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Paizo A question about Paizo/PF adventure design

Lackofname

Explorer
I haven't gotten the chance to play PF, but I really enjoy the quality of Paizo's adventures, from their NPCs to the maps to the general aim (like Kingmaker's hexcrawling and nation building rules). But I notice one design habit that goes across many of the products, and that's why I'm here: i wanted to ask about a certain attitude in that adventure building that I don't understand.p

Why are there fights against monsters that pose no real threat?

Example: In The Last Outpost, the first encounter is 2 aquatic goblins, 5 HP each. The text says they flee if reduced to 1 HP.
The second encounter is with basically an aquatic gremlin, which has 7 hp.

These aren't even a speed bump, they're going to last a round. There's no risk here.

While you might say "oh well they are the first fights in an adventure, they're little more than warming up the dice", the same sort of thing happens later in the adventure and in others. Encounters in dungeons where it's something small, that doesn't do a lot of damage, that isn't going to last.

What's the thinking behind this? What does it accomplish, where's the benefit?

I can't help but feel like these are time wasters. Why go through the process of rolling initiative and all that jazz when it's going to die in a round, why have something pop out that's going to die in a round? It would be like in the movie Aliens if the space marines were jumped by some angry space-raccoons in between xenomorph interruptions.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I'd say there are a few possibilities.
  1. In later stages of APs, there are sometimes fights where the PCs can totally dominate. I believe one rationale put forth by Paizo is that they want players to feel their PCs have become powerful - so they put in some fights against opponents that would have been difficult earlier in the AP.
  2. There's also the idea of including what seems like a decent simulation of the environment or that will provide information about an environment and not just putting in encounters that are significant challenges. Not everything needs to be a challenge to be interesting or provide useful information for the players.
  3. In this case, being possibly the first fight of the entire campaign, there may even be neophyte players who are just starting to learn and interact with the game system. A relatively easy fight gives them a chance to learn and gain some confidence without major risk.
 

Retreater

Legend
In the Pathfinder 2e adventure path I was just GMing, I found the opposite to be true: every fight was a harrowing life or death struggle. We didn't like that dynamic either.
I think part of the distaste for me comes from the "X number of encounters per level" paradigm present in all post-TSR D&D, meaning there are going to be countless pointless battles to advance in level so the GM can further the plot. By which time most players and GMs lose interest and the campaign ends by 8th level.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Pathfinder APs used to be designed at a very low bar of difficulty so as not to exclude players. You certainly did not need to be optimized at all to be successful in a Paizo AP. That might have changed dramatically with 2e

I also think 1st edition Paizo APs dungeons were designed to be quite responsive. I regularly combined encounters both to speed up play and provide more challenge.

It is of course possible to just narrate some creatures behaviours rather than roll initiative. Sometimes that speed bump creature can be used as dungeon dressing or to make a point. Though even a 5hp goblin can shout a warning if it wins initiative.
 

Retreater

Legend
Pathfinder APs used to be designed at a very low bar of difficulty so as not to exclude players. You certainly did not need to be optimized at all to be successful in a Paizo AP. That might have changed dramatically with 2e

I also think 1st edition Paizo APs dungeons were designed to be quite responsive. I regularly combined encounters both to speed up play and provide more challenge.

It is of course possible to just narrate some creatures behaviours rather than roll initiative. Sometimes that speed bump creature can be used as dungeon dressing or to make a point. Though even a 5hp goblin can shout a warning if it wins initiative.
I have a good friend GMing the "Return of the Runelords" who is bemoaning the fact he can no longer challenge his party, which I think has just finished the third book in the series.

Combining encounters in PF2 is a quick way to a TPK, as my recent experiences described on this board attest.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I have a good friend GMing the "Return of the Runelords" who is bemoaning the fact he can no longer challenge his party, which I think has just finished the third book in the series.

Combining encounters in PF2 is a quick way to a TPK, as my recent experiences described on this board attest.
Yes, it was interesting reading your posts detailing the changes.

My solution in my Runelords campaign was to reduce leveling to milestone and have the first adventure only give them two levels. Trying to complete Thistletop at level two is much harder! (detailed in my Runelords thread)
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I think part of the distaste for me comes from the "X number of encounters per level" paradigm present in all post-TSR D&D, meaning there are going to be countless pointless battles to advance in level so the GM can further the plot. By which time most players and GMs lose interest and the campaign ends by 8th level.
This was what I was expecting, either "dungeon padding", or the intention is to go war of attrition on PCs to nickel-and-dime their resources. Which in my experience players just do not want to push ahead when they are low on resources.

I also suspect maybe it had something to do with 1e being where you could fight 50 skeletons at a brisk pace, but a lucky crit will kill you, or something like that. (If I understand that's how 1e was.)

I also think 1st edition Paizo APs dungeons were designed to be quite responsive. I regularly combined encounters both to speed up play and provide more challenge.

It is of course possible to just narrate some creatures behaviours rather than roll initiative. Sometimes that speed bump creature can be used as dungeon dressing or to make a point. Though even a 5hp goblin can shout a warning if it wins initiative.
Encounters combining is certainly a fair point. Although that then gets dicey with balance in the opposite direction.

It is of course possible to just narrate some creatures behaviours rather than roll initiative.
This was how I felt about those shallow fights. If the monster is just there for dungeon color/provide information/whatever, it's handwaved as "you see the raccoon and you splatter it, but it's easy to notice shimmering light coming from the hole the raccoon emeged from..."

I can also kind of understand wanting to let PCs strut a little, but IMO that ought to be a rare circumstance. I like to try that an encounter should be interesting. If it's not overtly lethal, then there's something else that's fun about it like a terrain element, something to make it exciting. No Orc and Pie circumstances, for ye olde ENworlders.

But, aside from the speedbump element, for me it's a matter of pacing. I want to keep things moving along briskly until there's a good reason to take up time.
 

payn

Explorer
The first edition adventure paths are designed for 4 PCs using 20 point buy.

I have run many adventure paths and there are often some easy fights early on. Sometimes these intro modules are designed to get folks into the game. Sometimes the fights are super easy but the intent is to build atmosphere. Hard to say, but I will say I adjusted enemies often while running APs. Sometimes it was a mismatch challenge, sometimes it didnt logically make sense, sometimes it felt out of place for the campaign. I changed elements often but found the APs the be well written in general.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Why are there fights against monsters that pose no real threat?

Example: In The Last Outpost, the first encounter is 2 aquatic goblins, 5 HP each. The text says they flee if reduced to 1 HP.
The second encounter is with basically an aquatic gremlin, which has 7 hp.

These aren't even a speed bump, they're going to last a round. There's no risk here.

While you might say "oh well they are the first fights in an adventure, they're little more than warming up the dice", the same sort of thing happens later in the adventure and in others. Encounters in dungeons where it's something small, that doesn't do a lot of damage, that isn't going to last.

What's the thinking behind this? What does it accomplish, where's the benefit?

I can't help but feel like these are time wasters. Why go through the process of rolling initiative and all that jazz when it's going to die in a round, why have something pop out that's going to die in a round? It would be like in the movie Aliens if the space marines were jumped by some angry space-raccoons in between xenomorph interruptions.

I would say there's a huge shift between PF1 and PF2.

Part of this I think is related to the two very different systems. PF1 is after all just a tweak on D&D 3rd edition, which attempts to a large degree to "simulate" a world, where monsters have "fair" statistics. A low level small and weak creature simply ends up having only 5 hit points in d20 systems. And "it makes sense" to have the world populated mostly by small and weak creatures.

So it's partly mechanics, and partly tradition.

PF2 is a huge break with both.

Monsters are LETHAL in PF2 (both in the absolute sense, but mostly in comparison to d20/PF1). They simply don't play by the rules (the rules that govern player characters). Instead there are tables suggesting what values a monster of a certain level should have, and the question of "how did the monster get there" is simply dismissed as irrelevant.

Also the pretense of simulating a world is dropped. 19 out of 20 fights in official PF2 APs are hard or harder. The number of fights designed to make the heroes shine, fights where the heroes clearly outclass the opponents are simply non-existant at low levels, rare at mid levels, and uncommon at high levels.

But your answer is that d20 did that.

The system did not meaningfully rein in players from creating über powerful characters, and especially NPCs were hosed by the need to play by the rules. At high level it is not uncommon to have to spend hours designing NPCs that will die in seconds at the player characters hand. (Or, more likely, spell).

PF2 has shut down that silliness for sure. As you can read from other replies, there's now a sense of longing back to the times where you could once in a while meet an enemy you could defeat with one arm tied behind your back... :-/
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Combining encounters in PF2 is a quick way to a TPK, as my recent experiences described on this board attest.
Yes. For those that doesn't know, Pathfinder 2 rates encounters by their xp budget.

An encounter worth 80 XP is considered "Moderate". (Or what Fifth Edition D&D would call "Deadly")
An encounter worth 120 XP is considered "Severe". (There is no standard encounter difficulty this hard in the 5E guidelines)
An encounter worth 160 XP is considered "Extreme". (Trust me, Paizo means it)

Note the scaling here.

Two regular normal encounters each considered "only" moderate will instantly jump up to extreme difficulty if combined.

I am not going into details as to why this happens, and what exceptions there might be. Let's just say that there is an effective ban on combining encounters.

This can be a huge inconvenience if you're used to your monsters acting rationally when threatened. You simply can't have your NPCs retreat to safer positions, consolidate their forces or seek out safety in numbers, not without careful thought, since the system pretty much makes any such upgraded encounter impossible for the characters to win.

(Again there are exceptions and strategies to use to pull this off, but none of them are obvious to a gamesmaster of Pathfinder 1 or dungeonmaster of 5th Edition)
 

CapnZapp

Legend
This was what I was expecting, either "dungeon padding", or the intention is to go war of attrition on PCs to nickel-and-dime their resources. Which in my experience players just do not want to push ahead when they are low on resources.

I also suspect maybe it had something to do with 1e being where you could fight 50 skeletons at a brisk pace, but a lucky crit will kill you, or something like that. (If I understand that's how 1e was.)


Encounters combining is certainly a fair point. Although that then gets dicey with balance in the opposite direction.


This was how I felt about those shallow fights. If the monster is just there for dungeon color/provide information/whatever, it's handwaved as "you see the raccoon and you splatter it, but it's easy to notice shimmering light coming from the hole the raccoon emeged from..."

I can also kind of understand wanting to let PCs strut a little, but IMO that ought to be a rare circumstance. I like to try that an encounter should be interesting. If it's not overtly lethal, then there's something else that's fun about it like a terrain element, something to make it exciting. No Orc and Pie circumstances, for ye olde ENworlders.

But, aside from the speedbump element, for me it's a matter of pacing. I want to keep things moving along briskly until there's a good reason to take up time.
In order to enjoy a PF2 Adventure Path as written you really need to enjoy playing the game chiefly for the combats.

Every PF2 AP consists of a string of very hard combats interspersed with not-very-hard-but-far-from-trivial combats that total about a dozen combats. Each level, every level.

Any GM that doesn't want combat for combat's sake can of course remove those combats, but that would reduce the content of a Paizo PF2 AP by at least 75% in my estimation. In conclusion: any GM that's more in it for story and roleplaying is much much better off with a system like 5E.

In comparison to PF2 and official Paizo APs, combat in 5E and official WotC campaigns is almost an afterthought. (And yes, I know how absurd that sounds from outside the D&D-o-sphere)
 

Lackofname

Explorer
Monsters are LETHAL in PF2 (both in the absolute sense, but mostly in comparison to d20/PF1). They simply don't play by the rules (the rules that govern player characters). Instead there are tables suggesting what values a monster of a certain level should have, and the question of "how did the monster get there" is simply dismissed as irrelevant.

Also the pretense of simulating a world is dropped. 19 out of 20 fights in official PF2 APs are hard or harder. The number of fights designed to make the heroes shine, fights where the heroes clearly outclass the opponents are simply non-existant at low levels, rare at mid levels, and uncommon at high levels.
I'm really curious if this changed the number of encounters in dungeons, and if it brings back the 15 Minute Work day.

If every fight is life or death, they are throwing a lot of important spells/HP at it. That can't lead to being able to have 4-5 fights before a rest. Which PCs are not always capable of retreat-rest-return-repeat. It sounds like the reactive dungeon is gone, but surely they don't expect the dungeon to be so static that monsters never leave the room they're placed in to notice that everyone on their floor was hacked apart 8 hours ago. That sorta thing seems quite the antithesis of Paizo's approach.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I'm really curious if this changed the number of encounters in dungeons, and if it brings back the 15 Minute Work day.

If every fight is life or death, they are throwing a lot of important spells/HP at it. That can't lead to being able to have 4-5 fights before a rest. Which PCs are not always capable of retreat-rest-return-repeat. It sounds like the reactive dungeon is gone, but surely they don't expect the dungeon to be so static that monsters never leave the room they're placed in to notice that everyone on their floor was hacked apart 8 hours ago. That sorta thing seems quite the antithesis of Paizo's approach.
Yes and no.

First off, at low levels martials are king and spells that use slots suck.

Then let me tell you that healing is a solved problem. Player characters routinely lose all their hit points. Out of combat healing is, on the other hand, cheap (as in completely free). Thanks, Medicine.

Finally let me tell you powers you would call encounter and daily powers are far and few between.

Hopefully this makes you realize martials can keep going on like Duracell bunnies, all day long.

Meaning a party that conserves its daily resources to only critical needs can easily kill off at least half a level's worth of critters in a day, if not more. I'd say that makes the 15 minute work day done and gone.

Instead you can expect heroes having one or two fights, resting for an hour, having one or two fights, again resting, repeat until the clerics and wizards tire of casting cantrips.

Whatever that is, it isn't 15 minutes. (Of course you CAN recreate the 15 minute work day if the casters use up all their spells as soon as possible. I just assumed you didn't want to do that)

As you have noticed from my earlier post, the problem of monsters noticing something is wrong still exists, since few parties can wipe any significant stretch of dungeon in just 15 minutes (if they do, then they're done for the day).
 
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Lackofname

Explorer
Any GM that doesn't want combat for combat's sake can of course remove those combats, but that would reduce the content of a Paizo PF2 AP by at least 75% in my estimation.
You say this, but I feel like the majority of the content in PF1 APs goes to "here's stuff to fight."

Open in front of me is the Smuggler's Shiv, first in the Serpent's Skull AP. The first part involves exploring an island, sandbox style, which has 23 encounter sites not counting the 15 shipwrecks and 20 animal dens individually. Nearly all of those noted sites are combat encounters.

In addition there are 3 separate dungeons:

Barbarian camp: 15 rooms, most with fights.
Water ghoul cave: 9 rooms, nearly all with fights.
Lost temple: 16 rooms, nearly all with fights.

If you removed a lot of those combats, there goes a huge chunk of the content.

Granted, this one is unique in that there's not much in between the wall to wall combats. It's "characters shipwrecked on a hostile, deserted island with a few survivors. Have fun." But if I open another one I'm sure that I will find dungeons and "here's a room, it has a mosnter in it" takes up a lot of page count.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
You say this, but I feel like the majority of the page count in PF1 APs goes to "here's stuff to fight.

Open in front of me is the Smuggler's Shiv, first in the Serpent's Skull AP. The first part involves exploring an island, sandbox style, which has 23 encounter sites not counting the 15 shipwrecks and 20 animal dens. Nearly all of those noted sites are combat encounters.

In addition there are 3 separate dungeons:

Barbarian camp: 15 separate rooms, nearly all with fights.
Water ghoul cave: 9 rooms, nearly all with fights.
Lost temple: 16 rooms, nearly all with fights.

If you removed a lot of those combats, there goes a huge chunk of the content.
I should have been more clear: we're after all discussing in the context of "what's with all these trivially easy encounters?"

A PF1 module is like any 3E module. If you don't like hard combat (because you don't want to take up valuable playing time, because you don't care for character optimization, or whatever) this still works because the GM can just tone down the few combats that are hard and everything else just works. Or, indeed, the GM can just skip the trivial combats and let the players sink their teeth into the more challenging ones.

In the three PF2 APs published so far, nearly EVERY combat is of the harrowing, lethal kind (at least at first). That makes "combat as war, not combat as sport" the entire experience.

I hope you see the difference?
 


John R Davis

Explorer
The first edition adventure paths are designed for 4 PCs using 20 point buy.

I have run many adventure paths and there are often some easy fights early on. Sometimes these intro modules are designed to get folks into the game. Sometimes the fights are super easy but the intent is to build atmosphere.
15 point n 4 characters. What weakened 1e APs is just the OP nature of PC choices in the endless splat books
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Yes. For those that doesn't know, Pathfinder 2 rates encounters by their xp budget.

An encounter worth 80 XP is considered "Moderate". (Or what Fifth Edition D&D would call "Deadly")
An encounter worth 120 XP is considered "Severe". (There is no standard encounter difficulty this hard in the 5E guidelines)
An encounter worth 160 XP is considered "Extreme". (Trust me, Paizo means it)

Note the scaling here.

Two regular normal encounters each considered "only" moderate will instantly jump up to extreme difficulty if combined.

I am not going into details as to why this happens, and what exceptions there might be. Let's just say that there is an effective ban on combining encounters.

This can be a huge inconvenience if you're used to your monsters acting rationally when threatened. You simply can't have your NPCs retreat to safer positions, consolidate their forces or seek out safety in numbers, not without careful thought, since the system pretty much makes any such upgraded encounter impossible for the characters to win.

(Again there are exceptions and strategies to use to pull this off, but none of them are obvious to a gamesmaster of Pathfinder 1 or dungeonmaster of 5th Edition)
Something that occurred to me while reading your post is that this is how 3e and PF1 were supposed to work. Two CRs are equal to a CR+2, and a CR+2 is supposed to be twice as difficult. Of course, that’s not how it worked in practice. Now that Paizo has given us a system that ensures it does work in practice, I wonder if that’s what we should have actually wanted.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having tools that work, but I also like having tools that don’t kill my party if I run anything more than baby encounters for my group. I tuned the scale down for my group: a moderate encounter is two level−1 creatures rather than two same-level creatures. That’s sort of what I was doing already by favoring low- and trivial-threat encounters, and you can call those baby encounters if you want, but it gives me back the full range (making the tool work for me again).
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
If all you're saying is "PF1 fights easy, PF2 fights hard", then okay?
I think the point is PF2 APs do what you want. There are low-threat encounters, but the majority are moderate-threat or harder. Moderate-threat encounters can turn into TPKs if something reacts dynamically and joins the fight. PCs need to be super careful and do what they can to eek out an advantage. Like @CapnZapp says, it’s very much “combat as war” rather than “combat as sport”. However, if a group is bad at tactics (like mine is), then even moderate-threat encounters are potentially life-threatening without any reinforcements or dynamism. PF2 places a much higher emphasis on good, tactical play than PF1 does.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I think the point is PF2 APs do what you want.
To be clear I don't think that every fight should be "So before we roll initiative, does anyone have a backup character ready?" I just don't like "Oh a combat encounter? I'm gonna go make a sandwich, you guys are good." A little bit of tension is nice. The threat of combat actually produces tension, rather than "Yee haw, sports time" and players may exercise caution.

Granted, I'd drop 70% of the fights in an AP anyhow, so even if every combat is war, it isn't a constant war.
 

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