Advice on GMing for an old grumpy GM.....


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I currently GMing a highly customized Skulls and Shackles campain with 4 to 5 players.
The party is a Rogue / Slayer, a Tatooed sorceror, a Ubarbarian THF, and a Druid/Ranger with natural attacks, all level 6 or 7.
During the last session, they were on Ricketty Grove and investigating of the watcher disappearance.
They've already found the deceased watcher and slain a cyclops manhunter (as described on the Inner Sea Monster Codex).
It was a monster by the book, it was a difficult fight but they manage to get him without loosing a PC.
I've decided that there was a second Cyclop, wife of the one they have slain, and more linked to the Stealth than the previous one, so I've replaced the intimidation skill by stealth and gave her a Stealth Magic Item (+ 15 in stealth + Blur Effect on natural surrounding), that's gave her a +17 stealth, quite effective, and she start to hunt them, try to kill them with a big rock going down the mountain, shooting the druid transformed in a bird...
They've decided to track her but without taking any stealth option, or magic defence... They finaly arrived on a platform where the big Rock was lying and try to find tracks, without success (I've made a Survival opposed check because the Cyclop was a ranger also, and win to him by pips). The barbarian decided to taunt the Cyclops, made a great test and the cyclops who was hiding at a range, decided to attack the barbarian with his bow first, then switch to her two handed axe, the barbarian decided to charge, take a critical AoO, hit the Cyclops, and at her, action take two attacks and down the barbarian, the Druid/ranger decided to close stealthly to attack the next round, the cyclop had the initiative, spot him, close to attack him and put a critical on it, killing it on the spot.
Whith two PCs down in two round, the other two managed to heal the barbarian who put down the cyclops in one round.
The Cyclops is CR 7/ 8 (with the item they have recovered after the fight plus the items of the Cyclops for around 25000 GP of treasure), I've have had lucky throws and choose not to fudge the dice because they have so badly manage their hunt (no stealth, no invisibility,...).
Does my monster was too strong for them ?
Should I've fudge my dice because of player's bad play ?
I've had a heated argument after the game so I want a external point of view...
Thanks


You changed around skills, but were the cyclop's attack and damage bonuses the same as before?


Ciaran Barnes wrote:
You changed around skills, but were the cyclop's attack and damage bonuses the same as before?

Only changed skills and altered magics items, no change on attacks and damage bonus, just removed the Cleave line to skill focus, percetion and survival...


To me it sounds like they handled a difficult encounter poorly, and perhaps deserved to lose some people. However, a CR 8 encounter for a party level average of 6.5 should be difficult. This is a problem with single monster encounters of a CR higher than the players, though. Most of the time, the single monster will get nuked by the party. However, sometimes a single higher CR monster will nuke the party instead with its higher attacks and abilities.

I once ran a 1st level dungeon where the final monster was a wounded Barghest with 5HP remaining. It had 17 AC, so I figured perhaps between a Monk, Magus, an Alchemist, and an NPC (I can't remember what class it was), that they could handle it.

The barghest TPK'd them. I was stunned.

In general, the best encounters are ones with multiple enemies that wear a party down rather than ones that can take down a mostly healed Barbarian in one lucky critical hit. Giants of any kind, be they Ogres, Cyclopes, or actual Giants, kind of suck to fight against because of that potential for a one-shot critical hit kill on a player. Some people enjoy the risk, while most will be frustrated that their character got shut down by such a foe.

This happened to a fellow player in Rise of the Runelords. Some Ogre boss with a Human-bane Pick scored a critical hit against our Alchemist, the only Human in the room. He took the Alchemist down from full health to -30 or so, because of the x3 critical hit modifier on a power attack. He almost didn't want to continue the campaign because of how unfair it was, basically. And I can't say as I blame him. Now, our party didn't have an arcane caster, which could probably easily control the ogres, but because we didn't every fight against a giant was tough.

I am, however, confused as to how the Cyclops Ranger managed to pull her bow, shoot, and then drop and switch in one round. I guess if she already had it drawn, it could have been a standard action if she only shot once, I guess.

The multiclassed Druid/Ranger sounds like a sub-optimal character, and with a low constitution score and no toughness I could easily see him/her getting nuked by a cyclops with a greataxe. The Barbarian was just a victim of bad luck, I suppose, but then Barbarians don't typically have AC, so something with really high damage like that is a threat. Perhaps he shouldn't have charged.

At the end of it, your party did survive and it was a tough encounter (I'm still not sure if the druid lived or not, though). However, you may have not considered that large creatures get like a -4 to Stealth, and lower Dexterity on average as well, so the +17 may have felt a bit unfair to them given their target.


Yondu wrote:
Ciaran Barnes wrote:
You changed around skills, but were the cyclop's attack and damage bonuses the same as before?
Only changed skills and altered magics items, no change on attacks and damage bonus, just removed the Cleave line to skill focus, percetion and survival...

Sounds like its offensiv ability was lessened, in general, and it was in a terrain on which it had the advantage. I've been in situations where I felt the way your players are feeling, so I understand the frustration. Based on your changes though, it sounds like it came down to the die rolls. You can't foresee when an enemy will score a massive critical hit, just as when you can't foresee a PC one-shoting an enemy that you were looking forward to enveiling.


I guess your narrative of the encounter prompts a few questions from me:

Did you decide to add the second cyclops after they fought the first one?
Had they taken the time to recover (heal, etc) from the first one before you started the second cyclops encounter?

The reason I ask those two questions gets at the point of adding the second encounter. It reads like you were prepared for it ahead of time considering she was prepped with a stealthy magic item, but it also reads a bit like it was ad hoc after they made it through the first encounter. This matters a bit because if it had been in reaction to the first encounter, I'd have thought the second cyclops encounter to be a bit spiteful.

With respect to not fudging the dice because the PCs didn't engage in a lot of stealth while hunting the second cyclops, why didn't the druid/ranger's attempt to approach her stealthily (once she was flushed out with the taunt) count as an attempt at stealth? Worse, they were the PC actually killed in the action for the trouble they took to not rush in.

And then there's the issue of shooting the druid/ranger wildshaped into a bird. Did the cyclops know it wasn't just a regular bird? Because, frankly, wildshape really is a fantastic disguise...


Yondu wrote:
I currently GMing a highly customized Skulls and Shackles campain with 4 to 5 players....the barbarian decided to charge, take a critical AoO, hit the Cyclops, and at her, action take two attacks and down the barbarian, the Druid/ranger decided to close stealthly to attack the next round, the cyclop had the initiative, spot him, close to attack him and put a critical on it, killing it on the spot..

Not TOO hard, but throw in a free scroll of raise dead or reincarnate in the loot. Only one death, right?

I mean those criticals were what did it, and that's not their fault.


Bill Dunn wrote:

I guess your narrative of the encounter prompts a few questions from me:

Did you decide to add the second cyclops after they fought the first one?
Had they taken the time to recover (heal, etc) from the first one before you started the second cyclops encounter?

The reason I ask those two questions gets at the point of adding the second encounter. It reads like you were prepared for it ahead of time considering she was prepped with a stealthy magic item, but it also reads a bit like it was ad hoc after they made it through the first encounter. This matters a bit because if it had been in reaction to the first encounter, I'd have thought the second cyclops encounter to be a bit spiteful.

With respect to not fudging the dice because the PCs didn't engage in a lot of stealth while hunting the second cyclops, why didn't the druid/ranger's attempt to approach her stealthily (once she was flushed out with the taunt) count as an attempt at stealth? Worse, they were the PC actually killed in the action for the trouble they took to not rush in.

And then there's the issue of shooting the druid/ranger wildshaped into a bird. Did the cyclops know it wasn't just a regular bird? Because, frankly, wildshape really is a fantastic disguise...

I choose tham to face two cyclops at the beginning, one was a guard (Tougher)and the other the ranger (Stealthier), and due to the difficulty they had with the first one, I choose to let them fully recover health before launching the other one on their track, concerning the wildshapping druid, he change in the open as the cyclops was spying them...

The ranger / druid try on stealth was a good try but with a low level and a poor dice, it was pretty easy to spot him and as it was the closest and most aggresive opponent the cyclops close to him and slay him with a critical, and yes the character is more than sub optimal..
For the Atk Bonus it was the one from the book, CR 7 Cyclops Manhunter...To add some details, their characters were a 32 points build and max HP from level 1 to 5...
He use his bow in one round from a cover, shoot once and drop it to take his greataxe..

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Darkfireslide, I'm not surprised it was a TPK. The PCs probably had a +3 to +5 to hit, maximum, so against AC 17, they needed to roll a 12 or 14 to hit.


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Yondu wrote:

I choose tham to face two cyclops at the beginning, one was a guard (Tougher)and the other the ranger (Stealthier), and due to the difficulty they had with the first one, I choose to let them fully recover health before launching the other one on their track, concerning the wildshapping druid, he change in the open as the cyclops was spying them...

The ranger / druid try on stealth was a good try but with a low level and a poor dice, it was pretty easy to spot him and as it was the closest and most aggresive opponent the cyclops close to him and slay him with a critical, and yes the character is more than sub optimal..

Fair enough, but had I been GMing, I think I might have considered a bad roll on the stealth check for the druid/ranger thwarting the attempt to be stealthy enough and ignored the crit threat from the large greataxe attack against him. If a single crit took him down, 2 rounds of normal attacks could have done it as well, but given him a chance to withdraw if he didn't like how things were going after the cyclops moved in and got that first blow.

I'm always a bit wary of triple (or more) damage crits from things with substantial damage bonuses and the effect they can have on the fight. I don't worry about them from PCs so much, but the PCs risk far more of them than any monster usually does, and a hot streak can be devastating.

Liberty's Edge

A critical hit with a large x3 weapon from a creature with a +5 strength bonus can make for a bad day...and you said there were two. If those crits did not happen, how do you think the results of the combat would have been? My guess is that the characters would have been fine.

I think the wife was a little too stealth focused. In looking over the monster's stats it looks like you would have had to max out the stealth in almost every way you could. Other than the PCs, what reason would she need to have a +17 Stealth bonus? A +27 by taking 10 to hunt feels a bit excessive. I don't think it mattered much in the end, but it's the only thing that bothers me (all be it a minor one).

However, you were open to having the Cyclops plans changed by it being called out by the barbarian, so I gotta give credit for that.

Otherwise, if your intention was to provide a challenging encounter, I think you did fine.


RedDogMT wrote:

A critical hit with a large x3 weapon from a creature with a +5 strength bonus can make for a bad day...and you said there were two. If those crits did not happen, how do you think the results of the combat would have been? My guess is that the characters would have been fine.

I think the wife was a little too stealth focused. In looking over the monster's stats it looks like you would have had to max out the stealth in almost every way you could. Other than the PCs, what reason would she need to have a +17 Stealth bonus? A +27 by taking 10 to hunt feels a bit excessive. I don't think it mattered much in the end, but it's the only thing that bothers me (all be it a minor one).

However, you were open to having the Cyclops plans changed by it being called out by the barbarian, so I gotta give credit for that.

Otherwise, if your intention was to provide a challenging encounter, I think you did fine.

Thanks for your comments Bill and Red DogMT, it was clear that I want to give them a challenging encounter, I usually fudge the criticals on monster if I have the feeling that it will be unfair, but they were so bad during the session...

+17 in Stealth when you have players with +13 in Perception is not so much, especially if they have used their Alter Self possibillity of scent to give them + 8 in perception, the sorceror never use his monkey familiar in reco, as I indicated to them, a monkey in a jungle will be unnoticed...
I use to make strong encounters once every 5 or 6 gaming sessions as they are quite powerfull (32 BP, Full HP from 1 to 5,..), to give them the money and the items they need to be heroes, I think I spoil them too much....

The Exchange

I would say while it may not seem like much, changing the Cyclop's skill from intimidate to Stealth is a bigger difference than you might think when just considering that you're only moving some skill points around. You've traded a skill that can add a few negatives to a character to one that can allow this large powerful creature to go about completely unseen. And THEN you gave her an item to boost this ability.

You've allowed the Cyclops to get a free 1st shot at range to open combat, followed by swapping to the melee weapon so closing into melee would have to provoke. All while potentially preventing ranged characters from potentially getting to attack first (initiative's depending)

Maybe none of that would have made a big difference in the encounter, or maybe if everyone could had seen the Cyclops it would have gone totally different.

A +17 to Stealth with Players who have +13 Perception may not seem like much, but that means the creature stealthing is better at hiding than the players looking are. And I have a feeling that is NOT normal for something as large and powerful as a Cyclops.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

But the Cyclops is making 1 Stealth check, and the PCs have 3 to 8 or more chances to use Perception.


Glorf Fei-Hung wrote:

I would say while it may not seem like much, changing the Cyclop's skill from intimidate to Stealth is a bigger difference than you might think when just considering that you're only moving some skill points around. You've traded a skill that can add a few negatives to a character to one that can allow this large powerful creature to go about completely unseen. And THEN you gave her an item to boost this ability.

You've allowed the Cyclops to get a free 1st shot at range to open combat, followed by swapping to the melee weapon so closing into melee would have to provoke. All while potentially preventing ranged characters from potentially getting to attack first (initiative's depending)

Maybe none of that would have made a big difference in the encounter, or maybe if everyone could had seen the Cyclops it would have gone totally different.

A +17 to Stealth with Players who have +13 Perception may not seem like much, but that means the creature stealthing is better at hiding than the players looking are. And I have a feeling that is NOT normal for something as large and powerful as a Cyclops.

Thanks for you comment, I understand your point of view, making a powerfull melee opponent stealthier can be devastating especially in a natural surrounding. My view is that the sorceror could have been more efficient if the player, despite my advices, refuse to put some points in Perception, because with 6 ranks + Scent + Alertness from his familiar, his perception were at + 16, not many different from +17 (I advice him to go Dragon lineage to have Perception as a class skill with that we have a +19 in perception), he also forgot to hide the team from scrutiny during the time they were in the open...

Liberty's Edge

Yondu wrote:
RedDogMT wrote:
...I think the wife was a little too stealth focused. In looking over the monster's stats it looks like you would have had to max out the stealth in almost every way you could. Other than the PCs, what reason would she need to have a +17 Stealth bonus? A +27 by taking 10 to hunt feels a bit excessive. I don't think it mattered much in the end, but it's the only thing that bothers me (all be it a minor one)....
+17 in Stealth when you have players with +13 in Perception is not so much, especially if they have used their Alter Self possibillity of scent to give them + 8 in perception, the sorceror never use his monkey familiar in reco, as I indicated to them, a monkey in a jungle will be unnoticed...

You may have missed my point, so I will state it differently. If the wife needed a high stealth because there was to be an encounter with the PCs, I find that to be a bit artificial. It's one thing to give a creature a high stealth because they use it to survive in the wilds through hunting and evading preditors, it's another to give them skills just because the PCs happen along. Heck, maybe the cyclops' lair is near a frontier outpost where monster hunters occasionally strike out to track down and kill monsters in the area. That would be explanation enough.

Again, was only a minor thing I wanted to give an opinion on. From what I have read, you sound like a pretty balanced GM to me.

The Exchange

Yondu wrote:


Thanks for you comment, I understand your point of view, making a powerfull melee opponent stealthier can be devastating especially in a natural surrounding. My view is that the sorceror could have been more efficient if the player, despite my advices, refuse to put some points in Perception, because with 6 ranks + Scent + Alertness from his familiar, his perception were at + 16, not many different from +17 (I advice him to go Dragon lineage to have Perception as a class skill with that we have a +19 in perception), he also forgot to hide the team from scrutiny during the time they were in the open...

Sure maybe the Mage could have built his character into 'Hawkeye' but if you're going to take creatures that are appropriate CR then adjust them making them MORE challenging, but justify it by saying "if they had built their character this specific way they would have a better chance" That's ridiculous. Maybe the Sorcerer DID do everything you recommended, and got a +19 perception. That still doesn't stop you from rolling a 18 on the cyclops' stealth check and a the player getting a 14 on the sorcerer's perception roll.

Same possibilities apply for Smilodan's comment. Sure PC's outnumber the cyclops, but if the cyclops rolls well then only a couple PC's might even have a chance at rolling a high enough perception.

The point isn't that there are no ways to mitigate what took place, the point is that you've made a change that on the surface seems trivial, but if you take a closer look (And if the d20 comes up high when stealth is rolled) you've added a whole new variable into the encounter. Had you just left it at changing the skill ranks it wouldn't have been as bad, then you would have had a significantly lower DC, but you also added an item to the character that made it's skill higher than any of the PC's opposing skill.


Glorf Fei-Hung wrote:
Yondu wrote:


Thanks for you comment, I understand your point of view, making a powerfull melee opponent stealthier can be devastating especially in a natural surrounding. My view is that the sorceror could have been more efficient if the player, despite my advices, refuse to put some points in Perception, because with 6 ranks + Scent + Alertness from his familiar, his perception were at + 16, not many different from +17 (I advice him to go Dragon lineage to have Perception as a class skill with that we have a +19 in perception), he also forgot to hide the team from scrutiny during the time they were in the open...

Sure maybe the Mage could have built his character into 'Hawkeye' but if you're going to take creatures that are appropriate CR then adjust them making them MORE challenging, but justify it by saying "if they had built their character this specific way they would have a better chance" That's ridiculous. Maybe the Sorcerer DID do everything you recommended, and got a +19 perception. That still doesn't stop you from rolling a 18 on the cyclops' stealth check and a the player getting a 14 on the sorcerer's perception roll.

Same possibilities apply for Smilodan's comment. Sure PC's outnumber the cyclops, but if the cyclops rolls well then only a couple PC's might even have a chance at rolling a high enough perception.

The point isn't that there are no ways to mitigate what took place, the point is that you've made a change that on the surface seems trivial, but if you take a closer look (And if the d20 comes up high when stealth is rolled) you've added a whole new variable into the encounter. Had you just left it at changing the skill ranks it wouldn't have been as bad, then you would have had a significantly lower DC, but you also added an item to the character that made it's skill higher than any of the PC's opposing skill.

Again, I want this encounter a challenge for the players, as the cyclops are part of a invasion force, who want to take control of a part of the Shackles, and the PC will find interesting clues and treasures in Cyclops lair, It was not a cosmetic change on the wife, I want her to be a spy and a scout, not only I've changed the skills but also removed, the main combat feats (Cleave and Great Cleave) to replace it with skill focus, to make her less combat focused.

Concerning the sorceror, I gave the player the advice nearly one year ago so at this time I was not thinking of this session... and I informed the players several times to rise at max the Perception Skill...They have been warned and been defeated one time because of this lack of Perception (already a stealthy NPC)... again, the idea of alter self was a great idea, and I recognize the fact that the level of Stealth was important but for me It was manageable by the team as a whole if they had played together not individually...


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

This sounds fine to me. You gave them a chance to heal between encounters, the enemy cyclops had great rolls, and the players sound like they just handled it poorly. I'm not surprised they had trouble with it.


How about my idea?


SmiloDan wrote:
Darkfireslide, I'm not surprised it was a TPK. The PCs probably had a +3 to +5 to hit, maximum, so against AC 17, they needed to roll a 12 or 14 to hit.

The UBarbarian is Full BAB, so at level 6-7 with say an 18 Str and using two hands, that gives them an attack toll of +12 or +13. They need to roll a 5 or 4 to hit. Less if they have a stat boosting item or magic weapon, as should be expected at this level. He will hit even on his iterative.

----

For the Cyclops Ranger to spot the sneaking Druid/Ranger, did you consider the penalty on perception for distance? What about concealment in the forest by at least 10'? [At 5', the Cyclops would 5' and full attack rather than move and attack.] That is at least -3 for perception, since there are a number of trees about. As the creature is engaged in battle [with the UBarbarian], that is at least unfavorable, and likely terrible conditions on the perception check. That is another -2 or -5. We are not at -5 minimum, and likely a bit worse, for the perception vs. stealth check.

/cevah


DrDeth wrote:
How about my idea?

The player of the dead PC decided to not allow raise dead to his PC (the others has made a speak with dead spell), so he has made a new PC, I was planning to give them options for raising the PC but with this choice, they use their money on improvements.

Cevah,
I take in account the penalty for distance,trees,... it has around -10 for perception for most of the time, but with + 21 for a Cyclops, and the low dice rolled for the PC, it was easy to spot him.
At the time he has made the roll, the Ubarb was down bleeding on the ground.
The Ubarb was level 6, under rapidity, with a 20 Strength and PA full attacking at +17 /+17 / + 10, it has to roll a 4 and a 11 to hit the cyclops and do around 2D6 + 16 per hit, he charged in combat without tumbling to avoid AoO, if he has played correctly, he should have put down the cyclops in 2 rds...


I was trying to point out things a fair number of people forget. You, smart guy, aren't one of them, apparently. :-)

I think you mean haste and not rapidity. Looks like the Cyclops has an AC of 21 not 17. So, if the UBarb is +17/+17/+10, he needs 4, 4, and 11. I am not sure why the iterative is at -7 and not -5 to the first attack.

/cevah


tumbling to avoid AoOs?
Do you mean make an acrobatics check to avoid AoOs for moving through enemy space, the DC of which would be around 28? because not bothering to attempt (and most likely fail) to do that isn't exactly what I'd call, not playing correctly.

If not what is this tumbling to avoid AoO's as part of a charge magic?

Silver Crusade

I'd say if the player was an idiot, then yeah. The dice fall where they will. But if the player's dice are obviously trying to kill them... Then be nice.

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