|Liz Courts Community Manager|
|Ron Lundeen Contributor|
|Drogon Owner - Enchanted Grounds, President/Owner - Enchanted Grounds|
|Ron Lundeen Contributor|
MisterSlanky wrote:I cannot describe the level of disappointment I'm currently experiencing.
MisterSlanky is not a fan of some of my previous adventures. We actually had a good talk about it at PaizoCon, where I got the opportunity to listen to some of his concerns in detail.
|Drogon Owner - Enchanted Grounds, President/Owner - Enchanted Grounds|
Drogon wrote:MisterSlanky is not a fan of some of my previous adventures. We actually had a good talk about it at PaizoCon, where I got the opportunity to listen to some of his concerns in detail.MisterSlanky wrote:I cannot describe the level of disappointment I'm currently experiencing.
Well, I liked the ones that I've played and run. Except Rivalry's End, but I don't think that ending to the Shadow Lodge was your fault. So I'm still looking forward to this.
I hope his feedback helps, though.
|John Compton Pathfinder Society Lead Developer|
|John Compton Pathfinder Society Lead Developer|
While this is good to know, I recommend bringing this up in the website feedback board and providing what other information you can (e.g. at what point the download encounters difficulty and whether it applies to any of your other downloads). My skillset is not well suited to troubleshooting download issues, but folks over there can likely help.
This Adventure is BS. I dont know how to "spoiler" my messages so stop here if you dont want any.
I have to agree the last combat was not fun. the players caught sat there unable to act for the whole time, not a good experience.
The final boss needs to be nerfed further, may be reduce the tail attack bonus, damage and CMB down to something a CR appropriate monster should have. Flavor this as the golem is interfering with the creature and it can't bring it's full strength to bear. also letting the 3 tails act as independent grappelers is something the original creature does not have.
I ran this one a couple of weeks ago on high tier, and I gotta say, it's tough... I honestly like the big bad guy. It's an awesome monster with cool abilities. However, when your venture captain is playing at your table and even he looks disinterested by the end, something is wrong. I agree with most of the comments. I purposefully left out certain tactics because the party was hurting right from the start. I also find it strange that one supposedly beneficial item had no actual boon when fighting the boss. It made sense for backstory reasons, but not as a tool for the party. My group also right out skipped two areas. They did go back to one once they figored out the puzzle, but they did the exact wrong thing to do. All in all, not fun to run and did not look fun to play.
|Ron Lundeen Contributor|
I also find it strange that one supposedly beneficial item had no actual boon when fighting the boss. It made sense for backstory reasons, but not as a tool for the party.
Which boon do you mean?
WaningMoon wrote:I also find it strange that one supposedly beneficial item had no actual boon when fighting the boss. It made sense for backstory reasons, but not as a tool for the party.
Which boon do you mean?
** spoiler omitted **
The former. Yeah it has one specific thing that would have been useful if the party members survived long enough to make use of it. Granted, I was rolling high to hit and damage. My dice must have been in murder mode.
WaningMoon wrote:I also find it strange that one supposedly beneficial item had no actual boon when fighting the boss.Which boon do you mean?
The boon in question is almost always useless, by the way. Here's the secret:
The weapon grants Liberating Command, but that spell is not a guaranteed escape from a grapple. In fact, since the monster is so powerful, the "big" +16 bonus that Liberating Command provides is still so insignificant that it cannot help for 99% of the players out there.
- Monster has CMD of 49, or 54 if you're one of those GMs who thinks that the "+5 to the initiator of a grapple" applies to CMD.
- The typical martial type who would wield a heavy flail is not a dex-based skill monkey. So at 5th level that martial type might have an Escape Artist bonus of roughly +8 (2 dex, 5 ranks or feat/race bonus, 3 class skill, -2 armor check penalty). That may be generous.
- The Liberating Command grants +16, for a total of +24 to the roll.
- The player rolls a natural 20, adds 24, gets a 44, and still falls short of breaking free. Skill checks do not succeed on natural 20s, so this is a 100% failure rate in all cases unless you can convince an Escape Artist specialist to wield it.
- If the weapon is given to a high dex Escape Artist specialist, we unfortunately may still have to contend with the xacarba's Redirect Spell ability. Depending upon your reading of how all these powers interact, it may shut down the Liberating Command anyway, as the xacarba can simply direct the spell to apply to someone heavily armored and thus terrible at Escape Artist checks. That other person will get the "benefit" of the Liberating Command, but be in no position to make successful use of it.
- If it *does* work despite all of this, the PC is still standing in a square that was within range of a grapple in the first place, and will insta-fail the AOO/re-grapple that occurs the moment the PC tries to resume moving the stone warding discs.
The lockdown is too good. The PCs will be unable to move around, even with the weapon.
Best case scenario, aside from "GM refuses to run the monster correctly" is: 3 characters sacrifice themselves into grapples, so that the remaining 1 to 3 characters have a couple of rounds to run around while the monster's tentacles are occupied. By round 3 or 4 the PCs in grapples are dead or unconscious, so everything must be completed before that moment. Otherwise, tentacles will be freed up to grapple/end the remaining PCs.
Unfortunately, the players will not know that such self-sacrifice is the best-case scenario, so they will likely spin their wheels trying desperately to fight the monster, and it will quickly be too late.
Ron Lundeen wrote:WaningMoon wrote:I also find it strange that one supposedly beneficial item had no actual boon when fighting the boss.Which boon do you mean?
The boon in question is almost always useless, by the way. Here's the secret:
** spoiler omitted **...
I imagine you may be able to combo that with another boon, but still...
Also you mentioned the xarcabas redirect which I do believe it can use to target itself in which case, there goes the nonexistent hindering template. It redirects the liberating command to itself, breaks the monoliths grapple, and wreaks havoc. The monoliths stats are not in the scenario but it's damage and to hit are so we could probably assume.
As a side note, I believe the tactics state it does not choose to maintain grapple over attacking a different creature.
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Okay, so let’s break down this last combat for a moment. Don’t worry, there’s a TL;DR at the bottom.
So there are two things that are provided in the scenario in order to try to make the fight somewhat fair. Drinking from the font of water provides a +30/+24 bonus to Escape Artist checks to escape a grapple, CMB checks to escape a grapple, and CMD vs. grapple. The second is Slitherbane, which can cast liberating command three times per day at a +16 bonus.
So let’s take a look at the fountain first. It radiates a strong abjuration aura, but no DC is given to identify what is actually going on. That’s mildly frustrating, but we can use the information we have to figure out one. The Knowledge write-up says that identifying a spell effect that is in place is a DC 20 + spell level. Detect magic tells us that a strong aura is at least spell level 7th. Combining these two, we’re looking at a DC 27 Knowledge (arcana) check to identify what exactly is going on with the fountain. And to even identify that it’s a strong abjuration aura in the first place, it’s a DC 15 + spell level or 22. There are definitely parties who will bring someone specialized in Knowledge (arcana) and fail to make those checks, especially at low tier. There will be players hesitant to drink from a random fountain that has a strong abjuration aura on it, even though the archeologists have no bad effects on them from it. There will be even more players who are hesitant to drink from a random fountain that has an aura that is too powerful for them to identify. Both times I’ve been through this scenario, one player drank the fountain, but everyone else thought that they were being silly and didn’t trust the fountain even when nothing bad happened.
Next up is Slitherbane. The first thing to note about Slitherbane is that in order to identify what it does, you need detect magic and a DC 23 Spellcraft check. At low level, this isn’t an insignificant challenge. There will also be lots of characters who are reluctant to hold onto Slitherbane, given that Slitherbane gives you a negative level if you’re not lawful neutral because it’s an intelligent item and will give you a negative level if you’re chaotic because it’s an axiomatic weapon. The negative levels may encourage people to just put Slitherbane in the loot bag and be done with it, which means that there is a chance that it loses line of effect to the party. This is of course, not to mention that if there is a nagaji in the party, Slitherbane wouldn’t be too happy about trying to help them, which may require Diplomacy checks (made in Ancient Azlanti or Cyclops).
So there’s all sorts of hidden problems with the two boons thrown into the scenario. The problems with Slitherbane probably won’t stop the PCs from taking it – it is magical loot after all. The problems with the fountain, however, means that there’s a pretty decent chance that the PCs won’t drink from the fountain. Let’s take a look at the combat now.
The Xacarba has the following special abilities:
Impeded For as long as the Azlanti monolith has its hold on the xacarba’s head, the creature is considered flat-footed to all other attackers and cannot move, use its spell-like abilities, or attack with its bite. Its individual tail attacks are limited as set forth above.
Independent Tails Each of the xacarba’s three tails are able to grapple and attack as if it were its own creature. It does not count as grappled while it is grappling a creature with one of its tentacles.
Redirect Spell Any creature that attempts to cast a spell within 30 feet of a xacarba must cast the spell defensively. If the caster fails the concentration check to do so (or if the caster opts to not cast defensively), the xacarba can choose the target of the spell as an immediate action. The new target must be a legal
Runic Scales As a swift action, the xacarba can infuse its scales with magical properties, granting it additional protections against touch attacks and grapple attempts. These protections change its natural armor bonus to AC to a deflection bonus for 1 minute (raising its touch AC and its CMD by an equal amount). The xacarba activates this ability before the monolith breaks down the door.
A couple notes about these adjustments.
- The phrase “considered flat-footed to all other attackers” is weird. The difference between this and “considered flat-footed to everyone but the golem” is not much since the xacarba has Combat Reflexes, which negates one of the major problems of being flat-footed. Where this could make a difference is in escaping a grapple. Technically making a combat maneuver check is an attack roll, suddenly making a PC trying to break out of a grapple “an attacker”, thereby making the xacarba flat-footed against it and thereby reducing the CMD to escape by 6. This is a subtle point, and one that a lot of GMs aren’t going to catch. If this was intended, then the phrase really needs to be “considered flat-footed to everyone but the golem.”
(Also note that while CMB checks to escape a grapple are technically attacks, this same logic doesn’t apply to Escape Artist checks, which are skill checks, not attack rolls. This means that the CMD to escape is higher for Escape Artist checks than it is for CMB checks, which is really unintuitive. If it was flat-footed to the PCs in general, then these numbers would be the same.)
- Redirect Spell is a standard xacarba ability, but thank you for printing it here in the shortened stat block to make it easier to reference. Since it is a standard xacarba ability, if you’re like me and the first thing you give to people on a Knowledge check is the creature’s most famous ability, I would give the PCs this. Important to note is that this also applies to Slitherbane, since the beginning of the rules on intelligent items say that they also count as creatures. Now it says that Slitherbane prefers to cast liberating command on its wielder, but it doesn’t actually restrict it to (wielder only), which means that it can target any PC. This would be good, but liberating command doesn’t require that you target a bound creature, so if Slitherbane doesn’t cast defensively, then the xacarba can just redirect it to a non-grappled creature and let it redirect harmlessly. Even after the first time, assuming that Slitherbane figures it out or one of the PCs tells it, it still needs to make a DC 17 concentration check with a +10 bonus – that’s not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.
- The Runic Scales ability is pretty easy to miss, especially if you’re running subtier 6-7 and it’s even further from the stat block than the rest of the abilities. It also doesn’t have a number of uses per day, so any round it doesn’t use its Redirect Spell ability it can just re-up it again and have it apply for a minute starting from that round. In addition, it’s worth noting that this brings the CMD of the xacarba up to 68. (For the flat-footed interpretation above, the flat-footed CMD is 62.)
Okay, so now let’s assume that the PCs looked inside the crack, saw the disks, have figured out exactly how the puzzle works, and have an idea as to what’s going to happen or able to react efficiently. This is of course, not always true, but it’ll only make the following situation worse. In addition, the PFS pregens are used as guides for example characters when needed*.
The above assumptions imply that the PCs have placed the two disks they’ve gotten in their holders on the wall. I’ll also mention that while I’m pointing out problems with this scenario that I actually like the riddle with the discs and the different light levels. That was cool. All that is left for them to do is to get the two discs from the xacarba’s original room.
Sending only one person into the room is going to be a problem, especially at higher tier. At low tier, we’re looking at about an average of an 19 AC and a 18 CMD. The 19 AC gets hit on a 7 (aka 70% chance of getting hit) and the 18 CMD gets grabbed on an 11 (aka 50% chance of getting grabbed) assuming that the character drank from the fountain. This leaves a 35% chance of getting grappled. Of course, you’re probably not sending in a random person in, you’re probably sending in one of your better defensive people. The Paladin needs a 13 on the die for both being hit and grappled (16% chance of ending up grappled), and the Alchemist needs a 13 on the die for being hit and an 11 on the die for being grappled (20% chance of ending up grappled). That being said, while those numbers are low, there will be a lot of attempts on that one person. Every xacarba turn, it’ll get 3 attempts, and most turns involve the PC provoking an attack of opportunity, which means that if you only send one target in, the xarcaba gets 4 attempts a round on it. Suddenly that 80% chance of being free for Seelah turns into a 41% chance of being free after the first round. And that’s a smiting paladin versus an evil outsider.
It’s worth noting at this point that with a 68 CMD, no pregen is possibly breaking out via CMB, even with the fountain bonus. The bonuses from Slitherbane[i]’s [i]liberating command bring the DC 68 Escape Artist check down to a DC 22 Escape Artist check, which is still not doable by many characters. Anyone with a decent armor check penalty is frustrated here. (Or even characters with no ACP but less than a 14 Dexterity.) In addition, with a DC 43+spell level concentration check, there’s no chance that anyone’s casting a spell while grappled – it’s entirely up to other people to save the trapped character.
Maintain the grapple is the next time that a lot of people have the opportunity to get free. The xacarba maintains against people who drank from the fountain effectively at a +12. The casters are generally getting grappled on a 2, and a lot of people get maintained on 6s or 7s. In fact, the only person who doesn’t keep getting grappled on a number higher than 10 is the Brawler, but she only got grappled in the first place on a 20, so I’ve generally been ignoring her.
At high tier this is even worse. The average AC is 21 which is hit on a 4. Even the high ACs (Paladin, Alchemist) get hit on an 11. The average CMD is also 21 but the fountain also isn’t as strong, meaning that the xacarba is attacking with an effective +13. This means that the xacarba is about as likely to stick a grapple as it was before, but is more likely to hit in the first place.
Okay, so it’s not the greatest idea in the world to send only one person in at a time. You might be able to get away with it at low tier if you buff the person enough, but again, natural 20’s are a thing. It actually turns out that the best thing to do is to send in 5 people. The xacarba can only grab 3 of them at once, which means that the other two can grab the discs and put them in their holders. Now brings in the question of time. The shortest one is 70 feet away from its holder. Assuming perfect movement, the person aiming for that can double move into the room, move to pick up and move out, double move out, and finally full-round action place the disc. Unless a haste gets thrown out, you’re looking at 4 rounds before the puzzle can be solved. This means that the characters who get grappled round 1 are taking three to four rounds of attacks before the encounter ends.
So let’s look at those grabbed characters for a moment. They’re taking a tail slap damage when they get hit and constrict damage when they get grabbed. Then, if the xacarba maintains, they take constrict damage from the grapple and then xacarba can choose one of its natural attacks to deal damage. Presumably, this would be the tail slap since it can’t use the bite. This means that any round that someone is grappled by the xacarba, it takes double the natural attack in damage. At low tier, this averages 17 points a round, and at high tier, this averages 26 points a round. The level 4 pregens average 34 hit points which gets taken down in 2 rounds, and the max of 52 is still taken down on slightly better than average rolls in 3 rounds. The level 7 pregens average 59 hit points, which gets taken down in 3 rounds (or 2 rounds with slightly better rolls). On average rolls, that may even outright kill some PCs. As soon as the tail is free, it can drop the person and go after the people actually manipulating the discs. Now granted, there is still one person free who can do some things to run interference, but unless there’s an eidolon or a highly-trained animal companion in the mix, there is only one set of actions that is really free. Remember, anyone who is grabbed can’t cast spells or escape. And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that the xacarba can move people around after grabbing them. If the xacarba grabs someone who has a disc, it can move them to the other side of the room, away from the holster for that disc. There is a very tight timeline here, and a very good chance of knocking a bunch of characters out and possibly stopping the ritual.
Of course, while I set up this script, I haven’t made any assumptions about what the characters have. The problem is that a lot of the ways of solving this situation from character resources just don’t work. The xacarba has true seeing, so any way of getting around this that involves illusions doesn’t work. The back area has a forbiddance up that doesn’t do any damage, so no using dimension door or the arcanist’s dimensional slide. SR 26 means that next to nothing is actually getting past it. Even a level 7 caster with Piercing Spell and a dweomer essence only gets makes it on a 9.
That being said, there are a bunch of things that will work. Summoning earth elementals to grab the discs and earth glide them to you will still work. A phantom walking through the walls will still work (although may be slower, since I don’t know if a phantom can carry objects through walls, so it might have to drag the disc through the crack and then bring it all the way around). An aether kineticist could pick up the discs from the other room. A haste to increase the character’s speed will cut down on a round in moving a disc. A grease will make the numbers described up-post a little less grim. 7th level characters may even have access to freedom of movement, which as usual is king of anti-grapple. And of course, doing things like buffing people’s AC, CMD, Escape Artist checks, movement speed can all help the situation.
Here’s the major problem though. The encounter described above is okay, but there’s really only one path to victory with one additional way if the PCs are lucky. If that’s what would happen every time, then you could have an argument for a close but interesting encounter. But everything I described above is assumes that the PCs have perfect information and make good assumptions. There’s a ton of ways that this could go off the rails.
- The PCs may not drink from the fountain – As mentioned up-post, it’s not the most obvious thing in the world that the PCs need to drink from the fountain. At least, not ahead of time. Once tons of grappling starts happening then it becomes more obvious that the fountain is helpful. But once you’re in combat, the fountain is 29 spaces away. At a 12 square double move, it takes 2 turns to move there, 1 turn to move and drink, and 2 turns to move back (with one of them being a run). In those 5 turns to drink the fountain water, if someone went in, it’s likely that they’re dead at that point. But if you don’t drink from the fountain, any grapple is a death sentence.
- The players may not realize that the three tails grapple independently – The three tails grappling on their own is not how normal grapple works. Normally when you take the -20, that just means that you’re not considered grappled, not that you get to maintain three grapples at once. The players may make their plan on the assumption that this follows the normal rules of the game, only to not send enough people and be sorely disappointed.
- The players may think that the fountain provides freedom of movement – If you don’t identify what the fountain does, assuming that it gives you freedom of movement is not an unreasonable assumption. However, if you assume that, it can lead to a caster walking in and getting easily grappled and taken out of the fight for a large part of the time. (Full disclaimer: This may seem more reasonable to me because this is what actually happened to me.)
- The PCs going in may not have a 30 ft. move speed – Small races, dwarves, medium/heavy armor users and people who ride mounts usually may all have 20 ft move speeds, which suddenly means that they either need to run into the room, becoming flat-footed, or they need to take more time getting the discs. Unfortunately, one of the two strategies relies on having a high AC to tank the xacarba, and those people are more likely to have their movement speed restricted.
- The PCs may not see what the other two discs look like before combat – This is entirely reasonable. If the PCs are canny, they may not want to look in the crack after figuring out that it is the cause of Juliet’s charmed condition. If you don’t, then you don’t know what the other two discs look like. Now granted, most tables can possibly figure out that the darkness disc needs to go in the VOID space, but without knowing that there’s a daylight disc and a faerie fire disc, the PCs may be hesitant to put the light disc in before combat. That just eats up other actions that could be helped saving lives or making the process go faster.
- The PCs may not be positioned correctly and therefore may not choose which PCs the xacarba grapples – This is a big problem. The xacarba is a Gargantuan creature, and with its 20-foot space and its 15-foot reach, it gets basically everything but the back wall of the room. (And that’s assuming that the GM decides to place it so that it takes up the two squares of the doorway – while that’s what’s written on the map, GMs may decide to place it where it can take up the whole space.) That plus a +9 init modifier gives a decent chance that it will beat PCs in initiative, which means that suddenly it gets to choose who it grapples. This could turn out to be very bad for the PCs. If the PCs get to win initiative, then at least they get to send the right people in first in order to get the right people grappled first.
- The players’ plan doesn’t account for Redirect Spell – That ability is just insane. While it is a base xacarba ability, it is still a minimum of a DC 25 Knowledge (planes) check to identify it, which parties may not make at this subtier. And if they don’t make the knowledge check, then they may not even understand how to defeat it when the ability causes them a problem and result to not casting any more spells.
- The players’ may be reluctant to try to just let people get grappled and focus on saving them instead of trapping the xacarba – The “right” answer is really unintuitive. At some point, you have to recognize that your allies may die due to bad rolls and that you really need to focus on trapping the thing and not saving them. That’s relaly unintuitive, especially in a PFS culture where people will buy scrolls of breath of life or first aid gloves with the intention of saving other characters.
- The players may spend time damaging the creature – This isn’t unreasonable. It’s AC drops to 25 and it can’t move, but it has a lot of hit points. But if you’re going to damage it, you either need to focus on damaging it or you need to focus on getting the discs. Trying to do both only hurts the PCs and stop both from getting done. Also regularly hitting AC 25 is just not feasible for Lvl 3-4 characters.
- There may only be 4 PCs – This is a big one. The strategy with the most success involves sending 3 PCs as sacrificial lambs and two more to actually move the discs around. If there are only 4 PCs, the 4 player adjustment doesn’t reduce the action economy of the xacarba, which means that suddenly there is only one PC that can move around and actually solve the puzzle. That’s going to be about 8 rounds to solve. The other PCs won’t survive that round.
The problem with a lot of these mistakes is that they’re hard to recover from, especially if that mistake knocks down the PCs’ action economy. Not being able to recover from them is a TPK.
So the major problems are:
- One solution depends on the PCs drinking from a magical fountain that is hard to identify.
- Another solution depends on the PCs doing something incredibly unintuitive and likely killing PCs. (At level 3-4 – that may cause permanent deaths.)
- A third solution depends on PCs killing a CR 15 creature. Even at level 3-4.
- Slitherbane is supposed to help the PCs but is actually pretty useless. (And it can harm the PCs.)
- The xacarba’s abilities make it very hard to recover from a mistake.
- The 4-player adjustment doesn’t do anything.
I just spent a lot of words enumerating the scenario’s problems. I would be remiss if I didn’t also offer solutions. I’ll break it down to things that absolutely need to change about the scenario and things that GMs can do to make it more palatable.
Things that need to change about the scenario:
- Remove the Runic Scales ability – Why? Why? Why is this a thing? If this goes then spending actions to escape is now at least not an automatic failure if they drank from the fountain. Yes, this means that if someone drinks from the fountain and gets targeted by Slitherbane, they pretty much can’t fail at getting out. This is okay. They’re getting help from both of the scenario-specific items. They shouldn’t have trouble getting out. If you’re worried about touch attacks, then keep the deflection bonus but specify that it doesn’t get added to CMD. Or make it some bonus type that adds to touch but not CMD. I don’t know if there is one right now but you can just make it up.
- Change the four player adjustment – The four player adjustment does nothing in actually addressing the problems that four players have with the scenario. Sure, it helps when you have 6 players who average to level 5 and therefore play up, but it also dooms many 4 player parties. If you have to have two different 4-player adjustments for this encounter, one for actual 4 player parties and one for underleveled 6 player parties playing up, then so be it. But I wouldn’t worry. This is going to quickly get a reputation of a scenario to never play up in. Make it so that 4 players is a viable option.
- Clarify that the xacarba is flat-footed to all other creatures, not attackers – Okay, this one isn’t as strictly necessary as the others, but especially if you don’t remove the Runic Scales ability, this makes the DCs of CMD and Escape Artist the same.
Things that GMs can do:
- Be extra descriptive – There is a decent chance that the players won’t know everything that is going on, and they need to realize how parts of the encounter work if they’re going to stand a chance. If not all of the party has drank from the fountain, then describe how the PCs who have feel like they’re getting extra protection from the xacarba’s grab attempts, even if those attempts still succeed. If a spell gets redirected from the Runic Scales ability, explain how a magical affect slipped under their focus and stole the spell away, and imply that if they had concentrated harder they might have been able to catch it. If the xacarba has 3 PCs grabbed, describe how all of its limbs are currently occupied. The PCs may not have the high knowledge checks needed to figure out what exactly is going on, but if you’re being extra descriptive, they may figure out that you’re dropping them clues and respond positively.
- Emphasize the fountain – Every time the PCs pass the fountain, mention it. And don’t just call it the fountain, call it something like “the fountain with the mural of the cyclops freeing itself”. Yeah, that’s a lot of words. The problem is that players don’t listen to box text. I know this because I’m a player and half the time I don’t listen to box text. Heck, as a GM I sometimes forget what was in the box text I just read. But if you say something like that every time the PCs pass the fountain, they may get the idea that it’s something more than a fountain. And they need to understand that.
- Pin or move, don’t damage – This gives the PCs more time to solve the encounter before grabbed PCs are dropped. While pinning takes away the grabbed PCs’ options, it does put the focus on the rest of the party, which is where the important actions are happening.
- Place the xacarba so that it can’t get the back wall – Having that freedom to move along the back wall drastically changes the encounter. If the xacarba can’t grab a PC the turn before it puts a disk in, the PCs’ chances go way up. I realize that the map says this, but it’s not a natural placement since it takes up corners that otherwise couldn’t have creatures.
- Pause the combat – If the PCs look like they’re floundering, then pause the combat. Get the PCs to discuss what they know and what they have left to do. Sure, it’s metagamey. However, this isn’t really a combat – it’s a puzzle. And if they just flounder around uncoordinated, then they’re depending on happening to get lucky. By taking a couple minutes in the middle of combat to discuss what is going on and make sure that everyone is on the same page, you can help focus the party back to winning the encounter.
Hopefully this is useful to everybody, despite some of the rambling.
My comment on the spoilery stuff: murals make them kinda obvious that they aren't bad ish things. If you are like "Its has to be a trap! Clearly [x] would trap their own [y]" then you are just really paranoid for no reason.
That being said, this seems like high TPK chance scenario based on factors. Our group pretty much succeeded identifying everything and even then some of us almost died :'D
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Also you mentioned the xarcabas redirect which I do believe it can use to target itself in which case, there goes the nonexistent hindering template. It redirects the liberating command to itself, breaks the monoliths grapple, and wreaks havoc.
I... I didn't even think of that. Wow.
The monolith is actually statted in scenario 2-02. It's an advanced iron golem of huge size. The CMD listed is 43.
The only thing keeping the xacarba stuck in the grapple is that the monolith probably has +5 from initiating the grapple, getting a CMD of 48, maybe. (Again, only if you're one of those people who think that the +5 for the initiator of a grapple should apply to both CMB & CMD.) Without that bonus, it can't beat the xacarba.
So yes, if the xacarba could redirect the Liberating Command to itself, the +16 gives it an almost guarantee of beating the monolith.
It's kind of shocking to think that the weapon given to help the PCs is probably the item that guarantees the PCs fail. I guess the only hope would be that the xacarba is too dim-witted to think of this.
The redirect is an immediate action, it can use it to redirect liberating command to itself but then doesn't have a swift action to make use of it.
Its pretty much the same reason you cannot liberating command yourself out of a grapple.
Also, if you do go down the pin route you still deal constrict damage. My group of mostly level 5 characters came extremely close to a TPK in the low tier and they were all experienced players.
I played this quite recently and enjoyed it. I missed a few things because I was playing in French, and my French is pretty basic.
We had a full party, high tier. We were, iirc, 2 level 5s, 3 level 6s and 1 level 7. I'll spoiler my summary.
In the final battle, I think we employed almost the optimum strategy, albeit partly be accident. Most of us attacked the xacarba. I remember 2 PCs getting past it, but one of them didn't get back to us. Fortunately he'd handed the disc he was holding to the monk/rogue-type, who did make it past. Big acrobatics and AC/CMD I think, as well as high speed. Nonetheless, 3 PCs were grappled.
I was playing my Lawful Neutral melee alchemist. I was smacking the xacarba very hard with Slitherbane (I was enlarged and mutated, Bull's Strength'd too). My AC was pretty high and the xacarba missed when it attacked me (before it grabbed softer targets). My wife inadvertently healed the xacarba when it used its redirect spell ability. I think that our GM might have misunderstood Slitherbane's liberating command power because i was told that the weapon would only use that on its wielder and that I could not activate that power myself.
Once monk/rogue-type handed me the last disc it was a slam-dunk, because I was enlarged and had levitate running.
I think one or two PCs might have been in negative hp, but nobody died.
I'm now thinking of making a character to use Slitherbane with (I have a boon that I can use to transfer it).
I believe there is an error in the out-of-tier gold for this scenario.
Low tier pays 1,275 gold.
High tier pays 3,223.
The average of these is 2,249, but the chronicle sheet lists the out-of-tier gold at 1,496 gold. Is there any reason why it would be off?
Anyone Official?Lesson, don't play out of tier?
I am pretty sure its an error, but I am just part of peanut gallery.
I've only played it and haven't read the scenario, but I liked that the final encounter was a puzzle that was only superficially a fight. Given the huge bonuses the BBEG had coupled with the special debuffs the golem was inflicting, it was pretty immediately obvious to our party we're here to solve a puzzle. In fact we were so convinced of it we didn't even bother trying to hurt the BBEG.. we hadn't identified the properties of the fountain but we solved the puzzle anyway by taking turns tying up all the grapple tails and passing/throwing the macguffins to one another rather than trying to beat an unbeatable escape DC.
Granted, we were a full table rather than 4 so I don't have any comment on whether or not the 4 player adjustment needs looking at.
Still, I wouldn't mind if some missions simply ended in failure. Some PFSers presume they'll get 2 PA and some aren't put off if they occasionally only get 1 PA. I don't mind if we simply can't handle a BBEG and actually end up with no PA once in a while. It's never happened in my personal experience thus far on either side of the screen... but I was excited because this time felt like there was a real risk of actually failing to achieve the basic mission.
Good summary, Iammers. I'll throw in one issue as well which makes it harder to acheive your best case: the issue of who is carrying Slitherbane.
It has an Ego of 14 and the special purpose to slay "serpentine" creatures. Given that they didn't say "snakes" or "magical beasts/humanoids that looks like snakes", to me that indicated that the Xacarba qualified - and thus an Ego check is called for unless the wielder attacks the Xacarba with intent to slay it.
Our warrior (who took the weapon and the negative level) lost the control roll triggered by the special purpose being presented, and full-attacked the xacarba every round. That took one person out of "true" purpose of placing the disks.
I agree with some of the commentary above and Iammars has done a great technical analysis of the BBEG.
However, I will say that I love this scenario, have run it 5 times so far on both sub-tiers (with at least 1 more coming up) and have had a great time with it in each case. The games were very fun and memorable and ran mostly on time -- maybe slightly over because I tend to do full RP.
PFS BBEGs that are easily dispatched take the fun out of the game (as do shut-down PCs - like game-ending slumberhexers). This BBEG was rare and tough, but absolutely beatable (per my 25+ players and 5 random tables that did it without dying -- and I wasn't easy on them) with some balancing points that require smart investigation, good player planning and cooperation, and good GM preparation and adjudication.
Not every BBEG grapple was successful in my games and players were able to escape some percentage of the time. Some drank the water and knew why, some drank and didn't know, some didn't drink (and were absolutely grappled). Regardless, it was certainly harrowing!
There were no players at any table in grapple-slot-fill mode that didn't realize they had to take immediate action to grab the discs or perish. Not all parties accounted for the height of the slots (a great flavor/puzzle feature), which almost killed 2 players, but the runners succeeded at the last second. Alternately, one 6-player party rapidly tanked the grapples had 1 runner (then immediately realized they needed another - couldn't lift 2) and had 1 enlarge person inserter to finish the job - good party multi-tasking easily beat the grapple timer.
The discs are a deceptive puzzle / physical challenge - the apparent puzzle part is fairly easy to understand, but the real puzzle is how to finish the sequence without dying first and starts off with an unexpected switcheroo to surprise those who thought they had it all figured out. "Do Thing A before Thing B Crushes You" is a common adventurer puzzle trap paradigm (Indiana Jones, Stargate, etc.), and that's what the final encounter is. Further, a typical mind puzzle has 1 solution. This puzzle has multiple solutions, where the fact that there is a common one (grapple slots/kill timer) doesn't make it a bad puzzle/physical encounter.
Beyond Azlant Ridge is a great challenge worthy of gamers who play PFS, albeit where it may punish those who are very careless, don't bother with clues or checks or don't start working together until it's too late. Or, it could also fail on GM prep and delivery, but that's not the scenario's fault. And, from my perspective, it's incumbent upon the GM to be prepared, craft a positive experience, help bring along new players, provide a forum for safe interaction, offer checks, information and clues as players warrant or earn them (if they do), and help tables develop a true sense of cooperation early on in the adventure. By the time the party gets to the end (of any scenario), they should be mostly in sync.
Further, this scenario has great RP opportunities from start to finish (tons of fun - the intro, the camp, the cowering, paranoid and bossy archaeologists, the ruins, charmed NPC delusions, hubris & remorse, the ancient Slitherbane now awakened after thousands of years of dusty solitude, the BBEG on the precipice of freedom, etc.) - and builds to an exciting climax with the relentless pounding of the monolith growing ever louder as the PCs race to find what they need, face creepy/scary/mysterious/deceptive encounters, and prepare themselves for the final encounter, gritting their teeth and waiting for the door to give way to the final blow of iron on stone. It's awesome - a true rollercoaster ride.
It also has some pinhole bypass possibilities for extremely clever or prepared parties. I had 1 party creatively bypass the final encounter, and I love rewarding these types of clever players who use creativity (+ preparation and party diversity in some cases) over brute force or frontal assaults.
I agree that the 4-player adjustment is not correct. The head-on final battle is most often going to be a grapple slots/numbers game, which means that with 4 players, there, logically, needs to be 1 less tail to give PCs a fair chance at success, besides other minuses. -1 star for that (very correctable) oversight. Please fix this problem.
The encounters and ruins are full of clues that good investigation and standard party tactics (or basic perception) will reveal. Encourage the investigation and cooperation from the start. PCs can perceive or find - handprints, accumulation of dust, magical auras on enchanted creatures and items, murals, npc interviews, aphoristic imagery from Slitherbane, glowing lights and tracks in various places, Azlanti writing and symbology, distant pounding of metal on stone, walls beginning to crack, creepy sounds, monster identification/knowledge, etc.
Anyway - I found Beyond Azlant Ridge to be a great canvas for GMs and a worthy challenge for PCs. One of my new favorites!
You credit your prep with how smoothly this ran. On average, how much prep time do you think is needed?
I don't think I credited my prep. I think I said that GMs should prep every scenario they run and should pay attention to prep and adjudication. I didn't find that the prep was unreasonable vs. any other scenario I have prepared.
In terms of time, let's see - going into GENCON, I scaled and printed the maps at Kinko's, printed the scenario, printed the handouts (including monolith). I did a quick read-through (including a very quick pass on PFS2-02 for continuity), I sign-posted the box text to help me orient during the run, read the monster stats, identified the key NPCs embedded in different places (disorganized, IMO), planned out the RP and personalities, digested special abilities and DCs, checked out the items, considered combat mechanics and tactics, checked pfsprep, read the conclusion/success and chronicle, and that was about it. So, maybe 2 hrs. + printing, which is typical. Running = increased familiarity... x5. I did the monster init cards in real time and referenced the printed stat blocks, as needed.
I just really have to wonder why you are signing the praises of this scenario, while a lot of people here are basically calling for a do over?
Well - wonder no more! If the calls for "do-over" are based on the 4-player adjustment, that is a simple matter to fix and very understandable in terms of the grapple numbers game. It's a 1 sentence fix, not a do-over. The sentence is: "In the 4-player adjustement, remove 1 tail from the Xacarba and give it [blah] minuses." I addressed that point in my comments. However, that issue is not sufficient justification to pan the entire 25+ page scenario or to call it a TPK fail when it's not (at least as far as my experience goes). If you're running in 4-player mode, then use common sense as a GM and do what's necessary to ensure the table experience until paizo can address the issue. Ultimately, the GMs are responsible for the tables and for flagging issues that are problematic. No scenario is perfect.
Also, if it were a TPK fail, then some of my parties should have TPK'd, but they didn't. There were a few games with 1 or more characters that were unconscious and within 1-2 rounds of death, but the parties pulled it off. Good for them! It's an incredible thing to walk that line as a player and, even moreso, to be able to author a scenario that cuts it that close, yet still allows the players to triumph and gives them a fair chance. Lots of respect from me on that point! (I don't know the author.)
As I said, I think this is a great and exciting scenario that has a nice improvisational canvas for the GM that spans the entire story arc. I have run it 5 times to an exciting and successful conclusion each time with no character death and a fun and creative table experience for all concerned. As a GM, that's what it's all about for me and why I play PFS.
If others feel that it's a do-over or a disappointing scenario for other reasons, I'm sure there are parts on which we can agree, as above (4-player issue, certain abilities, maybe I would organize a few things slightly differently, but the information was all there).
In conclusion, from the evidence of my personal experience, I think it deserves a good recommendation, has tons of flavor, is a nice sequel to 2-02/BTD2-Rescue and has a challenging puzzle trap with a rare (perhaps epic) BBEG & setup as the final encounter. And yes, it's one of my new favorites, even with its few issues that need correction (that I have no doubt but that paizo will address). Also, I don't feel the need to agree with others, especially in the case where my experience differs.
I hope I have answered your question.
I want to point out in our 3-5 tier, 4 player game, the fighter had a 28 AC at level 4, and it meant nothing, because the creature was first in combat, teleported into the middle of the room with the slots, struck him while flatfooted, and grappled him on hit with 6, because of the flatfooted. So all these" High ac character tanks in low tier stuff is B.s. because thats a high ass AC for a 3-5 scenario. Most 5-7 Tanks prolly arent that high.
So for your teams fighter...
Sometimes the dice are unkind.