Final combat with final boss, Vol. 6


Return of the Runelords


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(I think this thread will have SPOILERS so don't keep reading beyond this post, which I'll keep spoiler free.)

Has anyone actually played this yet?

It's the single most insane thing Paizo has ever published, and I honestly have trouble seeing how the PCs can win. Four 20th level PCs, fully loaded, against the boss... and the other things... and also the special sauce? I'm sure someone will manage it, but if the DM plays it straight and unleashes the full potential of this setup, it's a crapton of damage coming at you really fast. Scry and die / rocket tag may not be enough in this case.

But I don't know. I've never played PF at this level. Would be really curious to hear an account from someone who actually reached Vol. 6. Failing that, if anyone with experience with super high level play wants to take a crack at theorycrafting how the combat might go, I'd be interested.

Doug M.


spoiler - so no peeking if you are playing!

Spoiler:

The Rune Giants spark shower is the most potent ability they have against high level players - the +27 to hit will most likely miss most of the time even on first strike, against any player that wades into melee - expect a typical 40ish AC depending on buffs. Spark shower is decent damage and spamming charm spells is super annoying even if the players have a very small chance to fail the save - being able to air walk the biggest threat they are is to the caster/s that have low AC - meaning at least one melee will have to pick apart the giants. Dice obviously can play an impact here but a ranger should be able to focus down at least one giant a round.

The clockwork goliath is a credible threat with a +41 to hit (4 slams +41) even the cannon at +29 is pretty good - although based on the 'only reload as a standard action' I think the ranged attack having iteratives is wrong in the statblock. The downside to the golem is the lack of hit points at this level - it's doubtful that it will withstand most attacks well.

The sinspawn are a real threat - good hit points, and a +31 attack against a studied target. With a 15-20 threat range and vorpal weapons, slayers advance and spring attack these guys have the ability to do real damage if the party doesn't take them out - downside here is very very weak will saves - it's very probable that a party will take advantage of that if they can - if not they may be the make or break of the fight.

The main show has round by round - if these tactics are used you see what she'll do - she'll be more powerful if you change things up based on how combat flows though.

Then hoo-boy - round 4 - the Iathavos comes out - Fort save DC 32 - Save and be sickened (-2 atk, -2 saves) don't save and be out. Casters have a decent shot of failing this. BUT WAIT! DC 30 will save or be feebleminded and blinded also due to Horrific Appearance - both with a 30 foot range - so the Melee are going to hate life here. Avert your eyes that's a 50% chance of not needing to save - or blindfold - but then that brings concealment to the game. Good Saves, Good AC, good Attack (+31) - a +51 CMB to grapple something (and then turn them into a monster next round!) good constant abilities, and a opening salvo of lasers at everyone for 40d6 DC 32 Fort save damage.

That thing is a beast - overall I expect the fight to go something like this:

Mooks are used to get *in the way* keeping the melee from bum rushing our runelord letting her get spells off - they are killed 1-2 a round - how successful she is depends on if the mooks are able to harry the players until round 4. Round 4 starts and this thing attack everyone (runelord included) She has decent hit points but a crit charge by a cavalier (for example) could do her in - but she has the 'paradox points' to negate death hits - and those should last until round 4 - much will depend on if the monsters dice rolls are successful at forcing the players to react to them instead of brute forcing their own plans - careful use of walls of force and having the rune giants bum rush the casters from the rear will help here - having the top of her throne difficult terrain helps but not much at this level where flying is easy.

The big flying bat thing is going to *force* the party to make a hard decision to attack it or keep pressure on the Runelord - and if you are having the Iathavos help or attack the players - the lava damage could be huge here - and if the Runelord has wish and actually manages to banish the thing.

My biggest expectation would be that walls of force and how fast the giants can threaten any casters though will be the biggest swings of this fight - if the players can clean 3 of the mooks on the first round they have a very real shot of forcing the runelord to under 300 hit points and spawning the Iathavos early - if the dice are kind I'd say the players could win within 6 rounds - if not it could be dicey.

My two cents.


An account.

Honestly, it turned out to be less difficult than we expected. It was a long fight, and there were definitely a few hairy moments, especially in the first round or two, but we never had the oh-crap-we-could-all-seriously-die-here periods that we had in our epic battle against Nyrissa at the end of Kingmaker.


I just GM'd that encounter yesterday for Ice's group and it was spot on. Tensed but not overly swingy, difficult but not impossible.

The encounter looks hard on paper but it's easy to forget that the PCs are level 20 by then. They likely have numerous ways to increase their rolls and enable rerolls, which is particularly useful for saves. In fact, it's hard to land many effects, even with DC 30-32. If the PCs come in without some form of energy resistance and/or protection, they really haven't been following much of the AP. And the module is structured such that they can come in buffed to the gills. So much so that I decided that their passage through the anima focus would mean a dispel magic (CL 21st) on any one of the spell effects on them, otherwise the encounter would likely be over in 2 rounds. I'm glad I did so, otherwise it would have been way too easy.

As for the specific NPCs and why they are not pushovers but aren't overpowered either:

- The rune giants: they can put quite a hurt in combat because of their mobility (and if the PCs aren't buffed to the stratosphere) but spark shower isn't particularly damaging since it's a fire/electricity damage dealer and the PCs are likely protected against one if not both of those. It's also only a 30-ft cone in a very big cavern.

- The clockwork goliath is very nasty in melee, especially with this reach, but it's also limited in its movement since it doesn't fly and, as pointed out, it drops reasonably quickly. The cannon indeed doesn't have iterative and has a low to hit bonus, which very much limits its usefulness.

- The sinspawn slayers are nasty if they can coordinate and flank a PC. They also have tons of hit points, which certainly helps. But they are also lacking mobility (they don't fly and will try to stay on the platform), which can make it very difficult for them to do very much once the PCs fly around and/or the number of NPCs to flank with drops quickly.

- The iavathos is nasty, but the horrific appearance of qlippoths is a standard action (Su ability), not an auto-hit every round, it's only a 30-ft range effect whilst the room is quite big, and it's a mind-affecting effect so the PCs likely have numerous bonuses to their saves because of it. It's disintegrate effect is nasty but, again, it has a DC 32 save on top of a ray attack, so it's very much not trivial to land. It would be very nasty if it could grab someone, but that's notoriously difficult at level 20 with the numerous freedom of movement effects floating around.

- Alaznist is very powerful but she is also an easy wizard to counter because she's an evoker and the PCs have hopefully prepared resit and protection from energy. So she doesn't do as much damage as you might think. Also, if one of the PCs decides to focus on counterspelling her, she very quickly runs out of viable options…

So I'm not saying it was a trivial fight, but it wasn't an "oh my god, we're all dead three times over" moment either. In fact, I was surprised by how balanced the full encounter ended up being. It was a satisfying end to the campaign without haven't to pull any punches.


Ice Cracking In The Sunlight wrote:
Honestly, it turned out to be less difficult than we expected. It was a long fight, and there were definitely a few hairy moments, especially in the first round or two, but we never had the oh-crap-we-could-all-seriously-die-here periods

I certainly did have a bit of crap-we're-going-to-die at the beginning, but then again, I get that a lot, and we usually survive. ;o) Being stripped of most of our buffs, missing two characters (the Druid and his pet) due to the player being delayed (indefinitely, for all we knew), having a Mythic Time Stop and a bunch of other Mythic stuff cast on us before we could even act, and seeing our (newly non-flying and non-fireproof) Cleric grappled and tossed into lava, that did look pretty dire to me, though.

I had planned to beeline to Alaznist (possibly with a series of two Flying Kicks so I could full-attack her right away) and punch her to pieces within two rounds. Instead, I had to spend the entire first round drinking a potion of Fly while Mythic spells flew over my head. That was humiliating. My de-buffed Monk AC was so bad that I couldn't risk just plunging into Alaznist's bodyguards, and even though I tried to reduce their numbers first, they proved so ridiculously tough that I still got surrounded and pummeled. Without the Druid and his summons appearing after an hour of playtime, I would have had all the aggro on me, and there would have been no surviving it, even with Heal (and probably Breath of Life) from my magical allies.

I was also very lucky that the Greater Magic Weapon from the Druid had survived the dispelling. If not, the Humanbane quality I had placed on my unarmed strike (via the Occultist's Legacy Weapon) would likely have failed as well, as it needs a magic weapon to work... that would have meant a total of –7 to hit and –14 to damage against Alaznist. It would basically have turned me into my own party's minion.

Olwen wrote:
And the module is structured such that they can come in buffed to the gills. So much so that I decided that their passage through the anima focus would mean a dispel magic (CL 21st) on any one of the spell effects on them, otherwise the encounter would likely be over in 2 rounds. I'm glad I did so, otherwise it would have been way too easy.

Wait, YOU did that to us?! o_O That was... entirely justified, I guess. ;o) It's true that we would have steamrolled the encounter, like we did with Zutha. But it was a very harsh measure indeed, along with the missing two characters.

As for coming in buffed to the gills, we did originally plan to press on towards Alaznist without resting, with maybe half our resources already spent (but a number of long-term buffs still up). It seemed to risky to camp in Alaznist's own lair, and we only changed our minds at the last moment when we heard from the guardian of the portal that she was basically holed up in her sanctum. So it's really hard to judge in advance how powerful the party will be in that encounter. Good thing Olwen is experienced enough to improvise! :P

As for «the most insane thing ever published», Nyrissa was indeed much, much worse.


Akkumsah wrote:
As for «the most insane thing ever published», Nyrissa was indeed much, much worse.

It depends on a lot of factors, though. I've read of at least one other party, with a different balance of characters, steamrolling over Nyrissa. Remember that we went against her mostly unbuffed, at the end of a long day of dungeon crawling, without having a good sense of her abilities, with one frontliner optimized against evil foes (which she wasn't), and no one especially optimized to neutralize a powerful solo caster (which she was). None of that need necessarily have been the case.

Although we had a lot of buffs ripped away from us when we entered the fight against Alaznist, we were still fresh other than that buffing, meaning that we had a ton of Greater Dispel Magics to hurl around, we had ki points and bardic music to burn, heal spells at the ready, etc. We knew exactly what we were going to go up against -- a powerful evoker, probably with a bunch of high level melee screening minions. Even with a lot of our buffs ripped away, many of those that remained were helpful; we'd all had four Resist Energies and four Protection from Energies cast on us apiece, for example, so it's not shocking that we retained some of them after the mass dispelling. And we'd been expecting powerful casters to be End Bosses since at least book three, which surely affected some of our spell selection and character design.

And, of course, you're entirely right that some of it depended on pure dumb luck. Blown saves against Nyrissa -- I think every single one of us died or was otherwise taken out of the fight at least once. At least a bit of luck in the spells we kept vs. Alaznist -- imagine that fight if it was the same set-up except you hadn't kept Greater Magic Weapon, Szarlej hadn't kept Nine Lives, and I hadn't kept Sonic Form. Or if every time anyone tried a Greater Dispel Magic, they rolled a 3, and Szarlej missed the concentration check on that Mass Heal, and one of us got blinded and feebleminded by the Qlippoth.


Olwen wrote:
And the module is structured such that they can come in buffed to the gills. So much so that I decided that their passage through the anima focus would mean a dispel magic (CL 21st) on any one of the spell effects on them, otherwise the encounter would likely be over in 2 rounds. I'm glad I did so, otherwise it would have been way too easy.

I will probably do the same or even go above and beyond that and make it a Mage's Disjunction effect, so that they appear completely unbuffed. The PC's are level 20 at this point and I got six players, so they should be able to handle it.

It's still three years away, anyway, first I get the pleasure of GM'ing Hell's Rebels before I get to Return. :)


I thought about mage's disjunction but decided against it because it also technically dispels magic items. But a greater dispel magic effect (d20+25) instead of the dispel magic (d20+21) could be a compromise. That means every spell has 2 third chances of being dispelled.


Yeah, true with the magic items. And good idea about the CL for the Greater Dispel Magic!


Three quarters, wouldn't it be? A 20th level spell gets dispelled on a 31 -- which means a roll of 6 or higher for the Greater Dispel Magic.


Yeah, maths… ;)


Olwen, nice catch on the standard action for horrific appearance.

CL21 Greater Dispel Magic would have a 75% chance of dispelling six spells (one roll, one spell per 4 caster levels).


Well, it was a special dispel that applied to every single spell they had on. :)


Olwen wrote:


- The iavathos is nasty, but the horrific appearance of qlippoths is a standard action (Su ability), not an auto-hit every round, it's only a 30-ft range effect whilst the room is quite big, and it's a mind-affecting effect so the PCs likely have numerous bonuses to their saves because of it. It's disintegrate effect is nasty but, again, it has a DC 32 save on top of a ray attack, so it's very much not trivial to land. It would be very nasty if it could grab someone, but that's notoriously difficult at level 20 with the numerous freedom of movement effects floating around.

I looked this up before I started running this path - and I can't find anything that says that other than a forum post that was non authoritative.

Gaze attacks (for all other creatures) are an aura (everyone saves unless averting eyes) along with a 'standard' they can do at a single player in lieu of any other standard - but forces a direct roll.

I can tell you - we run lower level ones as the standard gaze mechanic - it makes them much more effective in combat.

Rules Stuff wrote:


Horrific Appearance (Su): All qlippoth have such horrific and mind-rending shapes that those who gaze upon them suffer all manner of ill effects. A qlippoth can present itself as a standard action to assault the senses of all living creatures within 30 feet. The exact effects caused by a qlippoth’s horrific appearance vary by the type of qlippoth. A successful Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 the qlippoth’s Hit Dice + the qlippoth’s Charisma modifier): reduces or negates the effect. This ability is a mind-affecting gaze attack.

(Gaze ...)
Each opponent within range of a gaze attack must attempt a saving throw each round at the beginning of his or her turn in the initiative order. Only looking directly at a creature with a gaze attack leaves an opponent vulnerable. Opponents can avoid the need to make the saving throw by not looking at the creature, in one of two ways.

Averting Eyes: The opponent avoids looking at the creature’s face, instead looking at its body, watching its shadow, tracking it in a reflective surface, etc. Each round, the opponent has a 50% chance to avoid having to make a saving throw against the gaze attack. The creature with the gaze attack, however, gains concealment against that opponent.

Wearing a Blindfold: The foe cannot see the creature at all (also possible to achieve by turning one’s back on the creature or shutting one’s eyes). The creature with the gaze attack gains total concealment against the opponent.

A creature with a gaze attack can actively gaze as an attack action by choosing a target within range. That opponent must attempt a saving throw but can try to avoid this as described above. Thus, it is possible for an opponent to save against a creature’s gaze twice during the same round, once before the opponent’s action and once during the creature’s turn.

I did go through and check the other monsters with gaze attacks - sadly this is one of those areas that made them make stuff up for 2nd edition - in that they have no standard wording how gaze attacks are written for a monster. I stand by the 'this is a gaze attack' as meaning it works like gaze - the 'standard action present' I read as being specific in that instead of affecting a single person - it forces a second save on everyone within range. After reading all your experiences with this fight - I don't think that will be mean to the players - and it's how we are running lower level qlippoths.


Hmm, that's a good point, Ckorik. It's because I ran previous qlippoths that way that I realized how powerful the ability was as a simple gaze, auto-hit attack. So I decided to switch to a standard action. But you're right that the rules aren't super clear on this.

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