Saturday, June 29, 2013

On creating an adventure. . . then demolishing the players' plans

Is this a nightmare?  Or is it just revenge?  If it's revenge, GM, I'm sorry!

The "fate of the world may be at stake" part of our current campaign is starting to warm up, and we're all in Indiana Jones mode, and not in a good way.  We still have only a vague idea what plans the cult we're pursuing has, but beyond it being Not Good, it's probably going to wind up looking something like this:

OK, time to stop being coy.  In the last few sessions we've been not-so-hotly pursuing whatever leads we get to foul up some doomsday cult's plan, which has led us to a dungeon filled with constructs (basically robots) and swarms of snakes.  I expect to run into the aforementioned cybersnake at some point; the DM's dropped a few hints that there's already at least one of them out there.  The problem is that with our current party, Saving Teh World is sort of like bringing in a colony of mousers to deal with a yellow jacket infestation.  The cats can take care of themselves and will maybe nom a wasp or two, but you're really using the wrong specialists for the job.

Let's do a quick rundown, shall we?

Tempest - My PC.  As a Fighter, she compensates for mediocre strength with high Dex and Int.  No need to go into detail twice, but since her feature post she's picked up Improved Trip, Two-weapon Fighting and Weapon Finesse; she's now even more of a stick-and-move technician than before.  Problem:  Snakes don't have arms or legs.  Nothing to disarm or trip.  The DM has allowed me to "disarm" the constructs (in a surprisingly literal sense) but allowing me to tear off their limbs with a flail feels like charity and doing so doesn't finish the job anyway.  My main form of damage has been an off-hand short sword attack that's averaged about 4hp damage when it hits.

Alacar - This is my first experience seeing this new Pathfinder "Inquisitor" class in action.  My impression is that he's a tough, knowledgeable, brooding fighter/cleric type that combines some raw hitting power (a bastard sword) with a smörgåsbord of offensive, defensive/healing and support powers.  Hey, waitasec. . .
Zelgadis:  Now available as a Pathfinder class.
He's sort of our "tank" by default for having the best physical attack; he also likes to intimidate his foes which apparently sets up some other abilities.  Problem:  He's not a pure brawler and there's only one of him anyway.  Even when he's hot our damage output isn't otherworldly; when his dice get cold, we're a finely tuned and cohesive group of punching bags.  Doesn't help that swarms and constructs don't get intimidated.

Amara - A Rogue whose job description is basically "portable stealth radar platform".  She sneaks like a ghost, finds hidden treasure like it's her day job (come to think of it I guess it is), can spot a trap at fifty paces (her paces, anyway -- she's a halfling). . . and has almost no offensive capability beyond her Sneak Attack.  Problem:  Swarms and constructs aren't subject to Sneak Attack damage.  They don't take critical hits either, so she's been averaging about 2hp damage per hit.

Mikel - Either a Sorcerer, or a Wizard who acts like one.  I say that because Sorcerers are more notorious for being "combat" spellcasters, and I don't remember this guy ever casting a spell outside a fight.  Not that we'd have it any other way, because we need the help.  This guy was definitely the MVP last session.  Problem:  When he's either conserving fuel or out of gas, his main form of damage is a Wand of Magic Missiles (CL1) and a hexed d4, good for 2hp damage per round.  If that d4 wasn't a bit of Java code, it'd probably do more damage getting stepped on.

Trake - A mute, pacifistic Monk that's kind of like a living rock that loves to wrestle.  Imagine if Zangief and Zelgadis had a love child or something.  Actually somewhat like Tempest in that he's a walking abuse of Pathfinder's Combat Maneuver rules.  Tempest, however, likes to sequentially neutralize multiple opponents in space whereas Trake basically takes the biggest ugly in the room out of the fight.  He was frankly a bit of a non-factor in our first adventure as grappling is a rather inefficient way of dealing with kobold packs; but in his last appearance, we all stood by fascinated as he completely subdued a mini-boss cyborg one-on-one by literally wrestling it into the ground.  That half our opponents technically weren't alive worked in his favor, as you don't "kill" a construct so much as destroy it.  Problem:  None really, except the player's been absent lately and that's hardly a matter of fault.  Grappling the snakes has had mixed results, though.

Our conventional approach works well against conventional threats.  Trake (when he's available) occupies the biggest nasty he can handle; Tempest maneuvers around (she's the second most mobile) to flank & disarm.  This allows the relatively vulnerable & immobile Amara to safely use her Sneak Attack; Alacar basically sits in the middle of the traffic and uses whatever part of his brawler/support repertoire best suits the situation.  Mikel hangs back and chips away with Magic Missle or, if he feels threatened, Kills It With Fire.  When this doesn't work, half the team is largely ineffective, putting unrealistic pressure on the rest to dish out five characters' worth of damage.  We've got to find ways of getting our damage output up.  I have a few ideas for Tempest but it's gonna take another few levels to get there; I don't know what the others are gonna do.  If we encounter incorporeal mind-controlling cyborg snakes between now and then, I guess we're all joining the circus.

Until the cyborg snakes take over.

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