My players broke the adventure - need advice (Fort. of Stone Giants, spoilers)


Rise of the Runelords


I DM a rather large group of players (7-8) and we're deep into the Runelords adventure path and loving it.

In all of the previous adventures, my solution to the greater-than-normal number of players was just to add more monsters than what was called for in the encounter; it has worked out well. The book says three ogres? Lets make it six! I don't have a lot of prep time, and that was the simplest solution. We've had no problems at all and were having a blast. Up till now, that is.

The title of this thread is somewhat misleading. Its not my player's fault, they have played wonderfully so far. However, we've noticed that since most of them have hit 9th or 10th level, none of the encounters in this adventure have been really challenging for them. The attack on Sandpoint was fun, the journey to Jorgenfist was fun, but we've hit several encounters in a row now where it doesn't matter how many extras I throw at them or combination of tricky tactics, the monsters can't really *hurt* the PC's. Their damage output is very low compared to my PC's. The last couple of combats (deathwebs, redcaps) we just called as PC victories after a few rounds when it became apparent that eventually the monsters would bite it and no PC would be hurt worse than our healbot cleric could fix them up.

All of my players commented that since the change was so sudden (9th or 10th level), we probably have moved out of the infamous "sweet spot" and are seeing firsthand some of the effects of the way the math affects the game at this level. I'm not faulting my players at all for developing their characters they way they did. I'm also not faulting the adventure author for not making it harder; it was after all designed for a party of 4, not 7. I'm not faulting myself because, well...I'm the DM, and the DM is never wrong. (just kidding)

A good DM adjusts the adventure when he/she sees their party not having fun or not being challenged. I already have several ideas, I'm just interested in seeing how anyone else has handled sudden mid-campaign leaps in power like that.


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

What's your party mix like?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I had the same problem a few years ago when I had 9 players at once. The challenges would be either too simple and the players would waltz right through. Then I tried to increase the CR, but lots of low CR monsters wouldn't really do much. So I tried to advance the encounter, but then it suddenly got too hard and we ended up with at least one dead PC each session. Eventually we just split up into two groups. Luckily we had a whole student house to play at so we could play in different rooms and meet and chat during the pizza breaks. But my suggestion would be advancing the monsters ever so slightly (a level or two or a couple of HD) and maybe add one or two monsters.

The way I dealt with it was cheating ever so slightly. I started giving more HP to the monsters, that way they would last a round or two longer and giving a challenging combat without one side being too powerful. But I still ended up with dead PCs in the big "boss" battles, since one powerful being able to challenge 9 PCs will probably be able to kill someone before taking them down.


PocoLoco wrote:
Eventually we just split up into two groups. Luckily we had a whole student house to play at so we could play in different rooms and meet and chat during the pizza breaks.

That sounds like the best possible solution. Even if you're as animated as Nick Logue, effectively tweaking adventures for and DMing nine players is nigh-impossible.


tbug wrote:
What's your party mix like?

Dwarven grappling monk, Wizard/Warweaver, Elf Cleric/Radiant Servant of Pelor, Human Barbarian, Half-Elf Ranger (two weapon focus), Elf Rogue/Sorcerer, Elf Arcane Archer, Elf Druid. The two casters focus mainly on buffing spells, while the rest of the party dishes out the damage.


All those PCs can, if allowed to do so, focus a *lot* of damage, pushing over almost any monster very quickly.
One way to challenge them more might be to have threats coming at them from two different directions at once. Up the count of hounds of Tindalos in the complex, and whenever the PCs encounter a 'normal' group of giants or other defenders, in one direction, have a group of hounds of Tindalos of almost equivalent CR to the first group emerge from the corners to attack the PCs from another direction. (There could be a large pack of them, familiar with the complex (for teleport/angled entry purposes) and some handler is remotely observing the PCs with scry effects and instructing groups of hounds 'go attack there' to get them to use their free-action teleport-in ability, rather than hiding in the ethereal or simply invisibly where PCs with see invisibility would normally spot them coming.)
Having to fight on two fronts at the same time might help make things more tricky.

Edit:
Be careful of the gaze 'auras' if some of the party members have low Fortitude saves.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I also have a large group (five PCs, a permanent NPC ally and usually some temporary allies) and they can dish out damage at a frightful rate, even though individually most of them are not particularly optimal.

I have a post in another thread about Jorgenfist. It didn't make sense to me as an occupied giantish fortress (there's no one to replace the giants on watch, tend the animals, run messages, or respond to alarms) so I more than doubled the number of giants inside. That did make it more of a challenge for my PCs, though that wasn't why I did it--I just needed it to make sense.

You can also, as another poster suggested, try to stack the encounters up: have two encounters happen at once from opposite sides, or otherwise try to split the PCs' attention. The scanderig is a good monster for this, as well as the Hounds. And if an alarm goes up, giants can come from all directions. Don't let things sit in their rooms, as a large party doing a room at a time will never be challenged at all. Mokmurian should not wait around while his troops all die; he should intervene while the PCs are still engaged.

Be sure that the BBGs have bodyguards. Mokmurian should have some, for example. This is much less likely to produce unwanted TPKs than increasing the power of the BBG himself.

Have enemy casters, if they get a chance, use area-control spells to break up the PC group: web, wall spells, blade barrier, reverse gravity, solid fog, acid fog, slow. Confusion can be devastating to a large party. Anything to prevent the PCs from focusing damage.

The lead-in encounters to Jorgenfist are weaker than the later ones, but my PCs still never had any trouble until Mokmurian himself (who they managed to fight up above, with mammoths running wild across the battlefield and giants everywhere). A large party with good control of encounter distance can take on an unbelievable number of giants. The same PCs, now 15th, just took on several iterations of Xin-Shalast's emergency response and slaughtered them all.

When you get to Sins of the Saviors, I *strongly* recommend giving many of the BBGs bodyguards, and allowing the encounters to clump up much more than they are described as doing. The top Greed baddie needs 4-5 bodyguards and a tripwire in adjacent rooms. The two top Gluttony people should be allowed to get together, and given 2-3 more bodyguards. The top Wrath and Lust people have adequate troops but should not wait until the troops are all dead before fighting--they should intervene within a round or two. Pride could use a bodyguard or two as well, but make sure those aren't casters or you'll have too many casters in one place. (Pride nearly wiped out my PCs, after everything else had been very easy for them.)

Mary


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

You have a lot of elves in that group. Are they related? Do they have a common backstory?

I'm changing the motivations a bit for my group by having hostages involved. Depending on story elements maybe you could add social challenges, too; might one of them have a mom smitten by one of the bad guys in one of the games? Perhaps a favourite uncle is working for the other side, and approaches the PCs with an offer to switch teams.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion, Pawns, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

My suggested would be the cheat. Video games do this all the time. Give the monsters more hitpoints, better weapons, and disposable treasure.

Disposable treasure are healing potions.
Better weapons, masterwork and/or magic (or just a +1 or +2 higher.)
And more hitpoints, well give the monsters + 1/2 their max HP (100hp = 150hp now.)

Ready for the kick in the ass?

They don't get the potions, even if you gave the monster the potion and he didn't use it.

The magic weapons are default encounter weapons if the PCs take them as loot.

And no extra XP for the extra HP.

It wouldn't hurt to add classes levels to the monsters (and not giving extra XP for the new CRs) but that requires extra work and extra care not to wipe the party if you give them class levels.


My observation of the RotRL path (and of the STAP as well ) is that these are pretty light with regard to caster opposition. Many/most of the NPC baddies are strong melee combatants, but effective only against a limited number of characters at once - who in turn can engage them as well, and to devastating effect.

I would actually add some more magical and AoE oriented stuff at the group, especially such attacks that turn part of the group's strength gainst itself, or render moot their numerical advantage (and lets not kids ourselves, the most important thing such a large group has going for it is the incredible number of actions it can use in a single turn ).

"Slow" should work nicely, as does "Confusion", or effects making battlefield relocation difficult, such as wall spells, entanglments, "Black tentacles" etc.
Hit one or two of them with "Domination" and "Magic Jar" effects(and turn them loose against their compatriots ) , or neutralize part of their number with Rainbow Patterns etc. leaving them dumbfounded.

Strike at them with illusions (cheap spell usually causing great waste of resources ) , or such combatants that they can only partially lash out at, say a flock of harpies, some ogres with missile weapons backing up the giants (from behind barricades or inaccessible positions ?). Have an Ogre mage or an Ogre druid (or adept or Spirit Shaman ) aid the giant(s) with Area effect attacks, movement hampering spells (briarweb etc.... ) and summoned stuff appearing right on top of their vulrnerable casters.

Generally, I find the reliance of "one biggo monstrosity" in parts of the RotRL rather un-conductive to the feeling of challenge, although I have to admit, I am not GMing atm - I am still busy with the STAP.

Oh, of course, nasty and simply hard to circumvert traps and obstacles might provide challenging moments for your troupe as well.
But basically, looking at their setup, having them get hit with confusions and mind-control effects should cause massive chaos in their midst, even if only provided by some mid-level support goons backing up the standard opposition. Say, a 5th level sorcerer who's main occupation would be readying a magic missile to cast at the cleric every time that guy starts casting a healing spell, causing a far more difficult concentration roll to even cast that spell. The goon should be able to do that half a dozen times or more easily. Two or three of those..... ( acting in a coordinated manner, firing salvoes.... OUCH !). And I don't see a reason why Mokmurian shouldn't have some low-level apprentices and aides-de-camps accompanying him.

And adding sorcerer levels to ogres only increases their CR by half the levels added (since the sorcerer levels are not actually levels benefitting fully from the ogres racial setup. this is how Paizo calculated the CRs for Mokmurian and the other stone giant wizards in the AP as well ) a ogre level 6 socerer would only be CR 5, and hence not all too many extra XP. But three of those, plus some normal "combat brutes" (advanced to CR 3 and 6 HD..) should signficantyl toughen up an encounter without driving the EL's over the top.

Grand Lodge

A possible "fix" to me is a combination of things above.

If the encounter has three ogres for example, I change one Ogre to a Ogre fighter, max his HP and add about 6 to his STR for better to hit and damage. SInce I don't have time to write out this guy's stats for one single use I "Know" He has the Power Attack feat, the "X" feat and the "Y" feat that all combine to give him a better change to hit and damage.

Then I add two more Ogre Adepts or sorcerers. Give them all buffing potions and maybe a wand or two that is on it's last charges.

Then as the fight is going, I pull in another Ogre Cleric who pops in the round before the Ogre Fighter is going to go down. That Ogre Cleric casts a quick heal and then throws a curse or two at the PC fighters.

In addition the Ogres us the environment to the advantage. They keep behind doors and tables for cover, they bull rush to push PCs off stairs or out windows. They disarm like crazy. And my favorite... they grapple! Every PC hates being grappled! Two ogres pick up the best fighter and toss him out the window to the ground 30 feet below. The PC takes damage, has to run back along to get into combat, and just might pull a fight while trying to get back and has to fight alone.

None of these extras need to be statted out, you have a good idea what they can do, and how many hps they have. When it seems about right for them to go down they do.

All you did was double the number of baddies, maxxed out a couple of them, fudge some rolls that are close enough, and use PC tactics like crazy against the PCs. The encounter becomes much more dynamic and far more complicated for the PCs.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Krome wrote:


None of these extras need to be statted out, you have a good idea what they can do, and how many hps they have. When it seems about right for them to go down they do.

All you did was double the number of baddies, maxxed out a couple of them, fudge some rolls that are close enough, and use PC tactics like crazy against the PCs. The encounter becomes much more dynamic and far more complicated for the PCs.

You'll want to assess your players before doing this: some players are violently allergic to fudging, and if you do it frequently the players *will* know (if they are paying attention). I can change the monster's tactics but "when it seems right for them to go down they do" is forbidden at our table--it drives my player up the wall.

Be careful not to go to the opposite extreme and make ever single fight blisteringly hard. A lot of groups get battle fatigue if they don't have easy encounters too.

Mary


One way I've boosted giants in the past is to alter feats to give them Awesome Blow and Cleave and allow the two abilities to work together.

If you aren't feeling that arbitrary I created a feat called Awesome Cleave. Essentially you had to have Awesome Blow and Cleave and you could use the two together IF the player was actually knocked back (failed their ref save).

It's a great visual, 20 ft tall creatures swinging 10 ft clubs and player flying everywhere (as would probably happen).

I wouldn't have all of my giants use this feat combo, but some giants are going to enjoy knocking things around. Take Stone Giants for example, the average stone giant is built (feat wise) like this:

Combat Reflexes, Iron Will, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, Precise Shot

More for range than anything else, but they're going to need melee guys once the enemy closes:

Awesome Cleave, Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Awesome Blow

What this does (aside from look cool) is make it much harder for player to get a full attack in. If you want to control how quickly players walk through the bad guys limit their ability to perform a full attack. Bad guys will stand longer without extra anything. To really shake them up give the occasional opponent Great Cleave and watch their faces.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Cainus wrote:

One way I've boosted giants in the past is to alter feats to give them Awesome Blow and Cleave and allow the two abilities to work together.

Meaning, if the character knocks his opponent back he can immediately make an attack on another adjacent target? Even if the first target is not dropped? I just want to be sure I understand what you're proposing.

I don't think this would help with the PC party described, where there is only one PC engaging the giants. (Nor with mine, where there are generally 0 PCs engaging the giants--they avoid engaging in melee as much as possible, and are very good at that.)

Mary

Liberty's Edge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber
Mary Yamato wrote:
Cainus wrote:

One way I've boosted giants in the past is to alter feats to give them Awesome Blow and Cleave and allow the two abilities to work together.

Meaning, if the character knocks his opponent back he can immediately make an attack on another adjacent target? Even if the first target is not dropped? I just want to be sure I understand what you're proposing.

I don't think this would help with the PC party described, where there is only one PC engaging the giants. (Nor with mine, where there are generally 0 PCs engaging the giants--they avoid engaging in melee as much as possible, and are very good at that.)

Mary

"Meaning, if the character knocks his opponent back he can immediately make an attack on another adjacent target? Even if the first target is not dropped?"

That's right. It's sort of like cleave upon swallowing. With the PC party described (where he stated that the casters buff and the others deal damage, theres a monk, a barbarian and a two weapon ranger) reducing the number of attacks characters are capable of making reduces the amount of damage dealt, which increases the longevity of the creature. Characters land prone and more than a 5ft step away from attacking. It takes a bit of effort to close again.

It's not the cure all but there are more benefits to not being based than it seems at first glance. Creatures can move about more freely in combat, casters don't have to worry as much about disruption. Have one giant grapple (even without improved grab the multiple attacks giants get makes this a viable strategy) while the other giant protects the grappler by knocking the other characters away. Or normally if a giant charged to characters even if he did knock one away the other would only have to take a 5ft step to receive a full attack round. With the awesome cleave the giant would have the opportunity to send the other character flying as well.

Combat becomes more about positioning and less about standing and pounding on each other (Geez, that sounds very 4Eish). 'Sides it's a really cool visual.

This isn't the end all be all solution and it doesn't work with medium or smaller creatures but it does add an extra dimension to larger combat oriented creatures.


Thanks to everyone for your suggestions, you all have been most helpful! I am already incorporating many of your ideas into the adventure. Its issues like this that crop up now and then that make me curious to see what 4E will do better (or worse) in helping a DM adjust an adventure quickly and easily.

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