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ZEITGEIST Combat Balancing in PF

Crispy120286

Explorer
Hey everyone,

I have a question about the balancing of the encounters in the campaign. Now for the longest time I only had 3 players and the combat seemed relatively easy. Now I have my 4th player back again and in curious about how to balance the encounters or if I should increase the difficulty any? Had anyone else had any experience with this?

To give an example of what I am dealing with, in the very first encounter of the 5th module, Rufus Hammerton was dropped In a single round before he could even take an action. And he's one of Kell's Lieutenants!
 
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Pathfinder, and D&D 3e and 5e, and heck, most RPGs just completely suck for game balance. PF2 and D&D 4e keep the balance pretty tight so characters at any table would be roughly equivalent in strength, but in the other games you can easily min-max in ways that the developers didn't realize.

Actually, any hit-point based game is going to reward focusing fire on the most dangerous target, unless there's some odd mechanics to deter that.

If your players are rewarded by challenging combat and they're the sort to optimize their stats, yeah, you'll need to increase the challenge. It could be as simple as raising people's ACs and saves, or giving, like, important NPCs special (aka, slightly hand-wave-y kinda bullsh**) defensive abilities that let them negate a hit or be invulnerable for a round, to make PCs turn their attentions elsewhere. 4e had some stuff like this, because it learned from MMOs.

Also, I think starting around adventure 6 was when the folks doing the PF conversion switched their philosophy a bit. In the early adventures the plan was more "find something of a similar CR and slot it in," but after adventure 5 we increasingly made custom enemies to do interesting things that we felt core PF monsters were lacking.
 

Crispy120286

Explorer
Thank you, I was worried about that. Once thing I have been trying to do is better is try and convert the abilities and powers of the 4e edition over to pathfinder (with limited success). However I do believe you're right in saying I should raise AC's and HP. Maybe a once an encounter get-out-of-jail-free card to not die immediately.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
All adventure paths are designed so a party with realativly little optimisation or competence can survive. If your group is tactically capabale and have reasonably well optimised characters they will trash most encounters in most published adventures. RangerWickett's comments reflect many of the reasons for this and these are baked into the CR system. Worse for PF a lot of characters in this AP use guns, guns break CR badly with their touch attack mechanic.
I rebuilt pretty much every major npc and encounter with optimised opponents or more creatures. I can produce pdf's of many of these optimised opponents if it would be helpful. But they are based on a challange for my players and may be off for other groups.
Also I don't want to win most fights just put a bit of a scare into the pc's, the only one I really tried for was the Voice of Rot and various things screwed up that encounter as I like my players to feel the big boss could win and the best way to do that is to come close.

Edit. It looks like I still have Herolab files for most of book 6-13 so it is a few minutes effort to produce pdf's of them
 
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Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
Simplest method is to stick Advanced on eerythign but that is often not enough, for key npc's add a level or 2 that sort of thing.
I use Hero Labs because it makes mofifying and designing characters very easy and also makes tracking buff spells and abilities easy, I cannot imaging running PF without it now after using it for at least 4 campaigns.
When I played in a campaign where the GM did not use it I ended up running the entire party in it for keeping tracj of our abilities and buffs as the other players found that so much better than pen and pencil tracking.
The Custom monsters are by far the hardest to track and for them (Fey Titans mainly I just added arbitary numbers to everything. Just be glad you are not running Wrath of the Righteous that was actually impossible to make challanging , it was a gunfight with 16" Naval guns in a small room
 

arkwright

Explorer
I'm in complete agreement with Ranger.

Come up with any list of desirable elements for a dramatic fight; everyone contributes, takes multiple rounds to resolve, varied tactics are used, terrain is a factor, etc etc. Chances are there will be a feature of PF/3.5's design that works against most or all of those elements, or it will merely be optimal and easy for your players to build PCs that counter those elements.

And to top it all of, PF becomes borderline unplayable at high-levels, when rocket-tag intensifies yet more, and combats bogged down by the lists of abilities each PCs have.

It is possible for GMs to create dramatic fights, but it often involves handwaving or going beyond encounter-building guidelines. And the trouble is that it is very easy to come up with a 'solution' that creates perverse incentives. Rufus Hammerton dies in the next fight? Maybe you implement a rule that named NPCs get one more round of actions after they hit 0hp. So then perhaps your PCs choose to cut down all other enemies before focusing named NPCs, leading to named NPCs being unglamorously dogpiled after the combat has already been effectively won.

I don't want to just say depressing things about PF, so I would like to offer two solutions, the 'hard' way and the 'easy' way. The 'hard' way is to methodically work out exactly what abilities your PCs have and what their damage-per-round is, and precisely design encounters that will test your PCs. This is hard because you need to account for a lot of abilities, account for the unpredictability of a d20, and even then a close-run battle can still appear like it is easy difficult. The 'easy' way is to use your GM-narration powers to try to gloss over awkward combats. Talk up desperate blows struck by your enemies, have your enemies make speeches, describe how quick defeats are the results of adroit tactic and careful training by your PCs. It can feel hollow, but it can also be surprisingly effective.

As a final note- like Andrew says, APs are designed to be able to be completed by a core-only fighter/wizard/cleric/rogue party. You should absolutely feel free to make changes to enemies or add and replace them. There are no 'one size fits all' encounters in PF1e. You need to play PF2e or to a lesser extent 4e for that.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
I think high level PF combat is fun. Unless you add in mythic which does break it.
I have except for WotR never had a problem with creating game legal challanging opponents and making important encounters challanging. A factor to consider in this campaign is there is a strong tendency for one fight a day encounters , this makes spellcaster classes more powerful as they can use high level spells without having to conserve them, of you have casters boost the npc's more . Of course the same thing helps npc casters .
I personally hate 4e and would never GM it and stopped buying PF with the end of 1st ed partly becasue 2e did not inspire me , partly because I have enought PF stuff to run until I look at 6th ed D+D or 3rd ed Pathfinder. Know back to trying to challange a group in Ars Magica 5th ed
 

Crispy120286

Explorer
With the comments on Hero Labs I think I'll look into that. Currently I keep my campaign documents with a google spreadsheet. I would love it if you could share your modifications of the encounters for that. Can you control combat directly through Hero Lab? I'll have to watch some videos and reviews for it. But of you have any Zeitgeist files for it, if love to view them!

I am thinking of completely rebuilding the Npcs for the Kell Fight because they're going to be a couple of lvl 5 characters going after a party of lvl 8s.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
You want Hero labs not Hero Labs online that one only covers PF2 and Starfinder.
It nicely lets you tick a couple of boxes to apply any buff spell or effect and just makes building characters easier as it has (if you have the appropriate packages) everything. There is Zeitgeist file for free which adds Eladrin, Devas and some items from the first 5 adventures as well as the campaign themes and prestige classes. I'll track my files for Kell and book 5 and post them today
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
This file includes a rebuilt Creed returned from a bath in Witch oil to fight the pc's in the Bleak gate, he kept coming back. Because everyone knows the Butler did it. The Kasavarina here is really a placeholder I produced a real version of her with proper gear in book 8. Gale is probably too dangerous for this book as a rebuilt Kinetecist she nova's and wiped out most of the terrorists in the subway tunnel letting the pc's capture the BOMB.
The PDF is a bit large but I had everything stored in one file
 

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Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
Yes you can control and set anything in the software, much more flexible than a pdf , It is not perfect but I would not run a PF game without it. If I end up running PF2 or SF I will get the later version for those games
 

The Pathfinder 1e version of the Zeitgeist adventure path is particularly egregious because almost all of the NPCs and monsters are statted extremely conservatively. I dare say that it is easier than even a typical Paizo Adventure Path.

If you are running the Pathfinder 1e version and you want to see some actual challenge in combat encounters, then you had best ready yourself to rewrite NPCs and monsters nearly from scratch.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
If it means anything, my players dropped Rufus Hammerton in round 1 too, and we were playing 4e back then. Happens some time.

Been looking at PF2 lately and I like what I see. I'd love to have run Zeitgeist in that system. It looks ideal.
 

Crispy120286

Explorer
@gideonpepys! Haven't seen you on the forums since your epic conclusion of your campaign!
Question for you sir, Didn't you switch over to Fate half way through? How well did that work out? Which edition did you use? Maybe it wasn't you, but I remember one of the completed campaigns did. I was gifted the Fate Core book for Christmas so i'm curious about how difficult it would be. I don't think I would however.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
It was the Cypher System we switched to. Oddly, I wouldn’t recommend it and would much prefer to have stuck to a crunchier system, but the idea was to compromise with some of my players who prefer to focus on story, and enable me to run the game without extensive conversion work. (I got to the point where I could convert on the fly and use the 4e stat blocks as I went.)

Still wish we’d finished in 4e but the combats... took... too... long...

(We were very lucky to get our campaign in under the lockdown wire as we haven’t gamed in person since.)
 

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