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Pathfinder 2E Exploration Mode?

Filthy Lucre

Explorer
Am I doing this right?

When my players are exploring, say a ruined/abandoned settlement I just have them tell me what they're doing and roll skill checks when and if necessary. If, for example, the rogue wants to sneak into a building where he heard a noise, I just have him roll for stealth vs. what, if anything, might detect him.
If PCs are climbing a cliff I just have them roll their climb checks to see how things pan out. There's really only "in combat" and "out of combat" and with the exception of speeding up time tremendously, to the tune of days/weeks/months, that's the only time that 'downtime' occurs.

I guess what I'm saying is I don't understand why we'd even need explicit 'exploration' rules when they're really just the application of skill checks... or is there something I'm not understanding? In terms of how I actually play the game, I run PF2e the exact same way I would run D&D 5e or Pathfinder 1e/3.x.
 

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payn

Adventurer
Its a good question. Paizo made a thing of it when rolling out PF2. Most folks I know who play PF2 dont do anything with explo-mo. I asked a few folks who ran some of the Paizo modules/APs and they say its barely mentioned. /Shrug
 

Teemu

Adventurer
I think it serves two functions: a GM guidance tool, and if desired, a way to add tracking of time to exploration and social encounters and challenges.

The first function can help GMs adjudicate common scenarios. For example, a sneaky PC wants to scout out ahead -- the exploration mode rules tell the GM to apply the Scout activity, which grants the party a bonus to initiative checks (and the guidance on starting a fight tell about placing the party in suitable positions). Or the whole party wants to be stealthy in a dangerous environment. The exploration rules would then guide the GM to ask for Stealth checks from the party, and if speed matters, the Avoid Notice activity tells how fast you can move. Furthermore, the less sneaky PCs could get help from the experts, instead of just almost automatically failing, so the GM lets them Follow the Expert and gain a higher bonus to the Stealth rolls. A game like 5e mostly leaves all that up to GM judgment, which can sometimes overwhelm GMs or maybe create situations where similar scenarios end up rather different because the GM couldn't decide on a uniform approach.

The second function allows the GM to make time matter. Maybe the party has until midnight to stop the evil ritual -- instead of handwaving the passage of time or creating more abstract losses of time (say, fail a check and it takes longer to get to an important scene), the exploration mode rules let the GM divide most everything into chunks of 10 minutes. Maybe the party has 6 "rounds", aka 60 minutes before the ritual goes off. Or in another scenario, the GM could decide that the party has 30 minutes before the next group of hostile forces arrive on the scene, so the party has 3 "rounds" of exploration activities available to them.
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
Also the exploration mode is meant to be in scenarios that might be less narratively-driven and more open-ended: when everyone is likely to do the same thing, simple checks work. But if you have a point where the party might want to do a variety of different things, then this helps out. For example, let's say your players are in an abandoned tomb complex and have cleared out a few rooms in quick succession and decided they wanted to stop for a minute, establish a base, and all the players decide to do different things.

Fighter: I'm going to stay on watch and keep an eye on the entrances. I suppose that means I'm Scouting for danger.
Ranger: Well, I'm going to Avoid Notice so I can move ahead and see what I find.
Rogue: Eh, I'm going to go back through the last few rooms and Search, see if I find anything interesting.
Wizard: There was some interesting writings a room back. I'm going to Investigate to see if I can decipher some of them.
Cleric: Well, I'm going to regain a Focus Point and then back up Fighter with Defend so I'm ready for a fight.

So now your party has multiple things to do and you have a general idea of how time is going to function. From there, you can add on stuff: your Ranger has successfully Avoided Notice, allowing them to stealth up on the sound you mention. Now they can make a Perception check to listen in as they talk and gather information. There's more advice from the GMG here on how to run things and create new activities. There's also Hexploration, which has advice on a hex crawl and more open-ended land travel. It's got some useful ideas: for example, I think the "Fortify Camp" thing could totally work in a dungeon and in 10-minute increments.

You could also modify some of their node-based subsystems to do exploration as well, or use cards. I know people on the board have basically done something like this, but I cannot specifically remember who (I think it was either @!DWolf and/or @kenada , but I'm not in the mood to look it up). But if you want to dispense with all that and do it more ad-hoc, feel free: it won't really break anything. The system is more there to provide guidance and structure, but you can modify it without much problem. What you're talking about can totally work if that's how you are comfortable running it. :)
 
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kenada

Hero
Supporter
@!DWolf has done some pretty interesting stuff with exploration. There’s a whole thread about it here. I mostly used it to emulate old-school exploration turns. I kept it set at 10-minute intervals, and we used that to track time in dungeons.

@Justice and Rule, I think you and @Teemu have the gist of it. I’d also add that having exploration mode be a part of the game’s procedures lets Paizo add new rules and options that interact with it.
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
@!DWolf has done some pretty interesting stuff with exploration. There’s a whole thread about it here. I mostly used it to emulate old-school exploration turns. I kept it set at 10-minute intervals, and we used that to track time in dungeons.

Ah damn, how did I miss the thread? I was just cleaning up my PDF folder and I noticed all the stuff I have from @!DWolf . In that thread the Enemy Camp scenario is a good example of using a node-style subsystem, while the Jungle Chase cards could be used as random challenges that, when added up to a certain number, indicate that you've arrived at your destination.

Really, that whole thread has a bunch of really, really good ideas.

@Justice and Rule, I think you and @Teemu have the gist of it. I’d also add that having exploration mode be a part of the game’s procedures lets Paizo add new rules and options that interact with it.

Exactly. The structure is fairly open, but having structure at all is really nice. For example, maybe the Fighter and the Cleric want to move stuff around the room they are camped out in to make it more defensible; make it an Athletics check (with a bonus for help) to see how much they can move around, with a critical success being that they also Scout or Defend because they finished up quickly or something. A failure, maybe they make noise, one of the features breaks, etc. A lot of easy on the fly stuff you can add.

I also like that it has social exploration stuff, so someone could conceivably be doing some information gathering or something while others are shopping, or maybe if you are in a big dungeon a player could be entreating with one group while the players do other tasks. None of it is exactly groundbreaking, but it's one of those things where having a structure there helps create options for players rather than play it all by ear.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
Basically, it lets you be a bit more flexible as you move through a dungeon or wilderness-- we're not thinking about a series of specific rooms that you'll pause and get down to the nitty gritty in, instead its more for these ten minute and up increments of time as you move through the environment, or long winding hallways and complex structures of rooms. Imagine they're trekking across a wilderness map, this gives you a structure for being able to assess, "Ok, Ricky is going to be scouting around you guys, so you get this bonus to initiative checks if something attacks you. Wanda is going to be investigating the ruins you find on an ongoing basis to gather information with society. Jeffery will be searching for signs of the bandits you guys are trying to find." Then rather than resolving every moment and bend in the forest trail, they'll be doing that on an ongoing basis. In a dungeon, you may use this to emulate a marching order and party roles, someone is checking for traps on an ongoing basis, someone is examining the murals that line the walls on an ongoing basis, and so forth. This also works as a gamist mechanic, in the sense that it constrains people from just rolling for everything, Ricky can't double up on Wanda's knowledge checks because in the overall stretch of time, he is doing something else... although if they're comfortable going without the bonus to initiative Ricky can do what Wanda's doing too.

To break it down even further, its a useful tool in avoiding micromanagement by your players that could do weird things with the spotlight (ever had a player whose character always seems to jump to whatever's currently happening, even if in the fiction, they should be occupied by that other thing they were doing right before?) and drag the pacing of the game down, and allows you to move the perspective to a wider view of the adventure.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
Its a good question. Paizo made a thing of it when rolling out PF2. Most folks I know who play PF2 dont do anything with explo-mo. I asked a few folks who ran some of the Paizo modules/APs and they say its barely mentioned. /Shrug
I don't think it's mentioned because it's always in effect and GMs are expected to use it. I've played quite a few adventures and APs and it's always been a factor. In online convention play. most GMs will ask early on what mode people are using and then use that as we move along through play.

It's especially important for stealth; starting a combat unobserved is very nice for squishy their types. My fighter typically walks around with shield raised, as his other skills are pretty lame. Having a wizard continuously checking for magic on the path we are walking is also STRONGLY recommended, if at all possible!

In my home game, I have an investigator with a fantastic perception, and making sure I am looking around carefully has saved us from a number of traps / ropers / sneaky types.

I don't think many modules specifically mention exploration-related activities -- it's just a normal part of the game. When you are exploring, the GM should consider what the players are doing whenever anything interesting happens. At least, that's the impression I have from how the GMs have been running.
 

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