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Paizo A question about Paizo/PF adventure design

CapnZapp

Legend
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.
I'm curious as to why you'd think that.

I played 3rd edition for a long time, and never got this impression.

It was only very rarely a problem for the characters that the monsters regrouped, since "regrouping" implies "there's so many of them they're not individually threatening" and if they're not individually threatening, a Fireball handles twice as many just fine.

In contrast, it's really only now at ~15th level I'm starting to see Pathfinder 2 work that way. The four heroes just fought off eight Level 12 monsters (gogiteths) like it was nothing. And they didn't even need to use any area effects. (They crit easily, and two or three crits easily deal 250 damage. Not to mention how they popped them left and right with Scare to Death)
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
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.
Aren't these two quotes (taken from the same post) contradicting each other?

I would say PF2 APs doesn't do whatever you want. I would say they do the exact opposite - they do a very specific thing, and if that's not what you want you have to start changing things around.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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.
Pathfinder 2 is the perfect game for the games master who was fed up on spending laborious hour after laborious hour, painstakingly creating lots of monsters and NPCs and setting up encounters according to the guidelines, only to see the heroes cut through those encounters like a hot knife through butter.

In Pathfinder 2 every monster is a threat, unless it's more than four levels lower, and then the game doesn't even bother (practically telling you to skip the fight - after all you get no XP). And it's is very easy and quick to stat up your own monsters. And NPCs aren't different - they work exactly like monsters and almost nothing like PCs.

Official APs routinely features a dozen fight that follow a comparatively very strict regimen - if there's just one, it completely outclasses the heroes, if there's four they're more evenly matched, and so on. After the first round, there's doom and gloom as the monsters come across as unbeatable, but after the third round, the heroes triumphantly rise from the ashes to come out on top anyway, and then it's just mop up. And repeat. (This is not due to the game rules, this is due to how APs are written)

Had it not been for the huge rules clutter headache, the game would have been a wonder for its uncanny ability to create so much excitement without in the end being that much more deadly* :)
*) level 1 is still fantasy freaking vietnam thou
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I'm curious as to why you'd think that.

I played 3rd edition for a long time, and never got this impression.
It’s what the DMG says about building encounters.

DMG, page 101:
In general, if a creature’s Challenge Rating is two lower than a given Encounter Level, then two creatures of that type equal an encounter of that Encounter Level. Thus, a pair of frost giants (CR 9 each) make an EL 11 encounter. The progression holds of doubling the number of creatures for each drop of two places in their individual CR, so that four CR 7 creatures (say, four hill giants) are an EL 11 encounter, as are eight CR 5 creatures (such as ettins). This calculation does not work with creatures whose CR is 1 or less, so be sure to use Table 4-1: Encounter Numbers for such encounters.
If doubling the number of creatures increases the EL by 2, then it should follow that an CR 4 creature should be twice as difficult as an CR 2 creature, and a CR 10 should be twice as difficult as an CR 8. Of course, that’s not really how things worked (especially with how variably powerful PCs could be). Your experience matches what I’m saying (that the system didn’t work the way the guidelines said it should).

My point was that PF2 seems to follow a similar curve, except it actually works. Hence all the hand-wringing about difficulty in encounters. If the GM preps a hard encounter, it’s likely to play out as an actual challenge.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Not sure what you mean by "baby" encounters?
A “baby” encounter is essentially anything that a combat-focused group would find trivial or boring (as suggested in the OP). In terms of guidelines, it’s probably anything that is less than a moderate-threat encounter (especially if that happens regularly rather than infrequently).

My group can’t really do anything beyond moderate-threat, and it sometimes struggles with moderate-threat encounters. That was part of an aside where I discussed how I recalibrated (in theory, anyway) the scale so I can have the full range back for my group when planning encounters. Harder encounters will still be extremely challenging for us, but the challenge should be more in line with what the system appears to intend.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Aren't these two quotes (taken from the same post) contradicting each other?

I would say PF2 APs doesn't do whatever you want. I would say they do the exact opposite - they do a very specific thing, and if that's not what you want you have to start changing things around.
The OP questioned why APs had easy encounters. He subsequently expressed a preference for those being rare. My inference is that the OP wants challenging encounters (that “pose a threat”). Per your post, monsters are lethal. In one of these threads, someone posted a breakdown of encounters in the first module of Age of Ashes. Unfortunately, I can’t find it right, but it had something like more than half of the encounters at moderate-threat or higher.

Based on my understanding of what the OP wants and the overall challenge of monsters and the way APs are structured, PF2 seems to give the OP just what he wants (encounters that “pose a threat”). Most of the examples in this thread seem to be from PF1, so I’m ignoring them for the sake of discussing how PF2 align with the OP’s expressed preference.

If that wasn’t your point, then I apologize for misreading you. I figured when you said that “nearly EVERY combat is of the harrowing” it should follow that it does what the OP wants (i.e., pose a threat, offer something overtly lethal).

There was a subsequent discussion of whether that causes problems for the AP format, but I think that’s nothing really new. It’s certainly a point that’s been made here before (that the system seems ill-suited for running AP-style games [unmodified, anyway]).
 

Lackofname

Explorer
@kenada I want to reiterate, while PF2 may line up more with my encounter difficulty tastes, it doesn't give me what I want considering I do not intend to play PF, 1e or 2e. I have no horse in this race.

The thread's intent is simply to understand "Why are there easy encounters in the module".
 
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!DWolf

Explorer
In one of these threads, someone posted a breakdown of encounters in the first module of Age of Ashes. Unfortunately, I can’t find it right, but it had something like more than half of the encounters at moderate-threat or higher.
That was me:

Level 1:
There are 13 encounters at this level.
7 trivial,
4 moderate
2 severe.
Both of the severe encounters and one of the moderate encounters (and the only encounter to have a level 3 creature) have text specifically indicating that they can be resolved socially (and some of the creatures in those encounters may join the pcs to help them).

Level 2:
This level has 9 encounters:
4 low encounters
5 moderate encounters
One of the low encounters (a level 3 creature) is not meant to be fought - instead it is used to attack other creatures on the level. One of the moderate encounter explicitly lists surrender conditions. And one moderate encounter can be resolved social (and is adorable)

Level 3:
There are 10 encounters total, but the first three are in the dungeon and then there is an exploration/rp section with one encounter and then a mercenary camp. Total there are:
2 trivial
4 low
3 moderate
1 severe
The three moderate encounters have multiple ways to bypass them listed. Two low and two trivial encounters are mercenaries that might call reinforcements and become a higher threat encounter. They can be dealt with socially somewhat. The severe encounter is the end of the level boss fight.

Level 4:
This level only has 5 encounters:
1 trivial
1 low
1 moderate
2 severe
The trivial and low encounters can be befriended. One sever enucounter is the end of the module boss fight. The other is a level 7 creature that can TPK the party. It can be dealt with socially (appeasement) but most players won’t do it - especially since it doesn’t seem as dangerous as it is. This seems the only “overturned” encounter though.

Numbers:
37 total encounters (not all combat)
10 trivial (27%)
9 low (24%)
13 moderate (35%)
5 severe (14%)

Again note that not all the encounters are combat.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
@kenada I want to reiterate, while PF2 may line up more with my encounter difficulty tastes, it doesn't give me what I want considering I do not intend to play PF, 1e or 2e. I have no horse in this race.

The thread's intent is simply to understand "Why are there easy encounters in the module".
That’s fair. I was responding to that particular post but ended up ignoring the wider purpose of this thread. I’ll let the tangent lie since it’s ultimately moot.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
That was me:

Level 1:
There are 13 encounters at this level.
7 trivial,
4 moderate
2 severe.
Both of the severe encounters and one of the moderate encounters (and the only encounter to have a level 3 creature) have text specifically indicating that they can be resolved socially (and some of the creatures in those encounters may join the pcs to help them).

Level 2:
This level has 9 encounters:
4 low encounters
5 moderate encounters
One of the low encounters (a level 3 creature) is not meant to be fought - instead it is used to attack other creatures on the level. One of the moderate encounter explicitly lists surrender conditions. And one moderate encounter can be resolved social (and is adorable)

Level 3:
There are 10 encounters total, but the first three are in the dungeon and then there is an exploration/rp section with one encounter and then a mercenary camp. Total there are:
2 trivial
4 low
3 moderate
1 severe
The three moderate encounters have multiple ways to bypass them listed. Two low and two trivial encounters are mercenaries that might call reinforcements and become a higher threat encounter. They can be dealt with socially somewhat. The severe encounter is the end of the level boss fight.

Level 4:
This level only has 5 encounters:
1 trivial
1 low
1 moderate
2 severe
The trivial and low encounters can be befriended. One sever enucounter is the end of the module boss fight. The other is a level 7 creature that can TPK the party. It can be dealt with socially (appeasement) but most players won’t do it - especially since it doesn’t seem as dangerous as it is. This seems the only “overturned” encounter though.

Numbers:
37 total encounters (not all combat)
10 trivial (27%)
9 low (24%)
13 moderate (35%)
5 severe (14%)

Again note that not all the encounters are combat.
Yep, thanks! I went digging through posts but couldn’t find it. About half are moderate or higher, which is about what I thought. Anyway, it’s tangential to the original discussion, but thanks again for sharing!
 


CapnZapp

Legend
A “baby” encounter is essentially anything that a combat-focused group would find trivial or boring (as suggested in the OP). In terms of guidelines, it’s probably anything that is less than a moderate-threat encounter (especially if that happens regularly rather than infrequently).

My group can’t really do anything beyond moderate-threat, and it sometimes struggles with moderate-threat encounters. That was part of an aside where I discussed how I recalibrated (in theory, anyway) the scale so I can have the full range back for my group when planning encounters. Harder encounters will still be extremely challenging for us, but the challenge should be more in line with what the system appears to intend.
d20 contains a lot of baby encounters.

PF2 contains almost none.

(Talking actual adventures now. Obviously the systems have no bounds. You can create a d20 scenario that plays out like a PF2 AP or vice versa. Just that very few did)
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
That book contains a lot of wishful thinking that just didn't became reality.
Yes, that’s what I meant by “Of course, that’s not really how things worked”. I was making an observation about PF2 compared to 3e (where PF2 does seem to do what it says on the tin).
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
d20 contains a lot of baby encounters.

PF2 contains almost none.

(Talking actual adventures now. Obviously the systems have no bounds. You can create a d20 scenario that plays out like a PF2 AP or vice versa. Just that very few did)
In case it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t talking about APs or adventures. I was discussing my and my group’s relationship to the system.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
In case it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t talking about APs or adventures. I was discussing my and my group’s relationship to the system.
There is nothing inherent in the system that "forces" a GM to write adventures that resemble official APs in any way, specifically regarding encounter difficulty.

I mean unless you feel compelled to follow the official encounter guidelines the way AP writers clearly do.

That doesn't mean it isn't relevant to discuss the game as envisioned by Paizo. It means we need to remain able to distinguish what the rules lead to as separate from what the official application of them leads to.

Saying "PF2 forces me to TPK my characters" would be wrong. But saying "PF2 and 5E are equally deadly" would be misleading, and just as useless.

Cheerio
 

CapnZapp

Legend
There is, however, certain minefields that Paizo completely fails to discuss.

The "shmush two encounters into one and see your heroes die" is perhaps the biggest one.

There are others. Nothing that bothers a GM with some experience and advance warning, but still.

Just a single example: you cannot feature a traditional resource depletion game in PF2 (without heavy modifications).

First off, the Medicine skill (and to a certain degree focus spells like the Champion's Lay on Hands). If you play the game RAW, healing hit points is essentially free, though it might take up to an hour to regain maximum health. But more crucially, the game is clearly balanced on the assumption heroes enter encounters at full health. Also relevant: spell slots are much weaker during low levels than in any other iteration of D&D I'm aware of.

So I'm saying that a GM that naively populates a nice little sandbox with the goal of making the players sweat "how far in do we go before we run out of hit points" will find that any martial-heavy party can fight on almost indefinitely. (Just don't play a spellcaster)

And if this GM then decides "Okay so I'll ban or restrict Medicine" (etc), he'll instead find that the already lethal game becomes even more deadly. In PF2 it's just stupid to keep on adventuring if you aren't at least at 90% health, since even "Low" encounters can become hairy all too quickly when heroes start dropping left and right.

Okay, so this twice-bloodied GM now makes sure to only feature easy encounters (challenge rating Low or lower), while still awarding xp at a reasonable pace. But the reality is that a single fight can still easily wipe out half or even all a hero's HP. So this only means the party will be brought to a complete halt at entirely random instances.

Again, not saying this can't be solved. But it is a multi-stage project to make PF2 run in ways it wasn't intended to. A game like 5E is much more flexible in this regard. Variant rules in the 5E DMG really transform the game. Variant rules in the PF2 GMG, in contrast, just fiddle with details for the most part, not changing anything core to the experience and cadence of campaigns. (Proficiency without level is probably the only GMG variant rule worth even mentioning)

Zapp

PS. For the record, if I were to help this poor GM, I would start by stating that PF2 hit points simply can't be used as a resource on longer term than the individual encounter. HP in this game emphatically model energy and morale (things that can vary wildly in a short time) rather than physical injury (things that can quickly go down but never quickly go up in the real world) if they model anything at all. (Just giving up and accepting hp is a game statistic whose only purpose is to provide entertainment is probably the best approach) So you'd have to add concepts like healing surges to the game to model medium term exhaustion. Or simply settle for existing concepts already modeling this (such as the drained, fatigued or wounded condition).

The advantage of adding healing surges or something that doesn't exist at all in PF2 is of course that you can be certain there are no unwanted interactions with existing rules (and with 2000+ feats, it is not trivial to check). If you settle for the Drained condition, for instance, you need to determine if Drained from fighting too many fights stack with all the other sources of drained (which there are many), and if a simple Restoration spell gets rid of them as easily.

But you'd have to add wholesale new subsystems. Let me just note that the GMG does not contain any variant rules with a similar scope.

So again, not saying it can't be solved. Just that running PF2 in another way than the clear use cases (as exemplified by the official APs, and the Pathfinder Society) can be much harder than you think, and certainly much harder than getting 5E to do your bidding.
 
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We could also just slip away from the 5-7 encounters before anything feels meaningful paradigm of 5e, I don't think I've ever spoken to anyone who actually likes it or uses it, regardless of system. Pathfinder 2e is already fairly hard, so there isn't a huge incentive to try and grind the players hp and other resources down-- your boss fight can just challenge them on their own, and if you must remove a few spell slots or something for whatever reason, its easily done through wave encounters where there's no time between the two, but the action economy active on the enemy side never exceeds the budget of a single encounter.

If you just like the aesthetic of having a dungeon that's a bunch of fights, pathfinder 2e handles that just fine, I recommend mixing up enemy composition, and maybe playing with terrain.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
We could also just slip away from the 5-7 encounters before anything feels meaningful paradigm of 5e
Nobody is saying that...?

Pathfinder 2e is already fairly hard, so there isn't a huge incentive to try and grind the players hp and other resources down
My point is that there is no "grind". ANY combat can take a player character from max to zero hit points, even a "Low" challenge.

My point is that PF2 is surprisingly incompatible with the concept of "grind". (You can achieve a similar effect with poison and disease, but soon the Cleric can trivialize disease, and at level 7, warrior classes get Juggernaut, a class feature that effectively inoculates those characters against that approach to grinding).

Pathfinder 2 is clearly set up for "showcase fights" - the playing style where adventure consists of a string of challenging combats, and where most of the non-challenging aspects are simply skipped or ignored.

To support a "hp grind" a game needs its monster damage output to be much more consistent (less random) than PF2.


and if you must remove a few spell slots or something for whatever reason, its easily done through wave encounters where there's no time between the two, but the action economy active on the enemy side never exceeds the budget of a single encounter.
If you assume the party has a Cleric and that the spell slots you want to remove belong to that Cleric (since the continuous combat increases the likelihood of that Cleric casting Heals), yes.

Otherwise, not really. I'm guessing you envision the players going "oh no, another wave, guess we need to buff up to handle it, or ask the wizard to thin the mob", but in my experience, the only buff the martials really need to perpetually kill off mobs is hit points. Sure a bonus or penalty shifts the fight, but these effects are subtle (they change the average more than any given round's outcome) and so it's real easy to not consider them essential.

We haven't found that a spellcaster can contribute much of anything (at single-digit levels) that is so essential you feel compelled to cast it, except for Heal, and that is specifically because of the +8 bonus to the 2-action Heal. As for debuffs, few things beat the Intimidation skill actions and they are limitless and ungrindable (much like Medicine between fights).

I'm not saying this to enter a discussion "it's impossible to grind down the heroes". I'm saying this because PF2 is not set up for it. Even an experienced GM will find it surprisingly hard to tweak PF2 to support a grinding playstyle.

I'm just illustrating this point with examples. Not saying you can't do it, and not trying to shoot down ideas. You absolutely can do it, but why not simply use another game where it is that much easier to pull it off?

If you just like the aesthetic of having a dungeon that's a bunch of fights, pathfinder 2e handles that just fine, I recommend mixing up enemy composition, and maybe playing with terrain.
This is true. It is also easy to accomplish since it is what PF2 was already designed to do.
 

Retreater

Legend
I think @CapnZapp described it right: "showcase fights." Battles are intense in PF2, require a lot of rules and time. This is exactly the reason I was running it with little exploration mode or roleplay, just going from one combat set piece to the next. This was an unsatisfactory campaign, but really the only way I could run it in the limited time of our sessions.
 

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