Why are the Pathfinder adventure paths such meatgrinders?


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Scarab Sages

It's worth considering, that some opponents are reduced in effectiveness, because the aims of the encounter may not be to kill the PCs, but to achieve some other story-related objective.
That distraction may be worth a lowered effective CR, than the math alone may suggest.

Last session, the PCs were cornered by a dragon, after a long day, and were low on resources. Things would have been worse for them, if the dragon had not been tasked with retrieving the McGuffin and teleporting away with it (and preventing the PCs from doing the same).
These orders meant it couldn't necessarily perform the most lethal action in any given round (full attack), having to position itself in a way that prevented the PCs regrouping, spend action to snatch it, and an action to teleport (foiled by dimensional anchor).

Had the McGuffin not been a factor, it would not have been forced to move to intercept the current holder, and could have leisurely dropped or killed one or more PCs per turn, something the players were aware was well within its ablity, having done so in its first full round.


It is hard to weigh in on this without sounding condescending, but consider:

- I ran Curse of the Crimson Throne through Module 5 with 3 players (including a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old), 2 GMNPCs, and no PC deaths. As a GM, I felt the only time I pulled punches was allowing them to reach 5th level before the plague hit so the paladin could cure disease and no one would die of the plague. Which is a really unheroic way to die.

- I ran the entire Rise of the Runelords with 3 players and one GMNPC, all 15-point builds with standard starting wealth, and had 4 deaths and a Feeblemind.

- I played through the entire Carrion Crown AP with 5 players, 15-point builds, and standard starting wealth. We had 4 deaths.

- In 4 books of Council of Thieves, Kingmaker, and Second Darkness we've had 1 death.

In short, I've played a LOT of APs with 3 different GMs, and we don't see more than one death per module. Either:

(1) Your GM is ignoring the recommended tactics for creatures and playing them optimally,
(2) Your GM is upping the difficulty level of encounters, or
(3) You should re-examine your tactics.

We're having massive issues with #3 in Second Darkness. We openly mocked one player for saying, "I shoot the least-wounded enemy," only to have another player declare, "I attack the unwounded one," just 2 sessions later. Every player runs off to do his or her own thing, ignoring teamwork, protecting each other, buffs, or anything else that might help the party act like a party.

If you're all acting like individuals with no concern for where your other party members are or what they're doing, then yeah, the AP is going to be hard. If your standard tactic is, "We kick down the door and attack whoever we see," you're going to die. A lot. The APs are written for reasonable PCs who do not believe that every single encounter must be resolved at the end of a sword.

Rise of the Runelords Example:

For example, I have seen several threads from players complaining that the hundreds of giants around Jorgenfist are an impossible fight for 11th-level characters. The idea that they are not SUPPOSED to attack 200 giants never occurs to them. Is that your party?

We kind of need more details as to what APs you're playing, and where you're having trouble. I'll re-read the thread and see if I see more details...


Cory Stafford 29 wrote:
I am starting to think that if you run an ap and want it to be successful, you have to have an ultra optimized party or rebuild all the major encounters from scratch. That defeats the purpose of running an ap. This is a failure on the part of paizo. The adventures should be challenging instead of deadly. I know it's a fine line, and there are a lot of variables, but they are supposed to be the experts. I wonder if third party AP's are better? Anyone have experience with those?

Again, still going through your thread, but I'll contradict this one immediately. Both my kids and my Rise of the Runelords group built their PCs in HeroLabs based on, "What sounds cool to me," rather than, "What sounds effective."

So optimization isn't your issue. I'm betting it's tactics and approach. Reading on...

...all the way through now, and I'm afraid that without concrete examples of fights that killed PCs, I can't contribute anything more.

Rise of the Runelords will readily kill PCs who:
- Split the party
- Charge in
- Don't buff themselves before known BBEG fights

Play cautiously. Use stealth. Don't decide to take on an entire army just because it's there and in your way. Ask the GM whether he or she is using the as-written tactics or optimizing.

That will tell you a lot. The BBEG at the end of RotRL has really, really terrible tactics as-written. If your GM just tweaks that BBEG a bit, it's an easy TPK. Is your GM following the AP?


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From my experience as both a player and GM in Adventure Paths, it comes down to whether you have a party or a group of individuals. Some level of awareness of how one persons actions affect the rest of the group is the tipping point.


Felinus wrote:
From my experience as both a player and GM in Adventure Paths, it comes down to whether you have a party or a group of individuals. Some level of awareness of how one persons actions affect the rest of the group is the tipping point.

Favorited and dittoed.

Liberty's Edge

OP could it be that the DM is upgrading and altering the encounters to be more challenging? I ask because after running two and playing in two the AP encounters are too easy. Were not talking about hardcore optimizers or DMs that don't know what they are doing either. Sure the Fighter of the group will take a high con and Str. Yet makes sure to take a decent or not too low wisdom kind of group.

The APS are designed for a group of four non-optimized. Which is bad enough. The npc design is subpar and that's being generous. I have lost track the amount of times that I had to rework and rewrite a npc. A magic using npc in a closed area has barely any offensive spells. No spell to fly or even a item to fly. The CR system is broken as well. I had a fifth level party easily beat a Flesh Golem. Even after I boosted up AC, to hit bonus and hit points.

The only problem I'm seeing is that your DM to compensate went to far in making it too hard for the party with encounters or just not optimized at all. the APS if the group does not optimize a little are imo hard to beat.


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*Reads title*
Because they like sausage.

Scarab Sages

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A tend to find that a campaign’s difficulty is far more dependent on the GM than the campaign. Some GMs run things tactically 100% and show no mercy. Others pull their punches a bit or adept the encounters depending on their group.

Just think of the random encounter tables in Kingmaker. It’s possible for a first level party to encounter a Wil-o-wisp or a pack of Trolls at first level. A lot of GMs would just leave that out.

Liberty's Edge

Starfinder Superscriber

As a GM, I am not great tactically, and I also really feel bad when I kill a PC, so I tend to err on the "softie" side of things for multiple reasons.

And, yes, GMing Kingmaker, my first level characters came across a Will-O-The-Wisp as a random encounter. I decided it passed by nearby, and they were all happily sleeping and having good dreams. The person on watch saw it, but it didn't cause any trouble. I wasn't in the mood for a randomly generated TPK....


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The last two posts (Macona's and rknop's) both have a lot of valuable information:

- Many (if not most) of the obits in the APs mention GM modifications to encounters. Unmodified encounters aren't usually all that hard; even my kids have managed to avoid getting killed by AP encounters so far

- Similarly, most of the as-written bad guys have horrific tactics and poorly-chosen spell blocks. For example, a GM running Rise of the Runelords could start in Book 2 with much better tactics and spell lists for every caster throughout the rest of the AP, and would massively increase their kill count without any other modifications. Many GMs upgrade the monsters as well. Combining upgraded monsters with better tactics = many, many party deaths.

- Finally, the encounter tables always include, "If you roll a 00 you get a TPK" encounters. Some GMs will allow some leniency. Similar to rknop my group encountered a will-o-the-wisp in Kingmaker. But I let the party see it and they CHOSE to approach it. After nearly losing two party members, they fled. Since they'd hit it with several magic missiles, I chose not to have it pursue. I could have easily justified killing the party members that were wounded, but I ruled it had lost over half its hit points to magic missiles and chose not to pursue such "ouchy" prey. GM mercy, realistic play, or GM fiat. Whatever you call it, I actively *chose* not to kill party members.

So I think you need to talk to your GM(s) about why you think you're losing so many party members. Seems like the GM is intentionally "going hard", and that's not what you're expecting...

Liberty's Edge

GM mastery also plays a huge role as well. When I run an AP I can usually drop half the party to bleeding in a big fight. When I play it to tends to be a cakewalk past 4th level

Grand Lodge

I suppose I can chime in as a GM who has changed the encounters of AP considerably. I'm running Carrion Crown... about book 5 now.

I will admit that I have had every player (save one) 'turn in their cards' at least twice each (a system where you turn in harrow cards to avoid death). The undercurrent among the players is that I'm a hard DM.

My problem is a single min-maxing player who created a aasimar archer paladin who on his own trivializes encounters. I asked them not to min-max but he did.

My changes to encounters to stop him from burning through entire sections and making the game boring have put the rest of the party in danger a number of times.

Recently I decided that the BBEG of the campaign has a 12th lvl antipaladin on staff whose only job it is to write scrolls of Corruption Resistance. I am continually tempted by the spell Unwilling Shield...
Of course his saves are unstoppable. That spell would be directed at the rest of the party.

What I am saying is, beyond venting, is maybe the OP has a problem player in his group like mine?


From my experience its probably 50%/50% blame, bad GM's and AP's just being meat grinders . So far I have played in ROTRL , Shattered Star , Carrion Crown . Currently trying to make it through King Maker and Serpents Skull .

I have never made it through a single AP due to insane amounts of deaths and the groups all falling apart at one point or another due to the frustration .

But I have never went back and read how the encounters were " suppose to go " .It could just have been 3 really bad GM's.

I can tell you this , if your not having fun playing a AP its time to drop the AP. Playing these things are suppose to be a enjoyable way to spend your free time with your friends, not endless amounts of frustration .

Scarab Sages

Despite being a soft-touch, I do have a difficultly problem with one of the campaigns I’m currently running (Skull & Shackles). No one rolled a support or battlefield control character.

It’s just a group of damage dealers that have no synergy or teamwork. There’s nothing to stop them taking damage, and no one to heal them up after the encounter. The party is pretty much done for the day after each battle :/

Scarab Sages

Elandral wrote:

From my experience its probably 50%/50% blame, bad GM's and AP's just being meat grinders . So far I have played in ROTRL , Shattered Star , Carrion Crown . Currently trying to make it through King Maker and Serpents Skull .

I have never made it through a single AP due to insane amounts of deaths and the groups all falling apart at one point or another due to the frustration .

But I have never went back and read how the encounters were " suppose to go " .It could just have been 3 really bad GM's.

I can tell you this , if your not having fun playing a AP its time to drop the AP. Playing these things are suppose to be a enjoyable way to spend your free time with your friends, not endless amounts of frustration .

Can you post the party composition (and PC build concept) for each campaign? I'm curious ;)


In CC we had our first death in castle caromak (or however it is called). Except for the fights vs the three incorporeal bosses in the first part most of it has been a walk in the park. And the reason those were dangerous was that not everybody could contribute in a meaningful way.

In KM we played 'till level 10 or so and we had 4 or 5 casualties. The first two were tactical errors, one by the party, the other one by the player. A third one was deliberate (I think) because the player wanted to reroll. That means two pc deaths remain that could be called caused by hard encounters.


Oh i don't know, here in the midwest we find Wood chippers make pretty good Meatgrinders, Don'tcha know:)


Have a number of issues with the APs but I never though of them as meat grinders. A few quite fighty dull dungeons but only had maybe 7 deaths over 300 sessions?


Macona wrote:
Elandral wrote:

From my experience its probably 50%/50% blame, bad GM's and AP's just being meat grinders . So far I have played in ROTRL , Shattered Star , Carrion Crown . Currently trying to make it through King Maker and Serpents Skull .

I have never made it through a single AP due to insane amounts of deaths and the groups all falling apart at one point or another due to the frustration .

But I have never went back and read how the encounters were " suppose to go " .It could just have been 3 really bad GM's.

I can tell you this , if your not having fun playing a AP its time to drop the AP. Playing these things are suppose to be a enjoyable way to spend your free time with your friends, not endless amounts of frustration .

Can you post the party composition (and PC build concept) for each campaign? I'm curious ;)

Sure Carrion Crown was the most recent one that fell apart . Group was me ( 1st toon cleric , 2nd cleric , 3 summoner , 4 summoner saved 1 time with hero points ). Not sure on every one elses concept but my cleric was a 2 handed sword wielder but spent all my time channeling for and healing for the party , 2nd cleric was the same , summoners were.

A half elven summoner who's eidolon was the guardian spirit of a pristine strawberry field, hence she was the "strawberry witch" when she wasn't summoned she was tending to her field . she had agreed to aid him since he had helped her defend the field against a attack in his past .
Second summoner was half elven summoner who's eidolon was a outsider trapped in the reflection of water of a small pond he bound himself to her so she could escape her trap each day until he found away to permanently release her from her prison .

Rest of the party was a paladin ( saved from death 2 times with hero points ) ranger ( brought back 1 time hero point )a barbarian and a witch . My toons never made it to lvl 7 all deaths were between lvls 3 and 6

ROTRL, fighter ( me killed 4 times between 14 and 17th lvl brought back by the cleric each time . began campaign at 13th lvl due to player quitting the game, concept was just a strong but balanced 2 handed wielding fighter some thing simple ), thief, paladin ( previous toons were a sorc killed 5 times then given up on ) , a cleric killed 2 times and a conjuration wizard killed 3 times .

Shattered Star me ( thief lvl 8 , 4 deaths and gender change quit after that . Concept was Hei from darker than black anime dual wield gladius short sword wore a mask and trench coat was lawful neutral. I admit with this guy i said screw it theme was every thing ) rest of the party was a cleric , fighter , wizard , ranger no other deaths except mine.


Coming back to Xanesha's change in difficulty, on thing is really important

zylphryx wrote:

for RotR:

for RotR:

:

Finally, the melee damage she dealt also changed significantly. AE is Impaler of Thorns +17/+12/+7 (1d8+8/19–20/×3) for an average of 13 points per hit (for a potential max of 39 points of damage per round excluding critical hits) compared to the original of impaler of thorns +20/+15/+10 (2d6+9/19–20/×3 plus 1 Wisdom drain) for an average of 16 points per hit PLUS 1 Wisdom DRAIN, putting her potential max excluding critical hits to 48 points of damage AND 3 WIS Drain). This is an EXTREME change considering in both versions after her first attack "she prefers to fight in melee" ... the original has her dealing a more devastating attack with a better chance of landing most if not all of the hits.

The original version facing 6th level characters

1) 14 Con and d6 hd (wizard) = 6+5*3.5+6*2 = 37 hp. One round at max dmg
2) 14 con and d8 hd (cleric) = 8+5*4.5+6*2 = 43 hp. One round.
3) 16 Con and d10 hd (fighter) = 10+5*5.5+6*3 = 56 hp. Two rounds
4) 20 con and d12 hd (the raging barb) = 12+5*6.5+6*5 = 75 hp. Two rounds

AE version vs 7th level characters

1) 14 Con and d6 hd = 6+6*3.5+7*2 = 41 hp. Two rounds.
2) 14 con and d8 hd = 8+6*4.5+7*2 = 49 hp. Two round.
3) 16 Con and d10 hd = 10+6*5.5+7*3 = 64 hp. Two rounds
4) 20 con and d12 hd = 12+6*6.5+7*5 = 86 hp. Three rounds

The party dies a LOT quicker against the original...

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