Pathfinder 1E Bell Curve Losses

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Not sure who needs to hear this, but I'll often see new GMs getting bent out of shape over the party's unexpected success: “Yeah man. They absolutely blew through an encounter that was, like, 5 CR higher than it should have been. I thought they were going to get TPK’d, but they wound up walking all over my beautiful mini-boss! My group is crazy OP. I think I’m going adjust encounter difficulty so they don’t just roflstomp my campaign.

Now let me be clear: depending on the circumstances, that may not be a bad call. However, if you’re making that decision based off of a single encounter, then I’d encourage you to think again.

The bell curve skews towards the middle, but statistical anomalies happen all the time. That’s why parties sometimes KO your dragon in round 2, and why they sometimes spend half an hour dealing the last hit point to that goblin. So my advice is simple: Give it time, let probability do its thing, and wait a few sessions before throwing out Challenge Rating as 100% useless. Because if you overcompensate, you may wind up with a TPK on your hands, wondering what went wrong.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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PnPgamer

Explorer
The usual mistake for thus is having a single boss and party of 4-6. Thats so many More actions that the boss will get. I am not surprised by these events.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Part of it, I think, is that a lot of GMs don't fully utilize monsters in a way that makes the most of their strengths, leading them to end up playing weaker than they look.

This is why the distinction between "spine CR" and "total CR" in Bad Axe Games' Trailblazer: Teratologue (affiliate link) was so brilliant. While the latter is the typical CR that's in the book, the former analyzes only the "spine" of the creature; that is, the basic Hit Dice, BAB, saves, and one or two other standard values that all monsters have.

The reason they analyze that separately is simple: a creature's Challenge Rating is a measure of all of its statistics. Now, not everything contributes evenly to the final number; skills make much less of an impact than feats, for instance. But ultimately, the total CR measures everything the creature can do.

That matters because if a creature has, say, a notable number of spell-like abilities (such as a pit fiend), then it's as much a caster as it is a martial enemy, so if you ignore its spell-like abilities, or only use them a little (i.e. have the pit fiend use its quickened fireball ability once or twice and nothing else), then you're not presenting the creature at its full CR, and so it's no surprise that a group of PCs whose APL equals the total CR will walk all over it. The pit fiend might have a total CR of 20, but you know what it's spine CR is?

Just under 10.

Running a pit fiend as a melee monster, who rushes in to trade blows with the fighter and little else, will result in a level 20 party dismantling it handily. Instead, it should be run more like an enemy spellcaster who just happens to also not be helpless in melee. Keep that in mind (as general advice for various enemies), and I suspect that will result in a lot more mileage being gotten out of a great deal of enemies that the PCs encounter.
 

PnPgamer

Explorer
Part of it, I think, is that a lot of GMs don't fully utilize monsters in a way that makes the most of their strengths, leading them to end up playing weaker than they look.

This is why the distinction between "spine CR" and "total CR" in Bad Axe Games' Trailblazer: Teratologue (affiliate link) was so brilliant. While the latter is the typical CR that's in the book, the former analyzes only the "spine" of the creature; that is, the basic Hit Dice, BAB, saves, and one or two other standard values that all monsters have.

The reason they analyze that separately is simple: a creature's Challenge Rating is a measure of all of its statistics. Now, not everything contributes evenly to the final number; skills make much less of an impact than feats, for instance. But ultimately, the total CR measures everything the creature can do.

That matters because if a creature has, say, a notable number of spell-like abilities (such as a pit fiend), then it's as much a caster as it is a martial enemy, so if you ignore its spell-like abilities, or only use them a little (i.e. have the pit fiend use its quickened fireball ability once or twice and nothing else), then you're not presenting the creature at its full CR, and so it's no surprise that a group of PCs whose APL equals the total CR will walk all over it. The pit fiend might have a total CR of 20, but you know what it's spine CR is?

Just under 10.

Running a pit fiend as a melee monster, who rushes in to trade blows with the fighter and little else, will result in a level 20 party dismantling it handily. Instead, it should be run more like an enemy spellcaster who just happens to also not be helpless in melee. Keep that in mind (as general advice for various enemies), and I suspect that will result in a lot more mileage being gotten out of a great deal of enemies that the PCs encounter.
Very interesting! Tell me are passive abilities that boost melee attacks or defenses (ie. Constant blur or elemental extra damage) taken into account in spine CR, or are they excluded?
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Very interesting! Tell me are passive abilities that boost melee attacks or defenses (ie. Constant blur or elemental extra damage) taken into account in spine CR, or are they excluded?
Looking at the book's explanation of spine CR values, it suggests that passive special abilities are excluded; spine values are set to measure universal abilities only (i.e. Hit Dice, BAB, base saves) while everything else goes toward the total CR.

EDIT: If you look at the book's full-size preview on its DTRPG page, linked to above, you can read the introduction, which offers several paragraphs about spine CR and how it's determined/used.
 
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nevin

Hero
Not sure who needs to hear this, but I'll often see new GMs getting bent out of shape over the party's unexpected success: “Yeah man. They absolutely blew through an encounter that was, like, 5 CR higher than it should have been. I thought they were going to get TPK’d, but they wound up walking all over my beautiful mini-boss! My group is crazy OP. I think I’m going adjust encounter difficulty so they don’t just roflstomp my campaign.

Now let me be clear: depending on the circumstances, that may not be a bad call. However, if you’re making that decision based off of a single encounter, then I’d encourage you to think again.

The bell curve skews towards the middle, but statistical anomalies happen all the time. That’s why parties sometimes KO your dragon in round 2, and why they sometimes spend half an hour dealing the last hit point to that goblin. So my advice is simple: Give it time, let probability do its thing, and wait a few sessions before throwing out Challenge Rating as 100% useless. Because if you overcompensate, you may wind up with a TPK on your hands, wondering what went wrong.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
I think every GM has hit the rock bottom my players always beat me madness at some point. I know i have. Thing is the game is all about letting your players be heroes.
If your obsessing about how you keep losing or getting upset that they bypassed your week of planning you've lost the spirit if the game already. Yeah I've spent weeks planning a perfect tough encounter and had the 6 minds in the party find the one thing I missed and end it in one round. I've also had a simple what I thought was going to be non-memorable encounter turn into the a blast that created a villain that plagued the party for an entire campaign. Control freaks want to DM but a good game is like holding an egg in your hand. Squeeze it into shape and it's done. Keep it gently warm and it hatches into something glorious. Quit worrying, adjust when things don't work and just have fun. If you can't have fun as a DM unless you win. Quit DMing
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
This is why the distinction between "spine CR" and "total CR" in Bad Axe Games' Trailblazer: Teratologue (affiliate link) was so brilliant. While the latter is the typical CR that's in the book, the former analyzes only the "spine" of the creature; that is, the basic Hit Dice, BAB, saves, and one or two other standard values that all monsters have.

The reason they analyze that separately is simple: a creature's Challenge Rating is a measure of all of its statistics. Now, not everything contributes evenly to the final number; skills make much less of an impact than feats, for instance. But ultimately, the total CR measures everything the creature can do.

That matters because if a creature has, say, a notable number of spell-like abilities (such as a pit fiend), then it's as much a caster as it is a martial enemy, so if you ignore its spell-like abilities, or only use them a little (i.e. have the pit fiend use its quickened fireball ability once or twice and nothing else), then you're not presenting the creature at its full CR, and so it's no surprise that a group of PCs whose APL equals the total CR will walk all over it. The pit fiend might have a total CR of 20, but you know what it's spine CR is?

Just under 10.

Running a pit fiend as a melee monster, who rushes in to trade blows with the fighter and little else, will result in a level 20 party dismantling it handily. Instead, it should be run more like an enemy spellcaster who just happens to also not be helpless in melee. Keep that in mind (as general advice for various enemies), and I suspect that will result in a lot more mileage being gotten out of a great deal of enemies that the PCs encounter.
Thank you, I hadn't been exposed to that idea and I really like the headspace to think about the two and how I'm running a foe.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I think every GM has hit the rock bottom my players always beat me madness at some point. I know i have. Thing is the game is all about letting your players be heroes.
If your obsessing about how you keep losing or getting upset that they bypassed your week of planning you've lost the spirit if the game already. Yeah I've spent weeks planning a perfect tough encounter and had the 6 minds in the party find the one thing I missed and end it in one round. I've also had a simple what I thought was going to be non-memorable encounter turn into the a blast that created a villain that plagued the party for an entire campaign. Control freaks want to DM but a good game is like holding an egg in your hand. Squeeze it into shape and it's done. Keep it gently warm and it hatches into something glorious. Quit worrying, adjust when things don't work and just have fun. If you can't have fun as a DM unless you win. Quit DMing
I don't know if you realize this, but that came off very condescending. This post is about re-calibrating when battles seem to easy - not a single person has suggested that the DM wants to win or kill the characters. They do want it to be fun and memorable.
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Part of it, I think, is that a lot of GMs don't fully utilize monsters in a way that makes the most of their strengths, leading them to end up playing weaker than they look.
To some extent, I think that this kind of strategic leeway is a good thing. It allows GMs to tailor encounter difficulty on the fly in response to the actual die results at the table. It also means that dialing in "encounter difficulty" is at least as much about tactics as numbers.

The spine CR is an interesting concept, putting some math behind the folk-GM knowledge of "action economy makes a difference." I'd be curious to hear how much it makes a difference in day-to-day encounter planning though. For example, do you ever plan to add a "stupid," non-optimal pit fiend as an encounter for a lower-level party?
 

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