Thursday, 10 February 2011
A quick update on Pathfinder: vacillations in Varnhold
Since the end of the festive period, we've begun playing the third arc of the Pathfinder Kingmaker story. Past readers will remember our party had reached the dizzy heights of 7th level, and had successfully established the kingdom/duchy of Staghelm, led by elven druid PC Cassie. We had proceeded to pacify the southern parts of our allotted fiefdom as well (populated by pesky trolls in the main), and Grameer, our elven PC wizard, had ably managed the economy of the realm, increasing its GDP exponentially, as well as vastly boosting the output of magic items (without any contingent inflation, as we're still pegged to the gold standard).
Following a break over Xmas, we returned to the news that Dave, one of our players, was moving to Canada, leaving us one man down and without Olban, our Changeling rogue. Still, we had two tough warriors, the barbarian Artemisia and the tengu monk, Wu Ya.
I missed the first session, but suffice to say we've heard that the founder of an adjacent fief has vanished along with the entire population of his main town. The mysterious disappearence is very reminiscent of the disappeareance of the people of Roanoke, one of the earliest English settlements in North America.
Cassie and Grameer have both acquired cohorts, and each has a 5th level side-kick (Cassie has gone with a human cleric/druid, and Grameer has a female human witch, a new class from the Paizo Advanced Players Guide, or APG for short). In addition, we now have about 40 1st level 'followers'. We're kicking around some ideas about what to do with these, and my view is to assign them roles as and when required, but to otherwise leave them relatively faceless. For example, we now have two trained owl bears in our party, and it was felt we should have a pair of 1st level rangers skilled in Animal Handling who could manage the owl bears in a fight, leaving the PCs free to do other important stuff, like cast spells. Another example is a gnome with a high Swim skill, whom we can call on when any underwater recon is required, although now Cassie can turn into a water elemental at will, there is less need for that.
We've investigated the town of Varnhold, and found it to be infested with spriggans, who had occupied the town's fort after the humans vanished. We wiped these guys out in fairly short order, and I was impressed at how lethal some of the other characters have become. Both Grameer and Cassie can now fly, Cassie's ability to turn into innocent fauna means she can scout locations unseen with relative ease, and set herself up to surprise opponents. In the attack on Fort Spriggan she changed into a crow, landed on the roof of their watchtower, and blanketed it in mist, preventing them from seeing the approach of the party.
Grameer can now summon rhinos using Summon Monster, and these beasts have proved particularly deadly in battle. He has also called in a flock of eagles to good effect, as they can flank opponents, giving the main fighters a valuable +2 bonus.
While in Varnhold, we were also assailed by some kind of summoned creature that attacked Grameer while we were staying the night in Varnhold's sole inn. As Grameer can now teleport, he is a pretty difficult target to deal with. The critter, whatever it was, got one attack on him in his room, then had to turn to mist to pursue him, and get past Artemisia, who now has a magic +2 great sword with defending and thunder attributes, making her particularly dangerous.
We've also now learned that there is a considerable centaur presence in this region, that they are not TOO friendly to humans, and that there used to be some kind of ancient cyclops empire here as well. The daughter of the centaur chieftain has vanished, and we're on the quest to find her as well as the missing village (although Grameer and Artemisia are quietly hoping that Varnhold can be assimilated into Staghelm - finding the original lord alive and well might be...inconvenient).
We've now discovered some kind of cyclops tomb in the mountains to the south-east. It seems as if a magical ward at the entrance to the tomb was broken, releasing not only some cylcops zombies, but also - and this is really just a suspicion of ours - a cylcops lich or spellcaster of some kind.
I've really skipped over about nine hours' worth of play in this entry, although much of this time was spent in some fairly extended combats. The party is now 8th level, which to be honest is the highest level D&D game I've ever played in. Previously, my record was 7th level back in the days when I used to play Expert D&D. So kudos to us all for bringing the game this far.
Having said that, the party is now BIG. Apart from four PCs, we have two 6th level companions who are powerful in their own right, including one of the new APG witches. We also have two animal companions, an elk and a dog, we have the ability to summon a griffon to our aid using a magical item, we have Artmesia's war horse, and two trained owl bears. That's before you factor in an air elemental that is travelling with the witch, and the various critters Cassie and Grameer can summon.
Our opposition seems to be composed increasingly of large beasts, like a chuul, cyclops zombies which come against us in twos and threes, an aquatic dinosaur, etc. When facing creatures in bigger numbers, like the spriggans, we seem able to carve through them with speed. Area effect spells like fireball and entangle and obscuring mist are coming into play more often, and Wu Ya and Artemisia are regularly inflicting 20-40 hit points (and more) of damage per round. A large creature, like a chuul for example, will get swarmed in fairly short order by numerous opponents and will be facing a dozen attacks per round.
Wu Ya himself is now very hard to hit, and his stunning fist attack leaves opponents exposed to two rounds worth of attacks. We've been a bit liberal about this, I fear, letting him stun a summoned entity which I wasn't entirely sure was made of flesh and blood, and therefore stunnable in the first place, and we've decided that letting him stun a zombie was probably a bit out there too.
So, here we are, 8th level. An impressive feat. I'm not even going to try to tot up the hours of gameplay required to get here. We're levelling up every 3-4 sessions at the moment, which seems reasonable, but every time we do, the leap in power in Pathfinder is substantial. It is much more pronounced, I feel than AD&D or 3e or even, dare I say it, 4e. There is also an ongoing debate in our group about whether there is an element of power creep appearing in Pathfinder, now the APG is with us. We shall have to see how the witch progresses before a case can be made for this, although Artemsia has already picked up the rage power Lesser Spirit Totem from the APG.