Should Rise of the Runelords be this much of a meat-grinder? [Spoilers]


Rise of the Runelords

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I've been running my group through Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition and quite frankly we've become demoralized about how much of a meat-grinder this campaign is. We're just finishing The Skinsaw Murders and so far we've had near-TPKs against Erylium, Gogmurt, Nualia, Foxglove Manor, Justice Ironbriar and most recently Xanesha.

At the beginning all the characters were made with 15 point-buy that I later bumped to 20 and then 25 to help them succeed. They've also had some side-adventures in Riddleport making them about half a level above what's expected. There are 5 players of which at least 4 tend to be present at each game. Everyone is on at least their second character while most are on their third, fourth or fifth.

Any idea where we might be going wrong? The adventure is supposed to be doable with 4 characters and 15 point-buy. I don't particularly feel like re-writing the monsters to make the adventure easier - we'd rather just start a fresh campaign if that's the solution.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Are you running them on the Fast Leveling track?

Sometimes you just suffer bad die rolls. You might want to give them the Optional Hero Points to improve survivability.

Me, I started everyone off at 2nd level and increased the CR of everything by one to compensate with XPs. I know some people start them at level 1... but give them maximum starting XPs, Con Bonus, and the Constitution itself for starting hit points (thus a 1st level Wizard with a Con of 12 would have 19 hit points).

If it's just hit points at fault... perhaps do the latter. It would increase the hit points of everyone by probably 10 to 16, and that improves survivability a bit.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

To be fair, those are the tough fights. Erylium, Nualia and Xanesha are all tough fights - Erylium is really the first really tough fight of the campaign, Nualia is a badass that you fight with depleted resources, and Xanesha...well, if you think she was tough in the AE, then you should track down the 3.5 version of her. There's a reason that her name pops up in the obits thread quite often.

Before we can say what the issue is, we need a bit more info. What classes are being played? How much experience does your group have? Have they been playing 3.5/PF for years, or is this their first experience with the rules set? What sort of tactics do they employ? Do they favor stealth, or kick-in-the-door dungeon exploration? Do they seek non-violent solutions, or are all monsters things that exist to be killed? What criteria do they use to decide that they can handle one more encounter, and when do they decide that they need to cut bait and run?

Make no mistake, RotRL is tough. The opening bit in Sandpoint is very easy, but that's because you want the party to feel like they're awesome, and they face rather simple foes with limited abilities. In time, though, they gain some experience, tricks and durability, and the training wheels come off. Hopefully, the PCs learn to adapt to the changing situations. If they don't...well, you get the situation you're describing.


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Tangent101 wrote:

Are you running them on the Fast Leveling track?

Sometimes you just suffer bad die rolls. You might want to give them the Optional Hero Points to improve survivability.

Me, I started everyone off at 2nd level and increased the CR of everything by one to compensate with XPs. I know some people start them at level 1... but give them maximum starting XPs, Con Bonus, and the Constitution itself for starting hit points (thus a 1st level Wizard with a Con of 12 would have 19 hit points).

If it's just hit points at fault... perhaps do the latter. It would increase the hit points of everyone by probably 10 to 16, and that improves survivability a bit.

Yeah, they're on the Fast Leveling track. We've started a system of awarding a hero point to the best roleplayer at the end of each game session.

Dice rolls definitely have something to do with it. I roll my dice in the open so they know I'm not making it up when I consistently roll 19s and 20s

I started them off at first level using the standard rules and let them either roll for hit points or take the average at subsequent levels. I could see bonus hit points helping a bit, would giving max hp at every level make them too durable?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I always make sure that when my players roll for hit points they get a minimum of half-plus-one hit points for their level. Thus a Barbarian would get at least 7 hit points before Con bonuses, while a Wizard would get at least 4 hit points. (What I do is have them reroll the die until it's above half.)

Full hit points is doable. I've noticed I've got fairly durable characters, but they rolled 4d6 and had good rolls (if they were builds, they'd be 37 points minimum) (well, there was the player with horrible rolls, but when I grabbed two of her dice and rolled five sets of 2s in a row I had her reroll. Bad dice are no reason to penalize someone's character).

Even with goodly hit points I've had characters almost killed on more than one occasion. Sadly, I doubt your players will appreciate this last option, but I'd say roll behind a screen. Then fudge rolls when needed.


Misroi wrote:
Before we can say what the issue is, we need a bit more info. What classes are being played? How much experience does your group have? Have they been playing 3.5/PF for years, or is this their first experience with the rules set? What sort of tactics do they employ? Do they favor stealth, or kick-in-the-door dungeon exploration? Do they seek non-violent solutions, or are all monsters things that exist to be killed? What criteria do they use to decide that they can handle one more encounter, and when do they decide that they need to cut bait and run?

With the level or turnover almost every class has been played at some point, the current group composition is Inquisitor, Fighter, Cleric, Gunslinger Cohort and two characters that have yet to be made to replace last session's deaths (both of those were barbarians).

This is almost the first Pathfinder campaign we've played (there were a couple of one-shots a few months before), before that we were playing 4e and some other systems for about 3 years. No 3.5 experience to speak of.

They definitely favour a direct, kick-in-the-door approach though the more rules-savvy players will employ a bit more caution. Non-violent solutions are rare. They tend to keep going until their resources begin to run out or someone gets dropped to 0. All the fights I listed were not beaten on the first attempt (they fled).

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Aurumaer wrote:
when I consistently roll 19s and 20s

My guess is this is the problem. However, the question Misroi asks are needed to figure out what else could be happening. Has your group been able to reflect on the difficult encounters and come to any conclusions as to what they might have done better?


Tangent101 wrote:
I always make sure that when my players roll for hit points they get a minimum of half-plus-one hit points for their level. Thus a Barbarian would get at least 7 hit points before Con bonuses, while a Wizard would get at least 4 hit points. (What I do is have them reroll the die until it's above half.)

This system sounds very interesting, thanks for suggesting it :)

Tangent101 wrote:
Even with goodly hit points I've had characters almost killed on more than one occasion. Sadly, I doubt your players will appreciate this last option, but I'd say roll behind a screen. Then fudge rolls when needed.

We've all (save one player) agreed that fudging dice rolls ruins the fun for us, as does the suspicion that the GM is fudging dice rolls.

On a separate note we've noticed that the treasure in RotR is well below the wealth-by-level chart in the back of the CRB, perhaps boosting the amount of treasure they get would help the situation?


Githzilla wrote:
Aurumaer wrote:
when I consistently roll 19s and 20s
My guess is this is the problem. However, the question Misroi asks are needed to figure out what else could be happening. Has your group been able to reflect on the difficult encounters and come to any conclusions as to what they might have done better?

They have learned from some encounters, e.g. they've all started carrying Wands of Cure Light Wounds after they realized one party member can't shoulder all the healing. A lot of the time though character deaths have been down to bad luck: bosses critting, (Xanesha did 60 damage in one round last session), players failing to save against Ghoul Fever (despite having healing checks made and Remove Disease cast on them). However it was the fact that it happens so frequently that prompted me to come here and see if we were missing anything.

Liberty's Edge

Well, now that you're out of Chapter 2, you won't have to worry about Ghoul Fever as much. On the other hand, you'll be dealing with higher-level spell casters. As you read ahead, ask yourself if the tactics your players are using would be adequate given the situation. I imagine that a "kick-in-the-door" approach will not be as successful as the campaign progresses. It might be worth the trouble, from time to time, to give your players some gentle hints to help them think outside of their box that they find themselves in.


Hi! I'm one of the players in this game, I figured I'd chime in some thoughts from the perspective of the players.

I've had four characters up to Xanesha. Unfortunately she managed to crit me and did about 80 damage, which was one-shot-dead for me. This isn't the first time, though; I lost one character to Eryllium, one to Gogmurt, and one was purposefully retired before another grim death.

As a player it feels very unfair to fight most of these big-bad monsters sometimes. When we fought Eryllium, she simply flew up higher than we could hit her and started raising zombies, which resulted in the entire party fleeing the dungeon and walling it up; her regeneration made it even more of a painful chore to fight, too.

Along with that, it seems that even some simple things are just decimating us; while in the fields with the ghouls, we got ambushed by four of them, and they paralysed and mauled every single party member with ease. We've had to homerule that creatures can't outright coup-de-gras someone with natural weapons because otherwise we'd have been TPK'd.

Oftentimes we're a very mixed party. While we do have a tendancy towards big-hitty-smashy dudes, we will occasionally do some serious scouting, stealthy dungeons. Currently we're fairly ballanced (or were, at least). We've been with and without a proper cleric, but either way it still seems just as difficult to survive any encounter, and the same goes for ranged characters. We've done proper reflecting on combats and situations, and me and another player even made complimentary characters specifically designed to deal with situations we've encountered, but it's still insufficient. It's got to the point that it's more realistic to entirely ad-lib your backstory and character concept because you'll probably die in two sessions anyway.

All in all we've all been pretty bummed out about our combats. We've been playing Pathfinder in some form for many months, we do know our system fairly well, but we've just not got a break at all from the constant deaths.
With 25 point buy systems, fast track XP and large player experience, we're still being floored by the simplest of monsters.


As a player in this game I have to say that many deaths have come from bad decisions and the dice

that said I'm looking forward to anything that helps my other party members from dying


Question on Eryllium. Did anyone have ranged weapons? I find that more experienced people tend to not have too many issues with her because they carry ranged weapons with them in addition to swords. From what it sounds like, you guys didn't have a ranged weapon. Point isn't to damage her, it's to knock her down from the air on a failed Fly check. Hopefully you learned from that weakness. But even with ranged weapons, Eryllium is tough.

The other ones honestly sound more like bad luck on your part/good luck on the GM part. Don't really know what to say. new dice perhaps? Drive home the fear of God in your current dice? I'm superstitious and make sure my dice fear me.


We had a couple of spells between us, and a scroll or two, but yeah, we didn't have a dedicated ranged character at the time and we noticed our weakness pretty quickly. I think at the time we had a Sorcerer, a Druid with a mace, two fighters and a rogue, so there's our problem!

But yeah I agree with you there, to be honest. Must be our DM's accursed lucky dice.


HangerFlying wrote:
It might be worth the trouble, from time to time, to give your players some gentle hints to help them think outside of their box that they find themselves in.

Yeah I think a little bit more forshadowing might help

Skedak wrote:
We've had to homerule that creatures can't outright coup-de-gras someone with natural weapons because otherwise we'd have been TPK'd.

I'm not sure whether or not that is a houserule, natural weapons are the thing I understand least well in Pathfinder. In any case having you guys get TPK'd by Ghouls because of a few unlucky saving throws would have been grossly unfair

cathal the red wrote:

I have to say that many deaths have come from bad decisions and the dice

that said I'm looking forward to anything that helps my other party members from dying

Perhaps we should try the method listed above where you always get the upper half of your hit die per level?

Skedak wrote:
But yeah I agree with you there, to be honest. Must be our DM's accursed lucky dice.

I bought a new set of dice for you on Saturday, hopefully you'll start seeing numbers higher than 4 now!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The current line-up seems to be missing a full arcane caster. I believe that a Wizard or Sorcerer would be a good addition to the group.

And maybe someone should replace the GM's d20s with new ones. :)


If you've got a melee guy, grab some javelins or spears and go to town. As the Sphinx said when the Shoveler told him he has only one weapon,

"No! The fist! The knee! The elbow! The head! You must lash out with every limb, LIKE THE OCTOPUS WHO PLAYS THE DRUMS!"


Odraude wrote:

If you've got a melee guy, grab some javelins or spears and go to town. As the Sphinx said when the Shoveler told him he has only one weapon,

"No! The fist! The knee! The elbow! The head! You must lash out with every limb, LIKE THE OCTOPUS WHO PLAYS THE DRUMS!"

The octopus who plays drums would be an awesome character. Hagfish, step aside, the octopus who plays drums is the new hot attraction in Sandpoint! :P


Well in Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, they at one point swordfight with an octopus.


Aurumaer wrote:
However it was the fact that it happens so frequently that prompted me to come here and see if we were missing anything.

I would respectfully suggest you study the "tactics" section on the big bads and make sure you don't run them more tactically aware and savvy than they are intended to be.

I nearly wiped my party against Erylium because I was playing her how I would play a character with those stats, not how the combat tactics suggests she fights. This might help a little.

My group will be facing Nualia (with Bruthazmus backing her, who they allowed to escape) and I am presently fearing for the lives of the PCs.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I've been running a group of 4 PCs built on 15-point buy, and they completely steamroll over most encounters. I've had to increase the difficulty of encounters to create a challenge. We've had exactly two PC deaths in My Runelords game-- and one was planned and took place off-camera!

My players are all in their 30s and 40s, and we've all been playing tabletop RPGs since we were kids. Avoiding TPKs is all about good battlefield tactics, resource management, and knowing when to run.

Also-- as a GM with 30+ years of experience, I ALWAYS roll behind a screen. Of course, I'm the kind of GM who doesn't let dice rolls get in the way of a good story. I don't like to kill off a PC who was using sound tactics or trying to pull off something cinematic. (Of course, if the PCs are doing something dumb, I let the dice fall where they may.) This subtly encourages them to use sound tactics. (I will also OCCASIONALLY fudge a bad guy's rolls the other way, in the case where a supposedly-scary villain can't roll his way out of a paper bag.)

It sounds like your players are using lousy tactics, AND you're subjecting the plot to the whims of bad dice rolls that are detracting from the fun. This game isn't a meatgrinder by design. It IS a tough AP, which rewards sound tactics and punishes too many frontal assaults.

Good luck!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Also: remember that a coup de grace is a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity. If the ghoul starts a CdG on its action, it doesn't take effect until just before its action on the next round. This gives the other PCs a round to react before the CdG takes effect.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

this reminds me of our first jade regent adventure we encountered a skeletal champion and bunch of regular skeletons, the problem? only one player had a bludgeoning weapon (a ninja with a kusari-gama) and no cleric, needless to say we almost all died that day.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Yeah. I've been GMing regularly for 20 years and have played for over 30. I've been in a TPK (technically three of us didn't die, but one was unconscious and the other two were trapped in a room with no escape and no food or water... so the GM said "you all die") (heh... that was actually the first game I was in. Still was an awesome game however, and got me hooked in AD&D) and had the opportunity to inflict one on my group... and instead had the Rakshasta (which was legitimately in the module) get bored and leave after toying with the party.

And in that time? I've not once seen the benefit of rolling in front of players. Nor have I seen the need NOT to allow fudging... if only because sometimes you have a player who with three blows kills the Big Bad in a completely undramatic fashion. (Mind you, this is also why I dislike Save-or-Die spells and their ilk. There's no way to fudge other than say "I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. Could you roll your die please?" (though I've had players absolutely grateful when I actually do that.))

So put your rolls back behind a GM screen. Fudging is for the best... and it works in both directions. Both to increase the fun and difficulty of a fight... and to ensure the players' characters stay alive long enough for them to bond to them.


Haladir wrote:
If the ghoul starts a CdG on its action, it doesn't take effect until just before its action on the next round. This gives the other PCs a round to react before the CdG takes effect.

This is wrong. A coup-de-grace is a full-round action, which is also the type of action used for, say, a charge or a full-attack. It both starts and finishes on the ghoul's current turn.

You're probably thinking of the "1 round" casting time for spells, which works the way you describe.

(Even so, this wouldn't necessarily be a poor house rule for CdG's)


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Are wrote:


This is wrong. A coup-de-grace is a full-round action, which is also the type of action used for, say, a charge or a full-attack. It both starts and finishes on the ghoul's current turn.

You're probably thinking of the "1 round" casting time for spells, which works the way you describe.

(Even so, this wouldn't necessarily be a poor house rule for CdG's)

I agree with Are, here. Full round actions are generally adjudicated all on the acting character's turn. The 1 round casting time makes this unnecessarily confusing because it is both a 1 round time and a full round action as well. It's easy to make the assumption that other full round actions should be adjudicated same.

I also agree that a 1 round action resolution would be a good way to house rule the coup de grace. But I also think that, as a tactic, its use should be rare as long as there are potentially dangerous PCs still up in the fight. Better for a creature who wants to eat the dying PC to drag the meat away from immediate danger before biting down and finishing the PC off for further consumption. Yes, that makes it more likely for another PC to be able to rescue the stricken PC (up to a point), but it's also probably treating the characters (PCs and NPCs) less like game tokens with actions and hit points and in a more in-character fashion.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Tangent101 wrote:

I always make sure that when my players roll for hit points they get a minimum of half-plus-one hit points for their level. Thus a Barbarian would get at least 7 hit points before Con bonuses, while a Wizard would get at least 4 hit points. (What I do is have them reroll the die until it's above half.)

The method we typically use is for both the player and the DM to roll an appropriate die - the PC gets whichever is better. It doesn't prevent 1s from happening, but it does make them a lot less likely. It also makes maxing out hit points more likely, though the expected value tends to be in the 60+% of max hit points depending on the size of the hit die rolled.


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Haladir already covered most of what I wanted to say, but since players are reading I'll be very specific:

- Every PC MUST have a ranged weapon. Always. In every PC. I don't care if you're a Life Oracle who dumped DEX. You need a ranged weapon.

- Every party should buy a wand of Cure Light Wounds as soon as they can afford it, and need either a spontaneous caster with Silence or a wand of Silence.

I've read through all the obituaries and half a dozen campaign journals, and most PC deaths can be blamed on one of five things:

(1) Lack of preparedness
EXAMPLE: If the GM is providing the handouts as indicated, Tsuto's journal mentions a quasit living in the catacombs. If the players have no idea what a quasit is, they should talk to Brodert Quink or Father Zantus to find out. My party knew enough to get bows. I've read of other parties going to the trouble of getting cold iron ranged weapons (arrows, daggers, or javelins). Without everyone in the party peppering Elyrium with missile weapons every time she turns visible to do anything, she is a TPK machine, as indicated. As it is, most of the time all you'll be able to do is drive her off for a while, unless you're lucky enough to get two crits in a single round. If the GM ignores her tactics and has her fight to the death, healing while invisible, then yes, you're in real trouble.

(2) "Hulk Smash" tactics
EXAMPLE: If you go into the Sevens Sawmill blowing up everything in sight and causing a ruckus, and the GM has all the cultists gather with Ironbriar, you're in serious trouble. There are many, many situations in later modules where the party can either fight a hopeless battle, or use stealth to sneak past enemies and assassinate them a few a a time. I've read TPKs in modules 3 and 4 where parties took the direct "kick down the front door and fight the army" approach. The APs are NOT designed for such tactics. If you kick down the door to fight the army, you'll lose. Use stealth wisely. That's also what the wand of Silence is for. It doesn't just silence spellcasters; it prevents the sounds of battle from reaching nearby opponents.

(3) Xanesha
Yeah, she just kills people. Our only party death was her full-round sneak attack plus another full-round attack on the barbarian. We've had lots of negative hit points, but other party members have always been willing to take AoO's to get their unconscious allies to safety.

(4) GM using optimal tactics
There are some encounters and areas where as a GM you think, "Wow! The tactics as-written are just silly against my party. If I really want to mess them up, I should do THIS instead!"
Guess what? It's a good way to kill parties. Yes, it gets frustrating when some of the BBEGs have tactics so poorly-optimized that they deserve to die (a certain spellcaster comes to mind, but I don't want to spoiler anything for the players), but if you play them optimally, they can kill half the party easily (that same spellcaster figures prominently in the obits).

For GMs only:
Yeah, run Mokmurian exactly as-written, spending all those rounds casting various fogs that have little effect on the party that already has Freedom of Movement up because they fought the Forgefiend. Plus a wasted round of Telekinesis (I didn't do this, since I figured he'd be able to recognize that the Hasted party was running through his fog way too fast.) He has a really bad day.

(5) The dice
Sometimes, the dice just kill people. This is especially true in Book 3, where the critters hit HARD and have x3 crit weapons. They can one-shot many of the PCs with a bad die roll. I was fortunate that they only crit the paladin and the barbarian, both of whom survived with a handful of hit points...


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I disagree that every PC must have a ranged weapon. I've been running a GMPC Paladin with the rules that his order forbids the use of ranged weapons (Paladin of the Goddess of Death, Death being up-close and personal) and the use of heavy armor (it's harder to get out of heavy armor if, say, you're drowning because you fell in a river or a lake). He's still effective... even if sometimes it takes him a little bit to get into combat (because, say, snow reduces his speed).

For that matter, in the Runelords game I'm running, the Barbarian went for the longest time without a ranged weapon. Eventually the group managed to convince him (and his player) to use a bow as well, but it didn't harm the group too much for him not having ranged weapons. It's just what you need is someone who is GOOD at ranged attacks... and perhaps backup ranged weapons for spellcasters.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Are wrote:
Haladir wrote:
If the ghoul starts a CdG on its action, it doesn't take effect until just before its action on the next round. This gives the other PCs a round to react before the CdG takes effect.

This is wrong. A coup-de-grace is a full-round action, which is also the type of action used for, say, a charge or a full-attack. It both starts and finishes on the ghoul's current turn.

You're probably thinking of the "1 round" casting time for spells, which works the way you describe.

(Even so, this wouldn't necessarily be a poor house rule for CdG's)

I stand corrected. This is indeed a house rule for CdG-- it works like a spell with a 1-round casting time (which I was also confusing with a full-round action). I've been playing it that way for so long, I was thinking it was RAW.

Silver Crusade

Feel lucky, you have the nerfed version of Xanesha...

Silver Crusade

We have had 13 PC deaths in Skull and Shackles and we are halfway through book 2...

All the AP's can be tough, there are some nasty encounters in all of them. The best thing to try is to look to spot tough encounters before they arrive, there are ways to mitigate them, think about what the enemies are and how they act this might help you make the encounters easier.


Yeah, my group just finished that section in the Anniversary edition

We're all in our 40'-50's and have been gaming for a long time... so some of this falls under genre savvy...

party composition:

Gunslinger(Musket master) 7th
Fighter (bastard sword specialist) 7th
Rogue/sorcerer heading for arcane trickster (probably 3/4)
Wizard 7th (Raven familiar)
Cleric (sarenrae) 7th, but optimised for spells, anti-undead and party face
Cohort: Shalelu (as Fighter 2/ranger 3)
Alchemist, but player was unavailable and PC was also unavailable for this session

Xenesha:

ROTRL Spoiler:

Thanks to Ironbriar boasting about his awful poetry to Xenesha (recurring joke in our game... started with Foxglove), he let slip her wonderful scaly skin and seductive poisonous fangs... it gave us an idea what we were up against.

So we climbed the tower. Our BSF was already shielded with Remove Poison and circle of protection from Evil. When we reached her lair, we saw it was inhabited but empty. My cleric (16 int, 19 wis) figured this was good time for invisibility purge.

It was a chancy fight with lots of save or suck. I silenced her at one point, but that didn't slow her down. She was also spamming us with deep slumber. we had to wake up our BSF and Musket master a few times.

BTW, the Musket Master missed a lot.

We delivered quite a bit of punishment to her. But the GM was worried about a TPK.

Then we ran into the stupid golem. Ouch. Due to circumstances/reach of creature/space in the tower, our Musket Master was always within it's reach.


If it helps, encounters are only ever as difficult or as easy as the GM decides to make them - adjustments can be made ahead of time or even on the fly without even impacting versimillitude overmuch...


Hero points are not a bad thing either and help survivability. It usually allows a PC to cheat death or even aid another by an extra action or by taking the hit. Initially my players wanted them and we implemented as per written. With the exception of my named bad guys would get them too. However what ended up happening is my players were kinda meta gaming them and saving them up till the final big fight. So I started doing the same which was not good. We ended up house ruling the house rule to only allow one hero point at any time and it's only a PC option and the cheat death cost was lowered to 1 hero point. My players level about every three games or so. By the math this means that once every three games a PC can do something heroic which works out well for us


One thing I do to reduce the random death factor is tone down the crits. For some reason Paizo has an obsession with giving high crit weapons to bosses - I feel like I see x4 crit weapons all the time, and those are just too randomly spikey in damage for my taste. Xanesha is almost as bad at 19-20/x3, and she comes on the heels of fighting the Scarecrow with his x4 scythe. With a normal 4 person party that's a lot of chance of just outright killing someone and reducing party strength by an amount that could be unrecoverable.

After using the crit deck for a while, also, I find that it takes the edge off of the high crit weapons (although there are still some nasty results.)


First, I have to say I only skimmed the thread, so forgive if this is irrelevant, but two things that are kind of "out of the box" that might make a difference to the better:

1: Implement the "Strain-Injury" healing variant developed on these board by Evil Lincoln et al. It is a great boon to survivability and less Healbot-grind.

2: What about adding Mythic Tiers to your PCs? It certainly fits the storyline, and could be integrated with minimal tooling. Personally, I would go with the "Highlander" version, and the PCs gain Mythic energy and Tiers as they progress by absorbing them when they take out Mythic foes. There are certainly enough of those in that AP.


Ian Bell wrote:
One thing I do to reduce the random death factor is tone down the crits.

I also noticed this. The last death in my group was the Paladin already fairly bloodied got critted by an Orge which put him. x3 Damage on giants is kinda harsh

Sovereign Court

For RotR, ranged weapons throughout are a great idea. For the paladin with the ban on ranged weapons, there is nothing to stop you from reach weapons is there? A net (15' reach) would allow you to potentially bring your "dishonorable" opponent in to fighting range ... followed by a round to allow them to disentangle themselves, of course. ;)

Alchemical weapons can be a great boon (tanglefoot bag on Elyrium could make a big difference ... of course, so could a bedroll). Healing and the ability to have defensive buffs for the party (blur, ability buffs, saving throw buffs, etc.) are also a great idea. Consumables really are your friends.

"Be prepared for damn near any situation" is the main lesson RotR teaches, along with "rushing in headlong is a surefire way to rush into your grave". In other words, research what you can as you get any information then prep for what your research finds.

EDIT: Oh and to answer the OP's question, yes, yes it is a hell of a meat grinder ... it did not earn that distinction lightly. One group I ran through it had close to 20 PCs over the 6 books die ... though the dwarf fighter stayed alive through the entire thing (through buffing his AC early and some really lucky dice rolls during the Xanesha fight ... 2 PCs left standing, neither willing to flee, both wounded to the point they could have been dropped in a single hit, and both came back with confirmed crits). Still every group I have run through this I do give the forewarning that it is a meat grinder and to have an alternate PC concept ready as soon as they sit down at the table).

Liberty's Edge

Ive just started to play in a Rise of the Runelords anniversary edition game. Our local Pathfinder Society team (well the gms) runs it so we can get some gaming in ourselves.

Im relatively new to the gm crew. I have also been hankering to try out the Pathfinder Samurai and have decided to go even further out on a limb and use the Sword Saint archetype (even though Ive been told its not the best archetype)

Our group consists of 4 players, A Cleric of Abadar (with a honking big Greatsword) 2 Weapon Ranger, a Halfling Rogue, a Magus and myself.

Now we are only 2 sessions in, and I have already hit level 3. In the first session, we managed to dispatch the goblins (although the Cleric did drop to negatives in that combat), and then mounted an attack on the Glassworks (well sorta. My Samurai wanted to speak to the owner about his time in Minkai and asked the Halfling to assist him in entering after becoming concerned the business was not open). Tsuko did managed to rough us up, but we beat him back with some injuries and he bolted.

so no deaths after this session and we made level 2.. woot!

Next session was exploring some tunnels we found under the Glassworks previously (and get a bit freaked out by Tsuko's erotic picture drawing and poetry). We managed to dispatch the Sinspawn without too many troubles and the Vargouile was dispatched by a crit from the greatsword)

However.. we had massive issues with the Quasit. None of us had a weapon to get through DR and with the flying thing, it just wasnt happening. In fact some of us dropped and were hastily made ok and then moved.. ported back to town so we could stock up on things.

Upon returning it came down to a tanglefoot bag hitting the quasit and actually dumping her into the first font , whereas we all grouped around and started trying to breach DR. Some did, others did not. It was a tough battle, yet nobody died. Our Cleric managed to work out how to deactivate the well, which we managed to pull off.

And then we were level 3. Ive decided to take a dip in the fighter pool so I am now Sam2/Fighter 1.

We have had some lucky rolls and some people keel over, but no deaths yet... Yet.

Liberty's Edge

We just finished book 1 of the AP. So far we have had no deaths. Only some annoying drop into negatives (4 times) and of course the ability damage. Part of it is we have a tendency to retreat when hurting. For the whole first book our healer was the witch and we still got through fairly well. We did try options that allowed us to prevent a lot.

We capture those we can and sidestep battles we don't need. Though one person decided it would be amusing to civilize the goblins. The rest of us are calling him crazy, but letting him do it.

Our Party:

Human Gunslinger
Human Barbarian
Aasimar: Peri-Blooded Witch (Winter)
Aasimar: Azata-Blooded Ranger (Falconer/Infiltrator/Trapper)

This week we will have a new party member

Ifrit Cleric of Saranae (Fire and Healing Domains)

Sczarni

My players always tend to dodge those nasty dice rolls and deaths with Hero Points.

A character survived by an inch vs Xanesha when she tried to bull rush him of them stairs into the oblivion by spending a Hero Point for +4 bonus to grab himself against the edge as last resort. A fall would have been a sure death for him.

I had only 1 death in RoTR so far and it was due to shadow critically hitting a wizard.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I don't know that I would call RotRL a "meatgrinder." It definitely has some tough and dramatic moments, but I don't feel like it's brutal. As someone mentioned upthread, pay attention to the tactics section of the stat blocks. The bad guys often have story motivations that dictate their tactics away from making the most optimal move for PC death each turn.

My group is currently fighting off the invasion of Sandpoint at the beginning of Chapter 4. I have 6 players. I generally keep them 1 level below the recommended level in the guide (we don't use XP), I keep them well below WBL, and I tend to add a couple extra minions and/or power up the named bad guys in most encounters. So far, My party has suffered 2 deaths: one from Naulia and one from Xanesha. I'm confident they'll suffer one or two deaths defending Sandpoint.

-Skeld

Sovereign Court

In all honesty, even in referring to the tactics section of the stat blocks, sometimes all it takes is one really bad roll, such as Xanesha targeting the barbarian when she closed for combat, scoring a hit with each attack and a confirmed crit on the final one. Result? Dead barbarian.

And the dice rolls don't have to be from the NPCs either. Prime example, during the first fight of another run through of RotR, the elven barbarian swung her earthbreaker ... and fumbled.

This group has been utilizing the crit hit and crit fumble decks for the Jade Regent campaign and decided to continue using it for this campaign as well. The player drew from the deck, threatened a critical against herself, confirmed it and dealt over 30 points of damage to a level 1 barbarian. Instakill at her own hands. On the flip side, as they were fighting goblins, I ruled the goblins all paused, slack jawed for a moment before erupting in applause and celebration, effectively making them flat footed.

Whether the AP is indeed a meat grinder or not does rely a lot on the dice rolls, but some with some of the encounters, the odds are the dice will still be just good enough ...


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I don't like critical fumbles. (I'm not a fan of the critical hit deck, either.)

Statistically, adding extra randomness favors the underdogs in the long run... and since the PCs are supposed to win, they're NOT the underdogs!

Again, I always roll behind the screen. It's just not fun when a well-played PC dies simply because of lousy dice rolls. (I'll drop PCs to negative due to bad rolls, but I don't like to kill them outright... unless they're doing something really dumb.)

I guess this is more a of a question of play style than anything else.

Back to the OP: You say that your players "demand" that you make all of the dice rolls in front of them, but are not having fun when these rolls kill off their characters. This sounds like an issue of trust coupled with a "Players vs. GM" gaming mentality. I see that often with younger players, especially those who grew up playing MMORPGs.

Oh, as for hit points, in my game PCs never roll for hp. They take maximum at level 1, and at every subsequent level, they take the die average score, rounded up. This makes them always have above-average hp, which gives them a slight advantage vs. creatures of the same Hit Dice.

(d6 = 4 hp; d8 = 5; d10 = 6; d12 = 7)

Shadow Lodge

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I've run Runelords up to about level 8 at this point (in Hook Mountain Massacre now).

I'd actually suggest it's not a meatgrinder compared to other APs that have that kind of reputation. Age of Worms is a meatgrinder once the party gets into the level 6-12 range.

Our party for Runelords has had 4 PCs and only 1 has died, and it was actually because he attempted to foolishly solo Malfeshnekor. They have had no cleric, and only after Thistletop did they get a full arcanist in the form of a sorcerer.

The party is ranger, paladin, bard and sorcerer.

By far the toughest fight was Nualia. The entirety of Skinsaw Murders went fairly easy for them, including the Xanesha rooftop fight. Granted, they've been amazing at making pretty much every saving throw and do have two elves, so we only saw 1 paralyzed PC.

In their case, they are fairly seasoned now, and take any hints at upcoming monsters or bosses very seriously. They researched the snot out of Erylium and came in with powder, ranged weapons and a net. Before hitting up the Shadow Clock, they spent time gathering rumors. They only got the basic ones printed, which really doesn't allow for prep for a specific monster, but they saw the crooked tower and gguessed that they should be prepared to fight several hundred feet up on a wobbly roof.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
zylphryx wrote:
Interesting stuff...

Xanesha is supposed to be deadly. In my game, she killed the party Wizard and nearly finished a couple other party members before they managed to bring her low.

Your Barbarian's death sounds more attributable to the Fumble Deck that to RotRL's general lethality.

-Skeld

Sovereign Court

True, but the point I was making is that it really is up to the dice as to lethal a particular adventure or AP is. Sometimes lethality is due to the GM rolling like an unstoppable train down the crit hit line, other times it's the player's rolling like the poor sap tied to the rails ... either way though, every PC death, regardless of the source, lends itself to the overall feeling of how lethal a particular AP is to the group playing through it.

The sense of lethality from the PC deaths that have occurred though, do also serve a purpose. Had that death (and the one attributed to Malfeshnekor) not occurred, the group I have in book 2 currently would probably not be too worried about their PCs entering a particular house ... and with that sense of potential already having reared it's head, it aids in setting the atmosphere of dread for this portion of the AP.

Grand Lodge

Going along with what is being said here, I don't know if I would say it is a meat grinder. Pathfinder as a whole has made sure that players need to realize that its a deadly game, low or high levels.

Some of the PCs in my game have that drooling, slope-foreheaded mentality to situations (with 3.5 still on their brains). This has led to a total of 4 deaths in my 8-9 player game and we are just now entering the Hook Mountains.

You can check out my campaign journal and read my posts for the nuts and bolts of how it happened. As for hit points I've adopted for my table that each player rolls their HP dice, and they can either keep that or take half +1 for their HPs. They have the option of scrapping that and taking what I roll out in front of everyone.

Smart tactics is really what players should do. All the APs will give you the ability to gather rumors, provide a support system that allows you to research found information. Most players just tend to wing it which can be deadly in the long run. A smart cleric with Charm Person can do wonders to unraveling a complicated fight and/or plot.

Shadow Lodge

If you're absolutely opposed to fudging, and hero points aren't getting it done, try stealing the bennie system from Savage Worlds. It could go something like so:

1) Every player starts each night (not each adventure, but each game night) with three tokens. At any time a player can spend a token to make anyone re-roll anything they please. The one who spent the bennie gets to pick which roll to keep.

2) Exceptional play gets you one free bennie, at the GM's discretion.

3) Each major GM NPC gets two-to-three as well. (Not the grist, but the actual baddies.)

This introduces a sort of 'above-board' fudging where everyone knows what's going on as it happens.

Now if a system like this is still not 'hard core' enough for you, well, I'd suggest you get used to using software to make new characters. It makes it go faster...

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