I trust that you guys recognize that symbol. I also hope you made your save, because there’s nothing quite like confusion to ruin a party dynamic.

As of this writing, today’s tale from the table is only a few hours old. It comes courtesy of my Pathfinder 1e gestalt game, where our intrepid duo of slayer/urban barbarian and cabalist vigilante/aether kineticist just ran face-first into this horrifying thing. I knew going into the encounter that a fiendish seugathi would mess with my players’ minds. It’s a hideous spawn of madness after all. I just didn’t expect it to mess with mine as well.

Here’s how things broke down. The PCs made their saves vs the creature’s confusion aura in round 1, dropping the gruesome thing to a quarter of its hp almost immediately. I figured that, as a mini-boss, the seugathi should give a good showing before its inevitable defeat in round 2. So when its initiative came up, I opted for the optimal play. It cast the actual confusion spell dead center on a group of clustered characters. Two allied NPCs failed the save, and one of them happened to be a powerful magus cohort. If you’re familiar with the magus class, you know how spikey their damage can be.

Here’s where the relevant conundrum comes in. Because the seugathi gets to pick an option from the confusion behavior table, it chose to inflict the “attacks nearest creature” result. That meant the magus had to spend his turn beating up on Team Good Guy. And since I wanted to scare my players a bit, I once again opted for optimal. The magus unloaded the standard shocking grasp spellstrike into his rapier. I figured that turning a 1d6+6 pointy poke into a 6d6+6 electro-wallop would make for a suitably scary moment. One confirmed crit later, and I had a 12d6+12 death stab on my hands. At 6th level, the average of 54 points of damage from that attack was more or less an insta-kill.

We talked about this sort of moment back in “Handicap,” where I had to make a number of decisions that could subtly affect the difficulty of a fight. The phrase “attacks nearest creature” is one of these moments. That wording is vague enough to mean “attempts a non-proficient unarmed strike,” “unleashes a deadly spell,” or simply “strikes with weapon.” But when you’ve got options like power attack and arcane strike and (as in my example), spellstrike to play with, even the simple “strikes with weapon” begins to get complicated. For my money, it feels like dirty pool for a player to say, “I make a non-lethal slap attack.” But by the same token, I’d be pretty irate if my GM insisted that I had to “make my strongest attack,” firing off a meteor swarm centered on an adjacent ally.

Feeling that I’d backed myself into a “the GM needlessly chose to kill my character” situation, I resorted to some narrative shenanigans to save the dead’d character. But I wonder how you guys think about these questions. When there’s wiggle-room in the rules, how do you decide which call to make? Is it the one that benefits the players most? The one that ramps up narrative tension? Or do you try to hew closely to that mythical beast known as RAI? Sound off with your own approaches and thought processes down in the comments!


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