Pathfinder Adventure Path #78: City of Locusts (Wrath of the Righteous 6 of 6) (PFRPG)

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Pathfinder Adventure Path #78: City of Locusts (Wrath of the Righteous 6 of 6) (PFRPG)
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Chapter 6: "City of Locusts"
by Richard Pett

The Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path concludes with “City of Locusts,” a thrilling climax by fan-favorite author Richard Pett! The heroes of the Fifth Crusade have risen to heights of power undreamed of and have dealt blow after blow to the demonic armies of the Worldwound. As they return to Golarion from the Abyss, though, they find that their enemies are no longer sending minions after them—they've drawn the attention of not only the leaders of the Worldwound, but that of their demonic patron, Deskari, Lord of the Locust Host. The method for closing the Worldwound permanently lies within the heroes’ grasp, but in order to do so they must venture where no crusader has ever returned from intact. They must enter the crumbling City of Locusts to defeat its demonic ruler, but even this is but a stepping stone to the final battle against Deskari himself!

“City of Locusts” is a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game adventure for 18th-level characters who have gained nine mythic tiers. The adventure utilizes rules from Mythic Adventures in order to portray a campaign of truly epic potential. An exploration of the apocalyptic cult of Deskari, along with an article filled with suggestions for how to both continue this campaign and to launch a new one in the transformed Worldwound after the heroes succeed (or perhaps fail) round out this volume, along with a bestiary of several monsters (including the final demon lord to be presented during the campaign!) and part six of Robin D. Laws's Pathfinder Journal novella!

Each monthly full-color softcover Pathfinder Adventure Path volume contains an in-depth adventure scenario, stats for several new monsters, and support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes use the Open Game License and work with both the Pathfinder RPG and the world’s oldest fantasy RPG.

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-587-7

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscription.

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Anti-climactic

3/5

Read my full review on Of Dice and Pen.

City of Locusts by Richard Pett, falls short of the grand climax Wrath of the Righteous deserves. In one regard, one shouldn’t judge it too harshly. It had an incredibly lofty to goal to accomplish, one that is extremely difficult to achieve, and it does come close. On the other hand, however, after the brilliance of the adventure path’s opening and its most recent instalment, Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth, City of Locusts ends up feeling like something of an anti-climax. Despite the massive amount of power at the PCs’ hands and the unbelievably powerful foes they must face, the adventure is lacking an important aspect, one that is ultimately a flaw of the entire adventure path (but hasn’t really been noticeable until now), and not just this adventure alone.

I should make it clear that I do think City of Locusts is a good adventure. It’s just not a good enough finale.


Lacks shine, and isn't epic

3/5

So, here we are the last adventure of the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. Our heroes are now as powerful as a PC could ever get in the game, boasting 20 character levels, 10 mythic tiers, several artifacts and a way higher wealth than any normal 20th level PC should have. They already bargained with a demon lord, spoke with a goddess and delved very deep into the Ivory Labyrinth. They single handily turned the tide of the current crusade on their own (by blowing up the warpstones), conquered their own fortress... that is quite the long lit of achievements. Having done all those things already, one can expect the last adventure in the path to be absolutely insane, epic and huge in scope.

It's not.

While the previous adventure ended with a rescue of a corrupted herald from the Ineluctable Prison, this one has the heroes going to... a brothel? a smithy? the entire first half of the adventure feels like a low-mid level romp with higher CRs tacked on. The second half of the adventure fairs slightly better, as the PCs DO journey to the heart of the worldwound. However, it still feels like just a dungeon crawl with bigger monsters.

I mean, where is the crusade in all of this? where are the howling hordes of demons clashing against the raised spears of row upon row of knights in shining armor? where do the PCs get to show the world just how awesome they are?

This adventure is a serious miss, as far as I'm concerned. It is so small in scope (or at least feels that way) that it cannot possibly convey the epic feeling of the events taking place. Worse, the adventure is composed as a string of encounter areas, with VERY little in the way of describing the larger picture. It seems like everyone is dormant, nonreactive, waiting to see if the PCs will do anything.

Much like the 6th adventure of Curse of the Crimson Throne, this one is too constrained to do justice to the story being told. It has a rather unique opportunity to tell a story only such powerful PCs can participate in, but chooses to tell it like a much more tame story, holding back from unleashing any sort of real craziness. The craziness is entirely on the crunch side - very tough high level opponents. The fluff, however, is severely lacking.


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Axial wrote:
Oh god!

Your pathetic gods have nothing to do with it.


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Deskari,Lord of the Locust Host wrote:
Axial wrote:
Oh god!
Your pathetic gods have nothing to do with it.

Trust me, Deskari. I don't think you're going to like how this AP turns out. ;)


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Deskari,Lord of the Locust Host wrote:
Axial wrote:
Oh god!
Your pathetic gods have nothing to do with it.

So which of these should I use on you?


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Alleran wrote:
Deskari,Lord of the Locust Host wrote:
Axial wrote:
Oh god!
Your pathetic gods have nothing to do with it.
So which of these should I use on you?

Humph.

Wait for the statblock - I have DR 20/cold iron, epic, good, and Raid.

Paizo Employee Developer

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Oh, man. I don't know how to tell you this, but I cut that part in development. Sorry, big guy. ;)


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Adam Daigle wrote:
Oh, man. I don't know how to tell you this, but I cut that part in development. Sorry, big guy. ;)

Betrayed by a flumph...I should have known :(


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To be fair, DR 20/ epic will be easy to bypass by this level.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeah, I actually hope we get something like DR 30/- or even higher. Martial player characters have such a ridiculous damage output even already at level 15, that I don't even want to imagine how much more ridiculous it will be at level 20 + 10 mythic tiers. I hope Richard takes this into account, it would be nice if Deskari would not end up being one-rounded by a single character. Or even multiple ones.


magnuskn wrote:
Yeah, I actually hope we get something like DR 30/- or even higher. Martial player characters have such a ridiculous damage output even already at level 15, that I don't even want to imagine how much more ridiculous it will be at level 20 + 10 mythic tiers. I hope Richard takes this into account, it would be nice if Deskari would not end up being one-rounded by a single character. Or even multiple ones.

Deskari will probably need something that can hold firm against a massive amount of damage, or even just outright nullify a certain number of attacks per round somehow. The output can definitely get up to insane levels - I think in the Rules forum, the thread on Vital Strike (mythic) has a quick progression on getting 1200+ damage off in one round. And an Archmage with a Maximise Rod, Channel Power and Mythic Meteor Swarm can throw out about ~900 damage or so that ignores fire immunity.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeah. Let's just say that the first two demon lords we got in module one and two are not making me too hopeful that the developers have any idea what even a single motivated player will be able to legally do with their new ruleset. :-/ Let alone four (or six in my case).


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Well to be fair, to get that damage, you'll be spending about 2-3 Mythic Points per use (depending on if you Fleet Charge), and the Demon Lords have enough resources and spells to be a challenge. If you ran a demon as is with a man-to-man fight, it'll probably die. Like a dragon. That's why I take advantage of the treasure and spells they can cast.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Sure, but what you as a GM can do is always up to you. I'm talking about what the writers will do with those demon lords as officially presented during the adventure. I just hope there are enough cannon fodder Balors in the way to make one-rounding any demon lord impossible. With those incredible DC's casters will be able to produce, I think SoD spells may even be more of a concern.


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We've come quite a long way for Balors to be considered "cannon-fodder", huh?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

For the final fight, with four (or more) fully equipped level 20/tier 10 player characters? Yep, cannon fodder for the real fights.

Shadow Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

What DCs do you foresee spells having at this level/tier?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Hm, let's see what a non-optimized, yet normally statted Wizard will have. Starting Intelligence 18, 5 points through leveling into INT, a +5 book from somewhere, a +6 enhancer and 10 points from mythic tiers. So we are dealing with an Intelligence of 44, meaning a level 9 spell will have a DC of 36, without any twinking or even Spell Focus' in play.

Shadow Lodge

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

That means the demon princes to date have a 50/50 save against most spells, assuming no surges, rerolling, buffs or similar shenanigans. I'd agree that's not the best odds but not too bad.. Does leave some room for an anticlimatic encounter.

Out of curiosity how often to the +5 books crop up in your games? Since playing pathfinder I can say I've seen 1. We are an experienced group, they just don't seem to come up. I've never handed one out, and no one has ever really complained about their absence. In fact if I recall correctly we've really only had a +2 and a +1 come up in the last 3 AP's.

I've always hated those books in the game - the inherent bonus to stats is just not needed in the system. I also really, really dislike robes of resistance but that's another matter, I often don't award these either. If they only added to 1 save, rather than all three I'd be much happier.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Oh, in normal AP's they don't crop up at all. I had one player basically spend all his money to craft one (after his +6 INT enhancer) in Curse of the Crimson Throne, but outside of crafting I strongly discourage them, after seeing DC inflation live in my older campaigns (which went to level 20, contrary to most AP's).

I just suppose that in this AP, which goes to level 20 and tier 10, a +5 book would not be that an unlikely item to get. Even if it is not possible (time constraints on crafting seem to be the most likely problem, because I sure as hell am not letting them get the thing from a store), a +1 or +3 book surely is and that means the DC's are going to be 34 to 35. Which is still very high and nigh impossible to save against for most opponents.

Shadow Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I can certainly see th eproblem. I think the PC"s will be in the same boat though - how many of them will make a DC 34/35 save without using mythic points?

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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magnuskn wrote:
Yeah. Let's just say that the first two demon lords we got in module one and two are not making me too hopeful that the developers have any idea what even a single motivated player will be able to legally do with their new ruleset. :-/ Let alone four (or six in my case).

You'll probably want to do what you're going to need to do to the rest of every part of the AP, honestly, and bolster the stats to match your over-the-top powerful super-experienced group of extra players who have high point buys and are played by players who know the game better than most GMs. Your table is not an average table.

I can't build the AP to specifically challenge your group. I don't want to kill 95% of the rest of the players just to save Magnuskin some work, in other words.

EDIT: In related news, Magnuskn... I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

Liberty's Edge

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James Jacobs wrote:


EDIT: In related news, Magnuskn... I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

Hey, what's that on the floor there?

... It appears to be a gauntlet! :)

Seriously, my groups both have to upgrade the APs we are running, but one has a pretty fair level of system mastery and the other uses avg 35 point but characters and some unusual house rules.


Cat-thulhu wrote:
I can certainly see th eproblem. I think the PC"s will be in the same boat though - how many of them will make a DC 34/35 save without using mythic points?

Rocket Tag. The first person to get their nuke off wins. And even without mythic, there are at least a couple of combinations that allow a 30+ initiative count on a regular basis, so there's a good chance that a player will be going first.

When your opponent only has a 50% chance of saving against what the PCs can throw at him, going first is a Big Deal. Sometimes the opponent won't even have a 50% chance, because he has four or more people throwing similarly-scaled stuff at his face. He has to get better than 50% up to four times in one turn. The PCs only need to do it once. Which might be when you include all those cannon fodder Balors, if just to serve as a distraction and buy some breathing room.

...

Although you can boost saves by giving a monster STAT-to-AC, such as Baba Yaga adding her Charisma or similar (it cost her a +1 boost to CR, so if Deskari is CR 30, then that could be one of his abilities). It could help mitigate some of the absurd numbers that PCs will be able to toss out by lowering their chance of affecting him, but I still like my idea of a nullification ability that I mentioned further up, so an end-boss could in theory be able to completely ignore a certain number of attacks. It feels a little bit "cheap" to do it, but it might help prevent PCs from nova-ing against him and force them to pace themselves. Until they work out how many attacks he blocks and do the weak ones first, then nova with the last one. But it might still take them a couple of rounds, which is something.


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James Jacobs wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
Yeah. Let's just say that the first two demon lords we got in module one and two are not making me too hopeful that the developers have any idea what even a single motivated player will be able to legally do with their new ruleset. :-/ Let alone four (or six in my case).

You'll probably want to do what you're going to need to do to the rest of every part of the AP, honestly, and bolster the stats to match your over-the-top powerful super-experienced group of extra players who have high point buys and are played by players who know the game better than most GMs. Your table is not an average table.

I can't build the AP to specifically challenge your group. I don't want to kill 95% of the rest of the players just to save Magnuskin some work, in other words.

EDIT: In related news, Magnuskn... I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

James is laying it OUT.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:

You'll probably want to do what you're going to need to do to the rest of every part of the AP, honestly, and bolster the stats to match your over-the-top powerful super-experienced group of extra players who have high point buys and are played by players who know the game better than most GMs. Your table is not an average table.

I can't build the AP to specifically challenge your group. I don't want to kill 95% of the rest of the players just to save Magnuskin some work, in other words.

James, all kidding aside, while a lot of my problems do stem from the issues you mention, mechanically some of them come from how high-level combat works, especially if you throw mythic rules into the mix.

Let's just take one example: Initiative. It's very important at the high levels to go first, because often it means that enemies will not even get their turn (and with mythic rules, you will have even melee fighters getting their full attacks, with the actions you can buy yourself with mythic power). My players do recognize that after playing a lot of campaigns into the high levels, and I don't know if many "less experienced" players would not recognize that, too.

You get Amazing Initiative for free as a mythic character and taking Improved Initiative and Mythic Improved Initiative is what smart players will do to get an advantage. Meaning that effectively, for the fight against Deskari we got level 20/tier 10 characters with an initiative of +24 (at DEX 10) and the ability to say that they rolled a nat 20 on their initiative result for an initiative result of 44.

Looking at the already published demon lords, Xoveron sits at +6, Shax at +18, Sifkesh at +12, Dagon at +11, Kostchiche at +6 and Pazuzu at +13. Meaning that they always will go after the entire party. Always.

So I think it is a legitimate concern that Deskari may get insta-gibbed before he can even act, even with groups which do not have that much experience with high-level play. It's nice and all to make fun of my guys for being too experienced for normal AP play, but we are talking about level 20/tier 10 play here, anyway. At that level combat is short and brutal, that is how your game is mechanically built.

I hope Deskari starts out with impenetrable deflector shields from Numeria around him and the party has to deal with three waves of four Balors first or something like that.

James Jacobs wrote:
EDIT: In related news, Magnuskn... I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

The only thing that would accomplish is to make them build characters with real dump stats. Also, to rob our new sixth player of her fun, a young lady with much fun in wrecking bad people but little technical knowledge of the rules. By now I've gotten all of them away from dump-statting more than one attribute (and never below 8), so taking away their building points would only reverse that trend.

As for Core only, that would be more feasible, but then again that would mean none of your new classes, including the ones from your next big book, the Advanced Class Guide. Which is the one book my group is most looking forward to and seems to be the only assured purchase outside of AP's. So, um, probably not.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If you took half the time you spend complaining in 100 threads that APs ain't tailored towards your snowflake group of players and used that time to buff every encounter to your tastes, you'd be halfway there, just sayin'.

Shadow Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

Hell yeah "Nightmare Mode"! Of course my players would never talk to me again after repeated death before they even leave part 1 of the first adventure. Of course I could always say it was your idea...hmmmm.

Magnuskn wrote:

Let's just take one example: Initiative. It's very important at the high levels to go first, because often it means that enemies will not even get their turn (and with mythic rules, you will have even melee fighters getting their full attacks, with the actions you can buy yourself with mythic power). My players do recognize that after playing a lot of campaigns into the high levels, and I don't know if many "less experienced" players would not recognize that, too.

You get Amazing Initiative for free as a mythic character and taking Improved Initiative and Mythic Improved Initiative is what smart players will do to get an advantage. Meaning that effectively, for the fight against Deskari we got level 20/tier 10 characters with an initiative of +24 (at DEX 10) and the ability to say that they rolled a nat 20 on their initiative result for an initiative result of 44.

Give the demon lords mythic imp initiative in their home realms, they are mythic rank 10 there. Upgrade the Demon Lords a few minor mythic abilities - convert some feats to mythic ones, upgrade the DC or effects of abilities (there are a ton of ideas in the bestiary and mythic adventures). Say perhaps up to 10 of them - their mythic rank in the home realm.

I'd love to see some of your characters posted on the site (not here obviously) because I can say while some AP encounters have been easy for our group (due to convenient character combos and lucky saves) we have rarely had an easy time against any BBEG. We're an experienced group, with a newbie as well.

Shadow Lodge

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Alleran wrote:
Although you can boost saves by giving a monster STAT-to-AC, such as Baba Yaga adding her Charisma or similar (it cost her a +1 boost to CR, so if Deskari is CR 30, then that could be one of his abilities). It could help mitigate some of the absurd numbers that PCs will be able to toss out by lowering their chance of affecting him, but I still like my idea of a nullification ability that I mentioned further up, so an end-boss could in theory be able to completely ignore a certain number of attacks. It feels a little bit "cheap" to do it, but it might help prevent PCs from nova-ing against him and force them to pace themselves. Until they work out how many attacks he blocks and do the weak ones first, then nova with the last one. But it might still take them a couple of rounds, which is something.

Although speculation with out the actual encounter is somewhat pointless I think PC's may be pacing themselves long before they encounter Deskari. Sure at mythic levels 1 hours rest restores their abilities and spells, but this is the abyss in the home on a truly powerful demon lord (one of 3 in existence at CR30). I can't see him not locking them down and leaving them to have an hours rest while he furiously vents on a minion "Destroy them my minions, but wait until they've had a little rest, don't want to be unfair and all that chaps".

I also don't think he'll be alone. I have a lot of faith in Mr Jacobs and Mr Pett providing a mind numbing tour-de-force of terror through the abyss. I loved Into the nightmare rift and while I haven't played it yet I think its a real killer. I would say relax, and wait for the PA to arrive in January (way to far away in my opinion). I'm certain well all get a nice (nasty?) surprise.


Cat-thulhu wrote:
Sure at mythic levels 1 hour rest restores their abilities and spells, but this is the abyss in the home on a truly powerful demon lord (one of 3 in existence at CR30). I can't see him not locking them down and leaving them to have an hours rest while he furiously vents on a minion "Destroy them my minions, but wait until they've had a little rest, don't want to be unfair and all that chaps".

The Sanctum ability (if you have a minute to spare) should provide PCs with a safe extradimensional hideaway to rest and recover. Or at least safe against most things short of stuff like wishporting.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Cat-thulhu wrote:
Give the demon lords mythic imp initiative in their home realms, they are mythic rank 10 there. Upgrade the Demon Lords a few minor mythic abilities - convert some feats to mythic ones, upgrade the DC or effects of abilities (there are a ton of ideas in the bestiary and mythic adventures). Say perhaps up to 10 of them - their mythic rank in the home realm.

I'll probably have to do that and more, but we'll see what James and the others have come up with for those final encounters. A lot of my problems probably could be solved with making access to Deskari very difficult and putting enough Balor-chaff between him and the party. ^^ But cheating on his stats on my part is very likely in some form, be it advanced templates, maximised hitpoints or simply upping his initiative to competitive levels.

Cat-thulhu wrote:
I'd love to see some of your characters posted on the site (not here obviously) because I can say while some AP encounters have been easy for our group (due to convenient character combos and lucky saves) we have rarely had an easy time against any BBEG. We're an experienced group, with a newbie as well.

I can do that in my Jade Regent review thread, but it will probably take until next week, since I visit relatives this weekend. I got the party from JR up-to-date until level 14 (of 16 at the end).

Silver Crusade

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The one thing that some of you are forgetting is that the greatest threat to the PCs in the Abyss may not be Deskari or his forces. That honor goes to the Abyss itself. Remember, the plane is not only strongly chaotic and evil, but sentient as well. The PCs are seeking to permanently close off its access to Golarion. Do you think it would allow them a moment's rest while within its boundaries? If it were me, I certainly wouldn't allow it. So, I'm actually hoping that this adventure takes that aspect of the Abyss into account because that to me would be fitting for mythic PCs to face: overcoming the very plane itself to accomplish their goal.


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James Jacobs wrote:
EDIT: In related news, Magnuskn... I really Really REALLY think you should have your players build 10 point characters next campaign, using only options from the Core Rulebook. Tell them it's Paizo's Creative Director issuing them the challenge of playing an AP on "Nightmare Mode!" If they're as bad-ass as they sound... this is what they need to do next to win the game! :-)

This would actually be really interesting. 10 point build, instead of traits, the characters have to take drawbacks.

For extra hard mode, players have to play only as NPC classes and/or start as young characters. XD


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APs are designed to be completable by a group of players who are playing Pathfinder for the first time. Hell, every first chapter I've looked through was written with the assumption it was the first adventure a group of players was ever going through.

Think of the monsters as written as "normal mode."

If you have a large and/or experienced group, it's your responsibility to adjust the adventure (and the enemies!) to actually be able to challenge your group.

That DC 43 locust aura is only thing that'd keep Pazuzu as written from being killed in one round by my current party of non-mythic PCs, and I'm sure they could figure out a work-around. And that's fine; the "normal mode" CR 30 is not what a CR 30 would be for my group of players.

I routinely take monsters in the modules and if they're supposed to be significant, I give them the advanced template and max HP. I'll also add extra mobs to encounters (a really easy way to do this is just roll on an adventure's random encounter chart every time a combat starts to find out what's showing up as reinforcements on round 2).

If the monster is really important, I give it the advanced template, double maximum HP, and a +5 to all saves. If the monster is really, really important, I give it bonus actions as well.

For example, I've extended my Carrion Crown campaign, and my party's reached L20. I'm running the vampire lord Malyas as the final boss of the campaign (even has FINAL BOSS written in his stat block). Malyas has leveled up to 20, and given 10 mythic tiers that are a hybrid of mythic vampire and marshal, that include the divine source ability (i.e., he's a demigod), and some custom abilities to reflect him being much better than a normal mythic vampire. On top of his pretty high init mod, he gets a bonus standard action at his init+10 (his "vampire action") and a bonus standard action at his init-10 (his "demigod action"), which are restricted to using powers in line with those themes. So yeah, he gets a LOT of actions per round, and my PCs had to retreat from their first run in with him.

An epic group of players deserves a suitably ramped up foe.

If your group of players rates it, it's your responsibility to deliver.

The Exchange

Gorbacz wrote:
If you took half the time you spend complaining in 100 threads that APs ain't tailored towards your snowflake group of players and used that time to buff every encounter to your tastes, you'd be halfway there, just sayin'.

It's not as if he is complaining about some fringe corner case, Gorbacz. Pathfinder gets really crazy in high levels. Maybe his group is especially masterful of the game, but it IS a known thing that high level combat is a game of rocket tag. He is reporting a real issue in the game.

Iv'e never felt the issue, but my campaign is bordering on high levels now and I begin to sense it coming. The barbarian PC of the group is able to consistently crank out about 70 damage per round with her +1 flaming greataxe, power attack, and extra attack because of haste. The rouge can do maybe 30 damage with a sneak attack. The sorcerer has all sorts of save or suck spells, and the cleric keeps the entire group alive. Nobody in the group is remotely optimized. I give all the foes max HP, and tinker with encounters to make the CR = APL + 2 at least. And still, the PCs barely break a sweat during most fights. I can only imagine in a couple of levels this is gonna get much worse.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Rogue? Sorcerer? That's shooting yourself in the foot, everybody knows that these classes fail at winning D&D. ;)

I've ran RotRL for a party made of Duskblade, Beguiler, Binder and Cleric. I didn't have to alter anything to make the game full of hairy moments and occasional raise dead.

Maybe you need to make your tactics more ruthless?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

@Zhangar: I can sympathize with writing the first modules of an AP to be newbie-friendly. Unless I misremember, James or other devs have said in the past that most campaigns end before reaching level 12, so I guess that is the "average player" they are shooting for.

However, this campaign will go to level 20 and tier 10, so I hope that they are writing for the appropiate power level. I sometimes think that the devs believe that PC power level rises as a straight line, where I perceive it as a curve which rises ever more steeply towards the higher levels.

And, yes, I know I have to re-adjust all encounters, I've done so for all AP campaigns I've run, 75% before level 10, 100% after level 10. I'm very grateful for tools like Combat Manager, believe me. It's when I need to combine four or five AP encounters into one (with added templates and maxed HP on top) to make a fight challenging and fun for the party that I begin to think about the difference in perception of power levels between the developers and me.

@Lord Snow: I don't think my group is especially masterful at the game. I got two out of six players who could really optimize if they want to and one out of those two who still even tries to do so (even though I actively discourage it). The rest are either "mechanically competent" but just have played 3.x for a very long time by now or (in the case of our new player) have help from the very experienced players in building their character. They just understand some of the basic mechanics of the game, like "High initiative is good!" "Perception is the best skill, Diplomacy is the second best skill!" "Buffing your party is good!" and "Debuffing enemies is good!". Basic stuff.

Only the one guy who can't stop trying to crank his character to ridiculous levels has ever brought a gamestopper character build like you can find in optimization DPR threads here on the forum to my table and that was in 3.5 more than 5 years ago and I've flat-out told him that I never wanted to see something like that at my table again. For this campaign he is playing an Aasimar Crossblooded Wildblooded Infernal/Celestial Sorcerer and that isn't exactly the most powerful build imaginable, so I'm fine with his character choice this time.

But, yeah, you are not wrong in imagining that your game will get more difficult to manage when the high levels start rolling in. Be prepared and it will be okay, at least your party seems to be within the Paizo parameters, that will make things a bit easier on you.

The Exchange

Gorbacz wrote:

Rogue? Sorcerer? That's shooting yourself in the foot, everybody knows that these classes fail at winning D&D. ;)

I've ran RotRL for a party made of Duskblade, Beguiler, Binder and Cleric. I didn't have to alter anything to make the game full of hairy moments and occasional raise dead.

Maybe you need to make your tactics more ruthless?

That's exactly my point - the party doesn't have any sort of insanely powerful class choices, the barbarian is STILL sitting on 18 strength at level 7 (belt of giant strength + enlarge person make up for it though), the sorcerer is playing a neat concept of a touch attacking aberrant bloodline (cute, but not nearly as strong as the alchemist the player used to play), the cleric and the rouge are maybe built a bit stronger. This is not an extra problematic.

And It's not that I use bad tactics - I try to match the tactics to the kind of opponent the PCs are facing. Mindless undead? I roll at random to see who they attack. Highly trained assassin? uses actual tactics.

It's not that I can't challenge the PCs (I did manage to force a lot of hero points out of them already by this point), it's that it's getting harder and harder to do. Used to be I could just throw a CR appropriate encounter and make them use some actual resources, but not anymore.

@Magnuskn, I feel pretty confident that your group is sitting comfortably in the right hand part of the bell curve. You are playing a TON of Pathfinder (according to the number of campaigns you reported you GMd) and have been for a long time. Your players are experienced veterans of the 3.5 addition of the game. What they do rather casually most groups can't pull off even when the players actually focus on being effective. What you consider basic stuff might not be all that basic - other play styles might make other skills important. You and your group have a rhythm and the players got REAL good at it. That's all there is to it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lord Snow wrote:
@Magnuskn, I feel pretty confident that your group is sitting comfortably in the right hand part of the bell curve. You are playing a TON of Pathfinder (according to the number of campaigns you reported you GMd) and have been for a long time. Your players are experienced veterans of the 3.5 addition of the game. What they do rather casually most groups can't pull off even when the players actually focus on being effective. What you consider basic stuff might not be all that basic - other play styles might make other skills important. You and your group have a rhythm and the players got REAL good at it. That's all there is to it.

Oh, I'm not trying to deny that they are experienced, but I am trying to dispel that notion that they are some sort of uber-twinkish powergamer group. All those DPR builds on this board and a ton of what people write in their class guides doesn't even enter their radar. They just take effective feats, most of whom come from the CRB, since a good number of them don't like to read too much in the additional books.

What I fail to see is how them taking good skills makes them so much better than "average" players. I imagine the average RPG player is an above-average intelligent person and thus, when presented with a host of choices, will try to take an effective one most of the time (outside of RP choices, of course). Perception is the most important skill in the game, every AP module published will teach you that. Diplomacy is the second most important skill in the game, both for its versatility in finding local information and because Paizo seems to hate Intimidate when having people interact with their NPC's (see the first module of Wrath of the Righteous for a good example of that).

Making sound choices when choosing your skills and feats doesn't make you a power gamer. I don't imagine that Paizo thinks that their average gamers blindly flick through the feat section and choose their feats by just stabbing their fingers at a random section of the page they are on, so I'd hope that they take decent character building skills as something most gamers (i.e. "average" gamers) are capable of. Again, I am not talking about mixing up power features to create something unintendedly powerful, just logical progressions like archery feats.


Lord Snow wrote:
Gorbacz wrote:

Rogue? Sorcerer? That's shooting yourself in the foot, everybody knows that these classes fail at winning D&D. ;)

I've ran RotRL for a party made of Duskblade, Beguiler, Binder and Cleric. I didn't have to alter anything to make the game full of hairy moments and occasional raise dead.

Maybe you need to make your tactics more ruthless?

That's exactly my point - the party doesn't have any sort of insanely powerful class choices, the barbarian is STILL sitting on 18 strength at level 7 (belt of giant strength + enlarge person make up for it though), the sorcerer is playing a neat concept of a touch attacking aberrant bloodline (cute, but not nearly as strong as the alchemist the player used to play), the cleric and the rouge are maybe built a bit stronger. This is not an extra problematic.

And It's not that I use bad tactics - I try to match the tactics to the kind of opponent the PCs are facing. Mindless undead? I roll at random to see who they attack. Highly trained assassin? uses actual tactics.

It's not that I can't challenge the PCs (I did manage to force a lot of hero points out of them already by this point), it's that it's getting harder and harder to do. Used to be I could just throw a CR appropriate encounter and make them use some actual resources, but not anymore.

@Magnuskn, I feel pretty confident that your group is sitting comfortably in the right hand part of the bell curve. You are playing a TON of Pathfinder (according to the number of campaigns you reported you GMd) and have been for a long time. Your players are experienced veterans of the 3.5 addition of the game. What they do rather casually most groups can't pull off even when the players actually focus on being effective. What you consider basic stuff might not be all that basic - other play styles might make other skills important. You and your group have a rhythm and the players got REAL good at it. That's all there is to it.

To be fair, Hero Points really do make all the difference.

A question to both magnuskin and Lord Snow. How often do your bad guys self-buff? I find that in higher levels, that can help tip the scales in your favor. I've run some high level games in Pathfinder, and it helps.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

@Odraude: Depends on the fight. One thing my group is pretty good at is busting in SWAT style and taking bad guys by surprise (and AP's are notoriously bad in having bad guys be prepared that their secret hideout may one day be stormed by adventurers, but that's another topic for another day). If the bad guys know that the heroes are coming, they will be better prepared, depending on their capabilities.

I think the most frustrating PF thing I've went through in the last months was spending several hours prepping the final fight for Jade Regent, applying tons of uncast buffs to the statblocks of the opposition, adding another enemy and maxing out hitpoints, just to see them getting wiped out in a one-round curbstomp. :-/


magnuskn wrote:

@Odraude: Depends on the fight. One thing my group is pretty good at is busting in SWAT style and taking bad guys by surprise (and AP's are notoriously bad in having bad guys be prepared that their secret hideout may one day be stormed by adventurers, but that's another topic for another day). If the bad guys know that the heroes are coming, they will be better prepared, depending on their capabilities.

I think the most frustrating PF thing I've went through in the last months was spending several hours prepping the final fight for Jade Regent, applying tons of uncast buffs to the statblocks of the opposition, adding another enemy and maxing out hitpoints, just to see them getting wiped out in a one-round curbstomp. :-/

Hmm, that sucks. I vaguely recall the encounter and what I'd do with it to make it harrowing. But it's been awhile. I'm currently playing in Jade Regent, so I haven't read my copies in about a year and a half. That said, in the current game I'm playing in, I am finding that when we get time to buff, we steamroll encounters. Course, when we don't, things get interesting... and I like interesting :) Even if my bard is the one buffing everyone.


Also, I find as you get to higher levels, you can really let loose and go for the jugular as a cruel GM. Maybe that's just me though... ;)

The Exchange

@Magnuskn, There's a limit to which intelligence will carry you in Pathfinder - experience is actually much more important. Intelligent players are distinguished from others mostly in that they can observe what works and what doesn't, and use those observations to construct more effective characters next time. Since it seems to me like you and your friends are among the few lucky people who get to play a *lot* of Pathfinder, the experience really does distinguish your group. Additionally, it seems that your players already know what to expect from you and have mastered that particular play style. I get that they are not optimizers, but it does sound like you are having far more trouble than most GMs. There has to be a reason.

@Odraude,
I'm playing a Pathfinder AP currently (Curse of the Crimson Throne) In which for most opponents self buffing before the fight doesn't make much sense because the PCs end up surprising their opposition a lot of the time. Just this week they encountered

curse of the crimson throne spoiler!:

The red Mantis Assassins

Who actually were buffed and the fight was indeed rather difficult.


Lord Snow wrote:

@Magnuskn, There's a limit to which intelligence will carry you in Pathfinder - experience is actually much more important. Intelligent players are distinguished from others mostly in that they can observe what works and what doesn't, and use those observations to construct more effective characters next time. Since it seems to me like you and your friends are among the few lucky people who get to play a *lot* of Pathfinder, the experience really does distinguish your group. Additionally, it seems that your players already know what to expect from you and have mastered that particular play style. I get that they are not optimizers, but it does sound like you are having far more trouble than most GMs. There has to be a reason.

@Odraude,
I'm playing a Pathfinder AP currently (Curse of the Crimson Throne) In which for most opponents self buffing before the fight doesn't make much sense because the PCs end up surprising their opposition a lot of the time. Just this week they encountered

** spoiler omitted **

Who actually were buffed and the fight was indeed rather difficult.

Ah, I remember that. Man CotCT was by far my favorite AP and so far the only one I ever got to play in from start to finish. I recall that. having played, then read the AP, I can think of plenty of encounters later on that can have the evil guys buff before hand. of course, it shouldn't be every single encounter, but some low-level potions and warning bells/signals go a long way when it comes to making fights harder.

Also, what I like to do is when I'm making a dungeon, I tend to space out about, oh, 75% of the minions into easy (APL-1 or less) encounters. Than way, when the warning bells do go off, I do a gradual funnelling of baddies and mooks. This can spike up the difficulty quickly, especially if they come from all over the place. I also have a handy table of mooks, which tells me how many mooks it takes to fill a certain CR (like, say, 8 mooks for an APL+2). Throw in some lieutenants and usually that's good enough to make dungeons scary.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lord Snow wrote:
@Magnuskn, There's a limit to which intelligence will carry you in Pathfinder - experience is actually much more important. Intelligent players are distinguished from others mostly in that they can observe what works and what doesn't, and use those observations to construct more effective characters next time. Since it seems to me like you and your friends are among the few lucky people who get to play a *lot* of Pathfinder, the experience really does distinguish your group. Additionally, it seems that your players already know what to expect from you and have mastered that particular play style. I get that they are not optimizers, but it does sound like you are having far more trouble than most GMs. There has to be a reason.

I kind of reject both of those points. Unless most players don't bother to check the different feats available to them (and I am talking CRB here, most of my guys mostly don't bother with the other books unless someone points something from there out to them), there are simply feats/spells where everybody should say "of course!". For example, there are not that many ways you can build an archer, since most of their available feats build off one another.

And I don't think I have that much more problems than most other GM's who've actually played high-level campaigns. Lisa Stevens herself recounted during the CRB playtest how frustrated she felt when prepping and running high-level encounters. Of course there are some prodigies among GM's like Ashiel who can juggle all that stuff easily, but mostly it's one persons capability to prepare and process complex mechanics against four (in my case six) other persons.


To be fair, from what I've read (and correct me if I'm wrong), but you're running a 6 player game with 25 point buy (from another thread) and you haven't changed the AP at all to fit this? I think I can see a lot of the problems.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Odraude wrote:
To be fair, from what I've read (and correct me if I'm wrong), but you're running a 6 player game with 25 point buy (from another thread) and you haven't changed the AP at all to fit this? I think I can see a lot of the problems.

Six players at 20 points and I am buffing up about every encounter, so only partially true. My problems stem from that when the high levels come in, I have to buff up the encounters to ridiculous levels (basically APL+4 or APL+5). With maxed out hitpoints on top.

Hence my complaints that high level play seems significantly out of whack in terms of Paizo's expectations of player power and what really happens. I don't think that 50% more action economy and 5 building points (mostly used to round out characters, not get that starting attribute of 20) can explain why the APL needed does increase so much to even challenge the party, compared to the assumptions made in AP's.

It doesn't help that in many AP's Paizo seems intent to throw a Bard cohort at the party. :p I think adding bad terrain conditions, non-conventional attack methods for opponents (more touch attacks, etc) and having better prepared enemy strongholds would serve well to throw even high-level parties off their game. And, yes, I can add that stuff myself, I would just like to see more of it in the official work, so I can concentrate on prepping the roleplaying part of the game, not so much working over the combats for hours on end.


To be honest, 6 players really do make a huge difference. That's something I'm seeing in my current game. 20 points isn't too bad, but definitely 6 people can be rough.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Odraude wrote:
To be honest, 6 players really do make a huge difference. That's something I'm seeing in my current game. 20 points isn't too bad, but definitely 6 people can be rough.

Oh, yes. Logically things should be 50% harder and therefore need a 50% upgrade, but it goes way beyond that. A part of it is that the buff synergy is even more pronounced with that many PC's, but other part is that opponent AC's, hitpoint pools and saving throws just don't scale as well as player character attack bonuses, damage output and spell DC's. And that's endemic to the system. A solution I'll try out in Wrath will be really high-level consumables (Potions of Barkskin +5, Oil of Shield of Faith +5 and so on), which are justified by demon lords and other high-level opponents masterminding the whole worldwound effort.

The Exchange

Odraude wrote:
Lord Snow wrote:

@Magnuskn, There's a limit to which intelligence will carry you in Pathfinder - experience is actually much more important. Intelligent players are distinguished from others mostly in that they can observe what works and what doesn't, and use those observations to construct more effective characters next time. Since it seems to me like you and your friends are among the few lucky people who get to play a *lot* of Pathfinder, the experience really does distinguish your group. Additionally, it seems that your players already know what to expect from you and have mastered that particular play style. I get that they are not optimizers, but it does sound like you are having far more trouble than most GMs. There has to be a reason.

@Odraude,
I'm playing a Pathfinder AP currently (Curse of the Crimson Throne) In which for most opponents self buffing before the fight doesn't make much sense because the PCs end up surprising their opposition a lot of the time. Just this week they encountered

** spoiler omitted **

Who actually were buffed and the fight was indeed rather difficult.

Ah, I remember that. Man CotCT was by far my favorite AP and so far the only one I ever got to play in from start to finish. I recall that. having played, then read the AP, I can think of plenty of encounters later on that can have the evil guys buff before hand. of course, it shouldn't be every single encounter, but some low-level potions and warning bells/signals go a long way when it comes to making fights harder.

Also, what I like to do is when I'm making a dungeon, I tend to space out about, oh, 75% of the minions into easy (APL-1 or less) encounters. Than way, when the warning bells do go off, I do a gradual funnelling of baddies and mooks. This can spike up the difficulty quickly, especially if they come from all over the place. I also have a handy table of mooks, which tells me how many mooks it takes to fill a certain CR (like, say, 8 mooks for an APL+2). Throw in some lieutenants and...

Of course, this does create another problem - the higher the level, the longer every action in a fight takes. For example, the fight I mentioned in the previous post took about a hour to finish - the bad guys having mirror image on them (one of them getting a luck 5 images) and managing incapacitate the barbarian early on were part of the problem, but not all.

Every time a rouge hits with a sneak attack or a sorcerer casts a damage spell, or a barbarian gets a full attack, there are SO many dice rolled that a lot of time is being consumed just performing the most basic actions. As a group we have began to devise preventive measures - for example if a cleric is gonna cure someone he just rolls the dice in advance of his turn to make things smoother.

Still, creating a slow fights with waves and waves of mooks and lieutenants as you suggest will create a HUGE slog that might, I'm afraid, take more than a session to go through.

And generally speaking, the CR system seems not to really apply as you go higher on the level ladder. a CR 1 opponent could actually threaten a level 1 party with some semblance of opposition. a CR 7 foe is nothing to a APL 7 adventuring group. This becomes even more true when instead of one monster there are several small ones. I really can't see how a pair of CR 5 creatures can accomplish anything against a 7th level party.

And yeah, 6 players IS a big deal... which I think is a certain weakness in the design of what is essentialy as social game. Pathfinder DOES begin to crumble when a party has a slightly different party size. But what are you to do if you have 6 friends who want to play? not everyone can afford the time to split the groups, and many wouldn't even want to. This is a serious issue.


It really depend on the group and even the culture of the players, players already know a lot about fighting BBEG at their bedroom in a isolated side of the room. And then fail to fight a regular foot soldier in a encounter in a corridor.
My BBEG often have teleport traps at their lairs (teleport redirected to a specific place or a teleport slowing field where the any teleportioned take 5 rounds to physically appear).

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