PF2 Balancing encounters (and converting stuff from other editions)

CapnZapp

Hero
It's still early days, but it is starting to feel it will be significantly harder for me as GM to offer challenging (dangerous, exciting) combats that still don't threaten a TPK.

Less than stellar tactics, less than stellar positioning and definitely less than stellar dice rolling meant my party of five heroes got absolutely hammered by one Bugbear Tormentor (a level three creature) and his three goblin wives (each level -1), with two heroes down and one just one point of Dying away from perma-death.

I mean, coming from 5E, I am absolutely astounded how this supposedly not-double-deadly encounter just cuts right through them... o_o I guess even a L-1 creature can do some serious damage when every attack against it misses ;-)

The root cause of this is, I guess, that the baseline to hit chance is more like 50% in PF2 (and that's before MAP), as opposed to easily 60-75% in 5th Edition. You're much more likely to have a bit of bad luck ruin your whole turn (as opposed to merely turn a great turn into an average one).

I also am starting to suspect this will make adventure conversion a bitch, if you can't simply port over the encounters pretty much wholesale and count on heroic "true grit" to persevere should an encounter accidentally become a bit rough.

I mean, if every module requires careful calculations and recalibrations that will considerably narrow the appeal of using old Dungeon modules for your PF2 gaming needs... Perhaps not for serious projects, but for me, the lazy DM that just wants to pick something up.

Guess I just needed to vent the fact a single Level 3 creature almost single-handedly stopped the party's progress dead in its tracks. Not that I mind adversity. I mind having to go easier on them in the future if that is required to not have bad luck stop the story from progressing :)

PS. Party is: level 3 sorcerer and level 2 ranger, rogue, monk and cleric. (After tonight, the ranger and cleric leveled up)
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
I think it may definitely require some understanding of the rules to make challenging but not too challenging encounters. This can go both ways, I think. Luck may allow the PCs to absolutely roll some encounters that should have seemed quite threatening. Some of it is may come down to learning how best to make opponents act "cinematically" without optimizing their attack routine too much. If you focus fire PCs with straight attack, attack, attack turns they may not going to last too long.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
Of course. One of the skills every DM needs to master is the ability to hide his disappointment when the Cool BBEG goes down without as much as a whimper :) (The solution is "better luck next time", not using Hand of God to make the BBEG suitably threatening after all)

As for your other observation, I reserve the right for my only monster to target one and the same hero with his only attack (the rogue's Double Feint) especially since "cinematic dispersion" would be against the rules :)

Other than that, as for

I think it may definitely require some understanding of the rules to make challenging but not too challenging encounters.
Well, my point was the opposite of relativizing every ruleset into the same category. Of course you need "some understanding" of any ruleset you want to utilize. My point here is that PF2 seems to have a much narrower balance point than 5E.

While that is neither good or bad, what could be bad is if the difficulty level of getting it just right is considerably higher, if you feel compelled to spend more time getting it right, if you must get it right as opposed to just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Or, rather, if the consequence when you don't get it just right (and you will get it not just right eventually) is much harsher.
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
Well, to me I take a different approach.

While the OP may be right, and I suspect so as a default scoring that makes even equate to high risk will lead to more chances of crisis endings, I feel any system can let you provide eady or risky engagements - deliberate or by accidrnt.

BUT...

I emphasize scenarios being built to be robust, reactive and resilient.

Key for this is the reactive. Both sides must have reasonable chances to react to changing circumstances with choices etc thst can perhaps drastically change the trends.

Does the nature of combat in PF2 reduce the chances of reversing course once the fight has started to go south? Does it have more swingy high yield results or scaling of features that makes reversing a bad start less possible? Does it have a faster downward slide that cuts down on the chances for realizing "holy crap, we gotta run" mid-fight from working?"

Does it make swingy dice innately more powerful in terms of closing doors on various options?

Obviously, the Three-Rs mostly focus on the story-side options and setup in general, but practically speaking the degree and severity that a "bad start" or a few " bad rolls " can close off options to be reactive is gonna matter for that.

Now, obviously ablot of factors go into making reactive possible.

For those in PF2 actual play, are you seeing any issues with the ability to reverse setbacks or make escapes once things go bad? Do fights that ho bad go quickly to inescapable by dint of rules making recover to flee hard?
 
It's still early days, but it is starting to feel it will be significantly harder for me as GM to offer challenging (dangerous, exciting) combats that still don't threaten a TPK.
...
I mean, coming from 5E, I am absolutely astounded how this supposedly not-double-deadly encounter just cuts right through them... o_o I guess even a L-1 creature can do some serious damage when every attack against it misses ;-)
Coming from 5e - especially early-days 5e, like HotDQ, that should come as no shock, really.
Though, 5e tends to deliver too-easy-seeming combats until you outnumber the party, then turns suddenly deadly.

I mean, if every module requires careful calculations and recalibrations that will considerably narrow the appeal of using old
Paizo has a pretty impressive record of providing adventures for PF. I'm sure we can expect plenty for PF2.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
There is no real way to balance encounters irrespective of player skill in Pathfinder 2. Things like positioning, coordination, timing, and tactical choices make a large impact on your success or failure. This applies for both team PC and team monster.

According to the encounter building guidelines that fight was about halfway between a moderate and severe encounter for your group of player characters. A moderate fight is one which should win soundly with good tactics, but might leave you needing to spend time to recover with poor tactics or poor luck. A severe encounter is one you should win with good play, but bad luck or bad tactics could make things turn south. The Core Rulebook suggests a severe encounter is one in which the PCs might need to think about retreating if things start to turn against them. Severe is close to what Fifth Edition calls deadly. They recommend severe encounters for big moments and boss fights. Extreme encounters are like 50/50 even with good tactics and average luck.

My suggestion would be to use the encounter guidelines and mostly stick to trivial and moderate encounters while your players learn the game and how to work together more. Ramp up difficulty as their skill at the game improves. Moderate encounters really are much more of the legitimately challenging without much risk of a TPK.

There are some other things you can do from the GM side. You might want to moderate monster tactics a bit or explain what you are doing tactically without giving away details about monsters. You can also encourage a bit more reconnaissance and Recall Knowledge rolls so they have a better idea what they are up against before they face it.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
Paizo has a pretty impressive record of providing adventures for PF. I'm sure we can expect plenty for PF2.
I wasn't talking about new scenarios.

I was talking about the practice where you run your favorite modules in a new system. Whether it is easy or hard to convert can impact a game's popularity.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
There is no real way to balance encounters irrespective of player skill in Pathfinder 2.

Severe is close to what Fifth Edition calls deadly.
Excuse my crude quoting methods.

This is worrisome.

Are you sure you're not basing that on what the book wants you to say? Because in my experience, everything short of double-deadly in 5E is best characterized as a cakewalk.

Two heroes down? Sure it's early days still, but the contrast to 5E could not be greater. (Again, not complaining here, just relating my experiences)

The advice to stick to trivial encounters (the game's term, not truly trivial): wouldn't this mean slower xp gain (had I run an official module)?

Anyway, the easy advice at this stage for those of us lazy enough to not count xp and encounter budgets would be to stick to monsters of your own level (not higher), and only feature even numbers when every foe is two levels lower than you.
 
Excuse my crude quoting methods.

This is worrisome.

Are you sure you're not basing that on what the book wants you to say? Because in my experience, everything short of double-deadly in 5E is best characterized as a cakewalk.

Two heroes down? Sure it's early days still, but the contrast to 5E could not be greater. (Again, not complaining here, just relating my experiences)

The advice to stick to trivial encounters (the game's term, not truly trivial): wouldn't this mean slower xp gain (had I run an official module)?

Anyway, the easy advice at this stage for those of us lazy enough to not count xp and encounter budgets would be to stick to monsters of your own level (not higher), and only feature even numbers when every foe is two levels lower than you.
"everything short of double-deadly in 5E is best characterized as a cakewalk." isn't true, unless you're doing like one encounter per day, and even then, it would be very very very swingy. The characters in my guild game are often quite optimized, and get a lot of magic item, all custom, as well as a free first level feat- it results in hard encounters being more or less "moderate" and deadly being the new "hard"

or unless you're strictly using lair actionless solos, i guess.
 

dave2008

Legend
There is no real way to balance encounters irrespective of player skill in Pathfinder 2. Things like positioning, coordination, timing, and tactical choices make a large impact on your success or failure. This applies for both team PC and team monster.
This reaffirms why I can't DM this game for my group. That is not the type of players they are. I am still interested in playing it, just can't DM unless I find a new group and I don't think I am interested in that.
 

dave2008

Legend
A severe encounter is one you should win with good play, but bad luck or bad tactics could make things turn south. The Core Rulebook suggests a severe encounter is one in which the PCs might need to think about retreating if things start to turn against them. Severe is close to what Fifth Edition calls deadly.
That is much tougher than a 5e deadly encounter. In 5e, there is no need to retreat from a "deadly" encounter, unless the group was already mostly spent before the encounter.
 
There is no real way to balance encounters irrespective of player skill in Pathfinder 2. This applies for both team PC and team monster.
Not to be completely flippant/cynical (not completely), but isn't that the case with any D&D ed/clone/love-letter/heartbreaker game that even goes so far as to have encounter guidelines. I mean, taking 'player skill' to include everything from Gygaxian 'skilled play' to tactical savvy to gaming the DM to system mastery and chargen/level-up build-optimization?

A severe encounter is one you should win with good play, but bad luck or bad tactics could make things turn south. The Core Rulebook suggests a severe encounter is one in which the PCs might need to think about retreating if things start to turn against them.
Is PF2 like most versions of D&D, with no particular mechanics to facilitate such retreat, does it allow for abstract/automatic retreat like a 13A 'campaign loss,' or does is have mechanics that lie somewhere between those extremes?
 
I wasn't talking about new scenarios.
I was talking about the practice where you run your favorite modules in a new system. Whether it is easy or hard to convert can impact a game's popularity.
TBF, you didn't say anything about reprising favorite modules (nor wanting to economize by recycling modules), but, rather:
that will considerably narrow the appeal of using old Dungeon modules for your PF2 gaming needs... Perhaps not for serious projects, but for me, the lazy DM that just wants to pick something up.
Which sounded like, y'know, if you just want to pick something up, you're talking the company that's famed for putting out APs. There should be somethings for you to pick up & run. You shouldn't /need/ to mine other systems for good scenarios.

But, I get it if you'd want to reprise an old favorite, I've done that with 4e/E and 5e pretty easily (not /my/ favorites, full disclosure: I didn't much care for modules back in the day, but 'old favorites' by general acclaim - point is, not hard to convert from older D&D to 4e or 5e).
If running Village of Homlett or Forge of Fury or anything in-between for the nth time in yet another new edition is something you're wanting out of PF2, anyway...
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Tony Vargas

You are right to be somewhat flippant. This is true for any game in which the things players do have an impact on their success and failure.

There are system level features that make the round to round choices players make in Pathfinder 2 have more of an impact. The delta between good play and poor play is fairly large compared to comparable games.

Right now there are no explicit retreat mechanics, but the GM does have the ability to transition between encounter and exploration mode at anytime. It suggests doing so anytime the results of an encounter seem like a forgone conclusion. That's how I would handle a retreat scenario.

There are a number of places in the rules where things are basically left intentionally blank for groups to make individual rulings based on GM judgment. This is one of them.
 
There are system level features that make the round to round choices players make in Pathfinder 2 have more of an impact. The delta between good play and poor play is fairly large compared to comparable games.
Even pinning down what constitutes 'good' vs 'poor' play in comparable games (variations on D&D) can be tricky.
Right now there are no explicit retreat mechanics, but the GM does have the ability to transition between encounter and exploration mode at anytime. It suggests doing so anytime the results of an encounter seem like a forgone conclusion. That's how I would handle a retreat scenario.
Interesting. That does sound closer to the 13A approach than I'd've expected.
 

kenada

Explorer
The advice to stick to trivial encounters (the game's term, not truly trivial): wouldn't this mean slower xp gain (had I run an official module)?
If you follow the suggested rate of leveling (about once every four sessions) and accomplishments per session (several minor, one or two moderate, and one major [if any]), PCs should end up getting more XP from accomplishments than encounters.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
TBF, you didn't say anything about reprising favorite modules (nor wanting to economize by recycling modules), but, rather: Which sounded like, y'know, if you just want to pick something up, you're talking the company that's famed for putting out APs. There should be somethings for you to pick up & run. You shouldn't /need/ to mine other systems for good scenarios.

But, I get it if you'd want to reprise an old favorite, I've done that with 4e/E and 5e pretty easily (not /my/ favorites, full disclosure: I didn't much care for modules back in the day, but 'old favorites' by general acclaim - point is, not hard to convert from older D&D to 4e or 5e).
If running Village of Homlett or Forge of Fury or anything in-between for the nth time in yet another new edition is something you're wanting out of PF2, anyway...
The thing I want to say is:

My first impression is that using non-PF2 material for PF2 seems significantly riskier/harder than using non-X material for X (where X is an edition of most every dnd:ish game other than PF2*).

*) possibly excepting 4E but I don't want to discuss 4E

 

CapnZapp

Hero
If you follow the suggested rate of leveling (about once every four sessions) and accomplishments per session (several minor, one or two moderate, and one major [if any]), PCs should end up getting more XP from accomplishments than encounters.
Thanks, but my personal opinion is to either run with xp or shuck it entirely. That is, to me mucking about with monster xp when you end up getting more xp from other stuff just screams "just do milestones". To be worth the hassle, the xp you gain from encounters need to be "important". :)
 

CapnZapp

Hero
That is much tougher than a 5e deadly encounter. In 5e, there is no need to retreat from a "deadly" encounter, unless the group was already mostly spent before the encounter.
Yeah, complete newcomers to the game, or people that spend close to zero time minmaxing, might find "deadly encounters" to have some element what natural language suggests to be deadly.

For the rest of us; "deadly" is pretty much the lowest level of challenge where it's worth bringing out the dice, drawing a battlemap and so on, instead of just saying "you encounter a couple of bugbears, mow them down without breaking a sweat, and now you..."

In Pathfinder 2, I just found out that one (1) bugbear (an actual bugbear from the Bestiary, you know the hairy low-level upsized goblin monster) indeed is what you and me consider "deadly" (not 5E-deadly, deadly deadly).

You sure you weren't part of the monster design team, Dave? :)
 
My first impression is that using non-PF2 material for PF2 seems significantly riskier/harder than using non-X material for X (where X is an edition of most every dnd:ish game other than PF2*).
That's only to be expected, I suppose, but how hard/risky the native system is, itself, might have a lot to do with the contrast. 3.5/PF1 was a bear to build monsters/NPCs, let alone encounters under, and the results were unpredictable, 5e monsters are easier to build than 3e, but the encounter design guidelines more complicated, and not exactly more dependable - though, for a lot of folks they seem to break low, they can instead break high when the party is outnumbered.

It sounds like PF2 combats are less dependable in terms of intended/expected challenge, to begin with, even than PF1 or 5e, which is saying something. (But, then, in general, D&D(ish) games have never been at all dependable or simple in terms of encounter design, with guidelines either absent or complicated, and prone to delivering unanticipated results... with 4e, as always, the outlier you'd rather not discuss, of course.)

Ultimately, it sounds like a problem that's not new nor unique to PF2, and, thus, probably not much of a problem. (It might be off-putting to new players, or very hypothetical* players with only 4e experience bypassing 5e to go straight to PF2.)
 

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