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.
Interesting. I was under the impression that Pathfinder was, more or less, identical to 3.5e, but the fact that you mention that you had to convert a number of features suggests that’s not the case. I’ve learned something new there.
Yeah, the core mechanics are the same but there’s subtle differences. Like with the serpentfolk, a) monstrous humanoids get d10 HD now instead of d8, b) poison works slightly differently, c) monsters get slightly different numbers of feats and skill points…
Now, it’s close enough that you can use a 3.5e (or 3e) monster without converting it, as written if you like. I do that a lot. But I wanted to “upgrade” the serpentfolk so they were fully butch enough (the same critter from 3.0 to 3.5 to PFRPG is a bit of a power level up each time).
The real detail that made a difference here is the poison – it’s an improvement IMO, but in 3.5 you have the “big chunk of damage now, and another in a minute” mechanic. PF does a better “you take poison damage each round till you save” thing. But so if in 3.5 something did 1d6 stat damage initial and secondary, in PF it should do 1d2/round for 6 rounds, 1 save ends it. I was going into it just gonna use 3.5e poison but then a player was talking about how it should proc every round now and I just did it on the fly without getting into it more.
Where to start?!?
A) I’m pretty sure no one complained that the bad guys were prepared for our return visit. It made sense. I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t worse.
B) I don’t think anyone wanted to leave Vincenz to his fate, but all of us were sure we were going to die if we pressed onward. We were out of spells, infamy points, and action points. Most of us were very wounded and/or poisoned.
C) Those Serpent Men were tough! They had a high AC, lots of hp, a vicious spear attack, and a poisonous bite. We beat on each one for quite awhile before dropping it. Those suckers chewed us but good.
D) Butt Monkeys v. “thinking tactically”. Really? We’re that f-ing stupid? Man, that is sad.
E) The Villa – The lessons I took away from that game session are really different than what you stated above. I took away from that a handful of bad die rolls screw a Spec Ops approach all to hell and we’re unlikely to improve given 2 out of 5 party members are poor to barely passable in the stealth department. I took away from that session that we weren’t supposed to defeat the manor and its denizens, just annoy them enough to disrupt the transaction… Those dudes were numereous and pretty tough… then the barbarians showed up. I took away from that game session that none of the players felt like we accomplished much and that the whole expedition had been a waste.
After reading your comments above (and playing the most recent session) I believe there’s a large gap between you and your players regarding a few subjects:
1) What is gritty? Leaving a friend behind to die or joining him in certain death. Looks like your players have no idea.
2) Tactics – What the hell are we doing wrong? I am really confused here. Are we behaving that differently from any other game? I thought we were doing ok. Not great, but ok.
3) NPC’s and interrogations – again I have no idea what we’re doing wrong. Unless a NPC wants to tell us the truth or is willing to be poorly sweet-talked (i.e. very few social skills) out of it by the PC’s, we seem to be getting nothing out of them. Threats and beatings are not working. Clearly, we are doing something wrong but I have no idea what. Are our skill rolls to low? Are we roleplaying poorly? Are we not being “cop” enough in our interviews?
4) I’m at a loss regarding Bravery v. Common Sense. Thus far, we have seen that going off by one’s self is a horribly, horribly bad idea. It leads to beatings, poisonings, robbery, etc… Common sense says, “Don’t go off by yourself.” I demonstrated this again in this most recent session. OTOH, we are cowards for applying Common Sense to the “do we rescue Vincenzo or do we flee?” and deciding on “flee”.
If you can articulate what we are doing wrong and tell us how to rectify it, I’m willing to listen.
The villa was fine, you didn’t need to kill anyone, you just needed to do exactly what you did (disrupt it). However, the group clearly wanted to do more (kill more, get more loot) as you note, but pretty much had to pull out instead. It wasn’t bad rolls that did it, it was tactics. Wogan popped fog on your position, resulting in everyone basically running in a wide variety of different directions to get out of it; no one was close enough to mutually support one another. One PC was running into the house as the previous PC was running out of the house. And no one was calling the ball for retreat or not, so you get the suboptimal thing where a couple people run and a couple fight and then a couple runners change their mind and then a couple fighters change their mind and then… It was fine, it wasn’t fatal, but it didn’t get y’all your optimal result, and clearly that made you sad. Suggestion is have someone calling the shots in combat – at least to the level of “Keep at them!” “Group up!” or “Retreat!” Maybe someone with their eye on being a pirate captain could do that…
Y’all are VERY effective when all focused on the same goal. The assassin you took out this session (in two rounds) was of higher CR than a serpent man. Sure, she dropped the halfling, but who doesn’t 😛
And I don’t know why success is for some reason only the optimal result. “We did what we were supposed to, no one got killed, our boss said good job and gave us a raise. But we didn’t kill and loot everyone we saw today. I’m unhappy!” Really? I guess I want to understand why these things are being taken by you as being sad/unsatisfactory.
Same with the serpent men, you all lived… You just didn’t get the ideal result, which was saving Vincenz. I guess first I’d say, don’t be a sad sack, you got kills and loot and stuff, just not “best result”. On the tactics, y’all got down to it well on the second visit – you split them up, did fighting retreats to get positions where multiple PCs could attack while only one enemy could attack (doorways, stairs…). I’m just saying “learn from that.”
As for a lot of the other stuff, I honestly don’t know why you’re letting it bother you. There are reasons for things that you’ll find out eventually. I have a lot of long term plots going on and thus I don’t do end of session debriefs about “well that guy didn’t tell you X because…” Suffice it to say, there’s good reasons.
Like the ettercap thing. Normally I wouldn’t explain myself, but I could see you getting unhappy about that for some reason. It’s a good example. You thought I must have been taking it easy on you or “being unrealistic” since the ettercap didn’t attack you itself, instead relying on its traps and the dream spiders.
However, the ettercap monster description is pretty clear that “It usually refuses to come within melee reach of any foe that is still able to move, and flees if an opponent gets free.” But for some reason, your first reaction is to interpret it as something wrong with the metagame level. I don’t know why that’s the first reaction, but it’s kinda hard to do much about from my seat. I pretty much refuse to read the monster description during the encounter to “prove the rightness of my actions” and really I don’t like doing it after the session either.
But in my opinion, here’s how that needs to work. I don’t metagame, I run stuff pretty strictly in game. I spend many hours of prep every week to think through the NPCs and monsters and whatnot. If Sindawe cared to, afterwards he could try to figure out “what that thing was.” Maybe try to find out *why* it didn’t attack him. Maybe even past that, wonder why the heck there’s an ettercap with a bunch of dream spiders in a basement, that might go beyond normal civilized city wandering monsters, you might think. In my opinion, there’s some pretty good answers to all those questions, but *I* do not give them out because the *players* want to know from the *DM*. I reveal them in game when the characters figure them out.
Similarly, if you are wondering why Lymas Smeed didn’t give it up regarding the murder – maybe you should try to figure that out in game, given the general guidance that you should probably trust your DM that he’s not just enjoying making NPCs act irrationally for no reason.
I have a pretty good in-game reason for everything that’s happened. It seems to me there’s a variety of useful approaches to that.
1. Try to find out why something was that way. Probably optimal from a discovering secrets, motivations, etc. POV. Sometimes you may not succeed (*I’m* not the one that didn’t give any PC any social or knowledge skill! Ask your various girlfriends to help!) but it won’t be necessary to move forward. And if you do find out, it gives you the opportunity to be proactive – ambush instead of be ambushed, scam instead of be scammed.
2. Don’t worry about it, and just take life as it comes. Also fine, really. The major events and whatnot will still wash upon you, and you can kill them. I know better than to make continuing the adventure dependent on too much investigative work.
3. Don’t try to find out, AND think there’s something wrong with the game universe because the answers aren’t coming easily. That seems like it makes you unhappy, and it sure makes me unhappy because it means I’m being told, unfairly in my mind, that I’m not doing a good job.
Cheese and crackers
1) Ok, you convinced me that you are doing your job as GM.
2) No one else is complaining.
3) It must be me.