Handling Repeated Character Deaths (Mid-level)


Advice


I am GMing a homebrew campaign for a level 10 party (standard heroic "save the world" type adventure). They've been exploring some ruins and...have struggled a bit.

Specifically, over the course of delving through the ruins (half of level 10) they've needed to cast Raise Dead nine times. At this point two people have four negative levels, two people have three negative levels, and one person has one negative level (six person party). They can't remove any more negative levels with Restoration for another week and there are no 13+ Clerics or 14+ Oracles in the nearby region who can cast Greater Restoration (sixth level spells and under, yes, seventh level, no).

This has led to at least two potential issues:

1, how does the party deal with the cost of the raises?

2, how does the party deal with the remaining negative levels?

Also, while the mission the party is on isn't time critical, it is time sensitive (meaning sitting around for a month isn't feasible).

Regarding #2, I had expected the party to find some long lost items in the ruins which could have helped with removing the negative levels. I imagined the party would use said items later in the campaign but they could have used them now (and then just had a harder time later if those items became necessary). However, due to party choices/mistakes that option is no longer on the table.

Regarding #1, I had expected the party to either split the cost of things like raises/restorations (since some party members are more likely to die/get drained/etc than others) and/or set aside a separate "party fund" to make sure they had the money on hand to deal with stuff as it came up. Instead, they've been having each person pay for their own raises.

Which has then in turn led to the current situation where one PC (who has died a number of times in general) is talking to the party about it being better to bring in a new character which hasn't spent a bunch of money on getting raised. Because if he dies again he might need to start selling off some of the gear he's actually using and at that point he'd rather make a new character.

Now, personally, I don't like this idea for several reasons, arguably the most important being that I'd rather have a consistent party for long-reaching storylines. And it's effectively "injecting" extra money into the campaign. But...if he had died at low level then that would just be what's assumed. It's just expected at higher level that the party can deal with such a situation.

So if we're fine with wealth spontaneously appearing then another option would just be to increase loot found for a bit to make up for WBL lost on raises. But...that loot would be split among the party presumably which is then "rewarding" the people who haven't died as much and who don't need the money to stay on track. This problem wouldn't exist if the party was splitting the cost of raises but...the party isn't.

A third option is to try to have several items specific to the player drop. But...if he dies again and "all" he has are new shiny items then he'd have to sell one or more off and then presumably would be back to "I'd rather make a new character at this point than sell off gear I'm actually using."

All that said, I decided to do a full audit of the party to see exactly what the situation was. Level 10 WBL is 62k, level 11 is 82k, level 12 is 108k, and there's no crafting involved. Here's the results (wands are pro-rated depending on charges left):

------------------------------------------------

PC 1
107k in non-consumable items
15k in potions
21k in wands
143kish overall

PC 2 (the one who's worried about losing too much money)
84k in non-consumable items
17k in potions
4k in scrolls
37k in wands
142kish overall

PC 3
103k in non-consumable items (though 18k is a melee weapon and he's an archer)
9k in potions
112kish overall

PC 4
83k in non-consumable items
3k in potions
4k in wands
90kish overall

PC 5
54k in non-consumable items
1k in potions
NOTE: character just joined a few sessions ago with level 10 WBL of 62 and used various consumables

PC 6
Is currently transformed and WBL is not relevant for the character atm

Party Inventory
Counting half-price for some items they might sell and full price for items they're planning on using, it's valued at 73kish

---------------------------------------------

Thoughts? How would you handle the situation?


Balkoth wrote:
Regarding #1, I had expected the party to either split the cost of things like raises/restorations (since some party members are more likely to die/get drained/etc than others) and/or set aside a separate "party fund" to make sure they had the money on hand to deal with stuff as it came up. Instead, they've been having each person pay for their own raises.

Sounds like you've got a group of adventurers who happen to be in the same place, not an adventuring party.

In character, it'd make more sense for somebody who's died several times, and got little or no support from their 'friends' to decide to hang up their gear and open a tavern somewhere, so I understand the feeling of wanting to bring in a new character.

Could be time for a quick OOC chat about how the group is working together (or isn't)


So yeah, the first thing you need to figure out is what happens when the party doesn't finish the dungeon before your deadline, because by all rights they should back out and wait. At the very least, the person with -2 or more levels should refuse to enter again because they are almost guaranteed to not fufill their party role and suffer another death.

If you need the party to complete it before a certain deadline you'll need to use some deux ex machina and have a 'benevolent deity' send something to make a deal with the party: restoration and resurrection now, in return for favors later. If members of the party refuse the offer have the servant ask why. If the answers aren't in line with the deity's beliefs, switch the negative levels to them.

If the party doesn't hassle our divine servant and they perform the tasks asked of them, reward the ones that didn't need help with a few divine gifts.

As for handling the costs of resurrection...you should talk to them before the game starts and work something out. Unless this is a evil party. If it is an evil party, then they are doing it 'right'.


Andy Brown is right, it's probably time to have OOC talks.

In game, I'd consider deific intervention. They're high enough level to be noticed by the gods and they're saving the world, right? There has to be at least one god that cares about that. Have that deity step in and remove a few negative levels. It can be more plot, like, the deity's goals don't neatly line up with the party's goals and while they might both want to stop the BBEG, the deity has more in plan for the party that they'll have to deal with. It's heavy-handed but it can be done well.

Or, just have the extra loot more geared towards keeping those party members alive. Scrolls of Raise Dead and Greater Restoration are level appropriate loot at this point, and I'd hope your party would give them to the party members who need them the most. In general, adding a bunch of consumable loot is a relatively safe option for fixing the problem with wealth, especially if you do it in big loot piles that have lower level stuff appropriate to the well-off party members. They won't feel left out but ultimately getting a few scrolls or wands of their favorite 1st and 2nd level spells isn't going unbalance them at this level.

You could also consider toning down encounters for a bit until the party levels up again and do some videogamey stuff, like healing X amount for leveling up. It's as heavy-handed as the deity thing but depending on your players, it might feel more natural ("it works like that in Skyrim, so it makes sense it does too in Pathfinder!").

Anyways, it seems like they're all clearly above WBL (except member 5), so I'd focus more on providing a way to remove the negative levels than I would on boosting their gear. They hopefully won't die as much when they're at full power.

EDIT: Ninja'd on the deific intervention!

Shadow Lodge

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Okay, the first question that comes to mind is: How the heck are so many of your characters dying in such a (relatively) short span? You and your players need to figure out what is going wrong and figure out a way to mitigate it a bit (foolish PC tactics or a lack of characters supporting each other can be fixed by the players, while deadly encounter design is a GM issue), unless it is just plain bad luck causing the issue.

You seem to recognize that the party is in a death spiral (they are becoming weaker due to negative levels and cost of being raised while their opposition is in theory getting tougher): The simplest band-aid would be a couple of scrolls of Restoration, Greater (although successfully using such a scroll might be problematic with all those negative levels) but that doesn't necessarily mean the PCs won't continue to drop like flies (after all, it takes more than one or two deaths to start a spiral like this).


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Increasing wealth passed wealth by level isn’t a problem, the WBL chart is a guide, it’s assumed that with that wealth by level the PCs should be able to handle themselves in most combats. Clearly you’re aren’t and that’s only going to get worse.
So increasing that is completely fine, letting yourself get bogged down in arbitrary numbers and “artificial wealth” rather than taking the amount of money they need in the context of your game specifically is silly. Don’t become shackeled by guidelines. Especially if you want one consistent party throughout.

That said I see 1 problem on either side of the table

On the player side

They’re not working together how I’d expect a party that’s gone through 10+ levels together would, they should want to raise their allies, their should be an emotional connection in character which is worth more to them than a moderate sized diamond. One wonders if this lack of team work extends to combat.

On the DM side

You’re killing your players too much. Either the fights are too hard, or too frequent, or you’re gaming them out to the limit, beyond what one would expect from a normal monster. I remember from passed threads that you impose artificial limitations and nerfs on builds and limit source material for fear of players being too strong. Looks like now they’re too weak, you either need to boost them or tone things down a little. I would not be happy with 9 deaths in a campaign by level 10 unless I’d gone into it being tolled it was going to be a very intense hard no holds bard campaign.


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A death here or there is a player tactics issue or bad run of dice

9 deaths in ONE dungeon is a GM problem (unless it was advertised as hardcore/survival)

I'm surprised you still have a group if not.

Yes it would be nice if they'd share resources, but you're nailing them way too much for them.

Either drop the greater restos like candy at this point, handwave them off, or whatever else.

Then reassess what you are throwing at the party vs their character ability and playing ability


"I'd rather have a consistent party for long-reaching storylines" - Then stop killing their characters...


It sounds like a key thing people want to know is what you are throwing against them? And to a lesser extent what are their classes/builds?

Because that attrition rate sounds rather high!

Are the majority of encounters of a CR significantly above the APL? And how many do they have to go through a day?

Perhaps this individual resource pools also points to players who are all about creating the best possible individual rather than party...?


A character with negative levels suffer a penalty to all ability checks, attack rolls, etc. They also lose 5 hp per negative level. They are also treated as being 1 level lower for class features such as spell casting.

In effect the afflicted characters are lower level characters, probably too low to be adventuring in this dungeon. If I was such a character, I would take a break from adventuring to recover. Most of the party has negative levels. Its suicide for them to keep going.


Quote:
Specifically, over the course of delving through the ruins (half of level 10) they've needed to cast Raise Dead nine times. At this point two people have four negative levels, two people have three negative levels, and one person has one negative level (six person party).

Time to send in the dwarves....


As other have said the death problem looks to be a GM problem. I have seen this type of thing come up when a GM is worried about the party being too powerful. I played in a campaign where the GM switched to a slow progression XP because he was worried we were gaining levels too quickly. The party than found a secret door we were not supposed to find that allowed us to skip to the end of the dungeon, but we were a lot lower level than we should have been. This led to a total party kill and ended the campaign. It sounds like you are headed in the same direction

One solution to the wealth problem is to use the auto bonus progression. I use it in all the campaigns I run for two reasons. The first is that it allows the characters to get fun and interesting magic items instead of boring ones. Now instead of all cloaks being cloaks of protection you can have ones that do something unusual. Second it makes sure that all characters have the basic bonuses they need.


Andy Brown wrote:
Sounds like you've got a group of adventurers who happen to be in the same place, not an adventuring party.

That is a concern. Especially since there are three new characters since level nine (two were players wanting to swap -- from Skald to Unchained Monk and from Witch to Cleric -- and the other was a new player joining).

Meirril wrote:
So yeah, the first thing you need to figure out is what happens when the party doesn't finish the dungeon before your deadline

There is no hard deadline. Unless you mean "Have the party wait around a month" which is problem because they're in the middle of a war. Things are going to go poorly if the PCs are gone that long.

Meirril wrote:
As for handling the costs of resurrection...you should talk to them before the game starts and work something out. Unless this is a evil party. If it is an evil party, then they are doing it 'right'.

Nope, all neutral or good.

Taudis wrote:
Scrolls of Raise Dead and Greater Restoration are level appropriate loot at this point
Taja the Barbarian wrote:
The simplest band-aid would be a couple of scrolls of Restoration, Greater (although successfully using such a scroll might be problematic with all those negative levels)

They had a shot at more or less that but bungled it.

Taja the Barbarian wrote:
Okay, the first question that comes to mind is: How the heck are so many of your characters dying in such a (relatively) short span?

From my perspective? Each time PCs have died I've thought "Why would they...oh this isn't going to end well."

I will note that (IIRC) eight of those deaths were effectively from two encounters where four PCS died each.

The first encounter was the PCs both underestimating their foes and splitting the party mid-battle. It was literally the first encounter (and meant as a warm-up/introduction)...then half the PCs teleported further in and got the attention of another (tougher) encounter. Basically a "Take out the scouting party and then the main force" and they turned it into "Fight both at once with the party split up and not able to work together as effectively."

The second encounter was much later and the PCs engaged in a very difficult fight (with some warning signs) without resources (for example, the Paladin had no Smite Evils left) and without much coordination (one very fast party member charged way ahead and the group as a whole got very divided by a Wall of Force). And, again from my perspective, they didn't really make use of a powerful NPC ally they had at that point.

The ninth death was very much a Leeroy Jenkins death from my perspective.

In general I think the party didn't make much use of the previously mentioned NPC ally -- which was a problem because the encounters were tuned higher assuming they would.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
They’re not working together how I’d expect a party that’s gone through 10+ levels together would, they should want to raise their allies, their should be an emotional connection in character which is worth more to them than a moderate sized diamond. One wonders if this lack of team work extends to combat.

Regarding the last sentence, it's much better than my second campaign but...yeah, I fear so. And only one party member was here at level 1. Five have been here since level 7, though, sixth joined at level 9. It's an online game on Fantasy Grounds so not a RL group of friends or anything.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
I remember from passed threads that you impose artificial limitations and nerfs on builds and limit source material for fear of players being too strong. Looks like now they’re too weak, you either need to boost them or tone things down a little.

FWIW it ain't the monsters that have been so lethal...it's been other classed enemies operating under the same limitations/nerfs as the PCs (and buffs in some cases).

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
I would not be happy with 9 deaths in a campaign by level 10 unless I’d gone into it being tolled it was going to be a very intense hard no holds bard campaign.

It was advertised as the following -- YMMV:

"Although the campaign has both a narrative and player-driven opportunities for roleplay, the main emphasis is challenging combat. New players are welcome, as long as you're willing to use sound tactics and learn about the game. Work together and play wisely and you'll succeed. But be ready for a challenge."

Rub-Eta wrote:
"I'd rather have a consistent party for long-reaching storylines" - Then stop killing their characters...

There were zero deaths until level seven where there was a TPK on something incredibly stupid that the party admits was incredibly stupid. I literally did not even know how to react I was so flabbergasted.

Then there were four deaths from an ambush that the PCs handled poorly (and I expected at least 1-2 PC deaths) at the end of level 8 -- but due to the party's successful mission and travel required those deaths didn't cost the party anything and those negative levels were entirely removed shortly after level 9 started. Then there were a handful of scattered deaths during level nine.

It's only been at level 10 that things became a true/serious issue.

Lanathar wrote:
It sounds like a key thing people want to know is what you are throwing against them? And to a lesser extent what are their classes/builds?

Various undead. Some classed skeletons (Fighters, Clerics, Wizards, Rogues).

Party is

Time Oracle
Travel Cleric
Draconic Sorcerer
Archer Paladin
Unchained Monk
Juvenile Magma Dragon (long story)

Lanathar wrote:
Are the majority of encounters of a CR significantly above the APL? And how many do they have to go through a day?

For the former, you'd have to define "significantly" because APL+4 is supposed to be an even fight.

For the latter...they went at their own pace. I specifically did not set any kind of hard time limit here (though I did warn them that literally doing one encounter per day and that's it would take too long).

OmniMage wrote:
They also lose 5 hp per negative level.

FWIW I haven't even been enforcing that part.

Lanathar wrote:
If I was such a character, I would take a break from adventuring to recover. Most of the party has negative levels. Its suicide for them to keep going.

Them taking a break would mean dozens or hundreds of other people dying (or worse if we're talking like a month break), there's the rub.

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
One solution to the wealth problem is to use the auto bonus progression.

I don't mind the general idea of ABP but I do have major problems with its specific implementation.

I think it would mainly help the Archer paladin who's a low AC/low HP glass cannon -- had like 22 AC and 10 Con at level 10.


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Balkoth wrote:


Taudis wrote:
Scrolls of Raise Dead and Greater Restoration are level appropriate loot at this point
Taja the Barbarian wrote:
The simplest band-aid would be a couple of scrolls of Restoration, Greater (although successfully using such a scroll might be problematic with all those negative levels)
They had a shot at more or less that but bungled it.

Give them another chance. Obviously, they bungled an opportunity but now it sounds like the success of your campaign is hanging in the balance. What is it you think you have to lose which is more important to the campaign than the campaign just folding/characters retiring?

Quote:
FWIW it ain't the monsters that have been so lethal...it's been other classed enemies operating under the same limitations/nerfs as the PCs (and buffs in some cases).

arbitrary limitations and nerfs to NPCs don't matter as long as they can do what that one NPC needs to do, they've done their job they're used up and you make a new NPC for the next thing.

A PC is stuck with the choices he makes and the limitations he applies are limitations forever, he's permanently less effective. Every challenge he should have been able to deal with that he can't is a permanent problem for him, because PCs unlike NPCs have have lots and lots of jobs and can't just be made a new when their task is done.

Plus their is no point arguing this point, your campaign is on the brink failing because PCs are dying too much and getting bogged down in negative levels. So clearly whatever you're doing, whether the nerfs are applied to PCS and NPCs alike or not is irrelevant. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is a pile of dead PCs

Quote:
Them taking a break would mean dozens or hundreds of other people dying (or worse if we're talking like a month break), there's the rub.

So you expect them to just throw their characters away on a suicide mission?

The options are

-Give them time

-Give them means to deal with negative levels and potentially adjust encounter strength going forward.

-They die and you get a new cast/campaign.

There is no use throwing around the imaginary moral quandary of imaginary people dying, when the real world logistics are your players are stuck in a lose lose situation which could ruin your campaign.


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APL+4 is not supposed to be an even fight. APL+3 is listed as an epic encounter. Your party has 6 members so by the book you add 1 to their APL. That would make a APL+4 an epic encounter. Also if their WBL is lower than normal you are supposed to adjust their effective APL accordingly.


Mysterious Stranger wrote:
APL+4 is not supposed to be an even fight. APL+3 is listed as an epic encounter. Your party has 6 members so by the book you add 1 to their APL. That would make a APL+4 an epic encounter. Also if their WBL is lower than normal you are supposed to adjust their effective APL accordingly.

+1

I was about to post the same as above

It sounds like we have found our answer .
APL + 4 for a 6 person party should be the boss fight especially if under WBL.

Most AP final encounters are APL+3


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I see three potential problems with your GMing that are the root of this situation.

1) Misunderstanding Challenge Ratings. APL +4 is an even fight in that it is a coin flip of whether it will be a TPK or not. In theory, half of all APL +4 encounters would result in a TPK, the other half a victory for the party, but likely at the cost of multiple PC deaths. Obviously optimization and teamwork can effect this, and CR is only approximate anyway but that is the theory.

2) Over reliance on the PCs seeing/using the solutions that you expect them to. "They had a shot at more or less that but bungled it.", "they didn't really make use of a powerful NPC ally." This sounds like you are really building your encounters based on your plans, but PCs always miss things that seem obvious to the GM, often because while the GM clearly sees what is happening and how things are related, the PCs only have a limited view, things that seem obvious from the omniscient perspective of a GM are often quite obscure to the players. Don't plan on them doing it 'your way' and don't make encounters predicated on that. Also, provide multiple ways to get their. If you need them to find a certain scroll you can provide multiple hints, have a second or third place where it could be if they don't look in the first, and possibly have something close to dues ex machina to get it to them if all else fails.

3) Unrealistic Expectations of Party Coordination. This seems to be an issue both from a tactical point of view and the larger 'group fund' issue. In many games, I would just let the players sort out all of this as they wanted. This is a remote game with people that don't know each other though. They probably aren't going to be super organized in either area. For the tactical coordination, the solution is to build encounters not expecting it to be all that high (hence lower CR). As for the question of party fund, with people that don't know each other and aren't going to be having any interaction outside of the gaming itself, I would expect that it a part of the GMs job to provide that sort of organization, or at least make sure that someone is doing it and it is going well.

Finally, I want to make it clear that you are a 'killer GM' and that this isn't just a bit of bad luck. "I expected at least 1-2 PC deaths.", "a handful of scattered deaths during level nine." That is a lot of deaths. That is a lot of deaths that you thought were not a problem. I'm not saying that you are 'bad,' this style of game can be fun and some people really enjoy it, but I would expect over a course of a level 1 to 15+ campaign to maybe have 4 or 5 character deaths total. Often when faced with high PC attrition players also do things that make it worse. They might stop caring about character death, doing suicidal things. They might go super cautious, leaving other character out on a limb taking risks, and they might just get sloppy, not worrying too much about what they are doing because they lost interest.

I also find in quite interesting that this campaign has radically shifted. No deaths until 7th, a TPK (sometimes these happen even when you do everything right), apparently a lot of replacement players as well as characters, and then a dramatically different gaming style. I think either the TPK, the new players or a combination of the two radically changed the GMing and style of the game. Examining what happened and how you reacted to it might be illuminating.


Some wisdom I heard from another GM: Make sure there are at least three ways to solve any riddle.

Did your missed treasure have multiple opportunities to be found?
Did your NPC mention after the fact how he could have helped?

Your Travel domain cleric's Dimensional Hop could have bypassed the wall of force.

Dimensional Hop (Sp): wrote:
At 8th level, you can teleport up to 10 feet per cleric level per day as a move action. This teleportation must be used in 5-foot increments and such movement does not provoke attacks of opportunity. You must have line of sight to your destination to use this ability. You can bring other willing creatures with you, but you must expend an equal amount of distance for each creature brought.

There is a nice magic item: Soul Stimulant can suppress 1 negative level for 12 hours.

/cevah


I don't see this as entirely a GM problem. Maybe partially; but you're in a difficult situation because you have 6 PCs; that's really the biggest reason you keep killing people; and everyone in the thread is ignoring that.

Why is it a problem? because you've added 50% more player action-economy which makes it difficult to balance encounters. All the sudden an encounter that would've been balanced with 1 Stone Roper; is balanced by having a second one and considered "difficult." But what happens? Now you've *doubled* your enemies while "barely increasing the difficulty."

I have a hard limit on 4 players now because it's way easier for me to balance.
_____________
Second issue: Everyone here seems to think you should just hand them a campaign that they didn't earn; which you don't believe. I'm happy to stand with you on that. You gave them an NPC, you pointed out some side quest or w/e that had much needed loot; you've attempted to build balanced encounters; and you *didn't adjust the campaign just because they were doing badly.*

I think that's a good thing. Your players are in a real world that didn't just adjust to them; I think that despite their deaths; that's why they're hanging around.

_____________
Because I sympathize with you but assume you want them to get through it; give them a second way to get to those outs they need so badly. You may even have the OOC chat that says "hey... if you guys don't go do a thing; you're probably dead." Then they'll either take the railroad or they'll take the hard-core challenge.

Fact is.. the party is somewhat killing itself and it sounds like you've been playing it fairly and playing it lethally => meaning there is actual danger for the PCs.

____________
The only other thought would be to have maybe a secondary "Save the angel" quest as an option; where they go on some side quest deep in this dungeon; and doing it basically negates the rest of it or clears their issues up; whichever seems better to you.


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BlarkNipnar wrote:


_____________
Second issue: Everyone here seems to think you should just hand them a campaign that they didn't earn; which you don't believe. I'm happy to stand with you on that. You gave them an NPC, you pointed out some side quest or w/e that had much needed loot; you've attempted to build balanced encounters; and you *didn't adjust the campaign just because they were doing badly.*

I think that's a good thing. Your players are in a real world that didn't just adjust to them; I think that despite their deaths; that's why they're hanging around.

You think its a good think to not adjust the campaign to your group? You realise one of the main advantages to a human DM is the ability to adapt and adjust.

You could stick an AP into a computer and have run without any adjustment. That is a video game.

What do you do when a campaign starts to go wrong/flop? Just let it die for verisimilitude?

Honestly my mind boggles at how people would rather not have a game because it failed than tweak it because they might damage the verisimilitude.


Sounds like a couple of issues are in play here.

The players are making (stupid?) mistakes. That isn't going to work with the campaign as advertised. More mistakes = more deaths = no game. Time for a talk. Either the players get it together or the GM has to adjust the game. All 7 of you will have to figure out which solution to use.

The GM has put limits (aka it's a homebrew). At certain levels, various special abilities come "online". Anything that messes with that can cause massive problems. One of the things I'm talking about is stuff like Invisibility. You don't see monsters with that ability until 7th level, IIRC. Changing the price of a see invisibility scroll may cause the PCs to "not afford it" until 8th level. That's one full level of TPKs by invisible foes from a minor price change. There's tons of this kind of stuff baked into the game. You can change stuff, just be aware there are likely consequences.

There are 6 PCs. When adjusting the APL/CR for 6 players, you have to be really careful (more so at higher levels) about how that gets implemented. +1 APL means +1 CR and now 6 level 10 characters are fighting a CR 13 monster who never misses, does stupid levels of damage, and the PCs can't reliably hit. It gets worse with all the special abilities and spells with CR 10+ monsters and how all that stuff interacts. There is also the DR jumps to consider. All of a sudden it goes from 5 to 10 or 10 to 15 and if the PCs aren't prepared for it, they can't do the damage to take the monster(s) down before dying.

Alternatively, you can use more lower CR monsters to make a high CR encounter. Like a pair of CR 8 Nabasu Demons, who cause two DC 21 mass hold person Will saves instead of one (D'oh!). If you have an 80% chance of making that save, you only have a 64% chance (I hope my math is right) of not being held and then coup-de-gras'ed for more raise dead and negative levels. If you have a 50% chance on one, it drops to 25% for two. One Nabasu is nasty. Two is a likely TPK. Building encounters is going to get harder and harder. You can't just slap them together without a detailed analysis of how all the monsters interact.

Sadly, the PCs and the game are in a death spiral. Without major intervention, like what has been suggested by others, there is no way out for the PCs. By my calculation, the party APL is currently 8.5 (2x6 + 2x7 + 9 + 10 / 6 and add 1), which I would not round up to 9. In their current state, a CR 8 encounter is level-appropriate for them. CR 11 would be Epic. Time to do something drastic which will likely seem heavy-handed, railroady, deus ex machina, or whatever.

But if you guys (the 6 PCs + GM) don't address the underlying issues, this problem will keep happening with more severity and frequency as the levels get higher. I hope you find a solution.


NOTE: I sent Dave Justus a summary of the stuff that's happened. I don't want to post it here since

A, I know people in my Monday group read these boards (and at least one is reading this thread) and what the party might or might not have done might or might not have consequences going forward on a story level.

B, I have a Wednesday group on the same campaign (but level 6) as well

BUT if anyone wants to know more about the stuff the PCs missed and what I thought they did wrong you can PM me and I'll shoot you the same details I sent Dave.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
What is it you think you have to lose which is more important to the campaign than the campaign just folding/characters retiring?

Consistency. Consequences.

The whole game is based around resource management, be it consumables or WBL or daily abilities. Is there a significant difference between this and saying "I'm going to make the final encounter of today easier because the Wizard used too many spells earlier?"

I'm also playing in a campaign with another GM, and it drives me up the wall when it's clear he's trying to make things easier for us (like having a dragon only use one natural attack vs a full attack). If we're going to die then we're going to die and let us lose fairly. Or address it as an OOC discussion.

And he's running a Paizo AP, not someone who's trying to homebrew and might mess things up.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Every challenge he should have been able to deal with that he can't is a permanent problem for him, because PCs unlike NPCs have have lots and lots of jobs and can't just be made a new when their task is done.

Can you give an example of this?

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Plus their is no point arguing this point, your campaign is on the brink failing because PCs are dying too much and getting bogged down in negative levels.

Two battles went badly. That's really what we're talking about here, two battles in the span of a few days.

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
APL+4 is not supposed to be an even fight. APL+3 is listed as an epic encounter. Your party has 6 members so by the book you add 1 to their APL. That would make a APL+4 an epic encounter. Also if their WBL is lower than normal you are supposed to adjust their effective APL accordingly.

I think you're confused.

One level 10 is APL 6.

Two level 10s are APL 8.

Four level 10s are APL 10.

Six level 10s are APL 11.

In each of these cases, an APL +4 encounter is in fact an even fight where each side *should* have a 50/50 shot of winning.

Their WBL is significantly above normal so I'm also not sure what the last sentence is about.

Lanathar wrote:

It sounds like we have found our answer .

APL + 4 for a 6 person party should be the boss fight especially if under WBL.

I am still confused.

I just posted their WBL above which is far above expected.

I'm also aware APL+4 is (supposed to be) a boss fight. I literally asked

"For the former, you'd have to define "significantly" because APL+4 is supposed to be an even fight."

because I've seen people talk about beating CR20s with two level 10 characters or in less extreme scenarios talk about needing to use APL+7 encounters for their parties. So some people would consider APL+2 to be significant, some people would consider APL+2 to be not even worth playing it's so easy. Hence my question about how you were defining "significantly."

Dave Justus wrote:
As for the question of party fund, with people that don't know each other and aren't going to be having any interaction outside of the gaming itself, I would expect that it a part of the GMs job to provide that sort of organization, or at least make sure that someone is doing it and it is going well.

Funnily enough four of the people knew each other prior to the game, but your point is taken.

Dave Justus wrote:
"I expected at least 1-2 PC deaths."

This is literally the only time in the entire campaign where I specifically was aiming for at least one PC death. It was also specifically set-up with a safety net that guaranteed the PCs would get rescued/raised on the house (or rather, on the crown) even if things went completely sideways. It did not cost the PCs anything except perhaps pride and was intended to be a reminder that despite their success and victory that great dangers still lurked as well as introducing an NPC they'd encounter later.

You are free to criticize that decision but it has nothing to do with the current situation.

Dave Justus wrote:
"a handful of scattered deaths during level nine." That is a lot of deaths. That is a lot of deaths that you thought were not a problem.

I thought those deaths were a problem. Two deaths (in the same boss battle) were due to bad party tactics and worse the party splitting up mid-fight.

There was one other death in a fight where I specifically OOC handwaved parts of because it exposed some of the underlying problems of Pathfinder. And that fight in particular is what drove me to institute some more houserules *which were intended to help prevent rocket tag and PC deaths like what just happened.*

I would have been completely fine with zero PCs dying throughout the entire campaign (I did expect at least one death during the ambush but if they managed to avoid it then more power to the party -- and that death was specifically designed to be consequence free).

All that said, I've also been told that death becomes a status condition to remove at higher level Pathfinder just like Blinded. And things like the following scenario are entirely plausible:

APL 11 party encounters a necromancer. Necromancer is a level 13 wizard with NPC wealth, so CR 12. So far this is an APL+1 encounter. Necromancer casts Finger of Death, PC dies.

Basically things get more and more lethal both in terms of PC abilities and monster abilities so it becomes more likely than death will happen.

Cevah wrote:
Did your missed treasure have multiple opportunities to be found?

Oh yes. Sent you a PM.

BlarkNipnar wrote:
give them a second way to get to those outs they need so badly

Right now I'm planning on doing that. They might not be thrilled by it and it'll cost them in some way, but they missed the "get of of jail free" card from earlier.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
You think its a good think to not adjust the campaign to your group? You realise one of the main advantages to a human DM is the ability to adapt and adjust.

The first (Monday) campaign back at level 6 entered a tomb and destroyed an ancient evil within. The second (Wednesday) campaign just entered the same tomb and bargained with the evil to help against the demon invasion in return for being released.

Those two worlds are going to have some very significant differences down the line.

But that's quite different from saying "Oh, you were supposed to find the buried treasure on the island? Well I'll keep making new treasure maps to the same hoard but a different location until you succeed."

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Honestly my mind boggles at how people would rather not have a game because it failed than tweak it because they might damage the verisimilitude.

Hang on.

Before you criticized me for tweaking the game because I felt it was failing under the default rules, now you're arguing for me to tweak it to avoid it failing?

Mike J wrote:
There are 6 PCs. When adjusting the APL/CR for 6 players, you have to be really careful (more so at higher levels) about how that gets implemented. +1 APL means +1 CR and now 6 level 10 characters are fighting a CR 13 monster who never misses, does stupid levels of damage, and the PCs can't reliably hit...Alternatively, you can use more lower CR monsters to make a high CR encounter.

For the record...

The first encounter which resulted in 4 PC deaths had nothing above a CR8 but a good group of enemies.

The second encounter which resulted in 4 PC deaths had nothing above a CR12 (and this encounter had the NPC ally as well).

I've avoided doing things like a single super powerful enemy for precisely the reasons you mention.


Balkoth wrote:

The first encounter which resulted in 4 PC deaths had nothing above a CR8 but a good group of enemies.

The second encounter which resulted in 4 PC deaths had nothing above a CR12 (and this encounter had the NPC ally as well).

What do you mean with "nothing above a CR8/12"? Did the fights contain multiple CR8/12 enemies? Could you maybe post us (or PM me) the CRs of all the enemies in those two fights?


Quote:

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

What is it you think you have to lose which is more important to the campaign than the campaign just folding/characters retiring?

Consistency. Consequences.

There's the 'issue' It's time for the piper (Consequences) to be paid and it is all too likely to be the campaign as payment if the chips fall as expected. Or you realign your expectations and use the least damaging (to the Consistency) suggestions given in the thread above.

The PCs can step up their game, step up cooperation among themselves, make some sort of even temporary agreement on how to handle the current situation and likely near future deaths do to negative levels or ... not.

The DM can either modify his story and the encounters in some fashion to deal with this dilemma or ... not.

Either way the Consequences will get paid.


Here is the section from the core rule book.
Step 1—Determine APL: Determine the average level of your player characters—this is their Average Party Level (APL for short). You should round this value to the nearest whole number (this is one of the few exceptions to the round down rule). Note that these encounter creation guidelines assume a group of four or five PCs. If your group contains six or more players, add one to their average level. If your group contains three or fewer players, subtract one from their average level. For example, if your group consists of six players, two of which are 4th level and four of which are 5th level, their APL is 6th (28 total levels, divided by six players, rounding up, and adding one to the final result).

Table: Encounter Design
Difficulty Challenge Rating Equals…
Easy APL –1
Average APL
Challenging APL +1
Hard APL +2
Epic APL +3

As you can plainly see APL +3 is listed as an epic encounter. This is supposed to be the Boss fight not the average fight the players encounter. So for your group a CR 11 would be an average fight, a CR 12 would be a challenging fight, a CR 13 would be an Epic fight. You stated you were using an APL +4 which I assume would be a CR 15 encounter. That is beyond what the rules suggest. The CR system is not perfect so adjustments need to be made based on the actual situation.

An example of an APL +4 encounter would be throwing a Bearded Devil against a group of 4 1st level characters. That is nowhere near an even fight that is going to be a TPK. A Hydra is a CR 4 creature so would make that a APL +3 for the same group. Even that fight is going to be incredibly tough to win and has a good likelihood of being a TPK. More than likely even if they win several of the party will be dead.

I mentioned the WBL because you stated you had a character that was worried about being under equipped.


Derklord wrote:
What do you mean with "nothing above a CR8/12"?

Meaning the most powerful enemy in each fight was that CR, so there was no issue of "Single high CR creature wrecking a PC in one round."

Derklord wrote:
Could you maybe post us (or PM me) the CRs of all the enemies in those two fights?

Sure.

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
You stated you were using an APL +4 which I assume would be a CR 15 encounter.

No, I didn't. I asked how Lanathar was defining "significant" and pointed out that APL+4 was SUPPOSED to be an even fight (but I've seen reports of people throwing CR+7ish encounters at PCs as "normal" fights).

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
I mentioned the WBL because you stated you had a character that was worried about being under equipped.

And then I pointed out how he had like twice the expected WBL?


Ok, with what you've send me, I see the problem: You apparently don't understand how CR is calculated, resulting in combats that are way to hard. Quite frankly, the surprising part aren't the many character deaths, it's the lack of a TPK!

Since CRs progression isn't linear (it's linear for even CRs and for odd CRs, but not between the two), total CR calculation by just using CR values is already a nightmare for a group of four PCs of equal level, so I'm gonna go by XP values.

The first encounter you've PM'd: First part has an XP value of 19200, that's the equivalent of CR+1 to your party. Second part has an XP value of 50400, that's a bit below a CR+4 encounter equivalent (which would be 57600XP), but significantly above CR+3 equivalent (38400XP). This is already a really tough boss fight. Together (69600XP), those two groups are almost a CR+5 equivalent (76800XP).

The second combat has an XP value of 96000, way over a CR+5 equivalent! If we add in the NPC at full value (I'm not convinced it's really a CR15 NPC, that requires an NPC with 15 levels in a PC class and PC-like equipment), it's still a CR+3 encounter equivalent, and the large difference between levels makes it exceptionally deadly.

­
For your group, the equivalent CR values are those:
CR-1 = 9600XP = CR10
CR+0 = 14400XP, a bit above CR11
CR+1 = 19200XP = CR12
CR+2 = 28800XP, a bit above CR13
CR+3 = 38400XP = CR14
CR+4 = 57600XP, a bit above CR 15

That means, if you want the equivalent of a CR+2 encounter, you should use enemies worth a total XP of 28800, e.g. 1 x CR10 + 6 x CR7 (9600XP + 6 x 3200XP).
To make it obvious, if you'd have your party fight against copies of themself, they would have a 50/50 chance to win. Under normal circumstances, a PCs CR is equal to his total level. That means a group of 6 CR10 enemies would make a CR+4 encounter for your group. A CR10 enemy is worth 9600XP, 6x9600XP=57600XP (the number you see above).

I suggest you read these two posts to understand how CR is calulated for non-standard groups.


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Balkoth wrote:


Consistency. Consequences.

Well grats, you’ve consistently killed your PCs and now as a consequence your campaign is going to fail. Presumably you don’t like that hence you’re here.

So clearly you’re going to have to adjust that attitude.

Quote:


The whole game is based around resource management, be it consumables or WBL or daily abilities. Is there a significant difference between this and saying "I'm going to make the final encounter of today easier because the Wizard used too many spells earlier?"

Well typically you wouldn’t tell them that, you’d just do it. But no if the wizard used to many spells you still presumably have plenty of other party members to pick up the slack. If your whole party is struggling and they might die and you don’t want that to then adjust. (An actually relevant scenario) then yeah adjust, either put some barrier in between them to delay the fight or tone it down.

Quote:


I'm also playing in a campaign with another GM, and it drives me up the wall when it's clear he's trying to make things easier for us (like having a dragon only use one natural attack vs a full attack). If we're going to die then we're going to die and let us lose fairly. Or address it as an OOC discussion.

Well be subtler that that. Obviously.

If you can do for example, roll behind a screen. If some inconvenient crit comes maybe he doesn’t confirm even if he does for example.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Every challenge he should have been able to deal with that he can't is a permanent problem for him, because PCs unlike NPCs have have lots and lots of jobs and can't just be made a new when their task is done.

Can you give an example of this?

If you take away an optimal option, either a powerful spell, feat or class feature introduced in a later book then any problems those items were designed to solve occur. Those problems become more difficult and harder than they needed to be.

PCs will encounter these problems because they face 10+ levels of play. An NPC May have the same restrictions but the chances of a relevant problem occurring is reduced because they encounter less problems.

Quote:

Two battles went badly. That's really what we're talking about here, two battles in the span of a few days....

It really doesn’t matter though does it.

The problem is the campaign is at a tipping point.

Quote:


The first (Monday) campaign back at level 6 entered a tomb and destroyed an ancient evil within. The second (Wednesday) campaign just entered the same tomb and bargained with the evil to help against the demon invasion in return for being released.

Those two worlds are going to have some very significant differences down the line.

But that's quite different from saying "Oh, you were supposed to find the buried treasure on the island? Well I'll keep making new treasure maps to the same hoard but a different location until you succeed."

Youre taking about adjusting storylines. I’m talking adjusting loot and encounters. Because your problem is encounters, not story line.

I don’t understand why you’ve come asking for help with a problem and then stubbornly oppose any suggestion that there is indeed a problem.

Your treasure maps example is you arguing that you shouldn’t adjust because to do so you have to compromise verisimilitude. By giving an example of adjusting the campaign in an incredibly stupid way.
Despite your protestation the reality is plenty of people do adjust campaigns successfully. If you don’t want do it fine, say so. But for the love of god stop acting likes it’s impossible to do it well because it isn’t and doing so makes this thread a waste of time.
Maybe consider asking how you others do it, if you can’t think how to do it yourself.

Quote:


Hang on.

Before you criticized me for tweaking the game because I felt it was failing under the default rules, now you're arguing for me to tweak it to avoid it failing?

I criticised your in my opinion, arbitrary and often knee jerk limitations you apply to the game and your players which you in my experience defend blindly in the face of the advice of many of the users on this board. To the point I wonder why you ask our opinions.

Adjusting the difficulty of a campaign to save it from failing is in my opinion fine.


Derklord wrote:
You apparently don't understand how CR is calculated, resulting in combats that are way to hard.

No, I understand it and I've already read those two articles you linked.

Derklord wrote:
Quite frankly, the surprising part aren't the many character deaths, it's the lack of a TPK!

The party has had extra wealth and consumables. They also usually have the initiative which means they can get the drop (or at least get an edge up with buffs).

Derklord wrote:
Together (69600XP), those two groups are almost a CR+5 equivalent (76800XP).

Yeah, they weren't meant to be fought together as I mentioned.

Also, the party had fought those enemies before a few levels earlier and thus had a rough idea of their tactics.

Derklord wrote:
it's still a CR+3 encounter equivalent, and the large difference between levels makes it exceptionally deadly.

By large difference in levels you mean 2 levels difference?

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Well grats, you’ve consistently killed your PCs and now as a consequence your campaign is going to fail. Presumably you don’t like that hence you’re here.

So clearly you’re going to have to adjust that attitude.

Or adjust the negative levels on death system. Or adjust the campaign world. Or something else.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
If some inconvenient crit comes maybe he doesn’t confirm even if he does for example.

I've done that a handful of times during the campaign when I thought *I* messed up and made the combat too hard or the PCs truly had an absolutely rotten string of luck. Like since the start of the campaign I could probably count it on one hand, maybe two.

As someone on a Discord server put it:

"You pitched challenging combat, not softball....Think as a player. If the GM was bailing people out for their dumb moves, you wouldn't think you were getting the challenging combat you were promised. Nothing wrong with pulling punches, except when you pitch something that involves the opposite."

I wouldn't want the GM bailing me out unless he thought he did something wrong.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
If you take away an optimal option, either a powerful spell, feat or class feature introduced in a later book then any problems those items were designed to solve occur. Those problems become more difficult and harder than they needed to be.

Again...could you provide a concrete example or two?

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Maybe consider asking how you others do it, if you can’t think how to do it yourself.

Oh, I have been. I've been talking to friends and asking in some Discords aimed at GMs, not just here.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
To the point I wonder why you ask our opinions.

Because occasionally people do say stuff I find useful. Like the point earlier in this thread about the GM needing to be more proactive in party management compared to a real-life game where people know each other.


The discord statement is nonsense. They have HAD the challenging combat you advertised. Challenging combat comes with a requirement of increased needs recovering from it

Did you advertise super hidden treasure to recover from it?

did you advertise read my mind on how to utilize an NPC?

what seems obvious to the person who thought it up can be completely hidden for someone else

btw no one want to rely on an NPC

run them into the ground and campaign is over or you have all new characters, or let them recover


How to get rid of negative levels: introduce the hero point system and get a +8 to the Fort Save.


I have to confess; I don't understand how the OP is generating the CRs for their fights, or how they're constructing those fights. My own PCs are level 7 and right at WBL (though they're missing a couple items on the Big 6 list). As such I typically ignore the CR's of the monster(s) and simply give myself an xp budget, then "buy" monsters with the XP budget. If I want an APL +4 fight I'll take the party's APL 7 (there's only 4 PCs), add 4, look at CR 11 and figure this party can deal with 11,280 XP worth of monsters, then I'll buy that much XP worth.

As for their WBL being double, I would just add +1 to their APL. Or I'd make the environment favor the villains like a red dragon fighting from a lava pit or something. But whatever; it sounds like the OP has their own way of figuring not only the CR of their fights but also a solid basis of what they feel their individual PCs should've been able to handle.

As for PCs not getting treasure... just give it to them already. Seriously, all the player foibles and poor tactics in the world shouldn't keep them from getting the stuff that's going to not only keep their characters alive but also keep your campaign chugging along smoothly. HOW do you get it to them? Put it in the next room they find; have a traveling NPC happen by; it's laying in a hole on the road; it falls off a dragon flying overhead... there are a spectacular number of ways to deliver treasure to PCs.

If you're worried that this makes you as a GM look compromised or the game appear "easy mode" I'd say that ship has sailed. They've died 9 times. Not "they've dropped into negative HP" 9 times but they've literally had to raise themselves from the dead. That is like playing your fave video game and going back to the last save point 9 times. At that point, you KNOW this section is challenging and don't take anything for granted.

Removing the negative levels could be as easy as an extra-dimensional space. Drop them in somewhere through happy accident, deity intervention or whatever where time moves at half or quarter speed. They go in there and spend a month of Sundays using spells, making consumables, and healing and when they come out only a week has passed.

Finally, a note on consequences: do your players feel like heroes? Like, are they taking actions and following a path that makes them really proud of what they're doing? Or do they just feel like they're grinding and dying while, elsewhere, other people on a battlefield are grinding and dying too?

I ask because it MIGHT be that a minor piece of their motivation and subsequent poor tactics is to hurry up and be done with this party so they can go back to saving people directly or indirectly. If your players are struggling to find the big picture and the noble heroism of what they're doing in the dungeon it could make them feel a twinge of guilt. "We're here, grinding away at this dungeon while we should be out there flinging fireballs and making sure that this war ENDS!"

Bottom line, our biggest jobs as GMs is to provide a fun time for our players as well as ourselves. One person's fun or enjoyment shouldn't override another's and, for that matter, if one or a number of folks aren't having much of any fun we should strive to correct that the best way we can.

To that end, give 'em a little break. I'm not saying throw on some training wheels but at least give your players the resources you intended to in order to complete their mission successfully, regardless of where you'd originally planned to have them find those resources in the first place.


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Balkoth wrote:
No, I understand it and I've already read those two articles you linked.

I don't want to sound hostile, because that's not my intention, but maybe you should start heeding them a bit more. The 1b encounter alone was too tough for a anything but a final boss. I don't know what your PCs look like exactly, but I wouldn't run your encounters 1b and 2 like that.

I mean, I do put my own party against CR+3 enemies way more often than advertised, because a) the optimization level is quite high and b) the players like tough fights, but the only encounter above CR+3 was one they really weren't supposed to fight (I had the NPCs propose a truce after there were dying characters on both sides).

The CR scale isn't linear, it's more like quadratic. Going below the expected quickly leads to enemies that aren't a threat at all, going above it very quickly leads to fights that are almost guaranteed to be deadly. The difference between a CR+3 and a CR+4 fight isn't "a bit tougher", its +50% combat strength for the enemies, and more than doubles the chance of player deaths.
My party is lower level, and fewer PCs, and yet every time I set the party against CR+3 enemies, I have to expect a PC dropping below 0 HP. More PCs, and thus more enemies, can actually increase that, because focus fire is a thing (not just for intelligent or commanded enemies, it's the default hunting tactic of almost all predatory pack animals).

The way your 1b and 2 encounters were designed, PC deaths are to be expected. Not quite as many, that resulted from poor tactics, but some.

Balkoth wrote:
Yeah, they weren't meant to be fought together as I mentioned.

Either the party was acting really stupid, or the groups were too close together. Combat is noisy, and apparently line of sight was limited, so the half of the party can't have teleported too far away from that fight. If that teleportation triggered the second group, the noise of combat should have done the same.

Balkoth wrote:
By large difference in levels you mean 2 levels difference?

I don't know the NPCs level, but it's a 5 CR difference between it and the party members. So while that combat was "only" CR+3, the PCs got hit way more often than a in a regular CR+3 encounter (without the ally). To put it in other words, from the CR/XP values, the NPC has almost as much combat weight as the entire group put together - can't you see that, even beyod the usual spotlight stealing issue, adding that NPC in the CR calculation leads to serious problems?

It is possible that this is basically based on a misunderstanding, that the campaign's tone is different from what the players expected. Maybe your players have a different definition of "challenging combat" than you do, or simply come from a different level-of-optimization background. Talk to them!
Also, adjusting the campaign to what the players have the most fun with isn't a weakness, it's a strength.

­
One different thing I'd like to address: What's with all the secrecy? Can't you simply ask your players not to read this thread? And if you can't trust your players to not spoil themself by going against your explicit wishes and reading a thread started to improve the game for them, quite frankly, that'd be people I wouldn't want to GM for.
I'm sorry about inadvertently revealing the supposed to be secred CR of the NPC, but what the hell? Why is that supposed to be a secret? They've already seen the NPCs strength in the second encounter, haven't they? If the NPC didn't use full strength, the encounter was even more overly deadly than I'd presumed. If anything, the party not realizing the relative strength of the enemies compared to theirs seems to be a major problem for the group, secret keeping doesn't really help there. You're playing Pathfinder, not poker - you don't "win" by keeping the players in the dark about what they're facing.


Balkoth wrote:
Cevah wrote:
Did your missed treasure have multiple opportunities to be found?
Oh yes. Sent you a PM.

Replied to the PM with a PM.

From your PM, and details in this thread, you have some major disconnects:
1: You don't want, but need the party to investigate. The party wants to kill first and don't ask questions later. So the party fails to get needed clues, fails to know what they are up against, and doesn't bother to try talking before fighting. This will wreck the campaign. You need to have a talk with the players, and figure out what kind of campaign will make everybody happy. You have the upper hand, since you advertised the campaign, but understand you did not get what you were hoping for. Something must give if the campaign is to complete.
2: Your encounters are too hard for the PCs. Part can be laid on the PCs stupid tactics, but part is also on your choice of what they are up against. While I think your understanding of CR calculation is wrong, it does not matter. You are consistently challenging your PCs outside their ability to fight. Yes, those negative levels hurt, and they need to do something about it. You can help with divine intervention, or loot drops. The Soul Stimulant I mentioned before is only 300 gp a pop. Small potatoes at this level, and will help out big time with the penalties. Even resting a week would big a big help.
3: Your PCs don't bother to explore the entire level before going to the next level. This is a problem, as they miss out on clues and treasure. They also miss out on lesser encounters that can advance their level. This needs to be addressed to the players. Explain to them that bypassing areas, they fail to get tough enough for the final boss. Explain that the unexplored areas are designed to give them the experience and loot needed to advance their levels so that they will have the needed levels when they need them.

/cevah


Derklord wrote:
One different thing I'd like to address: What's with all the secrecy? Can't you simply ask your players not to read this thread?

About to start GMing so only have a few minutes, but wanted to respond to this real fast:

I *WANT* them to be able to read the thread. I *WANT* them to be able to notice if I' misremembering or misrepresenting something so that they can point it out either here or to me privately. I *WANT* them to let me know if their perceptions were drastically different.

I'm *ALSO* asking them for feedback individually and as a group, of course, but this thread offers them the opportunity to see other points of view as well.

---------------------------------

Speaking of feedback, here's a piece I got this weekend from a quieter player:

"I think we tend to brute force our way through combat, rather then spend time digging into the world the GM's created to find clues, solve mysteries and potentially unlock additional ways to help defeat our enemies. Our deaths often time are a result of poor tactical planning on our part, our need to push foward rather then rest, retreat or think things through and in rare occurences just bad luck. The deaths we've suffered have only further exposted our weakeness due to the level drain. At the same time it hasn't led to us being more circumspect with our approach. Basically we're in a negative feedback loop primarily of our own making."

On the flip side, the same person got the impression I introduced the NPC ally as a way to help the party which was struggling, rather than a central part of the story/plot of the area. So that was a problem on my end and overall I think the NPC ally didn't work out very well. I'll still run it on my Wednesday campaign a few months down the line to see if the same thing happens again, but I plan to avoid it in the future beyond that.


By my calculations, 6 tenth level PCs should have an APL of 11. [You would need 8 for APL 12.]

You have, due to negative levels, effectively: 6th, 6th, 7th, 7th, 9th, and 10th level PCs. This is equivalent to an APL of 9th.

Standard CR = APL is supposed to use up about 1/4 of the party's daily resources (spells, item usage, hit points, etc.). So four encounters of this level should be what a party can handle in a day with nothing remaining.

Combining them into one encounter makes the CR to APL+4. This is the 50/50 point where one side or the other is TPKed. This is why the EPIC encounter is at APL+3, so that the party, if fresh, has a reasonable chance to win, with maybe one death. Epic fights are boss fights. Sub-bosses should be APL+2. Tales of other parties doing APL+4 and up must be taken with a grain of salt. Those parties may be hyper optimized, or the GM may give out lots of loot of play monsters stupid. There are many ways to do this. You don't have such a game, so ignore those stories.

If the party waits a week, they wind up going from APL 9 to APL 10. A significant boost. A second week won't change the APL, so is not worth waiting at this time. The Soul Stimulant can help the APL for a day right now. The NPC could point out the benefit of getting rid of some penalty.

/cevah


Balkoth wrote:
I *WANT* them to be able to read the thread. I *WANT* them to be able to notice if I' misremembering or misrepresenting something so that they can point it out either here or to me privately. I *WANT* them to let me know if their perceptions were drastically different.

Isn't that more reason to post the actual encounters? After all, that party already did those - no hurt in knowing what they've previously fought, right? I thought the secrecy was for the second group, which can't much tribute to the thread.

Balkoth wrote:
On the flip side, the same person got the impression I introduced the NPC ally as a way to help the party which was struggling, rather than a central part of the story/plot of the area. So that was a problem on my end and overall I think the NPC ally didn't work out very well.

"The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a tabletop fantasy game in which the players take on the roles of heroes who form a group (or party) to set out on dangerous adventures. Helping them tell this story is the Game Master (or GM), who decides what threats the player characters (or PCs) face and what sorts of rewards they earn for succeeding at their quest. Think of it as a cooperative storytelling game, where the players play the protagonists and the Game Master acts as the narrator, controlling the rest of the world."

This is the first paragraph of the first chapter in the CRB, i.e. the first game-relevant words in Pathfinder. I've bolded the parts that show why a powerful GMPC is a bad idea - it goes against the very basic nature of the game! As I said before, a CR15 NPC is almost as strong as the entire party combined - how are the PCs supposed to be the "heroes" or "protagonists" when they're so vastly overshadowed? During the fight where the NPC is involved, the individual player's turns are each almost meaningless compared to the NPC's. Unless you keep the NPC as a more passive element, in which case you wouldn't apply the full CR, meaning the encounter was simply too tough.

You can have a strong NPC as a plot device, but such a character must not overshadow the others prior to their key moment. Think of Gandalf in LotR: Between joining the party in Rivendell and his big moment against the balrog, the party had three encounters (against the wolves, the tentacley creature in the lake, and against the orcs in Balin's burial chamber). Gandalf didn't dominate any of these encounters, being more important as a guide than as a combatant. Against the balrog, he fought alone, giving the fellowship the chance to escape from an unwinnable fight.
Of course, watching the GM roll Gandalf against the balrog would be beyond boring, so in a game, that would be a descriptive moment and not a normal combat; i.e. no in-combat overshadowing.


Darklone wrote:
How to get rid of negative levels: introduce the hero point system and get a +8 to the Fort Save.

I don't understand -- what Fort save?

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I have to confess; I don't understand how the OP is generating the CRs for their fights, or how they're constructing those fights.

I've been using this table that Paizo provided, which is nearly identical to your method.

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
That is like playing your fave video game and going back to the last save point 9 times. At that point, you KNOW this section is challenging and don't take anything for granted.

If I play my favorite video game (let's use Half Life as an example) and go through a section that's hard I could probably brute force my way through it by spending rockets/health/scarce ammo/etc like water. But then I expect the next part to be rough since I just played poorly through the previous section and squandered my resources.

Also, they never had to reload -- most video games don't allow you to just die in place and then continue.

I do take your overall point, though, about them not suddenly thinking its on easy mode. I just disagree with your analogy.

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:

Finally, a note on consequences: do your players feel like heroes? Like, are they taking actions and following a path that makes them really proud of what they're doing? Or do they just feel like they're grinding and dying while, elsewhere, other people on a battlefield are grinding and dying too?

That is a good question. I suspect at least some fall into the latter category.

That said, none of them have an expressed an interest in going to the actual war-front -- if anything they've been more interested in chasing down other powerful magic items.

Derklord wrote:
I don't want to sound hostile, because that's not my intention, but maybe you should start heeding them a bit more. The 1b encounter alone was too tough for a anything but a final boss. I don't know what your PCs look like exactly, but I wouldn't run your encounters 1b and 2 like that.

Well prior to some house rules I implemented I literally had cases where the party would take on multiple APL+5ish encounters back-to-back in an effort to preserve their minute per level buffs.

The house rules were implemented to bring some things down to a more sane level because something at a "mere" APL+3 was going to be a TPK due to quick of how level scaling works vs some effects like Blasphemy. And I've had to be less crazy since then.

Is it possible the encounters were still too much? Yes, but it didn't feel like it during the actual battles...it felt like the PCs lost (or more accurately won with significant losses) due to tactics and choices rather than overwhelming enemy strength.

Derklord wrote:
Either the party was acting really stupid, or the groups were too close together. Combat is noisy, and apparently line of sight was limited, so the half of the party can't have teleported too far away from that fight. If that teleportation triggered the second group, the noise of combat should have done the same.

The groups were something like 150-200 feet apart on the streets of a ruined city.

The first group was effectively a scouting party which was trying to retreat to the main group. And, hell, the second group was going to try to talk to the PCs...until the PCs teleported like 30 feet away and started attacking.

Cevah wrote:
Explain that the unexplored areas are designed to give them the experience and loot needed to advance their levels so that they will have the needed levels when they need them.

Just for the record, this wasn't an issue. The ruins were all at level 10 and we're using milestones anyway (the ruins were roughly half a level).

Cevah wrote:
By my calculations, 6 tenth level PCs should have an APL of 11.

Correct.

Cevah wrote:
You have, due to negative levels, effectively: 6th, 6th, 7th, 7th, 9th, and 10th level PCs. This is equivalent to an APL of 9th.

A negative level is not equal to an actual level loss. Maybe about half of a level loss. Some characters (like "god-wizards") barely even notice.

Cevah wrote:
Standard CR = APL is supposed to use up about 1/4 of the party's daily resources (spells, item usage, hit points, etc.). So four encounters of this level should be what a party can handle in a day with nothing remaining.

That's never held true in practice as a GM or as a player.

In the game where I'm playing a bard, the GM sent a tough encounter at us. I happened to know the CRs involved of the creatures on a meta-level. I asked one of the other players (who is also a player in the Monday game) how many of those encounters he thought our party could handle a day. He guessed 6ish.

That single encounter was an APL+4 encounter.

Cevah wrote:
Tales of other parties doing APL+4 and up must be taken with a grain of salt.

How about parties where I was a member? :P

This party I'm GMing for has also handled worse -- and that's both before and after the house rules I mentioned at level 9.

Derklord wrote:
Isn't that more reason to post the actual encounters? After all, that party already did those - no hurt in knowing what they've previously fought, right? I thought the secrecy was for the second group, which can't much tribute to the thread.

One of the players from Monday who I know for sure is reading this thread joined the first group at level 9...and also asked to join the second group at level 5 a little later when a slot opened up.

Derklord wrote:
I've bolded the parts that show why a powerful GMPC is a bad idea - it goes against the very basic nature of the game!

My understanding of a GMPC was that it's a GM basically trying to both GM the game and play the game by running a character of their own. So you have your four "normal" party members plus an extra party member controlled by the GM who accompanies the PCs from level 1, splits loot with them, makes decisions with them, etc.

That seems significantly different than saying "Here's a powerful NPC with their own motivation who will potentially accompany the party for half of a dungeon (quarter of a level) and then go their own way." But perhaps not.

Derklord wrote:
how are the PCs supposed to be the "heroes" or "protagonists" when they're so vastly overshadowed?

Let's imagine a situation:

There's a powerful water elemental and fire elemental at odds with each other but also at an impasse. Both are stronger than the party individually so the party cannot simply go up to one or both and kill them. The players can...

A, ally with the water elemental against the fire elemental
B, ally with the water elemental but attempt to let it get weakened enough in the fight against the fire elemental to then backstab and kill it while it is vulnerable
C, ally with the fire elemental against the water elemental
D, ally with the fire elemental but attempt to let it get weakened enough in the fight against the water elemental to then backstab and kill it while it is vulnerable
E, let them continue at an impasse rather than choose a side
F, come back several levels later to deal with it (though things may have happened in the meantime as a result)

Does this rob the PCs of the ability to be protagonists because the party is so vastly overshadowed?


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Balkoth wrote:
Quote:
Standard CR = APL is supposed to use up about 1/4 of the party's daily resources (spells, item usage, hit points, etc.). So four encounters of this level should be what a party can handle in a day with nothing remaining.

That's never held true in practice as a GM or as a player.

In the game where I'm playing a bard, the GM sent a tough encounter at us. I happened to know the CRs involved of the creatures on a meta-level. I asked one of the other players (who is also a player in the Monday game) how many of those encounters he thought our party could handle a day. He guessed 6ish.

That single encounter was an APL+4 encounter.

Isn't the very fact that you had to make this thread proof that it is indeed holding true in practice, because people keep dying...

This is the trouble with this thread, you have a problem, people advise you of how to solve the problem, you deny/act as if the problem shouldn't exist.

I don't know what you expect from us but it feels like you're just looking for us to say, "Oh well, everything you did is perfect, clearly your players are inept and should lose". I'm feeling at a loss honestly.

Quote:


How about parties where I was a member? :P

This party I'm GMing for has also handled worse -- and that's both before and after the house rules I mentioned at level 9.

Your passed anecdotal experiences are irrelevant to the reality you currently face. I cannot stress enough how much what you thought should or would happen doesn't matter in the face of what has actually happened.

Did they possibly handle worse before they gained a tone of negative levels?


Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Balkoth wrote:
Cevah wrote:
Standard CR = APL is supposed to use up about 1/4 of the party's daily resources (spells, item usage, hit points, etc.). So four encounters of this level should be what a party can handle in a day with nothing remaining.

That's never held true in practice as a GM or as a player.

In the game where I'm playing a bard, the GM sent a tough encounter at us. I happened to know the CRs involved of the creatures on a meta-level. I asked one of the other players (who is also a player in the Monday game) how many of those encounters he thought our party could handle a day. He guessed 6ish.

That single encounter was an APL+4 encounter.

Isn't the very fact that you had to make this thread proof that it is indeed holding true in practice, because people keep dying...

This is the trouble with this thread, you have a problem, people advise you of how to solve the problem, you deny/act as if the problem shouldn't exist.

I don't know what you expect from us but it feels like you're just looking for us to say, "Oh well, everything you did is perfect, clearly your players are inept and should lose". I'm feeling at a loss honestly.

I agree. The game is balanced at 4 encounters per day at APL. House rules and optimization level of characters can change how things play out. This is where the GM must adjust things to allow for these effects.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Balkoth wrote:

How about parties where I was a member? :P

This party I'm GMing for has also handled worse -- and that's both before and after the house rules I mentioned at level 9.

Your passed anecdotal experiences are irrelevant to the reality you currently face. I cannot stress enough how much what you thought should or would happen doesn't matter in the face of what has actually happened.

Did they possibly handle worse before they gained a tone of negative levels?

For the game that handles 6 encounters per day, I would expect the PCs were well optimized and have good tactics. The OP's party does not have this.

Balkoth wrote:
Cevah wrote:
You have, due to negative levels, effectively: 6th, 6th, 7th, 7th, 9th, and 10th level PCs. This is equivalent to an APL of 9th.
A negative level is not equal to an actual level loss. Maybe about half of a level loss. Some characters (like "god-wizards") barely even notice.

You have 3 full casters: an oracle, a cleric, and a sorcerer. I don't think any of these are acting like a "god-wizard". And given the lack of coordination or tactics, I think the penalties are really hurting.

/cevah


Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Isn't the very fact that you had to make this thread proof that it is indeed holding true in practice, because people keep dying...

Nope. Second group at level 7 (APL 8) smoked a CR12 encounter (two CR 10 turtles) without breaking a sweat on Wednesday.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
This is the trouble with this thread, you have a problem, people advise you of how to solve the problem, you deny/act as if the problem shouldn't exist.

I think you're misunderstanding the problem.

At low levels if you die you bring in a new character.

At high levels if you die Greater Restoration means the negative levels can always be removed.

It's only in the mid-level that the week delay on negative levels from Restoration (coupled with two negative levels from Raise Dead) becomes an issue. That's my concern.

(Keep in mind I would have been totally fine with zero deaths the entire campaign but rocket tag makes that more and more unlikely as people level up).

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
I don't know what you expect from us but it feels like you're just looking for us to say, "Oh well, everything you did is perfect, clearly your players are inept and should lose".

"Use the system from 5E where the penalties are capped and disappear within a few days."

"Remove the time limit (or at least shorten it) from Restoration."

"Just don't give negative levels on death, just make it more expensive to get raised."

"Do a Dragon Age/Mass Effect system where party members don't *really* die unless there's a TPK."

I was expecting suggestions along those lines and arguments for why some might work better than others.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Did they possibly handle worse before they gained a tone of negative levels?

I mean, the only time they had people die while a bunch of party members had negative levels was one fight that left four people dead. One fight -- that they provoked when the paladin had zero Smite Evils and other party resources were low.

Cevah wrote:
I agree. The game is balanced at 4 encounters per day at APL. House rules and optimization level of characters can change how things play out. This is where the GM must adjust things to allow for these effects.

Which is what I've been trying to do, aye. And mostly been successful. I've never seen a PC death where I thought "Man, that was unfair, they had rotten luck and/or the encounter was just too hard." Every time one or more people have died I've thought "Did they REALLY just do that?..."

Is it possible the margin of error is too thin and people will eventually make mistakes/dumb decisions and therefore get punished too much when those happen? Yes. The flip side is making every encounter easier means those encounters are all boring.

I used to be a Mythic raider in WoW, got server firsts, etc. My main enjoyment is designing difficult but doable combats. If the margin of errors becomes too large then frankly I'd rather A, run a game with less fiddly bits than Pathfinder or B, entirely handwave combat 99% of the time.

Cevah wrote:
You have 3 full casters: an oracle, a cleric, and a sorcerer. I don't think any of these are acting like a "god-wizard".

I mean, the sorcerer easily could. In reality, he's mostly blasting with Lightning Bolt which is hit by far the worst by the negative levels of anyone (he loses a flat 10% of damage per negative level). But things like Displacement/Dimension Door/Stinking Cloud/Greater Invisibility/etc all function at full power, just lower duration (technically can only move two people rather than three with Dimension Door but still can ferry those two for a flanking full attack).


So Balky Bartakamous, it's been a few weeks since the OP. What did you eventually decide to do? I suppose the easiest thing to do would be to just remove the time limits on Restoration or allow some kind of natural regeneration to eliminate the penalties. As for combats, difficulty, design and execution by both players and GM, I understand that wasn't actually the focus of this thread.

I experience very few PC deaths but so far my players have opted (at low and mid-levels) to just end their previous PCs and bring in new ones. My current campaign is a homebrew that just hit level 7 so I'm watching this threat with attention. The party is getting to a level where Raise Dead may become an option.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
So Balky Bartakamous, it's been a few weeks since the OP. What did you eventually decide to do?

I had to look up that reference, very clever.

I decided to give them an alternate way to remove the negative levels at a price, though that hasn't actually happened yet. Will let you know how things go over the next few weeks.

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