What is Age of Ashes about?


Second Edition

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For a dragon Big Bad, a Red would be the most iconic choice. And of the Reds, I think Daralathyxl is the most prominent, and would be my main guess. Of course we just know that the big bad is known, not that they're the most prominent. It could be a more obscure one. But my second guess (which flops back and forth as my first choice) isn't a red or even metalic, but Mengkare, the ethically ambiguous Gold dragon running a weird utopian eugenics experiment. If he's not the villain, I suspect he'll be a potential PC ally.

Points in favor of it being Mengkare are the way it's being talked about as a surprise, and that people will make wrong assumptions as to what's going on when they find out. He might have decided that the world is unsaveable and it's time to burn it down and start over. Or maybe it's weirder, like he figures the only way to bring out the ultimate good is to bring about the ultimate threat to the world, and it will inspire goodness to counter, or some other odd reasoning.

And I think I've just convinced myself that Mengkare is the most likely again. Note: I'm usually wrong.

PS. Mengkare is secretly a Vancaskerkin.


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Doktor Weasel wrote:
PS. Mengkare is secretly a Vancaskerkin.

It would certainly explain the sheer chutzpah of his master plan...


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3Doubloons wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
By the time volume one is out at Gen Con, we'll be saying everything about the plot in that book in a sort of "GM's supplement" part. I'm going to try very hard until then to keep spoilers tight on the plot though.
So the backmatter of Hellknight Hill will include a summary of thefull AP's plot, is that what you're saying? If so, that's interesting; it would very much help avoid issues like the aforementioned Kingmaker with its villain's late appearance

Strange, my copy of the first Kingmaker adventure includes a summary of the full AP, including mention of the final villain.


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Zaister wrote:
3Doubloons wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
By the time volume one is out at Gen Con, we'll be saying everything about the plot in that book in a sort of "GM's supplement" part. I'm going to try very hard until then to keep spoilers tight on the plot though.
So the backmatter of Hellknight Hill will include a summary of thefull AP's plot, is that what you're saying? If so, that's interesting; it would very much help avoid issues like the aforementioned Kingmaker with its villain's late appearance
Strange, my copy of the first Kingmaker adventure includes a summary of the full AP, including mention of the final villain.

I was thinking the same thing In fact, the majority of APs have the plot summary.

Dark Archive

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Elorebaen wrote:
Zaister wrote:
3Doubloons wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
By the time volume one is out at Gen Con, we'll be saying everything about the plot in that book in a sort of "GM's supplement" part. I'm going to try very hard until then to keep spoilers tight on the plot though.
So the backmatter of Hellknight Hill will include a summary of thefull AP's plot, is that what you're saying? If so, that's interesting; it would very much help avoid issues like the aforementioned Kingmaker with its villain's late appearance
Strange, my copy of the first Kingmaker adventure includes a summary of the full AP, including mention of the final villain.
I was thinking the same thing In fact, the majority of APs have the plot summary.

Ah, I've not run Kingmaker and am only now playing through the PC game. I'd heard through the grapevine (among others, in this thread) that the final villain of Kingmaker comes a bit out of nowhere unless a GM who's read through the AP starts to integrate her earlier in the adventure. I'd assumed it was because she wasn't mentioned until then.

I retract my point, then


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No, that's true.

The villain of Kingmaker is mentioned to the GM in the first book. However, if you run the adventure without any changes, there is no opportunity for the players to find out said villain exists until late book 5.

The Kingmaker PC game actually addresses this, making some major changes from the initial adventure in order to work the main villain into the plot much earlier.


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There's foreshadowing in the first five books in fact.

Whether or not a particular GM emphasizes it is up to the individual.


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Foreshadowing is a strong word. The chances that any group of players realizes that things like the unicorn and the ring are connected is not super great. And - just my personal opinion - a main villain should be more involved than a vague clue once per book that they might actually exist.

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3Doubloons wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
By the time volume one is out at Gen Con, we'll be saying everything about the plot in that book in a sort of "GM's supplement" part. I'm going to try very hard until then to keep spoilers tight on the plot though.
So the backmatter of Hellknight Hill will include a summary of thefull AP's plot, is that what you're saying? If so, that's interesting; it would very much help avoid issues like the aforementioned Kingmaker with its villain's late appearance

Yup; similar to what we did in Return of the Runelords.

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MaxAstro wrote:
Foreshadowing is a strong word. The chances that any group of players realizes that things like the unicorn and the ring are connected is not super great. And - just my personal opinion - a main villain should be more involved than a vague clue once per book that they might actually exist.

Folks are indeed correct. We made sure to foreshadow the BBEG of Kingmaker in every adventure, but chose to left the actual impression of those elements up to the individual GM to focus on or gloss over...

...because that, at the time, is what folks were asking for. Until then, EVERY Adventure Path we'd done was something that had a pretty obvious BBEG going on, with the plot of the campaign increasingly focusing on dealing with that villain's plots. Folks were asking us at the time for both a "sandbox" campaign where the PCs could take any route they wanted without having to feel like they were on a schedule against a central villain, but also wanted us to do a campaign that wasn't all about one single threat.

The result kinda ended up confirming my personal opinion that having a central villain for a big campaign is VERY useful and that being coy with the central villain (be it a person or a group or whatever) is unsatisfying to a lot more people than it is satisfying to a few. So as a result, we've never really done a campaign quite the same as Kingmaker, as far as the attempt to make the main villain subtle goes.


A subtle, shadowy threat does sound pretty appropriate for a sandbox kingdom builder campaign, yes. Otherwise there is a risk that fighting the villain will overshadow exploration and kingdom building.

I'm just hoping for a villain with more shelf life instead of "in case of climactic battle, break glass."

I imagine that a single, high ranking henchcritter wouldn't be too hard to slip in if the campaign doesn't have much in the way of what I'm looking for, though.

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Stone Dog wrote:

A subtle, shadowy threat does sound pretty appropriate for a sandbox kingdom builder campaign, yes. Otherwise there is a risk that fighting the villain will overshadow exploration and kingdom building.

I'm just hoping for a villain with more shelf life instead of "in case of climactic battle, break glass."

I imagine that a single, high ranking henchcritter wouldn't be too hard to slip in if the campaign doesn't have much in the way of what I'm looking for, though.

One of the things I was trying to say in my prior message was "We learned our lesson from all the feedback folks gave us over the past several years regarding hiding BBEG from the plot." We haven't done something like that in an Adventure Path to that extent since Kingmaker, as far as I know, and in many cases we took extra pains to make sure that the PCs knew who the BBEG was from the first adventure, or even in the Player's Guide.

Age of Ashes won't discard that lesson.

While I'm not going to spoil the BBEG here, it will be spelled out in the first adventure for GMs, and as the PCs go through, they'll have plenty of chances to learn and discover, and in theory, when they get to the revelation later on, it'll be a case of "OH now THAT'S why all those other things in the prior adventures were the way they were," rather than "Hmmm that seems random."


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Let me just say, by the way, that I love Kingmaker - it is my absolute favorite AP Paizo has ever published, and I kinda even love that the villain isn't "written in" very well in the first few books, because it gave me a lot of room to write her in as I wished and tailor it to my players.

But I am also very glad that when I was first running the campaign, I stumbled across a post - I think by you, James - saying that it would have been nice to do more to foreshadow the villain. That in turn gave me the idea to take the initiative to do more, which resulted in a much more satisfying campaign overall.

TL;DR I think what Kingmaker was really missing was just a text blurb in the first book advising the GM to take the initiative to work said villain into the plot more if they felt it appropriate to their group. :)

Also: The implication in your most recent post that the identity of the villain is a puzzle for the PCs to put together sounds awesome.


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Twist: James Jacobs is the final boss. The “dragon” is actually a mythic T-Rex. The hints all along are that it includes James listed as BBEG in the credits section of the book.


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QuidEst wrote:
Twist: James Jacobs is the final boss. The “dragon” is actually a mythic T-Rex. The hints all along are that it includes James listed as BBEG in the credits section of the book.

Book six is secretly titled the Return of Tom Rex!!!


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James Jacobs wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:
Aww... That means the BBEG probably isn't a dragon, then. When are we going to get a proper dragon BBEG, Paizo? :P

Age of Ashes. That's when. One of the elements of building out this AP was to address comments that we've never done a dragon BBEG Adventure Path.

There are plenty other dragons other than Aashaq in the world. Be they established already in lore or brand new. Of which this campaign will have a mix of both.

EDIT: By the time volume one is out at Gen Con, we'll be saying everything about the plot in that book in a sort of "GM's supplement" part. I'm going to try very hard until then to keep spoilers tight on the plot though.

I'm so happy to see this! The very first Pathfinder Second Edition villain is going to be a Dragon!

It would be so awesome to get lots of dragon related articles and monsters in the supplements, specially something related to their faith and genesis.


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Doktor Weasel wrote:


Points in favor of it being Mengkare are the way it's being talked about as a surprise, and that people will make wrong assumptions as to what's going on when they find out. He might have decided that the world is unsaveable and it's time to burn it down and start over. Or maybe it's weirder, like he figures the only way to bring out the ultimate good is to bring about the ultimate threat to the world, and it will inspire goodness to counter, or some other odd reasoning.

I am really hoping it won't be Mengkare, because the trope of "Utopian experiment turns out to actually be horribly evil" is massively overdone, and pernicious besides. As Kingmaker players may have learned from a certain particularly irritating NPC in the second volume, there is no better way of stopping power being used for positive ends than to foster a culture of instinctive distrust of anyone trying.

Kingmaker spoiler:

Spoiler:
I loved Grigori, he was a wonderful way of not only vexing PCs in ways that needed them to think outside the box, but making them really think through what they were doing and why.


James Jacobs wrote:
While I'm not going to spoil the BBEG here, it will be spelled out in the first adventure for GMs, and as the PCs go through, they'll have plenty of chances to learn and discover, and in theory, when they get to the revelation later on, it'll be a case of "OH now THAT'S why all those other things in the prior adventures were the way they were," rather than "Hmmm that seems random."

I get what you are saying and I'm not criticizing the goal involved, after a very long campaign where the BBEG was a distant and impersonal menace, I'm not exactly excited about the prospect of a campaign where the villain is hidden behind a curtain and part of the game is a puzzle to unravel.

When more things are revealed it might get more interesting, but converting Hell's Rebels is a more appealing option right now.

If there is a significant catspaw for the villain though, that could fit what I'm hoping for nicely. I'll try to keep an open mind when more information becomes available!


Stone Dog wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
While I'm not going to spoil the BBEG here, it will be spelled out in the first adventure for GMs, and as the PCs go through, they'll have plenty of chances to learn and discover, and in theory, when they get to the revelation later on, it'll be a case of "OH now THAT'S why all those other things in the prior adventures were the way they were," rather than "Hmmm that seems random."

I get what you are saying and I'm not criticizing the goal involved, after a very long campaign where the BBEG was a distant and impersonal menace, I'm not exactly excited about the prospect of a campaign where the villain is hidden behind a curtain and part of the game is a puzzle to unravel.

When more things are revealed it might get more interesting, but converting Hell's Rebels is a more appealing option right now.

If there is a significant catspaw for the villain though, that could fit what I'm hoping for nicely. I'll try to keep an open mind when more information becomes available!

I think it can work if it's clear there is a villain and the mystery of figuring out who it could be is something the party's actively trying to solve.

As opposed to something like Kingmaker, where the idea that there is a master villain sort of comes out of nowhere near the end.


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thejeff wrote:

I think it can work if it's clear there is a villain and the mystery of figuring out who it could be is something the party's actively trying to solve.

As opposed to something like Kingmaker, where the idea that there is a master villain sort of comes out of nowhere near the end.

Oh, it can absolutely work. Knowing there is an Illuminati is half the battle. At least a good chunk of the other half is not being a conspiracy nut, but that is beside the point.

Another option could be that we all know that the cultists are the bad guys and that we are fighting them. The party is its own little inquisition ferreting out cult activities and stopping them wherever possible. That leaves plenty of room to discover how deep the cult has its roots when the BBEG is unmasked!

Going from a general threat to a specific villain could be something I could get into as well. So long as there is a face the party can want to punch, it can be behind a mask for a while.


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Kingmaker was my second favorite AP (after Jade Regent), but I will say that I ran it with the following emphasis:

Spoiler:
It's true that Nyrissa is the "BBEG" but really, I think it's richer if the "villain" (or "foil" or whatever word you want to use) is the First World as a whole. There's already plenty of political intrigue, but you can tie the beginning and end of the AP together more tightly if you present a number of the challenges arising throughout the River Kingdoms as the product of fey influence. PF did a really good job of going back to traditional sources to make the fey darker and more purely otherworldly, as opposed to just "sylvan" or "mischievous," and I found a lot to mine there.


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Stone Dog wrote:
So long as there is a face the party can want to punch, it can be behind a mask for a while.

Good memories.

(Although I felt the finale was rushed).


Has it been mentioned (perhaps even earlier in this discussion) what the maximum PC level for the AP will be, and what sort of level range each chapter will tend to cover? A long time in the past, James mentioned a goal of having APs go 1 to 20 as a norm. Is that going to be realized?

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Midnight Anarch wrote:
Has it been mentioned (perhaps even earlier in this discussion) what the maximum PC level for the AP will be, and what sort of level range each chapter will tend to cover? A long time in the past, James mentioned a goal of having APs go 1 to 20 as a norm. Is that going to be realized?

Last we heard, they were still on track, but that was when they were just putting the finishing touches on Hellknight Hill. No news since


At PaizoCon someone was asked about the level range for APs and it was repeated that all APs will take you from lvl 1 to lvl 20 now.

I don't remember exactly, but I think it was at the panel about The Extinction Curse, the 2nd AP they have in store.

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I wonder, is there going to be any sort of homage to Age of Worms?


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Taking people from lvl 1-20 is a good thing for an AP to do.


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Terevalis Unctio of House Mysti wrote:
Taking people from lvl 1-20 is a good thing for an AP to do.

It depends, i prefer it not have constant filler battles just to bump up the numbers and have legitimate rp and combat xp sources.


Davido1000 wrote:
Terevalis Unctio of House Mysti wrote:
Taking people from lvl 1-20 is a good thing for an AP to do.
It depends, i prefer it not have constant filler battles just to bump up the numbers and have legitimate rp and combat xp sources.

the new XP system might mitigate that a bit. Without inflated numbers for leveling, there might now need to be as many filler encounters.


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I feel like the reason PF1 had fewer "level 20 APs" (I think only 2) has less to do with "not enough XP sources" and more to do with "the game tends to break or at least become incredibly tedious at high levels."


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
I feel like the reason PF1 had fewer "level 20 APs" (I think only 2) has less to do with "not enough XP sources" and more to do with "the game tends to break or at least become incredibly tedious at high levels."

Indeed. While apparently high-level play is something the devs worked real hard to make a functional, fun experience in this edition. I think if it's a blast as they seem to think I totally wanna give it a try.

Also, why have 20 levels if in 9 APs out of 10 you'll get to around 15-17? Smacks of wasted opportunities to me.


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I almost which they'd ditch the 20th level template. AD&D had an open-ended structure, though the rewards for each level dropped off at the high end. That didn't set an expectation of playing through some specific full range of levels. Games could end naturally or keep going indefinitely.

But that's a whole nother argument and a much bigger change than they'd have any interest in. In a system with hard limits and new cool abilities up to those limits, it only makes sense to structure adventures to use them all.

It'll be interesting to see how that works out. Whether they've been able to make high level play as fun as low or mid level. Whatever the actual reason for it, I believe they've long had data showing that high level adventures didn't sell as well as lower level ones in PF1. Maybe that won't hold true in the new system.


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I think it will still hold true - high level adventures won't sell as well as lower level ones in 2e either.

Because most people play homebrew or AP campaigns, starting at 1st level, but not every group gets to the end of the campaign.

Even with APs, sometimes a GM gets burnout. Sometimes the group can't meet for a while. Sometimes life intervenes. It isn't optimal, but sometimes you don't finish a campaign.

So the highest-level fare stays out of your reach, barring the occasional 18th level one-shot you decide to propose to your group and see what happens.

That's my impression at least.

2e has the advantage that if everything works decently and the group manages to keep playing into the late teens the game shouldn't break apart.

Or at least, that is what we're being promised, and what I really hope is true. Time will tell...

Dark Archive

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Meanwhile I have played one AP to completion, run three aps to completion and I have two more aps I'm running currently(or soon to be). (also played Agaisnt the aeon throne to completion and playing in kingmaker campaign that is in fifth book)

It kinda sucks to be in the "Wait, what do you mean I'm the niche minority of the audience?" group :'D Everyone is like "Oh yeah, we have never played past level 12" and I'm like "Wait, what kind of campaign ends at level 12 and feels like its actually big grand finale?"


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I'm there with you Corvus. I've run Kingmaker, Carrion Crown, Iron Gods and Way of the Wicked all the way through (in the case of Kingmaker I even expanded it to end at level 20/mythic rank 4), I'm currently running the last book of Hell's Rebels, and I've played all or most of the way through Reign of Winter, Rise of the Runelords, and Wrath of the Righteous.

That said, the result is oh boy do I have a comprehensive understanding of how broken PF1e is at high levels... The final boss I put my Kingmaker players up against had five thousand hit points and died in three turns. And that was WITH blanket immunity to anything that even vaguely resembled a negative status effect.


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The real reason that APs stop at level 17 +/- is not because people don't play high levels, or even that the game falls apart and turns into rocket tag. It's because stat blocks for high level monsters and NPCs took up so much room that they literally couldn't fit all the encounters in the book. Even without a big write up for a character, the stat block for a CR 15+ monster takes up a full column and a half. God for bid it's a spell caster, cause then you're filling two full columns, and that is before we need room for say the room description, tactics and maybe some artwork.

Part of the reason NPCs don't use PC rules is to cut down on the giant stat block, of which you actually need like 5 lines to run in an encounter. This saves word count, thus allowing the AP to be more adventure and less bestiary.


APs have been confirmed to go from 1-20 at PaizoCon.


The Gold Sovereign wrote:
APs have been confirmed to go from 1-20 at PaizoCon.

Did they indicate that the same number of chapters will be used? With 20 levels to span, I might not be surprised if they went with 5 chapters instead of the more typical 6.

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There is still 6 chapters, from memory of the panel the levels were a 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3 for a total of 20


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Six AP chapters helps align the releases to have two APs per year. They mentioned that we're getting two "July" releases this year (on 1st August because GenCon) to shift the timings so that the first AP of a year is January to June, and the second runs July to December (rather than the February/August starts of previous APs).


Midnight Anarch wrote:
The Gold Sovereign wrote:
APs have been confirmed to go from 1-20 at PaizoCon.
Did they indicate that the same number of chapters will be used? With 20 levels to span, I might not be surprised if they went with 5 chapters instead of the more typical 6.

PF1 had 20 level APs which were 6 volumes, and "what level ranges a volume spans" is not consistent from AP to AP (like usually book 2 starts with 4th level PCs but with Ironfang Invasion it's 5th level.)

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MaxAstro wrote:

I'm there with you Corvus. I've run Kingmaker, Carrion Crown, Iron Gods and Way of the Wicked all the way through (in the case of Kingmaker I even expanded it to end at level 20/mythic rank 4), I'm currently running the last book of Hell's Rebels, and I've played all or most of the way through Reign of Winter, Rise of the Runelords, and Wrath of the Righteous.

That said, the result is oh boy do I have a comprehensive understanding of how broken PF1e is at high levels... The final boss I put my Kingmaker players up against had five thousand hit points and died in three turns. And that was WITH blanket immunity to anything that even vaguely resembled a negative status effect.

On side note, I'm also running Crimson Throne post campaign where max level is gonna be level 20 mythic tier 4(will end in one or two sessions) :'D

But yeah, I take it ye didn't alter the RAW mythic vital strike or power attack? Because there is reasons why I don't run or play pathfinder without certain house rules


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Stone Dog wrote:
the new XP system might mitigate that a bit. Without inflated numbers for leveling, there might now need to be as many filler encounters.

Im Hoping this is the case, some of the APs become a combat slog eventually.


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CorvusMask wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:

I'm there with you Corvus. I've run Kingmaker, Carrion Crown, Iron Gods and Way of the Wicked all the way through (in the case of Kingmaker I even expanded it to end at level 20/mythic rank 4), I'm currently running the last book of Hell's Rebels, and I've played all or most of the way through Reign of Winter, Rise of the Runelords, and Wrath of the Righteous.

That said, the result is oh boy do I have a comprehensive understanding of how broken PF1e is at high levels... The final boss I put my Kingmaker players up against had five thousand hit points and died in three turns. And that was WITH blanket immunity to anything that even vaguely resembled a negative status effect.

On side note, I'm also running Crimson Throne post campaign where max level is gonna be level 20 mythic tier 4(will end in one or two sessions) :'D

But yeah, I take it ye didn't alter the RAW mythic vital strike or power attack? Because there is reasons why I don't run or play pathfinder without certain house rules

It was my first experience with the mythic rules, so I ran them as written.

Although I would say that the "move and strike as a swift action" abilities account for breaking the system more than anything else. They allowed the party Samurai to get his full 5 (sometimes 6) attacks every turn. Combined with Mythic Improved Critical, he broke 1,000 damage in a single turn at one point.

The TWF rogue/red mantis assassin and the glass cannon monk also got huge mileage out of being able to move their speed and then make 7 or 8 attacks. Combined with a bard/ranger who'd stacked every single ranged combat enhancer he could get his hands on and a witch who could throw maximized mythic meteor swarm twice in one turn for 320 damage each... let's just say it wasn't easy coming up with things that would actually challenge them. :)

Honestly I think the biggest problem with the mythic rules is how frontloaded they are - the ability you get at MR1 is arguably the strongest mythic ability you ever get, as far as sheer breaking the math goes.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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3Doubloons wrote:
Midnight Anarch wrote:
Has it been mentioned (perhaps even earlier in this discussion) what the maximum PC level for the AP will be, and what sort of level range each chapter will tend to cover? A long time in the past, James mentioned a goal of having APs go 1 to 20 as a norm. Is that going to be realized?
Last we heard, they were still on track, but that was when they were just putting the finishing touches on Hellknight Hill. No news since

Still on track to hit 20th before the end.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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The Shifty Mongoose wrote:
I wonder, is there going to be any sort of homage to Age of Worms?

Not intentionally, but the same person who developed Age of Worms (me) is developing Age of Ashes, so we'll see. I did joke at one point about calling this Adventure Path "Age of Wyrms" but that got shot down pretty quickly as being an awful idea.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Davido1000 wrote:
Terevalis Unctio of House Mysti wrote:
Taking people from lvl 1-20 is a good thing for an AP to do.
It depends, i prefer it not have constant filler battles just to bump up the numbers and have legitimate rp and combat xp sources.

Fortunately, as the GM, you have the ability (I would actually prefer to say the RESPONSIBILITY) to add or subtract as needed to provide the customized game play experience your specific group expects and enjoys.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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PossibleCabbage wrote:
I feel like the reason PF1 had fewer "level 20 APs" (I think only 2) has less to do with "not enough XP sources" and more to do with "the game tends to break or at least become incredibly tedious at high levels."

It had EVERYTHING to do with "There are not enough pages for adventures to go all the way to 20th without cutting content." Which is what we did for Return of the Runelords. We got to 20th level in that Adventure Path, but had to cut support articles from the back of each volume, which made it a more difficult thing to write, develop, and edit on a monthly basis (the short version is that if we go over the standard adventure length, we either have to take longer than a month to develop a monthly thing and thus need to start earlier than we often have the luxury of starting, or we have to split development of a single adventure between two developers, which is an awful choice as far as continuity is concerned—for Return of the Runelords we went with the former and I started work on it a few months before "normal").


Is this AP going to be sort of open like Kingmaker was it isn’t linear?

Does it make use of downtime and encounter mode rules? ( I love these systems being in the CRB and hope they are integrated into the path)


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Davido1000 wrote:
Stone Dog wrote:
the new XP system might mitigate that a bit. Without inflated numbers for leveling, there might now need to be as many filler encounters.
Im Hoping this is the case, some of the APs become a combat slog eventually.

Yeah, one of the (many) great things about the Hell’s Rebels AP was how it did a nice job of introducing appropriate “story”/“accomplishment” XP awards in the later books, which really helped to cut down on the number of fights the players had to grind through.

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