A sober campaign journal of Doomsday Dawn: Doom, gloom, and TPKs


Doomsday Dawn Game Master Feedback

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Colette Brunel wrote:
I do not see why clinically and mechanically trying to eliminate the PCs using the adventure's resources should result in TPKs.

I've found the 'test to destruction' aspect of the TPK-fests to be useful information from Colette's group(s). "What happens to the system if you go as hard as you can (without outright cheating overmuch) to destroy the PCs?" is exactly the kind of question that some aspects of the playtest should be testing.

I believe it's valuable data... but I'm not sure why it's surprising data. I'd expect a GM trying to delibrately TPK the players to succeed in the overwhelming majority of systems I've played (mechanics like FATE, where the players can 'concede' a negotiated lose, can make this harder, but still not impossible).

If the PC lose, say, 1 in 10 fights - hardly an unreasonable number - then a TPK is a matter of time rather than anything else. Crank up the effort to ensure monsters do their best to ensure a TPK (rather than running on their own individual tactical priorities), and I'd expect to see one in any adventure where the PCs engage in regular combat (so, any PF Adventure, basically). GMs deliberately trying to kill off PCs should be able to do so, because the alternative is that all monster fights are so softballed it's impossible for PCs to die. It's up to individual GMs to set where they want that level to be. "Combat is war, and it's a matter of when not if you die" is as valid an approach as "Heroes can't die, period, so we give out lots of Hero Points".

Also, if an adventure assumes deliberately suboptimal tactics from a monster (not merely not focus firing, but actively not using their good spells and abilities), then the tactics should openly and clearly state this. "Tyrion, fearing a later betrayal from his allies, will refrain from casting his 6th level spells unless reduced to 5 or less HP". "The Guardian, bound for 10,000 years to a service it hates, seeks only death. It will make a token effort, using only one of three actions per round." Far too many monster tactics are simply listed as "appears immediately, fights to the death."


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I've not been pulling punches and my monster's use tactics that make sense to their personalities and positions. Not a single TPK. However we have had a couple of character deaths. What I think is the difference in playstyles is that Collette is running her monsters as if they are a full on hive mind. Meaning they will completely suicide and sacrifice themselves just to kill a single PC if they can so that the PCs will have more trouble in the next encounter. Regardless of their goals or motivations. That IMO is not a fair way to run the game and is providing disingenuous feedback for the average group. But if that's really how she wishes to run her game (not just in playtest) then I suppose it's good feedback for herself on if the game is right for her. But I'm just saying, if you run the game like that in 1e, I think you'll see similar TPK rates. In fact I'm willing to bet for sure you would.


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Dire Ursus wrote:
What I think is the difference in playstyles is that Collette is running her monsters as if they are a full on hive mind. Meaning they will completely suicide and sacrifice themselves just to kill a single PC if they can so that the PCs will have more trouble in the next encounter. Regardless of their goals or motivations. That IMO is not a fair way to run the game and is providing disingenuous feedback for the average group. But if that's really how she wishes to run her game (not just in playtest) then I suppose it's good feedback for herself on if the game is right for her. But I'm just saying, if you run the game like that in 1e, I think you'll see similar TPK rates. In fact I'm willing to bet for sure you would.

Yeah, I would expect very few systems wouldn't generate TPKs under that style of play. But that's PF2 working as it should be, because the alternative is that monsters go all out, suicide themselves, and throw everything they have in a concentrated effort to kill the PCs by the end of the dungeon... and fail, meaning anything less than that is a completely foregone conclusion.


Colette's players might have been treating PF2 as though it were PF1, in which very different tactics are viable (SoS/SoD spells vs in-combat healing, and wizards vs fighters, for example). So if the parties have been built with a lot of god casters rather than melee fighters, paladins and clerics, they'd immediately be worse off. I don't think we have the information.

I can see that there were a lot of TPKs waiting to happen (shortbow goblins, centipedes, Drakus, manticore, water elemental, Night Heralds, sea serpent, dragon+giant, Night Heralds II, Undarin, kraken) so I'm rather surprised at how some people managed to survive this lot. Some people have definitely misunderstood the rules, but we don't really know who, how and how much...unknown unknowns, as a great philosopher once said.


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Reverse wrote:
Yeah, I would expect very few systems wouldn't generate TPKs under that style of play. But that's PF2 working as it should be, because the alternative is that monsters go all out, suicide themselves, and throw everything they have in a concentrated effort to kill the PCs by the end of the dungeon... and fail, meaning anything less than that is a completely foregone conclusion.

I do not think so. Maybe a TPK should be a foregone conclusion in an extreme-difficulty encounter with the GM going all out against a resource-drained party, but otherwise, no.

Core-only Pathfinder 1e was definitely not this stacked against the players.

Here, we have an example of a GM letting the players do something "clever" and leniently allowing them to bypass rolls against the kraken.

Here, we have a GM breaking RAW in order to let the PCs do something that makes sense in-universe, but simply would not be RAW against the kraken.

Do you see the issues here? It is the instinct of the average playtester to be lenient, give the players easy ways out, and actively try to prevent a TPK, as typical GMs would in non-playtest games. However, that mindset is poor for actually playtesting the game.

Is it really any surprise, then, that a hardcore-RAW, no-"rule of cool"-allowed GM like me would run the playtest in a more clinical fashion prone to giving the parties utter defeat at the hands of RAW?


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Colette Brunel wrote:
Is it really any surprise, then, that a hardcore-RAW, no-"rule of cool"-allowed GM like me would run the playtest in a more clinical fashion prone to giving the parties utter defeat at the hands of RAW?

Frankly, everyone should be running it like this.

We're here to playtest "rules". Not to playtest "clever players", not to playtest "weird adventure writing" (because in this playtest we should expect weird adventure writing to force us into certain testable scenarios), and not to playtest "lenient GMs".

We're not here to make it fun or cool, though obviously we hope it will be. We're definitely not here to bend/break/ignore the rules, or to create houserules, just so the PLAYTEST is more fun or cool.

None of that can tell the developers if their RULES work or don't work, or better yet, WHY they work or don't work.

We're here to playtest rules, so the exact rules should be applied. No more, no less.

Table variance as to how we interpret those rules or how we resolve rule confusion/conflict should be seen by the developers as indicators of poorly-written rules. When the developers have to wonder if we just made a rule-of-cool decision or were we legitimately confused by the rules, then they don't know how/what/if to fix that rule.

Exactly the rules.

No more, no less.

When the playtest is done, go back to houseruling to your hearts' content. I definitely will.


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Side note:

I am a test engineer. I test stuff for a living. My boss would kill me, right before he fired me, if I made up my own rules for testing stuff, or if I tested a different (altered-by-me) version than the one we're selling to customers, or if I ignored aspects of what I'm testing because I didn't like it or didn't understand it. I might survive and keep my job if I simply misunderstood something. Occasionally. But it's my job to understand it, or recognize that I don't and then go find somebody who does, so even misunderstandings are only forgivable if they're fairly rare.

I would be laughed out of the building and then laughed out of my profession if I tested, professionally, the way many of us are testing this game.

OK, fair enough, none of us are paid and few of us are professional test engineers.

I only mentioned this because the way I test, professionally, is certified IEEE standardized testing methodology used all over the world because it works, and because everything else doesn't work as well. The way many of us are testing this game definitely falls into the "doesn't work as well" category, which means, it's not as useful to help the developers make the game better.

So we should either decide to playtest, as correctly and helpfully as we can, or decide to play it for fun - but if we choose the latter, we should avoid most feedback as it could be very misleading to provide anomalous feedback based on altered testing conditions.


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A few thoughts:

I believe Pathfinder Adventures in 1E are too easy by a landslide. By the time games hit level 10ish, I am frequently swapping monsters out with monsters 5-7 levels higher to challenge well-built PCs. Comapred to this, my PCs found Doomsday Dawn reasonably challenging, although I was more hardball than normal. If Colette's players do decently against PF1 adventures, that tells us nothing, no matter how hardball Colette plays them, as PF1 adventures are not in the same dimension of difficulty as Doomsday, especially older ones when PF1 has had option & power creep.

Now, I want published content to be fairly challenging under reasonable play conditions. Reasonable play conditions for me mean RAI, RPing enemies including morale and limited knowledge, allowing rule-of-cool, encouraging RP and creativity. I do not want those options to be like putting kiddy gloves on. Conversely, this means in 'unreasonably difficult' conditions, (where everything is RAW, ambiguity is against the PCs, enemies are a metagaming hivemind, creative solutions are shot down) I expect things to be 'more than fairly challenging', and if all of those happen at once... I would generally want a TPK fest? Because you're pushing the difficulty up so much from what I consider a reasonable play environment, that if you still weren't TPKing often, it says the reasonable play environment (for me) is way too easy.


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Lyee wrote:
I believe Pathfinder Adventures in 1E are too easy by a landslide. By the time games hit level 10ish, I am frequently swapping monsters out with monsters 5-7 levels higher to challenge well-built PCs. Comapred to this, my PCs found Doomsday Dawn reasonably challenging, although I was more hardball than normal. If Colette's players do decently against PF1 adventures, that tells us nothing, no matter how hardball Colette plays them, as PF1 adventures are not in the same dimension of difficulty as Doomsday, especially older ones when PF1 has had option & power creep.

Interestingly, I'm in a 1e campaign doing Rise of the Runelords right now. We're near the end. We have been struggling badly to make progress , including multiple sessions where we went in, tried to do something, got our butts handed to us, and had to run for the hills accomplishing very little. We are making progress now, but it's still slow going.

1e adventures being "too easy" is not a universal experience, largely because of just how wide the variance in group power is in 1e between a team that optimizes and builds characters to work together, and a team of individuals of wildly varying optimization levels and classes that don't harmonize very well.

Given that, I appreciate the playtest's attempt to tighten up the gap between high and low optimization. Because while I think it'd be great if the AP writers can challenge your party without so much work on your part, I don't want that to come at the expense of it being utterly impossible for mine.


Yeah. In My RotRL game, for example, the group took on Thistletop in barely more than two encounters. One with all the goblins in the entire fort, one with everything below ground. It got dicey, sure, but that's straight up stacking 4+ encounters at once. Table variance was a real thing, and my saying they're 'too easy' refers to people usiung the level of optimization PF2 seems to assume (read: very optimized).

I'm expecting PF2 non-playtest adventures to be easier than DD, but I'm hoping not as easy for my group as published PF1 adventures were. Tight math can help here.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Well, if your entire group features more-or-less the same level of optimisation, PF1 works fine, you just adjust the encounters.

But woe betide thou if your group features a large degree of variance in optimisation.

For example, in one party I have a friend of mine who plays a Grenadier Alchemist and she's a death machine. Holy bombs go boom and things go dead, and she's only ever ran out of bombs once. Also, all the usual Alchemist utility thanks to spells and skills and whatanot.

In the same party there's a Swashbuckler whose damage output is silly low, his idea of being of nimble mobile skirmisher completely overshadowed by another player with his Teisatu Vigilante. (Mad props to Paizo for the Vigilante class, one of better PF1E martial designs!). The Swashbuckler is relegated to being a bag of skill points, and even there, the Vigilante is just better at things he specialises in.

So yeah, I'm totally looking forward to tighter math remedying that and Paizo keeping a little more focus on balance and quality of post-CRB material.

Liberty's Edge

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DM_Blake wrote:
Colette Brunel wrote:
Is it really any surprise, then, that a hardcore-RAW, no-"rule of cool"-allowed GM like me would run the playtest in a more clinical fashion prone to giving the parties utter defeat at the hands of RAW?

Frankly, everyone should be running it like this.

We're here to playtest "rules". Not to playtest "clever players", not to playtest "weird adventure writing" (because in this playtest we should expect weird adventure writing to force us into certain testable scenarios), and not to playtest "lenient GMs".

We're not here to make it fun or cool, though obviously we hope it will be. We're definitely not here to bend/break/ignore the rules, or to create houserules, just so the PLAYTEST is more fun or cool.

None of that can tell the developers if their RULES work or don't work, or better yet, WHY they work or don't work.

We're here to playtest rules, so the exact rules should be applied. No more, no less.

Table variance as to how we interpret those rules or how we resolve rule confusion/conflict should be seen by the developers as indicators of poorly-written rules. When the developers have to wonder if we just made a rule-of-cool decision or were we legitimately confused by the rules, then they don't know how/what/if to fix that rule.

Exactly the rules.

No more, no less.

When the playtest is done, go back to houseruling to your hearts' content. I definitely will.

IIRC the RAW of the playtest includes text that can definitely be read as "Do not go all out on killing the PCs"

Which makes sense because the PCs will go through more encounters and give richer feedbacks

Obviously, this is not the way Colette reads it and the resulting TPKs surely provided useful info too

But I daresay that Paizo was NOT aiming for GMs being on TPK-seeking mode for the playtest

Because they wrote nothing like this in the RAW of the playtest and indeed included caveat aimed more at leniency

The idea that GMs who were not aiming at TPKs hindered the playtest is highly distasteful to me


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This post is a continuation of this previous post, which is necessary for context. Suggested BGM.

Let us get this out of the way: I wholeheartedly believe that in its current, unpolished, pre-release state, Pathfinder 2e is leagues and leagues superior to Pathfinder 1e. It is more mechanically robust in just about every respect, and I am sure that it will be a smash success come GenCon 2019. However, I am deeply critical of Pathfinder 2e because I have very high standards, and I want to see this game iron out all of its kinks so that Pathfinder 2e can be the best system it can be.

Earlier, I had run my 21st HARDCORE playthrough of a premade playtest adventure. My run of Doomsday Dawn: Part #7: When the Stars Go Dark: End of 2evangelion: You Can (Not) Advance contained no less than six or seven TPKs, depending on how you count things, which is an amazing thing. One player ragequit after the first TPK, so I had to take over their character afterwards.

Now, you may be wondering, why do I have so many TPKs compared to other GMs? I play ruthlessly, and I have monsters coordinatedly focus fire, for the most part. Furthermore, since Paizo never bothered to give charts for starting positioning for adventures aside from Raiders of Shrieking Peak and Arclord's Envy, and never bothered inquiring about starting positioning in the surveys, I had the freedom to dictate starting positioning myself.

Whenever I GM, even outside of playtests, I generally generally give enemies a favorable starting position that still remains plausible in-universe and in-narrative for the circumstances at hand. During the playtest, it was never so much as to stretch plausibility or prompt questions like "How did the enemies start off so close?" Indeed, I can recall no moments when a player questioned me on starting positioning, and one player even mentioned that my version of the roc encounter in The Mirrored Moon had more PC-favorable positioning (including sleeping rocs!) than what their other GM for The Mirrored Moon gave the other party, and the red dragon and fire giant encounter simply had those two hanging out at the mouth of a cave. My starting positions were always plausible in-universe and in-narrative, and it certainly did not include things like starting PCs inside mummy paralysis auras.

As a simple example, in this latest encounter with the rune giants in the final adventure, the adventure simply specifies that they start 60 feet away from the party in a flat and featureless plain. So I did exactly that, placing the rune giants 60 feet north of the party. However, that was including the rune giants starting off 4 cubes above the ground cube, because the rune giants had constant air walk, and they may as well start with that advantage. Is it unbelievable that the constantly-air walking rune giants would start airborne? I doubt it. This is simply my style whenever I GM, even outside of playtests; I generally give the enemy side the edge in starting positioning while keeping it plausible in-universe and in-narrative.

If starting positioning can spell life or death for a party due to Pathfinder 2e's three-action system, then perhaps adventures should be more careful about spelling out starting positioning.

Aside from that, I do not give easy outs like several other GMs. The playtest adventures have a hard time deciding whether they want to be math and systems tests, or simply fun and enjoyable adventures, and I get the feeling that several other GMs were trying to prioritize fun and enjoyment. Aside from that, there are those GMs who were not that familiar with the rules and let their players (perhaps accidentally?) get away with impossible actions, GMs who ruled in favor of their players, and GMs who leniently settled on suboptimal tactics.
Here, we have an example of a GM letting the players do something "clever" and leniently allowing them to bypass rolls against the kraken.
Here, we have a GM breaking RAW in order to let the PCs do something that makes sense in-universe, but simply would not be RAW against the kraken.
Here, we have a GM quite possibly mixing up the two- and three-action versions of Double Shot and Triple Shot, which could perhaps explain the cleric/fighter's unusually miraculous accuracy against the weak kraken.
Here, we have a GM ruling an ambiguity (confusion on a monster with multitarget attacks) in favor of the PCs. This one is not actually egregious; it is a perfectly valid call, simply one that pushes the party away from a TPK.
Here, we have a GM using rune giants not quite to their full combat potential, such as by actually tossing out charms and dominates rather than going for the kill with flaming greatswords.
Do you see the issues here? It is the instinct of the average playtester to be lenient, give the players easy ways out, and actively try to prevent a TPK, as typical GMs would in non-playtest games. However, with the exception of ruling things in favor of players (mostly a matter of personal preference there), that mindset is poor for actually playtesting the game's mechanics. Playtests call for different mindsets than home games wherein everyone is trying to have fun. Is it really any surprise, then, that a hardcore-RAW, no-"rule of cool"-allowed GM like me would run the playtest in a more clinical fashion prone to giving the parties utter defeat at the hands of RAW?

Now, the 2e playtest is drawing to a close.

• We will never get to playtest the new monster math, which Paizo appears to have known to be a problem early on, but which Paizo never bothered to fix during the playtest period, because stopping for a month to revise the bestiary would would have pushed Paizo off-schedule.
• We will never get to playtest the new debuffing spells; at the moment, any spell that calls for a saving throw and is not a straight-up raw damage blast is quite underpowered, because the monster math gives enemies bloated saving throws, and thus only a scant few debuff spells like blindness are actually useful. And do not even bother with raw damage blasts that do not occupy your highest-level spell slots either, exactly like in D&D 5e.
• Although we got to playtest a few powers and magic items in the Resonance Test, we will never get to playtest the vast majority of the game's revised powers and revised magic items, because Paizo will be playtesting all of them internally.

The game's core mechanic is ambiguous. On top of that, Jason Bulmahn seems to think that it is a stretch that someone might roll a natural 20 yet still fail to meet a target's AC or a skill check DC in a game with -10 multiple attack penalties and -4 untrained skill check penalties. And I still do not know what the RAI for the core mechanic actually is, especially on critical hits for attack rolls specifically.
There are no rules for line of sight as they currently stand. There are no rules that define blocking terrain; characters can seemingly walk through walls. In fact, in page 314, Kyra appears to be shooting straight through a wall. I have had to manually bar this from my playtests, and the players know it. Paizo 1e bothered to spell out blocking terrain preventing movement, and other RPGs have some fairly clear-cut line of sight rules, so why can Pathfinder 2e not codify such things for ease of reference? When the fate of the world rests on whether or not a character has line of sight to an enemy given some awkward positioning around corners, some actual rules would be nice.
Exploration mode, exploration tactics, and social tactics are still all an unplayable mess. No fun gameplay has ever arisen as a result of exploration mode in any of the 21 playthroughs I have run. It has caused nothing but woe and confusion.
There is still very little rhyme or reason to the rarity system.
Erroneous knowledge rolls and secret knowledge rolls remain as clunky as ever. I have been trying to avoid secret rolls as much as possible by using the rule in page 293 to make them public instead, because it is such a pain for the GM to make so many secret checks on the players' behalf. Erroneous knowledge has likewise been fun for nobody at the table thus far, across 21 playthroughs, and I have always disliked being put on the spot to come up with some sort of lie when the players could probably suss it out anyway.
The rules for resting and daily preparations still have a gaping loophole in them.
Paizo is still handing out Quick Preparation to wizards for free at 1st level.
Heavy armor is still very bad, and the fighter and the paladin still have to bribe players into wearing it with higher-level class features.
Monster knowledge is still ambiguous, and also bad, given the paltry information it hands out.
Skill feats are still boring at 4th level and above. All throughout this playtest, I have consistently heard groaning from my players about how boring it is to pick skill feats, because they all do such tiny things. I have had to create GMPCs very often, and picking out skill feats has been even tougher for me, because I know what the content of the upcoming adventure is, and it is depressing to see that the vast majority of skill feats are more or less irrelevant to the playtest adventures. There are exceptions, like Kip Up, which should come as no surprise, because Kip Up actually applies to a common combat situation.
Channel Life is still arguably the strongest feat in the entire game, and people are pushed to multiclass into paladin just to grab it.

All of this is just off the top of my metaphorical head. This is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. The game still has far more problems than just these, which I and many, many hours have toiled away pointing out across myriad forum posts and survey entries. Maybe, just maybe, Paizo will fix some of these issues, but we will never get to playtest any of Paizo's fixes before the game is released. There is no second round of playtesting. Paizo has the GenCon deadline to meet, and all playtesting from here is internal, so we will have no opportunity to point out any kinks in the system as it evolves.

It is disappointing.

So then, what was the party in this 21st playthrough?
Generic Certain Strike fighter.. Unsurprisingly, even against lower-level enemies, Certain Strike provides amazing DPR simply by sheer dint of generating considerable damage even on misses (though not critical misses). Some builds might be able to out-DPR it, but Certain Strike offers great DPR at a relatively low opportunity cost. This build uses a necksplitter for the sake of Dueling Dance at 16th level, and spams Desperate Finisher to keep on pressing with Certain Strike. Determination can save the character from some nasty effects. Mountain's Stoutness and Unbreakable confer huge hit points. I kept Dexterity at 10, because Gray Maiden plate has maximum Dexterity modifier +0 and clumsy, so the prestige archetype nudges characters into keeping Dexterity at 10. The Greater Flaming Rune was useless against the rune giants; I was saving it for the weak star-spawn of Cthulhu.
Generic monk multiclassed into rogue.. You know the drill. Tangled Forest Stance, start spamming Ki Strike and Flurry of Blows, ideally against a flat-footed enemy. That is about it, really. The character is supposed to have Elf Step as their 17th-level ancestry feat, and their items are a little funky because they borrowed leftover gold from the cleric and the wizard. This character's player had ragequit after the first TPK of the session. The player made the mistake of prioritizing defense with expensive bracers of armor rather than going for property runes, hence their character's low damage.
Generic cleric.. The character heals, and heals, and tosses out other spells as necessary.
Generic wizard.. This character was built in a rush, and I think that this was the weakest character in the party by far. The others advised the player to avoid save-or-lose spells, so the player instead primarily settled on damage-dealing spells, because they wanted to be a blaster. Unfortunately, they did not get the memo that damage spells in anything but max-level spell slots are a waste of time. I realized this only after the fact, because I was in a rush as I reviewed this character's sheet.
This party was not quite at the peak of optimization, but I would not call them "badly optimized" or even "middlingly optimized." They were reasonably well-optimized overall, just with some flaws. And they were close to the classic party composition, too: fighter, monk multiclassed into rogue, cleric, wizard. As usual, each had 2 Hero Points to spare.

The opposition, of course, was four rune giants, or rather, "malignant theorems." Played properly (they have Intelligence modifier +2 and Wisdom modifier +6), these are nasty enemies.
• They can open combat with a one-action 30-foot-cone of Reflex DC 34 (critical success no damage, success 3d12 electricity, failure or critical failure 6d12 electricity). As a note, a 30-foot cone fired vertically downwards can easily blast a whole party on the ground.
• Their sword swings attack at +29. They deal 4d12+9 (average 35) damage plus 2d6 (average 7) fire, or failing that, 4d12+9 (average 35) damage with deadly 3d12 (average 19.5) and an armor-breaking/destroyed effect at Fortitude DC 32. While broken armor is somewhat manageable, at a high level, destroyed armor is a death sentence due to how it eliminates a huge amount of AC and saving throw bonuses.
• They have speed 35 feet and constant air walk. Melee PCs will have to gain flight if they want to properly engage the rune giants.
• They have reach 20 feet and Attack of Opportunity. They can easily set up a gauntlet of Attacks of Opportunity that a PC will have to brave if they want to fly up and engage the rune giants. Do not underestimate the zone control of Attack of Opportunity with 20-foot reach and flight or air walk!
• They have immunity to fire, so fireball and meteor swarm are a no-go against them.
• They have a formidable AC 38, TAC 35, and HP 330, a leviathanic amount of hit points to chew through.

I resolved to minimize my reshuffling of the rune giants' starting positionings. I also laid out the following parameters for the challenge, because the book was unwilling to go into detail on precise parameters.
• Attuning to the White Axiom and the Last Theorem would take a long string of minutes, at the end of which, the party would be unceremoniously dumped into the mindscape.
• The party could have their gear already in hand, but they could not start with any buffs. I thought that this would be fair for the challenge, and it was narratively plausible, given that it is purely a struggle in the mind. Even if I did allow buffs, I would have followed the rule in page 330, limiting pre-battle buffs to one per character.
• The party would have to start relatively clustered together, but they could be in proper formation against an enemy approaching from the north. The adventure stipulated that the "malignant theorems" started 60 feet away, and so I followed that. The rune giants would be 60 feet north of the party, such that two rune giants were 60 feet north and away from the frontline fighter, and another two rune giants were 60 feet north and away from the frontline monk. The rune giants would start airborne, 4 cubes above the ground cube.
• The players were aware that this was merely the first of many encounters they would have to slog through, so they had to be conservative with Hero Points.
• Given the in-game countdown to apocalypse, if the party could not succeed over the course of seven attempts, Golarion would be doomed.
Essentially, the parameters were, "The party is in proper formation and has their equipment out, but has no buffs, and suddenly gets into a scuffle with airborne enemies 60 feet away. Encounter level + 3, only battle of the day, but Hero Points must be conserved." That should a be a dangerous battle, surely, but certainly not "6/7 out of 6/7 attempts result in TPK" dangerous.

The subsequent seven attempts were... rough. For context, the players were weary and demoralized and just wanted to get the session over with. I know this because they said as much to me.

Attempt #1: Initiative order cleric, fighter, monk, rune giants, wizard. The most embarrassing of them all. By chance, the cleric's spell loadout was so completely unsuited for the battle (not shown in the sheet, because the player had changed it up) that they spent their second round unable to do anything of note given their positioning, and their player remarked just how bad the cleric's divine spell list is, a kick to the shin after having positive energy channels lopped off. During the first round, the cleric put up foresight on the monk, and the fighter used Trick Magic Item to give the monk fly. The monk flew up, ate an Attack of Opportunity, and flurried, leaving the monk as the most viable target.

My strategy here was to try to take out the monk first with focused fire from Attacks of Opportunity and Strikes. The rune giants did exactly that, taking out the monk with a critical hit by the second round. At the start of the third round, the cleric healed the monk back to wounded 2, and the fighter used their Certain Strike routine to take down a rune giant, because Certain Strike was incredibly strong even though the Greater Fire Rune was useless. Alas, also during the third round, the malignant theorems killed the monk with a critical hit to push the monk from wounded 2 to dying 4; the cleric did not have breath of life at the time, and even if they did, the flying monk was more than 60 feet away. The party opted to save the Hero Point and lose this battle, and the monk's player ragequit right then and there, not wishing to participate in constant repeats of the battle. I took control of both the fighter and the monk from there.

Intermission: I took this time to review the monk's character sheet while the cleric and wizard players strategized and rearranged their prepared spells.

Attempt #2: Purely a scouting attempt wherein everyone used Recall Knowledge to try to figure out the malignant theorems' statistics. Since we could not figure out how monster knowledge was supposed to work, I offered to turn this into a loss, in exchange for assuming that the party would eventually build the malignant theorems' statistics block. The remaining two players agreed, and thus I referred the players to the rune giant statistics.

Attempt #3: Initiative order cleric, fighter, malignant theorems, wizard, monk. Despite having Lucky Halfling, the fighter had trouble succeeding with Trick Magic Item with which to actually fly. My strategy this time around was to throw on the armor-breaking runes, focus on the fighter, and try to destroy their Gray Maiden plate armor, because that would completely doom the fighter. Simply by having the rune giants focus on the fighter with Attacks of Opportunity and Strikes, I successfully destroyed the fighter's armor by the third round (that many Fortitude saves were bound to have some come up as failures), while simultaneously knocking the fighter out. Given that all four malignant theorems were still alive, the two players gave this one up.

Attempt #4: Initiative order malignant theorems first. I had a new, even better strategy. Since the malignant theorems were going ahead of everyone, I had them each spend two actions Striding into a good position with which to one-action blast the party from above with electricity damage. 4 × 4 = 16 Reflex saves later, and the entire party was so badly damaged beyond the cleric's ability to reasonably heal the PCs that the remaining players gave this one up as well.

Attempt #5: Initiative order cleric first, then malignant theorems, then the rest of the party. The cleric placed an air walk on the monk and broke off from the party, but again did the malignant theorems blast the remaining party members with electricity. Due to some unfortunate saving throws all around, the party was left so badly damaged that the cleric did not think they could adequately heal the PCs, so the players gave up this battle as well.

Intermission: Since I was not allowing buffs, I suggested to the party that they sell magic items at half price (or effectively 0.5 × 0.9 = 45% price for any sold runes) to afford greater rings of energy resistance for resist 15 electricity. The party did just that, selling any unnecessary magic items.

Attempt #6: Initiative order malignant theorems first. They once again opened up by blasting the party. The cleric planted air walk on the monk, and the wizard gave out a haste to the monk. The PCs were still moderately damaged (the fighter most of all due to low Reflex), but they could actually put up a fight. Unfortunately, I had the malignant theorems swing their rune-augmented swords and intelligently position themselves for Attacks of Opportunity. I successfully knocked out the fighter by the end of the second round, with the malignant theorems barely scratched, and the other PCs banged-up. The players lost hope, and opted to forfeit this one as well.

Attempt #7: Initiative order malignant theorems first, yet again. As before, the rune giants blasted the party, moderately damaging the party even despite the electricity resistance. Again, the fighter's low Reflex caused them to be the most damaged of the group. The cleric planted air walk on the monk, and the wizard gave out a haste to the monk, as before. I once again had the malignant theorems take up good positions and batter down the fighter with Attacks of Opportunity and Strikes. As the fighter, I simply could not figure out a way to avoid the gauntlet of Attacks of Opportunity that the rune giants were presenting; there was really very little way to actually engage the rune giants without earning plenty of pain. And so, by the end of the second round, again did the rune giants successfully knock out the fighter, having sustained barely any damage themselves while the other three PCs were moderately damaged. The players' morale was totally crushed, so they gave up on saving the world.

Aucturn, meet Golarion in Third Impact.

Were the conditions in favor of the rune giants? Yes. At the heart of it, however, the setup was, again, "The party is in proper formation and has their equipment out, but has no buffs, and suddenly gets into a scuffle with airborne enemies 60 feet away. Encounter level + 3, only battle of the day, but Hero Points must be conserved." Difficult, yes. But should that really have been so difficult as to warrant such a reliable TPK rate? And what of all of the other encounters in the adventure?

And you know what? All of these TPKs ultimately do not matter in the end. Paizo already knows that the monster math is overtuned, and so they will be toning down the monster math.

I have no idea what we meaningfully learned from this final playthrough. Certain Strike is indeed very strong? Lacking property runes means that a character's damage will be paltry? Clerics' divine spell list is very narrow and limited? Spellcasters have no business tossing out save-or-lose spells? Spellcasters similarly have no business hurling out non-max-level raw damage blasts? Starting positioning is oh so very important and can make or break an encounter, due to the way the three-action mechanic works? Attack of Opportunity with 20-foot-reach will seriously lock down opponents? One-action blasts with a reasonably wide area can devastate a group of PCs or monsters? I really do not know by this point. I just do not know.

And... that is that, I suppose. It has been a wild ride. I love Pathfinder 2e, I really do. I know that it is currently miles ahead of Pathfinder 1e in terms of game design, and I know that it will sell very well. But please, developers, try to work out its kinks... and kindly consider letting us actually playtest them before the game goes to print. It would be very nice. Thank you in advance, and I am sorry for the woe I have caused. I hope you have it in you to forgive me.

To all who have been my players, whether you stuck around for only one session or played much more than that, thank you. I appreciate it. Your patience and, if I may, masochism means much to me.

I apologize for letting people down. Many must have been expecting some epic saga wherein I would bring twice-a-week tales and blow-by-blow reports of each session. Unfortunately, given my schedule, my surgery recovery, and my dwindling motivation, it just was not feasible given my frame of mind. That is my fault. I could, in theory, go back and write reports after the fact, but the points would be moot given all of the updates to the game so far, and given how repetitive the TPK stories would be.

Thank you, and I am sorry.


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THANK YOU and your players for doing this. You are a DM after my own heart. I totally agree with what you are stating here and in all your posts. I hope to hell that Paizo will redo playtest because it is evident that the current playtest is not ready.

Silver Crusade

First, thanks for your posts. I find them quite interesting and informative.

Did the positioning really make THAT much of a difference? I'd have thought that the net effect of them being on the ground at the beginning would likely be one extra round for the PCs.

If I get this far GMing (which seems unlikely right now) I'd probably change the Giants positioning PRECISELY to test how much of an effect that had on the fight. If it causes the PCs to win that seems fine to me (get to test the later parts as well)


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To clarify, the rune giants were 60 feet away, true. It is just that that 60 feet included being 4 cubes above the ground square via air walk. I did not want to change variables apart from my combat strategies all that much, so I did not tinker with starting positioning beyond the first fight. And yes, I was bearing in mind the costs for descents and ascents; they were, in part, precisely why the malignant theorems got to control so wide a swath with their reach and Attacks of Opportunity.

Speaking of which, just like in Pathfinder 1e, the rules for vertical flanking are vague. Does flanking care about verticality and "center of cubes" at all? If two Huge creatures are on opposite sides of a Medium creature, do they fail to flank just because the centers of their cubes fail to cross the Medium creature's cube?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Unfortunate that you couldn't go into round by round detail on this part. I feel like there are a lot of weird things going on in the fights but we'll never know exactly what is going wrong in your games. For instance in the first fight the Monk literally ran up alone knowing that he would get absolutely destroyed by the Giants? Also he seemed to be wounded 2 even though it was his first time going down. Seems like the players were trying to die for the most part and just turned their brains off.


During the first attempt, the monk's player presumably thought themselves reasonably safe, between AC 41 and a foresight from the cleric. They suffered only one attack of opportunity en route to a malignant theorem, but then inflicted very little damage with their flurry. The rune giants then wreaked havoc upon the monk.

A critical hit dropped the monk to dying 2. Later, upon being healed by the cleric, the monk went to wounded 2. The monk earned another critical hit, which would have placed them at dying 4. Rather than spend a Hero Point, the monk opted to take a loss for the first attempt.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You might be running the wounded rules wrong? Wounded only ever goes up by 1 every time you come back from dying. Also did the 30 or so TPKs not make the monk realize that maybe rushing into 4 rune giants alone to only do a single flurry may not have been a good idea? lol. Why did they think they were safe? Was this a newer player or had they been in your previous games?


I posted in your players thread on this but since you are specifically asking because of the Rune Giants and im assuming also because of their air walk, i'll respond in here as well to that.

Flanking only requires you to be on opposite sides or corners of the opponents squares for flanking to trigger. So, hesitantly, yes if you would say they are flanking while standing on the ground they would still have flanking in the air.

However, I would only consider that up to a point. If both creatures were 20ft above but 5 ft away froom the medium creature attacking down on it than no I wouldn't give the flanking due to the fact that if you rotated the 2d plane from x-y to y-z they wouldn't have that opposite sides thing.

It gets a bit fiddly and will end up coming down to GM discretion in the niche cases. But its kinda always had to since its hard to represent 3D for the core consumer.


Dire Ursus wrote:
You might be running the wounded rules wrong? Wounded only ever goes up by 1 every time you come back from dying. Also did the 30 or so TPKs not make the monk realize that maybe rushing into 4 rune giants alone to only do a single flurry may not have been a good idea? lol. Why did they think they were safe? Was this a newer player or had they been in your previous games?

You know what, you are right; I was under the impression that dying 2 being healed up would go to wounded 1.

So the critical hit would have placed the monk at wounded 3... but it would not have made much of a difference in this case, because the malignant theorem who took down the monk with a critical hit was just the first out of three rune giants acting in the round, and the other two were in a very decent position to execute the unconscious monk who had just been shown to have a healer friend nearby, possibly with an AoE electricity blast from a rune so as to catch another PC or two with damage. I would still call that a loss.

As for what else the monk could have done... what could the monk have done? If they waited for the malignant theorems to approach the party, that would have resulted in the malignant theorems ganging up on someone anyway. The monk's player had played under me for a few sessions, for what it is worth.


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PsychicPixel, flanking traces from center to center, as per page 313. That is why I am confused: if two Huge creatures are standing on the ground, sandwiching a Medium creature, then the three-dimensional center of the Huge creatures' spaces never even touches the Medium creature's cube.


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3D is again hard to properly represent in a typically setting for the game. Most players aren't going to have elaborate models and structures to hold things at their proper size, as fun as that would be. So its not necessarily the best to even bother working on rules for scenarios that require them unless they are a main feature of the game.

So again kinda up to DM but common sense should also take hold. If I am standing around and two Huge things are in front and behind me regardless of where their center of mass sits, i'm pretty flanked.

ummm, in a more mechanical sense, I would say it as.. If I can seek in a cone and see both enemies i'm not flanked


Hey, that's not a bad rule of thumb.


Colette, curious about if your players (Mostly the Wizard) tried any of the following to gain an edge:

Enlarge at level 4 or 6, to gain reach comparable to the Rune Giants (Enough that a Step or two might allow the Fighter or Monk to approach and Strike without AoOs).

Level 6 Slow, assuming an optimal DC of 35 for the Wizard the Giants fail on 8 and only crit on 18+, meaning the odds are good that a couple Giants will lose an action every turn for the whole fight, and it is very likely that the others will at least lose an action for a turn.

Level 7 Haste, a staple buff to get the whole party some extra options.

Heroism at 8th, a WHOPPING +3 accuracy and damage boost. Assuming an optimal accuracy of +30 on the fighter this would take him from hitting on 8 critting on 18 first attack to hitting on 5 and critting on 15, very useful. The Monk likely was only 1 behind on the accuracy. If you could stack that with any kind of debuff on the enemy such as Frightened or Sick (Divine Wrath from the Cleric would have a decent chance to land Sick 1, which is useful).

Blasting spells, especially with 1.5, should be useful. Again assuming DC 35 from the Wizard, they need a 13 to make their saves and crit fail on 3 or less. Land a debuff and this gets even better. A level 9 Chain Lightning scores 12d12/11d12, average 78/65 on a failed save, about 1/4 HP of any that fail the save, 1/8 of those that succeed, and 1/2 if they crit fail. Not bad for one turn from one PC.

Implosion could do some serious damage over a few rounds.

Power Word Blind is Uncommon, but if allowed cast at level 9 would Blind a giant for 1d4 minutes without fail.

Uncontrollable Dance with Reach Spell and good positioning can likely render a Giant Flat-Footed (Could result in hitting on 3 or less for the Fighter if combined with Heroism) AND unable to use those key AoOs.

There were a couple other good ideas I had but they were on the Occult list.

And combining with Enlarge, if you took a day to transfer the Fighter's potency runes to, say, a Glaive, you could match the reach of the Giants at the cost of Duelist Dance's benefits.

Not saying any of these ideas would have necessarily made the fight a win but they could've potentially given better mileage than repeatedly trying almost the same thing despite it working horribly the previous few times.

Also I must ask, which part of the strict and spelled-out RAW did you get that arbitrary time limit from? That sounds a lot like GM arbitration but we all KNOW you would NEVER do that, so could you point me to the page that I seem to have missed?


And to add, these are all ideas I thought of within 10 minutes. I feel like additional thought could yield something useful.


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The wizard's player understandably did not want to screw around too much with the Arcana rolls necessary to add new spells to their spellbook. My general game plan was that if the wizard started to make a serious contribution to the fight (much to my surprise), then I would make the wizard a priority target. Unfortunately, the wizard was not.

Enlarge would have imposed sluggish, which is not desirable when fighting such dangerous enemies. It actually worked out very poorly when that player was playing Heroes of Undarin, which is perhaps why the wizard player avoided enlarge. It would have been another buff to lay down at the start of combat though; the wizard was already prioritizing haste.

Power word blind is probably the single best of the uncommon-rarity-gated power word line. It would have been nice for the wizard to have it, but unfortunately, it looks like they prioritized being a buffer and blaster instead.

It was the wizard player's mistake to assume that things would go well. Maybe the wizard player should have gone out to town to scribe some spells. That would have helped. It did not seem to have crossed the wizard's mind. Maybe they were just trying to get the ordeal over with.

The wizard's player has been with me since The Rose Street Revenge. When I asked the wizard player why it never occured to them to go through the spell list and start scribing spells, their response was, "I was up for 30 hours prior, rushed it, and was writing off the session as not being worth the effort considering how little of an impact it would have in regards to future sessions. In short, I was playing for closure at that point."

Of course, had the wizard been, say, a bard or a sorcerer instead? Then they would have been hosed and stuck with their spell list for the most part. Hence my point: why should a party have to go through this much effort and prepwork to defeat an encounter with plausible parameters of "The party is in proper formation and has their equipment out, but has no buffs, and suddenly gets into a scuffle with airborne enemies 60 feet away. Encounter level + 3, only battle of the day, but Hero Points must be conserved"?

As for the time limit, the book says that the "Doomsday Dawn" is but one week away, and that after being defeated by the malignant theorems, the PCs must wait 24 hours before making a new attempt. Therefore, it seemed logical that the party would have seven attempts.


Colette Brunel wrote:

The wizard's player understandably did not want to screw around too much with the Arcana rolls necessary to add new spells to their spellbook. My general game plan was that if the wizard started to make a serious contribution to the fight (much to my surprise), then I would make the wizard a priority target. Unfortunately, the wizard was not.

Enlarge would have imposed sluggish, which is not desirable when fighting such dangerous enemies. It actually worked out very poorly when that player was playing Heroes of Undarin, which is perhaps why the wizard player avoided enlarge. It would have been another buff to lay down at the start of combat though; the wizard was already prioritizing haste.

Power word blind is probably the single best of the uncommon-rarity-gated power word line. It would have been nice for the wizard to have it, but unfortunately, it looks like they prioritized being a buffer and blaster instead.

It was the wizard player's mistake to assume that things would go well. Maybe the wizard player should have gone out to town to scribe some spells. That would have helped. It did not seem to have crossed the wizard's mind. Maybe they were just trying to get the ordeal over with.

The wizard's player has been with me since The Rose Street Revenge. When I asked the wizard player why it never occured to them to go through the spell list and start scribing spells, their response was, "I was up for 30 hours prior, rushed it, and was writing off the session as not being worth the effort considering how little of an impact it would have in regards to future sessions. In short, I was playing for closure at that point."

Of course, had the wizard been, say, a bard or a sorcerer instead? Then they would have been hosed and stuck with their spell list for the most part. Hence my point: why should a party have to go through this much effort and prepwork to defeat an encounter with plausible parameters of "The party is in proper formation...

Huh, quite so. Hadn't caught notice of the time limits. Not that it's likely to come into play for my group but good to know.

Liberty's Edge

Colette Brunel wrote:
Dire Ursus wrote:
You might be running the wounded rules wrong? Wounded only ever goes up by 1 every time you come back from dying. Also did the 30 or so TPKs not make the monk realize that maybe rushing into 4 rune giants alone to only do a single flurry may not have been a good idea? lol. Why did they think they were safe? Was this a newer player or had they been in your previous games?

You know what, you are right; I was under the impression that dying 2 being healed up would go to wounded 1.

So the critical hit would have placed the monk at wounded 3... but it would not have made much of a difference in this case, because the malignant theorem who took down the monk with a critical hit was just the first out of three rune giants acting in the round, and the other two were in a very decent position to execute the unconscious monk who had just been shown to have a healer friend nearby, possibly with an AoE electricity blast from a rune so as to catch another PC or two with damage. I would still call that a loss.

As for what else the monk could have done... what could the monk have done? If they waited for the malignant theorems to approach the party, that would have resulted in the malignant theorems ganging up on someone anyway. The monk's player had played under me for a few sessions, for what it is worth.

I feel that the explanation for the Monk's seemingly suicidal tactics lies in all the previous TPKs. The players may not believe that their characters have any hope of survival, so they will try tactics that seem doomed because maybe they can get a different result this way, or at least test another tactic than what they did previously. If TPK is always the result, then TPKs and the threat of death and no resurrection carry zero weight

It gives a very Groundhog Day feeling


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
The Raven Black wrote:
Colette Brunel wrote:
Dire Ursus wrote:
You might be running the wounded rules wrong? Wounded only ever goes up by 1 every time you come back from dying. Also did the 30 or so TPKs not make the monk realize that maybe rushing into 4 rune giants alone to only do a single flurry may not have been a good idea? lol. Why did they think they were safe? Was this a newer player or had they been in your previous games?

You know what, you are right; I was under the impression that dying 2 being healed up would go to wounded 1.

So the critical hit would have placed the monk at wounded 3... but it would not have made much of a difference in this case, because the malignant theorem who took down the monk with a critical hit was just the first out of three rune giants acting in the round, and the other two were in a very decent position to execute the unconscious monk who had just been shown to have a healer friend nearby, possibly with an AoE electricity blast from a rune so as to catch another PC or two with damage. I would still call that a loss.

As for what else the monk could have done... what could the monk have done? If they waited for the malignant theorems to approach the party, that would have resulted in the malignant theorems ganging up on someone anyway. The monk's player had played under me for a few sessions, for what it is worth.

I feel that the explanation for the Monk's seemingly suicidal tactics lies in all the previous TPKs. The players may not believe that their characters have any hope of survival, so they will try tactics that seem doomed because maybe they can get a different result this way, or at least test another tactic than what they did previously. If TPK is always the result, then TPKs and the threat of death and no resurrection carry zero weight

It gives a very Groundhog Day feeling

I'm sorry but this makes literally 0 sense. A player knows they've been getting TPK'd all the time so their "big high risk high reward play" is to literally run into the middle of the enemies away from your allies just to get off a single flurry of blows....... Yeah doesn't make sense. And yeah they should have waited, and let the Rune Giants waste their movement getting closer. Monk's are best at in and out tactics. The monk just went in and didn't come out lol.


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Yeah, I haven't looked over all the Playtest reports but I have seen almost no mention of Colette's players actually trying good or even varied tactics, despite statements by her players to the contrary.

Like honestly it sometimes sounds like her players aren't even trying. Granted if I was under a GMing style like Colette's I might not feel like trying either, but at least I'd be torn between that and trying to absolutely Henderson the game.


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And of course now mention of the time limit is only making me realize that it's another example of Colette's anti-player bias.

The adventure says in the flavor text that doomsday is but a week away and separately states that each failure against the Theorems costs a day.

There are no actual rules or descriptions for what happens if the PCs fail or run out of time (Compared to the Mirrored Moon where the Mu Spore situation is covered), so by strict RAW nothing happens if the PCs run out of time. Kinda anticlimatic really.

But instead you make inference as to the logical interaction of the rules. Doomsday in one week, failure is one day, seven failures is the end. That's a logical inference.

Yet you refuse to make the same level of logical inference from Kraken tentacles are part of Kraken body, Kraken tentacles grapple player, grappled player can attack Kraken.

Neither is STRICTLY RAW, but you make the obvious logical inference where it hurts your players, but not where it helps them.

You may have found some problems with this system, but the majority of your players' problems aren't with the system...

Granted this particular fight really sounds like its on them for not actually trying anything much different, but other cases I've seen are not so.


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If "middling tactics, somewhat-optimized-but-not-really-that-optimized" leads to a TPK 6/7 out of 6/7 times against an encounter best described as "The party is in proper formation and has their equipment out, but has no buffs, and suddenly gets into a scuffle with airborne enemies 60 feet away. Encounter level + 3, only battle of the day, but Hero Points must be conserved," then that is already a good sign that the difficulty is overtuned. It is even more worrying that the best tactics possible absolutely require the use of uncommon-rarity options, a sure sign that rarity might not be working as intended.

Do I need to recruit a new set of players and run them through a few adventures before running part #7 again to prove some sort of point here?

Regarding the time limit, that is a matter of adventure design, as opposed to mechanics. I do not think it is unreasonable to infer from the adventure design that some sort of time limit is in place; that is not a matter of RAW or mechanics.


Out of curiosity, why tell them to conserve their Hero Points?


I did not tell them directly. That was more of a group concern under the knowledge that they would have to slog through even more encounters.

Should I have been allowing creatures to move through walls and attack through walls in this playtest to operate in a more RAW fashion? One of my players agrees that, yes, I should have been doing just that if I wanted to be more RAW.

Silver Crusade

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Colette Brunel wrote:

Should I have been allowing creatures to move through walls and attack through walls in this playtest to operate in a more RAW fashion?

Obviously not. This is clearly just an error in the way that the rules are written. Paizo does NOT need playtest data to tell them that allowing creatures to walk and attack through walls is a bad idea.


pauljathome wrote:
Colette Brunel wrote:

Should I have been allowing creatures to move through walls and attack through walls in this playtest to operate in a more RAW fashion?

Obviously not. This is clearly just an error in the way that the rules are written. Paizo does NOT need playtest data to tell them that allowing creatures to walk and attack through walls is a bad idea.

Paizo probably doesn't need playtest data to tell them that people need to be able to attack creatures who are grappling them either, but that doesn't stop Colette there...


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Colette Brunel wrote:

If "middling tactics, somewhat-optimized-but-not-really-that-optimized" leads to a TPK 6/7 out of 6/7 times against an encounter best described as "The party is in proper formation and has their equipment out, but has no buffs, and suddenly gets into a scuffle with airborne enemies 60 feet away. Encounter level + 3, only battle of the day, but Hero Points must be conserved," then that is already a good sign that the difficulty is overtuned. It is even more worrying that the best tactics possible absolutely require the use of uncommon-rarity options, a sure sign that rarity might not be working as intended.

Do I need to recruit a new set of players and run them through a few adventures before running part #7 again to prove some sort of point here?

Regarding the time limit, that is a matter of adventure design, as opposed to mechanics. I do not think it is unreasonable to infer from the adventure design that some sort of time limit is in place; that is not a matter of RAW or mechanics.

You say the difficulty is overtuned as if that's some kind of news that hasn't already been long since addressed early into your legendary beating of the dead horse.

A counterpoint on your assessment of the matchup, I'd argue poor tactics and moderate optimization against optimal and possibly metagaming tactics (your posts have indicated that you metagame a lot [and somehow think that your feedback on how foes play remains fully viable despite this], but I can't know if this fight includes it or not) and high optimization (Or the monster equivalent thereof) against an encounter that is only one step below "They are at least your equal on an overall power level, you'd better outplay them and/or out-luck them or you're dead" SHOULD result in TPKs.

To simplify the above, a moderately optimized 4 with poor to middling tactics should probably lose to a highly optimized 3 with optimal tactics and potentially metagaming. At least that's how I see it.

And that opinion has held up in PF2 where I have seen my party defeat two separate encounters that were actually ABOVE Extreme difficulty by outplaying them (I did not use any intentionally poor or holding back tactics, simply whatever tactics seemed to the monsters like it would be the best choice given whatever the current battlefield situation was) and having a moment or two of good luck, while having already spent some spells and resources for the day. Supporting the idea that superior tactics and high optimization can allow you to beat even something above your level that isn't -quite- as strong tactically.


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Hydras have rules for attacking their heads. Ropers have rules for attacking their strands. Krakens have no rules for attacking their tentacles.

I do not think it is particularly metagaming to have four rune giants make the most of their abilities: air walk, reach 20 feet, Attack of Opportunity, cone-shaped electricity blasts that deal large damage. Is it really that egregious to have rune giants focus their fire upon damaged targets?

In any case, I would think that middling tactics should still result in a victory over the course of 6/7 out of 6/7 attempts, not what is effectively a 100% loss rate.


PsychicPixel wrote:

3D is again hard to properly represent in a typically setting for the game. Most players aren't going to have elaborate models and structures to hold things at their proper size, as fun as that would be. So its not necessarily the best to even bother working on rules for scenarios that require them unless they are a main feature of the game.

Oh man, I disagree with this utterly violently. Yes, you aren't going to be able to make complex models to represent a 3D scene, but that's why you have to have rules covering them. It's pretty easy to track elevation per figure after all.

I had all kinds of problems with cones in 3D. For example if the rune giants are 20 foot (4 cubes) up, then the range of their cones is 4 squares along the ground because of the diagonal to aim them downwards. But then, the first cube of the cone is at least 15' which is probably over the PCs heads, and the second is at 10' which might or might not be considered to be depending on whether you consider a PC to fill their whole cube even if their height wouldn't do it (the usual combat excuse of "the PC would be scuffling and shuffling around in their 5' square" doesn't apply in the third dimension, they would not also be randomly jumping up and down)

As for the "attack the tentacle" rule, that's also something that definitely needs clarification. Grappling a melee enemy is extremely dangerous if you can do that (although I did allow it)


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I agree that it sounds like Colette's players were ill-prepared and maybe under-optimized (in a rules system that heavily punishes any lack of optimization). Their characters had the wrong spells and maybe some of the wrong magical items. Some of that might not have been their fault.

I further agree that their tactics were not just a little lacking. "Here, lemme charge in there and take a beat-down", followed by "OK, round two, lemme charge in there and take an identical beat-down" followed by "OK, round 7, lemme charge in there and take my 7th identical beat-down" may not be inspired playing (to put it very, very mildly).

It also seems like the most interesting spells these level 17 characters managed to come up with were more suitable to a 9th level group. Where were their big game-changer spells?

Maybe their results would have been different with some better characters using magic more suitable to their level and using tactics that, well, let's just leave it at using tactics.

That said, I don't see any fault in Colette's use of the Rune Giants. She placed them, then used their abilities. Their WISDOM is probably just about as high as the PC cleric's and their INTELLIGENCE may be higher than 3/4 of that group. They should be able to use their abilities.

I've said it before, probably in this thread. It's bad story-telling, bad gaming, and bad GMing to play monsters as a stupid pile of XP waiting to be slaughtered by any PC who swings a sword it their direction. Everything (except perhaps a few undead or constructs) has a will to live and a need to fight, survive, thrive, and LIVE. Therefore, everything should fight like it actually cares about its own life. And every single creature on earth uses its natural (and in some cases learned) abilities to its maximal advantage in every fight, so why shouldn't Golarion creatures do the same thing?

She didn't overplay the giants, nor did she metagame anything. In fact, she let her players metagame by rearranging stuff (though maybe they had a whole day to do it), learning the monsters' entire stat block, then ret-conning their item selections.

And they still just charged into their own suicide.


DM_Blake wrote:

I agree that it sounds like Colette's players were ill-prepared and maybe under-optimized (in a rules system that heavily punishes any lack of optimization). Their characters had the wrong spells and maybe some of the wrong magical items. Some of that might not have been their fault.

I further agree that their tactics were not just a little lacking. "Here, lemme charge in there and take a beat-down", followed by "OK, round two, lemme charge in there and take an identical beat-down" followed by "OK, round 7, lemme charge in there and take my 7th identical beat-down" may not be inspired playing (to put it very, very mildly).

It also seems like the most interesting spells these level 17 characters managed to come up with were more suitable to a 9th level group. Where were their big game-changer spells?

Maybe their results would have been different with some better characters using magic more suitable to their level and using tactics that, well, let's just leave it at using tactics.

That said, I don't see any fault in Colette's use of the Rune Giants. She placed them, then used their abilities. Their WISDOM is probably just about as high as the PC cleric's and their INTELLIGENCE may be higher than 3/4 of that group. They should be able to use their abilities.

I've said it before, probably in this thread. It's bad story-telling, bad gaming, and bad GMing to play monsters as a stupid pile of XP waiting to be slaughtered by any PC who swings a sword it their direction. Everything (except perhaps a few undead or constructs) has a will to live and a need to fight, survive, thrive, and LIVE. Therefore, everything should fight like it actually cares about its own life. And every single creature on earth uses its natural (and in some cases learned) abilities to its maximal advantage in every fight, so why shouldn't Golarion creatures do the same thing?

She didn't overplay the giants, nor did she metagame anything. In fact, she let her players metagame by rearranging stuff (though maybe they had a whole...

Yeah, this is a surprising case where I legit don't have any objections to how the enemies were played. I'm not sure I'd even do them any differently. Unfortunately I won't know for at least a week and a half how my group will handle it as we are a step behind schedule. But I believe this one is definitely on the players. Makes me wonder if this lack of effective play has permeated all of these other TPKs. The only one I've seen discussed in great depth is the Kraken, where we have the problem of both players acting seemingly daft and GM rulings I highly disagree with. I'm not going to start in on those disagreements here, just outlining my frame of reference.

The only other bit I saw (I simply haven't had the time and admittedly not the motivation to read this whole thread) was about a Sombrefell Hall party losing members in the first three waves, which should never happen with how piss-weak all the monsters in those waves are, which makes me wonder about the players even more.

Perhaps some of my frustrations have been misdirected...
Perhaps not. Can't know for sure.


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DM Blake, what would you have had the fighter and the monk do here? They were very clearly built for melee and nothing else, because really, investing in actually meaningful backup weapons is costly by 17th level. Plinking away with a +3 composite shortbow for 4d6+2 damage at 17th level is hardly appealing, and I wanted to try out a Gray Maiden with the Dexterity modifier +0 that Gray Maiden plate seems to be trying to enable.

The rune giants, with their 20-foot reach, air walk, and Attack of Opportunities, had the freedom to focus their fire upon anyone they pleased. If the monk, for example, decided to hang back for whatever reason, then the rune giants would have gone for the cleric instead.

There are very few ways to meaningfully impede the target selection of enemies with 20-foot reach, air walk, and Attack of Opportunities.

Also, note that I have been running two separate groups of players throughout these adventures. The first group had to be disbanded after Heroes of Undarin, but they still played through that adventure, The Lost Star, In Pale Mountain's Shadow, The Rose Street Revenge, Raiders of Shrieking Peak (non-Resonance-Test version), Arclord's Envy, Affair at Sombrefell Hall, and The Mirrored Moon and still TPKed (twice, in fact, during In Pale Mountain's Shadow).

Also, spells like power word blind are uncommon, and it sends a poor message if it was only through allowing an uncommon option that a party managed to pull a victory.


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Colette Brunel wrote:

DM Blake, what would you have had the fighter and the monk do here? They were very clearly built for melee and nothing else, because really, investing in actually meaningful backup weapons is costly by 17th level. Plinking away with a +3 composite shortbow for 4d6+2 damage at 17th level is hardly appealing, and I wanted to try out a Gray Maiden with the Dexterity modifier +0 that Gray Maiden plate seems to be trying to enable.

The rune giants, with their 20-foot reach, air walk, and Attack of Opportunities, had the freedom to focus their fire upon anyone they pleased. If the monk, for example, decided to hang back for whatever reason, then the rune giants would have gone for the cleric instead.

There are very few ways to meaningfully impede the target selection of enemies with 20-foot reach, air walk, and Attack of Opportunities.

Also, note that I have been running two separate groups of players throughout these adventures. The first group had to be disbanded after Heroes of Undarin, but they still played through that adventure, The Lost Star, In Pale Mountain's Shadow, The Rose Street Revenge, Raiders of Shrieking Peak (non-Resonance-Test version), Arclord's Envy, Affair at Sombrefell Hall, and The Mirrored Moon and still TPKed (twice, in fact, during In Pale Mountain's Shadow).

Also, spells like power word blind are uncommon, and it sends a poor message if it was only through allowing an uncommon option that a party managed to pull a victory.

No offense but they just weren't working together or using any strategy really of any kind. Just like the Rune Giants can focus down your players, the players can focus down the Rune Giants. Place status effects. The monk for instance wasted two actions just GETTING to the Rune Giants just to get off a single flurry. This is literally the worst possible thing he could have done with his actions. He should have just delayed his turn until the Rune Giants got closer, and then he'll have more actions to work with while at the same time making the rune giants waste their actions on movement.

This is really beginner level stuff, but honestly they might just be stuck in a PF1e mind set. In PF1e you can get away with just running in and hoping you Alpha Strike their opposition down. You really don't have to use much in the way of tactics when your best bet every turn is to just full attack over and over. You said your Grey Maiden character was sort of made for tanking. So why wouldn't they get focused down? Have them lead the charge and stand in front while the rest of the team tries to stay back. Give them a fly spell so they can get into the rune giant's faces, and then hit him with ranged healing whenever she goes low.

An unoptimized grey maiden should have 42 AC with their shield raised. That means the Rune Giants only hit on a 13 or higher and only crit on a 20 with their first attack action. Even less on further attacks. They should be able to tank on average over 10 hits from the giants without any healing. That does not sound like an impossible fight in the least. And honestly even though your Monk did do the worst tactic possible on that first fight, it's still really surprising that he died within two rounds considering you said he had 41 AC meaning he only gets crit on 20s and should have around 300 hp. You must have rolled ridiculously for them.


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I never said that the monk used two actions to get to the rune giants to make a single flurry. The monk used one action to establish adjacency (easy enough with monk movement speed increases), then used a Flurry and a regular Strike. Of course, monks have accuracy issues.

Delaying turns to let the rune giants come closer is suicidal. That is what lets rune giants air walk up to the party and blast them vertically downwards with 30-foot-cones. Invoke Rune takes only a single action; it simultaneously deals area damage and buffs the rune giant, making it a perfect combat opener. Flashing Runes is a free action; it is optional, and a rune giant can opt against using it, perhaps to avoid blinding or dazzling allies.

The party actually did focus their fire. I never said they did not. That was how they took down one rune giant in attempt #1; Certain Strike was helpful there. Magic missile also helped. Automatic damage in general was useful.

During attempt #1, the monk took an Attack of Opportunity on approach, and then got electricity-blasted by some good positioning from the rune giants (Tangled Forest Stance helped against only one of the rune giants here) and beaten up with flaming swords. The monk's mobility was heavily restricted by all the Attacks of Opportunity. The monk did suffer two critical hits during the onslaught.

During attempt #3, it did take until the third round for the rune giants to knock out the fighter, and it did take some well-positioned electricity blasts to supplement the effort. I did not actually mean to knock out the fighter; I was simply trying to force enough Fortitude saving throws to eliminate the armor (the fighter had blown a Lucky Halfling earlier to make a Trick Magic Item work), and it looks like the plan worked. I realized that this was a poor tactic only later, but I lucked out this time regardless.

During attempts #4 through #7, I was going for the fighter first because their low Reflex meant that they were always the most damaged party member from the opening electricity blasts. Thus, mowing down the fighter did not take that much luck.


Colette Brunel wrote:

DM Blake, what would you have had the fighter and the monk do here? They were very clearly built for melee and nothing else, because really, investing in actually meaningful backup weapons is costly by 17th level. Plinking away with a +3 composite shortbow for 4d6+2 damage at 17th level is hardly appealing, and I wanted to try out a Gray Maiden with the Dexterity modifier +0 that Gray Maiden plate seems to be trying to enable.

The rune giants, with their 20-foot reach, air walk, and Attack of Opportunities, had the freedom to focus their fire upon anyone they pleased. If the monk, for example, decided to hang back for whatever reason, then the rune giants would have gone for the cleric instead.

It's hard to say. I wasn't there. But, imagining it in my mind, those giants each take up a 20'x20' cube of space. Which means that one giant behind another giant does NOT have enough reach to reach "through" his ally's space to hit anything. Which causes them to move, which wastes their actions. They only Air Walk at a speed of 35 an it takes a lot of movement to around a 20' ally. Even more to go above him. Maybe each of them might have moved enough to get only one attack with their focus fire. That's something, anyway.

Perhaps delaying so the whole group can go at the same time with the casters going first, then getting TWO flying melee characters. Then send in the one with the highest AC/HP to fly to the nearest ONE giant and receive ONE AoO, then the other melee guy flies in with him.

I haven't played this system at levels higher than level 9, so I haven't really looked at what high level martials can do, but I hope that if they get into range and do some of their own focus fire they might bring down a giant. Maybe not.

You let the casters reselect spells between fights, maybe having some better spells that didn't do fire damage might have helped. Maybe some battlefield control - the giants were only 20' up in the air, wall spells can easily be taller than that, so placing a helpful wall to prevent having all 4 giants focus on one PC might have helped.

Maybe they PCs could have retreated back somewhat to drop a few useful buffs, forcing the giants to follow them while buffs were being applied. Not sure if the situation allowed that.

Maybe a hundred other tactical options might have been plausible. But from your playtest notes, it was just "Charge. Die. Fail. Reset. Charge. die. Fail. Reset. Charge. Die..."

If I had been there, I certainly would have been trying different things. They may not have worked, but I absolutely wouldn't have 6 instances of executing the same exact plan and watching it fail 6 times.


The rune giants move "only" 35 feet with each action, but they still have reach 20 feet, and they have a considerable ability to restrict their enemies' movement via Attack of Opportunity to begin with. They also have their one-action, 30-foot-cone blasts of electricity. You are greatly underestimating just how much freedom of targeting this gives the rune giants, and how much it restricts their enemies' ability to move around.

PCs delaying would have, again, been suicidal. That simply lets the rune giants air walk over and blast the party with electricity, something that was happening multiple times.

I fail to see how sending in both melee PCs would have helped at all. There were situations wherein both melee PCs were attacking the same rune giant. Rune giants have reach 20 feet, so they are free to attack whom they please in melee.

I am not sure why the wizard's player kept three fire spells in their spellbook; I did relay a statement from the wizard's player above. During battle, they did generally try to focus on haste, automatic 9th-level magic missile castings, and the like.

I am thinking that the players were simply too demoralized to try anything differently.


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When the -2 accuracy penalty on AoOs results in said AoOs only hitting on a 14 or 15 for the melee characters (Again this is with NO buffs and debuffs at hand) then I really question how much actual value those AoOs have, even with 4 per round (Unless they ignore the -2 and I missed that).

I mean, looking at those stats I think your players would have been really well-served trying harder to get buffs on self and debuffs on the enemies. Even just getting something like Sick or Frightened 1 or 2 on them REALLY pushes their accuracy below any kind of favorable level.

As for that last sentence on your post... I expect you're entirely right. And no matter how much more I may have to say about that I doubt it will go anywhere that hasn't already been gone.


I was remembering the -2 penalty, yes. I do not think I forgot it a single time. Sheer volume matters for those Attacks of Opportunity, especially when taking even one of them punctures a non-negligible hole in hit points due to the flaming rune. This is not like Pathfinder 1e wherein an attack of opportunity from a monster at 17th level is a slap on the wrist.

Remember that my first group dissolved due to a lack of players. If I could round them up for the Resonance Test, part #6, and part #7, I would, because those are the only three parts that I have not GMed for a second time.

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