Thursday, April 17, 2014

Way of the Wicked 16

Boss Fight.

Setting up boss fights is always tough. Too strong and you TPK the party, too weak and the boss gets rolled easily. The PCs were ready to fight Ara Mathra. I upgraded him from a Movadic Angel to a Planetar. He was able to scry on the party and new all of their tactics and how they had buffed. He was also buffed and was ready to go. I had what I thought was a great strategy.

It started out pretty well. The melee combatants were foiled by Anti-Life Shell, the archer cleric was rolling like mad and inflicting tons of damage. It took two tries but the wizard was able to bring down the Shell and most of his other buffs after a lucky caster level check. The PCs were hurting him but he was able to heal most of it back. I quickly realized that if I kept playing defense I had no chance so the angel cast Holy Word only to have it interupted. The second attempt was successful but I made a huge tactical blunder by not moving after the spell went off and blinded the entire party. The melees swung blindly made a couple lucky hits and that was the end of Ara Mathra.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that I made such a dumb mistake but I don't think it really changed the outcome too much. Five level 12 PCs versus one CR17 angel should be a tough fight but with 5 actions for every one the Angel can make it is a really tough situation. Action economy wins the day.

With the Vale now fully under their control, the PC sat back for the remaining two months and relaxed, crafted some new magic items and enjoyed life as evil dreadlords.

With the coming of spring, the PCs marched their army to Daveryn where they were to assist Sakkarot Fire Axe is the taking of this city. The PCs arrive only to find that the city has already fallen. Fire-Axe takes the PCs into his confidence as tells them his secret: that he is supposed to throw the fight against the Army of Asmodeans. Of course the more pressing confirm is how he is expected to beat the 30 000 strong rmy of the Mitrans that King Markardian has assembled and is even now marching north with. Of course the PCs have no idea at this point.

Fire-Axe does request some assistance from the PCs. When he took the city, the Duke managed to escape. He would really appreciate it if the PCs could locate him and capture him alive. In the meantime they are welcome to loot whatever they can find in the city.

Through the use of divination magic they were able to track the duke to a section of the city but magical means failed to pinpoint the exact dukes location. They searched door to door but failed to turn him up. They did suppress a contingent of guards that were protecting a roadway. The PCs tried to lure him out with a ruse but it failed.

Next session we'll see if the PCs managed to locate the Duke and perhaps explore/loot the city.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Scarred Witch Doctor

The Scarred Witch Doctor (SWD) is an archetype for the Witch class. What is most interesting about this archetype and unique to Pathfinder is that it uses Constitution as its casting stat.

Why does this matter? Casters have a few weak points but the biggest tends to be their Fortitude save. In our current campaign, the PC wizard suspected an enemy wizard was present, picked him out hiding invisibly, and cast Polymorph Other. The wizard rolled ok but it wasn't enough and he turned into a sheep (someone plays too much WoW). With one stroke the battle swung towards the PCs and the sheeped wizard's companions no longer stood a chance. Smart casters (and wizards should be nothing but) will always target what should be the lowest saving throw. Getting petrified, polymorphed, poisoned, etc is not much fun as a player.

So a SWD has little reason to put points into Str, Int or Cha. Bump Dex up to 14 to boost your Reflex save from awful to merely crappy and help you aim your ray spells. Put Wis up to 14 so your Will save is decent, and then focus everything else into Con. You are boosting your hitpoints (you will have tons), your Fort save, the number of bonus spells you get, and your spell DCs. Score!

Since you really only have to focus on Con you can really go all out. Other arcane casters have to put points in non essential stats like Cha or Int but you can focus on the three stats that boost your saving throws.

For an extra boost of awesomeness take a single level of Urban Barbarian with a focus on Con. A couple feats dedicated to Extra Rage and you can rage most battles. I am pretty sure since Urban Barbarian allows you to use mental skills while raging that includes casting. You can easily get your Hex and spell DCs almost to 30 by level 15 which means few things will be able to resist your power.

Now I admit the Witch spell list is not the best. It loses a lot of the wizards versatility but does borrow a few tricks from druids and clerics (Heal!). Most of this is made up for by Hexes. I played a Witch in the Kingmaker campaign and I was both grossly overpowered and nearly useless depending on what type of enemy we were facing. The Sleep hex is nasty and trivialized many encounters especially when it follows an Evil Eye/Misfortune combo. The Witch really is King/Queen of the debuffs. With an insane number of bonus spells from crazy high constitution and a carefully chosen patron I think the Witch can replace the Wizard in many parties.

Knowing that we are likely going to be playing the Mythic campaign Wrath of Righteous in the next year, I've been adding Mythic to my character builds to see how they behave. Most builds do quite well from a mythic power-up but not all (my Smartest Orc in the Universe didn't gain much). Like most arcane casters the SWD becomes even more awesome driving up spell and hex DCs into the stratosphere. Only BBEGs have any chance to make the saving throw.

Here's a semi finished level 15 SWD

Scarred WitchDoctor
Half-Orc Barbarian (Urban Barbarian) 1/Witch (Scarred Witch Doctor) 14
NG Medium humanoid (human, orc)
Init +9; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +10
AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 10 (+5 Dex)
hp 259 (1d12+14d6+194)
Fort +24, Ref +17, Will +22; +2 vs. effects that cause pain or have the [pain] descriptor
Defensive Abilities scarshield
Speed 30 ft.
Special Attacks hexes (cackle, evil eye, flight, fortune, ice tomb, misfortune, slumber), rage (31 rounds/day)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 15th; concentration +15)
   At will—feather fall (self only) (DC 11)
   14 minutes/day—fly (self only)
   1/day—levitate (self only)
Witch (Scarred Witch Doctor) Spells Prepared (CL 15th; concentration +27):
1st—mage armor
0 (at will)—detect magic, light, putrefy food and drink (DC 22), read magic
Str 10, Dex 20, Con 35, Int 10, Wis 20, Cha 10
Base Atk +8; CMB +8; CMD 23
Feats Extra Rage, Extra Rage, Extra Rage, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Raging Vitality, Spell Penetration
Traits magical knack
Skills Heal +7, Intimidate +4, Perception +10, Spellcraft +18, Swim +4, Use Magic Device +18; Racial Modifiers +2 Intimidate
Languages Common, Orc
SQ controlled rage, controlled rage: constitution, controlled rage: dexterity, crowd control, fetish mask, hex scar, orc blood, patron spells (time), weapon familiarity, tireless rage
Other Gear belt of physical might (dex & con +6), cloak of resistance +5, headband of inspired wisdom +6, 89,000 gp
Special Abilities
Cackle (Su) As a move action, extend the duration of other hexes by 1 rd.
Controlled Rage (Ex) May gain lesser bonus split as desired, but without normal drawbacks.
Crowd Control (Ex) If 2+ foes adjacent, +1 to hit & AC. Unslowed by crowds & bonus to intimidate.
Darkvision (60 feet) You can see in the dark (black and white vision only).
Evil Eye -4 (15 round(s)) (DC 29) (Su) Foe in 30 ft takes penalty to your choice of AC, attacks, saves, ability or skill checks (Will part).
Fetish Mask (Su) +2 to Heal, Intimidate & save vs pain while wearing the mask. Can enchant the mask
Fortune (2 round(s)) (Su) Ally in 30 ft can roll 2d20 for an attack, save, ability, or skill check (and take higher) once/rd.
Hex Scar You must scar your flesh for every hex you learn.
Ice Tomb (DC 29) (Su) A storm of ice and freezing wind envelops the creature, which takes 3d8 points of cold damage (Fortitude half). If the target fails its save, it is paralyzed and unconscious but does not need to eat or breathe while the ice lasts. The ice has 20 hit
Magical Knack (Witch [Scarred Witch Doctor]) +2 CL for a specific class, to a max of your HD.
Misfortune (2 rds) (DC 29) (Su) Foe in 30 ft must take the lower of 2d20 for rolls (Will neg).
Orc Blood Half-orcs count as both humans and orcs for any effect related to race.
Rage (31 rounds/day) (Ex) -2 Str, -2 Con, +2 to Will saves, -2 to AC when enraged.
Raging Vitality +2 CON while raging, Rage does not end if you become unconscious.
Scarshield +7 (14 minutes/day) (Su) +1/2 level to AC for a number of minutes per day equal to your level.
Slumber (14 rds) (DC 29) (Su) Foe in 30 ft falls asleep for duration, or until damaged or roused by ally (Will neg).

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Ulimate Combat Rogue: The Slayer

The playtest version of the Slayer came out late last year and the final version is coming this summer. The Slayer is supposed to be a hybrid class of a Ranger and a Rogue and borrows many of the best features from both.

Now I will do my best from going into why I don't like the Rogue class but many, many people like the idea of a rogue so if there was another class out there that do the same sorts of things but only better then the world will be a happier place for all.

Few classes can do melee combat well. In later levels there are lots of heavy hitters and a good melee combatant needs some way to take (or avoid) the hits. There is no perfect solution but as long as you have your basses covered in at least one area you should be ok.

The first is AC. Have a high enough armor class and you are almost unhittable. The PC Sergent Fenton in my current campaign is a good example of this. Most sessions go by without him getting hit at all. Even his touch AC is really good.

The second is DR. It doesn't matter if you get hit with every swing if they have to subtract 10 or 15 points of damage from each blow.

The third is avoidance. There are a few options here. You can use Mirror Image, Displacement, if available pre-nerf Crane Wing, or Duelist's Parry.

Since the Slayer (like the Rogue and Ranger) can't really achieve any of these three objective ( a dex based sword and board Ranger might be able to pull off AC), they are best suited for ranged combat.

So how good are Slayers at range combat? Let's look at their derivative classes to get a starting point. The rogue is pretty bad. Sure she can can do some serious damage when she has surprise but once she's seen those 1d6+5 arrows are a joke. The ranger does much better. In fact, I would argue its the rangers most effective style. In Pathfinder archers are crazy powerful since they can just stand at the back and launch volley after volley of death. It is a bit boring to play but hugely effective.

The good news here is that the Slayer is perhaps an even better archer than a Ranger. The Slayer will get sneak attack on each arrow during surprise but remains very effective even without it. The ranger gets a few spells that can help out but in any case they are quite comparable.

In a campaign where all you face are Drow, the Ranger is much better since your favored enemy is obvious. Any other time the slayer is really good since you just spend a standard/move/swift action studying your foes and you instantly get a bonus equal to half of the rangers (Favored Target). No limits per day, no limits on enemy type.

What else makes the Slayer awesome? You still get to throw lots of sneak attack dice. Not as many as a rogue but its still good. The better part is that you don't do trivial damage without it.

You get slayer talents, which are like Rogue talents but better. You get to cherry pick most of the best talents form the Rogue and Ninja list and get a few awesome ones of your own. You can pick Trapfinding making you the ultimate combat rogue. You can take Ranger Weapon Styles as talents. You can get Evasion as a Talent. You get full BAB so you can hit things. Favored Target really makes sure you hit things. You still get a decent number of skills and you should have decent hit points.

What sucks about the Slayer? They still have crappy saves with no easy way to fix that. They still get beat hard in melee combat but do have a few more hit points so its not quite as bad as a Rogue.

Overall I really like the Slayer class (not crazy about the name). It is a great Rogue replacement that is effective in combat without trying too hard. Bards still make better skill monkeys but not everyone likes classes with spells. Just tell your adventuring buddies that you are a rogue, do rogue stuff but be awesome at combat as a Slayer.

Let's hope the final version of the class doesn't get nerfed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Way of the Wicket 15

So in this play session the PCs fully explored the Cathedral. They poked at the wall of fire and decided it was best to leave it alone for now as they could not find a way past it. They search the rooms on the main floor but really only found a couple things of interest. The first was in the Ghaele's room they fount last time. It was a letter from Brigit of the Bijidine warning that there were Asdomeans at work.

The second item was the Grand-Abbot's journal. It basically said that Ara Mathra had called up a wall of divine flame that was impassable to all but a saint. He just had to wait out the bad guys until help arrives and then he can relight the two other flames that the PCs have extinguished. Meanwhile the Grand-Abbot was going to pray to Mitra for an army of ghosts to cleanse the Vale of evil (kinda like LotR).

Our villains wandered into the lower level of the Cathedral to find that most of the rooms were filled with old bones - former priests of the order. Disturbing them drew the attention of three ghost paladins. The cleric came up with a clever way of rendering the ghosts impotent while the rest of the party killed them.

Aside from the ghost fights most of the basement was solving puzzles and exploring. The could hear chanting going on but could not determine the source. They slaughtered a few acolytes that were waiting in a room and soon discovered a series of trials. The PCs managed to blunder through most of them and not get killed and eventually tracked down the Grand-Abbot who it turns out was responsible for the chanting.

He was knocked out and was then forced to drink a Philter of Love. The PCs managed to figure out most of the riddle and were able to access the Mitrans super vault, recovering part of an evil artifact sword, a Vampire Chalice, and a Mirror holding two bone devils plus lots of loot. They also discovered the remains of Saint Maccarius.

It was a good session for loot uncovering not one, but two well stocked vaults. With the cathedral almost fully pacified, the only tasks remaining are to lower the wall of divine fire and then defeat Ara Mathra.

Barring really poor rolling on my part, the second task is not going to be easy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Beast: Anatomy of a Barbarian

Some time ago the Beast was my PC for the Serpent's Skull adventure path. He was a stupid, stinky killing machine so they party kept him around. After all when you are an adventurer having an effective killer on your side is always a benefit.

Alas, in one encounter with a Hag he failed two consecutive will saves and was slain. He was replaced with my attempt at a combat rogue (who proved to be disappointing from a combat perspective) and I've never played "the Beast" again. He only made it to level 3 so I never really got a good fell for the build and I'd love to give it another try.

He joined an NPC adventuring party that went against the PCs in Book 2 of Way of the Wicked. He traded blow for blow with Gorbatch the Bloodrager but apparently Displacement is greater than a few points of Damage Resistance since Gorbatch proved to be the winner of that contest.

The build is constantly being tweaked as I look at adding in new things or subbing out stuff I'm no longer crazy about. The original Beast was very Min/Maxed with two big dump stats and I didn't really like that. Playing as a Human with Dual Talent means that I could boost Str and Con and not dump Int and Cha into the ground. The new version was slightly less effective in combat but a bit more well rounded PC which seemed a fair trade.

The basics of the Beast are: Invulnerable Rager archetype - grants DR = half your level and a bit of Fire or Cold resistance. The beast Totem line of Rage powers for Pounce and a natural armor bonus. Superstition for crazy high saving throws, Witch Hunter for bonus damage and and Spell Sunder because depending how you read it, you can suppress any spell effect. Reckless Abandon to counter act your Power attack penalties. Oh course the cherry on the cake is the Come and Get Me rage power you can take at level 12.

The latest thing that I've been looking at are the two Stalwart feats. The best way to cover the Feat prerequisites is to take one level of the Unbreakable Fighter archetype. The Stalwart feats change your Dodge bonus when fighting defensively or using Combat Expertise into DR that stacks with regular barbarian DR. Their seem to be two ways to go about doing this.

The first is Combat Expertise. It has the major downside or giving you an ugly penalty to attack which gets bigger as you level even though you maxed out your DR at 10 with Improved Stalwart. Combat Expertise has a prerequisite of an Int score of 13+ - which would normally be a dump stat.

Option two is fighting defensively.  Getting a big enough dodge bonus to make this worth while means maxing out acrobatics and finding some other source like the pre-nerf Crane style feats. Pre-nerf Crane style is pure awesome sauce but comes with some complications. It has some steep feat prerequisites on a build that is already pretty tight on feats. So of course the best way to get around this to take two levels of Monk (Master of Many Styles archetype). What? We have conflicting alignment problems? Well I guess that's not going to work.

So there you go. You can go with the less optimal Combat expertise, try to find some way to get the 5 extra feats required to get Crane style (this might be viable in a Mythic game), or do some weird shenanigans to get levels in both Monk and Barbarian. Even this isn't ideal though since that's three non Barbarian levels which is a noticeable delay on the nice Rage powers. That and Crane Style limits you to a one handed weapon (although it can still be gripped with two hands on your turn).

So is Stalwart worth all of the effort? Is stacking DR 10/- really worth the trouble? At this point I'm still on the fence. DR 20/- at level 20 would be pretty great and the barbarian isn't really hurting in the "To Hit" so I'm inclined to say "yes", I'd just like a cleaner way to pull it off.

A few other things are worthy of special mention. In a game where you can really customize your gear there are two weapon enhancements that are no-brainers for a barbarian. Furious is the first. For the cost of +1 it adds +2 to your weapon when you are raging (which is pretty much always). Courageous is the second. This one is a bit more complicated. It adds half of the enhancement bonus of your weapon to ALL of your current Morale bonuses. Wait a minute, you say. The barbarian has tons of morale bonuses. The Strength and Constitution bonuses are both Morale. Will save bonus? Morale. The Superstition bonus is Morale. Got Heroism? Morale. Good Hope is a Morale bonus too. A Courageous Furious +5 weapon adds +3 to all of the bonuses. That's a lot!

The Beast is a walking mass of melee destruction. Easy to hit but with high DR and a metric crapton of HP it doesn't matter so much although you may need a cleric on standby to clean up after any really long battles. Expect to get left behind when the wizard does an emergency evacuation due to you resisting the spell because of superstition. The Beast will have to be strategic about turning off Rage.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Druid: My thoughts

I don't think I have ever seen anyone at our gaming table play a druid. I kinda remember a druid way back in 3.5's Age of Worms but we have not had any since the switch to Pathfinder.

I can think of several reasons this may be the case. The first one is pretty straight forward. Most game session we have 4-6 players present and its a struggle to keep everyone's turn moving as quickly as possible. Any class rolling lots of dice, having many variable modifiers to rolls, and/or pets just seems to take forever. Its fairly common to hear the old question: "Did I get skipped?" and most of the time the answer is no and we just haven't made it back around yet. A straight up caster druid turn should move along pretty quickly but other druid builds break lots of the guidelines. You have lots of different wildshape bonuses and buffs to consider, you have to move around your summoned monsters as well as your animal companion. Nobody likes a turn hog.

This leads into the next difficulty with druids. Some classes are simpler to play than others. With a little bit of guidance any newb can make and play effectively a fighter. Rogues and Monks take a great deal of system mastery to make a decent character but are pretty easy to play. Primary casters just have to know their spell list inside and out. The druid is so complicated. They have 9 levels of spells they need to know and understand their application. They have Wildshape and need to know what options are available (and there are so many). They can convert spells into Summon Nature's Ally. What creatures are on those lists and what are their strengths and weaknesses? And lastly they may have an animal companion that they have to know and understand. That is a lot of class features that are very complicated! Not even the summoner has so many options.

As I've been playing around with different character builds to throw at the evil PCs in Way of the Wicked, I have come to see the power of the druid. I already have an Inquisitor, Barbarian, Cleric PC that I'd love to play, I have now added Druid to the list. Wildshape is just so awesome. Scout the enemy stronghold as a cat. Sit on a branch as a bird and blast your enemies with lightning. Become a Lake Octopus with 8 attacks and 20' reach. Earthglide as an Earth elemental. So many options!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Way of the Wicked 14

With two flames remaining, the PCs sailed down the river towards the cathedral and the gardens. A long dock jutted out from a feast hall guarded by a number of heavily armoured Archons. The PCs dimension doored in behind them and made short work of them.

The feast hall was abandoned. It looked like it had been emptied quickly so the villains spread and searched for any valuables. Unfortunately for them it still held one resident who had not let for the battle but was waiting here to extract revenge. Lea the Huntress clung to the ceiling and opened the battle with her mighty roar. This had the effect of doing a bit of sonic damage as well as blinding and deafening Gorbatch the Bloodrager and Sergeant the Halfling.

She then dropped down on top of the wizard, claws flying and much blood being spilt. The elven cleric rescued his wizard companion by teleporting him out of her grapple before she could finish him off. She continued to wreak havoc but she was severely out numbered and the odds eventually caught up with her. She tried to Heal herself  but was prevented form doing so by the halfling and she rejoined her kind in the Happy Hunting grounds.

Next up was the maze. The PCs quickly deduced that they were in some sort of pocket plane or dimension as the ambient temperature changed and the sky overhead was different. The PCs knew they were going to have to answer some riddles to escape the maze and were rather concerned but then they complained that they were too easy. Some people! Anyway, a fight was had against some Blink Dogs and then it came down to putting the riddle answers together and getting through the maze.

Flush with success, they kept their eyes closed a little too long and got pummelled by the guardians at the centre of the maze. The guardians of the second flame was the head ascetic and an oracle of Mitra. The Monk beat on the party while the Oracle, protected by a heightened Sanctuary, buffed and healed the monk.  Cleverly realizing that Oracles tend to have crap reflex saves, the wizard created a pit beneath her and she fell in. The monk went down shortly after. The bloodrager and anti-paladin jumped into the pit after the oracle and they beat on each other for a bit until she was prevented from healing herself and she died as well.

The second flame was extinguished and the 9th Knot exited the maze towards the cathedral. Climbing the steps to the cathedral they were set upon by 3 angels that looked like floating flaming swords. The party got nuked  by three Holy Smites, blinding people yet again. The wizard teleported almost everyone to the top of the stairs where the angels were dealt with without too many further problems.

The party entered the cathedral and did battle with more armoured archons guarding the entrance. The battle was eventually joined by a Ghaele in energy form that zipped around blasting people and trying to stay out of reach. I made a few strategic errors here and the villains managed to take her down.

Out of Cure Blindness potions and cure sticks, the party has decided to retreat and pick up more supplies before venturing further into the cathedral. They know that the far end of the cathedral is blocked by a wall of divine flame that no being, mortal or otherwise, may cross. Everyone is leveling up to 12 before they return and press onwards into the cathedral in 2 weeks time.

Lots of fighting this session with lots of good outsiders. I expect much of the same for next session where we should be able to wrap up Book 3 - tears of the Blessed.