Eighth Session (14 page pdf), “Death in Riddleport, Part II” – The PCs find a hidden temple under an abandoned house and engage in vicious combat with serpent men! “Sorry, Vincenz, but that’s too tough!” they conclude after a couple runs at it.
The adventure was a beefed up version of Green Ronin’s “Death in Freeport.” (Spoilers for that adventure ensue). Did I beef it up too much? The weakest part of the Freeport Trilogy, I thought, was that the great legendary serpent men were 1 HD (and 3.0 HD are like worth 1/2 a Pathfinder HD) pieces of crap. Paizo printed some more “real” serpentfolk in their 3.5e Into the Darklands supplement. I had to do the degenerate-statting and conversion to Pathfinder myself, but was left with some nice CR4 brute types. I didn’t think that would be a horrible problem – these PCs are Pathfinder and pretty optimized, and have pretty much happily rolled over all the other fights so far.
Well, they got tromped by two of them. There were a couple reasons why. One, they were down a PC because Blacktoes wasn’t here, which means they were only four men against an unknown foe.
But shouldn’t a party of 4 second level PCs be able to take (though have it be tough) 2 CR4s? Well, secondly, they’re pretty tough even for CR4s, I think, and I made a mistake in not nerfing their poison more (I converted from 3.5e to Pathfinder poison on the fly and the latter procs each round for 6 rounds, so needs a much lower penalty value).
But also some of it, the third part, was the PCs I think. I’m trying to get them to think more tactically as part of a “gritter” campaign, but I’m afraid they still default to “screw it, let’s run around like butt monkeys.” The villa assault in Three Days to Kill was a good example; they started in decent SpecOps style but then all started running round solo (and still did well – I tried to scare them some but I guess they may have gotten the lesson that that’s OK…).
Although maybe it worked out kinda decently in the end. Samaritha went with them and they fought ten skeletons and three serpentfolk at once! (You don’t hit a dungeon, leave, and return after two days without them getting a good reaction plan in place. Sorry.) And once the players got scared into really thinking hard, they did a good fighting withdrawl that they converted to a hasty ambush and took the enemy all out (albeit with using all their remaining action and Infamy points). Which would have been fine, but that fight demoralized them enough that they bailed – not even to come back after healing, but just “bah, maybe after we level.” I made it crystal clear that they were leaving Vincenz to his death, but that didn’t impress them. They figured any more of those serpentfolk and they were meat.
Ironically, they had killed all of them off and just had the boss to fight – he’s tough but not as tough CR-wise as e.g. two serpentfolk. But they didn’t know that and I don’t like giving metagame info; courage isn’t real courage if you are told the risk was low, so they walked away and I didn’t do much to stop them (except having the voice of an NPC speak as a conscience. “You’re gonna leave your friend to die?”). They pushed me to get a level at the end of the session. Perhaps I’m cussed, but I didn’t want to reward failure with a level (and have them think on some level that I gave it to them so they can go back and succeed). Not like they’re going to hang around awaiting the PCs’ leisure; I’m not big on static dungeons or villains that don’t respond to stuff like that.
They got some of the disappointment out of their system by going and beating the crap out of Braddikar Faje. Second Darkness has some badly balanced encounters; as if a third level NPC fighter with some goons is going to be a credible threat to a whole party of PCs. I had built up his street cred enough that they took him seriously, at least, but he couldn’t damage them worth a darn.
Now I have to figure out what’ll happen next. I pretty much run things from a simulationist point of view during a session (what would logically happen next) but from a story point of view during sesssion prep (it might be interesting if person X goes and does Y…). I reckon trouble will start coming to them; my hope is that they snap and become the ruthless pirates they are destined to be…
This group of players is a little of a challenge as I found out when they hated my Mutants & Masterminds campaign. They really don’t like being bested, even if it’s nonfatal or dramatically good. I guess we’ll see if this demoralizes them or what.