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Paizo A question about Paizo/PF adventure design

CapnZapp

Legend
Well, what then? Should GMs be able to carry assumptions from game to game regardless of whether that’s reasonable?
Whether it's reasonable or not, people do carry assumptions from one situation to the next.

I can't say it's worthwhile to be upset about this, since it just is the way things are.

I'm not condoning or approving it, I'm just accepting it. In fact, knowing new PF2 GMs will and do fall into this trap is the sole reason for me to make the effort to get out the message.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
I wouldn't say Pathfinder 2e encounter building needs any unique skills
Who cares whether the skills are unique?

You do need skills you don't need in most other iterations of D&D, and that's what matters.

in theory this is how a 5e encounter was supposed to work as well
This is a really weak argument, but more importantly, poor consolation to those PF2 GMs that stand there with a TPK on their hands.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I think the issue is that when you say "I'm just making this big PSA about how everyone should beware" it kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinda sounds like "I'm saying this system has unique problem and you should just run 5e instead" <_<
If it helps, just because it sounds like that to you doesn't mean it is so?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I really think CapnZapp is speaking less about the game design itself than the official AP design. PF2 gives you the tools to design intelligent adventures, it just seems the APs are not taking full advantage of them.
I don't see any tools for this. Sure there are tools for building encounters, but none that specifically addresses combining them.

Since the rest of this post isn't directed at you Dave, I'm starting a new post:
 

CapnZapp

Legend
(cont'd)

The "Building Encounters" section in the CRB is understandably brief, and focuses on the essentials. That's fine. But what about the GMG? There's an entire chapter called "Encounter Design" (page 46). What does it have to say? It does briefly talk about adding a third party to an encounter, a party that could either aid or hinder the heroes. But does it even breathe a single word about the little tiny fact that if that monster decides to join the enemy side (after a bad Diplomacy check, say) that can easily lead to a PC death? Nope.

There's even a section called "Combining and Separating Encounters" but it comes across as if it was written for Pathfinder 1. I certainly can't recognize any of it in the official AP encounters I've seen. Let's reproduce it in full (the combining paragraph, not the separating one):

Picture this: the PCs storm a castle. They choose to eschew
stealth in favor of a direct approach. On the ramparts, a
guard spots them and raises an alarm. The sound of horns
and whistles blare throughout the keep as each defender
ensures that everyone is ready for a fight. And then, they
politely wait in whatever room they were already standing
in for the PCs to come and attack them. It sounds pretty
unrealistic, and it feels unrealistic at the table. Many
players find it far more satisfying when their foes take
reasonable actions and countermeasures against them.
This means moving to defensible positions or banding
together with allies. Taken to an extreme, combining
encounters can quickly lead to fights that are unwinnable,
so be careful. In the castle example, some guards may
come out to attack the PCs, while others cluster around
the central keep. Perhaps each individual patrol of guards
around the castle is a trivial-threat encounter, but as they
gather together, they form groups of gradually escalating
threat. Such groups give the PCs a sense of how challenging
their opposition is, so that if a fight against six guards is a
challenge, they won’t try to pick a fight with 30. When the
PCs’ foes amass into an overwhelming force, give the PCs
fair warning and a chance to retreat and try again another
day. Of course, if the PCs come back after the alarm has
been raised, the guards are likely to change their rotations
to better secure the keep.
If this is how Mr Jacobs views the game, I can totally understand him being so nonchalant or indifferent to the very real problems GMs are having.

That is because "combining encounters can quickly lead to fights that are unwinnable" is not something that's "taken to an extreme". It is the default completely standard way encounters work. All encounters are like this. Remember, only two of the very "easiest" category of encounters (Low) can be combined without that being close to an automatic TPK. To be precise: Low + Low = Extreme, and boy, is it easy for an Extreme encounter to end up with a TPK. (And that's coming from a GM - me - whose players love optimizing their characters for combat and choosing builds only if they percieve them to be effective in combat)

Especially the passage "Perhaps each individual patrol of guards around the castle is a trivial-threat encounter, but as they gather together, they form groups of gradually escalating threat" describes PF1 and not PF2:
1) there are few to no trivial threats in PF2 (remember we're discussing the levels where GMs first encounters the system, so we're not discussing high or even mid levels here. Besides, regular human castle guards traditionally signify a low-level adventure in D&D anyway)
2) there is no "gradual" escalation. A level 3 or 5 party can take out five guards, sure. But in my experience, they are very likely to need 30 minutes of downtime to recuperate, or they have to blow all the Cleric's remaining heals (they did remember to bring a Cleric, right?)
3) " they won’t try to pick a fight with 30" -- what are you even talking about Paizo? I've browsed through three 2nd edition APs and can't recall even a single instance of a fight against thirty monsters. I'm sure there is one, but it certainly is far from so easy that Paizo pretends it is.

This is totally good advice - for Pathfinder 1. I recognize nothing here from my own PF2 experiences.

Back to the CRB:

Does the section on "Fleeing Enemies" (page 494) even with a word mention the very real possibility that the fleeing enemy will reach another room of monsters in just a single turn? No. Does it discuss ways to cope with the fact the heroes are very likely to be unable to handle that room's encounters without getting a short break first? No.

Does the section on "Bypassed Encounters" (page 493) discuss what happens when that encounter's monsters creep up behind the heroes, and assault them when they are already fighting another monster? No, not at all. (Spoiler: the heroes die. No, I don't know what monster we're talking about. Yes, I know they will die regardless)

Had the CRB or the GMG acknowledged how PF2 differs from every major alternative (meaning d20, PF1 and 5E) in this aspect, it might just be that I wouldn't have bothered. But they don't, like, at all.

It isn't enough to say players can fix it. Sure we can - but Paizo needs to tell us how. Paizo especially needs to acknowledge and discuss the ways Pathfinder 2 differs (drastically!) from their previous game (and ideally also the by far most likely source of new players, i.e. Fifth Edition).
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I guess the "resting" is not referring to a 10-minute rest to regain focus points, use battle medicine, repair checks, etc.? Should we infer that "resting" after a moderate-threat is a 8-hour/full/long rest?
Because I've yet to have a single encounter after which the party didn't want to take at least 10 minutes to recharge those particular resources.
I too went into GMing PF2 with the expectation "give them 10 minutes for sure, but make it an exciting choice to rest for two or three such ten-minute periods".

That quickly fell apart. Medicine gives unlimited access to free healing, but it will often require 30, 60 or even 90 minutes.

Characters are completely and totally unable to take on another encounter (even a Low one) if one or more heroes is barely above zero hp, so it's not like there's a choice. (I guess there is a choice for parties with a healer, since the Cleric or whatever can burn all her Heal slots to bring everybody back up to full health in an emergency, but only once or maaaybe twice a day)

So the entire minigame I expected "hmm... I'm getting two 10-minute breaks, will I use them to repair my shield or regain my focus point or stand guard or Treat Wounds..." just doesn't happen in practice.

Since you regularly get four or five such periods, just go "I'll do all of them" and the game of choosing just falls to the floor.

PS. Other than the 10-minute downtime period, PF2 doesn't have any "short rest" notion.

Instead of 5E's simple and fast "you take a short rest and now you're back" you have to do a lot of fiddly and cludgey calculations that mostly just tell you whether you needed 30 or 50 minutes. And that is practically never interesting. You'll quickly dump all those little niggly rules and just say "you rest up and everybody's at full health and noone cares whether it took 40 or 70 minutes".

You quickly learn to never keep adventuring while significantly damaged, unless you enjoy turning up the already scary difficulty level a notch or three. The encounter building model of PF1 absolutely assumes the party enters each encounter at full health - various forms of weariness is instead handled through Conditions (fatigued and drained comes to mind). It just isn't fun to have a fight knowing you could have avoided giving the monsters a significant if not decisive advantage by just refusing to move before treating your wounds.

Long rests still exist - you bed down for the night, and the spellcasters regain spell slots and whatever else they need to do in the morning. But you only need this if you have an actual spellcaster in the group. A party consisting of only warriors can keep on adventuring practically forever (meaning they can mow through an entire level's worth of encounters in a single day, if they only get half an hour's worth or so of rest in-between each of them).

At low levels, Wizards et al actively suck - and suck hard - so by spellcaster I mostly mean a combat healer; a character devoted to casting a single spell in a single configuration: the two-action Heal spell and being content with nearly irrelevant cantrip attacks in between. Sure you can bring a Bard or something for social encounters, but since all APs are so railroaded you don't actually need one. What you do need, however, are warriors to kill monsters and possibly the combat medic to counter the unlucky die rolls you will experience sooner or later. (Then at maybe level ~9 you can switch out one of the warriors for a Wizard, since at that level he starts justifying his presence in the group, something you will quickly appreciate once you reach higher levels...)
 
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kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
For the umpteenth time, I am not saying it can't be done. I'm saying that budding PF2 gamesmasters should hold off doing it. I'm saying don't smush your encounters together.

I am saying that the natural and intuitive approach, which is to move the monsters from room 13 into room 15 where another bunch of monsters already live for reasons DOES. NOT. WORK.

It worked in 3e. It worked in PF1. It totally works in 5E. It risks ruining your whole campaign in PF2.

(In those other games, the damage per round of the party coasting along conserving resources is significantly lower than the party going into panic nova mode. This approach to game design is completely absent from PF2 until higher level spells kick in, and martial characters can never shift gears. That's the difference)

So as a general and simple message, don't smush together your encounters.

A more complex and accurate message would be "change encounters around, modifying monsters and/or numbers and/or the timing of their arrival and/or terrain and other factors". But since neither the CRB nor the GMG spends even a single word acknowledging this to be a real problem, it is neither simple nor direct. (Paizo only discuss creating encounters. Not how to combine - or not to combine - encounters) Edit: see my post below where I back this up.

I prefer simple and direct so I'll stick to the very good advice don't smush your encounters together.
Thank you. The substance of your position more or less agrees with what I’ve been saying. I appreciate the acknowledgement. I don’t think dropping the qualifiers is helpful, but I’m assuming the intent is discussion. However, by your own admission, you’re here to get out a message, which is something different.

Given that, I’m going to bow out now because I don’t see my continued participation as being fruitful or a good use of my time.
 

For the umpteenth time, I am not saying it can't be done. I'm saying that budding PF2 gamesmasters should hold off doing it. I'm saying don't smush your encounters together.

I am saying that the natural and intuitive approach, which is to move the monsters from room 13 into room 15 where another bunch of monsters already live for reasons DOES. NOT. WORK.

It worked in 3e. It worked in PF1. It totally works in 5E. It risks ruining your whole campaign in PF2.

(In those other games, the damage per round of the party coasting along conserving resources is significantly lower than the party going into panic nova mode. This approach to game design is completely absent from PF2 until higher level spells kick in, and martial characters can never shift gears. That's the difference)

So as a general and simple message, don't smush together your encounters.

A more complex and accurate message would be "change encounters around, modifying monsters and/or numbers and/or the timing of their arrival and/or terrain and other factors". But since neither the CRB nor the GMG spends even a single word acknowledging this to be a real problem, it is neither simple nor direct. (Paizo only discuss creating encounters. Not how to combine - or not to combine - encounters) Edit: see my post below where I back this up.

I prefer simple and direct so I'll stick to the very good advice don't smush your encounters together.
But you're fundamentally still wrong, you're dancing on the edges to try and make your incorrect statement correct, but it just isn't working. Its not intuitive to drop two encounters together with the expectation that theyre both survivable on their own and survivable together, most of us probably remember moments where our players defied the existing guidelines to such a degree we understood they could handle much more and that the guidelines were broken-- I definetly do. You see it all the time on the dndnext sub, new GMs do not start out with this expectation you're insistent they do, they start out with the encounter guidelines of the game theyre actually playing.

The only people this is a problem for, are people who should really know better anyway, and people who are liable to screw up anyway because theyre not likely to read anything and just throw whatever they think makes sense from whatever video game they play at their players.
 

dave2008

Legend
The only people this is a problem for, are people who should really know better anyway, and people who are liable to screw up anyway because theyre not likely to read anything and just throw whatever they think makes sense from whatever video game they play at their players.
I want to disagree with you a bit as I am one of the DMs that is likely to have a problem and appreciate the Capn's advice on this. I come from a time before encounter building guidelines and XP budgets. I can read and understand them and use them, but I don't like them. I find them unnatural and immersion breaking. I always eventually discard them (I did in 4e and 5e) and I would want to do so in PF2 as well. Designing a game this way just feels unnatural to me. If I can't intuitively place monsters / NPCs were I want, that is likely to be a real problem for me. That is one reason that I will probably be a PC and not a DM/GM if I ever get the chance to play PF2.

Also, I don't play video games so I have no idea what that reference is about.
 

Retreater

Legend
But you're fundamentally still wrong, you're dancing on the edges to try and make your incorrect statement correct, but it just isn't working. Its not intuitive to drop two encounters together with the expectation that theyre both survivable on their own and survivable together, most of us probably remember moments where our players defied the existing guidelines to such a degree we understood they could handle much more and that the guidelines were broken-- I definetly do. You see it all the time on the dndnext sub, new GMs do not start out with this expectation you're insistent they do, they start out with the encounter guidelines of the game theyre actually playing.

The only people this is a problem for, are people who should really know better anyway, and people who are liable to screw up anyway because theyre not likely to read anything and just throw whatever they think makes sense from whatever video game they play at their players.
There are times when it's clearly too much - like having 40 guards combine forces at the castle for a massive assault. My last TPK in the system included a simple door trap and a handful of guards stepping forward to defend their room that was obviously under attack. Having them stay there and wait in the room to be killed and let the ritual in the next room be compromised, well, it's illogical and stupid design. But if you put them in there, it's a TPK. Moreover, it's a TPK in a round - without even giving the party a chance to retreat.
Something that any edition of D&D/PF for the past 40+ years could handle - a couple of guards attacking during a door trap - causes PF2 to collapse under its own over-designed, bloated weight.
 

I want to disagree with you a bit as I am one of the DMs that is likely to have a problem and appreciate the Capn's advice on this. I come from a time before encounter building guidelines and XP budgets. I can read and understand them and use them, but I don't like them. I find them unnatural and immersion breaking. I always eventually discard them (I did in 4e and 5e) and I would want to do so in PF2 as well. Designing a game this way just feels unnatural to me. If I can't intuitively place monsters / NPCs were I want, that is likely to be a real problem for me. That is one reason that I will probably be a PC and not a DM/GM if I ever get the chance to play PF2.

Also, I don't play video games so I have no idea what that reference is about.
But the whole point of the games you're used to not having them is that its completely ok to have fundamentally unbalanced encounters that the players need to treat as problems to solve instead of battles to just fight. Whereas Zapp is insisting that systems where the encounter guidelines are nonfunctional create a reasonable expectation that they shouldn't function elsewhere, because the players should just be able to handle it full tilt.
 

There are times when it's clearly too much - like having 40 guards combine forces at the castle for a massive assault. My last TPK in the system included a simple door trap and a handful of guards stepping forward to defend their room that was obviously under attack. Having them stay there and wait in the room to be killed and let the ritual in the next room be compromised, well, it's illogical and stupid design. But if you put them in there, it's a TPK. Moreover, it's a TPK in a round - without even giving the party a chance to retreat.
Something that any edition of D&D/PF for the past 40+ years could handle - a couple of guards attacking during a door trap - causes PF2 to collapse under its own over-designed, bloated weight.
But that encounter works just fine in pf2e, the trap has an exp value, the guards have an exp value.

If that combined exp value is within the encounter guidelines, there's no special reason it should be a TPK. If they were meant to each be hard on their own, of course combining them would make them too hard-- but you can adjust that easily enough, the game gives you the tools to do so.

If you could combine them in those other systems without thinking about it, than those other systems probably "collapsed" in the sense that the encounters would have been jokes individually. Like, offered no resistance at all, which is a pretty accurate summary of 5e, from the years I spent GMing it.

Conversely, if its obvious the guards wpuld attack, them congrats you just set the parameters for a single encounter, budget accordingly.

Look, if you and Zapp want to hate on the system (regardless of disclaimers to the contrary) thats great and all, but you're gonna get called out, "overdesigned, bloated mess" indeed.
 

Retreater

Legend
But that encounter works just fine in pf2e, the trap has an exp value, the guards have an exp value.

If that combined exp value is within the encounter guidelines, there's no special reason it should be a TPK. If they were meant to each be hard on their own, of course combining them would make them too hard-- but you can adjust that easily enough, the game gives you the tools to do so.

If you could combine them in those other systems without thinking about it, than those other systems probably "collapsed" in the sense that the encounters would have been jokes individually. Like, offered no resistance at all, which is a pretty accurate summary of 5e, from the years I spent GMing it.

Conversely, if its obvious the guards wpuld attack, them congrats you just set the parameters for a single encounter, budget accordingly.
I didn't design the encounters. Paizo did. And they should've done a better job.
 

dave2008

Legend
But the whole point of the games you're used to not having them is that its completely ok to have fundamentally unbalanced encounters that the players need to treat as problems to solve instead of battles to just fight. Whereas Zapp is insisting that systems where the encounter guidelines are nonfunctional create a reasonable expectation that they shouldn't function elsewhere, because the players should just be able to handle it full tilt.
No, for me the point is I don't want to worry about balanced encounters. I didn't like when it was introduced to me in 4e and sounds like it is even worse in PF2. I was able to massage 4e to work with my DM style, I'm not sure I can do that in PF2.

I'm old school I guess, balanced encounters just seems wrong to me - like in my bones.
 

dave2008

Legend
But that encounter works just fine in pf2e, the trap has an exp value, the guards have an exp value.

If that combined exp value is within the encounter guidelines, there's no special reason it should be a TPK. If they were meant to each be hard on their own, of course combining them would make them too hard-- but you can adjust that easily enough, the game gives you the tools to do so.

If you could combine them in those other systems without thinking about it, than those other systems probably "collapsed" in the sense that the encounters would have been jokes individually. Like, offered no resistance at all, which is a pretty accurate summary of 5e, from the years I spent GMing it.

Conversely, if its obvious the guards wpuld attack, them congrats you just set the parameters for a single encounter, budget accordingly.

Look, if you and Zapp want to hate on the system (regardless of disclaimers to the contrary) thats great and all, but you're gonna get called out, "overdesigned, bloated mess" indeed.
In case you are unware, the reference is to an encounter in a Paizo AP. I forget which one, but there is an entire thread on it. So, it is not like @Retreater made it up.
 

I didn't design the encounters. Paizo did. And they should've done a better job.
At what? Making the encounters less functional for others so they can be more functional for you?

At the end of the day, you're the GM, and so am I, the buck stops with us to adjust things for the table, my concern is whether the system gives me the tools to do that. Whereas the takeaway is that you expect to adjust the content of the adventure, without adjusting the encounters themselves? Its a fundamentally broken proposition.
 

No, for me the point is I don't want to worry about balanced encounters. I didn't like when it was introduced to me in 4e and sounds like it is even worse in PF2. I was able to massage 4e to work with my DM style, I'm not sure I can do that in PF2.

I'm old school I guess, balanced encounters just seems wrong to me - like in my bones.
I mean, I think thats fine-- but if you don't want to worry about balanced encounters, then why not just stop worrying about balanced encounters? I don't think there's anything fundamentally different about the games where you didn't have to worry about it, a given monster could easily still be too much for your party to handle, flooding them with the orcs they can barely take 2 of is still going to kill them.

Its not a difference of whether you had to, its a difference of whether you do, accepting that you don't really just makes you more open to other ways of solving the encounters in the first place, since you're already accepting beating them down in a straightforward manner should sometimes be suicide, and should sometimes be a cakewalk. Those games didn't have different mechanics in terms of balance, just a different attitude toward a lack of balance-- in those games it was desirable and the GM expected players to problem solve around it, but its not like your ability to handle an encounter in that way is meaningfully handicapped.

Plus, there's something to be said for the idea that not every game is for every player-- maybe you would be happier with another system, or retreater would, if they're unwilling to adjust encounters to suit their style and group. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink, the encounters they're referring to are probably pretty easy to adjust down to accommodate combination-- and easier than an adjustment in 5e would have been, which I know because I've done a bunch of adjustment in both.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
It seems to me that different systems have a different amount of flex inherent to them, so something like PF2 you can get away with two extra guards arriving and the party coping, anymore than that you are straying into TPK* territory. Maybe 5e has greater width so maybe 6 guards can turn up before you enter the TPK zone. (Maths is used purely as an example I'm not basing it on actual mechanics)

I don't think either system is right or wrong, its which one you as a DM best fits your play style if you think 3 extra guards should be a mortal threat to the PC's then hey knock yourself out with PF2 as that will require you to do the least amount of work for the game style you like (if we are purely basing it on encounters) otherwise go for a different system.

*when I say TPK I mean an encounter that the party is almost guaranteed to lose by using only standard game mechanics
 


Retreater

Legend
At what? Making the encounters less functional for others so they can be more functional for you?
Maybe by designing encounters that aren't intended to be only "you go to room A, clear all the enemies in room A, take extended rests, go to room B, clear all the enemies in room B (who were sitting there politely until you were quite ready for the fight)."
I would argue that writing adventures that can only be run a single way is not a great way of doing it. Look at Lost Mine of Phandelver - in Cragmaw Hideout, the goblins there have various strategies they can do when the party invades their lair (turning loose the wolves, flooding the caves, retreating and notifying the bugbear chieftain, etc).
Are we saying that the new, robust, expertly designed, thoroughly playtested PF2 can't handle this kind of gameplay? Where intelligent enemies can behave, well, intelligently?
So what a designer should do is present smaller encounters, less deadly traps, etc., that a smart group can attempt to face at their own pace. Find and disable the trap, and it's not an issue. Sneak up and take out the sentry, and you don't have the bell rung to warn the complex. But if you charge in and face everything at once, you might have a bad day.
But Age of Ashes' design assumes that its players are not capable of this. Each room is a "balanced" encounter, devoid of any connection to the rest of the world. A GM can't string them together to threaten a party and likewise can't reward the party who plans and adapts.
 

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