Energy Drain is Broken


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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I just got ganked by 3 spectres in the "Vaults of Madness" adventure path, and as I sit here thinking about how the encounter went down, I'm pretty upset.

These things are CR7 individually, so on paper it's feasible that an APL 10 group should handle them, but their touch attacks and energy drain make them BROKEN. They attack at a +10 (to touch) and automatically do 2 levels of energy drain with no save. My fighter had a 14 Touch AC (tied for the highest in the party), and anyone other than a monk is going to have trouble getting out of that ballpark. That means these things are going to have a really solid chance of hitting (80% BEST case for our party), and with ten hit dice, we need to suffer only five hits to straight up die (with a D).

In this particular encounter, the spectres waited in the walls so that they could 5-foot-step out and get a surprise round. The things have a 14 intelligence, so it makes sense that they would all attack the same person (in order to kill him). That's a likely 6 negative levels. Then these things are probably going to go ahead of many PC's because of their +7 to initiative.

Have another 6 negative levels and die.

My issues are these: Death Ward is a level 4-5 spell depending on class, and even it only smothers the penalties for negative levels. If your negative levels reach your HD, you still die. Couple that with the fact that a ghost touch weapon is a frivolous investment in most campaigns (8,000 gp is a lot of money to spend for a weapon you may never need), and you're dealing with an incorporeal creature sporting (effectively) 104 HP.

I get that these things have sunlight powerlessness, but it's just incredibly frustrating that the VoM adventure path would put three of them in a room in an ambush situation and expect someone not to die.

Have you guys had similar experiences with energy drain and incorporeal creatures? Thoughts?


I don't know anything about VoM but my suggestion is to run :P

That or pack holy water, plus, don't forget mage armor stacks against touch attacks from incorporeals (can mage armor be cast on others or is it just on the caster himself?).


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They're not broken. You got killed that's all. That is supposed to happen sometimes.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

First, my condolences about your dead Fighter! Three ambushing spectres are indeed a nasty encounter. I'm sure that it will be a noble entry in the relevant Obituary thread.

My advice in such a situation: run away as fast as possible, get rid of those negative levels, prepare properly with the information that you now have, and try again.

Looking at Fighter characters in general ...

Admittedly, there's not a lot of class features which are helpful here. On the other hand, it is precisely for those reasons that I have always considered the Ghost Touch abilities to be the best (first) additional enchantments for both armour/shields and weapons. It is particularly expensive in the case of armour/shields - but your recent situation also illustrates why it's so important.

If Ghost Touch armour is currently beyond your character's means, then invest in Bracers of Armour for just such unpleasant occasions (or grab the discards when the party Wizard gets a better pair). Alternatively, persuade the Sorcerer/Wizard to cast Mage Armour (10 hours at L 10) on you as a pre-emptive measure. At L 10, the Wizard's got to have a measly L 1 spell to spare for his meat-shield's defence.

Looking at a party in general ...

Even with an assumed point-buy of 15 for an AP, I find it slightly mind-boggling that no one in a L 10 party can muster a touch AC better than 14 during a normal combat round. (An ambush situation which negates the Dex and dodge bonuses for the first (surprise) round is indeed nasty.)

The Mage Armour spell gives an armour bonus, something which normally does not improve a character's touch AC - but as a force effect it does work against incorporeal touch attacks. Bracers of Armour should also work in this case for the same reason.

Ditto for the Shield spell, although it might not have been cast just prior to the ambush (and is restricted to caster-only).

Other options: Ring of Protection/Deflection or Shield of Faith spell, Uncanny Dodge class feature, special Monk AC, Paladin's Smite Evil AC bonus, Dodge and Mobility feats. I'm sure that there's more, but I'm AFB at the moment.

As for Energy Drain itself being broken ... I don't agree. Spectres and similar monsters are feared for good reason and should be dangerous when acting/played intelligently. Dragons and the like might be more obvious threats, but spectres are an inisidious danger.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Incorporeal can be frustrating. Especially based on how GMs occasionally run them. Note if in an object they can only detect adjacent squares. And they can't move through an object larger than them. Also the unnatural aura might have told you something was up if you brought an animal within 30'. Detect evil might have been warranted as well depending on the environment.

Death ward makes you immune to energy drain. So if you got a death ward on the target before he died, then he should have survived unless the 1d8 damage killed him.

That said I don't think 52 HP (or 104 effecitve) is overmuch. And 2 levels per attack, means it took 5 standard actions to kill something. How many things do you target with 5 of your parties standard/full action survive?


Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
My issues are these: Death Ward is a level 4-5 spell depending on class, and even it only smothers the penalties for negative levels. If your negative levels reach your HD, you still die.

Here's your problem.

Death Ward prevents all level drain. If you already have negative levels before the spell is cast, it smothers the penalties but doesn't entirely remove them, but if something tries to give you a negative level while you're under it's effects, nothing happens.


Well, you could have tried fighting defensively for a better touch AC. And, well, I don't think they expected that someone would not die. We have Raise Dead for that reason, sometimes people die.


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Touch AC is not that hard to deal with and many characters can really, I think the trouble in this case was a lack of diversity in your party.
A dodge feat, fighting defensively, combat expertise, deflection bonus, concealment, power attack, force effects, channeling, turn undead, withdraw are all things that could have helped, a paladin would have also been quite useful. 100+ hit points is not a lot with an AC of 15, and some of the mentioned attacks deal a lot of damage to them.

Allowing all 3 to attack a single target in the first round is a bit harsh, and energy drain is quite nasty if you take into account that they get 10 temporary hit points every hit. Nasty but hard to peg by CR, either they are very dangerous or not a big threat at all.


Morain wrote:
They're not broken. You got killed that's all. That is supposed to happen sometimes.

That's a fair point, and I acknowledge that part of my reason for posting comes simply from the frustration of losing a beloved character (which does and should happen), but I don't think I was specific enough. Let me address what everyone said.

First off, Neo makes a good point about Death Ward. I was reading that wrong. And all of you make good points about how party composition and/or preparation could have saved the day. But for the sake of my burning rage, let me walk you through exactly what happened.

The party enters the first room of this particular vault of madness, Rogue/Bard first. R/B checks for traps, clears the room. We see one open sarcophagus and one closed one. Naturally, we don't mess with the closed one because that's tempting undead shenanigans. (At this point, there are no animals around so the unnatural aura is not an issue, and detect evil/detect undead cannot penetrate the 1 foot of rock that the spectres are behind) Having cleared the room, we move on.

We come to a hallway where there is a secret door. The R/B finds a symbol of weakness on it, and we all start to back outside so that we will not be canned if he botches the DD. Before we can get back outside, the three spectres emerge from the walls (between us and the exit) using 5 foot steps and get their surprise round.

The spectres then win on initiative and get another round off on us. That's twelve negative levels before the PC's even have an opportunity to go. That's somebody already dead in most situations. Thankfully the GM opted to have one of the spectres target a different PC than my fighter. I would argue that with a 14 INT they'd know it might be best to all attack the same person)

Regardless, on my first turn I cannot get away even using a full withdrawal because of spacing on the board, so I total defense (getting the spectre hit % down to 50 (because of ranks in acrobatics), and try to escape. Nope. Dead Town. DeadVille. Bridge over the river Dead.

Then the Sorcerer pops a wall of force to slow down two of them (they go into the walls to pursue us), and the rest of the party runs like crazy.

Also, my fighter cannot be brought back by anything less than a Res (Because I rose as a spectre), and we don't have access to that with faction points in the middle of the Mwangi Expanse.

The question that I come away with is this: What three CR7 creatures other than these could have done such a thing so quickly?

Sneak attacking rogues? Maybe, but they die as soon as the PC's retaliate. Most of the time, Pathfinder Monsters balance hit power with what I call "killability". I just feel like a no save energy drain that does 2 levels per hit is too powerful especially if there's going to be a group of enemies that do it.


If it had been CR 3 shadows with the same CR it would have been just as dangerous.

3 CR 7's=CR 10

Shadows are CR 3, so it would be 12 shadows, and if they get the jump on you then you would might still have been dead.


wraithstrike wrote:


Shadows are CR 3, so it would be 12 shadows, and if they get the jump on you then you would might still have been dead.

But it probably would've been more awesome ;)


Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

It's a lot like Thornkeep in a way

Spoiler:
One of the encounters is a Wight in a level 1 module

There should at least be a saving throw. If I were running this at home I would say to hell with the rules. This is one that needs to be changed. Energy Drain is extremely overpowered for the reasons given above. Thankfully, it's also extremely rare.


It looks like they have a save DC 16 according to d20pfsrd


eakratz wrote:
It looks like they have a save DC 16 according to d20pfsrd

That save is for removing the negative levels after 24 hours.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
The question that I come away with is this: What three CR7 creatures other than these could have done such a thing so quickly?

Medusas.


Bill Dunn wrote:
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
The question that I come away with is this: What three CR7 creatures other than these could have done such a thing so quickly?
Medusas.

Touché. But consider the fact that a PC can choose to avert his/her gaze and that a DC 16 Fortitude save is involved (Which is very hittable at APL 10). I don't want any part of medusas, but spectres still take the death cake for me.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Soluzar wrote:
It's a lot like Thornkeep in a way

Yes. That was totally freaking nuts. I'd love to know the rationale behind something like that in a level 1 module. Successful attack? Well, you're dead, and now what's left of the party has to fight two of them until someone else gets touched once; then lather, rinse, repeat, TPK. I switched it out for a ghoul when I ran it.

Jade Regent:
We met a wight at level 2 in Brinewall that ended the campaign. Our "tank" got touched twice, the rest of us ran, and we couldn't come up with an in-character reason that going back in to face two of them wasn't pure suicide.


Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
eakratz wrote:
It looks like they have a save DC 16 according to d20pfsrd

That save is for removing the negative levels after 24 hours.

Oh thanks, good to know.

*rubs GM hands together and grins*


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"That was your plan, Ray? Get her!?" -Ghostbusters

I think that GMs and module writers have to keep something in mind when using creatures like Wraiths and Spectres. Specifically, why hasn't the world ended in a Wraithocalypse?

As a DM, I've used Shadows, Wraiths, and Spectres pretty sparingly. When I do use them, I try to keep in mind that these are creatures bound to life by rage, greed, and insanity. Once you start having Specter strike teams that take full advantage of terrain and other tactical opportunities, you create a world that should have already been converted into Spectres.

The last dungeon I ran with Spectres had them hanging around in the places they frequented in life, distractedly pantomiming their way through mockeries of their daily activities. Occasionally, they would look at themselves in a mirror, or stare at their translucent hands, and begin screaming and crying. Like the librarian from Ghostbusters, they usually didn't attack until the PCs made a big show of their presence. Even then, the Spectres often tried to strike up conversations, starting out civil, but steadily descending into rage and madness before striking.

Basically, the party had time and inclination to magic up or GTFO.

Scarab Sages

Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
and anyone other than a monk is going to have trouble getting out of that ballpark.

Monks are not the best class at tanking incorporeal undead. Casters are. Mage Armor + Shield = 18 AC. Add in dexterity + deflection and most level 10 arcane casters should have a 20+ AC vs wraiths and the tools to kill them quickly.

Kensai fare the best, with the possibility of a 30+ AC vs incorporeal touch attacks by this level range.

That said: wraiths are a truly nasty encounter if not expecting them. Death is a very real possibility.

A suggestion: carry arrows treated with ghost salt. Not as nice as a ghost touch sword, but certainly cheaper.


Lots of things can kill a PC if 3 of them get a surprise round followed by winning init and a full attack.

I've never really understood the mechanics for hiding in a wall. How does something in a wall detect things outside of it? Does it have some way of seeing through walls?

Ken


from universal monster rules :

incorporeal:
Incorporeal (Ex)

An incorporeal creature has no physical body. It can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons or creatures that strike as magic weapons, and spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities. It is immune to all nonmagical attack forms. Even when hit by spells or magic weapons, it takes only half damage from a corporeal source (except for channel energy). Although it is not a magical attack, holy water can affect incorporeal undead. Corporeal spells and effects that do not cause damage only have a 50% chance of affecting an incorporeal creature. Force spells and effects, such as from a magic missile, affect an incorporeal creature normally.

An incorporeal creature has no natural armor bonus but has a deflection bonus equal to its Charisma bonus (minimum +1, even if the creature’s Charisma score does not normally provide a bonus).

An incorporeal creature can enter or pass through solid objects, but must remain adjacent to the object’s exterior, and so cannot pass entirely through an object whose space is larger than its own. It can sense the presence of creatures or objects within a square adjacent to its current location, but enemies have total concealment (50% miss chance) from an incorporeal creature that is inside an object. In order to see beyond the object it is in and attack normally, the incorporeal creature must emerge. An incorporeal creature inside an object has total cover, but when it attacks a creature outside the object it only has cover, so a creature outside with a readied action could strike at it as it attacks. An incorporeal creature cannot pass through a force effect.

An incorporeal creature’s attacks pass through (ignore) natural armor, armor, and shields, although deflection bonuses and force effects (such as mage armor) work normally against it. Incorporeal creatures pass through and operate in water as easily as they do in air. Incorporeal creatures cannot fall or take falling damage. Incorporeal creatures cannot make trip or grapple attacks, nor can they be tripped or grappled. In fact, they cannot take any physical action that would move or manipulate an opponent or its equipment, nor are they subject to such actions. Incorporeal creatures have no weight and do not set off traps that are triggered by weight.

An incorporeal creature moves silently and cannot be heard with Perception checks if it doesn’t wish to be. It has no Strength score, so its Dexterity modifier applies to its melee attacks, ranged attacks, and CMB. Nonvisual senses, such as scent and blindsight, are either ineffective or only partly effective with regard to incorporeal creatures. Incorporeal creatures have an innate sense of direction and can move at full speed even when they cannot see.


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"An incorporeal creature can enter or pass through solid objects, but must remain adjacent to the object’s exterior, and so cannot pass entirely through an object whose space is larger than its own."

It seems to me that spectres hiding in walls beyond detect range is not legal, as they must remain adjacent to the object (wall) exterior. It also seems they could not pass through a wall if the wall is too thick.


Incorporeal undead should only be used when someone shows up with AM BARBARIAN. Martials don't need to be faced with something designed to invalidate to give casters a chance to look good. Casters always look good.


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Just something for future:
Even if you can't afford all that much, one of the best things you can invest in to protect yourself from these situations is a +1 Ghost Touch Net.... All it takes is a ranged touch attack to hit, the entangled condition is an AWESOME one to get onto an incorporeal foe (Effectively -2 AC and -4 on attack rolls, half speed, can't run or charge, interferes with casting) and very importantly you automatically succeed at the opposed Str check, so it cant move beyond the range of the net (no hiding in walls)


Atarlost wrote:
Martials don't need to be faced with something designed to invalidate to give casters a chance to look good.

Wasn't it this precise reason why the rust monster was born? :P


cmastah wrote:
Atarlost wrote:
Martials don't need to be faced with something designed to invalidate to give casters a chance to look good.
Wasn't it this precise reason why the rust monster was born? :P

When rust monsters and incorporeal undead were introduced the casters just weren't as good except at high levels and some spotlighting may have been merited at low levels. That's no longer the case. Of course this was also the era of the room of death and trial and fatal error trap disarming so it may be that Gygax was just a sadist.

Rust monsters aren't quite as bad as incorporeals. Prior to the introduction of the chain shirt leather (at least if you rule that studded leather isn't metal enough to be effected because it isn't metal enough to be made of special materials) armor wasn't uncommon on light armored classes so they could pick up clubs and shine against rust monsters as well, but now they should probably only be used as monk treats.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

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Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!


I believe that there should be things adventures should fear. However there should be a way around every situation or an alternate way to approach it.

It does sound like you got a bad wrap in the sense the way you described it, it doesn't sound like the incorporeal creatures should have been able to sense where you were to launch their ambush.


For really powerful effects, the CR system especially falls apart.

My level 9 melee-heavy party recently encountered 4 basilisks, each CR 5. By the math, it should have been a cakewalk. But, funny little thing about needing to roll 4+ save or lose/dies every turn, even if the DC isn't that hard...


I feel that the PCs should still have gotten a perception check against the spectre's stealth.


Charlie Bell wrote:
Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!

I get the idea that there should be some things out there that the PC's fear. I really do. What I don't get is designing an encounter as room #1 of a dungeon that (if run by the book by the GM) will kill a PC and make him/her dead for good- with no legitimate options for res.

Nothing is more infuriating than dying in an encounter in which the PC's: 1) Do nothing wrong in planning.
2) Do nothing wrong in execution.
3) Are not impacted by bad dice luck.
4) Are clearly not intended to be murder-balled (dying in boss fights=cool!)

These adventure paths have to balance lethality with fun, don't they? Isn't the point still fun?

I'm just incredibly frustrated because my group has gone through adventure path after adventure path in which we just die. This is a group of intelligent, veteran players (some of whom power build the duke out of their PC's). It doesn't seem to matter. We always die, and it's rarely because of a boss-fight. We're not idiots (or at least the others aren't).

And Charlie, I find your viewpoint frustrating, because when you say, "If you can't take the heat, take a level in commoner," I hear, "Dude, it's okay. You're supposed to die EVERY time you play this game."

Brain. Explodes. From Rage.


Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
Charlie Bell wrote:
Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!
with no legitimate options for res.

Umm... by the time MY group hit Vaults of Madness - we had legitimate options for a res that would have worked - granted you have to go kill the spectre that was formerly your friend first.

Maybe your GM is running it different - but the relationships that you built with the faction your helping should get you the resources if your group itself doesn't have it.

... Then again - if your group keeps getting killed then it may be your GM is playing things harder than they are written.


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chavamana wrote:

snip

you have to go kill the spectre that was formerly your friend first.

If they couldn't beat the original spectre(s), how are they supposed to beat another one?

Wait until they're a few levels higher? That locks one player out for however long that takes.

Roll a new character in the meantime? No point rezzing old character, then.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

Having Ghost Touch or some variant available on demand is basically a party necessity at higher levels. There's an elxir that does this for 4k that likely would have let you just sail past this encounter.

I do recommend that Ghost Touch weapon. Arrows are particularly nice, as are nets. Arrows are cheap, and nets neutralize and trap the bastards.

8k once is cheaper then multiple Raise Deads or razz's, as it were. You can make up for the missed Enhancement with a Greater Magic Weapon for a while.

==Aelryinth


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I think the real problem here was the way the incorporeal aspect was handled. The spectres probably wouldn't have been able to communicate with each other when in the wall (how? they're not telepathic), and probably wouldn't all have been within 5' of the target. Though I don't have the map, so it's possible. So I doubt they'd have been able to emerge together. the best they could do is have 2 ready an action to come out when the first emerged, and then that's just a move action so no attack. So on the surprise round, one attacks at best.

Bear in mind that in 1e, spectres were downright terrifying. There was no way to recover a level except adventuring (and levelling in 1e took far longer than in PF), and Restoration was a 7th level spell. That fixed one level.

And get (or make) a wand of Detect Undead. 750 or 375 gp well spent. As soon as you spot the sarcophagi or get the idea you're entering a tomb, the stick comes out.


chavamana wrote:
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
Charlie Bell wrote:
Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!
with no legitimate options for res.

Umm... by the time MY group hit Vaults of Madness - we had legitimate options for a res that would have worked - granted you have to go kill the spectre that was formerly your friend first.

Maybe your GM is running it different - but the relationships that you built with the faction your helping should get you the resources if your group itself doesn't have it.

... Then again - if your group keeps getting killed then it may be your GM is playing things harder than they are written.

A Resurrection (the lowest level spell that can deal with someone who got ganked in this special way- Reincarnate and Raise Dead will not do the trick) costs 32 CPA according to the faction guide. We have 12-14 CPA and are not allowed to pool points. The other alternative is teleportation. We don't have that spell in the party.

Although...Eureka! If the others somehow kill the spectre, we can spend 10 CPA in order to teleport to the nearest city a few hundred miles away..and then...we can hire a cleric to cast resurrection...for roughly 10,910 GP..and then the fighter can live. Better than a dirt nap I suppose.

Madame, I salute you.


Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:

Although...Eureka! If the others somehow kill the spectre, we can spend 10 CPA in order to teleport to the nearest city a few hundred miles away..and then...we can hire a cleric to cast resurrection...for roughly 10,910 GP..and then the fighter can live. Better than a dirt nap I suppose.

Madame, I salute you.

Happy to help focus on as possible plan.

As a gm I hate ganking characters that my players like, so I always make sure to have safety valves in place that the players can use if they want to.

As for taking care of the spectres - now that the still living members know that they are there, they can go in with death ward up. And/Or one of the many spells that lets magic weapons work fully on incorporeal undead. It seems most of the lethality of that fight came from the fact the specters got a total drop on the party (maybe unfairly by the GM since when in stone the specters only have a 5-ft beyond the wall sense) but I don't remember that encounter specifically so it may have been a skinny room where the tactic was totally valid.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

Arturick wrote:


I think that GMs and module writers have to keep something in mind when using creatures like Wraiths and Spectres. Specifically, why hasn't the world ended in a Wraithocalypse?

As a DM, I've used Shadows, Wraiths, and Spectres pretty sparingly. When I do use them, I try to keep in mind that these are creatures bound to life by rage, greed, and insanity. Once you start having Specter strike teams that take full advantage of terrain and other tactical opportunities, you create a world that should have already been converted into Spectres.

+1

Spectre strike force is an unsatisfying way to. This may be a subconscious reason I prefer agile low armor characters to those in plate.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
Charlie Bell wrote:
Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!

I get the idea that there should be some things out there that the PC's fear. I really do. What I don't get is designing an encounter as room #1 of a dungeon that (if run by the book by the GM) will kill a PC and make him/her dead for good- with no legitimate options for res.

Nothing is more infuriating than dying in an encounter in which the PC's: 1) Do nothing wrong in planning.
2) Do nothing wrong in execution.
3) Are not impacted by bad dice luck.
4) Are clearly not intended to be murder-balled (dying in boss fights=cool!)

I just think you are wrong. First having a lower initiative than all 3 of the enemy is bad rolls. I am willing to bet the majority of parties who went through this encounter without a PC death. It has far more to deal with the way the GM chose to run the encounter and the way the PCs approached it, than the way the module wrote it.

Reading the encounter in question:

As written in the module the only specter that acts in the surprise round is the one in the sarcophagus (and its acts when the sarcophagus is opened). The other 3 come out of the walls the following round. By the original posters description (not opening the closed sarcophagus) of what happened the encounter never should have taken place.

The room is question is a hexagon with a 30' width, 10' wide doorways at the north and south ends, with two 5'by 10' sarcophagus in the room as the only other objects of note. This seems to provide a fair amount of maneuvering room.

The specters explicitly don't leave the vault (go through the southern doors which would lead into daylight (if entered during daytime).

I read this as an encounter likely to cause damage, but unlikely to kill anyone at apl 10. It may force the party to rest to be better prepared.


Johnmatrix1786 wrote:

I just got ganked by 3 spectres in the "Vaults of Madness" adventure path, and as I sit here thinking about how the encounter went down, I'm pretty upset.

These things are CR7 individually, so on paper it's feasible that an APL 10 group should handle them, but their touch attacks and energy drain make them BROKEN. They attack at a +10 (to touch) and automatically do 2 levels of energy drain with no save. My fighter had a 14 Touch AC (tied for the highest in the party), and anyone other than a monk is going to have trouble getting out of that ballpark. That means these things are going to have a really solid chance of hitting (80% BEST case for our party), and with ten hit dice, we need to suffer only five hits to straight up die (with a D).

In this particular encounter, the spectres waited in the walls so that they could 5-foot-step out and get a surprise round. The things have a 14 intelligence, so it makes sense that they would all attack the same person (in order to kill him). That's a likely 6 negative levels. Then these things are probably going to go ahead of many PC's because of their +7 to initiative.

Have another 6 negative levels and die.

My issues are these: Death Ward is a level 4-5 spell depending on class, and even it only smothers the penalties for negative levels. If your negative levels reach your HD, you still die. Couple that with the fact that a ghost touch weapon is a frivolous investment in most campaigns (8,000 gp is a lot of money to spend for a weapon you may never need), and you're dealing with an incorporeal creature sporting (effectively) 104 HP.

I get that these things have sunlight powerlessness, but it's just incredibly frustrating that the VoM adventure path would put three of them in a room in an ambush situation and expect someone not to die.

Have you guys had similar experiences with energy drain and incorporeal creatures? Thoughts?

Yes, in the sense that energy drain can break your character, party and day.


Maezer wrote:
Johnmatrix1786 wrote:
Charlie Bell wrote:
Not broken, working as intended. If you can't stand the heat, take a level in commoner and give up adventuring!

I get the idea that there should be some things out there that the PC's fear. I really do. What I don't get is designing an encounter as room #1 of a dungeon that (if run by the book by the GM) will kill a PC and make him/her dead for good- with no legitimate options for res.

Nothing is more infuriating than dying in an encounter in which the PC's: 1) Do nothing wrong in planning.
2) Do nothing wrong in execution.
3) Are not impacted by bad dice luck.
4) Are clearly not intended to be murder-balled (dying in boss fights=cool!)

I just think you are wrong. First having a lower initiative than all 3 of the enemy is bad rolls. I am willing to bet the majority of parties who went through this encounter without a PC death. It has far more to deal with the way the GM chose to run the encounter and the way the PCs approached it, than the way the module wrote it.

** spoiler omitted **

I read this as an encounter likely to cause damage, but unlikely to kill anyone at apl 10. It may force the party to rest to be better prepared.

I think it makes sense for the evil specters to try a gank at the same time. 1, delay, then plus 2 seems a bit slow for such high initiative monsters in the area.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
wraithstrike wrote:

If it had been CR 3 shadows with the same CR it would have been just as dangerous.

3 CR 7's=CR 10

Shadows are CR 3, so it would be 12 shadows, and if they get the jump on you then you would might still have been dead.

Make it 1 shadow getting a critical and 11 strength point of damage on a strength 10 summoner during the surprise round. :P

@Johnmatrix1786
Are you and your GM aware that there is not an automatic surprise round? You always get to roll perception, even if the enemies come out of the walls.

At level 10 having a perception of 10 is the norm, so each specters has a 15% chance of surprising you with his 14 stealth (stealth vs perception, to succeed you only need to match their stealth result).
You get 1 roll against their 3 stealth rolls (1 for each specter), so it is almost sure you will beat some of them and get to act in the surprise round. If they "take 10" as they are in a prepared ambush you have a 85% chance of not being surprised by any of them. Same thing for the other party members. Plenty of possibilities to act in the surprise round.

If all the people in your party is aware of all the enemies you don't even have a surprise round and start the fight with regular rounds.


lets see where i can raise a level 10 character's perception

10 (Ranks) +3 (class) +5 (Eyes of the Eagle). this doesn't factor such things as wisdom score, race or feats. and what level 10 PC doesn't have the eyes of the eagle?

not a class skill? there is the observant trait in the pathfinder society guide to organized play, which makes it a class skill and adds a +1 trait bonus.

and what 10th level character doesn't place max ranks in perception either?


Maezer wrote:
having a lower initiative than all 3 of the enemy is bad rolls

A lot of GMs would roll a single d20 for all the spectres - it saves on book-keeping but is often an unfair advantage for the bad guys in a case like this.


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I don't really like the energy drain mechanic either. If unprepared, you're fighting a creature who takes a long time to kill, who can overcome good AC and saving rolls, and who is virtually impossible to run away from. (A spectre is incorporeal and has a speed of 80.)
A lot of the time your survival depends upon the whims of the GM.
Or, if you have 'Death Ward', you are completely immune and can just walk up to the spectre and hit it until it dies, unless it has the sense to retreat until your duration wears off.
I prefer defensive spells like Resist Energy that are less absolute.


Diego Rossi wrote:
wraithstrike wrote:

If it had been CR 3 shadows with the same CR it would have been just as dangerous.

3 CR 7's=CR 10

Shadows are CR 3, so it would be 12 shadows, and if they get the jump on you then you would might still have been dead.

Make it 1 shadow getting a critical and 11 strength point of damage on a strength 10 summoner during the surprise round. :P

@Johnmatrix1786
Are you and your GM aware that there is not an automatic surprise round? You always get to roll perception, even if the enemies come out of the walls.

At level 10 having a perception of 10 is the norm, so each specters has a 15% chance of surprising you with his 14 stealth (stealth vs perception, to succeed you only need to match their stealth result).
You get 1 roll against their 3 stealth rolls (1 for each specter), so it is almost sure you will beat some of them and get to act in the surprise round. If they "take 10" as they are in a prepared ambush you have a 85% chance of not being surprised by any of them. Same thing for the other party members. Plenty of possibilities to act in the surprise round.

If all the people in your party is aware of all the enemies you don't even have a surprise round and start the fight with regular rounds.

The perception is not really the problem, incorporeal creatures do not make any sound and they are clearly invisible in the walls so there is no way to perceive them while inside the wall.

They could not have taken a 5' step in the surprise round though, they could either have attacked blindly from within the wall or emerge and move into their threat range and roll initiative. I do not see a problem with denying the perception check though.


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It is fundamentally impossible to set the CR for something with a no save incorporeal touch attack.

* It's a touch attack so armor doesn't help defend against it.
* It's incorporeal so it can attack out of walls or floors to also face flatfooted AC

Energy drain has additional problems.

* There is nothing that prevents the negative levels from taking effect.
* Negative levels can not be practically removed by cleric substitutes, rendering them worthless if energy drain may be used. Oracles, because of their spells known limit, cannot afford to learn a reactive fourth level spell before level 9. Inquisitors and Alchemists can't learn it until level 10. Druids and witches can't learn it at all.

Normal monsters the number of monsters in an encounter scales geometrically with CR. For incorporeal undead most classes have no way to improve their defenses. The number of shadows to kill a level 20 character is only slightly higher than the number to kill a level 1 character (and only higher at all if the character is investing in raising strength). Unless that character is a monk. Spectres scale slightly better because higher level characters always have more hit dice, but the number required to easily kill a character only rises linearly with level.

If such creatures are going to be printed in the bestiaries they should be printed with a warning label instead of a CR because they aren't appropriate to the CR system.


Atarlost wrote:

witches can't learn it at all.

Well Healing patron witches can... Of course you aren't likely to see that too often except on hedge witches.


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A reasonably competent level 10 group with no divine caster should be able to, for example, Dimension Door to safety, get someone to use a scroll of Death Ward (oracle, UMD rogue, etc.) then send the warded character back in to deal with the spectres alone. But this requires a fairly high degree of system mastery.

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