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Paizo A question about Paizo/PF adventure design

CapnZapp

Legend
To summarize, if small bonuses are likely to have a big impact on gameplay due to how your game is designed, typical GM decisions are also likely to have a huge impact on gameplay. This will increase table variance, and may be the reason why people have such different experiences from playing PF2.
I read your post as explaining where a "table variance" comes from, but you post in response to my post, and I wasn't suggesting any table variance? I was talking about that when I say something about the system, I really mean "as viewed through the lens that is the official adventures".

I was talking about how you can absolutely create a campaign where the heroes doesn't experience a difficult fight ever. This is a simple fact. But it should not prevent us from stating "PF2 contains very difficult fights". After all, the APs are official. They follow the rulebook's official guidelines. If you set up encounters the "usual way" (monsters about your own level) you'll end up with easy encounters in 5E and hard encounters in PF2. Trying to dismiss that experience as "just one out of many playing styles" is not useful. There clearly is a difference.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
You can kind of fake hit point attrition by imposing an opportunity cost to rest, but that doesn’t generalize (i.e., it only really works in dungeons). I did it by incorporating a bunch of old-school techniques like wandering monsters tables.
I found this to be working poorly when I tried it in Extinction Curse. You can't entice players to stop resting when that only means increasing the risk.

If the party breaks off healing because of the threat from wandering monsters, that means getting on with the adventure. Which means they are all but certain to... face even harder encounters! And since they're not fully healed, the risks involved are significant.

If the party instead insists on staying put at camp, despite the risk of being found by a wandering monster, they might be lucky and not have such an encounter. But if they do, they hopefully vanquish that monster. Then the analysis is exactly the same - they keep resting again. In the end, either the wandering monsters deplete healing faster than Medicine can replenish it, and you mostly get frustration as the story grinds to a complete halt (if not the even greater frustration of a TPK). Or Medicine heals you faster than the wandering monsters can eat it away - and then why have wandering monsters in the first place?

Wandering monsters work when the analysis is that these encounters just pose a drain on your limited resources. Better move on with the adventure and spend your resources there instead.

But in PF2 hit points aren't limited. And pressing on without them is incredibly dangerous. So the choice between staying put and moving on changes completely - you always want to - need to! - stay put until your hit points are back.

I realized that in order to reestablish "let's move on" as a meaningful choice, I would have to make a load of changes to Pathfinder 2. Too many. It quickly gets to be too much. In the end, I instead abandoned the whole idea that "should we rest 10 minutes or 60?" is a useful minigame to have. Pathfinder just doesn't let that work. (Yes, when reading the rules you get the definite impression it was meant to work. It just didn't end up working in actual play)

Once you instead simply assume players always heal up after each fight (except in the rare case when the script tells you there's no time) the game just works much better:
  • you save time since there's no more discussions "should we keep moving or stay put and rest" (and its follow-ups "where is a safe place to rest" and so on)
  • you save time since there's no need to invoke the cluttery Medicine rules, just say "you rest until fully healed". Whether this takes 30 minutes or 50 minutes doesn't matter.
  • you avoid needless lethality since players no longer are incentivized to make the mistake of adventuring with damage
The "showcase fight" style of adventure pacing, in other words.

Of course, certain things just cease to matter. In particular, the "mini game" of "what will you do with your 10 minute activities?" Since you basically give up counting them, heroes have as many as they need, and things like "should I Refocus or Repair my shield or just stand guard?" fall by the wayside, since you simply do all of them. Besides, Medicine will routinely require 40 or 50 minutes. That's 4 or 5 such activities. Each time you rest. So the idea that these are limited and that choosing between them is an interesting decision point just doesn't work.

So between each dungeon room you simply go "everyone is topped up on healing, focus points, shield repairs and such; where do you go now?". That sentence takes 5 seconds to speak, compared to easily 15 minutes of admin if you actually follow the very fiddly rules for every subsystem involved...

Of course, just assuming players can and do heal up after each fight doesn't suit every gaming group. But then again, Pathfinder 2 doesn't suit every gaming group. (In fact, I remain amazed how few steps Paizo have taken to accommodate different play styles!)

Yes, it isn't realistic that the next room's monsters just stand there for 40 minutes, while you recover from a fight maybe 60 feet away. But that's the way AP dungeons are designed, and that's the way the game want to run.
 
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I read your post as explaining where a "table variance" comes from, but you post in response to my post, and I wasn't suggesting any table variance? I was talking about that when I say something about the system, I really mean "as viewed through the lens that is the official adventures".

Oh, I wasn’t disagreeing with you. Your last paragraph simply prompted the reflection, since I agree with you that both statements “PF2 forces DMs to cause TPKs” and “5e and PF2 are equally deadly” are false.

In short, I have started wondering if the 4 degrees of success paradigm isn’t the root cause of why PF2 is the way it is.

Once you start from the realization that a +1 in PF2 is worth a +2 in 5e, than you really need ACs to be in a tight band, and you need very few bonuses that don’t stack.

More importantly, you also need a ton of rules to try and counterbalance table variation, because otherwise, the effects of different GMs are more pronounced.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I found this to be working poorly when I tried it in Extinction Curse. You can't entice players to stop resting when that only means increasing the risk.

If the party breaks off healing because of the threat from wandering monsters, that means getting on with the adventure. Which means they are all but certain to... face even harder encounters! And since they're not fully healed, the risks involved are significant.

If the party instead insists on staying put at camp, despite the risk of being found by a wandering monster, they might be lucky and not have such an encounter. But if they do, they hopefully vanquish that monster. Then the analysis is exactly the same - they keep resting again. In the end, either the wandering monsters deplete healing faster than Medicine can replenish it, and you mostly get frustration as the story grinds to a complete halt (if not the even greater frustration of a TPK). Or Medicine heals you faster than the wandering monsters can eat it away - and then why have wandering monsters in the first place?

Wandering monsters work when the analysis is that these encounters just pose a drain on your limited resources. Better move on with the adventure and spend your resources there instead.

But in PF2 hit points aren't limited. And pressing on without them is incredibly dangerous. So the choice between staying put and moving on changes completely - you always want to - need to! - stay put until your hit points are back.

I realized that in order to reestablish "let's move on" as a meaningful choice, I would have to make a load of changes to Pathfinder 2. Too many. It quickly gets to be too much. In the end, I instead abandoned the whole idea that "should we rest 10 minutes or 60?" is a useful minigame to have. Pathfinder just doesn't let that work. (Yes, when reading the rules you get the definite impression it was meant to work. It just didn't end up working in actual play)

Once you instead simply assume players always heal up after each fight (except in the rare case when the script tells you there's no time) the game just works much better:
  • you save time since there's no more discussions "should we keep moving or stay put and rest" (and its follow-ups "where is a safe place to rest" and so on)
  • you save time since there's no need to invoke the cluttery Medicine rules, just say "you rest until fully healed". Whether this takes 30 minutes or 50 minutes doesn't matter.
  • you avoid needless lethality since players no longer are incentivized to make the mistake of adventuring with damage
The "showcase fight" style of adventure pacing, in other words.

Of course, certain things just cease to matter. In particular, the "mini game" of "what will you do with your 10 minute activities?" Since you basically give up counting them, heroes have as many as they need, and things like "should I Refocus or Repair my shield or just stand guard?" fall by the wayside, since you simply do all of them. Besides, Medicine will routinely require 40 or 50 minutes. That's 4 or 5 such activities. Each time you rest. So the idea that these are limited and that choosing between them is an interesting decision point just doesn't work.

So between each dungeon room you simply go "everyone is topped up on healing, focus points, shield repairs and such; where do you go now?". That sentence takes 5 seconds to speak, compared to easily 15 minutes of admin if you actually follow the very fiddly rules for every subsystem involved...

Of course, just assuming players can and do heal up after each fight doesn't suit every gaming group. But then again, Pathfinder 2 doesn't suit every gaming group. (In fact, I remain amazed how few steps Paizo have taken to accommodate different play styles!)

Yes, it isn't realistic that the next room's monsters just stand there for 40 minutes, while you recover from a fight maybe 60 feet away. But that's the way AP dungeons are designed, and that's the way the game want to run.
Well, yes. I basically said as much with the rest of that paragraph you omitted. Unless you’re running the game with a non-default style (and here I assume official adventures and/or a balance-focused approach as default), it’s not going to work. However, thanks for explaining in depth why it won’t work.

I wonder if Stamina should have been the default since that’s an (semi-)official way to get half your hit points back after an encounter. There are a handful of subsystems in the GMG that are just out there enough I wonder if these are directions that were considered but discarded for being too different. Anyway, that’s not really germane to this discussion.

I will say that when I talk about wandering monsters, I mean wandering monsters done right. If you’re just attacking the party after a die roll, then that’s going to make wandering monsters feel punitive when the party rests and just not very interesting.

Of course, encounter balance in this case is predicated on encounters being rolled together. It’s a different paradigm. That’s what I refer to as a non-default style and I say that for other styles attrition is just not a thing. Even in the case I describe, it only kind of works. It’s still not the same as the traditional model, and I expect it will eventually stop working completely at higher levels.

You made a point earlier about discussing the game with it’s default assumptions. I think it’s critically important to understand it at that level, but that is so one can make an i formed decision when tweaking or adjusting it. In this case, the OP was asking about a non-default style of play. The gist of it is that PF2 can kind of do it, but it’s not the same, and it might not work across a campaign. It’s definitely not something you do in official adventures.

I tried to make it work in my game, though attrition wasn’t a driving reason for my approach. I want exploration to be a meaningful part of the game and not something we just segue through to the fights. I think my players are fine with it, but I’m growing tired of it as a GM. That’s why I’ve discussed trying running OSE for my group in the other thread.

I still think PF2 is a surprisingly good fit for an old-school style of game. However, I’m starting to believe that it is not a great fit for an ongoing campaign. I feel like you will eventually hit a point where you just get tired of swimming against the tide. If they could do something with similar mechanical complexity to 5e or OSR games with the level of customization and monster design, then PF2 would have been an amazing game. Instead, we got something that has its moments but I’d otherwise describe as just okay.
 


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.
The 4e Idea (not execution) of encounters over several areas seems like how you need to think of it.
If you don't kill those two goblins before they flee, they might raise alarm and then it becomes all a big battle.
They also serve as spotters against a solo rogue or a familar trying to sneak in.

Also, 5hp goblins are better than 30hp fighters the goblins might be killed or overcome with a single cast of sleep or two arrows depending on the situation (depends of you feel about killing people without warning).
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Yes, i agree. Just running rise of the Runelords and the goblin fort and below has the opportunity to become far harder if players are dumb/unlucky.
 




kenada

Legend
Supporter
I hope you're still talking about 5E or Pathfinder 1, because when it becomes "all a big battle" in Pathfinder 2, then is when the heroes start dying...
Actually, I think he’s talking about 4e. The DMG2 (IIRC) discusses using multiple rooms when building encounters. Instead of budgeting room by room, you build over an area with an objective in mind. It’s sort of a middle ground between combat as sport and combat as war. You’re still designing with appropriate encounters in mind, but the scope of the action is bigger than just one fight in a room.

For example, suppose the PCs need to make their way past the barracks into an enemy base. You would budget your encounter for the entire barracks complex as e.g., a severe encounter and not just room-by-room. If they’re clever, the PCs can engage it a piece at a time or even bypass it. If they screw up and someone raises the alarm, you’re still okay because you budgeted for a complex-wide fight.

For a PF2 official adventure, you’d want to look at an area to see how the combined encounters added up. If they’re together an extreme or worse encounter, then you can’t really run that area dynamically. If they’re not, then I don’t see why not because you know how dangerous the encounter will be in aggregate. And if it’s too dangerous, and you want to run it that way anyway, then just change it. The CRB says that’s okay.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Ok.

You can totally take an Encounter and split it up over several rooms, or make it a running battle.

What you can't do (intuitively*) is the reverse: go "oh there heroes are soon here, let's have the monsters act smart and pool up".

Why? Because even two moderate encounters become an Extreme one bunched up. More generally: taking one hard encounter and splitting it up into easier encounters is safer than taking many easier encounters and combining them into one hard encounter. The outcome where the many encounters end up being too easy is seldom a problem (and seldom even a thing in PF2 :) ) The outcome where the one encounter ends up being too hard is much more of a real problem.

*) Of course, you can do it, as in, it isn't impossible. But you need to have encounter budgets in mind - you can't just make the choices that make sense narratively. That's what I mean by "intuitively" above.

If four guards isn't insurmountable, eight of them usually isn't much more of a threat in role-playing games. This is the intuition that leads you astray in PF2.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
For a PF2 official adventure, you’d want to look at an area to see how the combined encounters added up. If they’re together an extreme or worse encounter, then you can’t really run that area dynamically.
Official Adventure Paths routinely place multi-Extreme numbers of monsters in close proximity, like all the time. (Of course, sometimes, they're strung out. But maybe half of the levels in each AP - i.e. about ten - consist of a single dungeon map with all that level's monsters on it. And that dungeon map can be as small as 40x40 squares, placing all its dozen encounters all within as little as a few hundred feet of each other)

The easiest way to run a PF2 dungeon is to have your players go room by room in a dungeon, fighting each room's inhabitants by themselves (and take a 30-60 minute break every now and then). And just have the monsters stand where they are placed.

If you think that's unrealistic, you're pretty much on your own (there's rarely instructions that acknowledge monster repositioning - not in the adventures, not in the core rulebook, and not in the gamesmastery guide), and if you aren't mindful of the encounter XPs we just discussed, that's when you start seeing TPKs.

Few rpgs are as constrictive when it comes to a GMs creative freedom to combine encounters.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
I should add that I'm chiefly talking low levels here.

At high levels heroes start becoming able to handle even Extreme encounters, and heroes also have many aces up their sleeves to turn the tables when up against unexpectedly stiff resistance.

At low levels, where even one Moderate encounter can kill the unwary party, facing two at the same will be absolutely brutal.

At high level, any enemy that isn't higher level is inherently easy thanks to how Incapacitation works. And spellcasters shine when facing lots of mooks.

At low level, there's very few ways to "incapacitate" an enemy outright, and no good area attacks, so there really is no such thing as a "mook" (except when the level difference starts to become pronounced)
 

I hope you're still talking about 5E or Pathfinder 1, because when it becomes "all a big battle" in Pathfinder 2, then is when the heroes start dying...
No matter what edition, that js exactly tge point of those two guards. Be too conservative with your resources and one might get away.
 

The easiest way to run a PF2 dungeon is to have your players go room by room in a dungeon, fighting each room's inhabitants by themselves (and take a 30-60 minute break every now and then). And just have the monsters stand where they are placed.
This is sad.
That is exactly the design, which made me stop playing 4e.
We played Gardmore Abbey and it was fun. Then my Players entered Gardmore Abbey and went to the dungeon. Every dungeon wa finely balanced and a fun encounter... but playing those out took in a tactical enjoying fashion took several hours each... there was no story progression and no way to bypass encounters or win a distinctive advantage so you can kill the enemies and move on.

If the encounter design in 4e would have been: one nigh impossible encounter that you can break up in several small ones by playing clever in actual play, we might have played it longer...

In 5e it also should be in mind: combining 2-3 encounters in a big one with a short rest in between actually makes the encounter guidelines work.

Fight, attract reinforcements and fight them, fight a poissble next wave, rest.

This pattern allows every class to shine.

I don't know Pathfinder2 well enough to make predictions here, but the Idea, that you can fight room by room without monsters intelligently fleeing if given the chance seems a bit ancient design.
 

MaskedGuy

Explorer
I mean, in theory you shouldn't combine encounters in other games either unless they were designed to be combinable :p But in practice it works out because enemies are weaker than they are in "theory". (or in case of published 5e adventures, sometimes they are just straight up under powered even by guidelines)
 


CapnZapp

Legend
I mean, in theory you shouldn't combine encounters in other games either unless they were designed to be combinable But in practice it works out because enemies are weaker than they are in "theory". (or in case of published 5e adventures, sometimes they are just straight up under powered even by guidelines)
I guess it's really a slippery slope, a gradient.

If the game works like people intuitively expect things to work, there's no problem.

And, yes, for games with levels, you obviously need a baseline experience with such systems (you can't simply count the enemy) - not talking the intuition of regular people (who have never played rpgs) here...

The point here is that you are significantly more likely to be taken by surprise when you gm an official PF2 game than, say, d20 or 5E.

And it is when the GM is surprised (by the resulting encounter difficulty) that the risk of sustaining character deaths increase.
 

I mean, in theory you shouldn't combine encounters in other games either unless they were designed to be combinable :p But in practice it works out because enemies are weaker than they are in "theory". (or in case of published 5e adventures, sometimes they are just straight up under powered even by guidelines)
Why shouldn't you?

In many older and newer adventures, guard posts often may ring alarm and then it becomes one big encounter.
This is how a normal defensive position works.

Going room by room should actually be the outlier. So the normal design should expect to have reenforcements attracted by sound, so after a very brief first encounter, the next one starts.

For 5e at least, that makes the guidelines of 2 to 3 encounters befire short rest actually very natural.
It also allows for using the actual guidelines, because in the possible third fight, you will have those characters, not relying on limited powers actually really shine. The champion might get his crits when the battle master is out of SD. The rogue can do everything he could in the first fight. The warlock can still blast away with agonizing blast. The wizard can now use his conserved 3rd level slot he didn't want to waste just in case.

Allowing everyone to heal up after every single encounter might make 5e (and probably Pathfinder2) way less or more deadly than designed.

Why more deadly? Because the usual answer to "to easy" battles is making every single fight way too hard, which in return just teaches the players to rest all the time.
 

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