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Pathfinder 2E High Level Play

What's high level play like in Pathfinder 2nd Ed?

I know in most versions of DnD high level gets all wonky. But some people like the gonzo superhero style of levels 15 up. Where everyone can teleport and fly and has a dozen wacky magic items.
But I hear Pathfinder 2nd Ed is a lot like 4th Ed DnD with hard math and works similar to low levels.

Does high level play change much?
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
CapnZapp has run a campaign up through 20th level. Based on his comments, it sounds like play is very similar to lower levels, but the power curve is shifted a bit more in the PCs’ favor (so they can take on harder challenges more easily). It doesn’t sound as completely broken as previous editions. People on the Paizo forums have also done tests and come to similar conclusions.
 

What's meant by "not broken?"
Like, encounters are still balanced? Or like adventure derailing abilities reined-in? Or both?

I've heard it plays similar to low levels, which is why I'm curious. If high level is just low level with bigger numbers.
 

meltdownpass

Explorer
What's meant by "not broken?"
Like, encounters are still balanced? Or like adventure derailing abilities reined-in? Or both?

I've heard it plays similar to low levels, which is why I'm curious. If high level is just low level with bigger numbers.

My own group is not yet at high levels, but based on what I've read of the game the encounters are more balanced and there are fewer adventure derailing abilities.

I would say it does play similarly to low levels, but there is some qualitative difference you will start to feel around 10-11. Spells & spell-like abilities become more powerful in this range, and players finally have accumulated enough breadth and depth that you have options for how to approach encounters.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Paizo has significantly reined in the excesses of high level heroes. There simply is nothing of the unbalanced "mowing over supposedly challenging foes" you see in 3E/PF1 (and to a lesser degree 5E).

Paizo did tilt the game slowly in favor of high level heroes. By that I mean that at level 1 or 5 it's a death sentence for a player character to duel a single monster of his or her own level (one on one with no interference). But at level 15 the biggest warriors in the group started being able to do that, and arguably at level 20 everybody could reasonably be expected to do it.

More generally, at the lowest level, a Severe encounter is likely too much for all but the most veteran tacticians of players. But at top level, not even Extreme encounters faze the party. (My rough advice, shift the encounter building advice one category higher at low level, and one category lower at high level. If you want a Severe encounter at level 1, 10 and 20, build what the guidelines call a Moderate, Severe, and Extreme one)

In the case of spellcasters this tilt is even more pronounced. At low level, spells cast from spell slots basically suck (except for the Heal spell). Sure you could get in an optimal debuff that provides value to the group, but a class like the wizard clearly lags behind a fighter, say, during at least 5 levels (I would say 9, many people over at the Paizo forums would draw the line at 7). But from circa level 11 the Wizard starts feeling like a "real D&D Wizard" again, and at the highest levels you can basically throw an unlimited number of low level mooks at any party with a good spellcaster in it - the martials can't kill monsters fast enough, but spells of levels 6 and higher certainly can.

The first tilt is arguably needed for the heroes to feel some progression, and it certainly isn't sufficient for players used to other versions of the game (except, notably, 4E). The second tilt I can't say I support. I would much more prefer if Wizards were more competitive at level 1, even at the price of making them less dominant at level 20. In this regard I feel WotC was more successful in balancing martials vs casters throughout the entire game. However, Paizo is clearly better at balancing heroes vs monsters, so in the end, there still isn't a single best game to play.
 

GMed campaign up to 17, the players are a little stronger, and can shut enemies down much more easily, but the enemies can be more dangerous too with powerful magic. The math holds, players can opt to keep their turns simple, although they have the option to make them more elaborate.

Your players can nuke things that are lower level than them at every level, but its here that this comes to include things like swarms of adult dragons. In the same way they once struggled with kobolds and then moved on to frying them in large quantities, the dragons they faced as mid level bosses can now be swatted aside in short order.

This applies to lots of creatures that would have once been TPK-possible challenges for them, and lots of creatures that are narratively presented as powerful in the world. They have new foes that fulfill that role, but yesterdays desperate solo boss fights are today's cannon fodder.

Their spells are bigger and badder too, and high level feats for Martials are deliberately more and more superhuman, slicing your way through crowds in an instant, or leaping high into the air. Druids can transform into Dragons and eventually ACTUAL KAIJU, as well.
 

dave2008

Legend
Your players can nuke things that are lower level than them at every level, but its here that this comes to include things like swarms of adult dragons.
If that is true, it is a bit disappointing to me. I love epic play, but I don't generally like it to this level for mortal PCs and prefer a more significant change in the rules to get to this level of power.
... and eventually ACTUAL KAIJU, as well.
Just wanted to clear something up. Kaiju means "strange beast," aka a monster. What I believe you want is daikaiju which means "giant/great monster." Every since Pacific Rim the cultural misappropriation kaiju as been swift and strong.
 

If that is true, it is a bit disappointing to me. I love epic play, but I don't generally like it to this level for mortal PCs and prefer a more significant change in the rules to get to this level of power.

Just wanted to clear something up. Kaiju means "strange beast," aka a monster. What I believe you want is daikaiju which means "giant/great monster." Every since Pacific Rim the cultural misappropriation kaiju as been swift and strong.
The feature uses the word "kaiju" I think the term has supersceded its original meaning due to the movie genre. I also happen to know the creative director is into the kaiju movie genre.

But yeah even adult reds (the strongest adult chromatics) are CL 14, a party of 17s would treat them as -3s, "low or moderate threat lackeys" and would need to fight 8 of them at once to reach even a severe threshold.

By the following level, theyre only worth 10 exp and the same party would have to fight 12 at once to be a severe challenge. By 19 they drop off the chart and are no longer apropo to challenge the PCs with at all.

At 19, 3 ANCIENT dragons are a severe encounter, for point of reference.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
If that is true, it is a bit disappointing to me. I love epic play, but I don't generally like it to this level for mortal PCs and prefer a more significant change in the rules to get to this level of power.
Well... you can't both have your cake and eat it too. For example, if you feature a level 14 dragon it will indeed be fearsome to, say, a level 10 party. But there's no way to keep the respect once the heroes have leveled eight times or so.

This is just a fundamental property of Pathfinder 2's very contained and very balanced gameplay.

Any monster four levels lower is lunch to the heroes, full stop. Doesn't matter what type of monster, the level indicates its capabilities. You need no other statistic to determine the threat - the level says it all. (Sure there are easier and harder monsters on a given level, but very rarely does the variance transcend a whole level up or down)

So if you don't want heroes of any level to be able to trivialize a fully grown dragon, you need to make sure every such dragon is maybe level 19 or higher. This is because at level 20, a hero might be more powerful than a level 19 monster, but at least defeating it isn't trivial.

If you want to include such a dragon before then, simply stop playing before the heroes reach such a high level.

PS. I actually agree dragons should be high level threats. I never use "wyrmlings" for that reason. Both 5E and PF2 includes dragons of different age categories for the specific reason "we want to let heroes of every level be able to kill a dragon", but I personally find it inappropriate and anticlimactic to feature dragons before the heroes are at least level 10:ish.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
(cont'd)

Pathfinder 2 does not have a "second dimension" such as the Solo or Legendary templates from 4E and 5E respectively.

In fact, AFAIK Pathfinder fans dislike such templates because it feels "arbitrary" (that one monster can be significantly more challenging than another monster of the same level - even a different individual of the same monster type).

Pathfinder 2 is instead constructed to make every monster a difficult "solo boss monster" if faced by heroes 4 levels lower.

The inescapable corollary of this is that every monster is a "trivial mook" if faced by heroes 4 levels higher.


Z

PS. Of course you can simulate the templates of those other games. Start by using proficiency without level. Then create a "Solo" template that starts off with the existing Elite template, quadruples the hit points, and states "this monster ignores the Incapacitation rule". Done.

If you now make every dragon a "Solo" creature, and make sure to exclude all dragons in the single-digit level range, you are much closer to making dragons a proper pain in the arse to heroes of every level.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
(cont'd)

As for the arbitrariness I kind of see the point, but think the reaction to completely disallow legendary creatures is going too far.

Yes, for humanoid creatures a Solo template feels out of place. There simply is no good explanation for a level 10 Wizard or Guard Captain suddenly having many times more hit points than any other human of the same level.

You need the "monstrous factor" to explain it. For instance, if that Wizard is turned into a Lich, I can buy it. Or if the Guard Captain is infused with demonic energies and becomes some kind of half-fiend or something.

But for regular NPCs as opposed to monsters it doesn't work for me*. But that does not mean I want to abolish the idea. For dragons especially it is a wonderful idea!

*) I'm even struggling with how Pathfinder 2 does nothing to distinguish between NPCs and monsters. Even a low-level beggar is built as a monster in Pathfinder 2. But this means it has significantly more hit points, and significantly better attacks. (A monster above your level is likely to crit you with its first attack while your own first attack is more likely to miss than hit, even if you're a Fighter)

I would love a second set of creation tables intended for NPCs (that is "civilized humanoid non-supernatural monsters"), where the resulting to hit, damage and AC values are in the same ballpark as a hero of equivalent level. (Without having to create those NPCs using the full PC creation rules)
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I don’t think it’s called out anywhere else, but the GMG suggests that creatures can have multiple levels. It does this with several NPCs in the NPC gallery. For example, a merchant is a level −1 creature normally, but it is a level 4 creature for mercantile stuff.

That addresses the problem of NPCs with silly amounts of hit points. I don’t think it’s been used with monsters, but I don’t see why not. You could have a dragon that is 10th level outside its lair but is 18th when inside due to magical synergies. That even gives the PCs a new strategy (luring it out to fight it where it is weaker).

I would love a second set of creation tables intended for NPCs (that is "civilized humanoid non-supernatural monsters"), where the resulting to hit, damage and AC values are in the same ballpark as a hero of equivalent level. (Without having to create those NPCs using the full PC creation rules)
Just use a value two levels lower from the guidelines for building creatures? Or do you mean something like the NPC tables from the 3e DMG (which had level-by-level breakdowns for each class)?
 

dave2008

Legend
I don’t think it’s called out anywhere else, but the GMG suggests that creatures can have multiple levels. It does this with several NPCs in the NPC gallery. For example, a merchant is a level −1 creature normally, but it is a level 4 creature for mercantile stuff.
That is an interesting approach and I had not heard about it before. It is a bit weird, but I get it. It is better than making a bunch on non-adventurer classes to make you a good merchant or whatever.

EDIT: I wonder if that means they have two sets of XP? Obviously if you defeat a -1 lvl merchant in fight it is not the same as defeating the same merchant in a mercantile transaction (social challenge / encounter) which they are lvl 4 in.

Actually, this give me a whole new idea for a game design.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I don’t think it’s called out anywhere else, but the GMG suggests that creatures can have multiple levels. It does this with several NPCs in the NPC gallery. For example, a merchant is a level −1 creature normally, but it is a level 4 creature for mercantile stuff.

That addresses the problem of NPCs with silly amounts of hit points.
That's being charitable.

It only does so with specialists like craftsmen and other experts where you want a low-level "civilian" being able to compete with mid-level heroes in, say, crafting, lore or medicine.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That is an interesting approach and I had not heard about it before. It is a bit weird, but I get it. It is better than making a bunch on non-adventurer classes to make you a good merchant or whatever.
Actually the first time I thought of the idea was back when d20 Call of Cthulhu was a thing.

I was sorely disappointed the authors were unable to divorce the idea "every starting level 1 hero must suck at everything".

To me, the ability to create a brand new character that still is a professor of anthropology or whatever (with the skill bonus far higher than what a level 1 character otherwise can boast) is fundamental.

PS. Of course, the proper response is "don't play CoC with a game featuring hit points and levels" but still.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
That's being charitable.

It only does so with specialists like craftsmen and other experts where you want a low-level "civilian" being able to compete with mid-level heroes in, say, crafting, lore or medicine.
Isn’t that the gist of the complaint? You don’t want NPCs built like monsters, so don’t. Create them all as very low level characters except for their specialty. That eliminates the “beggar has has significantly more hit points, and significantly better attacks” scenario while still allowing said beggar to be a good source of information on the street (because their Society skill is very high). The reason for pointing to the GMG was to show that such an approach isn’t unprecedented.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I wonder if that means they have two sets of XP? Obviously if you defeat a -1 lvl merchant in fight it is not the same as defeating the same merchant in a mercantile transaction (social challenge / encounter) which they are lvl 4 in.
You’d use the level appropriate to the challenge.

Using the NPC Gallery said:
The level listed on an NPC's stat block is their level assuming they're used in combat; they should be able to hold their own as well as any other creature of that level. But many of these NPCs are primarily noncombatants who are much more skilled in their occupation than they ever would be in combat. To that end, those specialist NPCs' entries also mention a higher level that you would use when the PCs have to compete against them in their area of expertise.
 

dave2008

Legend
You’d use the level appropriate to the challenge.
My question is really about what is in the stat block. But I guess that doesn't really mater as much if everything is relative to level. To PF2 statblocks even list XP?

EDIT: I just checked, they do not. Nothing to see here, please move on!
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
My question is really about what is in the stat block. But I guess that doesn't really mater as much if everything is relative to level. To PF2 statblocks even list XP?

EDIT: I just checked, they do not. Nothing to see here, please move on!
Ah, yep. I misunderstood the question. It’s all relative to your level. If you’re using an absolute XP scale, you’d just pick whatever value corresponds to the level of the challenge.

For exampe (assuming CapnZapp’s absolute XP scale): If the PCs are out looking for bum fights, they only get 2 XP for every beggar they kill. If they best the beggar in a trivia challenge regarding fortified wines, then they get 10 XP.
 

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