Sombrefell Hall: started well but ended TPK

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I was playing a dwarven cleric, no multiclass; the rest of the party were a goblin paladin (multi bard), a goblin Primal sorcerer (multi fighter), and a human cleric (not multi as far as I know).

The part of the game before the undead waves was surprisingly fun. We had some creepiness, some PC/PC and PC/NPC interactions ending in a fun confrontation with the Professor.

The wave with ghasts was quickly mopped up, though there was disappointment that blocking the door seemed to do nothing. The wave with vampire spawn was also quickly mopped up. They did not really feel like vampires.

The wave with wights and the poltergeist hurt us badly. We unwisely split into two groups to handle the two sets of wights coming in (the goblins went one way and the clerics went the other) rather than hanging back and letting them come to us. The goblin group then got hit by the poltergeist and the cleric group had difficulty helping them. My character, at move 20', appeared dysfunctionally slow--often having to take 2-3 Stride actions and therefore being unable to contribute usefully. We could not get the character with see invisible into position to use it. Two characters were enervated 1.

We were really enjoying the weak zombies in the next level, and then the greater shadows arrived. The GM complained that they had too many different abilities. We pressed him to use the most effective one (he had been showing signs of fudging in our favor both here and in Pale Mountain). So he had them attack and pull on shadows.

Every single character turned out to be able to channel. But the fact that it takes three actions to do area channel, meaning you can't move, forced my character to lose a turn (or spend his last channel on just one shadow). We finally did do an entire turn of all four characters channeling. The shadows made or crit-made all their saves and continued to fight. They rolled crits, and two characters ended up enfeebled 4, and mine enfeebled 1.

We called the game at this point. It seemed unlikely we could have won the fight, and if we did, there was no way to recover. I had not known to fill all my top slots with heightened restoration, the only spell that would have helped us at all. The prospect of doing a boss fight with -4 or -5 to hit and no top-level spells on the sorcerer and human cleric did not appeal to the players at all: it sounded like it would be a horrible slog of constantly missing, doing little damage, and probably dying.

I know this is a known problem but I'll re-iterate; most of this was just too hard. The GM fudged, I think, throughout the first section of the game because we would never have found the basement or any of the other clues. (He also put in an extra day to encourage more interaction.) The DCs were just out of reach for us. When the game worked best it was because the GM was frankly ignoring the mechanics.

The fights were a slog, even the easy ones. The effective strategy for my character was strike/strike/raise shield or, if forced, move/strike/strike. This was true for everyone except the sorcerer, whose effective strategy was to use a useless one-action magical effect, then strike/strike. (We could NOT figure out why he was casting something that doesn't affect undead at first! Turned out it was purely to get magical striker.) I got to throw my returning javelin at some zombies, a nice moment, but then having my weapon not in hand was horrible when the shadows suddenly appeared. (The GM said that they used a surprise round to approach, then rolled initiative normally, meaning they went before all of us. I wish we could do that!)

The paladin was reaction-starved and could seldom use his retributative strike; it looks like paladins should always use reach weapons. He was the most flavorful character, though.

I would never ever play a move 20' character again. With the scale of the rooms in this episode, it was incredibly frustrating. I kept wanting to do fun things like guarding the door, protecting the NPCs, responding to an attack on an ally--but it was always wrong because I was slow. And anyway, without AoO I couldn't really guard the door or protect anyone. The monsters would just jog around me and attack whoever they wanted. Clearly I should have multiclassed into fighter and used a reach weapon.

I felt like I didn't have enough spell slots, but in fact I never used the ones I had, except for two of the three heals (two 1st level, one 2nd level). I had not guessed right on what spells I would need (and really there was little way to do so given the scenario). The combination of very few slots and prepared casting was really unpleasant and increased the feeling that melee was the only thing my character could really do.

Channel was effective, but as a low-charisma cleric I only got four. I used one in the wight fight, two to heal the party after the wight fight, and one against the shadows. If only I had prepared heal in all my high level slots, we might have done better. But one of the great innovations of PF1 was that clerics didn't have to do that.... I really missed convert-cast, or even more, sorcerer-style casting (which our home games use for all casters, always).

Some of this is on me as a player. I didn't multi-class, which seems essential. I didn't guess the right spells. I didn't use the bless I had prepared, which might have helped. I used my own heal spells rather than items--I should have burned all resonance and used every charge I could get out of those items, leaving my spells intact. (It was not possible, as a shield using cleric, to effectively use my staff during combat.) Some of it was on the group. We split up too much--getting even 40' apart, out of channel range, was a horrible mistake. The right tactic is apparently to clump up and tag-team one monster at a time, so we should have parked in front of the NPCs and done that.

I was the player who pushed for doing Sombrefell, because it sounded the most fun of any playtest episode. It was, too, due to the out of combat part and the first couple waves of combat. But the combat became a grind, and then we were overwhelmed, despite the ridiculous number of channels: we could not deal with enervate and enfeebled adequately. A party built less specifically for waves of undead would have been even worse.

The group will not be doing any more playtest scenarios. I would be willing to do Undarin but no one else was. My spouse might have done Mirrored Moon but no one else would. The GM, a relative newbie, was pretty unhappy with the whole experience. In my opinion Pale Mountain should have been two TPKs, one to the manticore and one to the water elemental; I think the GM fudged a lot and was getting negative feedback from the group about it. We encouraged him to roll his dice on the table and that was a TPK.

You may have been right on the TPK but the GM did screw up the Shadows badly with that "surprise round." That no longer exists as a mechanic. The instant a character or creature decides to initiate an action that would be considered hostile to one another, combat begins.

Out of curiosity what do you mean by the shadows made their saves??? If you cast the heal spell there is no save like in PF1.

There are a lot of changes from PF1 that easily get mixed up, like how Mage Armor ha a target of Self or that there is no longer a draw while moving unless you have a specific feat.

If all 4 members spent a channel energy that's 4 heals doing 3d8+Spell Mod damage as well as healing the party( should have done at least half the shadows HP on average rolls).

Also did you have disrupt undead?? Typically our clerics would cast disrupt undead on the shadows from a distance because it would deal full damage.

Sorry to hear it wasn't fun, my group came out really liking their characters and the improvements to Bard and Cleric vs PF1.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Heal absolutely does give a save on the 2 and 3 action versions. The 2 action version explicitly calls out the Fort save, and the 3 action version "has the same effect as the two-action version". Only the 1-action touch attack lacks a save.

Wow I am blind I take that back I am horribly wrong.... Thanks for correcting me.

Darksol the Painbringer wrote:
You may have been right on the TPK but the GM did screw up the Shadows badly with that "surprise round." That no longer exists as a mechanic. The instant a character or creature decides to initiate an action that would be considered hostile to one another, combat begins.

So in this case they might have just been paraphrasing poorly.

From the module:
When this event begins, six zombies emerge from Lantern Lake, clamber up the trellis to the second- floor balconies, and begin smashing into areas D15–D17. One round after the PCs notice the zombies, however, the true threat emerges: two greater shadows that come screaming over the second floor and down onto the PCs.

Depending on where your players first spot the zombies (mine waited downstairs), the shadows may spend their entire first turn moving and still not be visible to the players (especially with one of their abilities). Several parts of the adventure path are written with odd instructions like that, where monsters don't spawn or start combat until certain conditions are met.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

That's a fair description of what happened: one round after we noticed the zombies, the shadows came screaming over the second floor and down onto the main floor. The GM then rolled their initiative, and they both went first (separate rolls). This led to the two groups of PCs being on opposite sides of the giant marble pillar, and the two shadows being positioned so that they could not be hit by the same area-of-effect channel.

I think that getting close to the PCs is entirely reasonable for incorporeal foes who can walk through walls.

My character was hit for enfeebled 1, as was the other cleric. I then reasoned that our best chance (given two enfeebles and two enervates, putting us on the down side of things for combat) was to catch the shadows in multiple area channels, so I did strike-strike-move. Disrupt-move would have been a reasonable alternative but I don't think it would have made a difference. The cleric fought hers, and the other two characters mostly moved up as they had been offsides.

The shadows advanced. Mine hit the paladin and critically enfeebled him. The other one hit the other cleric and critically enfeebled her. So now the four PCs were, I believe, -1, -5, -5, -0 to hit. Both shadows stood through the area channels (it does have a save!) My character was out of channels. I believe the other characters had about one more apiece.

Probably we could have won the fight, but no one wanted to go into the last fight with those minuses. We did not see much way for characters with -5 to hit, -4 damage, -1 AC, -1 saves, and no top-level spells or abilities to contribute to that fight.

It's just crits. I was not following the mechanics enough to know if the shadows got crit-successes on their shadow-tugging or we got crit-fails, but one of those happened twice; and crit-successes on the channel saves.

First, quick question. Cause I couldn't be sure off your post your table understood that the conditional penalties from enervated and enfeebled wouldn't stack? You would just apply the higher penalty for the roll. That would help you guys.

Secondly. Your GM was rolling rocks apparently. That's a lot of crits from something that should have needed a 15+ to crit on it's first attack assuming touch ac around 21 (10+7[lvl]+1[magicarmor]+3[dex]) and no buffs/debuffs. The crit save even more so, against the heal spell. Which should have a DC of around 20 (before penalties) 4 castings of it against 2 shadows and they crit succeed each time is fairly unlikely.

If you don't mind could you post a copy of your character sheet. I think it would help to identify issues that might have been had.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This came up in my party as well; Conditions of the same type don't stack either, correct? Like the wights ability to give enervated 1. Once a character has been enervated they can't suffer from it again I believe.

Typically no, conditions of the same name don't stack unless specified. Such as with the Shadows "steal shadows" ability. The enfeebled condition from that stacks with other enfeebled conditions applied by that ability.

What does happen typically is that the stronger/longer effect is the one that takes precedent. So creature A gives you enervated 1 but creature B gives you enervated 2 you are enervated 2. This does get a bit trickier with duration. Taking the above scenario, lets say the enervated 1 condition lasts 1 hour and enervated 2 lasts 10 minutes. The final result is you are enervated 2 for 10 minutes after which you are enervated 1 for 50 min (the duration left over for enervated 1). Otherwise if both conditions have the same value you apply the condition with the longer duration.

All these rules can be found in the conditions section on pg 319 for reference.

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I don't believe the shadows critted all their saves. They made most, critted at least one, and we didn't roll well on damage, me especially. The enervate hurt also as it cost a die from that character's channels, or at least that's how we interpreted it (that ability is quite confusing).

They crit twice with the shadow-tugging, which if they really crit on 15+ is not that surprising. The GM's dice had been cold all scenario but this time they weren't, and it's just a very dicy set of abilities. Runs of high or low rolls are a fact of life.

Good point that enervate and enfeebled don't stack. I had not realized that. So the worst penalties would have been -4, not -5.

Too bad I guessed remove curse and freedom of movement instead of heightened restoration, but given that the Professor seemed to be under a curse.... I think that was the single worst thing for me. The combo of prep casting and so few spell slots *really* prioritizes guessing right; and all you can do in this one is guess, as you have to prep the spells with no information. (Our table is really hostile to use of metagame information.)

a thing to note with the shadows enervated condition is that after Mark brought up that "conditional penalties max at -4" (which is terribly written in the rulebook atm and needs to be much clearer) and we told him back that this doesn't make sense due to stuff like conditional bonuses to damage (like from barbarian) would be pointless (maxed out at like level 3) he then said that this will be changed to something like "conditional/circumstance penalties/bonus to CHECKS max out at +/- 4"

Mary Yamato wrote:

Too bad I guessed remove curse and freedom of movement instead of heightened restoration, but given that the Professor seemed to be under a curse.... I think that was the single worst thing for me. The combo of prep casting and so few spell slots *really* prioritizes guessing right; and all you can do in this one is guess, as you have to prep the spells with no information. (Our table is really hostile to use of metagame information.)

PF2 definitely feels more like old-school versions of D&D than the WotC-inspired versions. My party got through AaSH with military discipline by the front-liners and cautious use of expedendible resources, and they just barely made it. I'm liking PF2 for giving us an AD&D experience with modern-day customization, but the deadliness of AD&D combined with Pathfinder's ability to choose anything can lead to a PC entering a situation without the right tools.

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