Overall CoCT Review

Curse of the Crimson Throne

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My original intent was to put my money (OK, my fingers) where my mouth was, and write up a comprehensive review of CoCT in a single post. Yeah, after getting to a few hundred lines on the first three modules, I decided a module-by-module breakdown would be more reasonable. But I put it in a single thread to save spam.

So, if you're a player or GM wondering whether CoCT is for you, here's my family's experience. If you find this useful and informative, let me know and I'll present similar recaps as we finish Council of Thieves and Kingmaker. If you find it self-aggrandizing annoyment, let me know and I'll stop spamming the boards with it.

OVERALL RATING: 5 of 5 (loved it through and through, though they still have to finish off Module 7)
- Tirri, F NG Half-Elf Bard (B) (played by my wife)
- Hellfire, M CN Tiefling Warlord/Warlock (Wl) (played by my 10-year-old son)
- Goen, M CG Eladrin Universalist Wizard (W) (played by my 7-year-old son)
- Valdor, M LG Human Paladin (P) (played by me because the group needed a healer)
- Trig, F CG Gnome Rogue (R) (played by me because my wife refused to play without a rogue)
To be blunt, the "hook" in this module is better than any I've played. Zellara the fortune teller contacts the PCs, tells them that she knows they've all been wronged by Gaedren Lamm, and tells them she knows where he's hiding. I had all kinds of fun coming up with backgrounds for the characters:
- Goen's (W) parents took out a loan from Lamm to pay for his education. They failed to pay, and his father was crippled, but could still work as a tailor, sending most of his earnings to Lamm. This led to a magnificent story arc as the characters moved Goen's parents out of Korvosa for fear of reprisals against them. This one arc must have taken 10-12 hours to play through, with no XP and nothing but costs for the PCs, but they felt they had to "protect their own". It drew the group together better than any other plot line I pursued.
- Tirri's (B) master was crippled by Devargo Bravosi while being questioned for information he didn't have, under Lamm's orders. Tirri
had to watch and was then released "as a warning to others".
- Hellfire (Wl) was brought in chains to a gladiator pit near the Bloodsworn Vale. Lamm was one of the bettors. Hellfire escaped and fled to Korvosa.
- Valdor's (P) master was tricked into violating his faith by Lamm.
- Trig (R) is just plain obnoxious. (Even as a gnome she got CHA 8, and my wife insisted that she wasn't ugly, she was just abrasive. So I played an abrasive gnome rogue to the hilt. The kids loved her).

After that, the module plays out much like any other low-level character module, with the massive exceptions that:
(1) The first quest (Lamm) is extremely well-motivated. A surprising rarity in low-level modules.
(2) The subsequent events first force the PCs to work together (so they really feel like a team by the time they have to trust each other), then reward them well for their work. A 500 GP reward may not seem like much, but considering some of the "rewards" in other modules, the writers were generous without being silly.

GM Notes:

I used Pathfinder (4th printing) rules with the accelerated advancement path. Even then I had to throw in side adventures to get the characters to the "correct" levels.

Key points:
- Party make-up
- Harrowing
- NPCs
- Area-by-area comments

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it was to have a paladin (and preferably a bard as well) in the party. Later books (Escape from Old Korvosa, Skeletons of Scarwall) have creatures with high DR, and I don't know that the party would have survived without the paladin's Smite Evil ability. I suspect a cleric would be good enough ("Align Weapon", anyone?), but to have neither would be Bad. To properly roleplay the scenarios, you need someone with a massive knowledge base. Our second group (in Council of Thieves) doesn't have a bard, and it's amazing how much the scenario dies when I won't spoon-feed them information, and they have no idea how to get it.

I bought a Harrowing deck for the harrowings, and I thought it was well worth the (in my opinion) expensive deck to see the looks on my kids' faces as I did the harrowings. For my last two Harrowings, I dealt the hands beforehand, wrote up my story, stacked the deck, and shuffled only the bottom of the deck so the kids were convinced it was random, but I didn't have to look up what all the cards meant on the fly.

Cressida is your best NPC! Don't waste her. The party didn't know what to do with the queen's brooch. Cressida suggested returning it. Throughout the books, the party kept coming back to Cressida and handing over information as they got it, forming a tight bond between the characters and the NPC that made it easy for me to provide hints.

I completely blew Vencarlo; he hit on the women, was all suave and debonair, and tried to recruit the gnome rogue to his cause. When he showed up as Blackjack later, not a single PC was surprised, and the general consensus was, "What a self-aggrandizing so-and-so!"

The group had a strong tendency to attack at night. This turned the Old Fishery into a cake-walk, especially when Yargin did his job and tried to run to Lamm, fumbled his Acrobatics, and fed himself to the shark. I was going to overrule the book and have the kids in the loft attack, but the bard used Ghost Sound and Mage hand so brilliantly ("I am the spirit of Bloo; if you come down I'll devour you") that I had to rule that they were scared spitless. But it did let me have the riots happen at night, which was more realistic.

The reveal on Zellara's secret was priceless. My wife's face just opened up in amazement, and the kids were just stunned. DON'T EVEN HINT AT IT UNTIL AFTER THE LAMM QUEST!!!

"All the World's Meat" was another cakewalk at night. Stupid humans, sleeping during the night! (Yeah, I play a Runequest troll when I'm a player instead of a GM).

Eel's End was a blast: A bard hell-bent on revenge vs. a paladin who doesn't want to see innocents hurt. They had significant problems, but that was because they went in swinging. They continued to avoid every spider in this remarkably spider-rich module. It was quite odd.

The Shingle Chase was my biggest disappointment, but it was sheer bad luck: The rogue got right up behind Trinia the very first round, so
Trinia tried to run and fumbled her very first skill roll. Thunk. You might want to disallow fumbles or some such -- it seems like such a
cool little game/encounter that I regret allowing it to end so quickly.

The Dead Warrens were also a lot of fun. The party nearly fell to Vreeg, but his bone robe ran out. Very well-balanced, and an excellent
prelude to Rolth. I do agree with some of the other GMs that having the darrow all spread out like that made them easy targets, but that's what Perception checks are for. The party got into quite the firefight in my campaign.

Anyway, I don't have a ton to say on Seven Days to the Grave, so it'll probably appear later today or tomorrow...

This was my least-favorite of the modules so far; I loved the setup, and the final dungeon crawl was spectacularly creepy and fun, but the rest of the module had that "we're just doing things to bide time and gain experience" feeling to it, with an overall sense of doom that didn't play well with my particular group.

In short, THIS was the, "Here's a random series of nonsensical encounters to give you enough experience to finish the module" module. It had some good roleplaying in it, but that was pretty much in spite of the story, rather than because of it. As a player, you're just going to have to bite the bullet and accept that sometimes you're just doing things "because they're the right thing to do" instead of "because they're profitable and/or fun".

GM Notes:

I have no idea how other GMs handled having the PCs survive the plague. Remember how I said that a cleric or paladin was a must? Given the stats of the plague, my PCs would have all died if I hadn't allowed the paladin to get to a high enough level to cure disease before the plague started. Even then, I played "gradual immunity" (every time you make a save, your chances of making the next save improve by 1 to reflect your immune system 'recognizing' the plague), and on several days the paladin spent all of his lay-on-hands abilities and 1st-level "lesser restoration" spells curing the rest of the party before they even set out in the morning. So yeah, the plague is extreme nastiness. I'd love to hear how parties without paladins or clerics handled it; my assumption was that the Church of Abadar would have enough monied peoples willing to wait in line for days for a cure (or at least have their servants there) that the church wasn't an option for getting the characters cured. Yes, later in the scenario the characters get lots of Cure Disease wands, but with the high DC of the disease you're averaging over 2 charges per cure, so you burn through them pretty quickly.

But that made the initial encounter with Brienne rather silly: "Oh, you're sick. Here you go; now you're cured." But it did let me roleplay the paladin to the hilt, and since the bard had already decided she was of Varisian heritage, it made for a fantastic party/story hook. Goen's parents took center stage again, as his mother seemed to get the plague every single day and the paladin had to cure her. It was during the plague that the party decided to evacuate his parents to Harse. And the bard adopted all of Trail's End as "her people", making it lots of fun to cause them trouble and watch the party wreak havoc.

The middle of the module REALLY drags. "Here's a mystery. Go investigate it." The PCs KNEW that the queen, the doctors, and the grey maidens had something to do with the plague, but they had to drag their feet doing a bunch of busywork because they needed the experience. I'd love to hear how other GMs got past this. The only bit of fun was the mansion. Just think, "Harley Quinn" and have a blast.

I really loved the shipwreck idea, but the wizard kind of spoiled it for me with Summon Monster III. His summoned monsters kicked the crap out of the guardian monsters, so there was one tough fight when they first got in, and the rest was easy. And the bard is simply too smart for the writing. "There are a bunch of incriminating papers, but if you open the box underwater they're all destroyed." She didn't even ask. Everything was brought to the surface and taken to Cressida for analysis WITHOUT being opened, so Cressida got all kinds of intelligence.

The final temple was AWESOME. I nearly killed the bard before they even got in -- she pretended to be a patient, was recognized immediately, and they tried to inject her with pure plague. She managed to get off a "Hold Person" that held (for once) on the doctor who was going to inject her, mentally screamed to Majenko for help (she freed him and bonded to him, and spent many hours performing for the pseudodragons of Korvosa), and in popped the paladin firing Holy arrows at the grey maidens. Uh, next time could they be Neutral? Ow! (At the bard's request, the rogue was in the rafters so the two maidens-on-high had their own serious issues and couldn't help those below).

I really, really like the way the temple is written, because if you go in swinging, it's an almost-guaranteed TPWO as the alert is sent and multiple bosses gather in rooms together. My group went above and beyond, using up precious high-level spells to prevent anyone from escaping the top level. During the time between Module 1 and Module 2, I went with a strict, "You can buy minor magic items, and this specific list of others," so they spent all their money preparing scrolls for the wizard instead of buying nasty weapons. (The Holy arrows and a +1 flaming sword for the warlord were the only weapons they got). I paid for it in the lower level of the temple. It was basically, "Have the rogue check the smallest door in the room and disarm it. Then have the wizard drop a fireball from one of his many scrolls while the paladin, warlord, and rogue rush in to close combat." In that particular temple, that tactic was unstoppable, and so they had an easy time of it solely because of excellent tactics, and they knew it, so they really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed it, and the temple guardians had a bad day. (Rolfe got hit by a fireball, Smite Evil, and rogue's backstab before he got an action. So he never did get an action).

The final boss was really scary without being overwhelming, and the twist at the end both disgusted and terrified them, so honestly, this was a fantastic second module, EXCEPT for the entire middle.

Did ANY group have the characters grab doctor's masks? The whole AP has this whole "mask motif" with the doctor's masks, the Red Mantis masks, etc., and my party just ignores them. Except they found out they can sell the Mantis masks in Riddleport, no questions asked, so they've started teleporting there to unload their bag-of-holding full.

Actually, my party did grab the masks. They then sold the masks to paranoid nobles who still feared the plague. It was all the rage at the parties after the Mansion Massacre (which also had very powerful bodyguards present from then on).

My party loved Seven Days, loved it because they hated it. One of our most memorable experiences was when the party went into the Infirmary swords swinging and all the doctors told them to leave. When they didn't they put daggers to the throats of he 'patients' and told them to leave one more time. They again refused. Lots of patients died because the PCs refused and the LG Mystic Theurge (Cleric of Corellon Larethian) HATED me. I got so many stink eyes from the players because the Doctors kept telling them, "The blood of innocents is now on your hands. If you wished to stop your eternal damnation, you needed to surrender now". There was real seat squirming when every time another civilian died.

My party also wanted to give the Queen the benefit of the doubt. I really managed to portray the Doctors as the evil deceivers, and that the Queen had no idea what was going on. They thought she was just as much a victim as the citizens of Korvosa. When they encountered the Grey Maidens, they managed to charm one of them, and ask her questions. They found out about her torture, and never asked who tortured her, only assumed the Doctors must have tortured some of the Maidens into serving their needs, breaking and conditioning them to follow their every order.

I'm looking forward to your review of Books 5 and 6 as my party will be starting Skeletons once the finish one of my side adventures (not high enough to enter).

Awesome! Not only a response, but one from someone whose posts I really respect! You have a fantastic eye for GMing, if I may say so from your posts on other threads.

Your handling of the infirmary is awesome -- the bard (my wife) is wicked paranoid, so she went in disguised while the rogue went in through the top floor window and the fighters and wizard were "gunning for bear" buffed with every multi-minute spell they had, and an Invisibility Sphere on them just outside the door. When Majenko signaled the party that she was in trouble, you had two buffed fighters with composite bows mowing down anyone in a mask or armor on the bottom floor, a wizard nailing anyone trying to run with Summon Monster III (Yes. He summoned a crocodile on top of a fleeing doctor. Priceless.), a rogue wreaking havoc in the rafters, and a bard Silencing the whole thing so the people on the top floor never made their Perception rolls. I wish I'd thought of having the remaining two grey maidens and doctor grab hostages -- they tried to engage and got obliterated.

Unfortunately, the review of Scarwall is probably still a few weeks away -- they're only about 3/4 of the way through it, and, after slaughtering all the most interesting bits, they're trying to map out the whole castle to figure out where they're supposed to go next. On the bright side, Pegg and Loute almost killed half the party. If they hadn't had a darned 12th-level bard whose first action was to tell the fighters, "Kill them NOW!!!", I might have been able to post something funny in the obits...

I'm honored you value my input, and grateful for the support. CotCT is the first time I've ever GM'd and I ended up jumping in head first and winging it most of the way. I've only played one other character past level 3 before I started GMing and she was a melee bruiser, so I don't have a lot of experience in Table Top RPG's. The only things I've got going for me is a far too active imagination (I still pretend to be a super hero when no one is looking!) and a love of reading fantasy novels.

Darn, I'm looking for all the tips and tricks for Scarwall that I can. I'm a little concerned for my party as they will only have access to 5th level spells when entering Scarwall (even with the side adventure) as they have a large party (6 PCs, a Cohort, and Trinia). While there are a lot of casters, the Oracle will only be hitting 9th by the end of the side adventure, the Mystic Theurge will be the equivalent of a 9th level Wizard and 9th level Cleric, the Cleric/Paladin is a cohort and will have 4th level spells, and then Trinia will have 4th level as well (I'm not counting the Arcane Archer as he's pretty selfish about his spells).

I think, if they want to have any chance at all, then they need to rely on the Kuthites to get them through. This will prove to be a challenging scenario as they have already relied, heavily, on Sial, and have a great relationship with Laori. I think it will come down to the nitty, gritty details when choosing the Ally/Enemy sub-plot.

Anyway, I look forward to more of your reviews as I see many similarities to my own party in some of the reactions of your party members (the Hospice being the major exception of course).

I'll post what I've got on Scarwall tomorrow morning (something called "real work" has me in a training course at HQ all day today) to give some clues.

As long as you have a smart party with a paladin, Scarwall isn't the death trap it looks like on paper; two of the four "big baddies" have already been one-rounded by my party, and the most infamous of them is absolutely positive to be a one-rounder (I'm going to triple his HP, but he's just too obvious for my party to miss him, so there're going to be four people Smiting Evil on him before he moves).

But 9th level is definitely low. My party is five 12th-level characters with almost no multi-classing, and the 12th-level paladin and 12th-level bard are making all the difference in the world...

Anyway, stay tuned! We'll see how long class runs... and how WONDERFUL traffic across the bridges is (S.F. Bay Area) in a rainstorm.

Tels wrote:

I'm honored you value my input, and grateful for the support. CotCT is the first time I've ever GM'd and I ended up jumping in head first and winging it most of the way. I've only played one other character past level 3 before I started GMing and she was a melee bruiser, so I don't have a lot of experience in Table Top RPG's. The only things I've got going for me is a far too active imagination (I still pretend to be a super hero when no one is looking!) and a love of reading fantasy novels.

Darn, I'm looking for all the tips and tricks for Scarwall that I can. I'm a little concerned for my party as they will only have access to 5th level spells when entering Scarwall (even with the side adventure) as they have a large party (6 PCs, a Cohort, and Trinia). While there are a lot of casters, the Oracle will only be hitting 9th by the end of the side adventure, the Mystic Theurge will be the equivalent of a 9th level Wizard and 9th level Cleric, the Cleric/Paladin is a cohort and will have 4th level spells, and then Trinia will have 4th level as well (I'm not counting the Arcane Archer as he's pretty selfish about his spells).

I think, if they want to have any chance at all, then they need to rely on the Kuthites to get them through. This will prove to be a challenging scenario as they have already relied, heavily, on Sial, and have a great relationship with Laori. I think it will come down to the nitty, gritty details when choosing the Ally/Enemy sub-plot.

Anyway, I look forward to more of your reviews as I see many similarities to my own party in some of the reactions of your party members (the Hospice being the major exception of course).

My party will finish Scarwall Friday. They have finished everything but the Star Tower. They are a 6 sometime 7 PC strong party all experienced gamers.

I completely removed the kuthonite subplot, as my guys and gals are far to experienced and resouceful and numerous to need any guides/help. Arriving at Scarwall they recon the barbican magically and attacked and took out the orcs with out to much trouble, and used it as their base of operations. They then attempted to recon Scarwall magically but found its defenses against such a threat sound, and there fore gained little information. The bard went invisible/gaseous and on a foggy evening reconned around the castle. He perceied the boat ramp and located the secret door. He also discovered the large contingency of skeletal guards in the gatehouse.

The party entered the next day via the secret door and got hammered by the danse macabe. This was a difficult encounter for them, and though the succeeded in the encounter all of them substained significant ability damge. They withdrew licked their wounds and returned the next day. Lucky for them the danse did not respawn. Two notes for the danse 1) look at how the dance ability interacts with prot fm. evil and 2) saddly it is incorporeal and can't be a replacement spirt anchor (unless you rule otherwise)

They entered the court yard next and were immedietly engaged by the gargoyles, this fight drew the attention of the umbral dragon and he charged out of the stables and death and destruction followed him. If he gets a full attack on any appropriate level and equiped PC he will KIA them.

If the party challanges the Spirt Guardian without taking down the anchors first that encounter has serious TPK possiblities, but once they're taken care off he is a paper tiger.

The two most difficult spirt anchors for my party were the devils and the demi-lich. Both of these have TPK potentials. The devils can teleport all aroud the PC's making it easy for them to hit-and-run on the party. My party was a hair away from a TPK on the demi-lich. It surprised them and then won initiative so back to back wails. Zellara's blessing saved them the first time, but the second time they ALL made their saves. Very lucky!! The bard countersonged, and then the paladin went aura of justice giving himself, the monk, and the barbarian a smite attack, and that was it.

I also did away with alot of the random monster generating. Scarwall is huge, and this feature gets old quick!!

The problem is, while the Cohort is a Cleric/Paladin, he's a 6th level Cleric, 3rd level Paladin. He started off 4 and 1, and I tried steering him into leveling up as a Paladin, but I guess (and I quote word for word), "A Paladin would be a very good thing in this adventure," was too subtle a hint.

Right now, I'm running them through Seven Swords of Sin for some xp and some much needed $$ (the party managed to stumble their way through Escape and avoided almost the entirety of the Arkonas), so they ended up heading out into the wilderness with level 6ish gear.

I've had to drop hint, after hint, give advice after advice for the party, and I've told them, after the Seven Swords is done, they'll be getting zilch from me. They'll have reached the point in adventuring where they should be able to handle their own problems, and they're dealing with the big boys now who will not hesitate to kill them, and can often times do so in one round. I've only had to pull a few punches (due largely because multiple party members didn't show up), but I mostly go full out. The other GM (who also plays in my campaign, and I play in his), told me that I run one of the most brutal campaigns in recent memory. I've currently got something like 12 kills under my sleeve in CotCT, and he said off the top of his head, he's only seen more in Ravenloft.

So ya, Scarwall could very well be the end for this party if they don't bring their A game (and a healthy supply of Hannibal) to the table.

Very good stuff. Keep posting!

SCARWALL (Posted while in class, so forgive typos, poor grammar, and incomprehensibility)
Ah, Scarwall! Vying for my favorite module of the AP, is there anything better than a high-level dungeon crawl through a haunted castle, trying to solve the mystery of the haunting and at the same time searching for an ancient artifact?

As a player, this is classic D&D from the good old 1970's (yes, I AM that old, thank you very much!). "Here's a dungeon. Search it. Solve it. Profit!" There's nothing better I can say about the profit level beyond my party's reaction to finding +3 glamered chainmail. "Oh, geez! More armor!?!?! Throw it in the pile!"

As players, show some respect to Scarwall. If the GM wants to play by candlelight to heighten the mood, let him/her. Don't wreck the game with a lot of silliness unless that's the way the GM is playing it. It's an awesomely-built, perpetually-deadly haunted castle, and it's a blast both to play and to GM. Characters WILL die; it's just a question of getting them back...

GM Notes:

On the one hand, I'm going to claim that Scarwall isn't nearly as dangerous as it looks on paper. On the other hand, my party made massive preparations:
- As soon as they heard, "Haunted Castle", they teleported to Magnimar and bought a wand of Lesser Restoration, components for about a dozen Restoration spells, and several scrolls of both the 100 GP Restoration and the 1000 GP Restoration. All told, the party dropped around 35,000 GP in Magnimar just preparing for level and characteristic drains, and they've been burning through the Lesser Restoration wand at a pace that makes them wish they had more.

- I ran a massive side campaign where an orcish army (100 1st level, 10 3rd level, 5 6th level, 1 12th level, 1 wyvern-riding 9th level shaman, and a young red dragon) attacked Flameford. The party got to build their confidence in wiping the walls with such a huge army (Cloudkill ended up being a significant issue for the orcs, and the paladin was a significant issue for the dragon), plus they got experience to put them to 12th level. They've also been leaning on the paladin as their battle wagon for so long that it was nice to see the dragon corpse fall on him so he spent the whole fight trapped under a corpse, and the rest of the party learned that they could do just fine without him.

- My party doesn't multi-class, so we have a paladin with 3 attacks per round with a +1 Holy longsword, a 12th-level wizard, and a 12th-level bard whose favorite tactic is to Haste the party (so the paladin's up to 4 attacks per round), cast Good Hope (+2/+2), and then play Inspire Competence (+3/+3), so the paladin's attacks look like +22/+22/+17/+12 (1d8+11+2d6 Holy, 17-20). That's the kind of damage you want your fighters doing before they come in. I noticed that most other parties are much more heavily multi-classed, so even 12th level might not be high enough (depending on the classes you allow -- from the threads it sounds like there are some completely unbalanced classes floating around there, but we're strictly Player's Guide, Tome of Secrets, and Advanced Player's Guide). The good news is, the first fight against the Corpse Orgy should give you a good idea as to whether the party is ready. Did anyone go to negative HP? Did they have massive trouble? If so, then maybe they should flee and go up a level or two before trying again...

- Finally, my first two posts said, "Paladin, Paladin, Paladin". On the other hand, you'll see threads on how overpowered the paladin's Smite Evil becomes at higher levels, because it wrecks the boss fights due to the "Bypass DR" feature. Both are true. Both Nihil and Belshallam fell in single rounds to the paladin's smiting bow (well, in Belshallam's case, the entire party's smiting bows). But the party used brilliant tactics in both cases (see below), so I'll forgive them. And without the paladin causing such massive damage, both foes are very likely to lead to TPWO (I prefer "Total Party Wipeout" to "Total Party Kill"). Scarwall is deadly. Really, really deadly. Even with a paladin, 11th-12th level is about right. Without a paladin, mo higher, mo better.

Scarwall is the first time I've had to decide how certain things are going to work in my universe:
- The spirit binding performed by the Sun Shaman and Zellara is the first example: If you look at "Ghost Touch" armor, it's a +3 bonus for the ability for THE ARMOR to turn ethereal. To me, that's pretty darned pathetic, so I play it that if the characters chose armor, the armor works against touch drain attacks. It makes it much more "worth" a +3 bonus, and it prevents those who chose armor instead of weapon from feeling like chumps as the warlord and rogue (who chose weapons) carve through incorporeal beings with disturbing gusto. They get to laugh as the wraiths and shadows miss them and touch the rogue and warlord with ease. (Well, not the rogue, but her DEX 22 is still an issue for the low-level undead).

- Similarly, I'm playing the
"get out of death free" ability to solely prevent the final death of the character. They NEED those spirit bindings to still be up when the finally meet the demilich, so being a literal GM and having it prevent the very first drain attack and then be gone is really chintzy beyond words. (In my opinion -- I don't want to insult GMs who run a deadly campaign and let their players know they're doing so).

- When I read the paladin's Smite Evil, I saw nothing to prevent him from smiting at range, and some of the disussion boards confirmed this. If you've been letting the paladin smite evil at range, you have to be ready for some of your bigger nasties to drop like sacks of rotten potatoes at a whole party beefed up with missile weapons and smiting because of Aura of Justice.

- Finally, I've noticed many GMs in the obits writing about how this devil or that one teleported to the party's extreme disadvantage. Sorry, a dimensional anchor is a dimensional anchor, and the module even mentions in several places that the residents can't do dimensional travel. My monsters can't teleport.

(1) If you don't want the orcs on the barbicon to be a complete joke, up their Stealth and Perception rolls. The bard rolled a 38 while the orc was taking 10, so she spotted him from 280' away, just far enough for the bard to Silence him while the paladin fired his composite bow with Smite Evil. (One of the things I don't understand about parties in other threads -- they never seem to have missile weapons, and they never seem to realize that the Smite Evil description never says it has to be a hand-to-hand weapon. But maybe I'm missing a ruling from another thread that that is "Not OK"). One ungodly critical later (I let them keep rolling criticals until they roll out of their critical range, and the paladin got four 20's in a row), the orc had taken 297 points of damage from a single arrow and was 'less than alert'. The rogue simultaneously took out the other sentinel while Sial had him Silenced, so they just opened the door and dropped a fireball and flame strike on the sleeping orcs. They didn't get any of the orcs' gear, but they didn't have to fight them, either.

(2) If a clever character ruins the mood, roll with it, let it go, and re-establish the mood later. The characters headed across the causeway. The portculli opened and Sergeant Lashton and his crew charged forward. It was dismal; it was gloomy, it was spooky. The kids were getting nervous. Then the bard cast Grease on the causeway in front of the skeletons. They blew both their Perception and their Reflex rolls. Cue 'Benny Hill' music. By the time the "pileup on the bridge" was over, the players were giggling too hard to take actions, and the skeletons were having to make Climb rolls just to get over the pile of their fallen comrades to get at the characters. My dice hated me that night, so they were fumbling those rolls as well. So that night was comedy. (It got worse -- the warlord was the only one with Darkvision, so he scouted ahead, spotted the pile of bodies (Corpse Orgy), screamed, "We're all going to die!!!" and ran. I ruled that the Orgy would follow such a curious apparition. So the bard crit her Identify Monster, Silenced it, and it enjoyed being beaten to death by the rogue, warlord, and paladin while silenced, while the party giggled even more at its misfortune). The next session I added a few ghostly apparitions (tortured souls warning them away from doorways, strange sounds, a woman's bloody footprints appearing and leading them towards a doorway that turns out to lead into a torture chamber where the woman met her end, etc.), and the mood was reset, without my getting angry or accusing the players of 'wrecking' my haunted castle. Sometimes, your dice just hate you and you've got to roll with it.

(3) The monsters of Scarwall are really, really nasty. (Heck, my party was having trouble with 8 Scarwall Guards until the bard cast Versatile Weapon on the warlord's sword to turn it into a mace). If the party doesn't use good tactics, they're going to die. So unless you're really vindictive, go ahead and reward good tactics. My party did the classic, "Go to the rooftops and engage the Captain, then struggle as all 12 gargoyles and the two barbed devils show up. Then Belshallam arrives." They made their Perception rolls to hear him coming, fled down through the trap doors before Belshallam was in range, and decided they were too beat up to continue. (Check the obits for how many parties DIDN'T make this choice). They waited a little while, then did Invisibility Sphere on the party, cast every single buff they had remaining, and sent an illusion of themselves back across the causeway. Yeah, Belshallam bit. I could have been mean. I could have had him figure it out and breathe into the entryway, obliterating the party. But the illusion specifically says it can only be disbelieved "if interacted with", so Belshallam flew down to engage, discovered the illusion, and hit the wall-o-missile-fire-and-spells from Hell. May he R.I.P. Similarly, with Nihil, they knew something nasty was going to be in the tower, so once the rogue picked the lock, Laori cast Invisibility Purge, the warlord bull rushed the chain demon that was blocking the door to get her out of the way, and the wizard used chain lightning to clear more space. THAT gave the paladin room (and visibility) to hammer Nihil with his bow. If Nihil hadn't rolled a straight-up 1 on Initiative, she STILL would have had a fighting chance...On the other hand, if you've got a group that just runs in and goes toe-to-toe with whatever's there, consequences-be-damned, then you can feel good about killing them because other parties with weaker members have survived by using their brains.

In short, everything in Scarwall can be deadly if you want it to be. After they'd dispatched the Captain, Nihil, and Belshallam so quickly, they went to the barbicon to rest (a common tactic, I hear). So more minotaur guards took back the guard tower and ambushed them, dropping Laori to -13 HP and seriously injuring two others with nothing more than a few crossbow shots and the freezing shower. Then I dropped in Pegg and Loute, and they nearly killed the bard, rogue, and warlord. You can harm the party any time you want, as badly as you want. So reward good, intelligent tactics with survival, don't fret the paladin too much, and don't be vindictive unless it's just that kind of group.

Didn't have any free time to add: If I were to do Scarwall again, I'd say the one thing I'd disallow is the paladin's "Aura of Justice" -- it's just too over-the-top in an undead-filled castle.

Plain old "Smite Evil" has been within the realm of other characters' damage. (Check out the wizard's 12th-level Disintegrate some time if you want to see obscene damage rolls).

Sorry, PCs! Nothing for you here! Move along!

GM Notes:

I typed up a massive description of "Escape from Old Korvosa" last night, but NoScript decided that paizo.com could not be trusted and deleted the whole thing, so we're going to have to introduce Laori now, and then talk about how I blew her introduction to the characters later.

In short, the party was split on Laori after EfOK; the bard, paladin, and rogue mistrusted her, the wizard was unsure, and the warlord was in luuuurv.

It was very easy for me to re-introduce them after A History of Ashes: The party was in Magnimar, gearing for war with the undead, and I had some souped-up Mantis assassins attack them individually. I'm really trying to focus on GM tips rather than stories of my misadventures, but I will point out that the Mantis who attacked the paladin (with concentrated ghoul venom, no less) fumbled his backstab and lost his weapons. (I'd rolled in front of the players to 'add to the drama', so I couldn't pretend it didn't happen). Run an unarmed Mantis against an 11th-level paladin some time. It's hilarious. Anyway, the warlord got cornered by two Mantises in an alley and was in a bad way, when who should come to the rescue but Laori and Sial! (Asyra had so much fun with the havero that she never left, but that's a story for HoA). Deciding on "Ally" vs. "Enemy" was ridiculous: Laori criticaled her mantis. Sial fumbled and fell flat on his face. Yeah. I need a new 20-sided die.

So the warlord and Laori rescued Sial, they all met up with the rest of the party, and, after much argument, the party accepted Laori and Sial into the group (one of Zellara's predictions was, "You will be able to trust at least one person you meet."). They met up at the Screaming Tree (couldn't have them travel through Shaonti lands, now could I?) and went into Scarwall.

It is SO fun to play the Enemy as a GM! Every fight, Sial just hangs around in the back and casts Light, insisting, "Well, the paladin is a human, and you rely on him almost exclusively, so he needs to see, doesn't he?" In the fight with Belshallam, the wizard summoned a Bralani Azata to engage Belshallam hand-to-hand to keep him from jumping the party, so Sial cast Order's Wrath on both Belshallam and the Azata. Oops! They're both chaotic! Sorry! When the party got ambushed by the guards the second day, the bard asked Sial to cast Flame Strike to obliterate the portcullus so they could escape, so he conveniently told Laori to move and then cast Flame Strike before she could. (She fumbled her save and that's when she went to -13 HP). So he's been obeying his word to the letter: He will help the party, and he will not harm a single party member. But Laori isn't a party member, and neither are summoned creatures. It's a blast.

As a side note, their prepared spells are so useless that I let the party pick their spell list, and the party tells them what to cast. So Laori's Invisibility Purge against Nihil wasn't my idea. I'm an "easy" GM, but I don't obliterate my monsters on purpose. I just have them behave in a way I think they really would behave, even if it's not the most sensible or effective tactic possible. (For example, the guards attack the paladin with his level 12 Aura of Good and his AC of 28 instead of the wizard, who's a much softer target at AC 16, but who doesn't offend them as much).

Vying with Scarwall for the title of "Best Module of the AP" is Escape from Old Korvosa. We have anarchy, we have political intrigue, we have lies and the lying liars who lie them! The whole scenario revolves around "Whom do you trust, if anyone?", and introduces some of the more menacing recurring villains of the series.

There are a whole host of ways to approach the module, but they all eventually lead to uncovering the mysteries of Old Korvosa, and deciding what to do about them.

GM Notes:

Here's where I don't know how parties get along without a paladin or cleric. In spite of the module's assurances that raksashas aren't all that tough, try running them after severely limiting magic item availability in your campaign -- the warlord could only damage them because he'd bought a +1 flaming sword (all of 1d6/round), and the paladin had to borrow the bard's rapier and cast Bless Weapon on it to get a good-aligned piercing weapon. The brothers were a tough, tough fight, mainly because they encountered the first two brothers just outside the garden room, so I had the second two brothers join the fight. Once again, the bard's tactics were outstanding (cast Silence on the otherwise-useless rogue and have her hide just behind the raksasha, preventing them from spellcasting, and cast Grease in the doorway so the raksasha were trapped fighting hand-to-hand while having to make Reflex saves every round, or having to back off into the garden where the wizard could snipe them with Acid Splash), so the party *barely* managed to win the fight.

- If the rogue's normal damage doesn't get through DR, the backstab damage doesn't count because she doesn't get to any vital organs. It made her useless, but I don't see how poking an invulnerable creature in a vital spot is any more effective than poking it in a non-vital spot. If you get in, you do massive damage, but you don't get extra dice to get you through the DR in the first place.

Here are the chronological pointers I learned:
(1) Don't give away the Red Mantis assassins too soon. You can read in the obits how many parties blew this encounter. It should be a nasty, unexpected surprise. Even with the bard and rogue maxing their Perception skills, the assassins would have succeeded in their ambush if the warlord hadn't crit his roll. Even then, the room exploded into flames and only the paladin and warlord stayed behind to fight the assassins. Unfortunately for the assassins, a tiefling warlord thinks fighting assassins in a burning building is nothing short of delightful, so they lost the fight, but not before causing some serious damage to the paladin and soaking up lots of the party's healing. The assassins are SUPPOSED to be scary, and might well kill a weaker character. All the more reason for the party to hate them as they continue to appear through the rest of the modules. They're a great recurring villain.

(2) I blew Laori's introduction. The party investigated the pool first, so I 'followed the script' and had Laori gleefully spring out to help them. After that, it was too easy for the party to accept her, and even she and the paladin got along after a long series of, "You will not harm or cause pain to anyone not attacking us, or anyone I don't OK. You will not mutilate the dead. You will not...". It was hard, but a lot of fun to roleplay that out (since I was both NPCs). Later in the story, it got X-rated for a bit (yes, the kids were gone at the moment. I'm not THAT horrible of a dad) when the Emperor's thugs threatened to "do things" to the female members of the party (and Laori said, "OK, let's go!"), but that re-established that Laori is just not a normal girl, and made the party much more satisfactorily queasy about her.

(3) My party went in "guns blazing" and annihilated the Emperor's thugs. There's not much you can do with a paladin around. "No. We will not surrender to scum such as you. You may surrender and pass unharmed to safety. If you remain in our way, we must do battle, and I cannot vouch for your lives if you choose this course." Corny stuff! Yeah, the thugs attacked and got the walls wiped with them. They're not nearly tough enough. If you want the party to negotiate with the Emperor or play Blood Pig, you need to either toughen up the thugs, or at least make them seem tough. So my party had an extremely-abbreviated Shingle Chase, no Knivesies, and no Blood Pig. Apparently my group isn't that into mini-games.

(4) I'd love to say that battle with the Emperor was tough. It certainly looks tough on paper. But as usual, the party's tactics impressed: The paladin and rogue used the Cape of Montebanc (remember THAT from a previous module?) to Dimension Door right up to the Emperor, and the paladin started Smiting the crap out of him. Hard to use a Rod of Wonder when you're wondering whether you're going to survive another round. I was sure the gnome barbarian was going to carve the paladin like a Christmas turkey, but the bard cast Grease on his axe, and he failed his Reflex save. Twice. Yeah. I hate Grease. The Emperor dropped, and I had the legion of captains attack anyway, while the low-level thugs ran. THAT set off Laori's "Now they're attacking! Whee!" reaction, and one Flame Strike and Fireball (from the wizard) later, the captains were smouldering corpses in the stands. As I've mentioned before, as a GM I have my NPCs behave the way I believe they would, rather than in the most tactically-advantageous way possible because they happen to know the strengths and weaknesses of every PC in the party. So you could probably do serious damage to a party if they show up fighting here; up to you as to how vicious a GM you are.

(5) The entire Arkona palace was delightfully scary. The PCs chose the "sneak in" route, set off the alarm, and ended up fighting all four brothers at once (as detailed above). Quite the nastiness, and after one fight they were already talking about fleeing and resting up. Unfortunately, I really don't like how Bahor's encounter played out. They decided that EVERYONE must be a raksasha, so their rogue was just going to stab everyone they saw, and if the person bled, they'd know the person was human. They spent a great deal of time searching the entire palace. With the brothers dead, this was waaaaay too leisurely. I should have had Bahor intervene sooner and make his offer to them. Instead, they eventually found the vault. Combine a rogue's Disable Device and a paladin's Will save and they managed to get in. Bahor, enraged, attacked. Unfortunately, combining the Silenced rogue shadowing him with the paladin's Smite Evil and the warlord's flaming sword, Bahor dropped disturbingly quickly. It was the only point in this module that I felt Smite Evil was "too much", because Bahor should be an extremely dangerous encounter, and he just wasn't. It took them quite a while to finally track down the trap door under the elephant, and it was fun watching Stampy stamp on the rogue as she tried to figure out the latch.

(6) Careful on letting the characters rest too much. They rested in the garden after everyone upstairs was dead. I ruled that the Arkona's workers were smart enough not to come back until called. If I were going to do it again, I'd have the workers (and guards) return and attack the characters. As it was, they got a good rest before facing the "mushroom skeletons", survived the spores, and ended up wary enough to just plain annihilate poor Avidexu and his (apparently usually-dangerous) cobras. (The rogue-paladin combo was deadly throughout the underground).

(7) The suggestion on using circular pieces of paper for the Vivified Labyrinth was BRILLIANT! I used two circles paper-clipped together for each rotating section, and as the characters explored, I'd mysteriously rotate the seemingly-blank circles. As they got near, I'd cut away the portion of the top circle to reveal what they saw, and they quickly figured out what was going on, but still had no idea what was where.

(8) I agree with removing the Symbol of Death. The Symbol of Sleep took out the rogue and the warlord, so I can only imagine what a Symbol of Death would have done to the party.

(9) Unfortunately, one of the things you REALLY need to do as a GM is figure out where all the levers are; it just so happened that when the Symbol of Sleep took out two of the PCs, I'd moved Vimanda and Sivit to locations where they couldn't reach any levers, so the PCs took a rest in the middle of the labyrinth. It would have been nice to hammer them while they were short-handed, but no such luck.

(10) By the time the PCs met Vimanda in her disguise, they knew what they were up against, so she didn't get to play Pretend for even 10 seconds. But even with the Silenced rogue following her, she was a good fight; especially flying and using the javelins. Sivit was surprisingly disappointing -- those kukri look like they should do a lot more damage to a character than they did.

(11) The traps were similarly disappointing, but my party had a rogue who'd devoted all her rogue talents and feats to trapfinding and disarming, so at least she got to feel like she'd saved the day for once, instead of "that stupid paladin yet again". AND it made up for, "Your backstab doesn't work unless you get past the DR."

(12) The reefclaw was definitely not over-the-top in my campaign -- it was a satisfying conclusion to the adventure, and watching the party try to keep Vencarlo and Neolandus alive while escaping it was awesome.

(13) The loot is incredible. After this scenario, the party took a side trip to Magnimar to gain extra experience during the journey, and to sell off their (ill-ish-gotten) gains and buy cool new shinies. I've read a couple of threads where parties avoided the Arkonas. Which begs the question: Whither Vencarlo and Neolandus?

Anyway, I really loved this adventure, and the kids were talking about it long after it was over, so the only reason I can't call it #1 is that my wife keeps coming up to me every day and saying, "Scarwall! Scarwall! Scarwall!", so I think she kind of prefers Scarwall a wee bit...

Ugh, lucky duck.

My Escape Experience:
My experience was very similar in some ways, and absolutely different in others, and I think I can really pinpoint the difference. Paladin.

My party made it across and encountered the Red Mantis Assassins and the party got a little separated inside the house. I set up a schedule before hand on when the Assassins would go about shift change. The party ended up coming in during the shift change, so there were 4 Assassins there. Two went upstairs and hid in the rafters, the other two hid downstairs where they were supposed to. The sorcerer staid upstairs to look around more when the party moved downstairs, and that's when the Assassins upstairs attacked. Downstairs, the party split up into different room, and this correlated the same moment the attack upstairs took place. They heard a creak and thump as the sorcerers dead body hit the floor, and the assassins downstairs struck. They only managed to kill one assassin, but didn't recover the body of the sorcerer or the assassin and were severely put out.

The same thing happened for my Laori encounter. They went to the pool first and Laori burst out all hunky dory and ripped the otyughs to shreds. At that point, the party was pretty grateful because, if I recall, the Mystic Theurge was grappled and in dire need of assistance. I ended up changing her a little bit and made her LN instead of LE. I played her up as wanting to make people stronger and adopted the motto "whatever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger" as her life mission. She tries very hard not to kill people when she is 'improving' them through torture. I also decided she'd develop a crush on the Elven Mystic Theurge as he 'improve' people through arcane, martial and divine methods. The fact he gets all three methods of hurting people is a real turn on for her.

Then comes the 'Mprah (as the children called him). The party wasn't very subtle and drew a lot of attention and was soon surrounded by the mobs, and I thought the Half-elf ranger was going to provoke them. Turns out it was the Mystic Theurge.

I did back reading on Korvosa and noticed elves are looked down upon in Korvosa and are second class citizens. So the 'face' of the mob they encountered called the Theurge a 'pointy-eared freak'. The Theurge was all, "O'rly?" and wiped out of his wand of lighting bolts and fried some 6 of them in one shot, and made several others smoking. At that point, Tavi (the ranger) jumped forward and cleaved two guys, and his Hippogriff landed on another. Suddenly there were bodies everywhere and the mob was more interested in 'escorting' the party to see the Emperor.

The party loved blood pig, but I made it known the goal wasn't to win, it was to entertain. They didn't figure this out, the dwarven shadow dancer did though. He intentionally fumbled his attempts to score, got kicked in the ancestors a couple times, and generally made a fool of themselves. I cheated the rules for the second game of Blood Pig and just re-used the 'all-star' team and said the first people were the C-team and the next team was the Varsity group (maxed HP, added 2 or 3 levels etc.). Still, Tavi had humans and undead as his favored enemies, there was a monk, and Laori. The enemy was a lot more tactical (surrounded the monk, beat him down, surround Tavi, beat him down), and Tavi called his Hippogriff down to help. This made the Emperor angry at the 'blatant cheating' (even though the gnome joined the game and unbalanced the teams) and ordered everyone to attack.

At that point, the we took a break for the summer (I live in Alaska, summer time for Alaskans is not a time to be inside gaming). Come Fall, we got back together and finished it out. The Hippogriff tried to take off with Tavi on his back, but the Emperor got off a Hold Monster and the crashed to the ground. The crowd was swarming the field and the captains were coming out to play. It was the party, and Laori, up against some 4 - 5 hundred enemies. I need to mention that Laori got a two level bump (one to keep her CR the same, and one more for the large party size as I thought they would fight her), so she was more powerful than the module character.

She cast Deeper Darkness (her domain spell), used her Darkness domain ability to see through all darkness, and suddenly 60 feet in all directions was shrouded in darkness. Then she channeled negative energy and killed everyone within 30 ft of her. Then she opened up a Flame Strike on the Captains, then cast mass inflict moderate wounds on the crowd. She almost single handedly slaughtered some 300 civilians in the Darkness, while saying things like, "You have challenged the might of The Midnight Lord. For your sacrilegious actions, all your lives or forfeit!" all in a creepy voice. As she moved around killing commoners, they noticed that where the Darkness spread, Death followed.

Laori is my favorite NPC ever!

After that, the party routed the place and saved Salvatore Scream. Salvatore refused to leave until Vencarlo was safe, so Laori traveled with the party to the Arkonas.

Now comes the unfun part :(

The party simply walked up to the Arkona door, knocked, and asked to speak to Glorio. I managed to successfully portray him as necessary evil in the world, and an ally of the party. It helped he was so nonchalant about the threat this party of adventurers was to him, that they thought he might be far more dangerous than he appeared and shouldn't try and attack him.

So he opened up the Labryinth to the party, and here, they managed to blunder their way through the Labyrinth and fought everything 'but' Vimanda. So they ended up skipping over the whole Arkona fight, got Vencarlo and Neolandus and got out. They decided that it was more important to keep Neolandus alive, than it was to find out why he was there and why the Arkonas were keeping him in a prison cell.

On the way out, they encountered the Reefclaw in a pretty funny manner. The Monk had a bet with the Ranger that he could jump over the pool, so he attempted to jump, and the Reefclaw snatched him out of the air. The Monk didn't make his jump, so he lost the bet.

Of course, Laori rolled super high on initiative, jumped on the Reefclaw and used Harm to kill him in one hit. Then she made them drag the Reefclaw with them for dinner.

Did I mention I love Laori?

Hilarious. Yeah, guard shifts really can obliterate parties -- I'm still (in)famous for the "Great Troll Massacre" in Runequest 20 years ago. The party holed up in the kitchen of a troll stronghold for the night. Unfortunately, I'd already decided that two shifts of Great Trolls met in the kitchen between shifts to talk about anything they'd seen during the watch, and to grab a snack before retiring. Two full parties of Great Trolls coming through both doors at once. The few party members who survived were sold for ransom. The rest of the (high-level) characters were obliterated with extreme prejudice, and all gear (both magical and non-magical) was lost.

And geez, a party of 5 splitting up to search a house? Seriously? My party practically sleeps in a great big pile, so fearful are they of my wrath. The one time they split up (in Magnimar) they got attacked by assassins. They slept in separate rooms in Harse and got hit by assassins. Parties that split up while exploring an unknown area deserve a high death count.

And then the specific stuff I'll keep hidden:


I can't believe some parties choose Sial over Laori. Sial's been a useless, pompous windbag. Laori's a scream (literally)! I didn't up her power precisely because I have a paladin. But it sounds similar all the way up to the Emperor: Remember the "suggested random encounters" leading up to the Emperor? I put in the guy with the blunt axe whose family had been slaughtered. Cue the paladin: "I swear by Iomedae's blood that this butcher shall not live to see the sunset." Then he asked for the Cape of Montebanc, and instructed the gnome rogue to get him to the Emperor. No Blood Pig for us! I didn't even get to play with the Rod of Wonder, and that thing looked hilarious! (The party sold it rather than try to use it).

Unfortunately, if you look at the map, the only way for the hordes to get onto the Blood Pig field are two fairly narrow stairwells. Flame Strike on one and Fireball on the other and crowd control is complete. They only had to kill around a dozen captains; another 20-30 died in the fires. A few hundred dead! Impressive! And yeah, we have a PC who visits with a hippogriff rider every so often, and the hippogriff dies every single time. They're pretty fragile creatures when all is said and done.

Interesting twist in the way you played Salvatore -- I let him leave with Laori, because I didn't want her available to cast Align Weapon and turn the Arkonas into shish kebabs. I'm actually sorry that Bahor died -- there's now a power vacuum in Korvosa, especially because the party delivered all those incriminating papers from his vault directly to Cressida's doorstep. (The bard's been doing performances for the pseudodragons of Korvosa every week, and rolling in the high 30's, so she's got her own little reptilian spy network).

But not killing over half a dozen rakshasas goes a long way in explaining the experience differential between our parties.

LOVE the bit on the reefclaw! Hilarious! My party wouldn't go near the water, much less jump over it, so I had to have the reefclaw attack before they got away. And thank Heavens for non-evil creatures! No Smite Evil, so it was actually a good fight!

Well, the party has heavily allied with Sial in HoA. When the Mystic Theurge first joined up, he was the only caster, divine or arcane. As time went on, Trinia joined them in HoA which helped alleviate the arcane dependency some what, but the Theurge was thankful when a powerful cleric showed up asking to come along. I had Sial play it out as he had a vision that Zon-Kuthon was guiding him to the party and that he should lend his aid whenever necessary. He keeps watch from a distance, and aids them if they need it, but he made it known he won't fight their battles for them as Zon-Kuthon hinted they may be trying to achieve their goals, but in achieving those goals, they may be assisting the church in some way that has remained shrouded.

The party should have had teleport during HoA, but they didn't because no one wanted to play a pure caster. So anytime something bad happened, the party had to rely on Sial to either help fix it, or take them where they need to go (via Shadow Walk).

It's been a little difficult because the Theurge picked up a Cleric/Paladin for a cohort, but he's seen that Sial has only been helpful, and that sometimes you have to work with the lesser evil, to destroy the greater one.

When it comes to the Star Tower, in Scarwall, I'm going to save the revelation of that knowledge for the Ally while the Enemy does the talking. Like I mentioned previously, the party left Laori on good terms, and she saved their neck on a few occasions in Escape, but Sial has aided them HoA as well. I'm looking forward to the party interactions come Scarwall.

The large exp difference is also accounted for in that the Party is of large size. During Escape, it consisted of a the Theurge, a Ranger, a Monk, a Shadow Dancer, Laori, a Fighter and an Arcane Archer they picked up during the Labryinth. During Seven Days, it was the Ranger, a Cleric, a Fighter, the Shadow Dancer, and, after the party escorted Trinia out of the city, the Theurge. During HoA, it's the Theurge, the Dancer, a Fighter (who left due to work right before Cindermaw), the Archer, Trinia, Cohort, then picked up an Oracle of Fire at the House of Moon, then picked up several barbarians at the Flame Forge camp (whom all were played by the same character. I kept killing him off unintentionally).

Through out the whole campaign I've had, roughly, 6 or 7 PCs at my table, so they've not been getting as much exp as normal (even with me feeding something like 10 side adventures). Considering it takes more EXP in Pathfinder to level up in the first place, and they're way behind schedule.

Many, many threads have complained about the "railroad-like" nature of this module, and I loved one GM's response: The reaction of the players will completely depend on how well you "hide the tracks".

The entire key (for both the players and the GM) in HofA is to enjoy the journey. If you play it as a series of tasks that you need to complete, you're going to think you're acting out a children's song: "They went to the well to fetch the water. They fetched the water to water the plant. They watered the plant to make it grow. They grew the plant so they could climb it..." yada yada yada.

So advice to players: If your GM says, "OK. You need to do this, this, and this", and you start the journey and simply appear at your next stop, you're going to need to tell your GM to slow it down, spread it out, and make it last.

Unfortunately, I'd like to continue to tirade at the players, but the success of HofA depends on the GM, and I've read many threads from many GMs far cleverer than I as to things to do to make it more entertaining, so my suggestions here are definitely only the tip of the iceberg:

GM Notes:

Before you even start the campaign, read the section on the Cinderlands in the back of the module. Now read it again. Now FEEL it.

My characters were giddy with riches and freedom after getting out of Korvosa, so they staged a massive party in Harse -- the bard hit a perform in the 30's, the gnome rogue crit her bartending, and the tiefling warlord crit his 'chef'. Best... party... EVER! So what did I do? I had the Mantis assassins hit them in their hotel room that night. Remember how I try to play my villains "realistically"? Next time they're going to pick the frickin' locks! They tried to 'dramatically' break down the doors while simultaneously jumping through the windows. And failed their STR rolls to break down the doors. Mantises 1-on-1 with characters was sad -- the wizard made his Will save by 17, so Mr. "I'm going to dance and hypnotize you" departed said window riding a lightning bolt. Next room, paladin Will save. Smitey smite smite. It was just a big ol' mistake on my part, but I could at least say the Mantises had grossly underestimated the party.

The rest of the campaign was a huge focus on the journey. I described Kaer Magus in detail -- the heat, the smell, the tents selling all manner of foods, teas, drinks, equipment, poisons, and all manner of disgusting goods, sentient beings included. (Time to blindfold the paladin). They headed into the Cinderlands, and I described the red, clay-ey soil, the scrubby bushes, the cinder cones, and the ancient Thassilonian ruins. We were two sessions into the campaign before the characters saw the first stone cairn indicating the Skoan Quah were near, and all the players were rapt with the majesty and terror of the Cinderlands. They were traveling by day, so I had them making Fortitude rolls to withstand the heat, and the paladin had to use Endure Elements several times. It helped immensely that I'm playing a Runequest campaign with a really good GM in the Plains of Prax, so hot deserts full of nomadic barbarians is easy, but we were at least 12 hours into the campaign (in real time) before they encountered anything at all, and THAT was a bulette that dug into their horses at night and forced them to double up on the tiefling's riding rhino. (LONG story behind that one...).

The meeting with the Skoan Quah played out well, and we FINALLY got a mini-game when the paladin faced off with Krojun in a game of sredna.

HINT #1: It is impossible to make Krojun too much of a butthead. The nastier he is, the more gratified the party is when they finally change his attitude.

Needless to say, it was my die, so Krojun was kicking the daylights out of the paladin 'til he fumbled and fell over. Then came the meeting with Thousand Bones.

I have no idea how other GMs make the meeting with Thousand Bones go more smoothly. My party considered him a rambling loony, and had no idea what good anything he was telling them was going to do them. I had to force the bard to make a Bardic Knowledge roll to go back and ask about Skurak. "What do we care about some stupid barbarian who died hundreds of years ago?" was the general attitude. But without Skurak, there's really not much of a campaign. And yeah, as soon as Thousand Bones explained the whole ridiculous path to re-enacting Skurak's feat, my wife rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, it's going to be one of THOSE campaigns, is it?"

The rest of the campaign played out as written, so I'll abandon the blow-by-blow and get to the key points:

- KROJUN: Should be a complete so-and-so. Lots of fun to make the characters hate him.

- THE HAVERO: OK, I have to admit it. Either a complete sadist or a mad genius designed the Havero. You can have TPWO whenever you feel like it. Of COURSE it woke up as soon as the assassins attacked. It was wiping the walls with the party, and the only reason the paladin survived was because of, you guessed it, the accursed Grease spell. Squip! That the bard enjoyed greasing up the paladin FAR too much goes without saying. Then the bard put Silence between the party and the tentacles to try to buy some time. Unfortunately, as scripted, Sial and Asyra showed up to help against the Havero, and the Havero's tentacles found Asyra. Everyone turned to the paladin for guidance. Evil outsider? Paladin of Iomedae? He simply turned his back on her and walked out of the Acropolis, leaving her to the Havero. (Sial had already had to use his Scroll of Recall to get away). So the party's first impression of Sial? Not so good... The party had to wait a few hours until the Havero calmed down again, and then went through using Silence to ensure their own safety. So Havero = nasty. Any GMs have their party get through the first time?

- THE GOLARION GLOBE: I was convinced this was going to knock out my party because they wouldn't figure it out. I was wrong. I was pleased; I didn't have to provide any hints, and the party figured out how to work it correctly.

- THE FALLBACK VAULT: My party figured out a way in. Unfortunately, the +1 magical beast bane dagger turns the trial of Cindermaw into a cake walk, and the decanter of endless water ends the menace of the desert. I would force some kind of blind teleport or something nasty -- Gaseous Form is too easy to get a scout in here to realize just how nice a treasure trove it is. I would disallow it next time.

- THE RED REAVER: If you're using Pathfinder rules, definitely use a conversion to beef this beastie up; he wasn't nearly dangerous enough to give the party any pause.

- EXTRA EXP: The party still hadn't gone up a level by the time they were heading for Cindermaw, so I threw in an attack by wyverns while they had Truthspeaker Akram with them. Forced them to defend him, and gave them much-needed EXP.

- CINDERMAW: I'm not sure I like the whole Cindermaw encounter, because he does massive amounts of damage for 9th-level characters, and forcing them to battle him WITHOUT killing him or driving him off is really an art form that one bad roll can ruin. Fortunately for me, it was a moot point -- the paladin (oh he of No Skills Whatsoever) actually made a decent Bluff roll, and Cindermaw ate him. One critical with the beast bane dagger later, and he was out, and Akram was impressed. (The paladin had the cloak of Montebanc, and Dimension Doored away after getting out).

- TRIAL OF THE TOTEM: This was simply awesome. I thought everyone (myself included) would hate it, but the constant Fortitude saves and STR rolls, the description of the exhaustion and the misery, and watching the paladin blow all his Lay on Hands and Lesser Restorations to keep people going was really great. Watching the gnome manage to make her (almost-impossible) STR roll right in front of Krojun was gratifying to everyone, and the party was truly sad when Trinia blew her rolls and Krojun snorted, took her totem away, and placed it back at the bottom of the hill. Then the bulettes attacked, and Trinia bravely tried to help. First kill of my campaign, but I'm playing with kids, so I've been gentle on occasion. The party actually used the unguent of Gentle Repose they'd found somewhere and stuck her body in a Bag of Holding (eeeeew!) to get her resurrected. I suspect most GMs will choose the Trial of the Totem as the first thing to excise; I recommend against it. Both I and my group liked it much more than I thought we would. But I had mapped out all the rolls in advance, so I would call out who needed to do Fortitude saves when, so it went pretty quickly, if gruellingly.

- FLAMEFORD: You know that advice about attacking in waves instead of all at once? Forget it! You know that advice on having the major players (e.g., the Cinderlander) go toe-to-toe with barbarians? Forget it! I played this out as scripted, and it was a complete and utter rout by the party. Reading other threads, other GMs allowed the assassins to be deployed far more efficiently (but again, all the characters spread out all over the encampment? Who plays like that? People with GMs even nicer than me? Impossible!), or had them attack simultaneously, or had the Cinderlander use his brain and attack at range. Don't play it as written, with the waves and the Cinderlander deciding to attack Krojun hand-to-hand as if that would EVER make sense. It's just a catastrophe, and a big letdown after the rest of the campaign. If I had to choose ONE thing that I would replay in my entire campaign so far, it would be Flameford. The tactics-as-written are that much of a disaster.

- WRAP-UP: DO NOT forget to wrap things up with the big ceremony granting the PCs Sklar-Quah status, the respect point totaling, and all the stuff that makes the PCs feel like they really accomplished something. They just spend several weeks of real time "riding the railroad". Make them feel it was worth it. I've seen many wonderful threads of PCs marrying barbarians, having romances, or adopting the tribe. I've had two Shoanti-related side quests where the PCs help the Shoanti deal with the dangers of the Cinderlands. Make them really and truly feel like tribe members. It's well worth it, and gives you fertile ground for side quests. The Shoanti may be feared, but they have plenty of enemies, and forcing the PCs to help from time to time makes things interesting.

Oh, History of Ashes, how I love thee. I heavily modified some of the things in HoA, well, actually, a lot of things :)

I too try to play characters realistically, but if I get *too* realistic, then I guarantee I would TPK the party every time. For instance, what group of assassins would *actually* engage in a head on assault? Realistically, they would wait till the party is sleeping, and slit their throats. But that's no fun.

My HoA:
I didn't do as much describing of the Cinderlands as you did, but I did enough that they got the picture. I threw in some of the unique weather patterns (like the flaming tornado) that the party really was in awe of the place.

I agree the meeting with Thousand Bones was a little annoying, I ended up just having Thousand Bones reveal all the information as there was no way they were going to ask the right questions.

I should mention, I used my own conversions of nearly every character in HoA. Krojun and the PC fighter toed off for the game of Sredna, and the Party cheated him to victory. The Theurge kept giving him rerolls, Trinia started playing songs to fuel the crowd (used Dirge of Doom on Krojun), and they secretly hit the fighter with some buff spells before the game. Even then, it took Krojun fumbling to lose.

On the way to the Accropolis, the party encountered my custom built Cinderlander (based off Dale's Cinderlander, but following game rules, mostly). He rode by on his horse (yup, changed that too), with his repeating crossbow and favored enemy human (which most of the party counted for). He'd fire off 5 shots, the first of which was a screaming bolt, then ride off for a round and reload. Then he'd come back and attack again, and ride off, then one more attack and he was gone. I pre-planned 3 attacks and made him leave. Did some 300 points of damage in all and they were terrified of him. They referred to him as the Demon like the Shoanti do from then on.

The Havero was a fun scenario, though a little odd to run. The best part was moving through the dungeon and the Red Mantis attack. I had the Red Mantis attack right as the Shadow Dancer got caught reading the wall. I also gave the Assassins a magic item I made up on the fly. Basically a bottle of darkness. The Theurge kicked himself in the rear when he pulled out his scroll of Daylight to counter the darkness... and realized he couldn't read it. Doh!

Anyway, the party tried to stop the Dwarven Shadow Dancer from reading the wall, he happened to be at 1 hp (because no one bothered to heal him from prior events), and he almost TPK'd the party by himself He could see through the Darkness, the party couldn't. The Dwarf went sneak attack crazy on everyone in between him and the wall, and the Red Mantis kind of chuckled. Then Sial and Asyra hit them from the flank and the real battle was on. Sial realized these were the people he was sent to watch over, and rushed forward with a Daylight spell and the tide turned against the Assassins (they had almost finished the dwarves jobs, everyone was near death when the light came on).

It took the party forever to figure out the World Sphere, and they ended up stone shaping holes in the vault to get in. Of course, then they all promptly forgot everything the recovered out of the vault.

I had another Assassin attack midway to the House of the Moon, a random Bullette attack, an interesting scenario with Blink Dogs vs Phase Spiders, and a scenario with a Roc snatching a horse, oh and they routed a warband of Orcs (and lit the whole area on fire).

I looked at Dale's copy of the Red Reaver, then rebuilt it (again with stats more in line with the rules) and he was a terrifying beast for them. First round and that shout sent everyone but the casters fleeing in terror (the cohort Paladin wasn't immune yet). Trinia started singing and that helped soothe the savage beast for a little while. It bought enough time for the party to regroup. Then they went to attack and I rended the Cohort Paladin (we all called him a Paladin at this point as that was his most defining personality characteristic). We forgot he had Shield Other on with the Theurge, so I thought I killed him, but I didn't. Suddenly they realized that if the Reaver got a full attack off, he could probably kill anyone of them there in one round.

Anyway, at this point, the Party picked up an Oracle of Fire to join the party, and she helped put the Reaver down (a LOT). Then they sought out Cindermaw. I regret to say I had to pull punches with Cindermaw. We brought the party to Cindermaw, had him burst out of the ground, and we ended the session. Next time we met up, only 3 people showed up (and it was the last time the Fighter's player came to play too). I had custom built my own Cindermaw (custom built the Fire Infused template in Hero Labs, and applied the advanced template as well), so I toned him down somewhat and used half hit points. The fighter managed to make the plunge into Cindermaw, but I almost dorpped him. He tumbled out of his stomach with 3 hp remaining. The Oracle of Fire posed a tantalizing treat to Cindermaw, and (s)he (female character, played by male) felt a little useless shooting fireballs at a fire creature. Made great bait though. Sial was with the party, and the Oracle 'died' but he had Breath of Life prepared and managed to get to her in time. They rescued the fighter, and then used Dimenson Door + Invisibility Sphere and Fly spells to get away as Cindermaw chased them.

The trial was just plain awesome. This is where my favorite killing PC came into play. He wanted to join the Party and hunt down the assassins as they had killed his father. He watched over the players at the trial to make sure they were honest. The players used some interesting tactics to help secure the stones. The Arcane Archer and Theurge used Ray of Frost and Create Water (from the Theurge) to freeze the base of the stones (and keep them frozen thanks to the Ray). It gave them bonuses to their strength, but it lessened dramatically during the day.

The Shadow Dancer dropped his totem some 3 times total during the trial, it had roughly 4 hp left, but made it through. The Monk initially tried balancing on top of the totem, and it worked, until he lost his balance. The party helped him get up on top in the first place, and couldn't help him when he fell so had to resort to normal strength checks. The Oracle of Life didn't take the test as she was already Shoanti (though Lyrune-Quah) and felt no need to join another clan and abandon her sisters.

Anyway, the bulletes attacked and I killed the Barbarian watching them. He was literally in one of two spots that they could climb up on, so they lept and pounced him every time one of them dropped. They fought them off, and some of the totems got trampled by the bullettes, but some of the party made it through. Ironically, it was the Shadow Dancer, the Theurge and Trinia who passed the trial. The three people least likely to pass the test, succeeded, and Trinia had no damage on hers.

I disagree about Krojun not being a big enough jerk. The Theurge *really* wanted to one up him if he could. He's an elf from Faerun (originally built his character in 3.5 and converted him to PF), so the role reversal of humans looking down on elves really threw him for a loop. He was ever so happy when Krojun accepted him as a brother though. Even consented to play him for a game of Sredna (and lost spectacularly).

The part at Flame Ford was great fun. I had a major problem with my PCs metagaming BAD here. The Arcane Archer insisted he was patrolling the borders, steadfast in his duty to keep the party safe while they celebrated. Totally ignoring the fact he's CN and, previous to this, was a very selfish character looking out for number 1 first and foremost. When I asked why he did this, he said something along the lines of, "We're still in the camp so there must be combat coming".

I was pissed when he said this. Though I made my bluff check and hid it from him.

The dwarf is one of my best friends, and he went above and beyond the call of duty role playing the celebration. He shaved his dwarven head (kept the beard), got a tattoo, took a shoanti wife, danced, drank, made love, all of it. He fully embraced the Shoanti culture and we had great fun. Everyone else took a nap before the celebration, except for him as he was convinced they'd be safe (others were metagaming as well, not a happy GM). The player I killed last game had his twin sister join with the party for revenge against the assassins, and I again, killed him (her in this case).

The Monk, at this point, had decided that Star Wars: The Old Republic was more important than playind Pathfinder with his friends and dropped out of all 3 campaigns he was in. So his character died to the gargoyles.

I agree, Flame Ford tactics were worthless, so I didn't use them.

With Cinnabar having scry, I was randomly rolling for when she used it on the party, and she happened to catch them fighting during a random encounter, and noticed hoe much the Oracle used fire spells. So she ordered a pick up of oil and alchemist fire and some fire resistance potions. The Red Mantis got dropped off by the gargoyles, who each flew back and picked up a keg of oil. When the attack began, they dropped the oil onto the ground, and the Assassins waded into melee. The Oracle felt a little put out (s)he couldn't spew out fireballs everywhere without destroying the camp, so she had to resort to other spells. I got a stink eye from him }:)

I did go with Krojun and the Cinderlander fighting, but I changed it up with the Cinderlander backpedaling and shooting Krojun. I calculated the damage each was doing, and the Cinderlander was doing a lot more, so the fight came real close, with Krojun being only a couple hits away from death before he won. When Cinnabar appeared, she gave them an ultimatum, which the Shoanti refused, so she threw a flask of Alchemist fire ont he ground, and cast Invisibility while her wing man used Darkness. The Paladin spent the whole rest of the fight keeping the flames low and preventing as much damage as possible (as they finally remembered the Decanter of Endless Water). The Arcane Archer backed away from the party so he could keep an eye out for Cinnabar, but he had been doing a large amount of damage so she went after him (plus I was mad he was metagaming). She snuck up on him 3 or 4 rounds later and unleashed a hail of sneak attacks on him. Dropped him in one round.

I will tell you this. I gave him a chance to detect her presence, he rolled a natural 20, and had a +21 to Perception (or something like that). I rolled in front of him, rolled a natural 20, and Cinnabar had a +23 to Stealth (just checked) and then the +20 from invisibility. His expression was, "Oh sh**!"

He almost quit when I killed his character. He'd been acting pretty smug about how much damage he dealt in a round, and I'm not sure one of his characters had ever died before. So it was kind of a shock. He insisted he got a save or something to resist death. I told him his save was his AC and he kept insisting he should still get a save. When I asked if the enemies also got saves when he'd shoot them with 4 arrows dealing 80+ in damage, he said, "They're not players, so they don't count. We're always supposed to win, you're not supposed to kill us!" He did leave the table and went home to his wife (he already had to leave and was late leaving in the first place). But he was seriously ticked at me. I just shrugged and gave him an indifferent look. I don't tolerate metagaming.

Anyway, the players then played cat and mouse with Cinnabar and she ran off into the distance. Krojun chased after her, and no one caught on to the fact she was leading them away so the faster characters could catch up and she could take them on one by one. She maneuvered them away from camp and it ended up being her and two assassins vs Krojun and she hit him with a Hold Person. One of the Assassins cut his head off, and when they returned to the camp sit, it was to see the assassins standing on his corpse and his head rolling on the ground. Fortunately, she was only at 4 HP left, and the Theurge hit her with a Vampiric Touch.

Now, the dwarf was drunk, passed out from staying up for multiple days, and had just slept with a shoanti woman (whom he later married). He was naked when they attack, and only wearing some chest shield made of bones (something like the guy on the left). He spent the whole battle half drunk, fatigued, and naked except his bone thing, swinging his axe and bellowing some newly learned Shoanti curses.

He ended up killing the remaining Assassins by himself. Since then, he's seriously considered fighting naked every fight.

All told, a quarter of the population of the Flame Ford camp was destroyed, and many Shoanti were killed, including their hero. The party stayed at the camp for awhile, helping to rebuild and celebrate a marriage. They also took Krojun's body to Absolam and got him resurrected, with permission, and returned him to the camp. The party decided to splurge and get the Arcane Archer a True Resurrection, and I let it known that they got a True for the Archer, so they're going to be owing each party member a True to keep it balanced. Doesn't help the Archer player complained a lot about his level loss.

So now my party is running through Seven Swords of Sin for some extra xp (and gold since they missed out on all the Escape loot), then I'll be taking them to Scarwall where there is a good chance of they all die.

Maybe I should post my own thread instead of hijacking yours all the time?

Hey, considering it's you, me, TonyZ, and Walter, I don't think anyone's going to be complaining -- and since Scarwall's a few weeks from done, this thread'll vanish into the mists of the archives if we don't post random stuff.

I'm glad Cinnabar gave your guys trouble -- she tried to backstab the paladin and only did around 30 HP, then was facing him toe-to-toe. Game over, Cinnabar. (He's in full plate mail and shield, at AC 28 BEFORE the Smite Evil that boosts him to 34). Sounds like your gamers definitely "amp up" more than mine, though -- other than Smite Evil and the bard's boosts, our best fighters are still at 1d8+6 (warlord) and 1d8+4 (paladin), plus holy damage (of course).

Yeah, metagaming REALLY stinks when the party says, "Yeah, the GM is still asking us what we're doing! We must be about to be attacked!" So I always have them roleplay through celebrations, wrap-ups, and what-have-you so they don't start that stuff. I even make them roleplay out their shopping trips. (But not their bathroom breaks... yet...)


I was really disappointed in the wall trap -- none of our characters could read the wall, so no one got trapped. And characters left a bone rider guarding the entrance, so when his head hit the floor I rolled PER for the party and the bard got a 41, so they met the assassins head-on in the entryway, right in front of the Havero pool. Talk about earning noise points fast! We were at 6 tentacles grabbing anything in range in just over 6 rounds. I saw your blink dog/phase spider post, and it's a really cool idea. Our party met blink dogs, but no phase spiders.

I do love hearing how your party did the totems -- my group did it "fair and square", except for the paladin's lay on hands and Lesser Restorations curing fatigue (I think I allowed it to last 4 hours per LoH). As I wrote, the gnome rogue managing by sheer miracle (a natural 20) to drag the totem around as soon as Krojun started watching was side-splitting. THAT was the huge ice-breaker between Krojun and the party. He just LOVED the tiny little purple-haired gnome outdoing some of the full-sized characters, and from then on was shouting encouragement at them. By making him a complete jerk at the beginning, he became their 'best bud' at the end. Made for happy gamers.

Well the Sun Shaman explicitly tells them they are allowed to use magic, as long as they don't alter the totems or Bolt Rock, so no stone shaping or similar spells.

As for the Blink Dogs vs Phase Spiders, that was a moment of inspiration. I was looking through Cinderlands random encounters int he back, and noticed the little bit about Blink Dogs living in the area. Looked them up in the Bestiary, noticed Phase Spiders are a mortal enemy. Looked them up, and say that they have huge ethereal 'webs' that float around abducting and killing anyone in their path.

So the PCs found a large set of strange tracks. If they followed the tracks of one of the creatures, it was randomly disappear and then reappear sometime later. They couldn't tell how many there were as the tracks kept changing and inter mixing.

They followed the tracks, when noticed something in the distance. A could of large spiders were rushing towards them. I played this up cinematically with them disappearing, and appearing closer, then disappearing and reappearing right charging one of them, only to vanish just before it hit.

I spooked them out well and good, and then the Spiders all appeared and charged. The fight got a little dangerous as there was something like 2 spiders per PC. When they started failing their poison saves, suddenly a large pack of Blink Dogs appeared (big one, like 6 per spider). Now it was turning into an all out war between the spiders and dogs as more spiders started appearing, and more dogs kept blinking in. The PCs were regrouping and started dropping more and more spiders. As their numbers dwindled, the Spiders started fleeing, and suddenly a small group of blink dogs appeared and seemed to communicate in some way. None of the party spoke Sylvan, but the blink dogs have lived in the region for a long time, so I ruled they spoke stilted Shoanti. They managed to relay the message, "The Web is coming" before they all started vanishing. The last one to leave was the Alpha who studied the party, before retreating himself.

My intention is for the blink dogs to aid the Korvosan rebels after the dogs speak to the Sun Shaman about the players. The PCs don't know it, but their actions are having consequences. The Shoanti will be sending allies to help the rebels fight the Grey Maidens, and so too will the blink dogs. Granted, they'll stick largely to scouting and information gathering, but they will be an invaluable aid.

When it comes time for the final attack on the castle, I want to play out a pitched battle in the streets. Imps and Pseudodragons clashing in the air, Maidens meeting rebels in the streets with blink dogs appearing and reappearing as a rapid response force. If I can convince the PCs to play through the Academy of Secrets, then there will be pitched battles of sorcery as mages both for and against the queen duke it out.

In short, I want a cinematic battle to take place in the background so they feel like they've really lead a revolution.

Scarab Sages

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NobodysHome wrote:


This was my least-favorite of the modules so far; I loved the setup, and the final dungeon crawl was spectacularly creepy and fun, but the rest of the module had that "we're just doing things to bide time and gain experience" feeling to it, with an overall sense of doom that didn't play well with my particular group.

In short, THIS was the, "Here's a random series of nonsensical encounters to give you enough experience to finish the module" module. It had some good roleplaying in it, but that was pretty much in spite of the story, rather than because of it. As a player, you're just going to have to bite the bullet and accept that sometimes you're just doing things "because they're the right thing to do" instead of "because they're profitable and/or fun".

** spoiler omitted **...

In my group one of the PCs was a cleric of Abadar. She had close connections with the local church. The church knew they were investigating and they received cure disease whenever they needed it. This helped out a lot. They watched helplessly as the people dropped dead all around them.

My party fervently despises Abadar, both in character and out. After their interaction with whats-his-face and Brienne Soldado, they've really hated the church for always charging for heals.

I tried to suggest my GM (he plays as the Theurge in my game) to incorporate some aspect of the Abadarian church into our Kingmaker campaign as the church loves building cities... I didn't even get a no from him. I go an 'unequivocally HELL no'. Dude has major problems with Abadar as a god :)

UPDATE: The big baddie in Scarwall (You GMs know who I mean)...

OK, first: Yeah, my party HATES Abadar, too, but that's because they have a paladin of Iomedae. Charging for healing when poor people desperately need it to survive? Not cool, dude...

And now, the unfortunate conclusion of everyone's favorite bad-a**:

Don't peek you nosy PCs!:

Note to editors: Yeah, the "Aura of Justice" paladin ability really has to go.

So my party met Bishop Zev Ravenka today, he of the highest kill count in the whole AP. They opened the door, I started reading the description, and before I was even finished the bard exclaimed, "That's the fourth anchor! GET HIM!!!!"

Yeah. Go read the poem and then the description. It's pretty darned obvious. Sadly, horrifically, pathetically obvious.

I had him wake up instantly. None of this "it takes him a round" stuff when a paladin's already invoked Aura of Justice, the bard's cast Haste, and there are seven party members 'o' Smite Evil pain heading for "Mr. 95 hit points". (I used Steve's conversion).

He didn't make it. Even with initiative better than half the party, he never got an action. Smite Evil is nasty enough when one person is doing it. He got hit with four of them before he got an action, and I wasn't even doubling any beyond the first. He just had a rat sucky day.

And yeah, not only did the paladin make his Knowledge: Religion roll, but he had a bandolier of holy water to exorcise the corpse, so Mr. "Demi lich-o-doom" ended up a minor smear in the annals of Zon Kuthon's embarrassments.

Zev Ravenka's an out-and-out party-killer under D&D 3.5. Under Pathfinder rules with a 12th-level paladin, he barely rates a speed bump. (The mummy cleric gave them a LOT more trouble, and he managed to miss with both "Slay Living" AND "Cause Critical Wounds". The 5 specters nearly destroyed the Scarab of Protection. But Zev Ravenka? Noooooo...).

Anyway, as you know from my above posts, I'm a fairly gentle GM, but I at least wanted to SCARE my party and use up some of their Shoanti spirits with a good Wail of the Banshee. Aura of Justice made even that impossible, and once you allow a power, you can't (well, at least I can't) just say, "Yeah, that's WAY too powerful. It's gone."

So if you're GM'ing Zev Ravenka and you don't want it to be an embarrassment, either give him around 150 HP, or make sure any paladins in your party are otherwise occupied. Get 'em drunk?

On the bright side, the rogue got sent out to explore the "rose-tinted glass roof" and lost 15 CON (of 18) before falling off the roof (hard to make your Climb roll while dancing), and only the quick actions of the mage and bard kept her from plummeting to her doom. So the party knows not to send out scouts any more... but I am feeling a bit sorry for the Danse Macabre, because the bard just said, "Yeah, we'll finish everything else, and THEN we're going to find that bugger and deal with him. Permanently!"

The Bishop:
You should have use this guy for the Bishop. He's the Pathfinder conversion and much more likely to survive. Plus, in order to destroy the Demilich, which would actually take roughly a DC 30 Knowledge check to reveal that specific bit of info, then it would take a vial of holy water, spread across his bones in the area of a hallow spell, then the casting of a holy word or dispel evil, and in order for the casting to succeed, the caster needs to make a DC 25 caster level check.

Depending on how my own PCs perform in Scarwall, I'll choose either the new one, or the old one. I really look forward to introducing the bishop as my Theurge has been playing for some 30 years or so. He'll recognize the description on the spot, and probably wet himself :P

Yeah, I'd love to run a Paladin, I've wanted to run one since I first started playing in 3.5, but never got the chance. Except a one shot adventure at first level that never went anywhere. That one was cool. Had 4 Paladins in it, but I was the only one who was actually 'playing' a Paladin, they all treated it like they were fighters. Like, I was at 0 hp, standing over my comrade that was bleeding out. I made a heal check to stabalize him, and dropped to the ground bleeding out. The other Paladins were too busy fighting in combat, to try and help so I bled to death.

But of course, Paladins in Pathfinder are a GMs worse nightmare and can easily turn any BBEG into a chump unless you can keep him away.

I saw that conversion and I just thought, "Too over-the-top". If the baddie gets off 2 attacks, you have dead PCs. But now that the encounter is over, I think that's the one to use if you have a high-level paladin.

As to your experience with other paladins, your GM wasn't doing his/her job. Paladins are the "Peter Parkers" of RPGs -- "With great power comes great responsibility". If a paladin in my campaign let a PC or innocent bleed to death while he/she was in a position to stop it, he'd lose his paladinship and have to seek Atonement. I can't tell you how many attacks of opportunity my paladin's suffered while using his Heal skill on ENEMIES to stabilize them, much less friends! The first two modules were basically, "Knock an enemy to negative HP, use Heal to stabilize him while the fight rages, find the next enemy, repeat." That's when the warlord decided he HATED paladins -- the paladin was so busy healing the bad guys that other party members were getting hammered.

But that's what it is to be a LG paladin...

Aaaand... we wrapped up Scarwall last night (well, over a marathon 9-hour session that ended last night), and there was a great deal of interest both in how I finished Laori's fate, and how the final monsters went, so this will be a long one, with quite a bit more detail than usual.

The fate of Scarwall:

The party knew exactly where Mithrodar was, and they'd "figured out" his 24-hour delay between anchorings, so they rested a night, prepared a ton of Death Wards, disposed of the chaff (for GMs who hate all the low-level skeletons and zombies of Scarwall: Just send them in a 'final desperate charge' over the causeway against the PCs. Makes Mithrodar seem desperate, and takes all of 1-2 rounds. I didn't even give the party EXP for slaughtering a host of CR 1/3 'junk', and they said, "Yeah, that's fine. Those were our leftover spells from yesterday anyway.").

Unfortunately for them, Mithrodar had been studying their tactics. He knew that they wouldn't buff until they were right outside his door. And he knew that they didn't know he could choose another anchor at any time -- the 24-hour wait was only for the first. So they got outside his door and started with the Death Wards. The specters poured through the walls and attacked the casters. The remaining 8 Scarwall Guards opened the double doors and attacked the fighters. Mithrodar started chaining Laori. All while only half the party was Death Warded.

Mithrodar fight = surprisingly good. He looks wimpy on paper, but I almost killed both NPCs, and the bard was in serious danger of being a third death until the wizard returned.

Laori was an action away from being an anchor, and a specter dropped her 2 levels just for good measure. Sial had no Death Ward and lost 4 levels before his first action. Things looked a little grimmer than I'd been planning... then the wizard crit his Initiative. He grabbed Laori and Greater Teleported her to safety. The paladin invoked Aura of Justice. The gnome rogue in the back of the party (who DID have Death Ward) went to town. She dropped a specter. The bard lost a couple of levels but dropped a specter. Sial died miserably. The Scarwall Guards performed as per normal in this campaign; I think they rolled over a 6 once in the first two rounds. One of them even fumbled and lost his axe, causing much giggling during this grim fight. The bard moved next to the fighters so they could help attack the specters that were after her, the rogue ran amok among specters who were meaningless to her (she has a CON of 18 and Death Ward. Specters = Not Scary, but fun to poke, especially because she chose the weapon for her Shaonti spirit binding). Then the wizard teleported back in. Yeah, he was Death Warded. Yeah, Chain Lightning + Specters = bad smell. Sial came back as a specter. The rogue giggled as she killed him. The best part was watching the warlord and the wizard complain that THEY had wanted to kill him. You know you've played your NPCs right when you bring them back as undead and the party argues over who gets to kill them. Once the specters were gone, the fight was basically over. The guards couldn't hold off the fighters, and once the wizard started dropping fireballs into the room, Mithrodar had to attack, and he only has a touch attack. A second Aura of Justice and a really, really, REALLY pissed off warlord (my son was standing on his chair, yelling, "You tried to kill my girlfriend, you b*****d! I'm going to kill you! I'm going to destroy you!!!!"), and Mithrodar was toast.

The next section was spectacular: The warlord left the party behind and flew to Laori's side, not even waiting to see whether there was any loot or any more monsters. She was curled into a ball, weeping, being watched over by the wizard's silvanshee familiar (the bard was wise enough to tell the wizard to leave his familiar outside, since many of the area-effect attacks would have killed it). She grabbed him and clung to him until the rest of the party arrived and Restored her. The party decided she'd had enough for the day, so they spent the rest of the day mapping out the areas of the castle that they hadn't explored (minus the Danse Macabre wing), and then rested for the night before approaching the Star Tower.

Laori let them into the Star Tower, where they met Ildervok. He made his offer, and Laori responded, "But I don't WANT to be curate!" The bard made a spectacular oration (my wife is disturbingly good, and has swayed many a GM with her speeches) about how Ildervok would receive no curates this day, so he attacked.

Ildervok fight = A significant challenge if the party chooses to fight him.
The paladin invoked Aura of Justice, so Laori cast Greater Darkness to protect Ildervok. Ildervok tried Contagion on the bard to get her to shut up, but she crit her save (my wife argues that it was Shelyn protecting her), so she made a 38 Diplomacy roll (and another great speech) to Laori to convince her that helping herself be kidnapped was NOT a reasonable action. Unfortunately, angry tiefling warlord with celestial armor and aura of justice = airborne battle. Ildevorak got off Cone of Cold to do major damage to the party, but then got caught going toe-to-toe with the angry critical-happy warlord. He Finger-of-Deathed the warlord successfully, but the Scarab of Protection saved his life. (I'd totally forgotten he had it, so I said, "I'm sorry. You're dead," and he said, "Wait a minute! What about that Scarab of Protection thingy I'm wearing?" Oops.) A few holy arrows from the paladin finished the job. Laori held all her actions and didn't help Ildervok.

So when Ildervok died, I had Zon Kuthon turn his back on Laori. Not only had she refused his post of honor, she'd chosen her new 'friends' over his avatar and refused to help. To say that the party was pissed is a gross understatement. The warlord has pretty much sworn to kill every follower of Zon Kuthon he ever meets. The bard called Zon Kuthon all kinds of interesting names. Laori was a train wreck.

It gets better. The warlord carried Laori in his arms as they continued the exploration. He refused to leave her side even when combats started. The bard spent time trying to comfort her. The paladin was a mixture of pissed and pleased, but couldn't show it.

The gugs = chaff. Speaking of not living up to how you look on paper, the gugs really didn't amount to more than a speed bump. They got all kinds of attacks on my AC 22 rogue (who was scouting ahead) and even with a rend did only around 40 points of damage. Then the holy swords and sneak attacks came out. Ouch.

Kleestad = Really? THAT kind of damage?!?!? So your party has already dealt with Ildervok and the gugs, and they arrive at a lake with Serithtial visible in the distance. If they seriously go into the water, they really, really, REALLY deserve the death that awaits them. I love my party. "Hey, there's a wide-open area with unknown dangers! What creature can we summon to send out there and get torn to shreds?" So they dropped an orca in the water and Kleestad one-rounded it. Then he breathed acid on them for 47 points, and that ludicrous DC 30 save ensured almost everyone took the damage. (Have you ever SEEN a 13th-level paladin's saves?!?! Especially carrying the Rod of Splendor?) Then he waded out of the water and started in with those massive-attack-bonus, massive-damage attacks. If the paladin hadn't had time to do another aura of justice, he'd have been dead. The +8 AC from AoJ and +4 from mage armor, along with magic plate and shield, were just enough to save his goody-goody tush. So they killed Kleestad without losing anyone, but it was *almost* blind luck. The rogue had run to the side to start flanking, the warlord was WAAAY in the back protecting Laori, and the wizard and the bard were smart enough to be behind the shiny paladin man. Kleestad does a LOT of damage. I suspect parties with more fighter-types than ours would be fine, but if you're a mage-heavy group, this fight is going to kill a few characters. Of course, if you're a mage-heavy group, you're probably going to Fly over him like the other threads have suggested, and it won't be an issue. And he's the final "boss" of Scarwall, so I think he's appropriate. We've just been having discussions about whether 10th or 11th-level parties can make it through, and the Star Tower is definitely going to come close to TPWO if they're not both careful and well-rounded.

So now the party is going to teleport to Magnimar to get some priests of Abadar to help them collect the vast riches of Scarwall (I told them it would cost 10% of gross and they didn't even bat an eye, so Abadar is happy to oblige them), and a high cleric of Iomedae to help the paladin deal with the Danse Macabre. (I really do feel sorry for it: 1-on-1 with a flying Death Warded paladin isn't going to take long).

The bard is desperate to get Laori to a temple of Shelyn, which is just too epic. Shelyn wants to reform her brother, and her clerics are going to get a fallen cleric of Zon Kuthon. Now's their chance to practice what they preach! I'd love to sit in on some of THOSE 'therapy sessions'! ;-) I'm going to keep up this story arc, especially the romance with the tiefling warlord. Suggestions are welcome.

I know that I'm supposed to force them to rush back to Korvosa ASAP, but I hate hate HATE meaningless time limits in games. The whole, "The party runs through an entire adventure, and just happens to arrive in the nick of time," is so cliched that I refuse to use it. If I want a timer. I write down a date when everything's going to happen. Otherwise, I don't. So my party is off to party in Magnimar before returning to Korvosa, and it's going to be quite a while. Apparently there's an opera in Council of Thieves that their other party is supposed to perform, and I've been asked to run a Kingmaker campaign for our larger group-at-large, so Crown of Fangs is going to wait for quite a while.

And now, since my entire family can't stop singing it, a requiem for the count.

My campaign ended tonight, so I won't be running Scarwall.

The players in my party spent the entire night arguing with me over every decision I made, expressed the opinion that bad guys (and dragons) playing intelligently and tacticaly is unfair, and that I was playing them wrong. A black dragon with a water elemental ally were working together to drown people who crossed their underground lake. The elemental would capsize the boats, then enter into a vortex and suck them under water where the dragon would grapple and drown them. When he couldn't grapple people, he would surface, use his breath weapon, then duck back down below the surface of the water. I ended up almost killing the paladin until the theurge cast gaseous form on him, but I did drown the shadow dancer.

The party entered the fight with very limited resources. The bard was out of third level spells and had only half of her second and first level and 10 rounds remaining on her bardic performance. The oracle had 1 third level, 3 second level and 3 first level spells remaining. The theurge had a couple of each spell level, but all his 4th spells were tapped out.

They decided it was my fault that they didn't rest and some of them straight up told me I was a bad GM because I didn't pull punches on them and give them miraculous escapes. I told them enough was enough. If they want to sit there and tell me I'm wrong, I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm being unfair, and that I'm killing all the fun, fine, you can run the game. It really pissed me off because I know one character borrowed a bestiary, and I specifically told him not to look at the dragons, and not 10 minutes later I looked up and saw he had the book opened to black dragons and he was reading their stats. Then, there was several instances when I was informed I was wrong about the rules, and then when I would look it up and tell them the page number and let them read it for themselves, suddenly I'm unfair and those rules need to change because it's not fair for the PCs to be in danger.

Frankly, I had enough. I'm not going to sit down and let people tell me I can't run a fun game (when previous to this I've received nothing but praise for how fun the games have been, but of course, they were winning then), that I don't know the rules, I'm wrong on every ruling, I'm unfair and that I'm just a bad GM.

So ya, Crimson Throne ended tonight, and I doubt I'll get to run it again anytime soon, especially since I can't run it with anyone in the party right now.

Sounds like you guys had a blast, and I'm really envious of your play through. Seems like it's one of those really memorable sessions that people will talk about in years to come.

Wow, Tels, I'm really sorry to hear that!

I was going to post to the other guy having the "nightmare GM experience in Scarwall" on the GM thread, but it seems like a LOT of gamers expect:

(1) The GMs will run the monsters as stupidly as possible.

(2) Each monster will simply walk up and attack a brick and allow the wizards to blast it.

(3) Each character can play completely independently of the other characters and still expect glory and victory.

We have two gaming groups: In our Runequest one, the GM has the critters have near-prescient knowledge of the rules, our strengths, and our weaknesses. Instead of complaining, we plan a strategy for the two weeks before the session. We then update the strategy based on new information during the combat, and it's our best minds versus the GM's. It's frustrating sometimes, but it's much more satisfying when we win, and we never accuse the GM of "cheating" or "lessening our fun" because he makes us think and work together as a team. It also allows him to hit us with weaker creatures and still push us to the limits.

Our second gaming group is Pathfinder where I'm the GM. This group has a grossly unfair advantage: Since I'm playing the NPCs and my kids are playing two of the three PCs, my wife gets to call the shots and everyone obeys her. She's a brilliant tactician (her RQ character has saved the party's bacon more than all the other characters combined, so it's not just me), so imagine having a "general" who tells each other PC which spells to prepare, which monsters to attack with which abilities, and which spells to cast at which times. It's incredibly effective, and she's never even looked at the Bestiary. Add the bard/paladin combo (really really nasty against Scarwall critters) and you've got a party from heck. She also plans EVERYTHING around resting and restoring -- as soon as the party had any cash at all, she bought the wizard a Ring of Sustenance (I ruled they were available in Kaer Maga) so he could recharge and guard the rest of the party while they rested. Failure to rest is ALWAYS a party-killer.

Looking at your group's situation, I can see some ways out (Invisibility Sphere and Illusion to lure the dragon into a hail of arrow fire, for example), so it seems like they just wanted toe-to-toe combat, and you didn't provide it, and they quit on you. Not nice. All you have to mention is "he was reading the Bestiary on dragons after I explicitly told him not to" to tell me that the group wasn't a good fit.

Sorry to hear about it all, and keep on posting! I do enjoy conversing with you, and other than the 1200-mile commute, I'd invite you to sit in on some of our sessions! ;-)

P.S. I asked my wife to look over my shoulder at this point to make sure I wasn't being obnoxious (a frequent problem for me), and pointed out:
#1: "I would NEVER go across any body of water before summoning an aquatic creature to fully explore it."
#2: "Even then, the first boat trip would be an illusion of us, with the boat propelled by Mage Hand."
#3: "If all that worked, then I'd have the party rest up and THEN go across."

Yeah, she's wonderfully paranoid. Makes me proud of our GMs! ;-)

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Tels, I am so sorry! I absolutely hate hearing about players who act that way.

Two of the three players in my campaign are also GMs, and I think all three of us understand that as GM we are going to TRY to kill the characters, and if they fail to plan well we don't want to actually do it but we will kill their character. I want them to feel truly challenged and as if their character earned the ability to continue their quest, not like I handed them the adventure on a silver platter.

We also understand the idea that no monster of an intelligence over 7 is going to sit in their room waiting for the fight to come to them. In the words of Dark Helmet, "Evil wins because Good is Dumb" not the other way around.

And I'm sorry, but an un-intelligent dragon that doesn't play to tactical advantages of a dragon? Are they nuts!?

I hope your players can "Man Up", since they are probably friends of yours. Or that you can find new players that are less argumentative rules lawyers.

End of CotCT:
The thing is, I'm more of a rules lawyer than they are (I'm lawful, most everyone I play with is chaotic). They want me to hand-waive rules or ignore things that are clearly spelled out so they don't have to deal with it. Like, one of the players had a rope that he had his pseudodragon pet tie around the person being drowned by the dragon. I asked him how he expects a pseudodragon to tie a knot around a dwarf helf 60 feet below the surface in the claws of a dragon 10 times it's size? He didn't know, but he hoped it could work. I let it fly because I wanted to give him a chance of helping instead of twiddling his thumbs like the Oracle did. Turns out bodies of water and black dragons are good ways of neutralizing that pesky archer. Anyway, he was using the rope to aid another on the grapple to escape because he really couldn't do much else.

However, later on, he tried to aid another, ready his bow, and use a wand of lightning bolt (arcane archer) to shoot down the rope and hit the dragon. I told him each of those actions was a standard action and he could perform only one of them, and he proceeded to argue with me that he could easily pull on the rope with one hand and then use the wand, but readying to bow as too much. I simply said, "No, you can't, you get 1 standard action and only 1 standard action, stop arguing with me" so he used the wand and ended up not overcoming the dragons SR and hitting the dwarf in the back with a lightning bolt.

An hour ago, he called me to talk about something else and ended up complaining about the game again and how I was being mean to the group, so I really had to start putting him into place. I ended up telling him all sorts of rules that consciously decided not to enforce for that session. Like one of the characters rolled a natural 1 on a reflex save from the dragons acid breath. A natural 1 on a reflex save that deals damage means you then have to roll a reflex save for every item you carry and it would more than likely have destroyed all that characters gear. Then, I told him I never bothered to make him roll reflex saves for the rope that was dangling in the water when the dragon breathed acid on the drowning dwarf (to get him to struggle and use up his oxygen), which would have destroyed the rope. I never bothered to have the dragon try and snap that rope, which he easily could have. I never bothered to let that dragon cast Bull's Strength or any other buffing spells because the fight would be hard enough as it was. When the party managed to vacate the lake except for the drowning person, I had the water elemental attack the party on land instead of helping the dragon ensure the victim died. When the Mystic Theurge dove underwater to free the paladin and then the dwarf, I knowingly made the decision to use his attacks of opportunity to strike the dwarf or paladin when he tried to escape, instead of the Theurge casting spells.

I told him I went out of my way to give them every possible chance to win, while still giving them a fight, but they just didn't do the right things. Even with all this knowledge, he was still saying I'm a mean GM and I can't run a fun game.

After that session was over and I told them I was ending the campaign because they were whining about how hard that dungeon was, I told them that if they thought that one was hard, they'd scream bloody murder in Scarwall. I told all of them a demilich is in the Scarwall and they had to fight it. When I said that, the Theurge (who knows what a demilich is) actually paled and said they were all going to die. I think, it was at that point he realized I was trying to toughen them up because up until Scarwall, Crimson Throne doesn't really have a 'dungeon crawl' and they weren't prepared for it, tactically or mentally. I've noticed that through out Crimson Throne, there is a real problem with 5-minute work days. Typically, you have one encounter, maybe 2 or 3 in one day, but no more than that, with the exception of the hospice of the blessed maiden and the Arkonas (which my party skipped the Arkonas). Usually, in the encounters, the party fight things that are APL - x instead of equal to the APL or above it. So they can usually end a fight in the first round or two, and proceed on with most of their resources unspent, and that won't be the case in Scarwall.

I like giving my players tough, challenging fights that require more than just brute force to overcome (though I give them those too) because when they overcome the challenge, they will actually feel like the accomplished something, like the matched wits with me and won. However, based off their responses, they weren't having fun because they weren't 'winning' every encounter with ease. The only character that truly had a reason to complain was the dwarven shadow dancer (whom is also my best friend) and he said he had a blast and that it was a tough, but cool fight. I killed off the arcane archer, again, because he swam across the lake when the boat got capsized, while the rest of the party returned to their original shore. He had no way of getting across, and it was his own decision to swim to the far side. When the party fled, the dragon pursued him and killed him. It was his own fault, and no one else but him made the decision to separate themselves from the party.

I've kept the thought in the back of my mind that maybe all we need is time to settle down, cool off, and come back at a later date. However, as it stands right now, I'm done with the campaign and their mentality when it comes to gaming. I refuse to serve the campaign on a silver platter to the players, they're heroes and adventurers and all heroes and adventurers have to fight, struggle and suffer, but come out on top. There is a very real chance in any story that the hero could lose, but if they win, then it's a great story. Everyone always forgets that until that hero won, there were many heroes that tried and failed first.

The saddest part about reading that post is that we have a gamer EXACTLY like the one you mention; he always says, "I want to do (a), (b), (c), and (d), but I'm not that familiar with the rules, so how do I do all of those in one round?" And if you say, "You can't," he responds with, "Well I could do it easily in real life!"

Fortunately, I haven't had to GM him yet, but I'm about to start a Kingmaker campaign where he'll be one of the PCs. I have already planned to have all of the props ready, plus a stopwatch and some foam swords, and I'm going to say, "OK, you want to perform those four actions in 6 seconds while being attacked. Here are all the props. If you can do it, your character can. GO!!!"

And then he'll tell me that his character is far more heroic than he is, so obviously he can't do it, but his character could. Some players. :roll

Anyway, on to your issue: I think you should sit down and have an honest talk with your group:

(1) Up until this point, I have been letting rules slide because I thought I was being kind. Unfortunately, now we have differing opinions of what rules are being enforced. From this point onwards, we are playing by every single rule as written with these exceptions and house rules: ... (And PUT THEM ON PAPER so every player has a set of the house rules)

(2) My monsters are not all unintelligent automatons. If a creature has an INT of over 7 (Thanks, CaroRose!), it will use good tactics against you. You should expect to have good tactics used against you, so plan accordingly.

(3) A round is 6 seconds. Watch a boxing or martial arts fight for 6 seconds and see how much happens. Try to do as much as you can in 6 seconds and see what happens. You will find that the rules are EXTREMELY lenient in terms of what you can do in a round. Don't push it.

(4) Similarly, although we play in a fantasy land, most laws of physics will still apply.

If they say that this is unreasonable and unfair, point out that a DIFFERENT GM posted the rules, not you. I'm hoping this thread is "alive" enough that other GMs will chime in and approve/amend/criticize my "ultimatums", but it's clear that if you're all going to get along, you need a set of "Holy Rules" posted on the wall.

We're lucky: In our Runequest campaign we have two "rules sages" who adjudicate between the GM and the arguing player. In our Pathfinder campaign it's just the family, so we decide on the rules on the fly. Absent one of those two situations, conflicts are inevitable, and at that point it helps to "lay down the law" for both sides.

And finally, the wonders of Scarwall:

Ah, to be in Scarwall in the Spring...:

Scarwall isn't nearly as bad as you'd think. My party did the same thing every other party with half a brain does: Leave. Once the orcs in the barbicon, the gargoyles, and Belshallam are dead, you can just walk out and camp overnight in the barbicon. Yeah, Mithrodar grabs another anchor and a new group of Scarwall Guards closes the portculli and spews arrows and icy murder at you again, but if you survived the first time, you'll likely survive the second time, and you're planning on killing everything in the castle anyway, right?

My party killed Belshallam and all of the gargoyles on Day 1. (It was a bad day to be a flying monster.) They're the only ones who can leave Scarwall's grounds. So resting wasn't an issue.

After my party got ambushed in the gatehouse on the second day by a second group of guards, they destroyed EVERYTHING in the gatehouse -- the gates, the portculli, the winches, EVERYTHING. That was the entire morning of Day 2. But it meant that they could walk in and out with impunity from then on out, and they would just explore the castle until they were a bit tired, head out, and camp for the afternoon and evening.

So it's just preparing on that first and second day that are important.

My guess is that with your luck, your party will go in, kill the Corpse Orgy and Mandraivus, declare it a good resting point, and head back to the barbicon. At which point there's really no excuse not to hit them with Belshallam while 3/4 of them are asleep and out of their armor. Every GM I know would do exactly that, or would at least give Belshallam a PER roll to notice that something was different in the barbicon. And Belshallam attacking a party by surprise is truly a party-killer; either you surprise him and he's dragon meat, or he surprises you and you're dragon food.

Ånd, since this is my thread, after all, I figure I'll share the decisions I made during the Belshallam battle. I'm not claiming I was right or wrong; I'm just telling you what I did, and that my players were all satisfied with the results (obviously, but that's beside the point):

A long battle:

I knew ahead of time that the group was likely to end up on the roof, so I planned the whole thing: I rolled all of the gargoyles' PER rolls every round, Belshallam's PER rolls, the barbed devils' PER rolls, and the bone devils' PER rolls. For the gargoyles and Belshallam, a "1" indicated that they were asleep and didn't get a roll for the next two rounds. For everyone else, they got a roll every round. Once I knew when each creature perceived the fight, I figured out how long it would take for that creature to arrive at the battle and mapped it out. "Round 1: Gargoyles 1 and 4 arrive. Round 2: Gargoyles 2 and 5 arrive." and so forth. This precluded any accusation from the party that I was being "vicious" or "nice"; the die roll told me everything. The bone devils had clear instructions to "protect the tower", so they didn't attack. Unfortunately, Belshallam straight-up fumbled his first two rolls, leading some to accuse me of being too lenient on the party.

In short, the party arrived on the rooftops, peeked through the arrow slits and spotted Captain Castothrane ("Inside the room you see scattered boxes and barrels. Near the middle of the room lies a skeleton in plate armor."), and decided that he was going to come to life the minute they opened the door, so they decided to explore the rooftops instead. The gargoyle right next to them attacked, Castothrane rushed out the door to attack (it does say that he loves to bull rush people off the roof), and the fight was on.

It was a spectacular fight: The bard put Versatile Weapon on the warlord's Holy Sword so he could damage Castothrane, and, as a tiefling, the flaming aura didn't bother him much, so they went toe-to-toe as the paladin tried to deal with all the incoming gargoyles. The rogue flanked horrifically (at least for the gargoyles), and the wizard patiently waited for them to group together to use a handful of area-effect spells to great effect. Laori was a force unto herself, and Sial almost died (as usual).

I thought the barbed devils would force the party to retreat; unfortunately, when they arrived the paladin was free and able to invoke Aura of Justice, at which point the rogue ambushed one of the devils for 103(!!) points of damage. They weren't dumb, so they tried to run, but a rogue and a paladin with Haste, Good Hope, and Aura of Justice turned them into barbed sushi.

Then the bard rolled a 42 on her Perception roll and knew Belshallam was coming.

And THAT'S where party tactics come into play -- they didn't argue; they didn't try to make a stand; they just jumped pell-mell into the trap door, perfectly willing to take falling damage to avoid the dragon. The paladin stuck around to kill the last gargoyle, but they left all the treasure behind and ran like squirrels into their hole.

And again, we see party tactics: The bard said, "If we go out right now, he'll get us for sure. Let's go to the gatehouse, wait an hour, and then head across the bridge."

So Belshallam was waiting for them to cross the bridge. They camped in the gatehouse for an hour (I hit them with a dread wraith and four regular wraiths, but the dread wraith failed his save against Mass Ghostbane Dirge and learned that being solid really sucks).

Then comes the extreme nastiness: They used ALL of their remaining spells to buff the paladin and the warlord. Then Invisibility Sphere so they weren't visible. Then sent an illusion of the hard-pressed party staggering across the bridge.

- A 'prescient' GM would have had Belshallam recognize the illusion for what it was, in spite of the fact that nothing in the rules indicates he could have. I believe players would have a legitimate beef with this, unless the GM could explain how Belshallam figured out that the party would send an illusion first.
- So I had him bite, and blow the living carp out of the illusion.

The wizard dropped a Bralani Azata into hand-to-hand combat, while Sial hit Belshallam with Order's Wrath.

- I will probably be accused of being 'too nice' here, but I was trying to play 'in character' for Belshallam. He's extremely overconfident, and craves a good fight. So he knew that the Azata was just a distraction, and he could see the wizard and Sial in the entryway. My ruling was that he would tear the Azata apart, then spring upwards out of view of the entryway, then breathe into it. It gave the characters one extra round, and I felt that it was in character.

Unfortunately, have you ever SEEN a Hasted, Good Hoped, Aura of Justiced party unload with over half a dozen Holy arrows? The paladin didn't roll under an 18 on all four of his attacks.

Belshallam paid for his overconfidence with his life. But I feel I only made one questionable decision; the rest was the PCs playing "smart".

I have no idea whether or not this is helpful -- I just like to type!

The people I play with, like I said, are chaotic and don't think tactically. They leave tactics either up to myself, or for the Theurge to decide. The Theurge owns the hobby store we play in and we often get disrupted by customers asking him questions, people dropping by to say hi, or other people playing different games asking for clarification, advice, or to simply tell him how awesome their Magic deck just trounced so-and-so's deck. If the Theurge isn't present, the other players do whatever they please and it just ends up a mess as nearly everyone is seriously injured, dieing, or dominated.

NobodysHome wrote:
My party killed Belshallam and all of the gargoyles on Day 1. (It was a bad day to be a flying monster.) They're the only ones who can leave Scarwall's grounds. So resting wasn't an issue.

Ah yes, but you also have the powerful Paladin in the group. Paladin's do horrendous things against evil things, and can make that BBEG look like a sissy-boy.

NobodysHome wrote:
Unfortunately, have you ever SEEN a Hasted, Good Hoped, Aura of Justiced party unload with over half a dozen Holy arrows? The paladin didn't roll under an 18 on all four of his attacks.

I can't say that I have seen something like this, but I have seen what Arcane Archer's do and I'm betting a Paladin with a smite on his bow does something similar. I have also personally played a 3.5 Half-Orc Ranger/Barbarian that fought 2 Iron Golems 1 vs 2 and won in 3 1/2 rounds (Surprise + 3 rounds). I almost saw a tear on my DM's face when I won. Shocked doesn't describe it, and it was his own fault he forgot I had been carrying around a Scarab of Golembane for the last 5 levels.

Well, that's sort of where I was going with this -- the paladin wouldn't have had a snowball's chance if the rest of the party hadn't:

(a) Come up with the plan
(b) Made him invisible
(c) Created the illusion of the party crossing the bridge, and
(d) Distracted the dragon with a summoned creature.

Every party has its massive-DPS monster, whether it be a paladin, a ranger/barbarian, or an arcane archer. The problem is that the rest of the party has to accept that they're the "supporting cast", making sure that Mr. (or Mrs.) DPS-monster gets his shots in before becoming dragon chow.

Obviously I've never met your group, but it seems like they're a "walk in shooting, then each person decides on his own what to do to get some licks in on the critter" kind of a group. It works well as long as the monsters are weaker than you are. Once they're stronger, it gets painful quickly. Of our party of seven, two of them (Sial and the bard) almost didn't make a single attack in Scarwall; their entire job was buffing the rest of the group. But nobody wants to be "the buffer".

Unfortunately the tactical discussion is much harder than the "These are the rules we're going to play by" discussion, because you basically have to say, "You guys need a leader who's going to make tactical decisions for the group, and you need to trust him with your lives. And some of you may never attack a creature again." Makes for an insanely deadly party, but the players who aren't getting their hands dirty usually get pretty tired of the whole thing pretty quickly. The GMs in our group try to balance it by making sure the non-combat-monsters are the focus of the 'rest of the story' -- for example, in our RQ campaign my wife is the diplomat and negotiator who brokers deals with the NPCs and keeps us out of fights. I'm the big troll that hits things once the fights begin. She stays in the back and casts supporting spells during fights, and I hide in the back and keep my mouth shut during negotiations. Honestly, she probably gets 80% of the roleplaying time as compared to me. But I get to hit things. Really hard. So we're both happy. It's when one guy is both the DPS-monster and the non-combat leader that you get real stress in groups.

After a few minutes thought, I guess the best way to put it is, "Which is better?
(1) Each of five party members hitting the critter for 10 points of damage, or
(2) Four party members buffing the living daylights out of the fifth so he hits for 60 points of damage?"

The second is obviously the better choice; it'll bypass DR more easily, and do much more damage to the critter. But few parties will willingly take that approach without a strong tactical leader telling them to do it.

And while we're at it, can we PLEASE not have any more undead with valuable teeth?

I'm only hiding it because it's proper form:

The party wanted to return to the temple with a cleric of Iomedae who could Hallow the area and destroy the demilich permanently (properly), and when I pointed out to my wife that the demilich might have re-formed before they got the cleric, she said,

"What's he going to do? He's going to say, 'My feef! My feef! Somewody stowe my feef!!"

Yes. We fell over laughing.

No, the now-toothless demi-lich didn't re-form.

NobodysHome wrote:

Ånd, since this is my thread, after all, I figure I'll share the decisions I made during the Belshallam battle. I'm not claiming I was right or wrong; I'm just telling you what I did, and that my players were all satisfied with the results (obviously, but that's beside the point):

** spoiler omitted **...

sounds cool,


Bellasham has blindsight (not just blindsense) in 3.5 which helps him out against invis and maybe illusions.

in my game he killed 2 PCs and they fled. they eventually figured out about the chains and cast dispel evil on him so he left the castle.

they negotiated with him and Malatrothe, yet refused to co-operate with Laori and Sial.

they all said negotiating and personality of the bad guys were the best bits of the castle (but enjoyed the rest as well)

OK, I realize it may be inappropriate for a GM to react this way to the introduction to Crown of Fangs, but might I state for the record "Squeeeee!"

After obtaining Serithtial, the party teleported directly to Flameford, where they were received with great enthusiasm by the Sklar Quah. (Don't forget -- in my campaign they slaughtered an invading orc army, a 16th-level orc chieftan, and the young red dragon the orcs were hoping to use to conquer the Sklar Quah once and for all). The celebration was epic (including the use of a Rod of Splendor), and the shamans took Laori aside to console with her about the loss of her god (she stood aside while her 'boyfriend', a psychotic flying tiefling who'd decided he hated all things Scarwall when Mithrodar tried to chain Laori, spent an inordinate amount of time slaughtering Mithrodar and Ildervok in no uncertain terms). So Laori spent the evening with the shamans, the tiefling blew his CON roll and spent the night unconscious by the fire being tattooed with obscene images of Calistria by the gnome, and the bard scored a frickin' 41 on her Perform check to tell the tale of their epic adventures in Scarwall.

In the morning, they had the shaman perform a Sending to Cressida Kroft that they were on the way (via Magnimar), and they would send Majenko to let her know when they were approaching.

Their response? "Martial law. Ileosa has devils, dragons. Pseudodragons devastated. In hiding. Kroft, Vencarlo, Neolandus under Grey District. Temple of Pharasma. Trust D'Bear. No one else. HELP!"

As a GM, I believe the technical term to their reaction is, "WHEEEEEEE!"

Their very first action: Prepare the Sklar Quah to march for war. They did spend quite a bit of time trying to distinguish between 'friends' and 'enemies' with Krojun, and they're hoping he'll leave the cities between the Cinderlands and Korvosa somewhat untouched, but the Shaonti are gathering for a war like they haven't seen in centuries.

Their next step was to teleport to Magnimar, only to find Magnimar gearing for war on Korvosa. I must admit, at this point I was a "Monty Hall" GM: Considering their main fighter is a 14th-level paladin of Iomedae, and Magnimar has a HUGE temple of Iomedae, the temple gifted them with cool stuff, including a "bracelet of friends" I intended the bard to bind to the other 4 members of her party. She chose Krojun and the Flameford sun shaman instead, go figure.

So they're indignant, they're loaded for bear, and they plan on heading into Korvosa on a straight-up "destroy anyone who doesn't declare Ileosa the antichrist" mission.

The Harrowing is going to be fun, and should happen tonight.

First Encounter:
And I just feel out-and-out sorry for Yzahnum. He's really well-designed: Grant three really nasty wishes to the crowd, then duel one of the characters one-on-one and kick their butts. On paper, he should win that fight. Unfortunately, the chances of the gnome rogue NOT challenging him are virtually 0%, and her stealth is at +42. Yes. You read that right. +42 Stealth. Welcome to My Hell. So she's going to backstab him with her wonderful masterwork silver daggers. That are going to slide right off his DR skin. That are going to tell the paladin that he's an evil outsider. That's going to end his life in a very, very, VERY short time. I'll see whether I can work out a way for him to not get revealed in such an embarrassing manner, but sometimes, you just anticipate what's going to happen, and you have to say, "Y'know, my really nasty evil guy is going to get his butt royally whipped, but I think I'm OK with that tonight."

We'll see what happens.

Oops! Just read the stats and don't see any DR there -- should make it a MUCH more interesting encounter!


My group finished the "Castle Encounters" last weekend, and now we have a 3 week hiatus before we go to the finale. I have had to mod everything to make anything challenging for the group as the number of players plus the paladin plus the boons picked up at a certain castle encounter have shot their power ranking up to like CR+4 as we roll forward.

Some DM observations:
1 - the deck of many things can cause a lot of changes in your campaign all my players drew 4 cards except one and she drew 2. this deck and the one free redraw is not near as evil as the previous editions.

2 - There is no evidence in the story to support a Maiden/Mantis combined arms defense of the castle, so I didn't play the castle defense that way. I had Togomor exercise leadership as the seneshal over the maidens and the lower powered devils, made the third floor the domain of the mantis and allowed to rest of the creatures their assigned space.

After defeating the efreete and interrogating Sabrina my party determined Togomar was their biggest threat. They entered through the secret door and cast locate creature to find togomar but failed to detect the alarm he had placed. Once one group of graymaidens is alerted it wont take long for the sounds of battle to attract a few others. This can allow you to attack the party from opposing directions which is great fun, although they should have no issues stomping the maidens.

Once alerted I had togomar move to the throne room to make a stand there while the yallops and maidens screened this move. The PCs fought their way through to Togomar's quarters and found it empty. They then decided to try their luck on the next floor down, where they ran into the eyrines devils. The devils are great because they can telpathicly link to the other devils and Togomar giving them a significant tactical advantage. While the PCs fough them Togomar buffed and conducted a hit and run raid to hammer them with some high level arcane whop-ass. This scared my guys a bit so they withdrew to regroup, then scry and fry.

Once again, Togomor is know dummy and I played him smart. He fortified over night in the throne with the surviving eyrines devils, maidens and other lower floor badguys. I also had heavy anti-scrying magic on Togomor but the PC's had been to the throne room so they planned and executed the scry and fry. The fight was not overly memorable.

3 - I really feel a bit helpless to challenge the party at this point. 7 PC's, two outsiders (bead of summoning from scarwall, and card draw from deck of many things), a paladin with Serenthial, etc. Believe it or not I have added not 1gp of treasure to the entire AP and the party pretty much left the Arkona mansion empty handed. I want the finale to be memorable so here is what I have cooked up.

First, no party of this level is ever going to take the overland journey to the sunken queen, they are going to teleport directly there. I have created a Bogard village there based on the worship of the devilfish. The party can easily scry and fry, or if they visit the Jeggere museum there is a clue or two there to help them out. This is going to be a set piece battle. The boggards are 10th level barbarians with a 12th level chief and supporting witch.

Second, I have given the sunken queen some magical defenses to eliminate a scry and fry attack. The entire complex is defended by a forbiddence that can be bypassed only by carrying a thassilonian symbol of Lust. Second, the upper levels where the Illosa resides are defended by a private sanctum like effect, as well as an unhallow effect with invisiblity purge tied to it.

Third, I added two more furies and beefed them up, and two more dread wraiths.

Finally, I dumped the aristocrat levels and made Illeosa a stright up bard.

While this sounds extreme I figure my party will handle this. Total they have around 745hp, get w/haste aprox. 24 attacks/round +2 spell casters who rarely melee.

My intent is for the finale to fun and memorable, to always give them the impression they are on the edge of doom, when really they should handle the situation pretty easily.

I have really enjoyed reading through your thread, and like you really feel this is one of the best of the AP's. I am already working on a few expansions.

walter mcwilliams wrote:


My group finished the "Castle Encounters" last weekend, and now we have a 3 week hiatus before we go to the finale. I have had to mod everything to make anything challenging for the group as the number of players plus the paladin plus the boons picked up at a certain castle encounter have shot their power ranking up to like CR+4 as we roll forward.

** spoiler omitted **...

I have really enjoyed reading through your thread, and like you really feel this is one of the best of the AP's. I am already working on a few expansions.

Aw, shucks! I just started posting when I realized how few GMs were taking the time to describe their experiences with the APs -- we're still waiting for Mikaze's epic finish, after all. I look forward to starting my own "Kingmaker" thread once my party actually gets anywhere.

I'm not nearly as worried about the challenges of the castle; my party is only 3 inexperienced PCs (including two kids and a bard) and 2 NPCs. I don't think they'll even think of scry-n-fry, and they are so unfamiliar with dimensional travel that some of the castle encounters are going to completely discombobulate them. I'm more seriously worried that we're going to lose our first PCs in the next couple of sessions, and dealing with character deaths isn't something my kids are used to. On the other hand, a 14th-level paladin with Serithtial and Celestial Plate Mail really evens the odds against almost anything.

My big worry is that they're starting off on the wrong track from the onset -- they sneaked into Korvosa beautifully (Greater Teleport to Rolfe's underground lair in the Grey Warrens, then Invisibility Sphere, then Dimension Door to get out of the blockaded entrance), then met with Cressida for her data dump. As soon as they heard that the Archbishop of Asmodeus is taking citizens' blood for unknown reasons (not a spoiler because it's listed as publicly-available information, and I'm positive Cressida would have heard of it), they decided to take out the temple of Asmodeus. So I'm writing a side quest and trying to get the paladin to convince them that razing a sovereign temple is NOT OK. But I think the 4 non-paladins are going to be paying a visit to the temple of Asmodeus, while the paladin has to decide whether to warn the temple or cross his fingers and hope that his friends don't hurt anyone. Oh, and I set up the imps as a spy network for the queen, and the bard has decided that they need to be exterminated with extreme prejudice. She's talking bait-and-cloudkill-and-paladin-with-holy-composite-bow extermination. So I think there's going to be a LOT of roleplaying before we ever reach the AP.

Ah, well, once we actually make progress on the AP as written I'll post again.

NobodysHome wrote:
walter mcwilliams wrote:


My group finished the "Castle Encounters" last weekend, and now we have a 3 week hiatus before we go to the finale. I have had to mod everything to make anything challenging for the group as the number of players plus the paladin plus the boons picked up at a certain castle encounter have shot their power ranking up to like CR+4 as we roll forward.

** spoiler omitted **...

I have really enjoyed reading through your thread, and like you really feel this is one of the best of the AP's. I am already working on a few expansions.

Aw, shucks! I just started posting when I realized how few GMs were taking the time to describe their experiences with the APs -- we're still waiting for Mikaze's epic finish, after all. I look forward to starting my own "Kingmaker" thread once my party actually gets anywhere.

I'm not nearly as worried about the challenges of the castle; my party is only 3 inexperienced PCs (including two kids and a bard) and 2 NPCs. I don't think they'll even think of scry-n-fry, and they are so unfamiliar with dimensional travel that some of the castle encounters are going to completely discombobulate them. I'm more seriously worried that we're going to lose our first PCs in the next couple of sessions, and dealing with character deaths isn't something my kids are used to. On the other hand, a 14th-level paladin with Serithtial and Celestial Plate Mail really evens the odds against almost anything.

My big worry is that they're starting off on the wrong track from the onset -- they sneaked into Korvosa beautifully (Greater Teleport to Rolfe's underground lair in the Grey Warrens, then Invisibility Sphere, then Dimension Door to get out of the blockaded entrance), then met with Cressida for her data dump. As soon as they heard that the Archbishop of Asmodeus is taking citizens' blood for unknown reasons (not a spoiler because it's listed as publicly-available information, and I'm positive Cressida would have heard of it), they decided to...

Yep A paladin in any of the APs, all of which usually incude evil outsiders, undead, and dragons can really be an instant win button. Especially when you have more than 5 PCs.

I changed the blood collection from the temple of asmodeous to Rolth, who escaped in chapter II. My PC's pretty much left that alone so Rolth is still on the loose LOL. I think he may return in a CoCT follow on I am contemplating.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Has anyone tried an increase in mooks to try to trample the other party members, keeping the Paladin occupied with protection vs direct play vs the big bad? Does it work? I'm going to start running into this here soon when we start back up.

I guess I could also just distract him with a falling dead dragon....that seems to work....

CaroRose wrote:

Has anyone tried an increase in mooks to try to trample the other party members, keeping the Paladin occupied with protection vs direct play vs the big bad? Does it work? I'm going to start running into this here soon when we start back up.

I guess I could also just distract him with a falling dead dragon....that seems to work....

I would say increasing mooks depends entirely upon how many PC's you have in your group, but it can be effective in the castle because they can attack along multiple avenues. The first fight my players had was against some Gray Maidens. A gang of 4 or 5 GM (Cav8 in my game) is really no challenge for my party. However, two three gangs coming from different angles can start to spread the party a little and give the fight a more dramatic feel. I had groups coming from two lateral directions and a third group coming up from below. The results were the same and predictable. However, it gave the fight drama and dynamics.

In my game the efforts of the Maidens and the Mantis were not coordinated by any central leadership as none is eluded to in the source material. Changing this and having one of the big baddies coordnate a defense integrating all the castles denziens against the players will certainly amp up the complexity and lethality of the overall encounter.

Well, true, no direct leadership is alluded to, but the Grey Maidens are trained soldiers, and the Red Mantis are trained assassins that seem to operate in squads. Basic tactics would obviously be used, and I'm pretty sure both evil parties are aware of the other and that they work for the same person. I'd imagine the assassins and the Maidens would work together if they encountered one another.

For instance, if a large alarm was raises and the party managed to break through to the assassins floor, one might have some Maidens follow them and form a shield wall, while the assassins come at them from the flanks.

It's a different system, but our RuneQuest GM uses tactics to extreme advantage to allow significantly weaker groups to challenge our party. Things like shield walls with spearmen behind the wall are extremely effective in that system, and it's relatively easy to translate to PF by allowing the shield wall to provide partial cover. Nothing like not being able to hit your opponent while he pokes you with sharp sticks!

And the last few posts are dead-on: You don't need to raise the level of the rabble to have them be dangerous; you just want them to come from multiple directions and disrupt the non-fighters. We only have two decent hand-to-hand fighters in the group; a party of 6 grey maidens and 4 red mantises would be a serious threat as long as the wizard is kept at bay. The paladin with Serithtial is a death machine, but if two mantises can flank him and keep him busy for a couple of rounds, the rest of the party will have its hands full, all without having to raise anyone's level.

Low-level stuff is also really effective: Tanglefoot bags can slow down even a high-level paladin if you throw enough out there to make the terrain difficult. Spells like Darkness are also your friend. The paladin's a human. In Scarwall, our other fighter (a tiefling warlord) got to shine because the creatures quite sensibly cast Darkness every time they saw the paladin. The paladin stood there blindly, used Aura of Justice when he was told to, and the tiefling went to town. Made for a VERY happy tiefling, and after months of complaining about how the paladin was stealing all the glory, he now declares the paladin the "Best thing ever" and wants to play his own paladin in the next campaign.

So pre-plan how your low-level rabble can be effective; they ARE trained troops, and they wouldn't run in and go toe-to-toe with a party they know would obliterate them. Ranged snipe-and-run attacks; darkness spells to allow the devils to come in and hit-and-run the party; just all kinds of attrition designed to weaken the party without losing too many people to them.

It would definitely make the castle feel like a grind and an accomplishment.

"NobodysHome wrote:
You don't need to raise the level of the rabble to have them be dangerous; you just want them to come from multiple directions and disrupt the non-fighters.

What, of course, can be done about the Maidens, is the following thing:

To offset their decrease in CR (from 3.5 to PF), give them a single additional class level, bringing their official 'level of threat' back to what it was.
However, make that one a level of Cavalier, thus enabling them to grant Teamwork Feats to one another, and possibly to the Mantis, as well.
Of course, in a group of Grey Maidens, there should be a nice mix of these Feats...

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I made my maidens Fighter (Armor Master)/Inquisitor (Spellbreaker), and yes adjusted all the bad guys that +1 level to accomodate for the CR differences between 3.5 and PF. Of course my party still wiped the floor with them, so maybe I just need to harry them with more and from multiple directions.

Of course, in chapter two when they were in the Temple of Urgathoa in the Vat Room, everyone had been alerted to their presence so all the priests and doctors and Dr. Davaulus and Rolth were there. The PCs open the door, the sorceress casts fireball....then quickens a fireball....then uses a Hero Point (from APG) to cast a third fireball in the same round....and all my priests were gone. And the Paladin hadn't even begun to smite stuff yet. It was pretty silly.

I'm thinking that beginning of chapter 3 here, I'm going to put an extra Red Mantis or two in the ambush. We'll see how the first round or two goes.

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