Pathfinder 2E Encounter Design in PF2 works.

Staffan

Legend
You need to have more NPC adversaries, then. It's easy to have zero-level thugs, sailors, beggars or whatever as adversaries. I use a lot of NPC adversaries, especially in low-level campaigns. Especially in city-themed adventures, but really you can do this in any environment, and it feels good to face off against other humans or humanoids who have just made bad life choices.
AoN NPC database has 17 level-1 NPCs, and 4 level zero, ready for use. And that's even before you start "adjusting" them.
Sure, there are things as low as level -1. But a level -1 creature is much more of a threat to a level 1 PC than, say, a level 5 creature is to a level 7 PC. That's partially because level 0 and level -1 creatures are designed to have about the same attack bonus and AC as a level 1 creature, but fewer hit points and dealing less damage per hit, and partially because level 1 PCs have no reserves. They don't have any potions or scrolls for emergencies, they don't have any lower-level fallback spells, and a crit from a same-level foe may very well KO them even from full hit points.

And after a fight, their medic is likely to have Medicine +5 or +6 or so, so they only have a 55-60% chance of succeeding at Treat Wounds on a single PC. On a failure they have to wait a full hour before trying again on the same target.
 

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miggyG777

Explorer
I just recently had 3 x Level 1 guys (Investigator, Fighter, Champion) beat a Level 4 Zombie Flesh Golem (Encounter challenge: Extreme+).

The fight was almost a TPK but the clever usage of a mouth shaped door trap that spits fire by the Investigator to hold the Golem in place and roast it, a subsequent heroic dash by the Investigator through the firewall trap burning himself, tumbling through the narrow space occupied by the Golem to stabilize the fallen Fighter, the Dwarf Champion going toe to toe with the Golem (that easily one-shots him) forcing it to fight in the darkness against his Darkvision to give the Investigator time to stabilize the Fighter and finally a Natural 1 rolled by the Golem making it strike and kill itself with its extremely powerful unarmed attack, thanks to the Critical Fumble Table, led us to victory.
I narrated it as: "in its final moment of rage the Zombie Golem strikes a wall near the mouth shaped door with such force, that the doorway collapses, impales the Golem on a stone tooth and ultimately buries it under the rubble."

I just love Extreme encounters. Yes some PCs have died already which is sad for a moment, but it always happens in these crazy fights. When we overcome these challenges together it's too memorable to not run encounters this way, at least from time to time.

PS: The original plan for the party was to flee the dungeon. However, as they rushed back to the hole where they had climbed into the crypt they realized someone had cut the rope they needed to get back up and the Zombie Golem was just stomping down the hallway racing towards them. At that point it was fight or die.
 
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Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
I agree that the close calls are often the most memorable.

But I don't agree with Retreater that we need 4e-style minions. As I tried to illustrate, adversaries that are "party level -4" are "minion-y" enough. Once you get to the level of my last adventure, with 12th-level PCs and 8th-level "minion-style" adversaries they can even be credible threats, given that the encounter budget encourages using more of them. They certainly make good "fillers" to keep larger parties of adventurers busy while their master gets off a few more actions than he might otherwise.

Staffan, I only agree with part of your statements, when you say, "level 1 PCs have no reserves. They don't have any potions or scrolls for emergencies, they don't have any lower-level fallback spells, and a crit from a same-level foe may very well KO them even from full hit points."
Here's why I disagree:
  • Level 1 PCs do have lower-level fallback spells. They're called cantrips and they are unlimited. You can do a lot of clever things with the right cantrips, not simply inflict a handful of hitpoints on an adversary once a round.
  • Many level 1 PCs have enough cash to buy one healing potion at character creation, and in many settings and adventures, there are sympathetic NPCs somewhere nearby who could possibly be convinced to supply more. That's an entirely DM-dependent call.
  • If a same-level foe kills a PC from full hit points, perhaps the DM (or the adventure designer) gave that 1st-level foe too hefty a weapon. Also, it's quite difficult to actually die in PF2, unless your whole group is reduced to the dying condition. And even then, you have multiple chances to recover from it on your own, if some nasty monster isn't actually eating you.

I would certainly agree that 1st-level PCs have fewer reserves than later in their career, but the challenges they are called to face are also proportionately less dangerous. Unless you are playing one of a few notoriously deadly early Paizo APs. Then, may the Gods take pity on you. -g-
 

Staffan

Legend
I agree that the close calls are often the most memorable.

But I don't agree with Retreater that we need 4e-style minions. As I tried to illustrate, adversaries that are "party level -4" are "minion-y" enough. Once you get to the level of my last adventure, with 12th-level PCs and 8th-level "minion-style" adversaries they can even be credible threats, given that the encounter budget encourages using more of them. They certainly make good "fillers" to keep larger parties of adventurers busy while their master gets off a few more actions than he might otherwise.
Severely underleveled creatures might pose the same overall challenge as 4e minions, but they work very differently. A level-4 creature in PF2 (let's call this a "lackey" for ease of use) and a same-level minion in 4e both count as 1/4 of a same-level regular creature when building encounters, but they'll have different effects on the game.

A minion has the same attack bonus as a same-level creature, but they do less damage, and probably don't have any abilities that require upkeep (at least not creature-centric upkeep – dealing ongoing damage is a different thing). IIRC, the damage is more than 1/4 of a regular creature, but on the other hand you lose damage as more minions are taken care of so it balances out that way. A minion has about the same AC as a regular creature, but only 1 hp (and immunity to damage-on-miss/successful saves). That means that the GM basically doesn't need to do any book-keeping about a minion. As long as it's on the field, it'll do its stuff, and once you hit it it's gone.

A lackey on the other hand has attack bonuses and AC that are way lower than a same-level creature, about 6 points (using the creature building guidelines). A level 7 martial PC will have an AC of about 25 (proficiency +9, base item + Dex +5, magic +1). A 7th level creature with a High attack bonus will have +18 (hit on 7, crit on 17, so a single strike will on average do 90% damage), and a 3rd level creature will have +12 (hit on 13, crit on 20, so on average 45% damage). Combine this with lower base damage (20 vs 12 for High damage), and the lackey will do 30% of a same-level creature's damage. That's on par with the 4e minion overall, but it is dealt in rarer hits for bigger chunks.

The same happens in reverse. A level 7 PC will attack at +16 (prof +11, stat +4, item +1) against an AC of 25 (same level) or 19 (lackey). That's either hit on a 9 (crit on 19, average 70% damage) or hit on a 3 (crit on 13, average 130% damage). At level 7, a PC will be doing about 2d8 (striking rune) +4 (stat) +2 (weapon specialization), plus maybe 5-10 (call it 7) from various class shenanigans, for 22 per hit. That means that the first strike of a 7th level PC against a same-level creature will on average deal about 15.5 points, against a hp pool of about 115 points, which means 7-8 attacks on average (this gets more complicated with multiple attacks but that gets real complicated real fast). Against a lackey, the first strike will on average deal 28.5 points against a hp pool of 45, so it will on average take about 2 attacks to take out. So a lackey takes about 1/4 as much effort to take out.

Taken together, this means that both minions and lackeys pose about 1/4 as much threat as a same-level regular creature, so they fill the same role in encounter math. However, the lackey is much more complex. You're rarely going to take it out in a single hit – well, maybe not that rarely, their hit points are in range of a crit that rolls a bit above average, but maybe one in six attacks will outright KO a lackey. That means you need to actually track their hit points, and probably a bunch of conditions and such. They also have the full complexity of any other creature, which might mean limited-use abilities to keep track of and stuff like that.

Staffan, I only agree with part of your statements, when you say, "level 1 PCs have no reserves. They don't have any potions or scrolls for emergencies, they don't have any lower-level fallback spells, and a crit from a same-level foe may very well KO them even from full hit points."
Here's why I disagree:
  • Level 1 PCs do have lower-level fallback spells. They're called cantrips and they are unlimited. You can do a lot of clever things with the right cantrips, not simply inflict a handful of hitpoints on an adversary once a round.
Such as? PF2 cantrips are generally not all that open to flexibility. Plus, you don't get all that many of them – five in most cases. They're a good fallback for pew-pewing, but they won't do much beyond that. Ghost sound is the one I can see being a bit tricksy in the right situation, but other than that they're all pretty closed-ended. Notably, there's no visual illusion as a cantrip, which you could otherwise have fun with.

And cantrips don't compare to the impact even low-level well-chosen spells can have. Fear and grease work perfectly well as 1st level spells, even when I'm 11th level. Longstrider is great for giving me mobility. Speak with animals has often helped me figure situations out and avoid combat, and been way more useful than a 2nd level combat spell would be.

  • Many level 1 PCs have enough cash to buy one healing potion at character creation, and in many settings and adventures, there are sympathetic NPCs somewhere nearby who could possibly be convinced to supply more. That's an entirely DM-dependent call.
A minor healing potion costs 4 gp, which is about 25% of a starting character's full allotment. Someone who doesn't need to spend money on armor and weapons might be able to fit it into their budget, but probably not a martial character.

And what does it do for you? 1d8 hp. Out of your full 15-20. That's not really a good emergency heal. It might help top you off after a Treat Wounds didn't get all the way there, but it's pretty weaksauce.

  • If a same-level foe kills a PC from full hit points, perhaps the DM (or the adventure designer) gave that 1st-level foe too hefty a weapon. Also, it's quite difficult to actually die in PF2, unless your whole group is reduced to the dying condition. And even then, you have multiple chances to recover from it on your own, if some nasty monster isn't actually eating you.
A 1st-level martial PC will probably have 15-20 hp. Recommended strike damage for a creature with Extreme damage (which isn't that rare, and means they probably have a lower attack bonus) is about 1d8+4 or something that deals similar damage (e.g. 2d6+1, 1d6+5, 1d10+3). That's well within range of KOing you in a single hit. Not instant death, but KO.

And sure, KO doesn't mean death. But it does mean a drastic reduction in the group's ability to deal with the thing, both because you're down one man, and because the rest of the party will probably want to make sure you don't die, which will cost additional actions on their behalf.

Compare this to, say, 7th level. Now you're rocking something like 90 hp as a martial. Extreme damage for a 7th level creature is 2d12+12 (or some other combination that gets the same average), which is 72 on a max-damage critical (and rolling 48 on 4d12 is substantially less likely than rolling 16 on 2d8), so that's a thing you can take on the chin. You sure won't like it, but it's not going to instantly drop you, which means you're still an asset to the group instead of a liability.

I would certainly agree that 1st-level PCs have fewer reserves than later in their career, but the challenges they are called to face are also proportionately less dangerous. Unless you are playing one of a few notoriously deadly early Paizo APs. Then, may the Gods take pity on you. -g-
That's what I've been mostly playing, on both sides of the screen. But my point on the whole is that:
  1. The encounter-building rules in PF2 do work pretty well, and
  2. You need to take special care at the lowest levels because low-level PCs are fragile and don't have the resources or reserves to cope with adversity the way even moderately higher-leveled PCs do.
 

S'mon

Legend
Yes, you may have noticed that I don't have any "party level +3" or +4 adversaries. This gives a lot more leeway for making interesting and varied encounters, and also leads to a lot less player frustration. Now that my players are 12th level, I probably could throw a level +4 adversary at them, if I were careful, and I already have used (on 2-3 occasions) level +3 adversaries, but I find a blend of lower-level foes gives a more enjoyable experience.

This is my experience in 4e D&D too, which had a very similar "+1 everything each level" metric as PF2 has. Fights with large numbers of creatures in the PL +0 to -3 range seems to work best.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
But I don't agree with Retreater that we need 4e-style minions. As I tried to illustrate, adversaries that are "party level -4" are "minion-y" enough. Once you get to the level of my last adventure, with 12th-level PCs and 8th-level "minion-style" adversaries they can even be credible threats, given that the encounter budget encourages using more of them. They certainly make good "fillers" to keep larger parties of adventurers busy while their master gets off a few more actions than he might otherwise.
Maybe not as a general mechanic, but “minion” style −2nd level creatures would give the GM more encounter building options for 1st level parties.
 



dave2008

Legend
It has been a while since I seriously looked at PF2 (bought the core rulebook, bestiary, and GMG when they came out), but I remember it being a very tight system. My question to those with experience in the system: can you run the game without balancing encounters? As a DM I don't want to have to worry about monster level / CR and balanced encounters. I just want to build the world and let the players run with it. Though I loved 4e, it didn't really lend itself to this style. That is my favorite part of DMing 5e. Everything I have read suggest the encounter math tends more to the 4e spectrum and that as me a little uneasy. Love to hear your thoughts.
 

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