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I am a relativly new DM and we are playing Pathfinder. We are playing a pre-made adventure, Rise of the Runelords. My group consists of a Bard, a Sorcerer an Alchemist and a Knight on Level 7. Problem is: the Knight's AC is very high, but totally within the rules of what the class is allowed to wear.

I am putting Monsters of CR 6-7 against them and they basically have to land a critical hit to just land a hit on him. Last time they basically walzed into a Sawmill filled with cult members and their boss: ~12 CR 2 cultists and the CR 7 Boss. While most of the party had trouble and one went down unconscious, I was barely able to even hit the knight, except with a critical hit. Even when I hit, the damage hardly impacted the knight. It felt like attacking a tank with a bunch of kittens...

It is limiting my fun as a GM, because combat feels pointless. And what I dislike even more: He began claiming the major part of the loot "because I am the tank that killed them all while your were laying unconscious". The groups just envies his invincibility.

As this is a premade adventure, my options to change anything are limited. If I make the monsters more difficult, all that will happens is that I kill the rest of the group more quickly.

How can I level this a bit?


Some hard numbers

Knight:

  • AC: 28 (DEX-Mod +2, Evade +1, Full Plate-Armor +9, Heavy Steel-Shield +2 (+1 for Talent Shield Focus), Ring of Protection +2) (just noticed this adds up to 27 instead of 28. oh well...)

  • Gets two attacks a round, 1d20+12 and 1d20+6, dealing 1d8+2 damage

  • Str: 15 (+2), Dex: 14 (+2), Con: 14 (+2), Int: 12 (+1), Wis: 11 (0), Cha: 14 (+2)

  • Fort: 7, Ref: 4, Will: 2

    (Have to learn to read too. These other defenses (e.g. Reflexes) aren't as good. Going to target them.)

I am having a look at whether I can somehow upload the character sheet, but I will have to translate it, because it is in German.

The rest of the party:

  • average AC of 15
  • attack rolls averaging around 1d20+4.

Rise of Runelords cultist and boss stats (spoilers):

  • Cultist stats (abridged):

    AC 15 (touch 13, flat-footed 12), hp average 21
    Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +4
    Str 12, Dex 17, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8
    BAB +1, CMB +2, CMD 15

    Melee: war razor +5 (1d4+2 dmg), Ranged: hand crossbow +4 (1d4 dmg), Sneak Attack +1d6
    Spell-like abilities: bleeding touch (5/day), copycat
    Spells: 1st: command (DC 13), disguise self (DC 13), shield of faith; 0th: bleed (DC 12), light, mending
    Tactics: cast shield of faith if possible, save command for slowing pursuers when retreating, trip or bull rush non-melee enemies into the machinery

  • Cultist boss stats (abridged):

    AC 26 (touch 20, flat-footed 19), hp 61
    Fort +6, Ref +11, Will +7
    Str 8, Dex 22, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 13
    BAB +5, CMB +4, CMD 24

    Melee: +1 short sword +12 (1d6 dmg), Ranged: hand crossbow (1d4 dmg, poison), Sneak Attack +1d6
    Spell-like abilities: copycat (5/day), dazing touch
    Spells: 3rd: dispel magic, suggestion (DC 15), summon monster III; 2nd: bear's endurance, cat's grace, hold person (DC 14), invisibility, undetectable alignment; 1st: charm person (DC 13), command (DC 13), cure light wounds, divine favour, shield of faith; 0th: light, mending, read magic, stabilize
    Tactics: Use bear's endurance, cat's grace, shield of faith, invisibility before combat. Use spells/channel energy while the cultists melee. Flank + sneak attack with sword after used up spells, summoning monsters to help flank if needed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This knight or another? Are the other players (including the knight's player) also new to Pathfinder? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 21 '16 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Two words: Rust Monster. His pretty plate won't make much difference when it's turned to dust XD \$\endgroup\$ – X0r Dec 22 '16 at 14:37
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First things first, you have to identify the problem. If his AC is too high, you could review his sheet and check if he didn't calculate something wrong (it happens more often than you could believe).

If he built his character around that much defense, he will have other flaws, but lets take a look at the information you gave us:

For a short comparison: Knights AC: 28 (Full Plate-Armor, Shield and a Ring of Protection) Knight gets two attacks a round, 1d20+12 and 1d20+6, dealing 1d8+2 damage

The Rest of the party has an average AC of 15. Attacks are ranging around 1d20+4.

Well, even though his AC is so high, his offensive power is that of a lv1 character (or lower), he will hit easily, but that damage is too low for a character of his level (7th).

His AC is actually 26, +9 from full plate armor, +3 from heavy shield (+2 base, +1 from shield focus), +2 from ring of protection, +1 from evasion, and only +1 from his dex modifier (it's limited by his armor).

Then, look for options that will "break" his strength, without hurting the others too much. There are a few options for that, based on the Knight class:

Reflex and Will Saves

The Knight's reflex and will saves are bad, and the class is a martial based on charisma (similar to a paladin, but with nothing to boost the saves), which means the character is vulnerable to spells and effects that target those saves.

The character could take two powers that boost his saves against fear and charm effects, but everything else means he is weak against it. Illusions, necromancy, create pit, fireballs, entangle, web, etc.

Spells that grant negative conditions, such as shaken, nauseated, entangled, exhausted, or sickened, are all good options, as some of those will lower his strengths and allow enemies to have a better chance against him.

If you really want to see him rage from a failed save, make an enemy cast Create Pit on him. And watch him strip after a bunch of failed attempts at climbing up (remind him that he has a -8 penalty from armor).

Touch Attacks

Most spells will either allow a saving throw, or a touch attack, or both.

Knowing this, you should know that touch attacks will be checks against the character unarmored AC (10+ dex bonus + dodge bonus + deflection modifiers usually), which is much lower than his armored AC.

There are lots of enemies that can use touch attacks, so a quick look on the bestiary looking specifically for that feature will give you many candidates for an encounter. A quick look on the wizard/sorcerer spell list should be enough to find good spells to throw at him. Corrosive Touch, Mudball, Shocking Grasp, Acid Arrow, Scorching Ray to name a few.

Creatures that use touch attacks should be balanced against the whole party, as only monks should have a high touch AC.

Flying Enemies

If he built a character around defense and melee attacks, a flying enemy will be way out of his reach for most of the time, unless someone on the party casts a Fly spell on him. But even with the spell, since he wears heavy armor, his 40 feet flying speed should be lower than most creatures.

Difficult Terrain

As I mentioned, he wears heavy armor, which means that unless he takes a lot of levels on the Fighter class, his speed should be lower than average (20 feet or so). Difficult terrain should be a nightmare for his character, as he will move only 10 feet per move action.

There are tons of ways for the GM or the enemies to put him into that situation. Most forests, swamps, deserts and mountains are difficult terrain (most GM's ignore this). There are spells (like Entangle or Web) that will force the terrain to become difficult for a period.

Ranged Attackers

Again, his character is slow and built around melee attacks. So ranged attackers, specially if flying or above ground level, should be a pain for him to deal with. Even more if they are able to move and move faster than him (and they probably will).

Combat Maneuvers

Combat Maneuvers are an option, as his CMD should always be lower than his AC. But being a martial, his CMD is still fairly high compared to the rest of the group.

If you have a group of enemies and they have the opportunity to flank him (which also grants a bonus on the CMB check), one of them should attempt to trip or grapple him.

Trip will lower his AC (-4), limit his actions, and force him to take attacks of opportunity to stand back up.

While grapple will force him to not move towards other enemies (like their boss which happens to be a spellcaster or ranged attacker), it will also reduce his AC (-4). If he is tripped and then grappled, his AC should be much lower now. Just keep in mind that, unless the attacker has reach or the proper feat, they will take attacks of opportunity as well. But since his damage is low, they should probably be able to take a hit or two and still trip/grapple him.

Aid Another

Aid Another is the simplest action that a henchman can take that will help his side to bring down a stronger enemy (the knight). This will allow them to make an easy check (DC 10) using their attack bonus to help another character to succeed at something.

This can be used on attack rolls, raise the AC of their boss, help tripping or grappling an enemy, and whatever else you can think of.

Encounter Advice

The cultists you linked have sneak attack and the command spell. I know that their sheet says that they will only use command on emergencies, but a towering enemy wearing a full plate armor should probably be a higher emergency than saving it to escape. Commanding him to drop prone will help them to grapple and probably pin him in maybe two rounds. You will have to consider their intelligence (10), or if their boss could come up with that idea on his own (14 int, probably yes) and tell his henchmen to do it.

For their boss, his AC is actually on par with your knight. His suggestion should be used as soon as possible on the biggest and dumbest enemy he can see charging at his beloved cult, while his invisibility is a terrible idea to use at the start of combat (despite what the developer said), as most of his other options are offensive and will be wasted casting early on. Instead, he should use his copycat as often as possible (he has 5 uses and they last 6 rounds), to prevent attacks from hitting him. On top of that, his Reaper's Mask allows him to cast the Confusion spell twice per day, with a DC of 16 (minimum to cast the spell).

Let me add that whoever wrote those cultists did a terrible job at it, their feat selection is awful. Selective channel with -1 charisma. The feat does not say it affects at least one target, meaning that it does nothing at all. They took martial weapon proficiency simply to use war razors (they get +2 to conceal it) instead of using daggers or short swords (their deity's weapon) and take Skill Focus (Sleight of Hand). And why on earth would he take Weapon Finesse if he already got Finesse Rogue? I suggest you replace at least two of those three bad choices with teamwork feats, such as Precise Strike, or something that suits their sneaky murderer role, such as the lines of feats for Strangler (3 feats total).

Again, all of these are simply hints on how to make combats difficult for him. Remember that the objective of the game is to have fun, so you create challenges that they must overcome. If you, as the Game Master start to play against your players, they will get annoyed or worse, and might not come back next session.

So don't abuse these extra challenges, make his character shine in combat once in a while and he will have fun with the character he built. Throw a Stone Giant against him so he can brag about it ("I survived the blows of a giant!").

PS: There is a thread going on at paizo.com exactly about the subject of how to use creatures against your players. It's worth to take a look for a few hints, lots of good advice there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Really great suggestions. That paizo thread is a goldmine. I was afraid of changing the pre-made adventure, I guess I have to dig more into that. \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't find anything to suggest that a grappled creature couldn't still use a Sword and a Shield. Do you have a reference? \$\endgroup\$ – Phlyk Dec 21 '16 at 11:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ A comment to the confusion spell of the reapers mask - if I interpret the rules right, the spell targets everyone within a 15ft. radius burst. That includes my own cultists. I already used confusion once and left half of my cultist beeing affected, while the PCs managed to do the saving throw. kinda backfired. Was this correct or did I misinterpret something? \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, you did. Confusion has a 100 ft + 10/level range, meaning you can target it very far from your character, then it "bursts" in a 15 ft radius around your selected point. This question is related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/91926/… \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Dec 21 '16 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ touch spells were made for things with heavy armor. \$\endgroup\$ – Marshall Tigerus Dec 21 '16 at 17:09
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my options to change something are limited

Heck no! You can change anything you want. Just try to keep the encounters balanced xp-wise.

For instance, instead of level 2 cultists with knives, you get casters with spells that targets other defenses than AC (AoE, Will or Ref saves, touch attacks, ...) or take advantage of his armor (Rusting Grap, Shocking Grasp, Armor Lock, ...).
The big bad happens to have a tame Rust Monster or three gray oozes or some other things that can hit this high AC. The possibilities are endless.

For the other part: the player claiming the loot for himself - that's a dickmove and would make me reconsider playing with him. But that's another story altogether.

Edit: I removed some 5ed links. :P I need to learn to read.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As said, how do I adjust this without risking TPK for the others? Currently the Bard is down, Sorcerer at 7 HP, Alchemist doing okay-ish. Knight ist vital going in like, "I will win this, just stay back and heal me just in case". I don't want the other PCs become his henchmen. \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for the dickmove: you are right here. Unfortunately, he is the husband of another player. Kicking him out of game will break our group, as the other would leave as well. leaving us with 2 players left. I have to see how this develops, as of now the rest of the PCs have not yet stepped up against him because of this. \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can also add situation where having armor is useless (against a wrestler, or a basic pit in the middle of a corridor), or even dangerous (like a flood) . \$\endgroup\$ – Luris Dec 21 '16 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Try introducing some difficult terrain or circumstances. I don't know the specifics of that 3rd party class, but I'm gonna assume this Knight's ACP is gonna be enormous, any disagreeable balancing check is going to be pretty much impossible. There's lots you could do here, but maybe avoid the natural death sentence for full plate users: the swim check, or the frustrating 'Sleeping in Armor' rub. \$\endgroup\$ – McCloud Dec 21 '16 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @McCloud Do write an answer around that comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Tommi Dec 21 '16 at 10:31
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There are lots of ways to overcome a high AC without needlessly imperilling the rest of the party. In addition to ShadowKras's excellent post I'd like to suggest the following:

Aid Another

Lots of week enemies can attempt to aid each other in melee combat. If they can pass an attack roll against AC10 then they can give an adjacent ally a +2 bonus to their next attack roll. This bonus can stack, meaning that a crowd of people working together could comfortably grant a +10 bonus or better.

Turn his Armour against him

Full Plate and a Heavy Shield significantly restricts mobility. Try fighting on an uneven surface, in water or using spells like Grease or Heat Metal to inconvenience him!

Splash Weapons

Splash weapons are cheap, commonly available and target Touch AC for a decent amount of damage. Alchemist's Fire will deal 1d6 damage and the same again next round unless he can put out the flames with a DC15 Reflex check.

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So, there are two separate problems here.

The first problem is challenging the knight.

The second problem is not killing everyone else.

Challenging the Knight

CR 6 to 7 for a level 7 party is nothing. There is a handy table in the DM guide. An encounter with a CR less than the party level is easy, and even 1 or 2 CR higher is harder but still fine.

In addition as you've discovered CR 2 creatures just are not threats, even in large numbers. Against a well tooled player they just can't hit and even when they do hit it does tiny amounts of damage. In fact I've recently been working on a source book for "horde" rules to allow people to throw large numbers of weaker creatures at a higher level party. That's a different subject though :)

So next time you are prepping an encounter look for a CR 7 or 8 monster. Ideally one targeting the knight's weaker defenses (touch attacks, will saves, etc) so that suddenly he needs the help of the rest of the party. He may not enjoy that if he has grown used to being the center of attention but it's important to give the others a time to shine.

Involving the others

A Bard, a Sorcerer an Alchemist. Look for things that each of these can do, and make sure you include something for at least one of them in every session. It doesn't need to be blatant, and you should not try to railroad people. Be open to innovation (for example you might put in a magical gadget for the sorcerer to use spellcraft on but instead the bard uses knowledge:arcana) that's great. The point is that suddenly everyone gets a chance to shine at least every few sessions.

Keep some fights where the fighter's high AC matters, he should get to be the big damn hero sometimes. But add a magical trap the sorceror can defuse, or an alchemical laboratory where the alchemist can use the components to make a potion of their choice up to level 5. Next session have somewhere that the bard can use their knowledge or social skills. Then encourage those people to do those things!

Keeping them all alive

Your party seems very unoptimised, that's not a problem in of itself - except when one person is left much stronger than the others. Armour tanking is an easy thing to "fall into" by accident, and has left the knight much stronger than the others who are harder to optimise. It doesn't sound like your knight is very optimised either since his damage is tiny.

(For comparison the characters in my latest playtest as they passed through level 7 were doing 30+ damage a round most rounds, several have done over 100 in a round, the front line characters (bard, cavalier, etc) all had ACs in the mid 20s. The ones that weren't dealing damage were applying heavy control such as tripping every enemy for a 15' radius, loathsome veil, misfortune and fortune, etc. The ones without armour were being protected by the armoured ones to allow them to use their spells and abilities).

Your bard for example can use chain shirt and shield, that's +7AC right there. Even some basic magic (+1 on each and a ring) should get their AC up to 20 even with a dex of 10 - and they should have a dex higher than 10.

A level 7 sorceror has access to third level spells. One fireball would wipe out all those level 2 cultists. Loathsome Veil or Stinking Cloud would cripple them all. Even level 1 and 2 spells like grease and glitterdust would remove large numbers of enemies from the fight.

Likewise the alchemist has bombs, discoveries, they should be wiping out those cultists or tangling them up, or hulking themselves out into a killing machine. Find out whatever it is that they are set up to do and help them enable that.

So there are a few things you can do here. The first is to start getting the other players equipped better. Think of items that will help them but be useless for the knight (for example a +2 chain shirt light armor). If the bard doesn't grab it then point out to them how good it would be for them. Likewise look at the other members of their party. Identify an item that will help them get good at something and drop it for them.

Try to reinforce strengths rather than fill weaknesses though. Drop a wand of glitterdust with 5 charges for your spellcasters, maybe throw in some scrolls of grease or black tentacles. Find the powerful spells they should be using and give each of them a taste of them. Don't be scared to suggest it either - especially as new players. "Do you have a spell or item that would help here?" is a fair question to follow "Sorceror, your turn" with.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for your suggestion. My Adventure book suggested that the heroes better be level 7 in the beginning of the adventure, so I assumed the CR values would be a fitting challenge for that level. But you are right, the monsters do seem to be to easy. Guess I have to adjust the monsters from now on and slow down on experience rewards. \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ As the DM adventure books give you a starting point but you should always tailor them to fit your party. If you find they particularly enjoy certain activities then add more of that, if they hate something then start reducing the amount of it. If the fights are too easy beef them up, if too hard then cut them down - you control the world and shouldn't be afraid to use that to tune it as you need. If you're new to this yourself then start out small and easily (for example instead of having 5 CR2 cultists have 3 and make one of them a CR3 spellcaster of some sort). \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Dec 21 '16 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are handy lists of ready to use NPCs online (for example d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/npc-s), just find one of an appropriate class, level and CR. Read through it to make sure the balance is reasonable then use it. Mangle the race/description/etc as needed. Need a CR3 Orc Illusionist? d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/npc-s/npc-2/human-illusionist-3 there you go. Just change the description, add the orcish ferocity ability and you good to go. He may not be a perfect by-the-rules orc but I assure you that your players will never know...maybe he had a human ancestor or something ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Dec 21 '16 at 14:46
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Most spell attacks target touch AC which should be low because it neither factors in armor nor shield. And cultists sound as if they should have some spell casting ability.

Apart from that there are cheap methods of debuffing the offender like tanglefoot bags, which give the entangled condition and thus reduce AC.

Spell saves usually are a weakness of most martial classes, and the Cavalier class does shine in neither Reflex now Will saves.

Bard Sorcerer and alchemist should be able to use magic to outperform the Knight in the offense, especially as his damage isn't high to begin with. And magical protection like mage armor, mirror image, ablative barrier, blur, displacement could be used by the magic PC's to increase their survivability to be closer to that of the Knight.

So what you could do is target the Knight's low touch AC and saves part of the time and help the other players use their full potential (perhaps by pointing them here or to some message board where they can get advice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You are right about the rest of the players not using their full potential (as stated, most of them are new to pathfinder). Especially the bard, who plays the sandman archetyp doesn't do a lot of "barding", he more or less fights with his slingshot. But this is another question to be discussed... \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 11:09
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Another option that I haven't seen here yet is to force the party into mobile combat. Unless it's using a mount, the heavy-armor knight will be much slower-moving than the rest of the party. Have your opponents use hit-and-run tactics, trying to wear down the tank without it being able to hit back. The rest of the party will need to find a way to deal with the threat without allowing the tank to get isolated and overwhelmed. If the knight does use a mount, have encounters take place in areas that neutralize that, such as steep hills, dense forests, or twisty passages.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice Idea but the Knight owns a horse trained for combat and likes tjousting. In open fields he is usually riding it \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ So don't let him fight in open fields. Or if he insists, put a couple people up a tree with longbows. \$\endgroup\$ – user3553031 Dec 21 '16 at 23:27
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Shocking grasp would wreck this guy's day. It is against touch AC, and gets a +3 to hit because he's basically a huge tin can. So he'd cap his +1 dex, and they would need an 8 to hit him, basically, with whatever BAB they have. If you get luck they critical (magus through a weapon attack is not as good because of the "not touch AC" but they still get +3 on him for metal armor/weapons). Fifth or higher caster level means 5d6 each time. Crits for 10d6. Yes please. No. You don't get a save. Tank that. lol.

Also: the CRs for monsters in the APs are basically for a normal campaign. They are not really designed for an epic scale. PFS seems to think every module should be hard for the highest tier and then forgets to downgrade them for lower tier. So if you want a challenge, run through modules at the very lowest level possible. But don't be shocked at TPKs.

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