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--- SUMMARY ---
Quick explanation about timing - this post was written on 8/19, but due to intermittent site issues could not be posted until 8/24. There may be lingering references to the surveys "being completed shortly" - I did 'em during the week, but there's a wall of text to edit so I may have missed a few references.
This report will be filed in addition to the GM survey for Doomsday Dawn I. It summarizes each encounter by room number, and then provides closing thoughts from the GM. I'll be adding additional posts each time we complete a chapter of Doomsday Dawn. Currently, we play in a PFS venue during a five hour time slot, so this session was broken up over two games on 8/12 and 8/19, with roughly 3.5 hours of each session being spent butts-in-seats playing and another ~hour spent reviewing rules after encounters ended to make sure we ran the encounters as close to rules as written as possible in a game with such wide latitude for variation; I expect most future sessions will take roughly the same amount of time.
During the second session, we did have several players not able to rejoin the table due to scheduling conflicts. The table was composed of six players for the first session (A1 - A7), and four for the second (A8-A12).
--- THE PARTY ---
-> Dwarf barbarian (fury totem)
-> Halfling cleric
-> Halfling barbarian (animal totem)
-> Dwarf paladin
-> Elf cleric
-> Elf sorcerer
--- PREGAME ---
Before the game, we discussed character build choices and the character creation rules. The players had built their characters over the preceding week, so the party didn't have quite the same party balance as previous parties of Playtest I've GMed for. Because we were playing in a public venue as part of a weekly Pathfinder Society game day, for reaching the $50 Retail Incentive Program threshold each player was awarded a second Hero Point, in addition to the one they start the session with.
This event took place over two sessions, on 8/12 and 8/19, and hero points reset on 8/19 (with the same result of each PC starting the session with two Hero Points after the table hit $50 of food purchases within 1/2 an hour).
--- A1 ---
This combat was straightforward - the party entered the room from the bottom of the map, and immediately triggers a Perception check, where the dwarves and the elves stomped my pitiful Stealth check. With the game up, the party immediately transitioned into Perception vs. Perception initiative. They won, and quickly encircled the offending ooze via two Sudden Charges and an Electric Jolt. The ooze managed to give the paladin a love tap, but otherwise ended up quickly transitioning from alive to a puddle of goo.
A long pause ensued while we reviewed the rules of Exploration Mode with the players. The party, having no rogues (the elf cleric was our high Perception modifier and had Thievery), elected to all Search down the hallway.
--- A2 ---
The party rumbles down the hall, and the goblins definitely know the Paladin is coming (*clank* *clank*). They hide in the shadows, but with the dwarf's Darkvision and the elves' Low Light plus the continued effects of Note 2 they were quickly discovered and didn't get a chance to rush out of the shadows and into the PCs' grills. Instead, we went straight to Per/Stealth opposed Initiative once the paladin (on point) entered the Ossuary proper.
This fight was nasty, brutal, and short; the goblins fired off a bunch of longbow misses at a raised shield, and were one-hit wonders for the two Sudden Charges that took away their distance cushion. The DC5 flat checks did not cause a miss in the darkness, and four goblin warriors quickly met their assorted gods. No non-cantrips were cast during this combat.
With the goblins deceased, the party elected to search the side rooms and secure the passage out before searching (so in chronological order, the events were Combat A2, Combat A3, Search A4, Trap A5, Search A2). When they did search the room, they discovered the loot but did not critically succeed to find the owlbear claw (the elves both rolled poorly).
--- A3 ---
The party dwarf was nominated to stick his head in each of the holes. He entered the first hole, and successfully Perceived the centipedes (triggering initiative). The centipedes used their climb speeds to reach the back line of the party, forcing some actual spell slot use out of the Cleric (one Heal) and the Sorcerer (MAGIC MISSILE!). The lack of Attack of Opportunity was a huge problem, and because the centipedes rolled well on initiative, they were able to separate and swarm the dwarf. Despite this, I couldn't hit the broad side of the barn and the party survived. No PCs were poisoned during the murder of these centipedes; all of the saving throws were successful.
--- A4 ---
The party successfully identified the injuries on the goblins. They're grossed out, and immediately default to, "Vampire," having not critically succeeded.
--- A5 ---
Only the dwarf pokes his head in the room. The trap triggers. He passes the save, and immediately leaves. No search checks take place in this room, and the fungus is not identified.
--- A6 ---
The party fixated on the statue for a good long while, probably preventing us from finishing in a single session. The paladin and the cleric both observe the idol, and the cleric identifies it as being associated with Lamashtu. The sorcerer uses Mage Hand to fetch the thing out of the water, but the paladin (being a paladin) immediately attempts to smash it with his hammer and triggers the encounter.
The quasits attempt Invisibility (and because there are no fighters, they succeed!). However, their offense is less than stellar - they fire off a Fear spell at the two closest threats, the paladin and the halfling barbarian. The halfling fails, the paladin succeeds and whacks a quasit. The dwarf barbarian uses Sudden Charge to base and crit the same quasit, and kills it on the crit damage. The other quasit tries to engage the back line, targeting the cleric, and soaks another Magic Missile. A Heal fixes up the damage and the halfling returns from their Fear 2 just in time to see his two allied hitters put down the quasit.
With the quasits dead, the party checks out both doors. With one door locked, one door not, and no rogue they barrel through the trapped door, setting off the trap without even trying to find it (it was a Barbarian heavy party), and immediately turn towards A7. While the searching is taking place, the dwarf paladin takes a drink from the fountain, but he passes his save and declares that it tastes like, "Fish waste," (he used a different word for "waste" at the table), prompting the rest of the party to steer clear.
--- A7 ---
Darkness was, I think, the best bait for this trap. The dwarf, running fist and with darkvision, immediately perceives the goblins and triggers a Per/Per initiative roll without trying to search for the falling rocks.
During the first round of combat, one goblin stood by the falling rock trigger while the other two (plus the commando) were bait to pull the party into the falling rocks. On the first round, all three melee characters decided to gather up in the rocks to engage the bulk of the party, so the goblins obliged and rocks fell. Nobody died this time, but it was a significant chunk of damage the party would've probably preferred to avoid. After the rock fall, the Goblin Pyro moved forward and greased, using the four contiguous squares configuration to lay out two party members and make some unhospitable terrain for the party.
With two party members (paladin and halfling) prone, the goblins started doing real damage. The commando stuck two crits into the dwarf barbarian, who was living because of Rage temporaries. The party, meanwhile, had caught a bad case of my earlier dice rolls and were flailing with wet noodles at relatively paltry goblin AC. The back line of casters took out a goblin via cantrips, but the two melees and the commando were winning in the trenches when the halfling went unconscious and we had to pause to teach the dying rules.
With the halfling down, the goblins hit a snag - they needed to move through their own grease. One of the remaining warriors tried, failed, fell prone, and was promptly smashed to bits by a dwarf barbarian crit. The elf cleric used his domain power to move the commando into the same square, which caused the commando to also fall prone and to be killed by a dwarf paladin crit. The remaining warrior fired a bow at the cleric, but ate a cantrip in return and the pyro was finally swarmed by the remaining party members. At the end of this fight, everyone in the party was badly damaged and all three melee types were in single digit hit points. We were also out of real world time for this week's session, so they retreated to the surface and rested, dragging their halfling companion out of the Ossuary.
Post-fight, the party spent a good ten minutes trying to climb the cliff face (in real world time). The string of failures was initially funny, but by about minute five we really, really missed the 3.x Take-10 rules, which would have solved this problem. The party also lacked any PCs trained in Thievery. Fortunately, they had a dwarven lockpick (that's a hammer). The stone proved no match for an angry dwarf, and was eventually smashed down. The party proceeded to A12.
--- A8 ---
Skeletons versus a cleric? This was the last room the party entered, and thanks to the cleric spending much of the Drakus fight unconscious there were still three heals left. One shortbow critical hit badly injured the halfling barbarian, but the skeletons were quickly dispatched. Only moment of danger was the opening salvo of the back four skellies.
--- A9 ---
The party discovered this trap via Detect Magic from the spellcasters - the sorcerer successfully dispelled the identified trap via the DC 14 spell roll, and the event did not fire.
I will add here that the dispelling of magic traps, and the mechanism to do so, worked well mechanically even though it was weird that you didn't need, you know, Dispel Magic. While it was a bit jarring, being able to dispel magic traps went over well generally.
--- A10 ---
I expected this to be a nasty encounter based on previous reviews, but the Drakus fight was quite underwhelming. Drakus won initiative on a nat-20 Stealth, closed to melee, and whiffed twice on a 2 and a 1 against the barbarian (AC 14 on the 2 versus the barbarian's non-raging AC 15). The sorcerer whiffed back with a Ray of Enfeeblement, then popped her Dragon Claws with her remaining action. The halfling barbarian swung back and missed twice. Then the dwarf dropped a Magic Weapon Greataxe crit. 33 damage later, Drakus is in a bad way.
Round two, Drakus turned his attention to the dwarf barbarian. A critical, grab, and life drain later the dwarf barbarian is down. The cleric heals the barbarian to bring her back to Unconscious. Lots of whiffs from the party this round against Drakus as they catch the disease of sub-5 dice rolls. Action economy is swiftly turning into a problem for Drakus despite fighting them at a choke point where they can only move by provoking. Smartly, the party stood their ground after supposing (correctly) that he could AoO.
Round three, the barbarian passes her Stability check (DC 18 with a -2 for drained - gets it on the roll) and wakes up. She provokes by standing, and goes back to unconsciousness. Drakus steps and puts two swings into the cleric, knocking him out as well. However, the halfling and the sorcerer flail with melee attacks to no avail.
Round four, lots of bad dice, lots of fanning each other. Everyone missing a lot makes for fights taking too long and not being very fun, and has been a recurring theme through The Lost Star. The halfling seems committed to trying to land an Intimidate/Grab combo on Drakus with only a +1 on Intimidate. Good marks for roleplaying, but it wastes precious Strike/Step actions that could've been used to set up a flank and force him off his choke point. Drakus did tag a longsword hit, though I'm blanking on who (I think I got the sorcerer for some damage). Everyone else did the slap-fight maneuver.
Round five, my dice luck from earlier returns and Drakus whiffs twice on a raging halfling (snake eyes on the dice - he hits on a 3), before tagging a consolation claw that he can't follow up with the drain because he's out of actions. The sorcerer finally lands a claw, leaving him with 39 damage before the halfling lands a d10 bite hit and ends the battle; 2/6 dying, no dead but the faceless stalker. Due to the choke point, there were only Step, Strike, and a couple of ranged spells that go off in this fight. A lot of wet noodle slapping between the monster (afflicted by horrific dice luck on my part) and the party (who were also afflicted with a couple rounds of awful dice, but only needed ~12 to hit the AC thanks to Bless).
The critical hit on the dwarf barbarian's opening salvo really defined this fight. It was the bulk of the damage, and it put Drakus in a situation where he didn't have enough time before the action advantage eventually whittled him down. Also, keeping the martials staggered throughout the marching order (and acting under the assumption that as a "boss" monster he could AoO) really helped the party avoid taking unnecessary bonus damage. The Drakus fight was hard, but I'm baffled at how so many parties are TPKing here; I could probably have dropped one more had the dice been all 11s (or the DPR Olympics 5/15 alternating sequence) but the party's action advantage would have, I feel, inevitably won the day.
--- A11 ---
The party searched the altar. Not much excitement here. They found the dagger and the book, and took both. They checked out the bowl, and enjoyed the preview of future chapter(s). After shameless looting, they moved back through the hallway to leave with their spoils. We had discussed, OOC, that they should take the un-cleared path on the way back even though that makes no sense in character because they have the Star and the Notes, in the name of actually playtesting the entire complex.
--- A12 ---
The party entered after bashing down the secret door (and thus alerting Drakus in A10). They tossed the equipment, and were stymied by the locked chest. The chest did stick the barbarian for a single iteration of the poison (rendering her Drained 1 walking into A10) before moving on to trigger the next encounter.
After the A10 combat resolved, the party was able to open and loot the stuff. Despite some hints during the conclusion from Keleri, the party decided to hang on to the loot. No 3rd level items for them in Part IV.
--- NOTES ---
 - Secret rolls are annoying. Very few of them add anything to the campaign or the quality of the play experience. They do add additional time and cognitive burden on the GM, which is not ideal. A very, very few of them actually need to be secret; players are better at not metagaming than most GMs give them credit for, and the best way to stop them from metagaming is to 1) trust them and 2) call them out if they aren't honest. Throughout the adventure, I think only one of the knowledge checks (and none of the other checks) was truly worth rolling secretly. I would suggest that many places in the rules that call for a Secret Check should just call for a check, and let the GM make the determination about secrecy.
 - Throughout the first session, I rolled horrifically badly. I strung together nine consecutive d20 rolls with a die result under five at one point in room A7. The modifiers and the ACs of the non-Paladin party members indicated that I should've been hitting far more frequently than my dice were willing to cooperate with. This may have tainted some encounters' results in the playtest. That said, the Paladin was very good at putting himself in the danger zone and keeping the squishies protected with terrain, so some of my flailing was probably as it should have been, just a little more farcical because I was "critically" failing.
 - At this point, I felt we were in Per/Per rather than Per/Stealth; the party had made the hiding ooze, so the ooze needed to realize it was seen, rather than needed to hide (because, ugh, see Note 2).
 - Exploration mode is a colossal pain in dungeon crawl situations, for limited return. The areas of the map are so small that the party takes only a few minutes to move from encounter to encounter, and with the exception of the trap the party wanted to move in a tactical manner because they perceived the complex to be full of threatening things, and were in no particular hurry to search it while active threats remained. I asked for the purpose of the playtest that we attempt to use Exploration mode when moving between rooms on the map, with a defined marching order and using the lead figure to indicate party position unless we were in initiative, but this failed us at A6 and A7, where the party
 - We looked at Mage Hand, and I could find neither a bulk limit nor an exclusion for magic items, so this seems to Just Work. Not sure if that's intended or not, but it's worth considering that when items appear in scenarios/modules/Adventure Paths should define their Bulk for the purpose of this spell.
 - The dying rules are frustrating and quite rough. If someone goes down, they're probably staying down. The DC on the goblins isn't terribly high, but needing two successes to wake up means you're probably down for the remainder of a combat and that usually begins cascade failure among the rest of the party (unless the hit that dropped you was just a lucky crit during what should've been cleanup mode).
 - The Thievery DCs for opening locks were silly high relative to what the PCs could possibly achieve. A rogue will have, at best, +6 to Thievery (needing a 14 or better on the doors in this complex). If you're actively trying to force the party to smash the doors (a clever villain setting up a mundane alarm for a group of known PCs?) this is fine, but for standard dungeon doors it's annoying at low levels. Finding a way to get those DCs down closer to the high teens (somewhere in the DC 17-18 range?) would make it more challenging without being farcical lessons in failure.
--- CLOSING THOUGHTS ---
Basically every task in the adventure was an exercise in failure; the combats were spent making slap-fight motions at each other, initially while laughing but later as a way to express frustration without being too overt in the public store venue where we run weekly PFS and want to look like we're fun relative to the Wednesday Adventurer's League games that are now drawing significantly more attendance than PFS. However, the failure rate on pretty much every task was really high. The Climb in A7, especially, was really frustrating.
I think we missed the old Take 10 rules for this very thing. Failing while you're in danger is one thing, but the constant out of combat failure for what should've been mundane tasks was really, really unpleasant as a play experience. The game loses a lot of fun when the PCs are stuck failing at every rudimentary navigation task because the dice decide the players can suck it, and none of the DCs were low enough that the Assurance feat was worth taking (15-20). Even if Assurance just allowed you to take 10 (plus modifier) navigating the dungeon, a task that shouldn't take up more than a few minutes of time, wouldn't become more time consuming than flailing (and failing) at the enemies.
I also noticed that the Paladin specifically really never fired off his "flagship ability", Retributive Strike. This ability fired not a single time throughout the adventure. The paladin did a good job of making himself a target, but even with two melee allies (and with two allies who spent most of A7 prone and adjacent to him in a Grease) he never managed to meet the condition for Retributive Strike. Some of that was that the goblin commando had a reach weapon (but Large enemies are common at higher levels) and part of it was the little goblins struggling to figure out which end of the dogslicer goes in a good guy (read: I couldn't roll a d20 and get a double digit), I reiterate my feeling that this ability is uninspiring and really should be moved from the defining feature of the class to a class feat (probably at 6th level, in place of AoO). It's good for a paladin built around it, but it's really hard to make work for someone with a 5' reach even in a combat that should lend itself to it.
Finally, Exploration Mode. Exploration Mode just does not work well in dungeon settings. In the Ossuary complex, most of the distances encompassed 1-2 move actions; essentially a round or two. Using Exploration Mode tactics between encounters to search rooms also created more cognitive overhead than was required to say, "We want to canvass the room for clues." While it may make more sense when doing In Pale Mountain's Shadow, at least for crawling through the dungeon the Exploration Mode rules don't really add anything to the game that was missing - they just add a bunch of unnecessary paragraphs that, once we're no longer in playtest, our group will completely ignore (assuming we continue playing Pathfinder 2nd Edition). In short, throughout The Lost Star Exploration Mode seemed like a solution in search of a problem, and the search was making new problems besides.