Adventure Paths and high level play


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion

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Is it just me, or does the second half of an adventure path (levels 10+) serially go off the rails in terms of player power vs. opponent power? It seems that the general opposition player characters face cannot even deal with moderately optimized characters?

And I am not saying I want monsters to kill more player characters... we had a case where a Fire Yai critted one of the characters and would have killed him in one hit, were it not for hero points... but the balance of the game seems to shift way too heavily towards the dreaded "rocket tag" in the second half of the AP and characters which need even one round of set-up compared to say, archers, can only deal with the minions which are left milling around stupefied while their boss has already hit the dirt.

It happens way too often that after level ten or eleven PC's autohit opponents with all their attacks and just liquify them into a fine red mist. If they know what they probably will deal with (like... demons in Wrath of the Righteous, maybe?), it only becomes more of a massacre.

What I am trying to say, it isn't fun for the GM and most players I know if 95% of all combats in APs turn into one-sided slaughters and while the lower levels of the AP's are fun and challenging, the higher levels need more extreme situations to do that for the level of power player characters have at that time.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

AP's are written with an "average" gamer group. If you turbo-optimize, you'll have it easier.


Go core rulebook only and get back to us!

I think we are trying this when we start our next AP.


One high level issue I've noted is PC initiative always outstrips monster initiative


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thenovalord wrote:

Go core rulebook only and get back to us!

I think we are trying this when we start our next AP.

Not an option, since we are doing Wrath of the Righteous next and mythic rules are kind of baked into that.

Also, the character which has all the other players groaning with his OP'ness happens to be an archer Fighter, most of whose power comes from the options offered in the CRB.

And when I finish Jade Regent, I'll have run three AP's to conclusion and it kind of always ends in the same way, with PC's brimming with power which the standard opponents just don't seem to be able to counter even remotely. The only possible thing to do seems to be to tailor every pre-made encounter against the parties strengths, and that kind of obsoletes 50% of what AP's interesting in the first place, that your workload as a GM is lightened.


I wholeheartedly agree. The solution that works for me is to stop your players from controlling the flow of action. The same encounter they laughed off first thing in the morning will be a lot hairier at the end of a long day, when they've used up most of their resources. Sometimes this means adding a secret corridor to a dungeon that allows a boss to get behind them.

The Exchange

Yeah I am running into this same situation. I have a party that likes to optimize and rather than work against them I just add more enemies. I really like Qorin's idea of adding secret corridors. I will also often add traps to an encounter. Traps out of combat often get detected but in the heat of battle the PC's don't think too much about traps and are often caught much more unaware by them.

I know it is changing the spirit of the adventure but these AP's are built for 4 people on a 15 point buy. Sometimes they require some adjustment.


Yeah. Archers are pretty potent, clustered makes them mass damage dealers IME


Why not just increase the hit points of the encounters? I've never understood why monsters always have "average" hit points. Hell, one of the reasons I go with higher statted characters is because I boost the power of the monsters so it seems more realistic.


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Maxing out hitpoints is a solution to counter the high damage output of player characters (And I did point out even already in the beta playtest of the core rulebook how higher level monsters needed that).

That monster/NPC AC's are not scaling properly with player attack bonuses is, however, a different problem. Some part of that comes from this particular group of PC's having a wide array of buffs at their disposal and items like Gloves of Dueling, but it generally seems like scaling of opponent abilities vs. player abilities completely breaks down after about level 10-11. I really hope that the developers take things like magic item crafting and buffs into account when designing the highest level stuff in Wrath of the Righteous. But I am skeptical.

And what Qorin says also is true... high-level player characters need to be under pressure to not rest, or they just can cast their best buffs/attack spells for the 1-3 encounters they can expect that day and after that the AP adventures very often assume nothing more happens.

Scarab Sages

Are the characters build with a 15-points buy ?

If not, maybe that's why they are too poweful. I made that mistake at the start of my current AP, and I now find my players have too powerfull characters.

Another solution to that problem is possible if you don't count XP and just tell the players "You level up Now !".

Instead of leveling when it is supposed to, you just shift and make them get levels more slowly.


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The problem is not with the point-buy or even the number of player characters (20 point buy and six PC's). The 20 point-buy is a +1 to their main stat or (more often) a second main stat at a +1, which in most cases translates to more power uses overall.

The problem is that with party buffs and players optimizing even a little bit opponents are almost impossible to miss and player characters are very, very difficult to hit. And that damage/saves scale in such a way that the standard hitpoints/saves of opponents are pitiful in comparison, while monsters/NPC's themselves generate saves which are comparatively weak. I think hitpoints are the only resource player characters cannot easily maximise without sacrificing too much potential in their other stats.

Again, until the middle levels of the game are reached, the game stays balanced enough, but it scales very poorly for monsters/NPC's against what player characters can put out when the higher-than-level-10 times roll in.


And this is why I say higher-than-normal stats isn't the problem. ;) But that's a long and old argument that's been hashed to bits in other threads. My next campaign I'll do 20-point builds and see how it affects things.

It also depends on the PCs. If they are optimized then yes, it's a big threat. One reason I like the higher stats is that it allows non-optimized PCs (higher intelligence characters, for one thing). But if there's a real problem with stats later, I'll just do something evil like a lingering curse that reduces all stats by 2 and resists being removed. ;) We'll have to see.

Intelligent tactics among monsters may also be helpful. I know my players often have problems because my monsters flank and are sneaky SOBs. ;)

Silver Crusade

I am currently finishing the Kingmaker AP and after the 3rd adventure, things started to get annoy me. NPCs simply cant hit the summoner's eidolon with mage armor on it, the archer ranger could win most encounters alone, and the ninja was quite different to stop. The cleric felt terribly useless.

The only challenging encounters play against their weaknesses (invisible enemies, touch attacks ..), but they don't really use resources against standard encounters (unless those include quite a lot of spellcasting)

That said, things are often quite easy to fix. Adding a couple of potions here and there, or a low level sorcerer to buff the troops makes enemies far easier to deal with.


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Hm, yeah. As I said, until the level 10 things work out pretty well with minor adjustments, even if your group exceeds the AP's limits of four players, 15 point buy. But after that, the different factors (action economy advantage, more loot money in play, the really good class features gained around that level, high level spells and so on) really make the PC's so much better than their opponents that it isn't a real contest anymore.

Monsters simply scale badly against PC's after that level range is reached. Adding some low-level casters may help with getting up some buffs, but I think it may be equally as important to debuff the party. Depending on party composition, of course. And for debuffing you need high-level casters to get their Greater Dispel Magics through the players caster level.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

magnuskn wrote:
Hm, yeah. As I said, until the level 10 things work out pretty well with minor adjustments, even if your group exceeds the AP's limits of four players, 15 point buy. But after that, the different factors (action economy advantage, more loot money in play, the really good class features gained around that level, high level spells and so on) really make the PC's so much better than their opponents that it isn't a real contest anymore.

Unless your a rogue. It is the only class in the game that doesn't scale well with the other classes. This isn't an issue for me personally; I like the rogue and I don't necessarily believe in class balance, but IMO the rogue gets left in the dust after 10th level. Alas, this is another topic that has been beaten well on other threads.

magnuskn wrote:
Monsters simply scale badly against PC's after that level range is reached. Adding some low-level casters may help with getting up some buffs, but I think it may be equally as important to debuff the party. Depending on party composition, of course. And for debuffing you need high-level casters to get their Greater Dispel Magics through the players caster level.

Yeah, buffs at high level have become a real problem in my games. Some of my players have literally buried themselves with over twenty buffs at once. Its this type of plot immunity that forces the GM to manipulate encounters around the party's vulnerabilities to make them challenging / interesting, never mind the time management required to monitor buffs. With my current campaign I have either banned or nerfed some of the "can't lose" buffs; freedom of movement and true seeing being at the top of that list.


i'm glad i deal with newbies who are still tripping out over fireballs and lightning bolts and so far care not a wit for bull's strength or bears endurance:) makes it easier for me.


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Luz wrote:
Yeah, buffs at high level have become a real problem in my games. Some of my players have literally buried themselves with over twenty buffs at once. Its this type of plot immunity that forces the GM to manipulate encounters around the party's vulnerabilities to make them challenging / interesting, never mind the time management required to monitor buffs. With my current campaign I have either banned or nerfed some of the "can't lose" buffs; freedom of movement and true seeing being at the top of that list.

I must say, while they are convenient as a player, the "communal" versions of many excellent party buffs from Ultimate Combat really were not helpful for the metagame.

I am considering implementing the "limited buff slot" idea from the beta of the core game, which sadly wasn't implemented back then (because beta testers hated it, as Lisa pointed out some years ago). It may be the solution I am looking for.

The Exchange

I hear your trouble. At just level 6 now in my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign I'm dealing with a barbarian that auto hits just about everything (and has a +17 to the damage roll), and even worse with an absurdly optimized alchemist. I allowed the player to take an archtype that replaces mutagens with "cognatigens", which enhance mental abilities at the cost of physical abilities. What I get is a monstrosity with 30 AC that can throw Stinking Cloud about 11 times per day, and the save DC is 21. Most encounters are spent with the bad guys puking and coughing as the barbarian chucks them to bits. Not that the barbarian really has to be there - the bombs thmselves deal like 3d6+9 damage, so an average bomb deals well over 20 damage.

So far Iv'e been maxing hit points for bad guys, and I'm considering to revoke my allowance for the alchemist to use that moronic mix-maxing archtype.

Have you considered adding +50% monsters to every fight? a solo fight is still a solo fight. but fighting 2 == fighting 3, fihting 3 == fighting 5, etc. Maybe greater numbers can pressure the PCs.


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Yeah, I'm already adding monsters in the appropiate numbers. At this point, that just makes the fight last one round extra, while the monsters still get auto-hit by everything and just disintegrate under the heavy damage. The main problem is that attack bonuses on player characters just exceed enemy AC's comically, to the tune that the last iterative attack by the archer hits a CR 2 above his level on a roll of three.

He by himself dispatches about two times as many enemies as the rest of the party and that rankles the other damage dealers something fierce. Not much to be done against it, to be honest, he just took the good archery feats from core, has Gloves of Dueling and a decent bow. I can't throw Wind Walls and Fickle Winds against him every fight, that would unduly penalize his class choice.


I’ve run into this but I’m not necessarily convinced that it occurs above 10th level. At times, it happens from the start. I’ll have some groups that just roll over almost every encounter. They have fun, and I don’t mind most of the time. We also don’t use hero points.

I find what this frees me up to do is play the dungeon more intelligently (if there is an intelligent leader), or for example, say the group is going into a drow base, I have no problem, having the whole place react to the fight and show up in wave after wave with the BBEG directing forces if able (not out in the line of fire).

I’ve only completed two APs (RotRL and LoF) and am almost done with Second Darkness.

In Second Darkness and Legacy of Fire, there were plenty of encounters where almost all of the enemies were hardly a threat. Sometimes, I’d realize they could barely hit the PCs AC. And when the enemies are gnolls for example, you don’t have a lot of options.

Also for an AP like Jade Regent, the enemy has probably been learning about the PCs for a while. They should know the groups tactics and be able to respond in kind. Perhaps, they know there is a strong archer in the group, and try tactics such as rushing him in waves. One wave to get close an occupy him, then another comes in with a BBEG.

For example, in Legacy of Fire, one bad guy escaped, and had a beef with the party. He basically, trailed the group and fed information to enemies to better combat the party.

RotRL was different. That one got tougher for my group in the last three books. They really had to be on their toes, but that may have been because they weren’t as optimized.


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I'm sure that this sort of unbalanced play can even happen earlier than level 9 to 11, but it has been very common in all three Pathfinder campaigns I've GM'ed over this level range so far, so there seems to be a pattern here.

As a GM, I feel the need to maintain some sense of verisimilitude to the game, so if the opponents suddenly begin to serially develop effective countertactics to the PC's strengths, it has to be because they somehow learned from earlier encounters with them, not just because I felt like it. Adjusting CR's upwards is one thing, but using the good countertactics has to come from somewhere besides the mechanical side. It has to be explainable why it is happening. And that often is very difficult, because AP's very often make the party face opponents which had no prior contact with the party.

Liberty's Edge

We are on book five of Jade Regent which has you going off to recruit like four groups to your aid, each one being like a miniventure. We considered splitting party and sending one of us to each just so it might be moderately challenging. We didn't but

Spoiler:
the bandit hideout consisted of us going into the courtyard and taking them all on at once. It was awesome in a kung fu hustle kind of way.


magnuskn wrote:
As a GM, I feel the need to maintain some sense of verisimilitude to the game, so if the opponents suddenly begin to serially develop effective countertactics to the PC's strengths, it has to be because they somehow learned from earlier encounters with them, not just because I felt like it. Adjusting CR's upwards is one thing, but using the good countertactics has to come from somewhere besides the mechanical side. It has to be explainable why it is happening. And that often is very difficult, because AP's very often make the party face opponents which had no prior contact with the party.

I agree with you 100%. If the enemies start using tactics that seem to be tailored against the PCs, it must have an in-game, story related logic. I’d rather let the PCs roll over the whole AP than turn it into a DM vs PC’s feel. I’m typically entertaining my friends after all. With that said, I’m not sure which APs you’ve run but, . . .

Some AP Spoilers for more specifics:
Legacy of Fire – In book 2, Zayafid escaped the PCs. He later created alliances with gnolls, genies, and the thieves guild in Book 3, giving enemies insights on PC tactics. In the last book, the BBEG has the ability to scry throughout his dungeon. I had him moving minions toward the PCs as needed.

Rise of the Rune Lords - I can’t recall exactly, but I think Karzoug had some means to learn about the party. Once the minions of Xin-Shalast were alerted of their presence, the hunt was on.

Second Darkness – At least in the last book, it doesn’t take the BBEG long to learn that the PCs are there. She has ample time to learn their presence and do some spying.

Jade Regent – Again, it has been a while since I’ve read it entirely, but aren’t there many agents of the Oni throughout the AP. I believe there are a few that have the capability to escape and warn other agents. Wodes comes to mind, though it is debatable as to whether he’d care. The PCs should lose the Oni when they cross the world, but spies would be rather abundant as they get close to the final book.
.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

magnuskn wrote:

The problem is not with the point-buy or even the number of player characters (20 point buy and six PC's). The 20 point-buy is a +1 to their main stat or (more often) a second main stat at a +1, which in most cases translates to more power uses overall.

The problem is that with party buffs and players optimizing even a little bit opponents are almost impossible to miss and player characters are very, very difficult to hit. And that damage/saves scale in such a way that the standard hitpoints/saves of opponents are pitiful in comparison, while monsters/NPC's themselves generate saves which are comparatively weak. I think hitpoints are the only resource player characters cannot easily maximise without sacrificing too much potential in their other stats.

Again, until the middle levels of the game are reached, the game stays balanced enough, but it scales very poorly for monsters/NPC's against what player characters can put out when the higher-than-level-10 times roll in.

Actually... 20 point buy and 6 PCs is a part of the problem. The game's core (on which our adventures are built) assume 15 point buy and 4 players.

The fact that you have 20 point buy PCs, 150% the PCs, and that your players are all experienced means that your players are going to get progressively more powerful, and as a result the further into an AP you get, the more noticeable this is going to get.

If it's REALLY a problem... dropping down to 15 or even 10 point buy is a good solution. Present it to your players as playing the game on "hard mode" if you will. Challenge them to play the game that way.

Alternatively, you can just adjust the number of the foes and their hp upward until you reach an equilibrium.

And if your players are having fun... consider the possibility that you don't have a problem after all. Of course, if it's not fun for you as the GM, then there IS a problem regardless of the fact of all the players having fun—the game's supposed to be entertaining for the GM as well!

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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One thing that I proposed for the game early on that never even made it into the alpha as far as I know (which is too bad, cause I think it would have sovled a lot of the problem) is "enhancement slots."

Basically, a PC has a limited number of slots for magical enhancement effects from spells. This number should be relatively small. Say, 1 + 1 per 5 character levels, to a maximum of 5 slots at 20th level.

Every helpful "buff spell" takes up a slot, and if your slots are filled and a new buff spell comes in to affect you, you get to decide which slot the new effect fills and replaces or if you want to ignore the slot.

This way, a 12th level PC has 3 buff slots. He might start the fight with a bull's strength, a heroes' feast, and a death ward. Once the combat starts, the bard begins a bardic performance. The character must decide if he wants this boost, and if he does, gets to pick if he wants to replace bull's strength or heroes' feast or death ward.

Enhancements from worn magic items don't fill enhancement slots, since they're already filling "slots" on the body.

Try it out! Tinker as you will! In theory, this not only prevents the PCs from becoming too overwhelmingly powerful by powering up with prep spells, but also makes it easier to track those prep spells since there's a limit, and also works to prevent the "nova" effect of a caster spending all their buff slots in one encounter, forcing them to be more tactical in their adventuring and spreading out these effects during a day.

I do recommend NOT using this for NPCs; let them have as many buff spells as you want, since NPCs don't fill the same role that PCs do. Of course, you can certainly go ahead and use the system for NPCs too if you want... that'll mean more adjustment to stats for published adventures is all...


James Jacobs wrote:
magnuskn wrote:

The problem is not with the point-buy or even the number of player characters (20 point buy and six PC's). The 20 point-buy is a +1 to their main stat or (more often) a second main stat at a +1, which in most cases translates to more power uses overall.

The problem is that with party buffs and players optimizing even a little bit opponents are almost impossible to miss and player characters are very, very difficult to hit. And that damage/saves scale in such a way that the standard hitpoints/saves of opponents are pitiful in comparison, while monsters/NPC's themselves generate saves which are comparatively weak. I think hitpoints are the only resource player characters cannot easily maximise without sacrificing too much potential in their other stats.

Again, until the middle levels of the game are reached, the game stays balanced enough, but it scales very poorly for monsters/NPC's against what player characters can put out when the higher-than-level-10 times roll in.

Actually... 20 point buy and 6 PCs is a part of the problem. The game's core (on which our adventures are built) assume 15 point buy and 4 players.

The fact that you have 20 point buy PCs, 150% the PCs, and that your players are all experienced means that your players are going to get progressively more powerful, and as a result the further into an AP you get, the more noticeable this is going to get.

If it's REALLY a problem... dropping down to 15 or even 10 point buy is a good solution. Present it to your players as playing the game on "hard mode" if you will. Challenge them to play the game that way.

Alternatively, you can just adjust the number of the foes and their hp upward until you reach an equilibrium.

And if your players are having fun... consider the possibility that you don't have a problem after all. Of course, if it's not fun for you as the GM, then there IS a problem regardless of the fact of all the players having fun—the game's supposed to be entertaining for the GM as well!

The Carnosaur speaks Truth.

The enemies listed in the AP shouldn't be absolute. If your players' party is too big and/or tough for the given set of enemies, go ahead and jack up their numbers/power to compensate. Max out their HP/add hit Dice. Make use of Templates like Giant, Advanced, and Fiendish. Swap out the Demons/Devils/Daemons for higher-level fiends.

Also consider using tactics. Let an encounter from elsewhere in the dungeon get drawn to the fight and hit the party from behind for a pincer attack. Maybe their mages will be less likely to load up their spell slots with big Buffs and Blasts if they have to also watch their own backs. Have the enemy's ranged attackers and ambushers go for the Mages first. Put a cleric in the enemy group and give her an Ogre for a bodyguard. Hit them with debuffing traps right before the enemy attacks.


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Gray wrote:

I agree with you 100%. If the enemies start using tactics that seem to be tailored against the PCs, it must have an in-game, story related logic. I’d rather let the PCs roll over the whole AP than turn it into a DM vs PC’s feel. I’m typically entertaining my friends after all. With that said, I’m not sure which APs you’ve run but, . . .

** spoiler omitted **...

Running Jade Regent's last module right now, so finally the opponents in the palace have some inkling what they are facing, with help of Renshii Meida. I've rotated in a self-built oni-blooded lvl 13 Sorcerer with Fickle Winds and Greater Dispel Magic (among other stuff), who already seems to be working out well and every Typhoon Guard has been upgraded into a Typhoon Commander. The party yesterday went into the palace commando-style and freed the captive daughters of the noble families and now will go to the Shrine of Heavenly Sovereigns and get Ameiko her blessing. Which means, of course, that the opponents there won't be prepared, because no prior contact, yadda yadda. ^^


SAMAS wrote:

The Carnosaur speaks Truth.

The enemies listed in the AP shouldn't be absolute. If your players' party is too big and/or tough for the given set of enemies, go ahead and jack up their numbers/power to compensate. Max out their HP/add hit Dice. Make use of Templates like Giant, Advanced, and Fiendish. Swap out the Demons/Devils/Daemons for higher-level fiends.

Also consider using tactics. Let an encounter from elsewhere in the dungeon get drawn to the fight and hit the party from behind for a pincer attack. Maybe their mages will be less likely to load up their spell slots with big Buffs and Blasts if they have to also watch their own backs. Have the enemy's ranged attackers and ambushers go for the Mages first. Put a cleric in the enemy group and give her an Ogre for a bodyguard. Hit them with debuffing traps right before the enemy attacks.

I agree with this 100%. A module/AP is written for a base line assumption. Which is the only way they can actualy write these adventures....as every group will be different.

So the writters are limited in writting to a baseline...you as a GM however should run the adventure based on the people and their characters around the table. If they are above the baseline increase the number and power level of NPCs...if the are below it lower the powerlevel of the bad guys. If they cast buff spells before combat...have the enemies do the same...and use dispel magic...etc.

Does it take a little work...yes...but at best any module is just a guideline anyway....feel free to change it to suit your and your group's play style.

The most common failing I see in GMs is the lack of the ability to run the game to their player's power level.


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James Jacobs wrote:

Actually... 20 point buy and 6 PCs is a part of the problem. The game's core (on which our adventures are built) assume 15 point buy and 4 players.

The fact that you have 20 point buy PCs, 150% the PCs, and that your players are all experienced means that your players are going to get progressively more powerful, and as a result the further into an AP you get, the more noticeable this is going to get.

If it's REALLY a problem... dropping down to 15 or even 10 point buy is a good solution. Present it to your players as playing the game on "hard mode" if you will. Challenge them to play the game that way.

Alternatively, you can just adjust the number of the foes and their hp upward until you reach an equilibrium.

And if your players are having fun... consider the possibility that you don't have a problem after all. Of course, if it's not fun for you as the GM, then there IS a problem regardless of the fact of all the players having fun—the game's supposed to be entertaining for the GM as well!

James Jacobs wrote:

One thing that I proposed for the game early on that never even made it into the alpha as far as I know (which is too bad, cause I think it would have sovled a lot of the problem) is "enhancement slots."

Basically, a PC has a limited number of slots for magical enhancement effects from spells. This number should be relatively small. Say, 1 + 1 per 5 character levels, to a maximum of 5 slots at 20th level.

Every helpful "buff spell" takes up a slot, and if your slots are filled and a new buff spell comes in to affect you, you get to decide which slot the new effect fills and replaces or if you want to ignore the slot.

This way, a 12th level PC has 3 buff slots. He might start the fight with a bull's strength, a heroes' feast, and a death ward. Once the combat starts, the bard begins a bardic performance. The character must decide if he wants this boost, and if he does, gets to pick if he wants to replace bull's strength or heroes' feast or death ward.

Enhancements from worn magic items don't fill enhancement slots, since they're already filling "slots" on the body.

Try it out! Tinker as you will! In theory, this not only prevents the PCs from becoming too overwhelmingly powerful by powering up with prep spells, but also makes it easier to track those prep spells since there's a limit, and also works to prevent the "nova" effect of a caster spending all their buff slots in one encounter, forcing them to be more tactical in their adventuring and spreading out these effects during a day.

I do recommend NOT using this for NPCs; let them have as many buff spells as you want, since NPCs don't fill the same role that PCs do. Of course, you can certainly go ahead and use the system for NPCs too if you want... that'll mean more adjustment to stats for published adventures is all...

Well, of course the higher number of players and higher point-buy are factors in total, because of sheers numbers and the synergy effect of more party buffs. It priorily has been not as much of a problem, but by this point and level the power discrepancy has become so noticeable that even the other players are becoming unhappy that they are effectively only cleaning up after the main damage dealer and that the slaughter of the opponents is so damned one-sided. It doesn't help that the players prefer to go in commando-style, buffed to the gills and surprise their opponents. It's damned difficult to counter that as a GM, since the players are going about their business in a smart manner (using wands of gaseous form to infiltrate, sending the min-maxed stealth monster ninja ahead to scout the best route). Not that I am complaining that they are playing it smart, but that also means that they can and do catch their opponents with their pants down and that helps make those fights even more one-sided.

Regarding the buff slot limit, I had also said something to the effect a few posts above, so this regard we are on the same wavelength as to a possible solution to the problem. When I talked this over with the two most technically savvy players in my group after the game yesterday, I got some good vibes back, so we may try this out.

I don't even know if limiting the buff slots on NPC's would change much, since most NPC's normally only have one to three buffs on them. But I'll keep your warning in mind.

I mentioned this a few years ago and got back either from you or Lisa that you'd be interested in hearing about the results, so I'll try to give that feedback next year when the campaign will be done... although since we are next running Wrath of the Righteous, that feedback might be skewed by the power-up the Mythic rules give the whole campaign.


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SAMAS wrote:

The Carnosaur speaks Truth.

The enemies listed in the AP shouldn't be absolute. If your players' party is too big and/or tough for the given set of enemies, go ahead and jack up their numbers/power to compensate. Max out their HP/add hit Dice. Make use of Templates like Giant, Advanced, and Fiendish. Swap out the Demons/Devils/Daemons for higher-level fiends.

Also consider using tactics. Let an encounter from elsewhere in the dungeon get drawn to the fight and hit the party from behind for a pincer attack. Maybe their mages will be less likely to load up their spell slots with big Buffs and Blasts if they have to also watch their own backs. Have the enemy's ranged attackers and ambushers go for the Mages first. Put a cleric in the enemy group and give her an Ogre for a bodyguard. Hit them with debuffing traps right before the enemy attacks.

John Kretzer wrote:

I agree with this 100%. A module/AP is written for a base line assumption. Which is the only way they can actualy write these adventures....as every group will be different.

So the writters are limited in writting to a baseline...you as a GM however should run the adventure based on the people and their characters around the table. If they are above the baseline increase the number and power level of NPCs...if the are below it lower the powerlevel of the bad guys. If they cast buff spells before combat...have the enemies do the same...and use dispel magic...etc.

Does it take a little work...yes...but at best any module is just a guideline anyway....feel free to change it to suit your and your group's play style.

The most common failing I see in GMs is the lack of the ability to run the game to their player's power level.

Guys, I have been doing this for a long time, too. I've already run CotCT for five players and Carrion Crown for five, then six. And a good number of homebrewn stuff before that for five.

As such I am quite aware that I need to place higher numbers of opponents and higher CR's with more players and that single higher CR opponents get easily grinded down by the enhanced action economy advantage of the party. The problem I still find seems to rather be that:

a.) Some builds, even when only played by taking the logical feat chains available from core and the logical equipment from Ultimate Equipment, seem to be overwhelmingly good when the middle levels begin to roll in. Example: Archer Fighter. Or better said, archers in general in Pathfinder.

b.) Having more players isn't simply solved by putting in more opponents of the same type which are normally found in the AP encounters, since having a bigger party gives the party more synergy effects from party buffs. Having a bigger-than-four party makes including a bard or other dedicated buff character much easier, since the other roles are well filled and that shows in the groups performance.

As for tactics, I try to maintain the feeling the AP puts forth and not have every enemy always be prepared to fight the party. If the enemy gets a warning that they are coming, who they are and what they can do, sure, they will prepare accordingly. But AP's present many, many scenarios where the party will meet opponents who have never met the party before and can be surprise-attacked. It feels disingenous to me as a GM to have those opponents be ultra-prepared although they should not be.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

Might I recommend checking out the Book of Beasts: Legendary Foes. This monster book was designed to challenge high level payers. Not a single one of these will be push overs for your high level party. Players will remember what it is like to be afraid. A good example is of the CR 15 monster that can make the party dwarf lose all his hair. Or the CR 20 mammoth that can knock flying PCs out of the air with their sonic blast. Replace a few monsters from your high level adventure with these is a great cure for the slaughter blues.

[/shameless plug]


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It is mostly a problem with the 3.x system. Game starts falling apart at level 10+ or so with even a reasonable amount of optimization. One main reason I do not buy more APs as I have no desire to run Pathfinder above level 10 or 11. For high level play I have switched to OSR games and we're thinking about 10 point buy maybe 15 on the weak classes, core book only and slow xp progression.


James Jacobs wrote:

One thing that I proposed for the game early on that never even made it into the alpha as far as I know (which is too bad, cause I think it would have sovled a lot of the problem) is "enhancement slots."

Basically, a PC has a limited number of slots for magical enhancement effects from spells. This number should be relatively small. Say, 1 + 1 per 5 character levels, to a maximum of 5 slots at 20th level.

Every helpful "buff spell" takes up a slot, and if your slots are filled and a new buff spell comes in to affect you, you get to decide which slot the new effect fills and replaces or if you want to ignore the slot.

This way, a 12th level PC has 3 buff slots. He might start the fight with a bull's strength, a heroes' feast, and a death ward. Once the combat starts, the bard begins a bardic performance. The character must decide if he wants this boost, and if he does, gets to pick if he wants to replace bull's strength or heroes' feast or death ward.

Enhancements from worn magic items don't fill enhancement slots, since they're already filling "slots" on the body.

Try it out! Tinker as you will! In theory, this not only prevents the PCs from becoming too overwhelmingly powerful by powering up with prep spells, but also makes it easier to track those prep spells since there's a limit, and also works to prevent the "nova" effect of a caster spending all their buff slots in one encounter, forcing them to be more tactical in their adventuring and spreading out these effects during a day.

I do recommend NOT using this for NPCs; let them have as many buff spells as you want, since NPCs don't fill the same role that PCs do. Of course, you can certainly go ahead and use the system for NPCs too if you want... that'll mean more adjustment to stats for published adventures is all...

I have tried this out, except the difference is I made the amount based off the charisma score. It worked pretty well, but I found it hurt fighter more than wizards. So I gave each class a base value modified by charisma. Not sure if it was a good solution, but it helped buff overloads, and made charisma a more attractive option (pun intended)


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Paradoxically, it's the martial classes which are ripping up the opposition in the game where the problems are cropping up once again and have been doing that for all those AP campaigns I've referenced. So they are the ones which should be reigned in by a "buff slot" change.

Liberty's Edge

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Strategy also plays a huge role. By high levels the players know their characters inside and out while the GM has to learn new monsters or npcs on the spot.


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Coridan wrote:
Strategy also plays a huge role. By high levels the players know their characters inside and out while the GM has to learn new monsters or npcs on the spot.

True enough, normally at that point the party really has learned to work well together.


magnuskn wrote:
a.) Some builds, even when only played by taking the logical feat chains available from core and the logical equipment from Ultimate Equipment, seem to be overwhelmingly good when the middle levels begin to roll in. Example: Archer Fighter. Or better said, archers in general in Pathfinder.

You could always ask others...heck I started a entire thread hoping for these kinds of of question. But anyway...

Example: Archers can be tough to deal with...but I have finds great ways to challenge a archer...like engaging them in melee with multiple opponents...sundering the bow string....etc. Sure I don't do this every combat...just enough to keep the archer honest.

magnuskn wrote:
b.) Having more players isn't simply solved by putting in more opponents of the same type which are normally found in the AP encounters, since having a bigger party gives the party more synergy effects from party buffs. Having a bigger-than-four party makes including a bard or other dedicated buff character much easier, since the other roles are well filled and that shows in the groups performance.

Again Despel Magic...Silence or even give the bad guys a bard of their own. Add buff to the bad guys...and debuff the PCs.

magnuskn wrote:
As for tactics, I try to maintain the feeling the AP puts forth and not have every enemy always be prepared to fight the party. If the enemy gets a warning that they are coming, who they are and what they can do, sure, they will prepare accordingly. But AP's present many, many scenarios where the party will meet opponents who have never met the party before and can be surprise-attacked. It feels disingenous to me as a GM to have those opponents be ultra-prepared although they should not be.

While what you say here is very true...do remember we are talking about NPCs with very high Int scores...to catch them unprepared is also disingenous to a a certain extent. True the Villian might not know the PC themselves are coming to stop him/her...but they should be prepared for some good doers to do so...be prepared for archers...or bards...or whatever is not a great stretch of the imagination.

Of course it is a fine line between this and as you said be ultra-prepared.


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I would agree with James Jacobs. I suspect that your most important problem is 6 PCs. It's not just 50% more actions, it also allows much more specialized builds.
A 4 pc party needs a general combatant (ranged and melee), Divine Caster (yes, healing and dealing with status effects is still very important), an Arcane caster, and has one further slot for a specialized build (in theorycraft a trapfinder/skill monkey). With 6, you can have 2 specialized combatants (1 ranged - the archer whose been giving you trouble, and 1 melee focused), the divine caster, the arcane caster, and 2 further specialists - one of whom can overload the casting roles (all those buffs you mentioned!) or the focused combatant role (even more), while the other specialist is a skill monkey (your stealth focused ninja)... A 6 pc party (even without animal companions, NPCs, cohorts, Planar Bindings, etc) allows competent players to build much more specialized builds, with corresponding gains in efficiency of tactical role filling...


Effective use of tactics can overwhelm a six-man team.

I once attacked a group of over-9th level AD&D characters with a band of Drow elves. The highest-level Drow was 7th level. The group consisted primarily of two wizards (7th and 5th levels), a couple mid-level warrior types, a couple 4th or 5th level clerics, and mostly 2nd level fighters with a couple higher-level ones.

First attack killed off the NPC Cleric/Mage with Disintegrate. This was in fact the primary reason for the attack; I realized I was using the Cleric/Mage to compete with another player and figured nuking the character was the most effective way of writing him out. Two fireballs into the middle of the group did 12d6 damage... but everyone saved.

The end result was the party fleeing. They lost the NPC, didn't really know how many foes they were facing, and didn't want to lose anyone else. While a dozen Drow died... I felt it was easily a victory for the Drow.

If translated into Pathfinder, the assault would have been probably +1 to +2 the CR of the group... which consisted of five players and the NPC. The main difference was I used them to full tactical advantage.

Think tactically. If your group is overpowering your encounters? Use Improved Sunder on their weapons. Use Improved Trip to knock down their fighters and get AoO when they stand back up. Use rogues to flank their fighters and get sneak attack damage on them. Don't just swarm them with more powerful foes. Use more INTELLIGENT foes who use terrain to the best effect and who aren't idiots.

The Exchange

Tangent101 wrote:
Use Improved Sunder on their weapons.

Don't.


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Don't forget that the title of the thread is "Adventure Path's and high level play". Homebrewn campaigns can deal with bigger parties much more easily. Even AP's can add opponents, but changing the story to the extend that opponents are always prepared or even get the drop on player characters is much more difficult, since it is normally the PC's who are the protagonists and the opponents are just reacting to them. So in most cases the PC's are the ones choosing the time and location of their engagements.


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Lord Snow wrote:
Tangent101 wrote:
Use Improved Sunder on their weapons.
Don't.

Concurred. I've been using a "we both don't use Sunder" detente strategy on that since I started GM'ing 3.x games.


I'm just pointing out that if you feel your PCs are having too easy a time? Take off the kid gloves. If you break their weapons? Then they have to shift to backup weapons which may not be magical. Hell, use Improved Disarm if you don't want to break the weapon. Just get the weapon out of their hand. Lessen their effectiveness. Focus all of your attacks on one PC to drop him or her. Go after the cleric exclusively. Target the weaker points.

And you can think tactically for most of the APs. There are ways to split parties and worse. Planeshift on the Fighter. Poison the Rogue (bonus points, a poison that hits Dexterity), especially with poison gas. Use treasure to full advantage if the monsters know that the PCs are coming and have some mechanism to buy and sell items (if only human minions).

Play the monsters to their statistics. One of the best moments in a campaign of mine was when I played the Big Bad to his full Wisdom and Intelligence, had him realize that he was going to lose... and decided he was sufficiently powerful enough not to need to become a God. So he quit and went on vacation, giving all of the items needed for the prophesied transformation into Godhood to the PCs and telling them how to destroy them.

Spoiler:
(Later on another player with me realized his character, related to the Big Bad, was actually the subject of the prophecy, so we STILL had a big-bad to deal with at the end. It would have been quite spectacular if I'd not been suffering GM Burnout at the time and rolled with the unexpected punches.)

By playing to the statistics I created a situation where the Big Bad realized how things were going... and adjusted to them. For instance,

Spoiler:
adjust Karzoug's spells (from Runelords) so he has some heavy-duty summoning spells; once he realizes how big a threat the PCs could be, he could start summoning some big nasties to work with him in the final encounter. He'll likely realize the PCs have weapons that render them resistant to his Transmutation attacks by that point as he's had an opportunity to attack them prior to the final encounter. If the PCs rest at least once, have him adjust his spells to compensate.

The AP is ultimately a guide meant to help. It is not written in stone. Adjust things as you need to. Make things more difficult as required. But also be careful not to go overboard; you ultimately want to make things difficult without being out-and-out lethal. Hopefully the PCs will adjust as well - if the cleric starts being targeted? They'll move the cleric away from combat! Thus immediate healing is less viable. If an archer is waiting for their mage to start casting spells? They'll try to hide or shield the mage. Let them compensate. And then strike from a different angle when they've gotten comfortable again.


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As I said: Verisimilitude matters to me. I'm happy to do all the things you've mentioned and have done them. But it has to make sense in the context of the AP. And I seriously don't feel like re-writing the last two or three modules every time completely so that all those factions which should not have an advance warning suddenly have one.


magnuskn wrote:


Running Jade Regent's last module right now, so finally the opponents in the palace have some inkling what they are facing, ^

By the way, I'd be interested to hear how the final book plays out for you.


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Gray wrote:
magnuskn wrote:


Running Jade Regent's last module right now, so finally the opponents in the palace have some inkling what they are facing, ^
By the way, I'd be interested to hear how the final book plays out for you.

I'll get back to you on that, I'll be writing a general review thread of the AP as soon as it is done.


magnuskn wrote:
As I said: Verisimilitude matters to me. I'm happy to do all the things you've mentioned and have done them. But it has to make sense in the context of the AP. And I seriously don't feel like re-writing the last two or three modules every time completely so that all those factions which should not have an advance warning suddenly have one.

Advance warning can come about organically. You don't need a LOT of advance warning, assuming your enemies are strong enough to challenge the party in the first place. You just need for the enemies in the complex to bother communicating with each other.

As an example, when my PCs were attacking Renchuch in Book 6 of Carrion Crown, they reached a point where they were fighting a group of Renchurch novices (L8 or so hungry ghost monks) in a tight space, so they got pinchpointed.

Now, the Novices were no threat to the party - they needed natural 20s to hit the front liners, and didn't have the acrobatics checks to tumble past into the back line. But they did have move speeds of 50.

And so while four of the novices held the chokepoke for the two rounds or so they'd survive, the remaining two ran off in different directions and got help.

And so a trivial encounter with 6 mooks that couldn't hurt the party rapidly escalated to include a high level necromancer wizard, his pet daemon, a host of programmed advanced revenants, and 4 L10 juju zombie clerics and their horde of 40 fast zombies. The party won, but they had a hell of a fight on their hands.

Now, I'd also raised the wizard's level and ramped up a few other key enemies, but the completely insignificant novices running off and getting help was the key.

As mentioned earlier, the size of your party is going to mean that you should escalate up your encounters, or accept that the party will walk all over them. APs and modules are meant to completable by a non-optimized group of four 15 point characters. It's up to the DM to adjust if his group requires a stiffer challenge.

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magnuskn wrote:
As I said: Verisimilitude matters to me. I'm happy to do all the things you've mentioned and have done them. But it has to make sense in the context of the AP. And I seriously don't feel like re-writing the last two or three modules every time completely so that all those factions which should not have an advance warning suddenly have one.

I think the limited buff slots rule is a good starting point here. I will definitely implement it in my game. IMO, this eliminates half the problem.

Regarding a six-member party: while this does require the GM to adjust encounters, I try to avoid boosting the number of opponents to throw at the party. Occasionally, this is a sound tactic. More frequently it turns encounters into overly long, drawn out slug-fests. Sure, the GM has succeeded in making it more challenging, but in doing so has sacrificed progress for a two or three encounter game session. And probably bored the crap out of everyone including himself (or herself).

Like magnuskn, verisimilitude matters to me. In order to maintain it, monsters/enemies should act or react according to their nature and not tailor-fitted to respond to invading PCs (unless, as mentioned, they are already aware of the PCs). The only way to handle this is to play monsters to their strengths. I prefer to exploit a bad guy's immunities: if it is immune to fire then there will typically be a fire hazard/trap in its vicinity. Undead are great opponents for this tactic. Toxic gases and airborne diseases all make good, debilitating defenses. My personal favorite is to give an undead boss a pinch of dust of sneezing and choking to use against the party. Terrain altering abilities like control water or control weather also do wonders to make encounters more challenging without necessarily increasing the number of enemies. Swarms are also a good alternative, against any character class.

Its trial and error, not all carefully prepared monster lairs work out at high level and hours of prep work gets crushed in two rounds by the seemingly unstoppable party. In contrast, however, some have worked too well and sent the party fleeing for their lives or TPK'd. Regardless, the encounters are more natural (and enjoyable) when run this way, rather than sending wave after wave of enemies at the party.


There is always pre-testing an encounter with the party. I've done that when rewriting Reign of Winter for a higher-level party. I started doing that after three medium Ice Elementals almost killed the 3rd and 4th level party I'm running (due to two being stunned by a Shout trap in the previous round).

For instance, I found that an encounter I was planning in which everyone who escaped the party was used to attack them in the camp ambush... along with an extra air elemental and both air elementals being Medium (and all enemies having extra class levels)... well, it was too much for the group. I'd have found out the hard way if I didn't pre-test the encounter.

Of course sometimes the party can surprise you even with pre-testing. But that's part of the fun for us GMs. :)

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