Pathfinder 10 – Evil, nasty clockses, we hates them!

Well, this past session ended up going quite well. Good combat, a bit of roleplaying, and a decent feeling of danger as well.

It took quite some effort to get there, though.

Warning to all reading this, this writeup will be half DM log, half rant. I’ll try to contain the rant to sidebars, so feel free to skip them if you don’t care, don’t want to become disenfranchised with the Pathfinder series and Paizo, or dislike mechanical discussions.

As per usual, let’s start with roll call. Present this week:

  • Nox, Changeling Swordsage
  • Nonnie, Chaotic Evil Halfling Psychopath Sorcerer
  • Reza, Dwarven Cleric of Desna
  • Thorbar, Dwarf Barbarian
  • Ristan, Half-Elf Bard

So, we started where we left off last time. Actually, that’s a lie. We started this session with Reza and I going through spells. This being her first cleric (and most of the players being relative newbies), she was inexperienced with spell selection, and unaware of the benefits of scrolls. As such, Reza now has more generally-useful spells prepared each day, with her big thematic-but-less-general ones (calm emotions, consecrate, speak with dead) on scrolls. I believe she was much happier with her character’s performance this time.

Anyways, having cleared the Seven’s Sawmill, the party loosed one of the messenger ravens in the rookery, and followed it. It brought them to a tall rickety clock tower under the irespan (giant fucking broken bridge thing). Moving inside, they found a number of collapsed offices, a wagon, unstable-looking circular stairs that ascended over 200 feet, and a moldy dwarf body carrying a +1 Warhammer (you’re welcome, Reza :P ).

While looting the body, out of the shadows came a giant, stitched-together monstrosity. Flesh golem. Roll for initiative.

Okay, the monsters that this book used are certainly flavourful, for the most part, but they tend to have one of two problems.

1) they’re boring in combat

or 2) they’re annoying in combat.

Unfortunately, Flesh Golems fall under both categories. They do nothing but slam their fists into you, so they’re boring. (This guy was supposed to have a +1 scythe, but a large-sized +1 scythe is useless to the party, so I planted a +1 warhammer on the dwarf instead.) They have magic immunity, so they’re annoying. Berserk is useless and it never comes into play, and that’s all they do.

So I needed a replacement. I had decided to completely remake the concept of a flesh golem, based off the original Frankenstein monster, but with everything exagerated (especially the lightning aspect) when I flipped through the Monster Manual V and found the perfect replacement. It’s called the Turlemoi, and it’s a large CR 8 creature with a rage-like ability that lets it gain strength (bonus to atk & dmg) from pain. I dropped its Dex to 10, boosted its natural armour to give an AC of 17, and changed its DR to 5/adamantine.

I then gave it the Flesh Golem’s “healed by electricity” ability, and changed its “Strength from Pain” ability so that the bonus damage was electrical damage. I now had a creature that worked quite well as a flesh golem substitute, berserked, and had slams that sperked with lightning whenever it hit. Hooray!

A good battle ensued. This CR 8 creature turned out to be a decent challenge, even dropping Reza into negative hit points once. Nonnie decided to use his STOLD (Screaming Toad of Lightning Death) on it once, which turned out to be a bad move (healed by lightning FTW!).

The battle was won, however, and the lightning fists were quite fun.

Continuing, the party started up the rickety stairs. After the staircase started wobbling under their weight, they decided to put a bit of distance between themselves.

When one of the clock bells fell.

Okay, clock bell falls. 6d6 damage to 1d4 characters (4), and they make a DC 15 reflex save or fall to the bottom of the tower.

This is supposed to happen when they’re halfway up.

Halfway up a 200-foot tower.

10d6 falling damage.

I don’t think I need to explain why I made the falling damage lower than that, do I?

Seriously, whoever designed the last half of this adventure is either a hack, or actively hates PCs. Playing it how it was written, I would have probably had a TPK.

Anyways, the bell hits 4 people, most of whom make their reflex saves to not fall. One falls, I believe, more healing is done, and the journey continues.

At the top of the stairs, we come to the inner workings of the clock, above the bells. Gears turning, though most of the clock is broken and some gears are no longer connected. Half the face of the clock is smashed in, with class and metal lying on the floor. The door to the upper level is on a catwalk above the gears. The ladder to the catwalk in on the opposite side of the smashed clock face, with no catwalk in between.

Thorbar decides to climb up the gears to the catwalk. He has climbing skill, he should be fine.

DC 15 Climb Check, piece of cake.

DC 15 reflex save to avoid being caught in the moving gears… failed. 2d6 damage.

DC 15 Strength check to pull free… failed. 2d6 damage.

Finally, Reza comes up and yanks him free of the gears. Thorbar swears a permanent vendetta against clocks. (Jokes are made about multiclassing into Ranger for Favoured Enemy: Clocks.) Nox spider-climbs up and lowers a rope for everyone to use instead. (The decision not to jam and break the gears seems immensely out of character, especially considering Thorbar’s new vendetta, but oh well.)

This room, as originally written, was a combat with three Faceless Stalkers.

Now, the faceless stalker is a creature that changes into other humanoids as a disguise. It also hits you with a sword. Guess which one it was supposed to be doing today.

I mean, the faceless stalker is a cool concept, when used well. But to have it be a random boring minion who acts like a meat shield, well, that just sucks.

As such, I replaced it with this gear room, taken from Dungeonscape. I think it ended up being much more fun. It was also more fun and memorable than any 16d6 falling bell.

Following the walkway up to the space hidden under the roof, the party came to a “nest” of sorts, with satin sheets.

Soon after arriving, a cloud of smoke rose up from below them, outside the tower. A demon materialised out of it, and began circling the tower. Initiative is rolled, Nox fires off an attack… which goes right through him! The demon disappears, poofing out of existence! An illusion!

But no sooner do they realise this than another creature materialises beside them. And from the feel of its spear, this one is very real. A huge snake with he torso of a woman, they now face a Lamia Matriarch.

…sorta.

Look, Paizo, the Lamia Matriarch is a cool creature. But holy fucking crap, you really need to fire the guy who designed this one.

To start off, you took the base Lamia Matriarch, upped all of her stats by about 5, and gave her two levels of Sorcerer. Okay, 2 levels of Sorcerer increases the CR by 2 (especially when she already casts as a 6th-level sorcerer). With the stat boosts, that at least a +3.

But wait, there’s more!

She has a mask that turns her enemies to stone. Her main tactic with that is to petrify someone, and then push them off of her 200-foot tower! WTF? The PCs are level 6!!!

She has 3 spear attacks at +20/15/10 which do 2d6+9 plus 1 Wis drain. She also has a touch attack (+18!!!) for 2d4 Wis drain. Yes, drain, not damage, so it only goes away with magical healing, and Lesser Restoration (all we have access to) is ineffective against it. I fucking hate ability drain.

She has an AC of 26. That’s pretty high for level 6 anyways, but let’s keep going. Her tactics are described as follows (with the resulting AC in brackets).

Xanesha casts fly, mage armour (29) and shield (33) on herself… she also casts mirror image, haste (34), and invisibility… These effects are incorporated into her stats.

First off, no, they aren’t incorporated into her stats. Nor should they be, as they are dependant on knowing the PCs are there and having time to react. But with the falling bell, she will know and have time, so whatever.

But let’s do some math.

We have a Barbarian named Thorbar. He has a +6 BAB and a 16 Strength (+3). He has a +1 Greataxe. He can rage for an extra 4 to his Strength (+2), and he has a feat that gives +1 to atk vs larger creatures.

+6+3+1+2+1 = +13

Thorbar, without Power Attacking, can not hit an AC 34. Thankfully, natural 20s are auto-hits, since even then he would only have 33.

If Nonnie or Reza were to cast Bull’s Strength on him, he could hit on a 19.

Now, I don’t think that a full BAB with a 16 Str and a +1 weapon is really less than a level 6 character should have. Yet even with raging, this creature is out of range.

Somehow, people consider this good game design?

Seriously, Paizo, fire your writer for this one.

And so, I redid our friendly Lamia Matriarch. I brought down her stats, and I removed the medusa mask. I then applied the “Dragon of the Great Game” template from the Monster Manual V (removes spellcasting, so she was now a level 2 Sorcerer, and removes SR, granting more fun abilities instead).

I remover the Wisdom drain, and changed her touch attack to a tail sting that dealt 1d8+8, and left a trail of acid that did 5 damage every round intil magical healing was recieved. I also gave it the added effect of forcing a save against petrification if you were hit by the tail while under the effects of the ongoing damage.

And I gave her a different full attack. Instead of 3 spear attacks, or one touch attack, she now had a single spear attack plus her tail sting. At +19 and +17 respectively, neither would miss very often, unless power attacking, so she was also constantly power attacking for about +8.

The battle went quite well, with some tactical planning from Nox and effective use of the Grease spell by Ristan (go being denied Dex while balancing!). The final blow ended up being struck by Reza, which made her very happy.

Altogether, I might have wanted to drop this battle’s CR to 9, but the golem battle might have warranted a raise to 9, so it all evened out XP-wise.

The nest was explored, and a hidden door was found with a prisoner inside. Why, it’s Lord-Mayor Grobaras!

Thanks are given, ample rewards are distributed.

Me: “The mayor gives you 6000 gold…”

Nox: “6000? Nice!”

Me: “…each.”

Everyone: *jaws hanging open* “…each?”

And the mayor holds a feast for the party in thanks.

During which, he recruits them for a job that he needs completed, reestablishing communications with an outpost.

The group breaks there until next week, and sets about leveling to level 7, and buying gear with their tons of money. Thorbar bought a clock to smash.

What the players liked:

  • The battles were fun, and actually felt dangerous without being overwhelming or annoying.
  • The gears were a cool little diversion.
  • Not realising that the book was finished. When I mentioned casually that we were on to book 3 now, most of the players were surprised, as the transition was pretty smooth.

What the players didn’t like:

  • Falling Bells that do tons of damage, even if it’s reduced from what it was supposed to be.

Lessons learned:

  • Book 1 (Burnt Offerings) spoiled me. It was a very well-made adventure, with only one major problem (the Quasit’s AC). Similarly, the first half of Book 2 was pretty good, aside from the ghouls/scarecrows that were boring and repetitive. But once we hit Magnimar, well, it’s like they were padding for word count.
  • On a similar note, I need to make sure I check stats before running the games. ACs in particular seem to be an issue for the Pathfinder folks, as evidenced by the Lamia Matriarch and the Quasit.

Hopefully, there will be fewer issues with Book 3. It already seems like only the AC issue will be raising its head too much, but I’ll need to be careful nonetheless.

16 Comments

Christine aka Nox, etc  on April 25th, 2008

So first off, Reza went to negative HP when the bell caused her to fall, at which point I ran down the wall and fed her a cure mod potion. I don’t think the Flesh Golem did it, though I’m unsure on that point (Reza, if/when you read this… what do you remember?)

Also, Graham didn’t mention the list that was found with the mayor, the people that were due to be victims of the cult. These were people that were greedy in nature… at which point Graham mentions that “a couple of you guys are on here too”… then pauses. So that’d be me then, eh?

Yeah, I’m the party quartermaster, and have always been “that player”, y’know, the one who shouts out “LOOT!” as soon as the enemy drops. :P

Graham  on April 25th, 2008

Huh, I could have sworn she dropped at the end of the golem battle. I suppose it was a couple minutes later.

reza  on April 26th, 2008

Yup, as I corrected our DM, it WAS the damn bell that nearly did me in! Sucks to be an unconscious cleric squished by a bell… :P

» Mini-Link: The Stew, the Rant and the Barbarian!  on April 26th, 2008

[…] my good friend Graham recently outdid himself in a Campaign log/Rant post about his last Pathfinder game and the weaknesses of the 1st adventure […]

asmogard  on April 28th, 2008

Re: the Lamia Matriarch design: That isn’t the first time a completely inappropriately designed monster appeared in a Pathfinder Adventure Path. Burnt Offerings has a creature called the Sandpoint Devil. It’s a CR 8 outsider with some outrageous abilities: dimension door 3/day, phantasmal killer 3/day, 6d6 fire breath plus target takes -4 to attack rolls, skill checks and ability checks for [fire damage] days (d4 round recharge). Plus it has flight 60′ (average), DR 5/cold iron, SR 14 and immunity to fire.

I ran this creature as an impromptu encounter with my party the other night. The party consists of 2 9th level characters and 5 8th level characters. The party found that the flying was a big problem for them to counter. At one point I had it use phantasmal killer on the 8th level druid who failed both saves. Feeling that killing one of the characters in a one-off encounter was cheep, I dropped the effect to the damage taken on a successful save plus put the character into a coma instead of outright killing him.

Several of the characters took hellfire damage and are now at -4 for several days.

The creature ultimately got away by using it’s last dimension door (it used 2 for better positioning in attacks).

This creature seems overpowered for CR8. It seems like the Paizo folks don’t spend enough time playtesting the creatures they put into their products.

Not that I’m knocking their stuff as a whole. I have great love for the Game Mastery and Pathfinder lines.

Graham  on April 28th, 2008

Ouch!

Yeah, I never used that, and it wasn’t in the actual adventure, but it is definitely powerful.

That said, it wouldn’t have been as big of a problem in my group, solely because we use different rules for save-or-die effects. Instead of killing you outright, they will usually drop you to -1 hp, where you start to die.

Now, the DR 5 and SR 14? Those shouldn’t be a big deal for a level 8 party anyways. And the breath weapon is on par with draconic breath weapons of similar CRs (in fact, the CR 6 young blue dragon is 6d8), though the -4 penalty hurts. That can be removed by a level-appropriate cleric (or an NPC cleric) after the battle easy enough, though.

In fact, the more I look at it, the more I think that it’s not all that bad. The penalty imposed by the breath weapon is evil, true, though the breath weapon damage is below average for the CR. And flight is always annoying (though the sandpoint devil should really be played as a bestial “get into the fray” type of creature, in my opinion). But if you treat it as a dragon encounter (aka: a bit tough for the CR, but doable), the only thing really out of line is the three save-or-die effects per day.

I’d probably reduce the penalty from the breath weapon to -2, though. Or remove it entirely and up the damage to 8d6 or 6d8.

Aaron  on April 28th, 2008

Without going through the numbers myself, it sounds like the Lamia Matriarch was either an issue of blind advancement by the numbers (both with respect to abilities and non-standard equipment prices) or a total brain-fart.

I ran into a similar problem when I did a “by the numbers” advancement of an Owlbear to CR 7 or so. Basically, the increase from Large to Huge size created a monster easily capable of a TPK, when it should’ve merely been a “difficult” encounter.

Of course, the happy side effect of the near TPK was to throw me into a path that would result in the 4thification of my 3E game. It’s working pretty durned well so far and my players don’t even know how massively the monsters have been changed.

Noumenon  on May 5th, 2008

Basically, the increase from Large to Huge size created a monster easily capable of a TPK, when it should’ve merely been a “difficult” encounter.

Is that because Owlbears use Grapple and huge creatures get a grapple bonus?

reza  on May 5th, 2008

*friendly poke* Post about our games! I wanna see the ‘ship mini’! :P

Graham  on May 5th, 2008

Sigh.

It’s coming, Reza.

Rustle  on July 5th, 2008

It is a tough ending to the adventure but that is where the GM comes in. I played everything according to book (except I kept forgetting the wisdom drain) but also looked at it as a learning experience for the Lamia. Here are these evil thugs that keep messing with her bosses plans for bringing back civilization to the world. Her necklace lets him know everything that she sees so in the combat she tests each player character. She has learned the party is ranged attack weak. Hurt badly she flies off determined to finish the party. Learns they are going to Turtleback so seeks out and charms a couple of harpies from the Marshfens to help attack them on the boat. Well that will be the beginning of the next session.

Kris  on April 28th, 2009

I’m glad I read this, because I’m going to run this adventure soon and I don’t have the experience for changing monsters. I don’t suppose you feel like posting the stat blocks for your altered monsters and the gear room? It would be great if you did! :)

Graham  on April 28th, 2009

If I had the stat blocks any more, I would, but I never really had them in the first place.

For the most part, my edits were on post-it notes in the margins of the books, and I didn’t keep the piles of post-its I used for over a year, including our group switching to 4th edition.

Aside from the monsters, the gear room is actually content from a published book, and is copyrighted. I couldn’t post it here legally if I wanted to.

Kris  on April 29th, 2009

Aw, too bad you didn’t keep your notes. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, though!

I really enjoy reading about your group’s adventures, so thanks for posting them, too. ^_^

ToBFanatic  on October 29th, 2009

I just ran this encounter at the last session. Well, sort of; from this and many other sources, I knew Xanesha would slaughter my party. So I took the simple expedient of switching Xanesha with Lucrecia, the Lamia Matriarch in Hook Mountain Massacre who is a TWF rogue. She’s still a deadly opponent, but easier to hit, and with fewer devestating powers. It helped that my players managed to interrogate Ironbriar for information on her, and bought up Invisibility and Spider Climb scrolls to climb up the side of the tower and SWAT team her in the surprise round.

Mini-Link: The Stew, the Rant and the Barbarian! : Critical Hits  on January 24th, 2010

[…] my good friend Graham recently outdid himself in a Campaign log/Rant post about his last Pathfinder game and the weaknesses of the 1st adventure […]

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