party.
For the GM, this scenario presents several problems. When PCs go off in different directions, the GM has to play to 2 or more separate groups. PCs might be out of contact with each other during these events. How does the GM handle this? There might be notes that can't be read aloud until the party meets up again, or players removed to different rooms/areas so they don't know what's going on with the others, etc. This all means extra work for the GM.
There's also the OP's original concern. While there are MANY powerful builds out there, a PC is generally as powerful as, say, a CR monster of their level or maybe slightly below. So a level 3 Fighter is probably as powerful as, say, a CR 4 magical beast. This means that 1 against the other is a 50/50 battle depending on the luck of the dice as much as on build strength.
This means that 2 PCs, off on their own and found by the APL +4 final bad guy may very well be obliterated. Contrary to popular belief this isn't just about inconveniencing the players whose characters get killed. If a PC dies this event may have the effect of temporarily derailing the momentum of a scene, a whole adventure or may even disrupt the entire campaign.
Again, a negative for the GM.
From the Players' perspective though splitting the party can be a fun thrill! The PCs have a chance to showcase their superior powers and abilities, flex their might a little and steal a bit of spotlight they might not get if they're lumped in with the other party members in a fight.
What's more they can cover more ground, gather more clues, collect more loot in a shorter amount of time and so on. There are many potential upsides to the players for splitting the party. They don't necessarily see the extra work and possible strain this strategy might have on the GM, and even the most compassionate player may understand the GM's concern but may still go along with the plan because there's ONE GM and there's likely more than one player.
How we as GMs deal with this scenario owes a lot to who we are as people. There's those who just roll with it, being able to ad-lib threats and hazards that are at once challenging but also manageable for the individual PCs to chew through while delaying the set piece encounter. There are even some GMs who anticipate these scenarios, making such threats up ahead of time and having a physical gaming environment conducive to isolating players such as tables with note-delivery systems built in or a basement with several comfortable rooms in which players can be easily separated.
There's another school of thought though, one more punitive in nature. Splitting the party is a valid weakening of the party's combat efficacy so if the players so choose and we've done our job telegraphing/foreshadowing that the set piece is coming up, the players suffer whatever consequences come their way. This basically boils down to negative reinforcement; going the wrong way in the maze brings an electric shock so if the players receive enough of these they may curb their wandering behavior.
There is a third option though: make a new maze.
Yes, this is more work on the GM than any suggested above but hear me out. The PCs inhabit a strange world of gods, monsters, magic and legend. Who's to say that they, as the center of said world, don't have some kind of influence on it or, more to the point, that the world doesn't react to their decisions? If a PC decides to take an extended va-kay with Bill the NPC aboard their pleasure cruiser, who's to say that the assassins stowing away didn't anticipate this and have a contingency plan in place: kidnap the PC.
In Pathfinder, one way a PC dies is if they are reduced below 0 HP, fail to stabilize, and then lose a number of negative HP equal to their Con score. If the assassins have a potion of Stabilize plus manacles, rope, or some other more advanced restraint device they have a pretty good chance of ensuring the one PC has been captured. Said assassins now also have a very convincing argument to ensure that the rest of the party is in place to receive their final come-uppance for being nosy do-gooders; a place of the assassins' choosing.
Will the players anticipate the trap? Likely. Will they try a desperate, crazy rescue to get their comrade back? Almost a foregone conclusion. Will it be fun to watch play out? If you've planned for it, yes.
Goth Guru wrote:
What is "madness and mythos?" That sounds like fun!
Double A Battery: that's all VERY good advice, both from you and the Angry One. There's one more reason to eschew variety for interesting tactics through limited design: birds of a feather.
Consider: a red dragon living in a semi-dormant volcano isn't going to have lots of non-fire surviving creatures like trolls as his minions. It's likely that the dungeon surrounding his lair contains fire elementals, red drakes, and so on.
If the PCs have done their research and know where they're going, as well as who owns the place, they will likely stock up on fire resistance and cold damage attacks. Their prep will be validated once they arrive, making the players feel savvy and accomplished.
If however you decide "wouldn't it be great to throw them a curve ball?" and suddenly drop in, say, a random ice giant, it would not only be way out of character for the setting but also be weirdly specific about all of the party's resources it negates.
So I guess what I'm adding is: monsters who are of the same type, do the same stuff, have complimentary powers/resistances, tend to work well around one another. They don't all have to be carbon copies of one another but if, say, Fear effects are going to be a constant threat the only things surviving in the vicinity should have some kind of defense against fear.
One comment I'd like to make RE: the demon helper's post and the quoted material, if your players are already seasoned vets to the game giving them multiple opportunities to work around the monsters' tactics may not be needed.
I run a game for folks who've all played tabletop RPGs now for at least 2 decades if not longer. They all picked up PF right as it came out so compared to them, I'M the newb.
Running a combat for these folks is getting harder and harder for me. I'm having to constantly invent new monsters just to give them anything to tactically consider, and even then this is pretty much a speed bump.
I try to use all three dimensions of the environment as much as possible. I also have just started dipping my toe into environmental effects, constantly resetting traps and other ambient threats to try and add challenge and interest to my fight scenes.
The PCs however have now survived and thrived to 8th level. One of the characters makes potions, another can craft Wondrous Items and the players make great use of their Downtime and WBL. Before they undertake a quest there's copious research and gearing up. by the time they physically enter the "dungeon" setting, whether a haunted forest, underground caverns or hilltop ruins, the PCs have ample resources specific to the expected threats.
Then there's their character builds: multiple forms of movement, from Climb and Swim speeds to enhanced speed and high Acrobatics for jumping are a constant; a superior ranged attacker, a superior DPS melee monster, and a well-made switch hitter to support either; a druid focused on summoning and battlefield control.
Finally, the players' high degree of gaming experience means that they break down each fight into digestible elements and take their Knowledge checks seriously. They're all acutely aware that using a Knowledge check trained requires no action, how much they can relate to one another with the Free action of talking, and how far apart they can be using a Message spell. For instances when noise/magic makes talking an issue they've even worked out a crude system with Dancing Lights.
All of this translates to the PCs witnessing the foe/challenge before them, immediately rolling Knowledge checks, and sharing their findings with one another. The players then begin brief, terse directions between each other, suggestions of possible solutions to neutralizing the threat. I've taken to counting "30" to keep them honest but this usually gives everyone enough time.
TL/DR: know your players. Know what they're capable of and plan accordingly.
Ahh, the scheming bad guy. Whether Tiny or Huge, invisible or omnipresent, it always comes down to the schemes. Y'see, all the non-detection, illusion and divination in the world only provides the villain with info... info the GM already has since, y'know, they're the GM. So what does the GM DO with all that info in the hands of their scheming villain?
Well, they scheme, right?
Now consider what you're already doing when you have a "big bad" planned at the end of your campaign. Said villain is 15th level and likely has some plans going on that don't even notice the level 1 PCs until they become a fly in the ointment. Once they DO become an issue, does the evil guy at level 15 teleport in and lay waste to the low-level heroes themselves? NO, of course not; they send some minions.
I guess what I'm saying is, lots of "big bads" are schemers capable of going invisible, using non-detection items and spying on the party without the need for "extreme subterfuge" like taking vigilante levels and hanging around in bars.
I say focus instead on what makes them a villain, rather than what powers/size category they have. If the villain is a manipulator, why not make the party of heroes its minions?
For that matter, WHY is the villain so... villainous? Is it simply a narcissistic obsession with personal power, or perhaps an elaborate revenge plot? Are they trying to save someone they care about the only way they know or perhaps pursuing an agenda for the "greater good" that only THEY have the mental fortitude to execute (looking at you, Thanos).
After all that, you could take a Human Wizard 15 with a few well-chosen magic items and WHAM! You've got the villain you need. Or a demon, or a fey sorceress, or an ogre cleric, a dragon, an advanced, awakened giant ant with levels in Vigilante... take your pick.
Umm... either change the alignment or Int scores of the creatures you want? I mean, no one says EVERY hobgoblin on the planet has to have an Int of 10, nor does every ogre have to be CE. These are the average, not the only.
Is every PC Int 10+? How many barbarians dump stat their Int? If there can be variety here there can be variety everywhere.
Personally, if you're going to re-imagine a monster as LE with low Int, I vote for Tatzlwyrms. They're CR2, Int 5, and normally N in alignment but I've used them as CE. They're JUST intelligent enough to understand speech and have a decent Wis. They're also described in the fluff as having the ability to build complex lairs and rudimentary traps.
Tatzlwyrms have a poisonous breath they can exhale up to 5' away. This poison is only a DC 12 Fort save but could still be a threat to low level PCs. However, between traps that deliver the Entangled condition or inflict penalties to movement, this poisonous breath, and their ability to pounce, grapple and rake, Tatzlwyrms are tough for their CR.
So they're descended from dragons and are in the Dragon type. What if your Tatzlwyrms descended from, say...Green Dragons? Their progenitor is LE and heavily on the cunning side, with a penchant for forests. What if Big Daddy Green mated with some ancient forest dweller, created a race of mutant, runt offspring, then used some eldritch powers known only to dragons to help these new Tatzlwyrms breed true?
Then, as the generations wore on these new creatures took on some of the personality traits of their creator. They became a tad haughty became aware of their own power, rising above some of their more animalistic influences. Never gifted with vast intellect their culture still remains fairly low-tech, governed more by superstition than fact, but the Greenblood Tatzlwyrms have nevertheless become organized through ritual and tradition.
What's worse... they're worshipped. Yes, the ancient green dragon also produced a line of kobolds. These creatures, similarly tribal, hewed to the outskirts of the woods for centuries until their "god" was destroyed by the evil mortals living in their castle on the hill. But the kobolds still commune with the "servitor race" of their god, the green dragon's divine soldiers, the Tatzlwyrms.
Shrines to the 'wyrms can be found in several places in the woods. Kobolds hold ritualistic worship and sacrifices in these sites and their shamans actually receive divine power from said worship. For this reason some of the more powerful shamans are able to coerce the Tatzlwyrms into joining forces, using these soldiers as "muscle" in their peoples' raids.
For true cosmic horror at 4th - 6th level the big bads like the Dark Young and such are probably out. Still, for horror in general I like looking through Aberrations personally. How about some of the following:
1. 1d4 Chokers (CR 4 average) among the ruins. These could be degenerated gnolls left behind by the raiders
2. Urhags in the town, erupting from corpses. Each individually is a CR 3 so use as many as you think the PCs can handle; they are bat-like moray eel types that grapple and infest the flesh of a host, but only if the host is capable of dreaming
3. A Bonesucker/CR 7 in the lair of the gnolls. It's described as resembling a "fleshy tree trunk" so could be a spawn of Shub Niggurath. Basically its a big, tough monster in the classic sense, and it, well... sucks bones. Good thing for scavenger gnolls to have around if they don't feel like making skeletons that day.
I'd encourage thinking about some truly "monstrous" encounters like aberrations or maybe some magical beasts. Shub Niggurath is said to have "a thousand young" and is a prolific breeder deity. Most of the spawn it is described as creating however are monstrous, alien trees, but this doesn't have to be its ONLY get.
Creatures with tentacles, things that resemble perversions of trees or animals, or perhaps even monstrous humanoid types are all good candidates.
Then, think about the gnolls themselves. They are obviously a powerful group, being led by a 7th level cleric. Consider that a level 7 Cleric can summon a gibbering mouther, spread plagues of Filth Fever or create bombs of acid in the corpses of creatures they've killed. Each of those spells has a finite duration but as a GM you could certainly work around those making them into traps or cursed items or something.
Anyway, if a gnoll group has a 7th level cleric and worships The Black Goat, think of what their normal life is like. Do they only have the one leucrotta as a pet, or do they also cultivate others such as giant vermin in their lair? Do they scavenge like the typical gnolls or do they hunt and forage? Are they focused on fertility in the name of their deity? If so, perhaps they themselves have spawned several mutant offspring.
If you want to buff your allies, buff your allies; if you want to cast other spells, cast other spells... and "if you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free, 'cuz there's a million ways you can be, you know that there are" - C. Stevens.
Seriously though, be the spellcaster you WANT to be.
I'm GM'ing a game right now where one of the players has been frankly bullied into veering from the Magus build he worked hard on to a generalist wizard b/c the other players were worried that they wouldn't have the Utility spells and some higher-level buffs they've come to expect from other games. I counseled the players on how they could overcome their deficiencies, pointed out that some of the things they'd miss were corner cases etc. but they persisted.
In the end the Magus player acquiesced. I know he's not having as much fun but I get WHY he did it. We're still just starting out at 3rd level so it's not a huge jarring change, but it was shocking for me to witness.
Try to consider though what the reason is behind your allies' need for buff spells. On the one hand it might be something as innocent as insecurity. The barbarian might not feel their 62 average damage on a full attack is enough and they need the extra attack from a Haste spell to compete with the monsters being thrown at you.
It might be something more insidious though. Full arcane spellcasters are known to be the owners of this game, long term. Their abilities can duplicate and even exceed the effectiveness of nearly every other PC class, in and out of combat. What if you're being relegated to the role of team buffer because... they fear you?
By 5th level you can sneak better than the rogue and pop doors just as well; with the right build and a couple of Scorching Rays you could outgun nearly every ranged attacker; an evoker type at level 5 has enough raw damage to challenge even a great-axe-wielding barbarian!
Fear of irrelevance can drive people to dangerous extremes.
In the end though, I'd urge you to consider the math. If you cast X buff spell it'll add Y attacks or translate to Y extra damage/attack for an ally or allies. Measure that against if you cast X direct damage spell it would deliver Y damage to my enemy/enemies. Or, on a more esoteric level, measure your buffs against if I cast X battlefield control spell my enemy/enemies are Y% likely to resist/ignore it resulting in no benefit to my team.
I personally love playing buffer wizards. I feel like part of the team, I know my spells will always work as I want them to and there's a couple different Familiars that help this build. Plus most buff spells do just fine in fixed-level consumable magic items which means I can have loads of them at the ready on cheap scrolls or wands. Being helpful, cheerful and having the right utility at the right time is my jam!
I haven't run/played Strange Aeons but as I understand it the AP is fairly dark horror with nods to Lovecraftian storytelling and mythos. Does the standard PF Wild Magic table of effects add or detract from that? I ask because keeping a horror mood at a tabletop RPG is hard enough without jarring disruptions like a magic missile spell turning into flowers or a Stinking Cloud spell becoming one long episode of wizard-with-flatulence.
As for the randomness of Wild Magic, it isn't all THAT random. From what I remember the GM sets a guideline or 2 on how a wild surge happens, be it when a spell gets counterspelled or if the player wants to use a metamagic feat on a spell without paying for it.
Finally, a personal note on random tables: I love them as a GM, but hate them as a player. Some folks are like this. As a GM I get to toss out a little chaos, throw a monkeywrench in the gears and see my players' reactions. As a player though I like to KNOW that when I use this wand, rod or spell, THIS is what it does.
I personally allow and encourage level 1 Wizards with Scribe Scroll or Level 1 Alchemists/Witches with Brew Potion to use their starting gold crafting items BEFORE the start of a campaign. Wizards start with 2 spells and some Cantrips at will. Looking at the maths, unless the PC has optimized for damage with spells, they likely come up short in hitting average damage expected from a level 1 PC with Cantrips.
That all being said, 2 things:
1. If the player is making a PC, using the abilities of that PC, then retraining their level to another PC class, I'd flat out disallow this. The player is looking to game a system already heavily weighted in the PCs' favor.
2. If you choose to allow this kind of character building, the player and the party should be made very aware that you will have to organize your threat level around challenging THEIR specific PC.
For example, if my players take me up on all possible advantages I lay at their feet before campaign start, a Wizard can Scribe Scrolls before the first adventure. I use the Downtime rules from Ultimate Campaign and all PCs begin with 150 GP worth of starting gold.
A PC Wizard then might have generated and paid for up to 3 Magic Capital prior to the start of the game. This means that they've spent all 150 GP on said Magic Capital, but can in turn use that resource to pay the crafting costs for 300 GP worth of scrolls.
If each scroll costs 12.5 GP to craft, this translates to 24 scroll spells the PC Wizard could potentially start the game with. They wouldn't have any other gear besides clothes and maybe a club, but they'd have 24 spells plus the 2 level 1 spells they could cast in a day.
If my first adventure opened on a Wizard with 24 spell scrolls, I'd modify said adventure to include many more minor foes to threaten the party. Its likely that these scrolls don't add tons of attack spells, but it's entirely conceivable that these extra utilities extend the Wizard's defensive and out-of-combat abilities far beyond being useful for the usual 3-4 combats in a day.
TL/DR: my point is if you allow your players to use all the resources of their character builds prior to the campaign start, be prepared to modify that start to challenge what the PCs end up creating.
Craft skills and even some Professions might translate to more cheap gear than standard PCs begin with. High enough starting skill might even mean Masterwork armor if they have enough starting gold. Potions and Scrolls might also be in the PCs' possession. Imagine if the party Rogue invested in Handle Animal to justify starting with a trained Donkey Rat as a flanking buddy; they could work it into their backstory that they just befriended the thing as a pet and trained it for combat. It would be free essentially, though you could impose some kind of GP cost if you'd like, and it wouldn't be an Animal Companion, Familiar or Mount so it would be a bit tougher for the Rogue to control, but having a way to always get Sneak Attack in Melee might be worth it for them.
However if fighter starts with a golf bag full of cheaper weapons to manage any kind of low-level DR, the cleric begins with a MW shield, the Rogue has their flanking buddy and the Wizard has a dozen or so spell scrolls and hands out cheap Acid Flasks to everyone... plan accordingly.
Just remember: deities can choose to intervene in subtle ways whenever ANYONE invokes them, be it in prayer or desperation.
In the Golarion-specific deities, Shelyn is said to visit warriors in moments of utter despair on the battlefield. When all else seems hopeless there is a chance that the Beautiful Glaive will make herself known and turn the tide for those of good heart. That's how some of her clerics get started.
Also in older editions of D&D it was said that each deity had intermediaries and THESE were the ones who granted spells until clerics reached their highest levels. So perhaps at level one to gain the Cure Light Wounds spell you offered up prayers to Ra the Sun God but also to Corfru, Son of Ra, the mendicant emperor who was renowned for his great healing techniques.
In that regard, when you used a lesser divination spell you spoke with one of these intermediaries which was why there is a chance for failure. Within to Inner Sea deities, consider Pharasma.
She has in her portfolio a History/Lore component and at one time she was the deity of prophecy. If you used a divination invoking this goddess, certainly your info would be accurate right? But RAW states that you might get false info or something. So when casting a lesser divination you are in fact speaking to one of her owl-masked handmaidens who, while extremely knowledgeable are not infallible.
Finally, on the subject of Domains: consider Cure Light Wounds. This is a basic spell that EVERY vanilla cleric can swap another spell for. So if this is the case, by definition every deity can grant this to their Good aligned, vanilla clerics.
What if the deity doesn't have any Healing domain in their portfolio? If a cleric of Cayden Caileen spontaneously swaps out their Divine Favor for CLW and uses it on a party member, do Pharasma and Saranrae get peeved off?
I'd say that there is mutual agreement between deities that certain powers transcend domains, or perhaps there has been a negotiation for some powers within the domains that can be divided out to any and all divine beings. Domains are more of a mortal construct, a way to divide and classify folks, like sects within a specific faith, and I'm guessing they hold little relevance or restriction for the gods and goddesses.
Ever watch a good action film? I mean, like, something when you were a kid that sent chills down your spine when the punches and bullets started flying? Was there a musical score playing in the background?
Ever read old Spider Man comics, back when his secret I.D. was Peter Parker and he wasn't super-angsty or an Avenger? Did you ever grin or chuckle at his quips in the middle of a fight?
Ever heard a speech by Winston Churchill? How about some of Shakespeare's soliloquies? Perhaps even something as simple as a movie quote from a hero to urge the folks around them to get up, keep going?
Try to conjure up the most in-the-moment, inspiring, and emotion-evoking experiences of speech, comedy, music and action you've ever experienced in media or real life. These are all forms of Bardic Performance. It could be as simple as a Skald chanting out "What makes the grass grow? BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" to a Magician singing/Ghost Sounding/Performing the slow, burning build of Carmina Burana perfectly synched to the action of the fighting around them.
I think it just comes down to one question: what inspires YOU? Not in a silly, Order-of-the-Stick way but really makes you IRL stop and pause, gives you a wistful look and makes you feel like you a just a little bit better than you thought capable a moment ago.
THAT is Bardic Performance.
As for how it gets used mechanically, Pathfinder (and all tabletop RPGs for that matter) is an abstraction. A round of combat only represents 6 seconds. You have to suspend disbelief a lot to imagine through the RAW, but the mechanics are that once you've started your BP it continues as a Free Action allowing you to take other actions such as helping keep friends on their feet with healing.
Personally I like the one Halfling Bard I conceptualized for a game a couple years ago. It was a big party (6 players including me) so I didn't figure my Small sized damage would be missed on the front lines. Instead my idea was 3 fold:
1. have a high Cha and Perform: Oratory for BP
Over time all I'd ever be doing is making sure that folks do better at THEIR job. He'd be glib, charming, and have lots of inspiring quotes and speeches at the ready (I went and got a pocket book of famous quotes).
Prestidigitation should be one of your very first illusions. The spell says it can paint weird colors and also says it has other functions as long as you don't duplicate existing spells. I don't think there's a 2 dimensional image-limited illusion spell, so between being able to make basic colors and craft simple 2-d shapes, Prestidigitation should be able to make very simple, crude images in illusory form.
I've used this, or rather my Valet Familiar has, in a campaign. Step 1, send the Valet (an owl) with a CL2 scroll of Vanish cast on it flying ahead in the dungeon to spot as much as it can. Step 2, when it returns it crafts a 2-d map with Prestidigitation to show the party what's coming. Any obvious monsters/doors/objects of interest can be marked with red dots/x's/whatever on the surface of the map.
I'm starting my RA campaign off in The Lost City of Barakus. While certainly not necessary it is giving my players (who are old veterans of 3x/Pathfinder RPG but haven't been dungeon crawling in decades) a good primer for what's coming.
While this isn't a necessary step it is certainly helpful. Another aid that came in handy when one of the PCs wanted to be a paladin is the Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms. There's some great detail there about monsters, new magic items and lots of different cults (obviously) including some plot hooks for a certain undead-focused demon lord.
Cursed Items wrote:
Identifying Cursed Items: Cursed items are identified like any other magic item with one exception: unless the check made to identify the item exceeds the DC by 10 or more, the curse is not detected. If the check is not made by 10 or more, but still succeeds, all that is revealed is the magic item’s original intent. If the item is known to be cursed, the nature of the curse can be determined using the standard DC to identify the item.
So I've only used cursed items twice in my games over the past 10 years. I just don't put them in that much. To me it feels like the binary nature of a standard RAW trap: step 1, you identify - if not, suffer; step 2, if you identified then Remove Curse - if not, you suffer.
One cursed item was a Necklace of Strangulation but it was identified and ignored by a cleric who left it behind altogether. The other though was a custom cursed item: The Belt of the Laughing Man.
I actually spent time crafting this item. It appeared to be a belt of Dex +2 but crafted from the braids of a korred's hair by the very creature himself. If worn, it would function as intended until the first Ref save; at this point, regardless of the result of the save the hairs within the braids would come loose and begin tickling the wearer like the Animated Hair ability of a Korred, causing the wearer to be Entangled until the device was removed.
I thought it was cool for my fey-themed campaign. I gave it flavor, gave it ambiance... and my Investigator PC gave it a quick Spellcraft +13, plus 4 from his free Inspiration ability, with another +3 from Guidance and Aid Another from the party's Wizard, and hit the DC 33 that I thought was too hard for the PCs to get.
It was... disheartening.
So then I tried to make removing the curse interesting. The PCs were only level 4 at the time so nobody had Remove Curse yet. I gave the stipulation that finding another korred and convincing the thing could remove the curse. I was going to make a whole side-quest out of it... but I forgot that hiring someone to make a scroll was a thing and that the Investigator had a UMD +13 thanks to some traits. So, after some gold was exchanged for a Remove Curse scroll and a CL check was succeeded, the Belt of the Laughing Man was just a Dex Belt +2 and another incremental plus on the Investigator's character sheet.
I guess my point is: when did cursed items get so boring? I mean I don't use them OFTEN and when I do it's usually thematic. I just wish I could actually affect my players with one once in a while.
Also... do magic item Quirks get identified when they roll their Spellcraft checks, or do they I.D. like curses?
Mr doom, would the book an animated object, like the objects around the Beast's castle in the animated movie Beauty and the Beast? Like, the book has arms and legs and a face? If so yes, making a homunculus from a book shape is feasible.
If the book was more the flying, biting version of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (roughly translated, "book of the dead") from the Evil Dead series of movies, I'm guessing that's a magic item.
Going the Magic Item route, what if you just took a Bonded Object (spellbook), made the thing into a Wondrous Item, and then figured out a way to get a permanent version of Impart Mind on it? You could also permanize Fly, Mage Hand, Book Ward and other defensive spells to ensure its safety.
I want to show this to the guy running the Investigator in my one game. We've just made it to 8th level and we often have encounters in the wilderness so swarms happen often. He's complained that having such a high Craft: Alchemy skill is "uselsess" outside of being able to deal with the swarms, so in frustration he took a level of Wizard.
I have to constantly remind him:
1. you have a magic bag that holds nearly an entire alchemy lab inside of it
2. There's rarely an adventuring day that doesn't offer a fair amount of Downtime, even if it's just a few hours during travel and before sleeping for the night.
3. With the crazy-high Craft: Alchemy skill bonus he has, he could be making some of the cheaper alchemical stuff in a matter of hours instead of days. I think I figured once during level 7 that he could roughly craft 1 unit of anything with a DC 20 Craft check costing 10 GP or less every day, no matter where he was in the world
Even at this high level the Druid PC is still using the Light spell and no one's ponied up for a permanent light source. I don't use a lot of Darkness spell using villains but the Druid still gets frustrated that they and the other half-elf with Low Light are solely dependent on her Light.
I facepalm. Investigator 7 = 5 Sunrods/day!
Craft: Alchemy plus a fully stocked traveling Alchemy Lab and GM willing to say "erase the GP for crafting costs; your PC just happened to have the ingredients to make 'X' in their bag of holding" means that his Investigator has the ability to craft minor alchemical stuff ALL the time. It is not useless as these packs can attest. Thanks Special K (squared)!
Y'know, one of the things I've seen, at least anecdotally at my own tables, is that martials have one thing full casters don't in terms of combat capability. Stamina.
My players complain to me all the time that crafting attack spells into consumable magic items or even Wondrous items is dumb because the Save DCs are so low. As such they're limited to anywhere from 1-5 big "nukes" they can fire off in combat per day.
A fighter with a greatsword and all the right feats is just as effective on attack no 6 as they were on no 1, while the wizard has just run out of the heavy damage dealers in their bag of tricks.
But then, my players ALSO complain to me that there are too many fights/day in my games. Often times I might run a single day of adventure - exploration, dungeon hacking and such, that involves 4-8 fights, a few traps or hazards, and perhaps a couple of encounters where my INTENT would be they resolve through social/skill challenge, though that isn't always the case.
The thing is, I base the number of encounters in my games not on the most, but rather the average damage PCs can reliably do at any given time. I know that I've handed out a wand of Molten Orb to a PC caster for example, and I know it's far from being out of charges. His character has a high Dex so I can reliably count on the wand hitting most of the time and doing 7 pts of damage (unless their foes are immune to fire).
So I'll total up what all the PCs can do, on average, based on their attacks, and figure that whatever CR monster has an average HP count around that is an equal threat to their APL. In other words if the Bloodrager, Barbarian, Wizard and Druid can combine to do about 70 HP on average in a round with spells/abilities not likely to run out over the course of 8 fights, then I can comfortably expect them to take out 1 CR 6 monster (average HP of 19)/round without expending hardly any resources.
Now, if they don't ID the monster in front of them, or the wizard just decides to unload or whatever, then they might burn through resources against an easy fight that they might need against, say, the one fight of the 8 I have planned that involves a young adult black dragon ambushing them in a swamp. THAT's why you have wands of Cure Serious Wounds in the hands of the druid as well as a Bloodrager and a Barbarian that the wizard gave a Swim speed to.
The only good, RAW reasons not to wear armor would be class prohibitions, encumbrance or cost. Everything else can be worked around. That being said, arcane casters might have a reason not to.
Potions are a little expensive to make at low levels, but get easier as you advance; scrolls are cheap and wands (in cost/use) are the cheapest. Certain arcane casters will get either Brew Potion or Scribe Scroll as a free feat and might take Craft Wand as a regular or bonus feat.
Many arcane casters also have the option for a Familiar. With the right build on a Familiar eventually by around 8th level they can help their arcane caster with Use Magic Device, being skilled enough that they can use wands or cast 1st or 2nd level scrolls with only a 5% failure rate.
IF your arcane caster goes in one of these specific routes, and I say if because not everyone builds with a UMD familiar in mind (or a familiar at all for that matter), then for this caster it's about cost.
A single wand charge of Mage Armor costs the arcane caster 7 GP, 5 SP to craft. Ditto for a Shield spell. In one round at level 8 this arcane caster could get to a +8 on their AC for 15 GP. This combo, using the Familiar wielding a wand and the caster using another, takes some setting up but has it's benefits.
Now I mention all of the above because it relates to one of the 3 core reasons I started with for folks to wear, or not wear armor: Cost.
Yes, for some folks at mid to high level a set of magic armor +2 or +3 might not be extremely cost prohibitive, but consider what can be done with 8,330 GP in the hands of an arcane caster with Craft Wand. This amount of cash equates to roughly 1 wand each of a 3rd level, 2nd level and 1st level.
This particular caster may be able to match or exceed the defensive benefits of the armor above with wands while still having a third wand they've crafted so on round 2 of a fight the familiar has a Scorching Ray or something to attack with.
Finally, and I know this is a wall of text and I apologize, consider the old adage: the best defense is a good O-ffense. In other words who cares if the barbarian is still wearing hide armor +1 at 8th level; they also have boots that ignore difficult terrain, a 40' move, and feats so they can full attack at the end of a charge. 1 round of rage, one successful charge where all of their attacks hit, and there are no attacks said barbarian needs to worry about.
First off, Identify because Cursed items. Period. While many vanilla adventures as written don't have these in their treasure hoards the option exists for any of them to be added or subbed in for their more benevolent counterparts.
Secondly, the rules are vague in the Spellcraft skill:
So you're trying to ascertain the properties of said items. For some GM's interpretation this may not equate to a 1-1 of player knowledge on what the magic item is. In other words you might know that you've got a helmet that magically allows you to read and understand languages around you, not necessarily that you have a Helm of Comprehend Languages.
I brought up the second point because, again, GMs have free reign over their games. What if, for example, a GM decides to customize a helm in their world that combines Comprehend Languages with Speak with Animals? The player wouldn't know what a "Helm of ALL Languages" is but if in the properties they ID'd was a note about understanding ANY language, including those of beasts, they might have a greater appreciation of the item.
So this brings me to "quirks" like Blaphers mentions above. When a magic item is ID'd, do players learn these unique traits or not? Spellcraft says you learn the properties of the thing - a Helm of Comp Languages lets you read/understand languages, that's it's property. However if, when this PARTICULAR helm was crafted the kobold sorcerer who made it subbed in, say, the skull of a baby dragon for the standard metal-and-leather headgear, perhaps this threw off the resonant frequency that languages are heard with meaning that this PARTICULAR helm requires an annoying DC 12 Fort save any time it's used to understand spoken languages around you or else the user sustains a splitting migraine (Fatigued) until the device is removed.
A kind GM, such as myself, would warn the PC, rewarding their investment in lots of points in Spellcraft. A less benevolent GM however might rule that quirks fly under the radar.
Scribe Scroll. Any time you've got Downtime, make scrolls of Ant Haul. Blam; you're using the spell all day.
If you focus on Scribe Scroll, consider Cypher Magic as a feat. All spells cast from scrolls are considered +1 CL. This cuts down on the number of Ant Haul scrolls you have to use.
Consider the trait Beast Bond. +1 on both Handle Animal and Ride checks, and one becomes a Class Skill. Also look into whether or not the GM will let you take an alternate racial trait common to many of the core races, called Fey Magic. Essentially by trading out a Goblin racial trait your PC gains 3 Druid 0-level spells and 1 Level 1 spell as Spell Like Abilities usable when in a Favored Terrain you also get to pick.
Choose a terrain where your farm was likely to have been. Choose Charm Animal as your level 1 spell, Guidance as one of your 0-levels. Work with your GM to justify using your Handle Animal skill, Charm Animal, and Guidance (for a +1 on Handle Animal) to equate to starting with some kind of draft animals (not Goblin Dogs since, y'know... fleas).
For your Familiar, consider a Valet archetype. They're good at Aid Another and get Prestidigitation at will. One of the functions of Prestidigitation is moving 1 lb of material slowly. You could therefore have your Valet familiar carrying an extra dagger or something, just in case.
Valet familiars also help in crafting items. Take Craft: Baskets and Craft: Leather. Over time you and your familiar collab on making MW backpacks - a basket frame with leather skin and such. Later on, take Craft Wondrous Items and make bags of holding, handy haversacks, efficient quivers and the ever popular muleback chords.
Valet familiars also help you craft magic items. While you can't double the # of items/day you can make (still only 1/day) you do double the amount of GP worth of work you can do in a day, thereby halving the time it takes to make said items.
Carry block and tackle with you. This weighs 5 lbs unfortunately, but it grants a +5 Circumstance bonus on the Str check to lift heavy objects, after taking 1 minute to set up the pulley.
Speaking of 5 lbs, y'know what can move 5 lbs all the time? Mage Hand. This is a must for your PC and adds half again to your carrying capacity.
Floating Disk is another go-to. Throw it on scrolls. This is for use in-dungeon, so likely not needed all day. If you take a familiar that doesn't trade out Share Spells (sadly, Valet loses this special ability), cast Floating Disk on them too.
Long term, once you're making Wondrous Items, consider crafting a Robe of Useful Items. Also, and it should go without saying, a Belt of Strength.
When you hit level 5, consider the Shrink Item spell and turn the heaviest items you can transmute into cloth patches. These weigh almost nothing and so long as one of the items isn't an extra-dimensional space they can be tossed into one of your magic carrying devices.
For that matter, using Shrink Item and Craft Wondrous Items, consider making some Figurines of Wondrous Power. Turning your draft yaks into tiny statues, your cart into a cloth patch, and then descending into the dungeon, only to restore them in the tunnels below could be extremely helpful.
All of this helps with your low Str in regards to carrying things. Let's think about combat usefulness.
If at level 1 you begin with a vanilla wizard, you begin the game with 1 feat and Scribe Scroll as a bonus feat. I'd urge again that you take Cypher Magic. At level 2 when you start, pony up the cash to have level 2 scrolls of Magic Missile laying around. One of these, using Cypher Magic, means you're firing 2 unerring bolts of force dealing an average of 3.5 HP damage each.
Also consider taking Use Magic Device as a skill and maxing out your ranks/level. If your other trait was Underlying Principles you could have it as a Class skill with a +1 bonus. with a 14 Cha you're at +2 on the skill as well. By level 4 you've got a +10 on the check, meaning you succeed on a DC 20 about half the time. If you take the spell Visualization of the Mind and are willing to spend a lot of GP casting it, you've got another +5 to the check. Taking Craft Wondrous Item as your level 3 Feat and making a cheap Circlet of Charisma +2 you can upgrade over time will add even more.
I'm saying UMD not only so you can use it but so your familiar can as well. They can use your ranks. At 5th level perhaps you take Evolved Familiar: Skilled (Use Magic Device) and your familiar trades out their standard starting feat for Extra Traits taking Pragmatic Activator and Underlying Principles. Now the familiar uses it's Int instead of Cha for UMD and gets the same +1 Trait bonus/Class skill benefits as you.
By the time you hit level 9, unless you've gone the Mauler archetype route, your familiar has at least an Int of 10. This should mean your familiar now has a +13 to UMD. This can of course be augmented by spells and magic items.
The hope in all of this UMD stuff is that you've got plenty of wands, particularly those with buffs on them that are delivered by Touch. If you take my suggestion of going with the Valet familiar you can have it move before and after delivering harmless Touch spells, like buffs.
Your role in combat then is to be the Happy Olde Wizard who gives his buddies pats on the back to get THEM to do more damage, hit more effectively, have a bunch of extra temp HP, etc. Remember that with UMD you can use the wands crafted by ANY class so diversify your buffs.
As the game opens you're the quirky old curmudgeon that can occasionally charm animals, has a knack for husbandry and animal training, and is as feeble of arm as Aunt May (in the original Spider Man comics). Over time you become book smart and a good crafter. Your familiar proves itself a positive teammate, delivering aid and magical support in and out of combat.
All the while you're developing new and interesting strategies to overcome your physical weakness. These include crafting MW mundane items, casting spells from scrolls, and long term creating a slew of Wondrous Items. Somewhere along the way you also develop a penchant for wands and seem ridiculously adept at using magical devices, regardless of your familiarity with them or the spells that fuel them.
Your familiar too seems so mechanically inclined. Perhaps you have a goat that has a pair of saddlebags at its sides; in these satchels are several wands and scrolls it can withdraw by magic (Prestidigitation). By virtue of a golden bead etched with arcane symbols (Gold Nodule Ioun Stone) the beast can speak and read Common so bizarrely it can both move and speak the words of the magic items it carries.
After many adventures honing your skills and those of your familiar's, the two of you are using multiple low-level wands and scrolls to boost your party's own combat power to ridiculous levels. Out of combat however is where you truly shine. You've cultivated your crafting, animal handling and generally charismatic nature into teams of animals, some of whom magically transform into tiny figurines or patches of cloth, and some of whom are conjured by your spells. These are beasts of burden, mounts, and general helpers to your party.
Ironically I've never had a quarterback at my tables, even though I've asked as the GM for one.
I tell my players ahead of time that even from level 1 my game is "hard mode," which is to say the monsters they face will do everything in their power to survive encounters. Creatures of animal intelligence or less I run pretty much by instinct; Int scores up to approximately an 8 generally elicit some kind of cunning strategy. At 9 and above, roughly about the Int score some level 1 PCs might start at, I regard my monsters as being able to reason out some more complex battle plans.
In short: smarter NPCs and monsters will use every strategy they can to win fights.
So when the kobolds band together, attack using flanking and higher ground, retreat beyond a trap, then send some of their number through Small sized secret tunnels that run through the ceiling (that I made a point of saying was almost 15' thick between dungeon levels) to attack the party from behind, I kind of expect my players to plan accordingly.
For these reasons I've actually asked my more strategically inclined players to coach others, even in battle if need be, on doing more than "I charge and Power Attack." So far my players have been resistant to my pleas.
I think they don't quarterback for 2 reasons. For one, the other players rarely listen to others' suggestions outside of combat anyway. For another, many of my players are of the mind that "you got yourself INTO this mess, get yourself out."
That's the other reason I encourage quarterbacking: teamwork. I try a lot of mechanical ways to get my players to work together in the game. I use skill challenges and have a houserule permitting Aid Another with different skills on some skill checks, like a character with Detect Magic and either Knowledge: Arcana or Spellcraft granting +2 to a rogue disarming a magical trap. I've also occasionally handed out free Teamwork feats and even once created a group of unique magic items that had improved powers when working within 5' of one another.
Unfortunately my players are rugged individualists. They optimize their PCs as best they can to manage any kind of threat. Seriously, I have a Ratfolk Investigator 7 in one of my groups that is equally good at Ranged and Melee attacks, took feats so he can add Precision damage on both, uses his Extracts on defensive buffs, carries potions that do the same, has a number of poisons and alchemical items as well as wands for a "golf bag" of energy damage, and has carefully selected magic items including a Figurine of Wondrous Power of a dire rat so his movement types are enhanced.
This character rarely needs his other party members, except for the raw damage they add on a given attack round.
Maybe teams and teamwork just, isn't necessary anymore in PF1?
This is a great place to use a 5 Room Dungeon. Small, self-contained and easily digestible even to new players, even at low level.
The "dungeon" can be any setting made up of 5 formulaic encounter types:
[sploiler=Rooms in the Dungeon]Room 1/Entrance: where the party comes into the situation; sets the tone for the adventure.
Room 2/Puzzle or RP Encounter: a good way to throw a curve ball at your players with a "thinking" challenge; generally if they faced some sort of physical/combat encounter in room 1, this room serves as it's opposite type.
Room 3/Setback: the end is in sight but your party needs to get past this to get there. This room hopefully builds some tension before the end of the adventure.
Room 4/Boss Fight: the big set-piece fight scene or encounter of the adventure, where the mission comes to a head.
Room 5/Resolution or Plot Complication: this can either be the treasure/reward for completing the adventure or perhaps some new twist the PCs need to deal with.[/spoiler]
Here's an example for level 1 PCs:
Goyle and Vanya:
Setup: a local city Ratcatcher named Goyle has asked the party to accompany him and his niece/apprentice, Vanya, through the sewers to an underground ruin in order to raid an old cache of hidden wines and valuables there. They've hired the PCs because there are signs a Reefclaw lurks in the waters here.
Room 1: Oh, rats/CR 1
Goyle and Vanya are leading from the back so the PCs are the first to face a trio of giant rats (x2 Dire Rats, 1 Donkey Rat with the Simple: Advanced template) barring passage into the briny inlet tunnels
Room 2: Dread Remains/CR 1
After defeating the rats the party presses on into an intersection. One of the four grates has been smashed, likely by the Reefclaw's pincers, and the ravaged remains of several rats have been left here to rot. The direction the party wants to go has been so damaged that there is a Collapsing Floor Trap in their way. Curiously, the water level is much lower here than Goyle and Vanya think it should be.
Room 3: Diversions/CR 1
Following the shallow seawater inlets to what should be a narrow crack in the wall the PCs instead find a section of masonry and floor which has caved in. Where there should be a long, vaulted hallway leading up into the abandoned wine cellar is instead a rough pool of murky seawater which has been flooding the chamber for days. PCs must navigate the pool between piles of shifting rubble; falling into the water, which acts as a Tainted Water hazard, delivers a Fatigued effect if PCs don't manage a DC 11 Fort save
Room 4: The Flooded Cellar/CR 2
Upon finally reaching the far end of the vault the water churns with the movements of the Reefclaw lurking here. The monster has been digging into the silt beneath the brick floor in order to prepare a spawning bed. It will defend its new lair with its life.
Room 5: Treasure and Trouble/CR 1
A few sections of the wine cellar are still above the frigid brine. The walls are honeycombed with niches containing many valuable bottles, as well as a small coffer of valuables, casks of brandy, and sealed containers of trade goods. However with all of the damage the Reefclaw has done, the walls have become unstable; if not properly braced, removing the treasure will start the place shaking and cause a cave in within 5 rounds (giving the PCs time to grab some things before fleeing). One way to run this encounter is just to describe what's going on and work off of initiatives; another is to run it like a Chase Scene, with grabbing items or taking actions being minor obstacles to overcome to beat the cave-in to the "finish line" where the party escapes with their lives
Y'know what's interesting? I've only skimmed through after about post 38 but several folks have noted that its useful to encourage your players to build for flavor or role playing as much as ROLL playing.
While I support the idea of ENCOURAGING your players to do this, never set it as a mandate. If your players want to just deal wheelbarrows full of damage and beat every encounter with brute force... let them.
This game is as much theirs as yours. Don't stop giving them interesting encounters that COULD be overcome with skills or talking, but never make it an expectation that those are the only method of beating the challenge.
Not to be a noodge but...
So shining up and mending found items doesn't restore FULL value to them by RAW. If however your GM is willing to work with you, perhaps a Diplomacy or Bluff versus a buyer's Appraise check would be appropriate, or a Diplomacy check made with a participant who is at least Indifferent and asking for either Complicated or Dangerous Aid, depending on how much more than half-price you're trying to get for your item.
That being said, the core point of using Mending and Prestidigitation for profit is 100% valid. I have players who routinely ignore the combat gear of fallen foes or "set dressing" in the environment around them. They focus on video-game tropes like chests, barrels, vases etc for treasure. Then when they hit next level and realize they're 1000 GP short they get upset with me for not keeping them at WBL.
If you enter a room in a dungeon I've taken the time to detail with wrought-iron candle stands, a torn tapestry hanging faded from the ceiling, and x3 goblins, don't JUST take the small coffer they were guarding. You've also got x3 Small Leather armor, x3 dogslicers, x3 shortspears, a tapestry and x2 candle stands. Sure, they're bulky and unwieldy but taking them back to camp, casting Mending and Prestidigitation as needed, and getting them all back to town, while difficult, yields an extra 100 GP on top of the 260 you found.
Heck... take the coffer itself! Use a cantrip to make an image of the crypt you raided, then sell an illumination, carving or other portrait of said crypt. Using Enhanced Diplomacy to aid your skills, negotiate a fee for being a guide or providing a map for other adventurers.
If your low-to-mid level adventurer is hurting for coin, there are LOADS of ways a bit of magic could help change your fortunes!
Read through the fluff or "ecology" of some hags. There are some of these creatures such as the Annis Hag where it states
Hag, Annis wrote:
Annis hags find the flesh of children, young animals, and the pure of heart particularly pleasing, both for the tenderness of such meals and for the sorrow such murders spread.
Also note that hags are the game equivalent modeled from creatures in fairy tales such as the witch in Hansel and Gretel or the crones from the Scottish play. Hags... such as the Annis for example, even appear in cultural folklore as evil beings that lure the unwary out of civilization to their doom in remote wilderness. Often in these stories, their victims are children.
First and foremost, listen to your players. This game is as much theirs as it is yours. If all of them are in full agreement in taking things in a different direction, like they all want to dungeon hack while you had an intrigue-heavy plot ready or vice versa, understand that you likely have to change things.
Secondly, talk to your players. Let me emphasize: talk TO your players, not at them. If they want to fundamentally change the plot or structure of the game but you've worked hard on said game, try to see their side and have a conversation about what they like and don't like. There might be a compromise none of you are seeing right away, but you can't get there if folks aren't willing/able to.
So that's the high level stuff. Here's some more down to earth advice:
- make random tables, or steal them from sources: from NPC names to encounter lists, have stuff around that you can glance at to fill in blanks when you inevitably have to improvise.
- read and re-read: even if you make your own adventures, know what you're running. You don't need to memorize every stat block but you should know the plot and theme of the vast majority of your next game session
- get to know (and love) the Advanced template: you could fudge dice, certainly, but if your PCs are just traipsing through encounters you could always just spontaneously drop Advanced on monsters.
- know your environments: going along with reading, knowing the terrain you're putting your PCs through is pretty critical. No, you don't need all the numbers memorized; like stat blocks you can have cheat sheets for those jotted down, but you need to know where the Difficult Terrain is, which room has an oven-like effect dealing non-lethal if a save gets missed, etc.
- make over, equip, or re-skin your monsters: if you and your pals have been playing a while you all likely know the baseline stats for goblins, worgs, medium skeletons, etc. Feel free to change things up without warning, so long as you're allowing Knowledge checks as normal. A mite is a CR 1/4 fey creature with Vermin Empathy, Doom 1/day and DR 2/cold iron; perhaps you have Mitres in your campaign that have normal Animal Empathy (using it on bats or moles), DR 2/Silver, and use Cause Fear 1/day?
- know what your players and their PCs can handle: this is especially important if you roll stats. If your players are noobs and they've got 15 Pt Buy characters, they likely will only be able to fight through a couple CR 1 encounters at level 1. If however your players are experienced RPG vets and you've rolled stats where the standard array works out to around a 30 Pt Buy... unleash the hounds.
Finally... adapt. Be flexible. Be ready to change and react to the whims of fate and the fickle nature of players. Looking over the character sheets of your PCs at level 5, you might decide that 7 CR-appropriate encounters with a Young Adult Black Dragon boss is appropriate. After you get through the first 3, with bad luck infecting most of your players' rolls, you're under no obligation to stick with your original plan if you know it will likely destroy the entire party.
Flexibility lets you move encounters as needed, spontaneously apply templates, or even erase whole plot points. More broadly, being adaptable to your players' wants and their characters' needs means that through you, the world around them is listening. You're validating their choices, even their mistakes.
Grittier games where these things matter are more suited to other rule systems, as mentioned above. We shouldn't rely on the vanilla mechanics, unmodified by houserules, of a "high-fantasy" style game to not at some point transcend the banality of "low-fantasy" issues such as hunger, thirst and diseases.
I mean, we also don't bring up the other "little things" that folks in a low or no fantasy medieval setting would've had to deal with: taxes and tithes, guilds and dues, draconian laws and social customs, lack of freedom for travel due to all of the above, and so on.
Just in 0 level spells alone there's ways to increase your general resistance to any toxin, disease or curse; the ability to generate water, light or fire in nearly any conditions so long as you have a fuel source; with some time you can make minor repairs on 1 LB or more of material from seemingly nothing; you can conjure all manner of life-pleasing effects from minor entertainments and distractions to phantom sounds and breezes, invisible scoops or hands, or forces that open and close portals for us at a distance. Heck, you can even detect some of those poisonous toxins with one of these spells and preserve food and water on your person indefinitely, if you keep this as one of the 3 or more o-level spells you cast every day.
Think about that for a second. Even in a P6 game a single PC with Survival as a class skill, 1 rank and a +1 from their Wis score has about a 50/50 shot of finding food and water in ANY environment. Should they fail, 2 0 level spells (Create Water and Purify Food and Drink) can fill their water containers with clean drinking water while any fetid, rotting corpse they happen upon in the course of their adventuring day, say from a monster, can in an emergency be turned into edible meat (albeit perhaps disgusting meat).
So between skills and 0 level spells food and water are nearly irrelevant right from the start of the campaign.
See if your players want a world where their daily bread, mundane diseases and toxins are difficult challenges to overcome throughout the course of their adventuring lives. If the answer is yes, use ever increasing DCs along with unique poisons and pathogens; perhaps even go P6 or P8 with the game. Track resources - if the PCs are kept under WBL or don't take advantage of Craft/Profession skills, Item Crafting feats and the like then limit their access to wands, potions, scrolls and alchemy that reduce/eliminate these threats.
Even if you do rule that there is a Surprise Round there is still a matter of what actions can be taken. Per RAW the party members that get to participate in the Surprise Round would only get either a Move or Standard action, not both. They could be combined into a Partial Charge giving them a single Move with an attack at the end, but this is only if they meet standard Charge action requirements.
So if PCs' A,C,D, and E gain a surprise round but they're hidden within the corridor away from the action, if you can't draw a straight line to the fight from them for any reason all they could do would be to move towards the battle, albeit in a very surprising nature, or potentially make a ranged attack from their current position.
Other actions might be to cast a buff spell on themselves or fellows in hiding, a large area spell or lob a spell targeting their enemies provided their Cover or Concealment didn't preclude the targeting of said enemies.
The thing with skill challenges, puzzles etc is getting the players to play them as such. For example, if you have a ghost show up and the PCs have come to the ruins to kick butt and chew bubble gum, they might decide they're all out of bubble gum as the ghost materializes; one casting of a spell that grants Ghost Touch on the DPR character's weapon and your specter is but a memory.
You can change this up using Haunts instead, but again, these might just be attacked by anyone flinging Positive Energy. Traps can be binary, disarmed by a single skill roll and a bit of time, or someone with high enough AC, Saves, HP and stats may just decide to barrel through the trapped area and soak the effect of said trap so progress can be made.
Anecdotally the only way I've made skill based encounters work isn't by involving environmental manipulation or convoluted mechanics, but just by telling my players. Seriously. I have a module I'm running where the PCs begin play at level 1 and pass through an area with random encounters up to CR 7. On one unlucky roll their path crossed near the lair of a hill giant. Faced with such an opponent I decided to run it as a skill challenge and when they ID'd the monster I flat out told them - going toe to toe with this monster will likely destroy you all; you might want to try a different approach.
Of course at first they thought I meant they should just sneak up on it and attack it from stealth/range. I had to tell them that perhaps skills like Diplomacy, Bluff and such might be better.
I guess my point is: if your adventure seems like a combat slog and you want to inject different kinds of encounters that you think your players would also enjoy, obviously do so. Just know ahead of time that your players, in the moment and the heat of their characters' mission, may decide to just handle everything tactically anyway.
If you want to slow down the action/combat with diverse encounters perhaps telling your players in some way, either bluntly or through NPCs/villains, may be advantageous up front. Some other ways to foreshadow such encounters in TV or movies are changes in lighting or music, so perhaps an environmental cue either in the game world or even where you and your players are gaming in real life.
As for how to add them... I really like Mattie D's suggestions above. Some other scenes and scenarios might be:
A section of the ruin collapses, blocking your current path, however it also reveals how the rubble could be rearranged/manipulated to reveal hidden paths (like a video game block-moving/placing challenge)
Fey bound to the service of Desna have preserved an underground wilderness with challenges to "heroes" of the goddess to prove their worth, the promise of holy artifacts to use as their prize
The ritual has already begun and the forces defiling the temple wield massive amounts of demonic energy that physically repel the PCs; entering other sub-levels of the ruins however to unlock reserves of Desnan power can have one of 2 different effects, based on you, the GM: either the PCs unlock these vaults that weaken the barriers enough for the PCs to smash through them, or Desnan Travel magic flings them beyond the barriers so they can continue their progress through the main module areas
Pocket dimensions: yes, Desna is the mistress of travel. Long ago, anticipating the devastation of the area by the Worldwound, several McGuffins were tossed into pocket dimensions and protected by tricks, traps and monsters to prove the worth of those who would find and use them. Over time however some of the portals have been discovered and corrupted by other beings/forces.
Now this suggestion could be a mini-game inside the main plotline if you really wanted to take it to the Nth degree. Each mini-dungeon might be self-contained within the confines of the ruins, certainly, but they might also be scattered around the land and lost to time. PCs might have to find them, using Gather Information rolls, traveling overland and gaining access to them through different means.
Desna is also the deity of musicians and imagination, so access to the demi-planes or pocket dimensions might be gained through song or recitation of poetry (riddles and such). Once inside challenges might still be intact from the goddess' powers - things having to do with Revelry, Liberation, Chaos and Luck, etc, or you could drop in level-appropriate corruptors who have changed the mini-dungeon to suit their own needs, like some demons that have perverted the place or some evil fey that have made it more wild and so on.
Finally the McGuffins gained within need not be actual weapons and armor. Consider making them innocuous items which definitely seethe with power but otherwise defy identification. Perhaps one is a single leather boot; it has no artifact powers the PCs can make work but if taken to the ruins and placed next to another boot that was rooted in place by Desnan magic long ago, the boots together reveal a section of the temple not even the Worldwound has found yet - the PCs can use this area then to recover between encounters.
As the PCs gather these items, they all relate to an event of significance, though not one known to the general populace or even scholars of the fallen temple. The items may've belonged to a humble traveler who came to the temple on the last day before the corruption began. Said traveler was considered very special to the goddess and as demonic energy began to tear through the temple they were visited by none other than Nightspear, one of the most powerful servants of Desna. The intervention of the holy Agathian utterly destroyed the hapless stranger, scattering their essence into these mundane objects and flinging them into the demi-planes in which they now reside.
Reassembling the objects helps restore the traveler who in turn could provide the PCs with some vital info that may yet turn the tide of the adventure. While interacting with these items, PCs may get glimpses into the past, the moment when it all went wrong, allowing you as the GM to deliver snippets of info through flashback scenes. These scenes would be mostly just storytelling but maybe they reveal some clues you need to give to the PCs to get them to the next objective or something as well.
Encounters in the CR system for Pathfinder are built around parties of 4 people. A CR 1 encounter as an Average challenge for 4, level 1 PCs is worth 400 XP. This means that each individual PC at level 1 should be able to handle 100 XP worth of monsters in an Average encounter at level 1.
With this as a baseline, Average CR Encounter XP/4 players, you can figure the expected budget for an individual PC at any level. Using those numbers you can "buy" monsters to add to your encounters to build them for 2 PCs.
If a typical CR 1 encounter translates to 100 XP/character, then for your 2 friends an Average challenge for CR 1 is 200 XP. This likely means 2 CR 1/4 monsters (worth 100 XP each), maybe 2 CR 1/3 monsters (worth 135 XP each; slightly over budget), or 1 CR 1/2 monster.
As for how to make things easier for your friends to muddle through encounters, there are a lot of different ways. Managing the number and difficulty of the enemies is only part of it:
1. Remind your players or print up a cheat sheet with tactics they can use to gain advantage against opponents, things like Flanking, Higher Ground, or Aid Another
2. Allow players to have level-appropriate consumable magic items. A potion of Stoneskin for example is much too powerful for a level 1 PC being a 3rd level Summoner spell, however a potion of Shield of Faith for a quick Deflection bonus is fine as it is a level 1 spell
3. Give the PCs bonus Feats. This one will take some management on your part to make sure the PCs don't get too powerful too fast, but allowing them a bonus Feat at perhaps level 1, then 4 and every 4 levels afterwards might be ok
4. Plan out a variety of encounters. Throwing only combat at the players might destroy them, but having an occasional encounter that might be resolved through negotiation or intimidation, bribery or other skills/spells/abilities is not only survivable but makes things interesting. Not every encounter needs be lethal to challenge your players
5. Apply the Young template or start monsters at half HP. Think about this encounter: your 2 PCs at level 1 stumble on a ghoul. This could be a total party kill for a group of 4 seasoned adventurers; certainly this might be too much for your friends. However, add the wrinkle that the creature has been weakened by a prolonged period of dire hunger without any corpses to consume (apply the Young template). The ghoul's attacks and abilities are slightly less effective while the PCs have a 10% greater chance of hitting with theirs. Heck, the creature might even ignore a fight all together if the players offer to help the pitiful ghoul secure food...
6. Have each player run 2 characters, or add in an NPC minion. Currently I've got a group starting off at level 1 in a tough adventure path; lots of random encounters, some of which are wildly overpowered for their level. The players decided to make 3 melee-damage type characters and a magus to cover Arcane spells. After their first dust-up they realized not having someone with healing in the party was going to get them killed. At the next town they hired both an NPC Witch and an NPC with levels in Adept. The Witch is an actual level 1 witch that has the Cauldron hex and occasionally makes them potions... for profit. The Level 2 Adept is a lay priest who worships the entire pantheon of gods and for a nominal daily fee will stand near the party in battle, casting spells to heal/revitalize them and even carrying some of the party's gear.
7. Monsters that run away is always good. Again, not every encounter needs be lethal. Putting the party against, say, 3 goblins but once the first one falls the other 2 flee in terror is both a good feeling for your friends but an easy way to end a tough encounter.
8. Animal friends. This goes along with #6 above. Offer the PCs a chance to buy trained attack dogs, or to befriend an awakened hawk or something. They might not add much to the party's overall power but such minions have a number of skills and abilities that might help the party avoid some fights
Finally, there's a number of mundane items the PCs can carry with them to manage through lower level fights. My players enjoy spring-loaded bear traps. There's also cheap splash weapons like holy water or vials of Acid, oil prepared ahead of time to use as flaming splash weapons, slings with cold-iron sling stones, caltrops or marbles to shut down enemy charging lanes... just the core book alone has many things to give PCs an edge when they're just starting out.
The biggest thing to do is encourage your players to problem-solve using EVERY resource at their disposal. I had a group at level 1 who made it to the outskirts of a ruined tower on a tiny islet in a river. As they made land they were beset by FAR more kobolds than they were expecting. Spotting an earthen ramp leading up to the 2nd story entrance they needed they also noticed said approach was a narrow slot being guarded by several kobold sentries.
What follows has been called The Ballad of Ghost Shirt:
The PCs used a scroll of Obscuring Mist and 2 cantrips, Ghost Sound and Prestidigitation. This set one of the PCs' extra clothes, specifically their shirt, floating through the expanding mist with a wailing, moaning sound. Since it was only Prestidigitation the shirt floated very slowly. The PCs used this to their advantage and also lit the shirt up with a Dancing Lights cantrip on round 2.
The Kobolds for their part noticed a sudden fog rolling UPHILL from the shore through the slot they were guarding. The mist was followed by an ominous, glowing torso with a seemingly glowing figure inside of it, moaning an wailing. One epic Intimidation check by the PC wizard with Aid Another bonuses from the other PCs and all 6 of kobolds were scared out of their wits! A couple managed to keep their cool long enough to fire a couple arrows at the ghost but these missed prompting the creature to "notice" them and turn its slow, menacing presence on them.
All 6 kobolds broke and ran. The PCs, following slowly behind their "specter" used Stealth checks aided by distance and Concealment to make it to the top of the ramp completely unharmed. Unfortunately once there they found a tatzlwyrm that wasn't as gullible as its kobold "worshippers" but the party managed to defeat the beast in combat. This got them into the ruin without hardly any damage and launched an epic tale that continues in my games over 2 years later!
As others have said, speak with your fellow players and GM. It might be that your fears are unfounded. Yes, you're 2 intelligence-based full casters with Arcane spells but the similarities could end there.
Outside of combat is entirely up to you and the personality you give the character. Consider all of the skills affected by the Int score: Appraise, Craft, Knowledge (10 individual skills under that heading), Linguistics, and Spellcraft. Just in those alone you could make wildly different PCs, especially by using traits to nab other skills as Class skills.
Imagine a Human wizard with the traits Clever Wordplay and World Traveler using Diplomacy as an Int-based Class skill. Add in Appraise, Knowledge: Arcana (because wizard), Geography (traveler) and History, and tack on Linguistics, and while in combat he's a common blaster, outside of combat he's an apprentice-level merchant looking to build a successful business through adventuring. He uses his store of old tales about the land, ancient history and magic to seek out dungeons deep and caverns dark, unearthing treasures lost to time... and then maximizes the profits of their return to civilization!
The same blaster wizard however could be built as a female Halfling with the Caretaker racial trait, a Goat familiar and Craft: Baskets, Leather, and Pottery. She also takes Ride as a Class skill from the Born Rider trait and puts a rank into Knowledge: Nature. Out of combat the lady spellcaster creates masterwork gear to ride on the goat, using the Undersized Mount feat or just casting a spell on the creature. Her encyclopedic knowledge about animals and plants helps her track down the best materials. Her favorite 10 minutes of the day is spent using Mending and Prestidigitation to repair the saddle on her loyal steed and in time she may even become a practiced Mounted Caster (as the feat).
Whatever you put into your character will shine through out of combat. So much of this game's mechanics deal with battle that it is actually easy, with practice and analysis, to optimize for it. In that act of optimization many characters become very similar - full-BAB melee types grabbing nearly the same weapon and feats to maximize their damage, blaster-wizards taking the same spells/metamagic/magic items to sow total destruction, etc.
Out of combat is a good place then to really show who your character is, how they're different from all the other folks who took the same combat spells and feats that you did. Expand your PC with skills, traits, and heck, even bonus feats if you can get them. Look to the utility spells and your ability to scribe scrolls if you didn't trade it out. Using these as a baseline try to approach situations out of combat with a unique perspective informed by those choices.
First off Catch Off Guard to get over the Improvised Weapon bit. Then also look to the sling Feat Sling Flail which lets you hold the ammo of a sling in the leather cup and wield the device like a flail. Using these 2 Feats you could device a mechanic by which a player could consistently use their whip to take hold of an object and wield it at the Reach of a whip.
I play for time. I play for love. I play for money. I play.
Mostly I play because this is the one thing, besides writing, that I have consistently felt any passion for. Sure, it waxes and wanes in intensity but there is no denying that I never get tired enough to quit this hobby.
The reason I prefer TTRPGs is purely the social aspect of it. You're with friends, or at least acquaintances willing to play the same game as you are, so there is less fear of making a fool of myself. I get to talk in silly voices, be intentionally melodramatic, and literally assume ANY identity I want at a moment's notice. While gaming I'm free from concern, focused only on what's happening on the table, in the room, in the moment.
I can express myself.
When freed from the shackles of reality and occupying a role in the game certain truths inside of me stagger up out of the darkness of my subconscious. You have a MUCH different view of the world, of priorities, of what matters to you as a Halfling Hunter/Warpriest in an evil tower in Irrisen than you do, say, in the Monday conference call.
Finally, I really like the idea that the game never REALLY ends unless you want it to. Even after an AP wraps there's more you could do; developing kingdoms, planar travel, heck, start your own family! One of my favorite 2e D&D campaigns is technically STILL running - my elf fighter/magic user had a daughter, she in turn reclaimed lands lost to our people an age before, and we left off where she had become pregnant.
As for why I play Pathfinder, that has to do with Paizo. They are a classy group. I find their CS and web staff highly responsive, their adventures well written and balanced (for 15 PT buy anyway), and the default setting very creative.
Its fun to play these games, be whoever you want, and chill with friends doing it. Pathfinder has a good mix of mechanics and magic; Paizo is a nice community of folks to do business with.
Level 1: wizard. Level 5: wizard. Level 7: wizard. Level 10: wizard. Level 13: wizard. Level 19: wizard.
That's my go-to, if I just want to rule at everything over time.
In all seriousness though, I don't really have a "go-to." I tend to build around the setting, my party members and general mood I'm in. The last game I got to be a player in was the Reign of Winter AP and the Hybrid classes were kind of new. I took levels in Hunter and Warpriest, with an archetype for WP that gave me a sacred mount type AC.
We only made it to level 9 but my Halfling was fun to play! With Warslinger and a Halfling Sling Staff, several well chosen feats and teamwork feats shared with his wolf animal companion, and a general revulsion for all the "unnatural" activities in Irrisen, the AP was entertaining for me at every level.
I will say though that the build was a slow burn. Levels 1-3 I had above average accuracy, average damage, and some interesting combat abilities with WP, but not a huge glut of spells or anything. Levels 4 and 5 saw me go into Hunter and things got a little more diverse spell-wise but I actually fell behind in damage and my accuracy dipped a little.
Level 6 however my teamwork feats started to really synergize. Level 7 my damage came back pretty well as I started back into WP; with the Halfling favored class bonus my damage die went up at WP 4 instead of 5. I also had a few levels of Hunter spell buffs I made into scrolls and used routinely on my mount.
Level 9 though... Hunter 3/WP 6, a Large wolf with the Celestial template, enough Fervor to use on nearly every combat/day, and hitting with insane accuracy for average damage followed by nearly equally accurate bite attacks as the wolf leapt into combat; that was good times!
I've had 2 problems with traps in my games: 1, they don't get everyone in the party involved and 2, they're pass/fail.
I like the OP's suggestions of using the 3 tiers (Finesse, Logic, Force) to deal with disabling the traps. This helps to solve #1 and gives everyone the chance to do something if they detect a trap. The pass/fail thing though, that one's always bugged me.
For awhile I tried running traps like an encounter. First, there was a Perception check to notice the device in the party's midst, but only if they were actively searching or a character with Trapfinding wandered within 10' of the thing.
Trap combat houserule:
If the trap wasn't detected, it did its thing. If the Perception check succeeded, we'd move into "combat" rounds. Everyone would roll initiative and on their initiative I'd ask the player what they were doing. I encouraged and incentivized characters to use the Aid Another mechanic to help each other and had a house rule that skills other than Disable Device could be used in the Aid Another action on traps.
For example there was a door in an abandoned dwarf mine that was trapped, but the trap was built by a group of kobolds who'd moved in after the place was vacated. The ranger of the party noticed the trap and had Disable Device so his actions were to try and bypass the crossbow mechanism in the upper corner. The half-elf wizard asked if she could use Knowledge: Local to Aid Another. When she rolled well I granted the +2 since she was able to identify that the trap was likely kobold-make and they sometimes add dummy triggers to mechanical traps to trip up nosy intruders.
So finally the roll to Disable would be thrown, with all applicable bonuses. At this point a detected trap is either beaten or it's not in a standard game. In my foolishness I tried to add an element of danger to these encounters and would work out the HP and Hardness on trap triggers for many of my homebrewed adventures.
The Disable Device skill says that it takes 1d4 rounds to beat a trap on a successful roll. I subbed "Disable Damage" having the character's final Disable roll deal an amount of damage that had to get through the Hardness based on the final D20 roll, -10. So in the above example, the ranger got a total of 23 on his check, meaning he did 23 damage to the crossbow trap. Since the device is primarily wood I gave it 10 HP and a 5 Hardness. The first round he dealt 8 damage.
I would give the trap an action then. The trap had to make a Perception check, with the modifier of the check starting at +5 for CR 1 and going up from there, to detect it was being tampered with; magical traps got a +2 to this roll. The DC was the player's final Disable Device check. If the trap succeeded in its Perception check, it went off; otherwise it continued to sit passively.
This is a convoluted way of saying the PCs had skill combat with the trap. These encounters worked a little at low levels but at higher levels the PCs' bonuses were just too crazy for traps to keep up without every trap being a punitive deathtrap. Also after the novelty of the mechanic wore off my players didn't enjoy the extra maths and such we'd have to work out. Not to mention I'd have to add HP, Hardness and Perception to all my traps!
Once the PCs got bored with it they just began finding ways around the traps. Pit trap? Levitation scroll and a good push, problem solved. Lightning Bolt statue? Unseen Servant dragging a tower shield. Or else the fighter would just eat the damage and get healed/cured after the fact.
Now I'm back to the default mechanics from the game. I try to use traps organically. Trap-making monsters have an understanding that more powerful prey such as adventurers are capable of surviving their diabolical devices. For this reason they usually have some backup guardian keeping sentry on many of their trap points. Monsters can't be everywhere and even the most intelligent, organized and disciplined LE creatures still slack on guard duty from time to time, but in general I'm usually rolling a Perception check for monsters near a trap to notice it's being disabled.
If my current game's investigator is hard at work for 3 rounds on a Scorching Ray trapped wall carving, the rest of the party better have their heads on swivels for the bugbears hired to watch the door from down the hall...
If you didn't have him inserting himself over the PCs you could change Barthos the Bard to Chuck, Prophet of the Lord and change him from Tiefling to Assimar. He's fond of white shirts and jeans, is perpetually scared, and seems to know EVEN MORE than a prophet should. He disappears mysteriously after his last scene.
I've GM'd PF for a decade; in that time I've successfully run 2 "wave" encounters. Ironically both involved what I'd consider "interesting" terrain.
One was a challenging boss fight for a group of level 1 PCs. The fight took place in a dungeon chamber draped with spider webs. These squares narrowed where the party could move. The main villain began the fight as a medium humanoid with some druid abilities. After he was defeated the so-called "swarm lord" dissolved into a single swarm of creepy crawlies, using the webbing to expand it's Reach and Space. After the swarm was beaten, predictably by using fire on some of the webs, the walls crumbled a bit showing 2 "hives" that were regenerating the humanoid form of the creature. They also threatened to vomit more swarms as well. The PCs had to use their remaining powers and flaming oil to remove these so that the creature couldn't return. Of course, this caused enough structural damage that the dungeon room began to collapse...
The second was for level 3 PCs. They came down a double flight of steps in a dungeon to find a long, 10' wide hallway with tons of ossuary (bones and skulls) art on the walls and floor. A short way down to either side were crypts; niches in the walls with bones interred, vaulted in brick with wrought iron fencing as well.
After the PCs hit the main floor they realized that numerous squares ahead and in the crypts featured bones that were broken; these counted as caltrops. The skulls around them animated, creating a swarm of those Tiny sized floating head undead. As the party fought to deal with the swarm in their midst, bones moved independently through the bars of the vaults to reassemble as skeletons. These creatures ignored the damage from the caltrops (DR 5/Bludgeoning) and moved about freely, attacking the PCs on the periphery of the swarm. The final wave of bones at the far end formed a pair of giant, scythe-wielding skeletons guarding the door at the far end; they'd break apart and move back into their crypts, regenerate, then full-round action to re-emerge.
Those sound cool on paper but they were a real chore for me to run. The skeleton one is still touted as one of my more cruel fights, because of the skeletal regeneration. I find myself constantly trying to thread the needle between challenging my players and giving the tacticians and optimizers some fun and utterly frustrating all of my players with a fight they think is just me being a killer GM.
Once they figure out the blood curdling scream puzzle though... Ear Piercing Scream modified by Silent Spell ends the fight. Since they're undead I don't think Ghost Sound would work.
DJ Ustus: I think #2 is the most appropriate answer to my poor GMing skills. One thing I'm lamenting here is the CR system though. For an "average" or APL = CR fight, a group of 4 Level 6 PCs require a CR 6 threat. On a flat, open plain, with no terrain hindrance for either side, this means a single CR 6 monster, 2 CR 4, or more monsters at even lower CRs.
PCs are already weighted to defeat these monsters in straight up combat. Presumably they have optimized for combat; I also run games with rolled stats that often work out higher than a 20 pt buy, but monsters in general are built around PCs with a 15 pt buy. In short, they SHOULD defeat these monsters.
In order to make things more interesting I change the open plain into a swampy forest. There's a couple ponds occupying some squares, Light and Heavy trees in others and low obstacles like stands of marsh grass or reeds, tree stumps, or mossy rocks. However the group of PCs has a number of spells, abilities and consumable items to help them ignore or minimize the penalty from their environment.
I'm either "buying" monsters that are native to the swamp and have some Movement type or special ability that similarly allows them to ignore the penalties of the terrain, to keep them as free to enter combat as the PCs, but this increases the CR by the rules of the game, or I have a fight which is already weighted in the PCs' favor where the bad guys suffer from the "interesting" terrain elements I threw in while the PCs continue unhindered.
In short; I need to get better at planning combats.
Archie up thread mentioned waves of foes. I think that's another thing I need to get better at. I don't want to overwhelm my players or their characters, just make fight scenes interesting. However when my now APL 7 group is wandering around swamps, forests and caves, with Darkvision, Boots of the Mire, and so on, and one-shotting mixed groups of monsters and evil humanoids regardless of the terrain, I can see boredom starting to set in on all of us.
On the other hand, if I have the PCs pass through an ambush spot in the woods and get into it with wave after wave of gnolls, dire hyenas, and brown mold-ridden skeletons, even if each "wave" is only CR 6 to the party's APL 7, isn't that like putting them against one super-high CR?
Getting back to Mr David however I'd like to answer one other thing. I really am not looking to use terrain or environment specifically to increase the CR or difficulty against the PCs. I'm looking to make my players actually engage with the fight scenes and have fun instead of how they sort of blithely call off initiatives, movement, and attack/damage rolls which is what is happening now.
Somewhere up thread some folks mentioned you get XP for killing enemies. While this is correct, it isn't the ONLY way. You get XP
Characters advance in level by defeating monsters, overcoming challenges, and completing adventures
so if you use four PCs with optimized Stealth skills and spells to aid movement to avoid a fight, the GM could consider the challenge overcome and therefore award experience.
Dealing a wheelbarrow full of damage is the most expedient way of defeating your enemies. It is not the ONLY way, but it is efficient, straightforward and let's face it; to some players it is satisfying. If you destroy an enemy through massive damage they can't come back to menace you further. There are distinct advantages baked into the game system to optimizing for damage and dealing it consistently.
Now what is fun for one player isn't fun for another, and that goes for GMs too as I like to think of them as just another player (with a LOT of characters under their control). In my 2 groups for example, for every 3 players I have that obsesses over DPR there's a fourth that enjoys doing minimal damage while also providing skills, spells, or abilities that end challenges.
Everyone has a right to enjoy the game as they want. The GM has a duty to try and cater to their players' entertainment, though not at the expense of their own fun. In short, if people want to optimize for damage let them. If you don't like that, don't do it. The act of focusing on DPR isn't inherently good or bad, it's just a choice to make in the game.
Anecdotally I've had several scenes and even a couple whole game sessions where challenges, even with potential villains, were ended through skills and abilities, not damage. A group of very aggressive dire goats for example: yes, they're territorial and threatening but the PCs spotted the creatures at an encounter distance of 100'. Knowing their path lay just beyond the 3 creatures my APL3 party with a druid approached carefully, using Knowledge: Nature and Handle Animal, trying to get the animals' attitude to Indifferent. Once at 30' from the nearest goat the druid threw caution to the wind and tried Wild Empathy. The party's cleric threw Enhanced Diplomacy on his friend and I allowed it since the check functions like a Diplomacy check.
What followed was a 23 on the check, dropping the lead goat from Unfriendly to Friendly for a couple hours; not only did the druid use this to encourage the other 2 goats to calmly let the party pass but she cast Speak with Animals and got a little bit of info out of the creature about the gnolls ahead.
Yes, I know; this is only anecdotal. The odds of success with these kinds of social or avoidance-based conflict resolutions are not as weighted in the party's favor unless the PCs optimize for them and even then the measure of success isn't as absolute as killing the monster. However I as a player and GM enjoy seeing conflict ended in other ways beyond just destroying enemies so my fellow players have been incentivized by additional rewards such as extra XP, Boons, or even bonus Traits or Feats, to pursue such resolutions.
Again, bottom line, there's nothing in the rules that state the ONLY way to gain XP is by killing monsters. Its pretty easy to do however and a large focus of the PF system. If you like it, optimize for it. If you don't, don't. Play the game YOU want.