Pathfinder 2E Encounter Design in PF2 works.

kenada

Legend
Supporter
My only real complaint with PF2e is to some extent it lives and dies by Ancestries and Archetypes, and I'm not at all confident of keeping the balance present when doing my own.
I used all custom ones for my campaign. If we had continued playing, I was considering doing a revamp. I wouldn’t say any were too powerful (compared to the core ones), but some were just kind of bad. There’s definitely an art to it. However, the easiest thing to do is MacGuyver a new ancestry out of existing feats. I don’t think that would be too problematic. (It also lets you make sure no one has darkvision. Yay!)
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
I think they're too frequent for enemies, who normally outrank the levels of characters (at least in the published adventures I've run). Their attack bonuses are often so high they crit very often, and their save DCs are so high that it's easy to crit fail. And in the case of spells and monster abilities, a crit fail is often worse than just "more damage."
I’m pretty sure that’s working as intended. PF2 tries (and mostly succeeds) at making the old encounter building guidelines actually work. In 3e, a monster two levels higher was supposed to be twice as dangerous. Two monsters together were supposed to be CR+2. That didn’t quite work out in 3e because that’s not how the math worked. PF2 fixed the math by using criticals to make the damage scale based on the difference in levels between the attacker and defender. It’s a clever hack, but I can see how it could feel bad when the monsters always seem way more competent than the PCs (especially with riders or extra effects that the monsters get often and the PCs get less frequently).
 

dave2008

Legend
Getting critical successes or failures at +10/-10 is already problematical in its frequency, shifting that to +5/-5 would exacerbate the situation.
The concept would be to marry the change in crit range with the removal of PWL. When you use PWL the expected to hit range is reduced in half, thus I reduced the crit range in half. It should be the same frequency, that is the intent. I would just adjust the numbers until that goal was achieved.
I don't advocate using variants like ABP or PWL because the system isn't designed for that.
Then I wouldn't play PF2 at all. The PWL really bothers me.
ABP removes the place of many magic items which both I and my players enjoy using, that have been a part of RPGs since their inception. It's also predicated on the mistaken belief that the bonuses given by magic items at various levels are essential to the game. They aren't. It's true, PCs won't have the same potential for power without the "expected" magic items, but a DM can work around that.
I am not sure what ABP stand for, but we run a low magic campaign and the few magic items I do have, rarely give bonus to hit. Not sure what this would mean for the base PF2 system, but I would have to modify it to accommodate our setting.
PWL, I'm less sure about. I simply don't see the point.
I do, so it, or something similar, is a must in my game (if I am going to play PF2).
 



Retreater

Legend
I’m pretty sure that’s working as intended. PF2 tries (and mostly succeeds) at making the old encounter building guidelines actually work. In 3e, a monster two levels higher was supposed to be twice as dangerous. Two monsters together were supposed to be CR+2. That didn’t quite work out in 3e because that’s not how the math worked. PF2 fixed the math by using criticals to make the damage scale based on the difference in levels between the attacker and defender. It’s a clever hack, but I can see how it could feel bad when the monsters always seem way more competent than the PCs (especially with riders or extra effects that the monsters get often and the PCs get less frequently).
That's fine for the occasional, thrilling fight. My tastes are closer to 25% easy, 50% average, and 25% hard. The default encounter in the published adventures I ran seemed like 10% easy, 15% average, 50% hard, 25% over-the-top.
If I put on my designer hat, I think this is because PF2 has an "encounter-based" design, meaning each and every encounter is supposed to be thrilling, pushing the characters to the limit - and it's basically assumed that character abilities reset after every encounter. What happens in a previous encounter or between encounters doesn't matter in PF2 - it's assumed you're fresh at each one.
The problem with assuming that your characters can deal with mostly hard encounters is that they are frequently out-ranked by their opponents when you have such a level-dependent game. They fail (and crit fail) more than the law of averages would suggest. Their opponents succeed (and crit succeed) more than you'd expect.
And that is disheartening for a player, not to mention bad for pacing and gets very tiresome to GM.
 

dave2008

Legend
I’m pretty sure that’s working as intended. PF2 tries (and mostly succeeds) at making the old encounter building guidelines actually work. In 3e, a monster two levels higher was supposed to be twice as dangerous. Two monsters together were supposed to be CR+2. That didn’t quite work out in 3e because that’s not how the math worked. PF2 fixed the math by using criticals to make the damage scale based on the difference in levels between the attacker and defender. It’s a clever hack, but I can see how it could feel bad when the monsters always seem way more competent than the PCs (especially with riders or extra effects that the monsters get often and the PCs get less frequently).
Yes. I think as others have noted it seems the sweet spot is to use primarily lvl equivalent monsters and the +3 and +4 ones sparingly.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
That's fine for the occasional, thrilling fight. My tastes are closer to 25% easy, 50% average, and 25% hard. The default encounter in the published adventures I ran seemed like 10% easy, 15% average, 50% hard, 25% over-the-top.
My preference is “what makes sense”. I’m not a fan of “modern” published adventures because of how much focus they put on combat encounters as how they plot gets advanced. I do think it’s telling that those with the most positive experiences with PF2 seem to be doing their own thing while those running modules have struggled with it to various extents.

If I put on my designer hat, I think this is because PF2 has an "encounter-based" design, meaning each and every encounter is supposed to be thrilling, pushing the characters to the limit - and it's basically assumed that character abilities reset after every encounter. What happens in a previous encounter or between encounters doesn't matter in PF2 - it's assumed you're fresh at each one.
I don’t think having PCs rest up after encounters is problematic in itself, but PF2 makes it a bit tedious. If I every ran PF2 again (which is very unlikely), I’d want to look at making Treat Wounds give a fixed amount of healing per proficiency level (e.g., trained = 2d8, expert = 4d8, etc) and use Stamina or System Strain (from SWN/WWN) as a way of providing attrition.

The problem with assuming that your characters can deal with mostly hard encounters is that they are frequently out-ranked by their opponents when you have such a level-dependent game. They fail (and crit fail) more than the law of averages would suggest. Their opponents succeed (and crit succeed) more than you'd expect.
And that is disheartening for a player, not to mention bad for pacing and gets very tiresome to GM.
This gets back to what I was saying about how it’s a clever hack but can feel bad. I’m not really sure how you could fix it and keep the encounter math as it is. Proficiency without Level helps by reducing the frequency of crits and spreading out the range of threats, but Paizo wanted the scaling to be like it is.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
I am not sure what ABP stand for, but we run a low magic campaign and the few magic items I do have, rarely give bonus to hit. Not sure what this would mean for the base PF2 system, but I would have to modify it to accommodate our setting.
To be clear, "ABP" stands for "Automatic Bonus Progression."
What it means is that all +x weapons and armor, as well as striking runes (which increase damage) and resiliency runes (which are placed on armor and improve saving throws), as well as skill bonus items, IIRC, are eliminated from the game. Instead, PCs are given the bonus at their appropriate level regardless of what weapons and armor they are using.

As I said before, this is predicated on the mistaken belief (shared by many forum posters and discord users) that without level-appropriate gear, playing a PC in PF2 is impossible.

This is absurd, as Dave appears to agree. You can very easily run a low-magic campaign with few or no magic weapons available, on the condition that the DM adjusts his encounter math to make encounters less deadly - generally by lowering the level of adversaries, and avoiding certain foes that can only be harmed by magic weapons.

Some folks are in love with ABP, and swear by it. I'm sure they have great games, and enjoy them a lot. My players and I would miss the lowly +1 weapons early in their career, and the other bonus items, but perhaps that is simply a matter of the RPG habits we've developed over the years.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Are you saying its too frequent? My concern was PF2 I had the lowest amount of critical rolls ever. Getting criticals is fun, but I do see a problem with them becoming too frequent at <5>.
I don't see how this is possible. In DD3.5 and PF1, you only get a critical hit on a nat 20, and must still confirm that critical with an additional roll (with the exception of a few weapons with expanded crit ranges).

In PF2, nearly every nat 20 is a critical hit (unless that roll would actually be a miss, which is fairly infrequent outside of 3rd attacks) and you also get a critical hit whenever your total score is 10 points or more over the adversary's AC.

What I'm hearing from other folks is a very valid criticism: in most published PF2 adventures and APs (from Paizo, of course) there is a marked propensity for using adversaries that are 3 or 4 levels above the PCs' level. This leads to the feeling that adversaries get very frequent critical hits, and very rarely suffer from critical hits themselves. This feeling is of course completely justified, and it's the way the system was built to work.

Now, I do realize that this is expressly allowed for in the Building Encounters guidelines. Level +3 and +4 adversaries are slotted right into this system.

But my experience (and a whole slew of comments on Discord and forums) shows that is a mistake. Perhaps a highly experienced team of players can field such adversaries without breaking a sweat. On a lucky day. But my group is having a lot more fun facing larger numbers of lesser adversaries. My group has reached 12th level, and very rarely do I go above a level +2 adversary. Just last night, they faced a 14th-level foe who they could barely touch - although his judicious use of a pre-cast Air Walk spell had a lot to do with that, too.

My advice to folks running homebrewed or adapted PF2 adventures is to avoid adversaries more than one level above the PCs for the first few levels (say, 1-4), stretch up to two levels above them for a bit (say, levels 5 to 8 or 10) and hold off on the really out-of-their league foes until they've graduated into the mid to upper levels of character advancement. Or if it turns out that they are having a cakewalk with what you've been serving up, and then pump up the volume.

Aside from this single caveat about higher-level adversaries (PC level +3 or +4) I think the Building Encounters guidelines work very well.
 

payn

Legend
I don't see how this is possible. In DD3.5 and PF1, you only get a critical hit on a nat 20, and must still confirm that critical with an additional roll (with the exception of a few weapons with expanded crit ranges).
Dont underestimate those weapon increased crit ranges!
In PF2, nearly every nat 20 is a critical hit (unless that roll would actually be a miss, which is fairly infrequent outside of 3rd attacks) and you also get a critical hit whenever your total score is 10 points or more over the adversary's AC.
The confirmation roll helps do the high level offset that >10 offers. Though enemy defenses are much more variable in 3E/PF1 so isnt strictly shutdown like in PF2.
What I'm hearing from other folks is a very valid criticism: in most published PF2 adventures and APs (from Paizo, of course) there is a marked propensity for using adversaries that are 3 or 4 levels above the PCs' level. This leads to the feeling that adversaries get very frequent critical hits, and very rarely suffer from critical hits themselves. This feeling is of course completely justified, and it's the way the system was built to work.

Now, I do realize that this is expressly allowed for in the Building Encounters guidelines. Level +3 and +4 adversaries are slotted right into this system.

But my experience (and a whole slew of comments on Discord and forums) shows that is a mistake. Perhaps a highly experienced team of players can field such adversaries without breaking a sweat. On a lucky day. But my group is having a lot more fun facing larger numbers of lesser adversaries. My group has reached 12th level, and very rarely do I go above a level +2 adversary. Just last night, they faced a 14th-level foe who they could barely touch - although his judicious use of a pre-cast Air Walk spell had a lot to do with that, too.
That sounds refreshing, but has unfortunately not been my experience. Maybe, I would have a better time with PF2 if I wasn't fed a steady diet of +3-4 party level encounters.
My advice to folks running homebrewed or adapted PF2 adventures is to avoid adversaries more than one level above the PCs for the first few levels (say, 1-4), stretch up to two levels above them for a bit (say, levels 5 to 8 or 10) and hold off on the really out-of-their league foes until they've graduated into the mid to upper levels of character advancement. Or if it turns out that they are having a cakewalk with what you've been serving up, and then pump up the volume.

Aside from this single caveat about higher-level adversaries (PC level +3 or +4) I think the Building Encounters guidelines work very well.
Good advice, and maybe this is a case of bad (mechanically) first adventures spoiling the experience. Its quite common for the first several adventures in a new system to go awry of the best way to experience a new system.
 

Yeah, a highly optimized party of pcs can reliably confront severes and extremes without issue. But thats a very particular party with a lot of love of char op and combat tactics.

Notably the encounter guidelines are written very differently than the APs, especially the early ones, extremes are a "campaign ending climactic battle" I think it just comes from the adventure writers not realizing the guidelines work for once.

Personally we've been growing into the chase rules as an improv retreat system, designating zone levels for our hexcrawl, we've had stuff where the players were well over their head and made it through. They handle "more creatures" better than "higher level creatures" incidentally.
 

Teemu

Hero
What I'm hearing from other folks is a very valid criticism: in most published PF2 adventures and APs (from Paizo, of course) there is a marked propensity for using adversaries that are 3 or 4 levels above the PCs' level. This leads to the feeling that adversaries get very frequent critical hits, and very rarely suffer from critical hits themselves. This feeling is of course completely justified, and it's the way the system was built to work.

Now, I do realize that this is expressly allowed for in the Building Encounters guidelines. Level +3 and +4 adversaries are slotted right into this system.

But my experience (and a whole slew of comments on Discord and forums) shows that is a mistake. Perhaps a highly experienced team of players can field such adversaries without breaking a sweat. On a lucky day. But my group is having a lot more fun facing larger numbers of lesser adversaries. My group has reached 12th level, and very rarely do I go above a level +2 adversary. Just last night, they faced a 14th-level foe who they could barely touch - although his judicious use of a pre-cast Air Walk spell had a lot to do with that, too.

My advice to folks running homebrewed or adapted PF2 adventures is to avoid adversaries more than one level above the PCs for the first few levels (say, 1-4), stretch up to two levels above them for a bit (say, levels 5 to 8 or 10) and hold off on the really out-of-their league foes until they've graduated into the mid to upper levels of character advancement. Or if it turns out that they are having a cakewalk with what you've been serving up, and then pump up the volume.

Aside from this single caveat about higher-level adversaries (PC level +3 or +4) I think the Building Encounters guidelines work very well.
Earlier you mentioned that you didn’t understand why people would use the PWL variant—this is one of the main reasons. A comfortable band of -1 to +1 creatures is very narrow for the GM to work with. PWL opens up that band to accommodate a larger variety of enemies. A level 1 guard NPC in default PF2 has AC 18 and hits with +9, and a level 5 flame drake has AC 22 and hits with +14. In PWL, the guard has AC 17, +8 to hit, while the drake has AC 17, +9 to hit. The drake would be very difficult/TPK material for a level 2 default party, but a PWL party could take it on.

PWL can also make for a more realistic feeling world since the level 5 fence NPC can no longer annihilate a group of six guards!
 
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Anand

2nd Level DM
Earlier you mentioned that you didn’t understand why people would use the PWL variant—this is one of the main reasons. A comfortable band of -1 to +1 creatures is very narrow for the GM to work with. PWL opens up that band to accommodate a larger variety of enemies. A level 1 guard NPC in default PF2 has AC 18 and hits with +9, and a level 5 flame drake has AC 22 and hits with +14. In PWL, the guard has AC 17, +8 to hit, while the drake has AC 17, +9 to hit. The drake would be very difficult/TPK material for a level 2 default party, but a PWL party could take it on.

PWL can also make for a more realistic feeling world since the level 5 fence NPC can no longer annihilate a group of six guards!
I fell like the value of PWL have been diminishing significantly as more Bestiary and APs have been released. When the game was launched, a single Bestiary definitely narrowed the options quite a bit. Nowadays, I clearly have more options than I need for every single level.
 

thullgrim

Adventurer
I just want to say this thread has inspired me to give PF2 another go. I’ve tried running it three different times, converting volume 1 of both Legacy of Fire (the first time) and Wrath of the Righteous (the second time) and Lost Mines of Phandelver the third time.

This time my intention is to try Abomination Vaults and see if my issues are conversion related or system based.
There are aspects of the game I enjoyed but I just felt like there was little PF2 did that 4e didn’t do better.
Ill give it one more shot.
 

payn

Legend
I just want to say this thread has inspired me to give PF2 another go. I’ve tried running it three different times, converting volume 1 of both Legacy of Fire (the first time) and Wrath of the Righteous (the second time) and Lost Mines of Phandelver the third time.

This time my intention is to try Abomination Vaults and see if my issues are conversion related or system based.
There are aspects of the game I enjoyed but I just felt like there was little PF2 did that 4e didn’t do better.
Ill give it one more shot.
I'll just say that AV AP was the one that beat the love of PF2 right out of me.
 

I just want to say this thread has inspired me to give PF2 another go. I’ve tried running it three different times, converting volume 1 of both Legacy of Fire (the first time) and Wrath of the Righteous (the second time) and Lost Mines of Phandelver the third time.

This time my intention is to try Abomination Vaults and see if my issues are conversion related or system based.
There are aspects of the game I enjoyed but I just felt like there was little PF2 did that 4e didn’t do better.
Ill give it one more shot.
May I recommend the standalone adventure Malevolence instead? Its a good (cosmic horror oriented) time.
 

Staffan

Legend
My preference is “what makes sense”. I’m not a fan of “modern” published adventures because of how much focus they put on combat encounters as how they plot gets advanced. I do think it’s telling that those with the most positive experiences with PF2 seem to be doing their own thing while those running modules have struggled with it to various extents.
I have a hypothesis regarding the combat focus of PF2 adventures, particularly parts 1 of adventure paths.

An adventure path is designed to take you all the way from 1st to 20th level, including actually playing at 20th level, meaning they need to have room for 20 levels of adventuring across 6 volumes. That means 3 1/3 levels per volume, or two volumes of 4 levels each and four volumes of 3 levels each. Each adventure path is 96 pages, and about 2/3 of that is the actual adventure. The other 1/3 are supplementary material that may or may not be relevant to the adventure, like new monsters, city writeups, and so on. This setup serves two purposes: it gives people who may not be interested in that particular AP a reason to keep subscribing anyway, and it lets Paizo have one person write the actual adventure stuff and one or more other people write the supplementary stuff.

But that's tangential – what's important is that each AP gets about 60 pages of actual adventuring, which is supposed to cover 3-4 levels of adventuring. The default is that you level up via XP, and need 1000 XP to level up, so that's 50 XP per page in a 3-level adventure, or 67 XP per page in a 4-level adventure.

If we take Legacy of the Lost God as an example, it opens with a pretty cool encounter where the PCs have to persuade the watch captain to give their circus a place to put on their show and with good conditions, while a representative for a rival circus argues the opposite. The whole thing takes up about two pages in the book, plus one page setting up scenery. That encounter gets you 80 XP, which is something like 27 XP per page.

The next few pages cover the plot assigned to the PCs' circus, which they have to clear of hazards and monsters. This is a section of 7 pages of what's essentially a dungeon crawl, getting the PCs about 600 XP (plus a bonus of 80 XP for finishing it) for almost 100 XP per page. How? Because instead of spending a page describing the details of a skill challenge, the adventure gets to say "Two weak will-o-wisps, see the Bestiary page 6 and 333". In other words, dungeon crawls make for very high XP per page ratios, and that's good when you have an XP quota to fill and a limited number of pages in which to do it.

This problem is then compounded by at least the first two APs being front-loaded, meaning that book 1 covers level 1 to 4 and book 2 covers 5 to 8. That means more XP per page, which means more fights.

I believe they have taken steps to, if not fix, then at least ameliorate these problems. For example, Kindled Magic (part 1 of Strength of Thousands) is a level 1-3 adventure instead of 1-4 (giving more room to roleplaying and dealing with NPCs), and has a greater emphasis on non-violent solutions to things.

To be clear, "ABP" stands for "Automatic Bonus Progression."
What it means is that all +x weapons and armor, as well as striking runes (which increase damage) and resiliency runes (which are placed on armor and improve saving throws), as well as skill bonus items, IIRC, are eliminated from the game. Instead, PCs are given the bonus at their appropriate level regardless of what weapons and armor they are using.

As I said before, this is predicated on the mistaken belief (shared by many forum posters and discord users) that without level-appropriate gear, playing a PC in PF2 is impossible.

This is absurd, as Dave appears to agree. You can very easily run a low-magic campaign with few or no magic weapons available, on the condition that the DM adjusts his encounter math to make encounters less deadly - generally by lowering the level of adversaries, and avoiding certain foes that can only be harmed by magic weapons.
You need to do a lot of encounter futzing to do without magic weapons (or ABP). I don't think the biggest issue is the attack bonus, but the extra damage magic weapons put out. Striking weapons (usually a level 4 thing) deal an extra die of damage (two dice at 12 and three at 19).

Also, low-magic games that don't compensate in other ways are much harsher on martials than they are on casters. My level 11 sorcerer would be unhappy if he had to do without magic items, but he'd still have 14d6+6 cones of cold or dragon shape letting him fight at +22 dealing ~25 points with a primary attack or ~20 with an agile one. The 11th level champion in the same party would be devastated by losing 2 points of attack bonus, ~5 points of damage per hit, and the returning rune on his weapon which lets him use Retributive Strike at a short distance instead of just in melee. Martials need magic items not just to be competitive on numbers, but to gain useful abilities.

My advice to folks running homebrewed or adapted PF2 adventures is to avoid adversaries more than one level above the PCs for the first few levels (say, 1-4), stretch up to two levels above them for a bit (say, levels 5 to 8 or 10) and hold off on the really out-of-their league foes until they've graduated into the mid to upper levels of character advancement. Or if it turns out that they are having a cakewalk with what you've been serving up, and then pump up the volume.

Aside from this single caveat about higher-level adversaries (PC level +3 or +4) I think the Building Encounters guidelines work very well.
Yeah, level +3 or +4 adversaries tend to not just have numbers on their side, but to also be strong enough that they shut down most player tricks that would equalize those numbers. If I'm casting fear or slow on someone that powerful, they're fairly likely not just to succeed on their save giving me a modest but useful effect, but even critically succeed thus nullifying the whole attempt.
 



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