I started running Rise of the Runelords some time back with a party of three and we decided on the Gestalt optional system. I'm not new to the system but I'm having a bit of a snag thinking on how to challenge them since they have thrown me for a loop with their choices. I've been gaming with these guys for years and they suddenly decided to play quite the opposite to their typical styles! xD
Party level is currently 3rd:
Aasimar (Angel) Paladin(Sacred Shield)/Fighter (Tower Shield Specialist)
-Super duper AC, usually sitting around 23 before buffs. Only going to go up as time goes by.
-Divine Grace making what can hit not usually work
Aasimar (Gauruda) Inquisitor/Unchained Monk
-Stunning Fists are a pain
Aasimar (Archon) Warpriest/Unchained Rogue
-Whip bases disarm/trip build
I don't want to counter build because that's just awful, but I don't want this to be easy mode. Does the Adv.Path handle these issues on it's own as it progresses or should I plan to adjust for my parties strengths to provide more tense moments?
This party is very combat focused. Honestly not having access to any arcane spells is going to make this very challenging for them later on, to the point where I'm not sure they'll be able to properly handle some situations. The early game is skewed toward more martial characters and they've gestalted, giving them a somewhat "false" increase in power.
As far as planning goes gestalt can be thought of as raising the power level of the party by 1 APL. Similarly against monsters that are focused on abilities that require saves or have special abilities (frightening presence, aura of madness) such as a basilisk would have its CR reduced by one. If you gave them more than the standard 15 point buy that needs to be taken into consideration as well. Tweaking an encounter for 2 CR should be appropriate, Id say three at the most.
This group is going to be highly variable however. It looks like flyers are going to be particularly difficult for them to deal with. Things like fog, difficult terrain and weather are going to affect them more than your average group, even through the mid levels.
They are going to be heavily dependent on magic items. It's going to sound weird but I wouldn actually increase the party wealth by 50% WBL and make sure they are using it to pick up items that help circumvent the lack of magic.
More encounters, so it's a group of 3, their APL is 3. (under 4 people but being gestalt)
Should look at challenges like that:
-1 or 2 skill challenges.
-1 roleplay challenge
-2-3 APL+2 encounters.
-1 APL+3 encounter.
-1 APL+4 encounter. (don't pick a cr 7 monster...its overwhelming and usually they will just die or win easily due to having more actions, instead 2 cr 5 monsters are reasonable or 3 cr 4 creatures.)
Take advantage of terrain, the way the monster think and fight...like don't put caster in a room where they can charge him without any obstacles or way to block them.
I wouldn't put flyers up against them because something that they just can't hit that is shooting at them just isn't fun.
They have high armor class so hit their saves. The pally will have high fort and the rogue and monk will have high dex so go after will. Maybe hit one of them wil a peacebond before the fight, magic missile ignores AC altogether. Burning hands will do some damage to all of them, even if they make those dex saves.
Have a wizard or three with stunning barrier up. Maybe cast sleep on one of them to spread out the fight. Stunning fist can only be used once a day barring feats so that really should be too much of a problem. Other than the high AC it seems swarms of enemies would give them a problem, or even actual swarms. A nice spider swarm could ruin their day. You've got options, do things other than just swinging swords at the PCs.
Your party has several weaknesses that can be used against them. . All characters are divine casters so you lack any arcane magic. The spells your characters have tend to be self-buffing instead of damaging. Your group also seems to be heavily focused on combat, especially melee.
You don’t have to use just flying creatures to exploit their lack of ranged combat. Archers on a wall or firing through windows will also work. Even starting the combat at a distance will give the edge to the enemy. A group of <insert humanoid> with long bows at 100’ away will mean they will take several rounds to get within attacking range.
Swarms are another thing your group will have trouble with. Since no one really has any area of affect spells they will be hard pressed to deal with any kind of swarm. You can also use large number of lower level creatures against them. This will more than likely cause them to use up some of their limited resources, or the challenge will be more difficult.
The paladin probably has heavy armor so even with armor and shield training his ACP is going to be high. While the monk/inquisitor will not have problems with obstacles the paladin will have major problems with them. Also until he hits 7th level his armor is going to be slowing him down. Unless the paladin is putting a lot of ranks to swim, and climb he will have difficulty with these skills. Stealth is also something he will have a problem with. If a situation requires stealth the other characters will be limited by his ability, or have to leave him behind.
I can understand if you disregard my suggestion out hand, but have you thought about guns? guns when within range do touch damage, and since your characters are all Aasimar, maybe the gun wielders could be human and you can make it a 'the old ways versus the new' but yeah, i have no idea what your campaign is and this suggestion may be completely against what you were envisioning.
I'd also suggest maybe a rival party who constantly foils your PC's plans. your pc's tend to be combat focused so maybe your rival party could be pretty much, the opposite. a sneaky group who rely on outsmarting your PC's. basically the Jocks vs the Nerds lol.