Pathfinder 2E Another Deadly Session, and It's Getting Old


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This is probably part of the problem. Buffs on top of debuffs are really potent. You can boost your hit and crit rates by 15~30% if you’re stacking them up right.

Same for things that make it more likely for opponents to make save fumbles and demotes their crit chances. Its probably one of the areas where I suspect experience with D&D3 and PF1 give people false positives in expectations, since a +/-2 on those things there is pretty trivial and generally lost in the noise, where if you're paying attention the effect can be pretty notable in PF2.

From a tactical perspective, traditional RPG tactics can be self-defeating. If everyone charges in to fight the boss, then you’re just saving it the trouble of spending actions to move over to engage with the party. Make it waste those actions, shooting it as it approaches. If they won initiative, have the melee martials delay, so they can be ready to attack once it gets close.

I have to admit I've rarely found an opportunity to use my bow in Age of Ashes and I'm probably more prone to closing up immediately than is always ideal (I'm often setting up my wife's character with a flank, but honestly, she's perfectly capable of doing a tumble through and getting a target flat-footed without my help). The only reason I've not done it more than I should is I'll often find a bard spell I want to throw early on. Part of that might be that so much of the encounters in the early part have been in-doors, and keeping things away from the oracle-sorcerer.

The same goes for third actions. Unless you’re a flurry ranger fighting your hunted prey, you really shouldn’t be making a third Strike. It’s not likely to succeed, so you’re basically fishing for crits. You probably have a better chance trying to Demoralize your opponent. Even just moving away can be decent effective healing when the boss is likely to hit on its third attack.

The only time I recall making a third strike with my fighter was the one time his shield got broken and I was fighting a golem. I just had nothing else useful to do (moving away was undesireable because I didn't particularly want it closing up with the cloistered cleric.)

Is this a matter of expectations or perception? Like, a “low-threat” encounter feels more difficult than what you would expect a “low-threat” encounter to be in another system?

It could be terminology, or it could be they just haven't run any systems that have a relatively high floor.

(One observation I made about another post; I can name a number of systems where letting two encounter merge that were individually moderate in threat would be really, really bad. The whole BRP family of games come to mind. In fact, the only ones I have regularly used where its not true is ones that combine mook rules or brittle opponents with easy group-delete effects. Its not something I'd do in almost any post-gunpowder game, for example).
 


I played a wizard in our game (up to level 5). It seemed to be consistently underpowered compared to the other characters.

From reading a lot of discussion on the Paizo forums, there seem to be two things that lead to this impression (and note, that is not me saying that its entirely incorrect, just that whether it is or not it seems so for these reasons):

1. In general, spellcasters have been cut back some from 3e era ones. That's because (and I know this doesn't go over well with some, but I don't know any better way to put it that is honest) they were out of balance with non-casters. That was just taken as a given by a lot of people and was viewed as somehow okay by many, but that didn't make it good design and one of the design choices in PF2e was to push the two types together. One of the areas where this is very visible is that spellcasting is generally a weak way to directly deal with a single opponent--and that's probably the single most visible sign of effectiveness that most people percieve. Spellcasting can still be a good way to start cooking up groups when a spell caster is willing to take some positioning chance, and good ways to buff and debuff (but as I noted, people who haven't internalized the importance of manipulating crit and fumble chances don't always see it that way), but neither of these tends to be as visible (and of course occasionally you'll get GMs who make it really hard to apply the first; personally, I've watched one players lightning-oriented sorcerers dump more damage out on a semi consistent basis than either of my fighting types did, she just doesn't do it all in one place).

2. Getting full value out of prepared spellcasters can sometimes be tricky, and if a group is not good at information gathering it can be trickier yet. This isn't as big a problem with clerics as it is with wizards, so it isn't quite as visible there. In addition, they were probably more conservative with wizard focus spells than they really needed to be, so a lot of people find them underwhelming.
That said, wizards are still perfectly functional, especially universalist wizards (who aren't dependent on getting value out of questionable focus spells); you have to simply do a general utility spell set you default to and only change up when you have better information. You can argue at that point you might as well played a sorcerer (and on those occasions when you don't have information, you're not wrong exactly), but when you do have information you have a lot more capability to bake a cake. But it requires the willingness to do that, and a GM who doesn't resist it heavily. If neither of those is the case, a wizard will probably suffer compared to a sorcerer.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I'd expect the latter, honestly, because even the rough fights I've been in just didn't last long enough to burn through most of anything but someone's absolute top level spells. We definitely needed some Treat Wounds at the end there (I've been playing pretty much the damage sponge in both games, a Fighter in one and a Champion/Bard in the other, so I was often the person who needed the most propping up; I went down in a couple times, so its not like I didn't see some rough ones), but the real issue is that there's just not time to spend all the resources involved. If people are having fights that last the 6-8 rounds routinely in kind of needs for that, I'd be interested in, well, how (and I don't mean to be critical in saying that, I'm just genuinely puzzled).
It probably depends on the group. If the players feel like they’re at risk for future encounters, then they’ll pull back and rest regardless of whether that’s actually necessary. Specifically, forcing them to burn daily resources makes them more inclined to think they’re “down” and need to stop and rest. That’s easy to trigger if they had used some prior to last fight.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
The only time I recall making a third strike with my fighter was the one time his shield got broken and I was fighting a golem. I just had nothing else useful to do (moving away was undesireable because I didn't particularly want it closing up with the cloistered cleric.)
It depends on the player. Some will fish for that crit because it’s exciting when it lands (even though it’s a worse option tactically). We have one player like that, but he’s playing a flurry ranger now, so at least he’s supposed to be doing that now.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Retreater,

Remember the 3rd book in Age of Ashes if you get there. Near the end. You'll be back here with another TPK. If your group survives, I want to hear about it. That encounter was the most vicious in the AP so far. If you run it by the book with everything reacting in an expected manner, not many parties can survive well without luck. Keep an eye out for it when prepping the 3rd book.
 

!DWolf

Adventurer
Since we’re talking tactics I figured I would add this to the discussion:

I just ran a low-level game and my players stomped the encounters hard (one low, two severe one in which they didn’t have armor on, and one trivial). They aren’t tactical geniuses by any stretch but they are exploration focused and fairly cautious in combat: they really like to a) use shields instead of third attacks and b) at the start they do a lot of positioning/raising shields/readying actions/ranged attacks instead of rushing to engage opponents (the party is also dwarf heavy). This leads to a sort of flow of battle:
  1. perceive danger and arm up (ready shields and weapons get on armor if necessary/possible, initial positioning and recall knowledge checks, occasionally altering the terrain, making general plans; note the wizard wants to do more here but currently lacks the slots for a lot of utility spells).
  2. combat starts: positioning, raising shields, and readying, with a scattering of ranged attacks (all of the characters have ranged weapons now - why would you not have at least a sling?) and the enemy moves up (getting hit by readied attacks and AoOs). With a dwarf and shield heavy party, the PCs generally hold up really well to the initial assault.
  3. the party counterattacks the opponents, generally shredding them. Notably the wizard has, in two severe encounters, been absolutely devastating with blasts in this stage. Also two fighters working together (occasionally with bless from the cleric) are absolutely killer at these levels.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Since we’re talking tactics I figured I would add this to the discussion:

I just ran a low-level game and my players stomped the encounters hard (one low, two severe one in which they didn’t have armor on, and one trivial). They aren’t tactical geniuses by any stretch but they are exploration focused and fairly cautious in combat: they really like to a) use shields instead of third attacks and b) at the start they do a lot of positioning/raising shields/readying actions/ranged attacks instead of rushing to engage opponents (the party is also dwarf heavy). This leads to a sort of flow of battle:
  1. perceive danger and arm up (ready shields and weapons get on armor if necessary/possible, initial positioning and recall knowledge checks, occasionally altering the terrain, making general plans; note the wizard wants to do more here but currently lacks the slots for a lot of utility spells).
  2. combat starts: positioning, raising shields, and readying, with a scattering of ranged attacks (all of the characters have ranged weapons now - why would you not have at least a sling?) and the enemy moves up (getting hit by readied attacks and AoOs). With a dwarf and shield heavy party, the PCs generally hold up really well to the initial assault.
  3. the party counterattacks the opponents, generally shredding them. Notably the wizard has, in two severe encounters, been absolutely devastating with blasts in this stage. Also two fighters working together (occasionally with bless from the cleric) are absolutely killer at these levels.
I wonder how many people don't use the exploration activities? They can be very helpful to preventing you from walking into an ambush.
 

It probably depends on the group. If the players feel like they’re at risk for future encounters, then they’ll pull back and rest regardless of whether that’s actually necessary. Specifically, forcing them to burn daily resources makes them more inclined to think they’re “down” and need to stop and rest. That’s easy to trigger if they had used some prior to last fight.

Well, that's a problem with any resource-consumption game, honestly; if people have a very low threshold of risk-taking and see resource renewal as a significant way to bolster that, you're always going to get some form of the five-minute work-day if it can be done. I've seen versions of it in every system with limited amount of magical or psionic power ever (I just watched someone put off directly dealing with a problem in my Mythras game tonight because one of the players had burned through his Devotion Points and wasn't about to take a chance he'd need them, even though even without them he's probably as capable as the one non-magically oriented character.).
 

It depends on the player. Some will fish for that crit because it’s exciting when it lands (even though it’s a worse option tactically). We have one player like that, but he’s playing a flurry ranger now, so at least he’s supposed to be doing that now.

Well, at the end of the day, a game system is going to reward smart play or it isn't. If you balance it so that smart play doesn't completely overwhelm the game challenge, then there's always going to be an opportunity for people who just want to do what they want to do to feel the game is too hard. The alternative is that people who do play smart roll right over things. Pick one.

(The other alternative is that there's no real meaningful tactical choices to make, of course. That's definitely a thing, but its hard for me to see it as a virtue).
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
Well, that's a problem with any resource-consumption game, honestly; if people have a very low threshold of risk-taking and see resource renewal as a significant way to bolster that, you're always going to get some form of the five-minute work-day if it can be done. I've seen versions of it in every system with limited amount of magical or psionic power ever (I just watched someone put off directly dealing with a problem in my Mythras game tonight because one of the players had burned through his Devotion Points and wasn't about to take a chance he'd need them, even though even without them he's probably as capable as the one non-magically oriented character.).
Well, at the end of the day, a game system is going to reward smart play or it isn't. If you balance it so that smart play doesn't completely overwhelm the game challenge, then there's always going to be an opportunity for people who just want to do what they want to do to feel the game is too hard. The alternative is that people who do play smart roll right over things. Pick one.

(The other alternative is that there's no real meaningful tactical choices to make, of course. That's definitely a thing, but its hard for me to see it as a virtue).
I’m grouping these together because I think they’re getting at the same underlying issue: different groups have different levels of expertise (tactical acumen, char ops, etc), which affects the overall balance of the system — or perception thereof. I agree a system needs an intended audience. Even if you choose not to have a one, you’ll still end up designing one for an implicit audience.

I think it would behoove Paizo to recognize that the mathematical underpinnings of PF2 gives it the flexibility to work with multiple groups. What I mean is explicitly calling out that the default assumes a decent level of tactical play. If your group is less interested in or just not good at that, then you downshift the difficulty. If your group is really good at that stuff, then you can upshift to even harder ones.

In a sense, that’s what people are doing to make PF1 (and other games) “work”, but PF2 offers a structure that can scale up or down. From what I’ve seen, I think it would be enough to make the default moderate-threat encounters and suggest that groups that are bad at tactics can use low-threat ones as their staple encounters and really good groups can use severe-threat ones.

The benefit of making this an explicitly tunable knob is it helps groups that don’t realize you can turn it, and it should help normalize different levels of play in the community. One could argue this will just create opportunities for toxic people to crap on people who prefer the lower difficulty, but those people already exist, and they’re doing it anyway.

Official adventures present a problem, but if the difficulty knob is now an assumption, then they could include guidance like they do for adjusting for party size. I’m not sure whether that would be in the CRB or the adventure because I’m not sure how party size is handled now. I’d expect the guidance on difficulty tuning would work similarly to how they do party size today.
 

I’m grouping these together because I think they’re getting at the same underlying issue: different groups have different levels of expertise (tactical acumen, char ops, etc), which affects the overall balance of the system — or perception thereof. I agree a system needs an intended audience. Even if you choose not to have a one, you’ll still end up designing one for an implicit audience.

Completely agree, though I think many RPGs (including specifically the D&D line from day one) have tended to be in denial about this.

I think it would behoove Paizo to recognize that the mathematical underpinnings of PF2 gives it the flexibility to work with multiple groups. What I mean is explicitly calling out that the default assumes a decent level of tactical play. If your group is less interested in or just not good at that, then you downshift the difficulty. If your group is really good at that stuff, then you can upshift to even harder ones.

I have a vague memory of some reference to doing this, but I could be conflating things from other games.

In a sense, that’s what people are doing to make PF1 (and other games) “work”, but PF2 offers a structure that can scale up or down. From what I’ve seen, I think it would be enough to make the default moderate-threat encounters and suggest that groups that are bad at tactics can use low-threat ones as their staple encounters and really good groups can use severe-threat ones.

The problem with doing this with PF1 and its precedents (and its cousin D&D 5e) is that, bluntly, it wasn't very well balanced internally; rather than just balancing encounter levels or the like, you had to juggle a lot of individual things based on the specifics of the player (and character) group. PF2e isn't, of course, perfect in this regard as when you start to approach perfect balance there are some knock-on effects that some people find very distasteful; D&D 4e probably approached it closer, and you can see the, shall we say, widely varied responses to that (it was, I think, on the whole a bridge too far for me, though I'm not actively hostile to it the way many people were). PF2e is a compromise here where there's still a little wobble in the structure, but where the degenerate cases tend to be fairly fringe, whereas they could be in (for example) D&D 3e all too common.

You're correct that its much easier to do this sort of adjustment systematically in PF2e.

The benefit of making this an explicitly tunable knob is it helps groups that don’t realize you can turn it, and it should help normalize different levels of play in the community. One could argue this will just create opportunities for toxic people to crap on people who prefer the lower difficulty, but those people already exist, and they’re doing it anyway.

You do also have the unavoidable problem that groups are often not evenly skilled/interested internally. This is obvious in anecdotes one hears where one group is groaning about that one guy that always goes off half-cocked, or another group that rolls their eyes about the guy who always second guesses what they do in a battle. These are clear cases of the one-man-out who is not in sync with the rest of the group, but its not uncommon to see some sometimes serious variation among a group, which can make setting such things complicated.

But that's a problem no matter how you go about it. It can be very hard to properly construct a combat when, in practice, approaches within the group vary radically.

Official adventures present a problem, but if the difficulty knob is now an assumption, then they could include guidance like they do for adjusting for party size. I’m not sure whether that would be in the CRB or the adventure because I’m not sure how party size is handled now. I’d expect the guidance on difficulty tuning would work similarly to how they do party size today.

Generally speaking, party size modifies the expected experience budget you're supposed to use when constructing encounters (with the careful note that its usually better with larger groups to increase numbers of opponents than quality).
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I have a vague memory of some reference to doing this, but I could be conflating things from other games.
The guidelines for encounter building are pretty up-front that tactical play is expected as the level of threat increases. The assumption conveyed in the GMG is moderate-threat encounters by default. I skimmed back over it, but I don’t see anything about changing the default based on your group. So maybe. 🙂

The problem with doing this with PF1 and its precedents (and its cousin D&D 5e) is that, bluntly, it wasn't very well balanced internally; rather than just balancing encounter levels or the like, you had to juggle a lot of individual things based on the specifics of the player (and character) group. PF2e isn't, of course, perfect in this regard as when you start to approach perfect balance there are some knock-on effects that some people find very distasteful; D&D 4e probably approached it closer, and you can see the, shall we say, widely varied responses to that (it was, I think, on the whole a bridge too far for me, though I'm not actively hostile to it the way many people were). PF2e is a compromise here where there's still a little wobble in the structure, but where the degenerate cases tend to be fairly fringe, whereas they could be in (for example) D&D 3e all too common.
Hence the quotes around work. It was really an art in PF1. I pretty much just winged it when I ran my own stuff. I had a good feel for my group, so I could just do that. That’s obviously not scalable, and experiences will vary a lot between groups.

You do also have the unavoidable problem that groups are often not evenly skilled/interested internally. This is obvious in anecdotes one hears where one group is groaning about that one guy that always goes off half-cocked, or another group that rolls their eyes about the guy who always second guesses what they do in a battle. These are clear cases of the one-man-out who is not in sync with the rest of the group, but its not uncommon to see some sometimes serious variation among a group, which can make setting such things complicated.
That’s a good point. I you’d need to entreat GMs to use their intuition to gauge what works best for the group and then make adjustments using the tools the system provides.

Generally speaking, party size modifies the expected experience budget you're supposed to use when constructing encounters (with the careful note that its usually better with larger groups to increase numbers of opponents than quality).
So pretty much just what the CRB has. I wasn’t sure whether they offered specific suggestions for how to change the encounter (like the demo adventure Torment and Legacy does).

Assuming that the scale in the CRB is based on two creatures of a certain level (from trivial to extreme: level − 2, level − 1, level, level + 1, level + 2), you can tweak things up and down by changing where you center that range. For my group, I’m going to experiment with level − 1 as the center, which would set the threat tiers to: 30, 40, 60, 80, 120.

Of course, I’ve done no testing (yet). I also haven’t done any analysis. I have no idea whether this holds up if you scale it the other way, which would put an extreme-threat encounter at 240 XP.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
Is it more effort to make 5E harder or PF2 easier?
My understand of 5e is that difficulty can vary a lot by the group and how optimized the PCs are. Balancing around that is difficult, particularly at higher levels. It’s essentially the same problem that PF1 has.

PF2’s math is pretty solid, so making it easier should just require building easier encounters. What I’m doing here is thinking out loud about what that would look like. Know Direction apparently suggested a different approach (treating creatures as one level higher for encounter building).

There is the issue of how adventures are tuned. I don’t think there is a way of universally balancing them (regardless of system). However, if differences in play were recognized by the system, it can provide better guidance on tailoring them to one’s group.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
For me 5e has more wiggle room, so if a group is not optimised or not particularly tactically accute then encounters aren't as punishing, however due to its tighter math, pf2e doesn't have this leeway

I think this makes it harder for published pf2e adventures, as they cannot build for as wide a range of groups. I think they ere on the side of difficult so people don't complain the adventures are a pushover.
 

Is it more effort to make 5E harder or PF2 easier?

From my experiences, 5E is generally easier, but there's not much you can do if things go south. Playing a published adventure, a new player made a couple of bad rolls and was dead in the second encounter. No way to stop it, it just happened (I checked the module after and the GM ran it right). 5E is a much simpler system, so there's not options you can take. So, in general, published modules have to be easier so random luck doesn't kill even a clever, prepared character.

PF2 does give you more tools, so you can mitigate disaster. But that means that adventure designers have to guess what level of prep the "average player" has done and balance for that. If your party is not great about planning, you will be in danger. If you are great at planning, it may be easy. And you always have hero points!

EXAMPLES AND MILD SPOILERS FOR AGES OF ASHES
  • In Ages of Ashes, for example, I'm pretty sure that the encounters assume you have 10 points of fire resistance from a certain point on. There's a lot of ambient burning and even some enemies that ignore the first 10 points.
  • I do not know if it was our GM or the module, but we were rarely unprepared for what we faced. A Lich is way less dangerous when two people cast heightened searing light (with true strike) on it. When we were surprised, it definitely was way nastier.
  • If you have zero hero points, you are living dangerously. We'd spend them on other things if we didn't anticipate a big fight, but if we knew there was a big bad around, we'd keep them.
  • Our closest calls were when we all decided that we didn't need to spend action to recall knowledge and could just attack. Once this nearly killed us when our small damage dealers focused on an enemy that had resist 10 all (at lowish levels) and so were pretty much ineffective, while the barbarian went for the creature that just had a lot of hits, but wasn't terribly dangerous.
  • There were a few times in the campaign that a hazard was very nasty. Again, I'm not sure if this was the module or the GM, but we learned in exploration mode about the hazards and were able to come up with good plans to minimize effects.
A strong hint for the game is: Emergency consumables! In general players don't like buying one-shot items as they see it as a sink for money that could be spent saving up for their next striking rune. But they are great for dealign with sudden unexpected issues. Here are ones I used in the campaign:
  • Dust of appearance. Blanket denial of invisibility. Expensive early on but changes fights from "The barbarian misses alf the time" to "... and they're dead"
  • Potion of Flying. As in every edition of D&D ever, get one as soon as you can.
  • Monkey Pin. Cheap way to climb walls fast at low level
  • Snapleaf. Feather fall ++
  • Wand of unseen servant. Not sure about that hazard? Trigger it remotely and watch.
Casters also have great options for Not Being Killed. They don't deal as much damage as martial, but they can avoid death in many more ways. Trick Magic Item at mid-high levels means martial can benefit form these too though. Here's what my warpriest was like at high-level:
  • Resist 5 to most stuff with a long-term spell
  • See invisible all day
  • False life wands, 2x, upgraded regularly.
  • Heroism at level via spell and via wand for back-ups
  • 20+ music scrolls for movement, teleports, disguise
  • Near the end, upgraded to a wand of haste that allowed party-wide haste. Bought a couple.
And now, my biggest two annoyances with PF2:
  • One react per turn makes playing someone who mitigates damage very annoying. Even a simple champion at low level has to choose. The enemy beside you casts a spell. Are you going to AoO him with your react? Or wait so you can use the react for the Champion mitigation power? Perhaps I felt this keenly as an orc warpriest / champion with 4 reacts in addition to spell reacts, but it felt harsh to not be able to use your class power because you wanted to keep the react "just in case" you needed to save someone.
  • Breath of Life does not work against death effects. A react that saves people from death, that won't work against something that casues death. Like, say, phantasmal killer. Grrrr. Pointless spell and made so by additional extra text. It's already a react so it's hard to use anyway. The additional restriction means it's almost never going to see play.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I think this makes it harder for published pf2e adventures, as they cannot build for as wide a range of groups. I think they ere on the side of difficult so people don't complain the adventures are a pushover.
I would have agreed with you a few weeks ago, but I’m not convinced of that now (see: Know Direction #233 at around the 18m mark). I think they made a mistake. Specifically, I think the playtest didn’t adequately account for survivorship bias.

What I recall at the time is that their primary focus was on the playtest adventure they’d released. It was designed to stress different parts of the system. If your focus is on a specific stress test, then you’re going to be limiting your feedback to groups most likely to put up with doing that kind of content, who I’d posit are likely also the kinds of groups who will really push a system.

The end result is a game that by default is tuned for groups that are really tactically savvy and are inclined towards system mastery. That’s not good because it means the official adventures are going to scare people away from the system for being too hard.

Look at the GMG’s dungeon crawl recipe: 6 moderate and 6 severe encounters (in addition to 2 trivial and 4 low). If I followed that recipe, my PCs would have died repeatedly in the first dungeon. We ought to be the ideal audience (former PF1 group that shifted 5e somewhat begrudgingly), but my players were never hardcore builders or tacticians. We had one TPK early in my PF2 campaign, and I got some static for that. Multiple TPKs would have prompted us to find a different game.

Fortunately, I think they can course correct. The game’s math does work, so you just need to recalibrate it around a different benchmark. I hope they include something in the errata and adjust their adventures going forward.
 
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