Since Abomination Vaults (and to a lesser extent Legacy of Fire) continues to be the highlight of my week, I figured I would write about how my games are going a little more.
A discussion with one of my players about the number of side-quests got me thinking about Blades-InThe-Dark/PBTA style clocks. Basically, because of the way I run my games with heavy telegraphing/foreshadowing of threats I naturally create clocks in my head. A good example of this is the basilisk (from Troubles in Otari) that I foreshadowed early. It started with players finding animals turned to stone; then encountering it a few times (they retreated or snuck around it), then finding a half eaten kobold statue (which foreshadowed the kobolds), and finally having the centaur who was delivering a package to them getting turned to stone (they rescued her by finally killing the basilisk). Listening to some Blades-In-The-Dark actual plays though, what they do is to have the clocks be written out and player facing and I am considering doing the same for my game with the threats/events the players are aware of. So (currently) I would have clocks for The Gauntlight, The Fires, The Ghouls, and The Mayoral Race (this would indicate the victory points in the race). The reason I hesitate, other than verisimilitude, is because a good part of the game is the players trying to decide what to tackle this session and having visual progress might influence them too much and limit roleplay as they choose the most pressing clock. I might get around this by noting that each of the threat clocks might have negative effects at every uptick.
I was hesitant to use the XP system (which the book recommends) because of my experiences with Kingmaker in PF1e (I had 12 characters at one point all individually tracked) but I went with it and I am glad I did. None of the problems I had with PF1e are present and it is running well. I am using group XP but I kinda wish I was brave enough to try individual XP because right now the party is beginning to form their own sidequests and long term projects and I would love to reward that kind of behavior with XP.
Also I have updated my statistics for Abomination Vaults:
Number of Play Sessions: 11
Total Play Time: 2584 minutes (~43 hours)
Total Keyed Areas Explored: 80/358 (22%)
Side Quests Completed: 4
Time in Combat: 976 minutes (~16.5 hours)
% of Play Time in Combat: 38%
Mean Time to Complete a Combat Encounter: 27.88 minutes
Median Time to Complete a Combat Encounter: 24 minutes
Number of Combat Encounters: 35
Mean Combat Encounter Time based on Book Encounters: 22.18 minutes
Shortest Combat: 3 minutes
Longest Combat: 80 minutes
Number of Combats Below 20 minutes: 12 (34%)
PC Deaths: 1
Implementing the mandatory down time rule dropped the percentage of time in combat by a lot, making the game much less of a combat slog (which is a plus for me). However, the time in spent on each combat is climbing as there are more players (some of who are new and need a little more time, and of course monsters need to be added to compensate which makes fights last even longer), a
more tired GM (from work), and more complicated encounters with things like multiple waves of enemies, aquatic terrain, split parties, long staircases, etc. (if anyone is wondering that 80 minute encounter was a complicated affair where the characters cut their way through two consecutive encounters before being forced into a fighting retreat by a counterattack from a hoard of ghouls backed by spellcasters). I feel that even though I do a good job keeping players engaged through narration, having longer turns risks having the players becoming bored with having to wait too long.
Legacy of Fire
We are almost to the end of The Jackal’s Price
and… it’s not nearly as good as the first two. It doesn’t make good us of its urban location and the adventure pacing seems really off, much more of a railroad than the sandboxes of the first two. I added the Broken Chains adventure to it to bulk it up a little and it had some really fun moments but overall its not a good module and I’m having to do a lot of work to make it run. So parts are really good (or at least really good after I modified them a bit).
The Dinner Party:
I modified the dinner party and it worked extremely well.
- The party takes place in a three level estate (with skylights, that's important for later) which I had drawn out on a battlemat (I didn’t have time to print it).
- The PCs had decided to turn the McGuffin over to the high priest of the church of Nethys and important guests were invited to witness the transfer (I had to railroad to make this happen).
- The party took place over six rounds: the meet and greet, mingling, dinner, authentication, transfer, and farewells. Every round each PC did a thing at the party (talking to guests, patrolling the ground, whatever they can think of) and I moved their minis to the appropriate place. Then at the end of each round the PCs rolled perception checks to notice suspicious activity based on where they were in the house and investigate if they noticed it (and one of the guests was a traitor who would attempt to use his social abilities to distract any character who was near).
- The PCs made it all the way to dinner without noticing anything despite them being level 7 and the DC to notice being only 20 or 22 depending on what they were doing. Then during dinner one of the PCs, the Barbarian, finally noticed something was wrong as looking out the window the guards at the gate to the estate were missing. He discretely went down to check it out, despite the traitors insistence they immediately move to authenticate the McGuffin. The barbarian also took the McGuffin carrying high priest with him.
- The two of them came downstairs to find a priestess of the cult of Lamashtu (Level 7 Demonologist with different spells and the Demonic Temptation ability swapped out for Protect the Master! from the Cult Leader and the Demon Summoning ability swapped to the ability to improve a dimension door) with five cultists (advanced to Lv. 3 and given alchemist fires) walking through the door. Things erupted into chaos: the priest of Nethys teleported away with the McGuffin; the Barbarian bravely blocked the stairs; the druid went to help the barbarian; a Shcir demon (lv 5, custom creature) crashed down through the skylight, rushed downstairs, and grabbed the host of the party; the traitor popped smokesticks and blacked out the area while getting stabbed by the rogue who was suspicious of him from earlier; and cultists both downstairs and on the roof threw alchemist fires around willy-nilly setting the whole place on fire (As AoA but with higher DC).
- I'm not going to go turn by turn but highlights of the battle include: the barbarian absolutely refusing to die while guarding the stairs despite being paralyzed and stabbed through the heart with a demonically empowered spear (orc ferocity and druid healing). The demon kicking the pursing rogue through the broken skylight into the fiery abyss below only to have him grab on the jagged glass edge at the last second – and then immediately getting his hands stomped on by one of the cultists on the roof that survived the sound burst the sorcerer used to clear it, falling onto the library table below and having three flaming cultists all try and fail to impale him daggers while he rolled around the table and
they burned to death (evasion FTW). Three characters jumping from the roof: the demon with the host, the sorcerer still in pursuit, and the priestess who couldn't get past the barbarian and so dimension doored up to see what was going on and then had to jump off the roof because the demon had done so immediately before and she couldn't see it through all the smoke and flame. At the end of the battle all the cultists minions were dead but the traitor, the demon, and the priestess had escaped: the traitor slipped away in the confusion with only a couple of stab wounds from the rogue, the demon was on it's last legs with a couple hp left, and the priestess had done more damage to herself than the party had (which was 0).
- Overall, it was an extremely fun, dynamic fight that went very fluidly and quickly (about an hour). It also only took me about an hour and 45 minutes to prep the session, an hour of which was me drawing the map at the game store.
Immediately following the dinner party we went into broken chains (note I had planned the characters to do this in reverse).
- Broken Chains subject matter is dark. I kept it pretty dark but significantly changed how the cult was operating to tie it into the One Source Merchant Guild and to make it less… icky. I also had to add more personality to a lot of the characters.
- I attempted to do a “speed dungeon” like I used to do in PF1e. However it didn’t work out. I had set it up to use mostly underpowered foes in the temple, so when they came together to fight the PCs it would quickly clear multiple areas. It kind worked but not really. The PCs felt really strong though as they tore through, snuck by, or talked circles around their lower-level opponents.
- One of the big things I had set up was that two of the PCs were heavily connected to members of the cult (one’s wife and one’s mother). So the PCs were divided on whether they wanted to fight their way through the cult or talk their way through the cult. And of course many of the Slavers weren’t actually part of the cult. So intra-party debate and moral dilemmas took up more time than I had anticipated and they attempted to talk their way through half the encounters and violently murder the other half.
- It took three sessions to get through adventure and the last session went heavily off the rails as basically they took a quest from the high priestess of Lamashtu and just walked out (after accidentally killing a bunch of infants by unleashing a monster that reflexively eats anything smaller than itself into their nursery).
- Since one PC was the son of the cult leader, I had the Quasit attach itself to the character after the Yaenit it was serving died. This I think worked extremely well as apparently it has a great sense of timing. My favorite lines “You know that leads to the room where they keep the infants Boss?” and “You know the women in the cages can still hear us Boss?”
- Overall, we had fun. The adventure was a bit of a railroad though, had a too linear dungeon (up until the last part), and contains sensitive subject matter. And in a module that is mostly a railroad it didn’t really help make the adventure more of a sandbox.
Finally (if anyone is still reading), playing PF2e for a while converting various PF1e and older modules I noticed that I have created a sort of personal bestiary. For example: a tunnel spider from my N1 ATCOTRG conversion becomes the tower spider in House of the Beast, becomes a spider minion in Abomination Vaults. And this keeps happening with different monsters and NPCs. I’m not sure why this is happening or what it says about me or the game. But I think it’s interesting.
PS: please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors (or pointless rambling), I have a migraine and this post is way too long