Wrath of the Righteous Retrospective

Well, we finished our Wrath of the Righteous campaign successfully.  You can read the many, many session summaries and weep in fear at our hellacious character builds at the link.  “Yeah, I’m level 16 with 10 mythic tiers, no big deal.”

Overall we enjoyed this AP, but it was deeply flawed in a number of ways.  It was ambitious, but its reach exceeded its grasp.

The Characters

I enjoyed my PC, Antonius.  I tied him into a Dave Gross novel even, as being a ward of Count Varian Jeggare gained after the Iron Mountain massacre in Tien Xia.  Having been brought up some in Cheliax he was a nice foil to the rest of the party’s expectations.   I was pro-tiefling (because of Uncle Jeggare’s man Radovan) and, true to a LG alignment, saw LE devils and CG whatnots with equivalent amounts of distaste. So some of the goody-goodys looked on his proud red and black Chelish garb with suspicion. As a monk/paladin of Irori he was different and I tried to balance the “lack of attachment” Irori thing with, you  know, Pathfinder, gotta have some loot to play.  I also gave a try playing him as a gay character, but all the major NPCs were chicks in this AP!  So I was largely thwarted there.  I tried to start something up with some guy’s brother we found who had been turned to a statue and we turned him back but then it was “back to the Abyss to kill demons” and the task at hand, realistically, was always more pressing than love, so really no romantic attachments were made by any of the PCs in this AP.  I did pull off the “you are already dead” Fist of the North Star move once in a while, which made me happy.

The other PCs were all fun. Our aasimar sorceress was our war leader since the mini-ruleset about wars was all about Charisma, so we called her “Khaleesi” much to Tim’s chagrin. Patrick was Shawanda the paladin (modeled on the iconic paladin), who paladinned up the paladin. Matt was Trystan the archer, who built his own religion. Bruce (Skyping in) was Tabregon the oracle, who largely healed and boasted about how much he could carry.  Chris’ cleric Tsuguri was of some good Tien moon and insanity god, so that was nice and different.

The Story

The story was decent.  A bit railroady.  We went to interesting places and saw interesting demons and killed them, which definitely lives up to what it says on the tin.  It did get a bit repetitive – one fire, bug, and ichor soaked place after another loses its punch with repetition.

The initial NPCs were supposed to be interesting throughout the entire campaign.  They weren’t.  We picked out other NPCs we liked more, like Uziel our repentant tiefling.  Our GM was a good sport about pivoting to them instead of the goons we were “supposed to” care about. This happened in Jade Regent too.  “Here’s people you should care about, instead of the more interesting people you meet” is crap design and they need to quit it. I mean, a GM should just call the audible but they can feel constrained from doing that when the adventure keeps trotting someone out because it “might be important” that it’s them… They should explicitly say “you can sub in other NPCs into whatever weird relationship or plot minigame we’ve built into this.”

There were too many high level NPCs for us to pal around with really.  Our poor GM – he’s trying to run a crapload of super high power bad guys, and besides our party we end up having a variety of angels and a Runelord and such along with us. So none of them really get their due.  We converted a Runelord to good!  And then it was just kinda like “we have a pet Runelord now.”  “Hey Alderpash you gonna get the lead out and fireball someone or just sit on your ass another round?!?” There were so many rules options it was too much to keep up with just for ourselves and for the primary bad guy, let along a bunch of other high-level-plus-epic-tier guys.  It devalued them.

But we kept interested in the story, in fact later on in the AP the GM was kinda dispirited at how much we were rolling over the fights and wanted to know if we wanted to continue the AP or not.  We said yes – by this time the idea of more grindy fights was not attractive, but gunning through the encounters to get to the story points was interesting.

Challenge Level

The AP was flat underpowered.  By a large margin.  Some of this is the mythic rules (coming next) but frankly I’m not sure we needed the mythic tiers to rock this AP. The GM upped enemies and added stuff and had bunches of singleton enemies band together.  We still one-rounded a lot of stuff.

This was partly good and partly bad.  On the one hand, when we one-rounded a mythic two-headed linnorm, I felt like “boo – that should have been more epic.” But when confronted with another fight with bugs with 1000 hp apiece, I couldn’t get those combats over with fast enough.

The Mythic Rules

The mythic rules are a innovative ruleset from Paizo.  They’re not just retreading 3.5 content, they are continuously exploring the design space and coming up with more options.

The mythic rules, as written, are 50% on target.  They’re billed as “not just more plusses – they’re truly myth and legend level powers.” And that’s true – sometimes.  The story they tell about the mythic rules is compelling, its execution slightly less so, and its use in this AP much less so.

My most bad ass power was Imprinting Hand. Also very thematic as an Irori worshipper.  I could touch someone and gain knowledge about them.  The GM loved this too, as he could dump the 1 page of AP backstory on me in the 30 seconds before we ripped whatever it was asunder for good. That’s a mythic power.

For every one of those, there’s a “double your plusses” power.  Mythic Power Attack, et al.  Those weren’t fun, they were just power inflation. Various others made us immune to something – we liked those, though they frustrated the GM.  He’d do something whizbang to us and we’d say “Oh, I’m unaffected…” We started referring to these at the table as our “cheating bonus.”  “The room fills with poison gas!  Make a DC 30 Fort save!” “I’m not affected.  You know, cheating bonus.” The GM would just sigh and move on.

Then the other powers – which were fun but also the real source of mass power – were the ones giving us extra actions.  Lots of extra actions.  That’s how we’d really kill stuff.  I could double move then full attack then get an extra attack.

The mythic rules as written are OK.  But Wrath of the Righteous did not make the best use of them.

First of all – mythic enemies are supposed to be legendary enemies. We ended up fighting mythic bugs.  Not bug-men named the King of Biting Ants or whatever – just big locusts they gave mythic tiers to.  Super stupid.

Second – they did not use mythic flaws at all.  I was hoping we’d have a lot of fights that required smarts.  You know, a giant minotaur we just can’t hurt until we figure out he’s only vulnerable to mistletoe sprigs, that kind of stuff.  That’s covered in the mythic rules.  Nope!  Not a single damn opponent had those.  The answer was always, always, “just pour on more hit points worth of damage.”  That’s extremely unfortunate and I don’t understand the thinking there.  I know the Paizo designers are smarter than that.  Is it “well some players are dumb and if they can’t just hack their way through everything they’ll get TPKed and/or frustrated and that’s bad for sales?”  I don’t know, but it made mythic combat – which should allegedly be more interesting that just pure high-level combat – even more predictable and “mash the buttons till it dies.”  Well, this AP buyer would like to request some that require two brain cells to rub together and not just DPS.

Conclusion

I don’t want to say this AP was bad – but it kinda broke us of Pathfinder, to be honest.  One of the reasons we went with Dungeon World for our next campaign was that we were looking for other options – 5e, Savage Worlds, DW – because after this festival of rules and math, when we looked at new APs and considered launching into one, we (and more importantly, the GM) were like – “Fuck this, I don’t want to do this again.”

It’s not just the mythic rules’ fault, we’ve been playing Pathfinder a long time and with every year there’s another 50 lbs. of rules options. It gets tiring.  I remember our last D&D 3.5e campaign before we left 3.5e behind for good, we were so jaded we were all playing super weird races and classes trying to recapture that elusive high – “chasing the dragon” in a very real sense. We had to take a break.

I’m still running a Pathfinder campaign – that I’ve deliberately kept down to 8th level over like 5 years because I have been doing this long enough I can see when the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

We’re still using Paizo APs because they generally rock especially when divorced from the weight of the rules.  Will we go back to Pathfinder?  Maybe at some point, hard to say right now.

So I’m not saying don’t play Wrath of the Righteous – but I am saying know what you’re getting into.  If you love the rules and tactics, you’ll love it.  If you don’t, but want to put a lot of work into revamping it, you’ll probably love it too – it has a good chassis that if a GM were to significantly alter it (reduce number but add weight/complexity of… everything) it’d make a rollicking good story. But running it as-is, even with minor mods, it’s a mixed bag.

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5 responses to “Wrath of the Righteous Retrospective

  1. I haven’t played Pathfinder in ages but my experience and conclusion is similar to yours; we spent more time looking up rules and discussing interpretations than we did playing a game and while it was fun of a sort, it wasn’t what we were looking for.

    The main difference, I think, is that our patience ran out before yours did!

    We stopped around the time the mythic rules came out. We were looking for something to add a bit of spice to PF but mythic wasn’t it. Like you I’m a bit baffled and saddened by the amount of mythic stuff that — despite all of Paizo’s promises and protests — was more plusses. I was hoping for something more imaginative, something like the monk’s weird high-level powers extended to the rest of the classes. Oh well.

  2. I’m glad you put this summary out. I’ve been essentially reading through the AP keeping pace with your session report releases to correlate theory with actual play. First, thank you for your continuing efforts to post these reports. You and your group have really set the standard for these write-ups!

    First off, I am currently using Pathfinder as my rules set of choice. Due to a line of development I was pondering on for an upcoming campaign, I was thinking of generating some “mythic powers” that the PC’s would acquire at certain points. Then I stumbled across the mythic offering by Paizo as well as you guys playing through WotR, so– perfect. It sounds like the mythic rules are salvageable, maybe with more mythic flaws used as well as properly mythic, legendary foes. The other idea Paizo mentions in the AP is possibly running the PC’s through without mythic tiers. How do you think that would have worked?

    Some other questions: Did your GM run the AP out of the box, or did he make changes to the structure or story as you progressed? Did you pursue much in the way of downtime activities during the adventure? I assume you guys play through these AP’s as stand alone threads and not as part of a larger over-arching campaign?

    With regards to the Pathfinder rules, is it the structure of a combat round you find cumbersome? Or more all the feats, and extras that come into play? Did you guys typically play with minis and a battlemat type set-up during this AP?

    Anyway, I have been entertained by your group’s efforts! Great gaming! I guess I’ll binge read the next of your offerings, although I’m mostly a die-hard Reavers fan 🙂

    • Glad you’re enjoying them!

      Running through the AP without mythic tiers would have been more boring, probably. I’d tend to hack and slash the available mythic powers and just say “if it says +X to something, ax it.” So much of WotR was just plain inflation because it’s written to be inflated. Keeping interesting mythic powers, even lower levels, and then paring down later encounters to the interesting parts and not the trash mobs would be good.

      Our GM makes minor changes to the APs – beefing up enemies and responding to our NPC choices – but he’s a busy professional like the rest of us so he doesn’t have time to fundamentally alter the APs. The mythic rules, if heavily vetted and an adventure carefully built around what their feel should be, should certainly be more successful I’d think.

      We gave up on battle mats a couple campaigns ago in an attempt to keep the game more agile. The bulk of options and the sheer time required for combat is what’s sapped our fun. It’s all about adding up your 117 points of damage. Packing 45 minutes of fun into a 4 hour session. We’ve played Pathfinder since beta and had good times, but unless you put very heavy constraints on it (low levels, or sharply reduce options available) it’s just too much time spent on math, and ironically as the number of options rise you’re still constrained in what you can do (unless you have the feat for it!). That’s what is making the fiction-first approach of DW interesting.

      But Reavers is still going strong in PF!

  3. I just wanted to echo the sentiments about how insightful and valuable your after-action report here is. This kind of analysis is very thought-provoking in terms of what the AP (and the Mythic rules) are trying to achieve versus how they’re going about doing it, and what’s working and what’s not.

    I personally suspect that the grind-y parts of the AP were seen by Paizo as being a necessary evil; as you said, they’re not people who’d simply not realize what was going on. In other words, these were meant to be cannon-fodder meant to try and soften the PCs up, or at least get them to waste some limited resources, before they hit the fights that actually mattered.

    …of course, the real problem is that players aren’t just going to walk into this, and they should have known that. This assumption is the entire reason the “15-minute adventuring day” became a thing. What they really needed was a way to succinctly-but-thoroughly keep the bad guys proactive (and make sure that the PCs knew that) so that they had limited opportunities to sit back and regain their powers before moving on to the “boss fight.” Enemies that act perpetually defensive are just begging to be killed, because you can’t win by only defending.

    But more than that is your entirely-correct critique that the Mythic rules are all over the place in terms of trying to give both “epic-ness” and bonus bloat. This is what happens when you make the mechanical meta-game of character design operate via so many different moving parts while keeping it so integral to the core of the game. The least-sexy parts become the most important, creating a divide between what seems fun and what’s necessary to keep your character going.

    Personally, I’ve stepped away from “straight” Pathfinder/d20 and using a point-buy character system that I think works incredibly well, since it allows for players to mix-and-match functionality with thematic characterization to whatever degree they’re comfortable with. But then, that requires that the players be more interested in having fun and making interesting characters than in min-maxing and “winning” the game (and, for that matter, that the GM do more than just move NPCs around), and so gets away from the mindset that goes into a lot of mainstream d20 games.

    • Thanks for the kind words, sometimes I do wonder if anyone’s reading these or not!

      Yeah, chapters 4-5-6 of many of the APs are “necessary” grinds, for some definition of necessary. A bit of a self inflicted problem though.

      It’s definitely a good time to innovate around it. I keep hoping they’ll even do it! “Basic Pathfinder…” Even Shadowrun just came out with their Anarchy alternate narrative ruleset for the same reason. Savage Rifts! etc. In the 1980s we had the patience for these giant ass rule systems, but now…

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