Help with Scarwall - First time GM


Curse of the Crimson Throne


Hey all,

First time GM (but PFS player) running CotCT out of the updated hardcover, with a group of players who are essentially brand new to any kind of table-top game (only one has ever played before, and that was only for a couple months). So far things have been going relatively well (I'm pretty light on the story, but they seem okay with it), but we're about to start Skeletons of Scarwall and I'm pretty intimidated by the scale of it. As such, I wanted to see if more experienced GMs have any advice.

A) Seeing as these PCs have never really played before, they have absolutely no idea of how to fight undead. Considering that they should get advanced warning from Laori/Sial about the nature of Scarwall, I think it's reasonable to assume that they should be able to prepare. However, I have never really done much with undead either, so I don't have a lot of advice to give them.

Any recommendations for tidbits that Laori/Sial could share to help them prepare? I don't want to give them items that make it a cake walk, but i also don't want them to get destroyed.

B) The maps are massive - in the book, it says that every square is 10 feet. If I were to draw out every single 5 ft square, the map would drastically exceed the size of the map I have. I was planning on just running it on the small side, with every drawn square as 5 feet. However, there are a number of encounters that occur in narrow hallways - the mechanics drastically change if the hall is 5 ft wide vs 10 ft wide. Any recommendations for how to handle this?

C) The sandbox nature of the path through Scarwall and the large number of maps is also going to overwhelm the one flip-mat I have. I am looking into purchasing a second, but until then I feel stuck. I don't want to draw, erase, and redraw maps constantly everytime they go up and down stairs. The only reasonable alternative I have come up with is to artificially limit them to complete a single map at a time, but I would rather not have to say "A ghost is preventing you from going up those stairs" all the time.

Thanks for the help!


First of all, congrats on joining the ranks of a GM. I am about half way through A History of Ashes with the group I am running and have planned ahead as much as possible for Scarwall, so while my advice is more theoretical, I hope it helps.

A) Undead only provide two challenges that most other monsters don't, mindlessness and being incorporeal. Undead, with the exception of vampires and other oddities, aren't affected by any effect with the "mind-affecting" descriptor. This is mostly found in enchantment, illusion and necromancy spells, so if anyone in your party uses those a lot, they're in for a bad time. Incorporeal undead (like ghosts) are only affected by magic weapons at 50% of regular damage, and take no damage from non-magical weapons. Aside from warning about these things, Laori/Sial could suggest they purchase metamagic rods of thanotopic and ectoplasmic spell (which will overcome these traits respectively) or once the party levels up casters could take these metamagic feats.

B/C) Scarwall is HUGE. That's part of the appeal. But if you can't manage it's scope on your map you can bring it down to 5 foot squares. It will make hallway fights cramped, preventing your PCs from flanking or retreating easily, but it can work. You don't have to shrink every room though. In fact I recommend keeping most rooms with large or bigger creatures the same size. Otherwise the enemy takes up the entire room and leads to a really weird/boring fight. Slim down where you can on a case by case basis. You can test the new size of room by drawing it out real quick before the session and move your minis around like a mock combat to see how claustrophobic the shrinking makes it.

Hope this helps!


Thanks! I appreciate the help.

I actually just asked a friend, and he had a fantastic idea for handling the size of the map that I figured I'd share.

I plan on printing out versions of the map on normal 8x11 paper. The PCs can then choose which room they want to go to next, and if an encounter happens in that room I'll draw each room as I come to it. It means things go a little slower in game than drawing everything beforehand, but is much more manageable (and you don't end up drawing a bunch of rooms that don't require map space)


Scarwall is a great dungeon.
It gives players lots of choice, but not too much.
For a start they have several ways to try to enter. My players first tried on foot, then decided to fly in.

Drawing the rooms as you come to them is how I ran it. It is a normal method.

The PCs should be getting pretty powerful by now. They need to be for some of the encounters, but raw power may well not be enough.

Running some of the encounters might be a bit tricky if you are in experienced.

Spoiler:
Eg. the Dread Wraith is incorporal and has spring attack. That means it can hide inside a wall, move out to attack and move back into a wall. It needs to do that to challenge a normal party. But inexperienced players might struggle to come up with tactics to counter it. Even my players took a while to realize they needed to ready actions to attack when it came out of the wall.


I am also curious how people have used Sial/Laori in the past. Do you have them actively engage in combat along with the PCs, or does this make encounters too easy? My ideal choice would be to pick and choose for them to help when needed, but it would be hard to roleplay that


This Side wrote:
I am also curious how people have used Sial/Laori in the past. Do you have them actively engage in combat along with the PCs, or does this make encounters too easy? My ideal choice would be to pick and choose for them to help when needed, but it would be hard to roleplay that

My PCs did not want anything to do with them, but they kept offering to help. Eventually the PCs attacked, killed Laori and forced Sial to use Word of Recall to escape.


OK, long post, having done both "classic" Scarwall for my family (wife and 2 kids), and "hardcover" Scarwall for my current group (6 players):

  • My friend had a 24" wide printer. I had him print 4 sheets of grid paper, 5 squares to the inch, 24" wide by 26" long, including a nice border. With a pencil and straightedge, as the family moved through Scarwall, they mapped it themselves and made notes as to what they were finding. It was spectacular! We still have the maps almost 6 years later, and the kids (and my wife) still talk about Scarwall being one of the best adventures they've ever been in.
  • If you take that advice, then when there's an actual fight, you can draw just the immediate room and its environs on a battle mat. We could slap the battle mat right on top of the papers and it worked well.
  • The clerics would recommend taking Death Ward, Death Ward, Death Ward, Restoration, and, oh yeah, Death Ward. No matter whether it's the original version or the hardcover, a party that doesn't have a host of Death Wards is going to be in trouble. I wouldn't give them a wand of Death Ward, but you can suggest that it might be the best 21,000 g.p. they've ever spent. Otherwise most of the things stated above are true: They need magic weapons and other ways to deal with incorporeal undead. It's dark, and they need a way to deal with that.
  • So, now comes a personal preference: The original Scarwall was nearly empty; the entire building top-to-bottom had 47 described rooms, with only around 30 set encounters. This gave the GM an amazing number of empty, undescribed rooms in which to put creepy stuff. I had handmaiden's chambers with iron maidens and bloody footprints. I had gusting winds in closed rooms hung with silk scarves. Anything I felt like putting in, I could, and my players' eyes got big as I described the creepiness of it all.

    The updated Scarwall has something along the lines of 96 described rooms in the same map. Yep. They just doubled the number of descriptions. And the encounters were upped almost proportionately; I think there are now more than 50 set encounters.

    Scarwall turned from a spooky, near-empty trip through the GM's imagination into a grueling dungeon crawl of the worst kind. As you can tell, I do not feel it was a change for the better.

    There are good things: The authors added "phantasms" as suggestions as to ways to creep out your players. Every new creature is well-thought-out; they didn't do this willy-nilly just to add new creatures; they really did think about what the room was, what might have happened there, and what creature might have sprung forth as a result. This was a work of "too much love".

    But my strong suggestion is to watch how your players are reacting to the fights. If they're obviously getting tired of the whole, "I open a door. I see a monster. I kill it," that is the new Scarwall, I'd just start deleting monsters left and right. You know which ones you can't delete. You know which ones you find interesting. Run those. Delete the rest.

    It's way too crowded in the new Scarwall. Pare it back and you and your players will have a better experience.

    Otherwise, let them experience the pencil, paper, and straightedge mapping that was a staple for those of us who started back in the 1970's.

    EDIT: OK, I just had a chance to check, and my estimates were remarkably close to what I get on a quick scan-through:
    Original: 26 set encounters in 47 described rooms
    Hardcover: 49 set encounters in 115 described rooms

    Grand Lodge

    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Out of curiosity, how did you end up as a new-ish GM in Scarwall? Scarwall is in chapter 5, which is nearly at the end of CotCT.

    -Skeld


    This Side wrote:
    I am also curious how people have used Sial/Laori in the past. Do you have them actively engage in combat along with the PCs, or does this make encounters too easy? My ideal choice would be to pick and choose for them to help when needed, but it would be hard to roleplay that

    In the first game I ran them pretty much as-written; Sial was a mystic thamauterge, Laori was a cleric, and they both fought alongside the party. The negotiations between Laori and the paladin on the conditions of her traveling with the party were one of the highlights of the roleplay leading up to Scarwall.

    "And you may not hurt anyone or anything unless I explicitly give you permission to do so."
    "OK! Sounds fun!"
    "Oh, wait! Ok. Unless they are attacking us!"
    "OK! Whee!"
    "No, no! Unless you intentionally provoked them to attack!"
    "Ooooh! You're getting closer..."

    It was easy with the first campaign because it was only 3 players and the GM. In the second campaign, managing 6 players, including a couple of argumentative ones, is no fun at all, so instead I've handed Laori and Sial to a couple of the players I trust to run them efficiently and well. And I'm loving the guy running Laori -- he's already caught some allied bralani azati in a Flame Strike. Just beautiful!

    In terms of the "power curve", neither of them are all that effective in combat. Asyra is a pain, but in the original she died in the havero cave and I didn't have to deal with her. We'll see how she plays out in this one.


    Its been a long time as I ran CoCT several years ago. I am not famaliar with the recent update.

    From the other posters it seems the encounters have been upped, I would trim them down judiciously.

    Scarwall worked well for my group as the focus was on accomplishing the mission re the soul anchors it helped drive the dungeon crawling and give it some set objective as opposed to walk down halls, kill stuff. The rping in this dungeon setting was quite memorable but that can only happen by the GM providing good opportunities for the party to understand the background and situation. IIRC, I used the hag to provide a lot of facts (after the party subdued her). It wasn't really planned but seemed like a good opportunity to convey info that Laori and Sial wouldn't necessarily be privy to (or wish to share)

    Re how to fight undead at this level the PCs should have reasonable Knowledge skills and advice from Laori, Sial. Info dumping should be straightforward. The importance of Deathward spells cannot be overstated.

    Re maps, don't try to map out the whole castle, just do the rooms you need either done ahead of time (1 inch grid paper can be found from stationary store pretty easily) or just draw them as needed. Maybe have a flip mat or two stand in for important encounters.


    Wyrd_Wik wrote:

    Its been a long time as I ran CoCT several years ago. I am not famaliar with the recent update.

    From the other posters it seems the encounters have been upped, I would trim them down judiciously.

    Scarwall worked well for my group as the focus was on accomplishing the mission re the soul anchors it helped drive the dungeon crawling and give it some set objective as opposed to walk down halls, kill stuff. The rping in this dungeon setting was quite memorable but that can only happen by the GM providing good opportunities for the party to understand the background and situation. IIRC, I used the hag to provide a lot of facts (after the party subdued her). It wasn't really planned but seemed like a good opportunity to convey info that Laori and Sial wouldn't necessarily be privy to (or wish to share)

    Re how to fight undead at this level the PCs should have reasonable Knowledge skills and advice from Laori, Sial. Info dumping should be straightforward. The importance of Deathward spells cannot be overstated.

    Re maps, don't try to map out the whole castle, just do the rooms you need either done ahead of time (1 inch grid paper can be found from stationary store pretty easily) or just draw them as needed. Maybe have a flip mat or two stand in for important encounters.

    Re Laori/Sial I can't quite remember what happened but the party had a falling out with Sial so Laori was the only NPC to worry about. Sial is pretty disposable.


    Skeld wrote:

    Out of curiosity, how did you end up as a new-ish GM in Scarwall? Scarwall is in chapter 5, which is nearly at the end of CotCT.

    -Skeld

    Maybe new-ish GM was a little misleading - I have done all of CotCT so far, but that is the only GMing I've ever done. While I've learned a lot so far, I didn't feel like I was well prepared for some of the challenges of Scarwall. For example, I had never heard of the Deathward spell before (and will now make sure that Laori/Sial mentions it to them).

    And to everyone else, thanks so much! This has been exactly what I've been looking for.

    Grand Lodge

    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    This Side wrote:
    Skeld wrote:

    Out of curiosity, how did you end up as a new-ish GM in Scarwall? Scarwall is in chapter 5, which is nearly at the end of CotCT.

    -Skeld

    Maybe new-ish GM was a little misleading - I have done all of CotCT so far, but that is the only GMing I've ever done. While I've learned a lot so far, I didn't feel like I was well prepared for some of the challenges of Scarwall. For example, I had never heard of the Deathward spell before (and will now make sure that Laori/Sial mentions it to them).

    No worries. I thought you might've replaced a GM that had to drop from the game or something similar.

    The most I,portent thing you can do as a GM is to try to make the game fun for you and you players. Do that, and all the other stuff will work itself out.

    Good gaming!

    -Skeld

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