Age of Ashes Book 2 TPK seems unavoidable


Age of Ashes


I don't know if I missed anything. And I didn't exactly know what to do else. I see now I probably could have given a heavy handed hint but in the moment I didn't think of it.

I forget how to do spoilers, but this is all spoilers.

[spoilers]My group went straight from Akrivel to the elephant people, then straight to the the cinderclaw fortress. Then they made a boat and sailed through the shell. They then TPK'd. I now see that I should have seen it coming and maybe had a bird fly into it and die.

What is it that I missed about the campaign to prevent this behavior? There's no clues, no indication, nothing. And the directions given initially pretty much influence this behavior. They are only told about the elephant people. So naturally they could easily pick to go there first. Then easily choose to follow the river east. Running straight into the fortress.
[/spoilers]

Liberty's Edge

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Uh...you can't sail through the shell. It's shown on the map on page 58 (it's the white dotted line). It encircles the compound only, not the whole hex or anything. There are no waterways that go through it. You can sail relatively close to it, but it itself is entirely land locked, not extending over the water at any point.

Also, it's a giant glowing multicolored barrier. It has a Stealth bonus of +0, which is to say it is the opposite of subtle. What exactly did they expect to happen going straight through it?

So...yeah, they shouldn't have been able to go through it via the water, and should definitely have seen there was a giant glowing barrier before they chose what to do about it.


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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

What Deadmanwalking said is all correct.

Spoiler:
Also they should have encountered the giant crocodile and boggards on the roof of the fortress before even attempting to breach the barrier.

For my game:

Spoiler:
My party is currently at the elephant people village and I have already decided that if they go to the mine or fortress early they will be warned off by a messenger bird from the Ekujae (as the AP mentions to do if the PCs need some help).


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@deadmanwalking Really? I'm looking at the image right now and the dotted line border goes around the water. It even talks about how the monster guarding it doesn't swim through it.

> The primeval crocodile has learned to avoid moving through Dahak’s shell and stays outside the perimeter as long as the shell is active.

It also says there is no floor outside the fortress to walk on.

> The fortress palisades surround the central building like a ledge, rising 15 feet out of the water.

It literally says that the PCs can use a boat towards it.

> The swamp water surrounding the fortress is 5 feet deep. To reach the fortress, the PCs must Swim, Fly, or take a boat, and must Avoid Notice as they approach if they want to keep from being detected.

They knew there was a magical barrier. I explained it multiple times. But there isn't anything that seems to say it's dangerous. I mean, yes, I know that it's dangerous. What I'm looking for here is any information I might have missed that should communicate it's a bad idea other than them generating a gut feeling. They haven't ran into any dangerous dragon pillars before this point. It's essentially a shape L path from Akrivel to the elephant people then to the cult.

They did run into Gherard, but they let him leave with the pillar thinking it was a good idea to get rid of it.


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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Your post made it seem like they sailed straight from the elephant people village to the front door of the citadel.

That being said, any party that goes straight into a barrier all at once like that is just asking to die. Why didn't they go through one by one, or summon a creature to go through, or capture a boggard and question them about it, or capture a boggard and throw them into it, or return to the Ekujae and ask their opinion of the barrier, or use divination magic to investigate, or...

Players will be players, however, so it does fall onto the GM to make sure they are sufficiently warned before doing something catastrophic. Did you tell them (via the Ekujae) that the pillars are suspected to be powering some potent magic? Did you mention that the blue in the barrier was the exact color of the pillar they saw with Gerhard? Did you mention that none of the colors in the barrier match that of the destroyed pillar outside the Temple of Ketephys (which was white)? If they proceed after any of that, then it is on them.

It's certainly not unavoidable, however.


@fumarole just to answer your question as is:

They were on a raft gondola pushing their way in. I tried "stopping them" by having the aligator dino attack their raft. Instead it just made them push faster into the barrier. So the gondola man pushed the raft into the barrier. They were very close together.

I did tell them that the pillars are routing power to somewhere unknown. But I think they forgot :( After this blunder I've decided to do their work for them and repeat the important bits every session.

They never saw the pillar completely with Gherard. I took the bit about him being protective of it as preventing them from inspecting it, trying to goad them into taking it from him. But they had no problem letting it go. I told them many many times that the first pillar they found was white, and white was not present among the 8 other colors. And explained each color name exactly.


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Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Sometimes, no matter what you try to tell them as a GM, players are, well, ... stupid.


I'm not sure I'd blame this on stupidity. Rashness, sure, but not everyone is a paranoid RPG veteran. And even if you are, you may not want to play an overly cautious character. I know I mostly play brash risk takers.

I suppose you could have foreshadowed even harder, but you did your due diligence as a GM.

I don't think I'd call it an unavoidable TPK so much as a disastrous combination of bad luck and unfortunate factors.

Personally, I love character death, especially when I'm a player, but most folks don't feel the same way. If they feel cheated, ask if they want to roll things back at least a little, or just reroll.

Liberty's Edge

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digitalpacman wrote:

@deadmanwalking Really? I'm looking at the image right now and the dotted line border goes around the water. It even talks about how the monster guarding it doesn't swim through it.

> The primeval crocodile has learned to avoid moving through Dahak’s shell and stays outside the perimeter as long as the shell is active.

It also says there is no floor outside the fortress to walk on.

> The fortress palisades surround the central building like a ledge, rising 15 feet out of the water.

It literally says that the PCs can use a boat towards it.

> The swamp water surrounding the fortress is 5 feet deep. To reach the fortress, the PCs must Swim, Fly, or take a boat, and must Avoid Notice as they approach if they want to keep from being detected.

Sorry for my imprecision. I meant that it isn't on free-flowing water like the river. The fortress is in a swamp, with water that doesn't even reach the heads of most people walking through it. It isn't on the river, and the water is entirely stagnant. That makes a pretty big difference. You can technically use a small boat, but not at any speed.

My point was that you can't really float through the barrier in a way that makes much sense. You can actively push yourself through with poles or oars, I suppose, but it's not a 'sail up the river, float through the barrier' situation.

I mean, you can't even get a large boat there due to the trees. If it's only 10 feet wide, sure, but then only two PCs hit the barrier at the same time at most, which should give the others a warning of what happens unless they're intentionally going as fast as possible.

digitalpacman wrote:

They knew there was a magical barrier. I explained it multiple times. But there isn't anything that seems to say it's dangerous. I mean, yes, I know that it's dangerous. What I'm looking for here is any information I might have missed that should communicate it's a bad idea other than them generating a gut feeling. They haven't ran into any dangerous dragon pillars before this point. It's essentially a shape L path from Akrivel to the elephant people then to the cult.

They did run into Gherard, but they let him leave with the pillar thinking it was a good idea to get rid of it.

Honestly, what part of 'barrier' made them think they could just walk through that? Just from knowing it's a barrier, I'd assume that the best that could happen walking into it is the same effect as walking into a wall.

I don't think the adventure really has anything else you can do about the situation beyond what you did, and maybe focusing a little more on the minutiae of how they enter the barrier (a TPK should necessitate them all actively timing it to go through simultaneously, IMO...going to initiative and asking who goes through first is also a good meta way of indicating something's gonna happen), but they should have been more cautious. Just assuming you can walk through a glowing magical barrier without consequence is 'asking to die' type behavior.

I mean, if it were me I might have given them an Arcana check to note that it resembles a Prismatic Sphere and tell them what those do, but that's me being perhaps overly generous.


@deadmanwalking

They dropped a rock from above and watched it pass through. That made them think it was traversable. I missed an opportunity to take creative liberty and have it blow the rock up or something. But since it said creature in the stat block I just assumed items aren't affected, likely so the guards can fire arrows out at enemies?

Liberty's Edge

digitalpacman wrote:

@deadmanwalking

They dropped a rock from above and watched it pass through. That made them think it was traversable. I missed an opportunity to take creative liberty and have it blow the rock up or something. But since it said creature in the stat block I just assumed items aren't affected, likely so the guards can fire arrows out at enemies?

Ah. Yeah, that makes it much more reasonable for them to think they should go through, though I'd still expect someone to at least go first to check. And you're right that objects aren't effected (and probably can't be and have it make sense...it goes under the water and even ground after all, so it would be constantly hitting the water).

You could maybe have had them make a Perception roll to notice some very dead wildlife? There's nothing specific listed in that rgard though.

The big thing I'd have done differently is, like I said, go to initiative and discuss exactly who walks through first. That probably still kills one person, but not everyone.


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Well you can’t save everyone from bad decisions.

I was in an Underdark campaign in 3.5 once where my Viking buddy convinced my dwarven abjurer to link arms and jump into a pit where the bottom was concealed in fog. That didn’t end well for us either!


Vardoc Bloodstone wrote:

Well you can’t save everyone from bad decisions.

I was in an Underdark campaign in 3.5 once where my Viking buddy convinced my dwarven abjurer to link arms and jump into a pit where the bottom was concealed in fog. That didn’t end well for us either!

...How'd he pull THAT off?


And what was at the bottom of the pit?

The Exchange

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

If you wanted to be generous, you could have a bird happen to fly into the wall and just go poof [edit: I now see you made exactly that suggestion], but since you're past that, I'm pretty sure you just fry the PCs and then say "do you wanna make a new party, or shall we chalk this up to a learning experience, say you didn't come straight here, and we try this adventure again...?"

End of the day, 5th level PCs saw a Prismatic Wall and decided to walk through it. If "flickering wall of rainbow magic" didn't provoke a fear response in your players, it sure will in the future.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Artofregicide wrote:
I'm not sure I'd blame this on stupidity. Rashness, sure, but not everyone is a paranoid RPG veteran.

I bet they are now!

I've received and administered TPKs over decades of gaming. It happens.
Go play another one. Come back and try this one again after some time has gone by.


A DC 31 Arcana or Occultism check was what did it for my group (who did much the same). On success they knew that it was an effect of the prismatic series, on failure I told them that while they did not know what it was, it seemed to be a sort of forcefield akin to highly damaging powerful barriers.

The adventure also foreshadows the totems and the Ekujae elves tell them that the power that blinds them seems to be tied to the totems (This is foreshadowed by the fact that they find a destroyed dragon totem in the temple where they meet the Ekujae).


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Just because Sweettooth knows to avoid the shell doesn't mean that ALL creatures in the swamp do. It would be fairly responsible as a GM to have the party see quite a few small and large animal skeletons on the ground all around the barrier. Maybe even some of the trees and bushes sliced directly in half, growing on either side of the barrier, charred on the sides that face it.

A glowing shell is one thing, but a glowing shell surrounded by a pile of charred and shattered corpses? That's something to pay attention to. ;)

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