I'm running Tyrant's Grasp for a group of four PCs (a Paladin, a Fighter, an Inquisitor/Mortal Usher, and a Fighter/Wizard/Arcane Archer), and no more than a couple sessions pass without the party suffering one or two PC deaths from some source or another. For further context, we are about halfway through the fourth adventure, and the party is nearing Gallowspire for the first time.
Now, I've given this some thought, and I believe that this party is capable of dealing damage efficiently, but they tend to not be able to deal with the unique challenges native to facing the undead (energy drain, diseases, and the like) or plants (mostly being grappled, in this case). Furthermore, the conjunction of surprise rounds from the enemies and the party's inability to purchase gear (due to being several miles into Virlych) means that we are suffering debilitating losses very frequently.
So, the question in the post subject stands: is this campaign just designed to be rough, giving the whole affair a "survival against brutal odds" theme, or are my players failing to adapt their methods to the challenges that they are facing? Naturally, I understand that you lovely folks aren't in the perfect position to make that judgement, but any thoughts would be appreciated!
I've made no secret as to when and where I've killed PCs - they're all posted as campaign logs in the GM spoiler posts, though it's probably faster to read through my posting history directly as that's all I post in, really. Thankfully, your players appear to be Fort save heavy, so there will likely be fewer opportunities to extend that streak before the dry spell truly begins. Gallowspire is not particularly kind.
Honestly, that party looks pretty balanced. I'm not sure why they'd be struggling so much. They're basically missing just the magic trap disabling, which I don't recall coming up much. There could be some spell selection issues for the inquisitor in particular. The PCs should be able to stabilize in the not-too-distant future, though.
|King of Vrock|
So far my players have not had any full on character deaths, but they've come really close.
An ostovite nearly killed the sorcerer on the first night.
The tooth fairy rogue dropped the cleric to -7 in the Palace of Teeth.
The warpriest was mauled badly by the traps and tricks of the nightmare ettercap.
The yaoguai absolutely battered our paladin, who also got swallowed by the Crypt Flower.
I had Kilibrandt lace her letter with not only poison, but pest drake pheromones then released a swarm of them during the alley ambush.
Spectres nearly energy drained the warpriest and investigator to death.
Old leatherback swallowed the investigator whole.
And Snapper enveloped the warpriest (which saved him from the Sump Steward's cloudkill & the mythic fireball the sorcerer dropped).
A couple of questions:
Other than the fighter/wizard/arcane archer, is the party too heavily melee-focused? There are a lot of encounters that can be brutal if PCs just try to trade blow for blow with them without softening them up at range first.
Is the party buffing (and controlling/debuffing) effectively? Once you start hitting middle levels, long- (all day or hours per level) and mid-term (10 min per level) buffs start becoming required or else the party starts falling behind (even with appropriate items). Also, imposing penalties or preventing opponents from attacking can be more effective than just dealing damage.
As a side note, it may also be that your group is lacking enough spellcasting. Mortal usher doesn't advance the inquisitor's spellcasting and you didn't mention the level breakdown of the arcane archer; if the party is stuck with only 1st and 2nd level spells from the paladin and inquisitor/mortal usher and the arcane archer has more than a single fighter level (and/or is not preparing spells to match the expected opponents, scribing scrolls of additional buffs/utility spells, etc.) they may not have enough higher level spells to deal with the expected challenges. A melee-heavy group with limited spellcasting will often perform poorly in APs unless the GM adapts things or they compensate with good tactics such as focusing on maneuvers.
our original party blasted through books 1 & 2 [bloodrager, oracle [life], gunslinger/alchemist, fighter].
unfortunately, one player left and another wanted to change his PC, so we'll be entering book 3 with a new party composition, so we'll see how it goes.
I have not read or played the AP. But as others have commented on the party is horribly imbalanced. This is something that gets worse with levels.
You can get away with a combat heavy mix at low levels, but it gets increasingly difficult. The system/writers assume access to magical solutions to issues. When melee is your only solution things turn into a meat grinder.
I am running Jade regent with a Barbarian, Warpriest, inquisitor and summoner. I can see the lack of a full arcane caster causing problems at high level.