DMing high-difficulty campaigns


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


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My players have always considered me a benevolent DM. With hero points and ingame hints to spare, I tend to go easy on my players.
However, for this next adventure, the gloves are coming off. I've told the players this is going to be a hardcore campaign with a constant threat of danger and death. As such, they've prepared high powered characters and have their best game faces on.

Does anyone have any tips for DMing this kind of adventure? Any sadistic encounters or trap ideas? I'm interested to hear what the rest of the community has seen/used.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

There are books aplenty for nasty traps, go google a copy of Grimtooth's and watch your TPK score go off the roof!. Tomb of Horrors is another guaranteed way to kill off your players, now that you've put them off your guard by being "easy".


Conflicting objectives, three faction fights, and environmental elements are all good factors. Party conflict from say a monster that might be redeemable while under a time constraint that makes just killing it a more efficient idea can be awesome. Environmental factors are great. I ran a fight with planar rents that forced PCs to move toward them if they failed saves and crushed them if they hit center point. All while fighting elemental guardians. As a shameless plug I would recommend Cumulative Spell from our feats product Transcedent 10-Feats of Offense: Spellcasting & Metamagic which increases save DCs as groups or boomers cast the same spell repeatedly.


Those are some fantastic ideas. I'm a big fan of altering rules for monsters, even taking fourth edition powers and abilities and sticking them on bad guys to spice things up.
I'm a bit wary about traps though. I don't want someone to feel cheated when the rogue forgets to check the door and someone explodes from a maximized destruction trap or something.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I like throwing in the occasional monster that is FAR beyond the party's abilities to vanquish. Like, OBVIOUSLY beyond. Like a pit fiend or a wyrm dragon. Something that they absolutely cannot fight their way out of - so they have to talk their way out, or run, or get creative. I call it the "Oh, s**t! Factor" and it adds some fantastic ROLE play instead of roll play.


I second the nomination for Grimtooth. Grimtooth makes tomb of horrors look like wonkaland.


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My personal Favorite right now is using the Race Builder to create a Monster. If you use the race builder to create the basics you can use the Creature Types & Sub-Types as if they are Classes to generate some pretty powerful encounters.

Then figure out the CR and generate the rest from there.


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Spastic Puma wrote:

My players have always considered me a benevolent DM. With hero points and ingame hints to spare, I tend to go easy on my players.

However, for this next adventure, the gloves are coming off. I've told the players this is going to be a hardcore campaign with a constant threat of danger and death. As such, they've prepared high powered characters and have their best game faces on.

Does anyone have any tips for DMing this kind of adventure? Any sadistic encounters or trap ideas? I'm interested to hear what the rest of the community has seen/used.

I have some of Turin the Mad's(a poster here) creations in my wishlist. Eventually I will give them their own area. He has a talent for creating some really tough monsters, and if you need inspiration check the campaign journal written by Killer GM. Here is the link for him running Age of Worms.

Liberty's Edge

A time limit and many, many encounters in a single day works well. Increased CRs of creatures does not work as well as increasing numbers. Calculating SR and AC to approximately 50% chances of warking should do best.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Of course everything has been said all in fun here but keep the following in mind.

If you're looking to change things up, develop a focused goal and keep it in mind.

Know your players, they may not be as prepared for the "gloves off" approach as they let on.


I'd add rival adventurers to all of the recommendations above, but especially keep the pressure on time-wise.

Also, have the BBEG & their minions be proactive instead of just reactive once they figure out the PCs are after them. Make sure the PCs have weaknesses and, if they don't, engineer some. Kidnapping, blackmail and Trap the Soul are all interesting ways to try to get leverage on PCs through their loved ones or contacts. Denial of resources and sabotage are also good tactics for a smart BBEG ("we've substituted these annoying meddlers' diamond dust for Folger's Crystal Dust™, let's see what happens when they notice the difference...").

I'll also reiterate some of Lazar's point - most of all though, make sure that the players are still having fun with the greater challenge level. Especially if they are used to Easy Button Mode™.

Also, keep copious amounts of notes.

-TimD


In a HARD adventure, all you have to do is stop favoring the PCs as much. A GM generally will deliberately design encounters to be survivable. Do less of that.

Time pressure. If the party doesn't have a great deal of time to achieve their objective, they can't rely on the 15 minute adventuring day.

In that same vein, you can make getting a good night's rest difficult and dangerous. If the party is in a dungeon, only mindless or animal intelligence monsters would allow them to sit and wait for them to replenish themselves. Attacks at night can really diminish the party's arcane might. Outdoors, if the party has a campfire illuminating their sleeping area, even weak opponents can be more than annoying by using hit and run tactics. One or two volleys of arrows from a couple range increments away (out of sight of darkvision and probably low-light vision as well, given the Perception penalties for range) will force a party to rouse and respond to an enemy that has already withdrawn. This is esp. damaging if some PCs are unarmored at night. Contrariwise, if an enemy force can get within charge range before they are detected, the huge benefits for charging prone flatfooted characters virtually guarantee that at least some of the PCs will have a very bad night. Common defenses such as Rope Trick are not foolproof if there are enemy trackers (the spell can even become a trap for the PCs) and although Secure Shelter (for mid-level parties) is better in some ways, it isn't always practical. Both can be dispelled by magic-casting enemies. Mage's Magnificent Mansion is relatively foolproof, but most PCs are too low a level to use such magics.

Giving lower CR monsters a few PC levels is often scarier than using higher CR monsters. If PCs are deadly, what happens when they run into creatures with PC abilities? For instance, PC enemies who have Ranger levels with favored enemy [PC race].

Most PCs don't use teamwork feats, as they require multiple PCs to adjust their individual builds to get any benefit. So they are primarily GM tools for pack or mob monsters, but they are excellent in that role. As an example, worgs are 4 HD monsters with two feats and the suggested feats in the Bestiary are Run and Skill Focus: Perception. However, those are sorta wasted feats, esp. the Skill Focus one (they've already got Scent, which gives them a +8 to Perception within 30 feet that isn't even added into their score). If you instead give them any two of the following teamwork feats, suddenly that pack is a LOT nastier: Coordinated Maneuvers, Escape Route (can be used offensively to move into flanking position), Precise Strike, and Tandem Trip. Advanced worgs with 5+ HD (or any other pack monster) could benefit big from Outflank. Of course, the same sort of tactics might be used by a gang of rogues (bandits, thieves' guild, etc.).

Poison. It's in the book for a reason.

Incorporeal undead (remember they can attack from surprise by coming up through the ground/floor).

Enemies with Exotic Weapon Proficiency: net.

Usable magic stuff (wands with a few charges of Scorching Ray or Acid Arrow) that can and will be used against the party.

Alchemist's Fire works on PCs too (and makes decent treasure if the PCs manage to take down the owners before it can be used).

[This one can easily be overdone, as it can become too frustrating for the players, but in a HARD adventure...] Enemies who are experts at one or more of the various combat maneuvers can really mess with a PC, esp. if that PC is not one of those with a high CMD. For extra pain, a Silence spell cast in conjunction with a grapple attack will shut down the vast majority of casters. Note: once used by the GM, this tactic will be used by PCs, assuming they aren't doing so already.


Incorporeal undead, absolutely. These are always horrific encounters for my groups. Incorporeal undead don't make any sound if they don't want to, and they can glide through floors -- they can even move fully through walls and objects if they're small enough. So not only can they approach the party for an ambush, but they can also make blind strikes at the players, only being hittable through readied actions.

The Shadow is particularly nasty due to wall-to-wall fighting. It can start a turn in a wall, Fly-by Attack a PC, and end up in a wall. It might even be able to reach a higher level of the dungeon before the PCs if they turn back and start fleeing.

It suddenly occurs to me that a ghost with a polearm could sit inside a wall and hack at the PCs with very little personal threat. Can an incorporeal weapon be sundered? Does it still have Hardness? That sounds nearly impossible to destroy for a group that's not very well prepared.


When running my last AP, I was reworking NPC statblocks and came across the original Dread Zombie template. The brain eating ability is a little neat, sure -- but the ability I really like is that it has Unnatural Aura, which cause Animals to become Panicked until they're at least 30 feet away. Fantastic ability for use against druids whose animal companions are nearly as effective as another player character ...

Whenever you have Undead, consider switching out Blind-Fight. They have it pretty frequently, but it's often not terribly useful since they already have Darkvision. But then, maybe I'm supposed to have been running undead in banks of thick fog all this time ...

If you come across a creature with Flash of Insight, give them a Scythe. There isn't much scarier than telling a player "I think I'm going to automatically hit on this attack. Now I just need to confirm the critical."


That's wouldn't work against an animal companion as the animal companion is no longer a normal animal once bonded with a druid/ranger/cavalier whatever.

Normal animals wont attack normal undead anyway, they stay away from most unnatural/supernatural stuff. They are just animals.

Even a familiar becomes a magical animal.

Where would this ghost get that pole arm from? It would have to have the ghost touch ability for him to use it.

Can a PC hold a door as large as a wall and hide behind it, allowing another PC to attack indiscriminately past it with a pole arm?

No it just counts as cover.

So a ghost "inside" a wall could still be attacked.

Depending on the hardness of that wall, the PC could attack past the hardness and hit the creature inside.

What's the thickness of that wall? The ghost can't SEE through the wall. the wall is not incorporeal, HE is.

So unless his eyes are on the PCs side he's blind.

Blind fighting might work, but what senses is he using for blind fighting? None. he's not in the room. I would rule it would not work.

Your trying to cheese the incorporealness too much me thinks.


That's why advanced/evolved incorporeal undead with Blindsight or Lifesight are so deadly. Ghosts who were Necromancers in life get it for free, assuming they were 8th level or better.


by the time you are fighting something like that, you can dimension door and leave, then come back with a strategy.


Mike Shel dungeons or use Runeforge from ROTRL to do some horrible stuff to your PC's.

Mine is always dispel magic, followed up by scout-style rogues who skirmish sneak attack like nobody's business.


Hmm... Has anyone mentioned Tucker's Kobolds? or J.T.'s Bloody Goblins?

Yes, the last one is something my players came up with after they challenged me to kill their Optimized PCs with weak enemies.

Level 20 characters taken down by Warrior 1 Goblins... Priceless.

The Exchange

I always found attacking the party in waves to be quite effective. Give them enough time to commit to one area then have re enforcements arrive from another direction.

This tends to upset casters I particular as they often carefully place themselves out of reach, only to find they're now vulnerable from the new line of attack.

Lots of enemies at lower CR is often more challenging than one or two equal CR critters. This is particularly true after level 10.

The other thing that challenges players is using their own tactics against them. Having fights against truly intelligent and well prepared groups is quite scary.

Have enemies that track them rather than just engage instantly. This allows the bad guys to attack when it is least convenient for your party, rather than the other way around.

Cheers.


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Hiya.

I difficulty? Move away from letting their characters decide the outcome of situations via all their whiz-bang uber feats, items and spells....and place more decisions firmly on the shoulders of the players.

Don't let them get away with "Huh...well...roll roll...with my Knowledge : Arcana, I have a 27, so how does this magic item work?". Reply to that with, "A 27...you get a hint; the item is used in some sort of movement or travel based capacity". (e.g., don't say "its a ring of flying").

This is one of the things that makes BECMI/1e/2e play significantly different from 3.x/PF/4e. Success and failure was more often than not dependent on player ability and experience. Players had to earn their keep, so to speak. Some say that a door that says "This door can only be bypassed by a Cone of Cold, Ice Storm or Otilukes Freezing Sphere spell" were "arbitrary and dumb". What things like that did was to force players to think outside the box, and use the vast resources they have available to them. Divination spells, Augury, Contact Other Plane, Commune, or even such 'mundane' solutions like consulting a sage on the area/dungeon, hitting the library to delve into what the supposed builder of the dungeon was like (e.g., did he favor poison traps? shifting/falling stone? magic guardians? fire spells? illusions? ...ice spells...? ;) ).

Anyway, you could make it more difficult by making your players thing and work for their victories...or you could go the more mundane rout and just up the numbers of everything (which, imho, won't solve anything nor give you or your players and sense of 'more difficult'...just 'more/higher numbers'). If you want to do the numbers thing...I'd suggest tossing in encounters that will * obviously TPK EVERYONE* every now and then. Seriously. Don't make it an unavoidable surprise, but place them in locations where the PCs would really like to go to/through. Like, a mated pair of big-ass dragons that block a mountain pass. The other side of the pass is where the PC's need to get to in 2 days...and the pass is the "only way" to do it in that time. The players will "know" they will die if they try and fight the dragons...so this forces them to be creative and think about how to overcome it. Thinking is hard, apparently, so this situation will be seen as "difficult". How do they get past the dragons? I have no idea...that's not my problem as DM...that's the players problem. Let them figure it out. Maybe they'll surprise you... :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming


Zog of Deadwood wrote:
Giving lower CR monsters a few PC levels is often scarier than using higher CR monsters. If PCs are deadly, what happens when they run into creatures with PC abilities? For instance, PC enemies who have Ranger levels with favored enemy [PC race].

I can vouch for that. Running a Gestalt campaign right now and found myself scrounging for ways to up the CR of encounters without just going "Well they have double the HP and a 4 higher AC because reasons".

Suddenly, level 1 Skeleton Fighter/Barbarians! PC class levels instantly makes things more deadly, and IMO interesting. NPC classes and "classless" monsters are only fun up to a point, and I see no reason why anything even vaguely humanoid that's supposed to pose a challenge shouldn't have at least a level of Fighter to up the challenge a bit.

Zog of Deadwood wrote:
[This one can easily be overdone, as it can become too frustrating for the players, but in a HARD adventure...] Enemies who are experts at one or more of the various combat maneuvers can really mess with a PC, esp. if that PC is not one of those with a high CMD. For extra pain, a Silence spell cast in conjunction with a grapple attack will shut down the vast majority of casters. Note: once used by the GM, this tactic will be used by PCs, assuming they aren't doing so already.

Also this. I decided to fiddle around with some NPCs and made Gibs Hephenus (Carrion Crown) into an Unarmed Fighter/Maneuver Master and gave him the Jawbreaker/Bonebreaker/Neckbreaker line of Feats. Not sure if that's 100% legal (never exactly been clear on skill ranks vs skill bonuses being used for Feats, we generally houserule that the whole bonus applies because it rarely breaks anything...so this may be one of the few times) with a focus on Grapples.

Ran a practice round and immediately decided that particular build needed to be shelved until a later date.

Second Seekers (Luwazi Elsbo)

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Starfinder Superscriber

There are a ton of really good suggestions on this thread. I've been running games primarily for optimizers and powergamers for seven or eight years now, and basically everything up there has happened in my games somewhere. If you look closely, you'll see that most of the advice here boils down to "make them make hard decisions".

When a game is on "easy mode", you can end up with a situation where the "conflicts" are simply set dressing for your players to show off how awesome they are. That's fine, and since my players are pretty awesome, I like them to be able to show off. However, years of running Exalted back before I picked up 3.5/PF/4e taught me that you can make a game REALLY challenging by assuming your PCs will succeed at anything they try.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the way it works is that you always bring back the repercussions of what they've done. Pathfinder, like Exalted, always has someone bigger than the PCs out there that likely doesn't much care for having their plans interrupted. Make sure that there's always at least a couple of those people. That'll do a couple of things. First, it'll mean that if they kill/defeat/enslave/convert one, the rest are still out there. Second, it'll mean there's more bad stuff happening than they can deal with right now.

First level example:
The local goblins have cut off the main trade route into the village, your sister and her friends have gone missing while exploring the abandoned mine, and the Mayor came back from the capital with a strange new advisor.

Fifth level example:
An orc army is marching on the Barony the PCs live in, spies from the kingdom next door (that has always coveted the rich lands/mines/ley lines/whatever) have infiltrated the government/military/church, and that glowing sword you picked up is giving the paladin stronger and stronger visions.

Tenth level example:
A reborn madman from ages past has awakened an ancient evil relic, but the King is in a coma after being attacked by unknown assassins, and a pair of dragons has taken over the main trade route.

Fifteenth level example:
Karzoug, Tar-Baphon, and Nyrissa. Aaaand GO!

What this does is force them to make the hard decision to prioritize one thing over another. I assume that because they're really good at what they do, that they could easily deal with one of those things at a time, and two wouldn't really be too tough either, but if all three are going at once, it's much more difficult. They'll still be able to fix whichever problem they choose to focus on, but the trick then becomes how they choose to mitigate the fallout from possibly doing the other two less well than they had hoped.

At the level of encounter design, it works the same way. A larger number of relatively small monsters produces the same effect, but on a battlefield scale, especially if you use a variety of monsters. 4e was really good at this with their monster roles, but basically make sure that not all the monsters are attacking the same place, the same way, at the same time, and you're in great shape.

It might begin to stretch credulity for some people (how come bad stuff keeps happening at the same time as all the other bad stuff?!) but the way I see it, you didn't sit down to play a random slice of time with a random group of characters. You sat down to play the most interesting time in the lives of the most interesting people on Golarion. (Hint: your players' characters are ALWAYS the most interesting characters in the world you're playing in.) Make that true however you need to.

Second Seekers (Luwazi Elsbo)

Starfinder Superscriber

Oh yeah, and pming make a great point when he says it's not his problem to figure out solutions to many of these situations. The best Shadowrun GM I ever played with explained his method to me once.

"I come up with a really cool location/character/technology, then put the kind of security on it that would be appropriate given how cool that thing is. I figure you guys will find a way in somehow - that's not my problem."

It's a very "old school" way to look at things, and I think that given the right format, it works just as well in modern gaming. Your PCs have an amazing set of tools at their disposal, most of them just don't know it.

As wraithstrike pointed out, Turin the Mad is definitely a person I always look out for on these boards. That guy takes "hard mode" to the next level.

Addendum to my previous post - On time limits:

Time limits are great. They really amp up the pressure, and force your players to make resource management decisions. One of the most important things to keep in mind though, is to not make all of the time limits come due at the same time. That will feel like you're trying to screw them, which you're not. Make sure that some of the bad stuff they have to deal with is happening slowly while some other stuff is happening more quickly. You can use this to either highlight OR obscure the "true" importance of the bad stuff.

To zoom in a little further, to encourage resource management decisions within a dungeon, you have a a number of tools. There's the "hard" time limit - if we don't stop the wizard from opening the seal, all is lost! There's the "dungeon reset" - as long as the portal remains open to the .gif-Yankee homeworld, the dungeon refills with baseball-playing cats endlessly! You can use one of my favorites, the "retaliatory strike" - come down here and beat up half of my dungeon, will ya, I'll show you a thing or two! And finally, the bad guy could just get up and go find a different dungeon that doesn't have any adventurers tearing it apart for fifteen minutes every day. Again, lots of relatively low level encounters compared to a few really big ones is a good idea here.

When it gets to the level of encounter design, there are some really interesting ways to make things hard. If the bad guys are trying to finish something that the PCs don't want finished, and they're really close to pulling it off, that's hard for the PCs. You can also have the bad guys come in waves. This is particularly effective if they also come from different directions. This is hard because anything that lasts rounds per level is getting used up and anything that targeted the old monsters isn't necessarily targeting the new ones. Do we try to kill all the new monsters before our minute-long buffs drop and not worry about our round-long buffs, or do we recast the round-long ones? Do we bother fighting the reinforcements, or do we run away from/past them?

Finally, be sure to occasionally create situations where doing sufficient damage doesn't win the fight. In 4e, I ran a high-level game where a Demon Prince was trying to kill the God of Death and usurp her throne. He ended up succeeding, but only minutes before the PCs got there. The plot device he used to kill the god was still there - which he needed because you can't normally kill gods in that setting - but the PCs ignored it and just did a bunch of damage to him. Well, since he was now a god, he didn't die when he ran out of hp, he just went *poof* and laughed as his horrible undead minions took over every part of the multiverse. The players knew that plot devices are the only thing that can kill gods because they had been trying to stop him making it, and they knew he was now the God of Death since the previous god's minions were obeying him. They simply chose that moment to prove to me how much damage they could do to a divine enemy, and it ended up very poorly for them.


Why is it that Pathfinder always has someone more powerful than the Pc's out there?

Doesn't have to be that way to make things difficult.

In fact, I'd argue it shouldn't be that way.

Sure, a dark cleric heading a cult, an evil wizard or two, the leader of the thieves guild. but not so much that they are in your PC's faces. Thats what goblins, trolls, giants, hags and dragons are for.

I see more and more (and more) GMs cooking up PCs builds as NPCs to fight the PCs. But then see all these people jumping up and down about how GMPCs are bad....

So if your build is a friend to the PCs thats bad Gming, but if you have dozens of bad guys out there ALL with PCs powers an abilities (all for the sole purpose to amuse yourself on making 'builds) you don't think you've outshone the PCs?

Once you do that, then you have to christmas tree them up with magical goodies to make them even seem like they have a chance.

Want to make things tough, lay off everything, super power NPCs, Magic Item Spam, the whole nine yards. If the fate of the PCs rests solely on the PCs (and they don't have 100 NPCs to run to to get raise dead scrolls or crafted magic items) then all of the sudden the difficulty has gone way up.


Pendagast wrote:
Why is it that Pathfinder always has someone more powerful than the Pc's out there?

They don't have to be more powerful than the players, but they have to be at least a speedbump or combat is boring.

That CR 1/2 skeleton with one level of Fighter is not in any way more powerful than a player, but he is significantly more dangerous than that CR 1/2 Skeleton without the level of Fighter.

A level 7 party shouldn't be overwhelmed by a guy with 5 levels in a PC class. Hell, there's OFFICIAL NPCs with more levels than the party from the start, like that level 3-4 Alchemist that runs the Apothecary in Carrion Crown. And the level 8 (Something like Fighter 4/Warrior 4 I think) at the moneylenders. So why wouldn't some of the enemies at least approach the power of the guards in a small no-name (at this point) town?


what im saying is dont do it, it creates power creep,

The apothecary could be an alchemist or a witch, orrrr an adept.

I'm not saying dont have any PC classes, just make them and magic in general much more rare and the campaign instantly becomes high difficulty.

Can't get NPCs to craft, magic is much rarer, if you find it you just might want to keep it...etc etc. If you take away custom magic in general, with few exceptions, the PCs suddenly fizzle in a world you have suddenly populated with all your PC classed NPCs. Os in order to bring focus back on PCs as special, then there has to be less PC classed NPCs.

The few that are, would be isolated, the evil necromancer in his tower, the high cleric at the bottom of the dungeon etc etc. Not the guy you get in a bar room brawl with at the INN.

Any NPC that does have Pc levels shouldnt be thought out or optimized... their feats should be a little newbie, and even scattered.

Once youve accomplished this, it's easy for PCs to be bad azz's with 15 PB or even 10!

The whole combination makes for a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.


I don't see how weakening NPCs, especially enemy NPCs, and making PCs more bad ass leads to a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.

I get that losing easy access to the "Magic Shop" weakens PCs, but that doesn't require taking PC cless levels away from monsters or other NPCs.


Eh, not my style really. The characters are fairly unoptimized (they're all built around flavor rather than optimization) but I don't like NPC classes for anyone who's supposed to be prominent in the game.

And I like magic to be pretty common overall, never been a huge fan of low magic stories unless they're done exceptionally well and I'm frankly not that good at this point.

The PCs are special because they're higher level and better optimized, plus they have better gear. I just don't think an Alchemist 3/Expert 2 character is stepping on the toes of a 6th level Barbarian. And it never made sense to me that absolutely every person with a PC class is supposed to be an adventurer? Shouldn't that be the exception to the rule for Wizards and Alchemists, and likely Rogues as well? And especially Clerics, since their entire POINT is to be devoting their lives to their god or goddess, not traipsing about crumbling ruins.

Warrior is an okay class, but why does every Fighter have to be an adventurer instead of a bodyguard? Hell, given the right Feats it'll be obvious your Barbarian or Fighter was obviously a gladiator at some point, not an adventurer.

I'm not saying the 16th level retired Barbarian is going to be hopping out of the tavern to kill the mass murdering Wizard, but that village healer has a pretty solid chance of being a 3rd level Chirurgeon and the village tough probably has at least one level of Brawler or Unarmed Fighter.


thejeff wrote:

I don't see how weakening NPCs, especially enemy NPCs, and making PCs more bad ass leads to a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.

I get that losing easy access to the "Magic Shop" weakens PCs, but that doesn't require taking PC cless levels away from monsters or other NPCs.

you consider 10 PB and 15 PB with less magic customization/gear making the PCs MORE bad ass?


Pendagast wrote:
thejeff wrote:

I don't see how weakening NPCs, especially enemy NPCs, and making PCs more bad ass leads to a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.

I get that losing easy access to the "Magic Shop" weakens PCs, but that doesn't require taking PC cless levels away from monsters or other NPCs.

you consider 10 PB and 15 PB with less magic customization/gear making the PCs MORE bad ass?

I was referencing this "it's easy for PCs to be bad azz's with 15 PB or even 10!"

Weaken the PCs, but weaken the NPCs more the PCs are bad ass, isn't that what you meant?
What does that have to do with a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign?


Pendagast wrote:
thejeff wrote:

I don't see how weakening NPCs, especially enemy NPCs, and making PCs more bad ass leads to a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.

I get that losing easy access to the "Magic Shop" weakens PCs, but that doesn't require taking PC cless levels away from monsters or other NPCs.

you consider 10 PB and 15 PB with less magic customization/gear making the PCs MORE bad ass?

Badass is relative to what you are surrounded by. A 10 pb wizard is a huge badass next to an adept. He could wipe the floor with him. even with crappy gear, its no contest.

A 10pb wizard versus a 20 pb wizard is much closer.


thejeff wrote:
Pendagast wrote:
thejeff wrote:

I don't see how weakening NPCs, especially enemy NPCs, and making PCs more bad ass leads to a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign.

I get that losing easy access to the "Magic Shop" weakens PCs, but that doesn't require taking PC cless levels away from monsters or other NPCs.

you consider 10 PB and 15 PB with less magic customization/gear making the PCs MORE bad ass?

I was referencing this "it's easy for PCs to be bad azz's with 15 PB or even 10!"

Weaken the PCs, but weaken the NPCs more the PCs are bad ass, isn't that what you meant?
What does that have to do with a more challenging, higher difficulty campaign?

PCs can do less, the chasm they need to jump is still as far. goblins, wolves, printed monsters are still the same. all you have done is mitigate the power creep that has come into the game over the years and put it back to square one where it is supposed to be.

PCs feel the need to have 25 point stat buys and christmas trees ornaments to keep up with the jones's. The jones;s are all those "cool" NPCs everyone has populated the world yet.

PCs can feel (and be) powerful an unique while lower the power levels around them.

Goblins and Orcs stay relevant longer, there will be some traps that maybe they just can't defeat, they will have to choose between feats that make their character better and crafting feats, because NPCs that can do that are few and far between, and no one in this town has heard of them.

The npcs are supposed to be back ground to main adventurers not the things they compete with.


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GMing high level campaigns is like any other kind of activity. If you never do it, you'll seldom be great at it, and the more you practice the better you'll get!


Back on topic. Goblins with puddings or oozes in glass containers, no worries about high AC players when you are aiming at the AC 5 square the PC is standing in.


rchmage wrote:
Back on topic. Goblins with puddings or oozes in glass containers, no worries about high AC players when you are aiming at the AC 5 square the PC is standing in.

By that logic, just make every enemy a swarm.


Pendagast wrote:

That's wouldn't work against an animal companion as the animal companion is no longer a normal animal once bonded with a druid/ranger/cavalier whatever.

Normal animals wont attack normal undead anyway, they stay away from most unnatural/supernatural stuff. They are just animals.

Even a familiar becomes a magical animal.

Some people will say it's a moot point. It was lifted from Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary and transplanted to an AP without the Unnatural Aura. Maybe that could be taken as a judgement.

Still, if it's in use ... even a familiar becomes a Magical Beast. Alright, so a familiar would not be an affected. However, an animal companion doesn't. An animal companion was an Animal, and is an Animal, and doesn't become anything but an Animal. You can even increase an animal companion's Intelligence to 3 and higher and they will stay an Animal. Nothing in animal companions suggests that they would be immune to Unnatural Aura, and nothing in Unnatural Aura suggests animal companions would be immune to it. Always being considered an Animal is great for an AC since they can benefit from spells that target Animals -- but this is one tradeoff they make for it.

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Where would this ghost get that pole arm from? It would have to have the ghost touch ability for him to use it.

If a ghost dies with a polearm, then the ghostly form can manifest with the equipment. They typically cannot acquire new equipment (since it's not ethereal), and they can lose their equipment if it is removed from the body. Check the Bestiary for more information.

As a GM, I would probably require decent justification for a ghost to find new equipment they find, even if they can use it. But then again, if I'm a GM, I can write up a ghost that already died with a magical polearm.

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Can a PC hold a door as large as a wall and hide behind it, allowing another PC to attack indiscriminately past it with a pole arm?

No it just counts as cover.

I don't see how a PC trying to attack a creature on the other side of a door is related to this.

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So a ghost "inside" a wall could still be attacked.

A wall blocks line of effect for a typical creature. You can't attack a creature inside a wall anymore than you can reach through a wall to grab a glass of water. Incorporeal creatures do not have the same limitations.

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Depending on the hardness of that wall, the PC could attack past the hardness and hit the creature inside.

What's the thickness of that wall? The ghost can't SEE through the wall. the wall is not incorporeal, HE is.

You are ... technically right. I emphasize the technically.

Ranged attacks against objects deal half damage. Energy attacks deal half damage. After determining the base damage, you subtract Hardness. Further, a DM is advised of the following:

"CRB, p. 174 wrote:


Ineffective Weapons: Certain weapons just can’t effectively
deal damage to certain objects. For example, a bludgeoning
weapon cannot be used to damage a rope. Likewise, most
melee weapons have little effect on stone walls and doors,
unless they are designed for breaking up stone, such as a
pick or hammer.

So against a typical stone wall, your ranged weapon needs to deal at least 18 damage to result in 1 damage to a wall. Your energy attack needs to deal at least 18 damage to result in 1 damage to a wall. If you use a melee weapon, it needs to be of a kind the DM isn't going to reduce in damage because it's not designed for breaking up stone. Then 'all' you need to do is deal perhaps 90 damage.

It is at this point we should consider that when the players have finally broken through, then if the ghost is fighting to win, it will leave its exposed square and move to one that isn't.

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So unless his eyes are on the PCs side he's blind.

Blind fighting might work, but what senses is he using for blind fighting? None. he's not in the room. I would rule it would not work.

Yes, he is blind.

Refer to Incorporeal in the Bestiary (Note: There are two different sections regarding this, read both). You can sit entirely in the wall, benefiting from Total Cover. You can sense the presence of adjacent creatures, but you cannot see them, and have a 50% miss chance. You must emerge to actually make the attacks; when you do so you only have Cover, but creatures are limited to Readied actions to strike you.

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Your trying to cheese the incorporealness too much me thinks.

I've cited my sources. You are free to read them yourself and try to point out flaws, but I stand by my statement that incorporeal creatures are especially effective for a GM trying to bring a challenge to his players.

I'll take this time to throw another vote toward creatures with Earthglide. If your players are particularly difficult to ambush, Earthglide is great; although even burrowing creatures normally grant a Perception check in Pathfinder, Earthglide is an exception. You can swim through earth without creating any ripple or sign of your presence.


Though it is cheesing once we get to the point of attacking through a wall with an ethereal polearm so you aren't exposed to danger. Especially since, as far as I can tell, to Sunder the polearm would require an enchanted weapon or magical attack, that would deal half damage due to incorporeality, then possibly be divided due to Hardness rules, and then reduced by the actual Hardness value.

The rest of it is just the rules in the book.


If you can get your hands on a copy of 'City of the spider queen' that would give you some great ideas. The author even tells you what he intended in the front, npc's and monsters used as PC's using PC tactics.

Just read his points and look at how he sets up his encounters and add/change for your campaign and if you add in Grimtooths as others have said = very worried players.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
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Not sure if that's 100% legal (never exactly been clear on skill ranks vs skill bonuses being used for Feats, we generally houserule that the whole bonus applies because it rarely breaks anything...so this may be one of the few times)

To be clear, this is not legal. Feat requirements specifically require x number of RANKS in a skill, not a total bonus. A feat with a requirement of 12 ranks in a skill means it shouldn't be available until the character has at least 12 levels / HD. Just getting a +12 total bonus to a skill is a fairly short reach for a first level character.

Which is not to say that you can't houserule it as you fit, but it's definitely not RAW/RAI.


As a matter of fact, skill ranks is one of the strictest requirements that character options may have.

It's not as big a deal in Pathfinder as it was in 3.5, since Pathfinder runs more on Archetypes than Prestige Classes. But in 3.5, when you often desperately wanted to get into PrCs as soon as possible and the developers were basically incapable of predicting what path you might take to accomplish that, skill ranks were just about the only way they could guarantee you didn't get into a PrC early by a loophole. You might have a high caster level earlier than your character level -- you might get enormous ability scores -- you might get feats through class features before you could qualify and select them normally, but skill ranks are capped by level.

A constant struggle with some players trying to loophole their way in early, which is probably why some DMs like "Special" requirements that they alone control.


Father Dagon wrote:

To be clear, this is not legal. Feat requirements specifically require x number of RANKS in a skill, not a total bonus. A feat with a requirement of 12 ranks in a skill means it shouldn't be available until the character has at least 12 levels / HD. Just getting a +12 total bonus to a skill is a fairly short reach for a first level character.

Which is not to say that you can't houserule it as you fit, but it's definitely not RAW/RAI.

Ah, thank you.

Think I'll leave that houserule in and just vet on a case-by-case basis. It seems stupid for a lot of Feats and some PrCs to be limited by something that is impossible to work around, especially considering they're kinda level locked by other requirements anyway.

The whole Neckbreaker by level 4 thing does seem a bit much, but then again not being able to get it until level 12 makes it very, very meh in my opinion, since it relies on grappling.


Just keep in mind that challenging, frustrating, and annoying can often be separated by a very fine line.

The key is to encourage the PC's to be clever and resourceful, without simply placing arbitrary restrictions or forcing overly difficult situations. Don't deny players the use of their characters abilities, but rather try to put them into situations that require those very abilities for success. If you are going to limit the characters in ways that diverge from the standard expectations (such as WBL or access to markets) let the players know in advance. I highly recommend limiting the PCs shopping to individual small markets and shops rather then just flipping open the book and getting whatever, where ever.

Remember that when things are difficult, the characters will often fail. Be ready for the story to take that into account. Try to put the PCs into situations that might require multiple attempts, rather then save-the-world scenarios.

One final thought: Many people play RPGs for an escape from the daily grind, and a taste of victory. Consider dialing back the difficulty a little if players had a bad day, and watch out for signs of frustration. Often the solution can be as simple as a ten minute break and a little pizza or drinks.


Troubleshooter wrote:

Though it is cheesing once we get to the point of attacking through a wall with an ethereal polearm so you aren't exposed to danger. Especially since, as far as I can tell, to Sunder the polearm would require an enchanted weapon or magical attack, that would deal half damage due to incorporeality, then possibly be divided due to Hardness rules, and then reduced by the actual Hardness value.

The rest of it is just the rules in the book.

ghost would need spring attack then.

He emerges to attack, yes they need readied action to attack him THAT turn.but his emerge is a move, his attack is an attack, he is done. Next turn he's exposed. Channel energy/turn.

He would need to come out, and back,

Unless you are counting the emergence as a 5 foot step, the attack and then a move back in.

But then the ghost is limited to a single attack.

This would also depend on the size of the hallway, party could just leave said hallway, unless you have constructed some way to trap them in.

But since many party members aren't being able to hit him or effect them, they could be working on the trap to get out.

also, the next turn, after "one trick wonder the ghost" keeps doing this, most parties are going to catch on to this.... you might need more than one baddie and possibly more than one ghost to be totally effective... but then this just goes back to cheese.


Wow! This thread has been a great help. Thanks everyone's who's contributed so far. I plan on implementing several of these strategies. The Tucker's Kobold thing was a pretty fantastic read, also.


Just requiring bigger rolls to win is not necessarily the only or best way to make things harder.

It's entirely possible to have a hard campaign that has easy fights.

Make the player decisions matter deeply and have consequences. It helps if you remove alignment so that ambiguity can come into play more readily. Do the players help this noble reclaim some land, or defend the claim of the common folk? If they help one side or the other, there will always be negative consequences of some kind and they must weigh the benefits and their own morality regarding the situation.


Umbral Reaver wrote:

Just requiring bigger rolls to win is not necessarily the only or best way to make things harder.

It's entirely possible to have a hard campaign that has easy fights.

Make the player decisions matter deeply and have consequences. It helps if you remove alignment so that ambiguity can come into play more readily. Do the players help this noble reclaim some land, or defend the claim of the common folk? If they help one side or the other, there will always be negative consequences of some kind and they must weigh the benefits and their own morality regarding the situation.

another way to handle that without removing alignment (although the mechanic isn't necessary) is to just house rule no paladins or alignment detecting/knowing magic.

But I can see where alignment is almost (nah it is) meta gaming, because instead of roleplaying a character, they role play a predetermined alignment.

I played CoT with no alignments, well sort of, the players didnt get to pick their alignments, I assigned them to the characters by level 5 (but didnt tell them what they were)
there was a certain text or color on a scroll that showed a different color depending on what alignment you were. One of the halflings in the party was Neutral evil and could read something no one else could see. IT killed people trying to figure it out, they never got it, because the party never knew the halfling was evil.

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