Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pathfinder Kingmaker - an update and observations

The Kingmaker campaign rumbles on, and although I've not had much time available to update this blog since February due to having to work far too hard for my own good, I have been able to get the odd game of Pathfinder in. This seems to remain the system of choice for our RPG group at the moment, and although there is idle talk in some quarters about trying one of the so-called 'old school' D&D variants, nothing serious seems to be about to emerge from that direction.

So, Pathfinder Kingmaker has continued, and I've tried to attend our regular Friday night sessions when I can. In short, we've now put paid to the cyclops demi-lich that was responsible for the disappearence of the good burghers of Varnhold (see previous post), and despite much 'talking up' of his potential threat level by the DM, we seemed to defeat him relatively easily, although I noticed my barbarian was getting close to her daily limit in terms of total number of rounds raging. This is, in fact, the first time this has happened since the campaign began, and brings me onto the topic of power in Pathfinder.

Our party is now 10th level, and this represents the only campaign I've played in which has surpassed 7th level in terms of party strength (my previous best being the TSR Isle of Dread campaign back in 1986). Actually, a straw poll of the other players revealed this was the first time any of them had been near 10th level too.

And what a different beast a high level campaign is, too! Our party has now used the Leadership feat to acquire 8th level cohorts, including a witch (from the Advanced Players Guide), a cleric, and a dwarf barbarian/fighter (my son's PC who attends sporadically). But, we also have a small army of followers, animal companions (like a large elk and an attack dog), and a vast array of additional abilities (our druid seems to be able to turn into just about anything she likes - and turning into an earth elemental certainly seemed to help her in our encounter with the lich). Our elven wizard, Grameer, can teleport once per day, and manufacture a wide range of magic items. My barbarian has been outfitted with a +5 breastplate, and a +2 great sword, which has additional defensive, flame burst, and sonic capabilities.

We have evolved now into a team that seems eminently capable of taking down anything the campaign can throw at us. We have a small herd of pegasi, and a tame roc which can transport us around our kingdom. We can summon rhinos and eagles and fire elementals to distract our foes while the characters move in to finish them off. An invading army of barbarians was dispersed when the flying party effectively decapitated its command structure, dropping in on the generals in the middle of the night and wiping them out (or taking them prisoner in some cases).

The GM reckons he was too generous with us early in the campaign, allowing players to boost their attributes (my barbarian now has an admitted augmented strength of 25, and an armour class of 31 when not raging - power attack and raging will bring this down considerably of course). However, much of our recent spate of victories can be attributed to the prudent use of overlapping powers - for example, enlarging our tengu monk to turn him into an unstoppable tank, summoning eagles to flank monsters, using the witch's cackle power or the monk's stunning fist power to disable opponents, the list goes on...

Earlier in the campaign, I felt the barbarian was by far the most dangerous member of the party, able to dish out some extremely large damage levels (her critical hit on the giant boar Tuskgutter, using a lance from horseback, stands out as one of the highlights of the early part of the campaign). However, since then the rest of the party has closed on her in terms of their potential lethality, with first the monk Wu Ya, and now the spellcasters, stepping up and contributing some serious attack capability. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the barbarian is now one of the weaker members of the party. True, when raging she now has over 200 hit points, DR2, immunity to flanking and being caught flat-footed, and heck even a lesser spirit totem attack, but that is beginning to pale compared with the whup ass Grameer the wizard or Cassie the druid can bring to bear. Fireballs, lighting bolts, teleporting, flying, hasting, all these and more now play a critical role in the game.

I'll end with a recent episode in which we were first able to scry an opponent and then teleport into his boudoir and ambush him at the centre of his castle. We took over the castle from the inner sanctum outwards, not something either the scenario writer or the GM were expecting. Reinforcements were then summoned via roc and pegasus, and before long the castle was ours. We then moved into the surrounding town, slaughtering the remaining bad guys - mainly hill giants.

The GM freely admits he is boosting encounters - e.g. adding to the number of undead bodyguards protecting the lich - but this only contributes to the total XP haul at the end of the adventure. Initiative rolls are becoming critical - if the bad guys fail to get the jump on the party, they will generally fail to get many effective attacks in before various disabling effects come into play. Before two rounds are up they will have lost over 50% of their force. Things are usually over by round 4.

To be honest, everyone still seems to be enjoying Kingmaker. We have not done enough, perhaps, to pacify the eastern regions, particularly around Varnhold, and Grameer seems keen to revisit these and carry out our usual program of 'pacfication' of the natives. But threats to our realm from the west, particularly in the form of the recently defeated barbarian army (with 4th level rank and file too) mean our attentions remain focused on the more immediate security threat.

Where I think we have faced our greatest tests has been where we have had to fight in very confined spaces, and where enemies have been able to threaten our spell casters. Not counting the bad run of luck experienced by our rogue (run by Dave prior to his re-emigration to Canada and now no longer an active part of the team), we've rarely been in a position where things looked really desperate. The exception in my mind has to have been a battle with trolls where the barbarian, Artemisia, almost died (until it was pointed out that the troll landing the killing blow was already grappled by a 500 lb griffon), a long fight with a huge owl bear (Owlzilla), and the final struggle with the cyclops lich.

I'm still enjoying Pathfinder, although at times finding it hard to stay awake on Friday evenings after a busy week, but that has more to do with my work/life balance than the game. One play aid we've started using recently are the condition cards: handy references of the various types of condition the can affect Pathfinder characters - dazed, paralysed, prone, etc. These are great, as they save you having to look them up, PLUS you can slap them down under a miniature to remind you that Hill Giant #4 is indeed feeling slightly nauseous!


  1. From what I can tell, the way the martial classes fall behind the magicians in the later stages of the game has always been a problem, although it'll be the first time we've encountered it; discounting Ben's Unmentionable game -- because no matter what Hasbro say, it's not D&D -- I've never played D&D beyond first level, so this has all been new to me for quite some time!

    I think we do need a break before the next big Pathfinder campaign, but the big question is what that will be. We've got a lot on our collective wishlists, and it may be a case of brainstorming and even taking a vote.

  2. Democracy .... now what did Sock-crates say about that then, ehm? ;)

    Good to have your blog back Stuart. Shame you can't make the weekend's sesh. Still at level 10 (thankfully!!!)

    I am more than happy for us to play something different, though like Stuart is now, my work-life balance will always be wrong as long as I remain a teacher, and keep getting older (have tried having a portrait in the attic but it is not working!)..... thus I need dice rolling, killing, cathartic rpging... and nothing too cryptic (otherwise I won't cope!) so my vote is for Savage Eberron/ WFRP2 or 3/ fantasy of some sort with big axes! (plus nothing evil-esque - I know Stuart and Manoj like playing evil characters (they hang around with enough at work I am sure)..... for a 2 shot fine.... but otherwise it is not my bag alas. Yes. I am fussy. WFRP 2 - you can cope with that Kelvin! I have plenty of supplements! :D

  3. Now Stuart, what you need to do is work in concert with the casters. It has become evident to me at least that you provide an essential role within the party that we cannot totally account for when you are missing.

    In the next sesh lets talk synergy and see how the buffing abilities of Cassie and Grameer can contribute to the effectiveness of Artemesia.