Am I too weak a GM?


Advice


I am GMing a PF game using several modules designed as a series. It started at level 1 and now the party is level 5 and there are 3 PCs. Non of them very optimized. They all have some casting abilities but no full caster. One Inquisitor, an archeologist bard and an oracle/slayer multiclass. The strongest of them is, by far, the inquisitor.

Even at the low levels we are playing the modules have save or die effects in them now and then. And, thinking of how I would feel about my PC dying from a bad roll, I tend to give them safety-nets or just do not use the SOD stuff.

The most recent example: A magical trap with a curse that kills within three days. They can't cast remove curse yet and the nearest town has no NPC that could cast it. In addition this curse transforms the victim into an undead that attacks his friends.
My solution was to have them find a scroll of remove curse shortly before they reached this trap.

Another example was an encounter with three vargouilles, outsiders that can aoe paralyze with a shriek and then kiss helpless foes to kill and transform the victim into another vargouille. So all three of them shriek. If the PCs do not succeed to make all three saves they are paralyzed and can be kisses which then is sod. The party did not go that way so did not have that encounter.

But pathfinder seems to be full of sod effects from the get go. And sometimes there are other encounters where I ask myself how they are supposed to survive that.

TL; DR
Am I too weak a GM if I want to challenge my PCs without killing them? If I add scrolls of remove curse to the loot if they are going to encounter a sod curse?


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Are you having fun? Are they?

If the answer is yes to both questions, don't worry about it.


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Aye. Shadenfreude has the right of it. Fun is all that matters with Pathfinder, or really any tabletop game.


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I don't agree with the notion of "weak GM". With that said, I don't believe you are doing anyone any favors by shielding your players. Either you shield them, therefore consistently cut down content and challenge, or you shield them for a little while, then stop, and they'll be caught off guard when the campaign suddenly turns difficult now that you are no longer taking care of them.

In short, if the campaign is gonna be hard, better let your players experience that early, so their characters learn to take care of themselves, do their research, come prepared and so on. It adds accomplishment, which is fun, and that everyone is having fun, is all that matters in the end.

But no, you are not being a "weak GM", however I don't recommend mollycoddling your players.

-Nearyn


Schadenfreude wrote:

Are you having fun? Are they?

If the answer is yes to both questions, don't worry about it.

Yes, we are all having fun. And I asked them some time ago who hard they would like it. Their answers influenced my GMing. Had they asked for hard mode I'd not have given them the scroll, for example.


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A traditional party has a Cleric who, by level 5, will have access to Remove Curse, Remove Disease, and all the other status removal spells they're likely to need to survive failed saving throws.

By having only 3 PCs, and no full casters, they are at a disadvantage compared to what normal adventures expect. It's perfectly reasonable to go easy on them under those circumstances.


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There is nothing wrong with not killing the players. Now if the players start complaining about it being too easy then feel free to ramp things up a little.

Sovereign Court

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I agree on not setting them up for certain doom. But I wouldn't have gone with the scroll. Rather, I would've put a cleric at 3 days travel who can save afflicted PCs. If they get hit by the trap, it suddenly turns into a race to get back home in time.

Any problem that they'd normally answer with "well, then we rest another day to get back to full strength" is now a lot scarier.

Sovereign Court

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I read nothing wrong with how you are running your game.

I once ran an encounter in a game where the party found an empower mass CSW scroll not long before they ran into 3 shadows. They were low level (1st/barely 2nd) with no magical weapons. I had it planned the whole way. They forgot about the scroll so I prodded a player with knowledge checks to remember that the scroll could kill the undead.

They used it, killed the shadows, cured wounds of their own (which allowed them to continue for the day), and I gave them 1/2 XP.


You are not a weak GM.


Thanks for all the encouragement.

@Ascalaphus: My Problem with that approach was that death after 3 days is only the last part of the curse. As described after 1 day the teeth fall out, after 2 days the eyes fall out and after three days the victim dies and becomes an undead. So by that approach the bard (he was the one to trigger the trap after he could not disable it) would have, at least lost his teeth and I don't know how one can regrow them without heal or the like.


If you're not averse to third-party, there's Lesser Regenerate; this allows them to feel the effects of the curse, but also to get better from it later. It is, however, optional. Of course, the more powerful regenerate is hypothetically an option, but... yeah, it's more powerful.

Prohibitively expensive ring of regeneration is way too much gold, but a cracked white spindle isn't too far afield of price, and would literally be the only thing holding the character together for a dramatic variant of the whole thing.

Just some ideas; you certainly don't have to use them. You've done nothing wrong so long as you and they are having fun.

Pathfinder can certainly be lethal if you play it that way, and some folk enjoy that more than others. On the other hand, it can also be relatively safe. It's up to you as GM. There is nothing wrong with any approach.


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Inbox me the name of that module, if you don't mind. It sounds like fun.


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If you think that the modules are especially too strong and have too many SoD effects, you can always use the optional Hero Points. that would give some boost to you players and help them survive. If you play PFS, forget it then.....

Does the Bard have Saving Finale? this could help with rerolling one save....


Cuttler wrote:

If you think that the modules are especially too strong and have too many SoD effects, you can always use the optional Hero Points. that would give some boost to you players and help them survive. If you play PFS, forget it then.....

Does the Bard have Saving Finale? this could help with rerolling one save....

I do not think so. Would it even work with archeologist's luck?


Archaeologist's Luck counts as Performance for all effects pertaining to Performance, so yes it would.

As for the OP, gotta agree with everyone else here. As long as everyone is having fun there's no reason to dial it up and start killing characters. Personally as a dirty optimizer I would prefer a game where I feel challenged to my limits, but I'm not in your game.


Just a Guess wrote:

...

Even at the low levels we are playing the modules have save or die effects in them now and then. And, thinking of how I would feel about my PC dying from a bad roll, I tend to give them safety-nets or just do not use the SOD stuff. ...

Easiest solution is the Hero Point system from the APG.


Don't railroad
Do not plot hammer.
Enforce consequences of actions (good and ill)
Reward smart play, and good roleplay
Play your monster/bad guys to the limits of their intelligence and knowledge.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes (we all do)
And place player fun as a priority
and make your fun a priority as well.

These are most of the guideposts I have adhered to in my far to many years of GMing, and has kept me in the hobby.

Good luck to you.


TL;DR: PC death is not inherently a bad thing, and can be a great thing.

My current PC, I was playing a human wizard in an adventure path. I was killed by an assassin-type, after being beaten unconscious the assassin finished my wizard with a coup de grace.

Initially I was bummed out, as we were too low level for raise dead, with limited funds. However, we could afford 'Reincarnate'. My human wizard came back as a gnoll with negative levels.

My PC was dedicated to Shelyn, and I had taken the "Inner Beauty" trait, so I never changed back to a human. I kept the gnoll status, and eventually saved enough gold for restoration spells, and that PC has been one of the highlights of the campaign!

Now, everywhere we go, there is a gnoll wizard with a penchant for fine art and arcane study. It is a great character hook, and I feel more connected to this PC than many others.

In summary, being killed allowed for my PC to become more memorable, a plot hook for the GM, a roleplay emphasis for the party, and an in-character challenge for me as the player.


I would also enjoy the name of the module


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On the contrary, I'd say enforcing such harsh consequences without clearing it by the group first would make you a "weak" GM.

My group plays with death as a thing. But we have discussed it and we all enjoy the risk of death and what it brings to the game. I think that any GM really needs to get players to buy in before assuming that kind of campaign.


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I think tailoring the module to suit the party abilities is the right idea.

If there's no cleric in the party and no access to spell casting services, dropping curses on them without a scroll or something just punishes the party for not wanting to play a normal party makeup. That's how you end up with one player "getting stuck playing the cleric", which starts off not fun for that player.

My primary principle in building a game is that every problem must have at least one solution. I would never throw a party into a encounter where I couldn't come up with at least one option they could use to defeat it--even if that solution is "run away and come back tomorrow with more guys": there has to be a way to run away, and there have to be more guys around somehow.


It's never weak to give the PCs a way out of something. Its weak if you do it for them. Ex: remove curse scroll.

What if, instead of throwing the scroll in before you let the trap happen and see if if cursed anyone. If they blow their save, give them indicators of what the curse is doing:

1. plants wither at the PCs approach
2. their breath stinks of rot
3. if an arcanist checks the PC with Detect Magic they radiate an aura of necromancy

Now... let the PCs try stuff. Who cares what the rules say, let them just try. Maybe the PC cleric can extend the 3 day deadline by using 2 channels at once; this leaves the victim feeling weak for 24 hours (Fatigued). What if the herbalist ranger works with said cleric to find an herbal remedy.

If the PCs are really stuck and desperate throw them a bone. Knowledge: History or Religion or Arcana speaks of some ancient Varisian curses, inflicted by Harrowing that resemble this effect. To reverse the curse the victim must make a powerful undead revoke their unlife and willingly die, thereby redeeming the undead and the curse victim.

Suddenly... SIDE QUEST. In that "next town" they are currently vexed by a wight, the restless soul of a woman scorned. Her unnatural power has also produced skeletons from the tomb around her and now she threatens to lead an army of the dead on the town.

The party needs to go in, beat the skeletons, but then capture the wight. They then need to convince her that revenge is not the answer. Roleplaying, maybe some Diplomacy, and suddenly the woman is transforming before their eyes. Her corpse grows young and fair; her ghost rises from the corpse and somewhere behind her a great wheel turns. She praises the PCs for freeing her and places a spectral kiss on the cursed PC who is then released from their affliction.

HUZZAH! Now the character is no longer cursed, they have a really cool story and because of how they won the town is so overjoyed they reward the PCs with heaps of gold and items! And all of that from something that should've just killed them.

But in the end it's just as others have said. If you're having fun and the players are too, who cares?


A lot of decent stuff here. Personally, I would have gone with nerfing the curse a bit OR created an in-story way to stave off the curse's ultimate effect, yet leave the character with some in-game effect until it got cured. For example, perhaps a witch could furnish a bracelet that will keep the PC from losing his eyes and dying, but he still ends up taking on the undead type, which could complicate curing and channel energy spells.


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You're not being a weak GM. Having fun is priority number 1. As long as everybody is on board with the changes and/or is having a blast a result, you're doing it right.

That being said: I'm generally a fan of setting expectations and sticking to them. If, for example, I say "This campaign is going to be relatively difficult. I recommend you make sure that you have ways to deal with ability damage, traps, and some sort of access to healing." and then let the players make their own bed with no punches pulled. Did the party decide that healing can best be done by wands? Great. Hopefully the party recognizes the need to actually BUY those wands, because they aren't just going to be laying around in the middle of a dungeon for the sake of party convenience. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the other players at the table who (presumably) expect those more difficult elements to be in the game.

On the other hand, if I say something along the lines of "I want this to be a story focused game with minimal character deaths, so make sure you make an INTERESTING character rather than one that is heavily optimized. I'm not going to have any SoD effects and the chances of you actually dying due to bad rolls is going to be minimal." and then run the Tomb of Horrors, I'd be doing a similar disservice.

If you're somewhere in the middle, and it sounds like you are with an unwritten "I'm not going to throw anything at you that you aren't equipped to deal with, but I'm not going to alter the content a lot if you sell that Scroll of Remove Curse rather than keep it around for an emergency that'll happen later in the module", just make sure it falls within the expectations that you set for the party and that they're consistent. In this case, I think you're doing it well enough and that actually makes you a pretty strong DM. You have a 3 person party with no full casters, and are making sure that the content isn't "unfairly" (that's a relative term) above their heads. That's not necessarily an easy thing to do.

tl;dr: Keep up the strong work.

Sovereign Court

Just a Guess wrote:

Thanks for all the encouragement.

@Ascalaphus: My Problem with that approach was that death after 3 days is only the last part of the curse. As described after 1 day the teeth fall out, after 2 days the eyes fall out and after three days the victim dies and becomes an undead. So by that approach the bard (he was the one to trigger the trap after he could not disable it) would have, at least lost his teeth and I don't know how one can regrow them without heal or the like.

Oh, right. I forgot it's one of those unusually obnoxious curses.

To make this one work out right requires a bit more rigging the game. Rigging the game for a good scare; as in, there's a chance to come through cleanly, a chance to come through poorly and a chance not to make it. If the players do "okay" they'll get through somewhere between clean and dirty. If they're really good they'll get through clean. And if they faff about they'll be in deep s%$%.

So, after suffering the curse, after a few hours, a PC loses a lock of hair. "Huh, that's odd." By evening, another lock of hair. Next morning, all his hair. So far, if you just shake the curse, your hair will still grow back. But by now the players know this curse won't just de-activate upon a succesful save, since they didn't get one that morning. They should be a bit apprehensive.

Next symptom: teeth feeling loose all of a sudden. This is when the real countdown starts. From there the PCs are located right now, it'll be about 2 days back to town on normal speed. And it'll also be two days before serious permanent damage happens. That's the rigged game. By now players know they're in serious trouble; if the curse can make your hair fall off, it can probably make your teeth come out as well.

During the day, whenever the PCs get into a scuffle and get hit by an enemy, do an easy Fort save not to lose a tooth. And another save by evening.

Next day (day 2 of the countdown) lose one (1) tooth, regardless of saves. And saves not to lose teeth are harder. But you can make it to the temple today if nothing goes wrong, get un-cursed before you lose all your teeth. So afterwards, you'll have lost a couple of teeth, but not all of them.

.

However, that's if things go smoothly. Now is when you bust out a few minor obstacles that normally the players would shrug about. A rain-swollen river that's difficult to ford. An angry momma bear. Stuff that you can go around, but that'll delay you. Or you can fight through it, but that's tricky too because of the teeth thing.

Make sure to read up on fatigue/exhaustion rules as well. Basically, if the PCs have some bad luck with their Survival checks and combat, and can't come up with any creative ways to speed up or bypass obstacles, they're losing their teeth. That's making it "dirty".

And then there's utter failure. If the PCs manage to be both tardy and unlucky, they're racing to even survive. On the third day, after losing their teeth, mention that their eyes feel funny, and that their necks are painfully stiff. If they don't make it to town that day, they're dead.

.

So the game's rigged. When the countdown starts, the PCs are basically on schedule to get back to a temple on time, providing they can deal with a few obstacles. Maybe they'll do really well and get to the temple even before the normal deadline, and keep all of their teeth.

If things go so-so, they'll have a few "scars", but not a complete loss of teeth. But they have to both screw up and procrastinate to actually die.


I agree with the sentiments above. A dungeon full of traps would hardly be a challenge for 3 rogues, would be a moderate challenge for 3 paladins, and nigh impossible for 3 fighters. A straight toe to toe combat with an army of orcs would be easier for 3 fighters than 3 wizards.

Basically, challenge your party according to their own strengths and weaknesses. If your party cannot remove a curse, a curse that kills them in 24 hours is a death sentence. Not fun. Not interesting. With the party the way it is, they have tons of skills and spells, so challenge them by pressing their resources with longer adventuring days, lots of skill challenges, and more story-based/social challenges. If there are a ton of combat, rewrite them into skill-based challenges. If there is something they cannot overcome, turn it into something they can. You are the DM, and are not beholden to the module. The module is beholden to you and the party.


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I'll agree that if everyone is having fun, then you are doing it right.

My only argument to this is you also run the risk of changing the meta-game. If no curse will ever effect this party negatively, then there is no incentive for anyone to make sure that they have remove curse in a future game, indeed by not having remove curse they are actually protecting their party more from curses than by having it.

Generally speaking, I think that a party with unusual characters should make sure to have consumables to replace resources that a 'normal' party would have at a minimum, or at the very least a plan for them. If your party doesn't have access to 3rd level condition removal spells and you are 5th level or higher, looking into buying potions and scrolls is important. Of course even with a cleric, having these as scrolls or other consumables is wise.

If you don't want to punish them for failing to do this (and I think that is a very viable choice) then giving them a 'gift' one time is fine, but letting them know that you did so, and that this is their one free pass, at least for that particular oversight.

I might also have given them a way to find the scroll after, rather than before but that is a very minor quibble.

Dark Archive

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Instadeath curses without the ability to remove sound pretty harsh. It sounds fine to give them a way to remove it, assuming you did not want it as part of a storyarc.

Everyone has it right; it's a matter of fun. If everyone has fun, who cares how weak or strong you are as a GM?

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