PF2 Embedding Level Into The Narrative

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
One of the things that really differentiates Pathfinder is the way it directly embeds level directly into the narrative of the game. One of the design goals for the game is to tell Pathfinder stories as well as the game possibly can. One of the core things that makes a Pathfinder story a Pathfinder story is that level matters and it matters deeply. They want fighting a higher level monster or character to feel desperate, a creature of your level to feel like an even match, and a lower level enemy to feel like you have the upper hand. This is irrespective of the details of individual monster designs. This is accomplished using a combination of mechanics :
  • Extremely tight character and monster math.
  • Level based scaling. You add your level to everything you are Proficient from including saves, spells, armor, weapons, and skills.
  • Instead of challenge ratings monsters have a level. A monster of your level is roughly an even match. They will similar numbers in just about every respect. There is individual variance for monster's design.
  • You achieve a Critical Success whenever you beat a DC by 10 and achieve a Critical Failure whenever your result is 10 less than the DC.
  • Critical hits are strong. You double your damage and there is often an impact beyond the damage such as an archer pinning an enemy in place.
  • Multiple Attack Penalty. Whenever you make more than one attack in a round your second attack gets a -5 penalty. Subsequent attacks beyond that suffer a -10 penalty.​
This all combines to make facing higher level opponents feel desperate. When you face off against a higher level monster you hit less, your spells are less effective, you get hit a lot more, and because of the way critical hits work you get critically hit more. Those critical hits hurt a lot. You also suffer the effects of their spells and abilities a lot more often. You really have to work as a team to bring those advantages down. Stuff like flanking, positioning, and invoking status effects become a lot more critical to success. You need to bring out all the stops. This is especially true because not only does your first attack succeed less often that second attack has such a low chance of success you often better off doing other things to help your chances.

Against a monster of your level your first attack will generally succeed about half the time. Your second attack will succeed about 25% of the time. You are generally better off using your third action to do something else.

Against a monster 3 levels higher your first attack will succeed about 35% of the time. Your second 10% of the time. Your third 5%. Generally only the first attack has a good chance of success.

These numbers can obviously change through tactics, status effects, and doing things like targeting weak saves. Against higher level monsters these things are all the more critical.
 

BryonD

Adventurer
No mention of dragons or orcs or demons or giants. No mention of weapons or setting or justifications.
There is nothing that engages the spirit of narrative. Your description sounds more like craps than a TTRPG.

The core mechanic doesn't care how an orc is different than a ghost. If you know something is three levels higher than something else, you know 80% of everything you need to know. Your post demonstrates this well.
A wizard vs. orc or a rogue vs. a ghost will have refinements. But what you said stands as the default truth that everything else tweaks.
 

Parmandur

Legend
This is why I like bounded accuracy so much more. I could be totally wrong because I havent played PF2e, but this makes me feel like lower CR monsters will become useless as a tool for the DM. Is there any form of bounded accuracy in PF2e to combat this?
No, PF2 very intentionally eschews that concept for reasons of Paizo's preferred style of story. Not my cup of tea, I'd rather keep things in play longer.
 

dave2008

Hero
Against a monster of your level your first attack will generally succeed about half the time. Your second attack will succeed about 25% of the time. You are generally better off using your third action to do something else.

Against a monster 3 levels higher your first attack will succeed about 35% of the time. Your second 10% of the time. Your third 5%. Generally only the first attack has a good chance of success.
This concerns me. Just three levels provides such a big difference?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
No mention of dragons or orcs or demons or giants. No mention of weapons or setting or justifications.
There is nothing that engages the spirit of narrative. Your description sounds more like craps than a TTRPG.

The core mechanic doesn't care how an orc is different than a ghost. If you know something is three levels higher than something else, you know 80% of everything you need to know. Your post demonstrates this well.
A wizard vs. orc or a rogue vs. a ghost will have refinements. But what you said stands as the default truth that everything else tweaks.
I am using the normative case for purposes of analysis. There absolutely is a baseline set of benchmarks for designing a creature of a given level and design process is based on the end result. However, I would not describe the variation between monsters as refinements. Many monsters vary dramatically from the expected baseline in ways that capture how the monster should feel.

As an example zombies typically have the hit points of a higher level monster, extremely low Armor Class for a monster of their level, are slow so they only get two actions a turn, have significant weaknesses to positive energy and slashing damage. They are immune to death effects, disease, mental, paralyzed, poison, and unconscious. They are also damaged by healing. They also do above average damage for creatures of their level.

Taken together you have a slow, lumbering husk that is easy to hit, but takes a hit and keeps on going. If you can keep away from them you can stop them before they get to you. Still if there is a decent number of them they just keep on coming.

A lot of monsters break the rules. The baseline is the starting point, but alterations are made against the baseline to achieve ludo narrative harmony.

I feel like the monster design process is definitely based on the feel and narrative role of the monster. They seem willing to deviate from the baseline in some pretty substantive ways. Monsters have specific weaknesses, resistances, and immunities. It does not feel like the benchmarks are overly constraining. I have not seen a monster with better ludo narrative harmony than the Pathfinder 2 hydra which requires you to kill each of its heads to bring it down. It can even spring additional heads if you do not cauterize a head in time.

That being said it is very much based on the final result. There is no process for defining the monster's stats, skills, and abilities. When designing a monster you decide how tough you want it to be based on existing bench marks and make adjustments to get the right feel, sometimes some pretty drastic ones. There are no rules for creature types, hit dice, ability score generation or the like. You just give the monster the things you think it needs.

I know this is like not your bag, but the monsters are plenty different in my opinion.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
This is why I like bounded accuracy so much more. I could be totally wrong because I havent played PF2e, but this makes me feel like lower CR monsters will become useless as a tool for the DM. Is there any form of bounded accuracy in PF2e to combat this?
By default Pathfinder 2 utterly rejects bounded accuracy. The narrative of the game is one in which goblin warriors are scenery to a 5th level party and are not included in the encounter budget. I expect we will eventually get some kind of troop mechanic to represent larger groups. They want lower level enemies to make you feel strong and powerful.

There will be extensive coverage of removing the level bonus from the game in the Gamemastery Guide. They will explain in detail how it effects the narrative of the game, what it means for encounter design including new guidelines for the variant. One of the things they are focused on is when they provide a variant is adequately explaining how to implement it and its impact on play.
 

dave2008

Hero
By default Pathfinder 2 utterly rejects bounded accuracy. The narrative of the game is one in which goblin warriors are scenery to a 5th level party and are not included in the encounter budget. I expect we will eventually get some kind of troop mechanic to represent larger groups. They want lower level enemies to make you feel strong and powerful.
I think it is a probably a good idea to have a different default than 5e, but I must say it is one of my favorite aspect of 5e. I much prefer BA to the massive increases in ability you see in 3e/PF1/4e and now PF2e. That being said, I don't think it will matter much to a player. I hope to give it a try soon and find out.

There will be extensive coverage of removing the level bonus from the game in the Gamemastery Guide. They will explain in detail how it effects the narrative of the game, what it means for encounter design including new guidelines for the variant. One of the things they are focused on is when they provide a variant is adequately explaining how to implement it and its impact on play.
So the GG will allow one to extract level from the narrative then? That could be good, I'm just not convinced embedding level into the narrative is a good thing. 4e embedded level as well, but it also provided a method to adjust this (with solos, elites, standards, minions, and swarms) from the get go that allowed more flexibility. Without that flexibility I think 5 levels is to short of a period of relevance. Maybe I will feel different when I play a game, but it definitely bothers me as a DM from a world building / game narrative perspective.
 

BryonD

Adventurer
I know this is like not your bag, but the monsters are plenty different in my opinion.
I mentioned more than just monsters. I mentioned classes and other narrative elements. The issue applies to the game from start to finish.

As to "plenty different", well, obviously this is highly subjective. But the game has to stand up compared to other games. And I'll simply point you back to your own starting post here. It didn't even occur to you to address anything specific to creature, class, or anything else. Just "3 levels" is all we need to know. Yes, as I said, you can "tweak" things after that. And so you can declare those tweaks to be outstanding and I can't stop you. But there are not many games out there where the fans would make a post like your which completely omits the narrative elements.

Quite simply, the rules within the book, the raw mechanics, are a tactical math game that facilitates telling stories on top. I am not saying that the ideas of fighter and wizard are not there. They are embedded into the fine tuning from A to Z. But it is just the fine tuning.

There is nothing wrong with loving this kind of game. But it is also reasonable for fans to expect that the core math will be secondary to the narrative ideas. And, again, you seem to agree here since you readily concede it as not my "bag". But it isn't a simple question of my opinion vs. your opinion. It is a question of being a game that creates a great desire to play over all others in a large portion of the market. How many people is it not the "bag" for? And, how does that number change with a lot of game play? Is this a flaw that becomes a lot more obvious after a player has fought 50 monsters as three different classes than it was the first time played? Yes, it is.

And my point in replying is to show that the lack of traction between the mechanics and the story is strongly embodied in what you posted. And that will hurt the success of the game, which will in turn hurt you because, over time, it becomes just another of the long list of games that has minimal fan base and support.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I remember reading one of the comments by one of the PF2 devs during the playtest, about having once read a story he disliked about a master swordsman getting trounced by 10 squibs. He felt that was "uncool." Thing is, a powerful swordsman is going to get owned by 10 newbs most of the time. I like the old school, hardcore wargamer influenced and grounded narrative of Ye Oldde Tyme RPG based in old fiction written by combat veterans.
 

dave2008

Hero
I remember reading one of the comments by one of the PF2 devs during the playtest, about having once read a story he disliked about a master swordsman getting trounced by 10 squibs. He felt that was "uncool." Thing is, a powerful swordsman is going to get owned by 10 newbs most of the time. I like the old school, hardcore wargamer influenced and grounded narrative of Ye Oldde Tyme RPG based in old fiction written by combat veterans.
However, there is definitely a place for a game where that type of fiction, the untouchable sword master, exists. Heck, it is even available in 5e, it just takes more levels of separation.
 

Parmandur

Legend
However, there is definitely a place for a game where that type of fiction, the untouchable sword master, exists. Heck, it is even available in 5e, it just takes more levels of separation.
True, but if I want that kind of story, I'd go more for a rules light system.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
My concern is whiffing - you wait 15 minutes for the initiative to get back around to you, and your attacks all miss and you felt like you accomplished nothing. Give me a system where even against tougher opponents I have a ~75% to contribute in some way when doing my normal attack sequence.

Casters, with half damage on miss, excuse me, on save, are taken care of this psychological need. I don't want a system in today's day and age that intentionally does that to weapon wielders. I really hope the numbers above on % hits for a creature 3 levels higher are wrong, otherwise PF2 has designed itself in a space that isn't for me. May work for others, I wish them enjoyment.
 

dave2008

Hero
I really hope the numbers above on % hits for a creature 3 levels higher are wrong, otherwise PF2 has designed itself in a space that isn't for me. May work for others, I wish them enjoyment.
Yep, I know some people complain about too many hit points, but I prefer the tougher monsters have more hit points to the tougher monsters are harder to hit model. I can make a fight with a monster that has a lot of HP fun, I have a much harder time if the players can't even hit the monster.
 

MockingBird

Explorer
I agree, when a player takes there turn and cant do anything you can see the disappointment and frustration wash over them. I'm not a big fan of damage on a miss but I do like the ability to be able to do something. If my players see that they're not dealing a lot of hurt they will start strategizing a retreat. At least they are able to inflict some wounds on the tougher enemy, if it bleeds it can be killed and it's not utterly hopeless.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
My concern is whiffing - you wait 15 minutes for the initiative to get back around to you, and your attacks all miss and you felt like you accomplished nothing. Give me a system where even against tougher opponents I have a ~75% to contribute in some way when doing my normal attack sequence.

Casters, with half damage on miss, excuse me, on save, are taken care of this psychological need. I don't want a system in today's day and age that intentionally does that to weapon wielders. I really hope the numbers above on % hits for a creature 3 levels higher are wrong, otherwise PF2 has designed itself in a space that isn't for me. May work for others, I wish them enjoyment.
There is a lot that can be done tactically and strategically to shift accuracy and downgrade an opponent's chance of success. You are expected to use spells, consumables, active class abilities, and things like feint, demoralize, and flanking to improve your chances of success. Combat maneuvers like Trip and Grapple that target weak save DCs are also meant to be compelling strategies. Faced with a superior foe blindly attacking it is meant to be somewhat of a frustrating experience because it is a losing strategy and should feel like that.

Like a wizard can cast Fear which causes Frightened 1 even on a successful save and if you flank that then causes the Flat Footed condition. Together that adds up to bring your success chances up to what they would be against a foe of your level all other things being equal. Inspire Courage from a Bard or Bless from a Cleric will also grant a +1 status bonus to all attacks which stacks with the other two.

The base character math is fairly tight, but there are plenty of ways to shift the ways it plays out at the table.

Personally, I like how this plays out at the table. Group coordination can make a difficult encounter far more manageable. Just pounding away at a boss monster is unlikely to work. You have to shift tactics and strategy.

That said I can get how this might be a frustrating experience for some people. I like games with a lot of uncertainty where we have no idea how things will turn out. I can understand enjoying at least making a dent even if it is a small dent.

I will add that a monster that is 3 or 4 levels higher than you is supposed to be meaningfully stronger and facing one is supposed to be a big event. A monster of your level is not like a standard monster in 4th Edition or a monster of your CR in Pathfinder 1. It's not an appropriate challenge for a standard encounter. It is your equal in every sense of word all other things being equal of course. It's a tossup.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
There is a lot that can be done tactically and strategically to shift accuracy and downgrade an opponent's chance of success. You are expected to use spells, consumables, active class abilities, and things like feint, demoralize, and flanking to improve your chances of success. Combat maneuvers like Trip and Grapple that target weak save DCs are also meant to be compelling strategies. Faced with a superior foe blindly attacking it is meant to be somewhat of a frustrating experience because it is a losing strategy and should feel like that.
I'm glad that higher level creatures aren't actually too hard to hit in actual play so you don't end up having useless rounds. And I assume some monsters can do the same, so low level foes can still be a threat at higher levels, right? What type of modifiers are we looking at in normal play?

That said I can get how this might be a frustrating experience for some people. I like games with a lot of uncertainty where we have no idea how things will turn out. I can understand enjoying at least making a dent even if it is a small dent.
It's not about uncertainty for the whole fight. That's the wrong scale for what I'm talking about. It's about waiting 15 minutes for an action, doing nothing, then waiting 15 minutes for your next action. That's half an hour of uselessness for a single whiff round, and for me when playing a 3 hour session every other week that's just unbelievably sucky. Sure, there will be times the dice gods frown on us, but at most 1/4 of the time - regardless of how tough the foe is. When it starts getting below that and you can miss multiple rounds in a row the mechanics are providing more of a frustration than enjoyment.

Though this does make an assumption that combat isn't significantly faster then a game like 5e or 13th Age - if you get to your rounds faster that's less downtime so being ineffective in one round isn't as large a deal. How's combat speed?

I will add that a monster that is 3 or 4 levels higher than you is supposed to be meaningfully stronger and facing one is supposed to be a big event.
I'm not talking about making a fight easier - same level of uncertainty taken as a whole. Just every character will likely make some contribution every round.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
By default Pathfinder 2 utterly rejects bounded accuracy. The narrative of the game is one in which goblin warriors are scenery to a 5th level party and are not included in the encounter budget. I expect we will eventually get some kind of troop mechanic to represent larger groups. They want lower level enemies to make you feel strong and powerful.

There will be extensive coverage of removing the level bonus from the game in the Gamemastery Guide. They will explain in detail how it effects the narrative of the game, what it means for encounter design including new guidelines for the variant. One of the things they are focused on is when they provide a variant is adequately explaining how to implement it and its impact on play.
"The narrative of the game is one in which goblin warriors are scenery to a 5th level party and are not included in the encounter budget."

Same as in 5e. I really see no difference here. The CR system DMG explicitly tells GM to "dont count monsters whose cr is "significantly lower" than the average party CR unless some aspect of the cresture or scene will allow them to significantly contribute to the difficulty.

I use them as and describe them as "scenery" all the time. Honestly your basic goblin fighters in 5e vs 5th level party without some scene swerve are scenery, just as you describe in PF.
 

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