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Pathfinder 2E High Level Play

CapnZapp

Legend
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.
Not sure if we're misunderstanding each other.

I'm merely pointing out that the GMG approach you mention is still used only highly selectively.

The solution is exactly what you suggest except Paizo didn't do this. That I can do it isn't really a solution for anybody else...
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
Do PF2 statblocks even list XP?

EDIT: I just checked, they do not. Nothing to see here, please move on!
The reason they do not is because there is no single given number to list.

One and the same Basilisk (or Cloaker, or Harpy etc) gives 160 XP* if defeated by a party of level 1 heroes. Once the party is level 5, it gives 40 XP*. When the party is level 9, it gives 10 XP*.

*) to each of the four heroes
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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.
Well...

This requires clarity. Kenada is mixing beggars with merchants here. Unfortunately both can yield a 10 XP reward, so let's be more precise.

First off, Kenada references my scheme found here: Pathfinder 2E - Absolute XP

Now, defeating a level 1 creature gives 2 XP, completing a level 1 challenge or quest gives 10 XP.

Second, the official beggar is not a level 1 creature (as we've all assumed so far). It is a level -1 creature. Just sayin'...

Defeating a level 4 creature also happens to give 10 XP. Defeating a level -1 creature gives 1 XP (because I don't want to give out half of an xp).

So if you are accosted by a level 1 creature, say an escaped prisoner, and manages to beat him off, or turn him in to the city guard, or leave him lifeless in the gutter, you and your friends gain 2 XP each. But if your quest is to find out which of the prisoners knows the real identity of the king, and that is a level 1 quest, you gain 10 XP.

If you manage to escape with a bottle of Booger Swamp White Wine guarded by four merchants shooting crossbow bolts at you, you gain 1 XP for each. If on the other hand you're challenged by a merchant, not to single combat, but to a game involving Mercantile Lore, you gain 10 XP. But if you are on a quest to replace valuable wines with cheap fakes during a wine tasting without anyone knowing, and that constitutes a level 4 quest, then you'd get 50 XP.

Hope that clears up everything!
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Thanks for clarifying! I was using a hypothetical beggar NPC that was created for the purpose of illustrating the example and messed up the XP values.

Not sure if we're misunderstanding each other.

I'm merely pointing out that the GMG approach you mention is still used only highly selectively.

The solution is exactly what you suggest except Paizo didn't do this. That I can do it isn't really a solution for anybody else...
But it provides for the “set of creation tables intended for NPCs” you wanted. Given these additional constraints, no solution is possible because by definition it can’t and won’t be applied everywhere.

As a compromise, how about the following approach: take the idea from the GMG, and apply it universally. Do that by creating a standard template for NPCs. These stats would be used for all NPCs (regardless of what is printed) except where it concerns their specialty. Fighting bums? Use the template. Seducing guards? Use the template. Getting the king drunk? Use the template. Negotiating with the kingdom’s top diplomat? Use the diplomat’s stats.
 

dave2008

Legend
The reason they do not is because there is no single given number to list.

One and the same Basilisk (or Cloaker, or Harpy etc) gives 160 XP* if defeated by a party of level 1 heroes. Once the party is level 5, it gives 40 XP*. When the party is level 9, it gives 10 XP*.

*) to each of the four heroes
Yep, I figured it out as I was posting. If I had just thought a moment more about your original posts, it wouldn't have been a question at all. A case of typing before I was thinking.
 

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.

That sounds both good and bad.
If the math is identical and the play is similar, don't that mean you could just use level 7 characters and a swarm of young adult dragons and just describe them as being Large or Huge?

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.

Is transforming into a dragon more effective at that level than transforming into a bear at low levels?

When I think about high level play in 3rd Ed I'm picturing games where all the heroes can fly, are immune to fire, can shoot lightning and teleport cross the continent for afternoon tea. Stuff that 5e don't do well cause of attunement. Or 4th Ed which has similar hard math but you ended the game with powers that said "once per day, when you die_____."
 

Campbell

Legend
I would say the math is similar, but the sorts of things high level characters can do dramatically ups the ante. Stuff like a Barbarian growing Dragon Wings when they rage. Stuff like high level Rogues possibly being so good at Deception they are immune to Detection and Scrying effects. Stuff like Fighters hitting flying enemies so hard with their sword they come down to earth. Plus like all that magic stuff.
 

dave2008

Legend
I would say the math is similar, but the sorts of things high level characters can do dramatically ups the ante. Stuff like a Barbarian growing Dragon Wings when they rage. Stuff like high level Rogues possibly being so good at Deception they are immune to Detection and Scrying effects. Stuff like Fighters hitting flying enemies so hard with their sword they come down to earth. Plus like all that magic stuff.
Ya, that reminds of the stuff people supposedly hated about 4e. I see it both ways. I prefer more grounded games (unless I am specifically running epic / immortal stuff), but I get that people like the gonzo abilities too.
 

That sounds both good and bad.
If the math is identical and the play is similar, don't that mean you could just use level 7 characters and a swarm of young adult dragons and just describe them as being Large or Huge?
The higher level Dragon has more abilities that do crazy things, your players have more abilities that do crazy things, the battle still feels different. The game has layers, so even if one layer has the same relative values, the design of a different layer means that it feels different. This can be because of spells (one high level dragon fight I ran had the Dragon dropping a 10th level Massacre spell on the party as the end looked inevitable for it, low level draconic spellcasters would never be able to do that) or innate abilities, Ancient Red Dragons have innate magic that lets them manipulate fire effects, and a reaction to redirect fire effects.

They're also bigger, have longer reach, and higher level monsters reach into higher numerical categories more often since players have more tools to deal with it-- there's literally a chart with extreme/high/moderate/low AC for every level, higher level monsters lean more heavily on the high/extreme column, for instance.

In practice it feels pretty good, because the statblock being an actual stable thing means that the players know they're moving on to objectively nastier monsters.
 

The higher level Dragon has more abilities that do crazy things, your players have more abilities that do crazy things, the battle still feels different. The game has layers, so even if one layer has the same relative values, the design of a different layer means that it feels different. This can be because of spells (one high level dragon fight I ran had the Dragon dropping a 10th level Massacre spell on the party as the end looked inevitable for it, low level draconic spellcasters would never be able to do that) or innate abilities, Ancient Red Dragons have innate magic that lets them manipulate fire effects, and a reaction to redirect fire effects.

That doesn't sound very different. "The ancient red dragon uses a 10th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party" isn't all that different than "the young red dragon uses a 4th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party

They're also bigger, have longer reach

It ain't hard to use a young red's statblock but make it colossal and increase it's reach by 10 feet.
 

I would say the math is similar, but the sorts of things high level characters can do dramatically ups the ante. Stuff like a Barbarian growing Dragon Wings when they rage. Stuff like high level Rogues possibly being so good at Deception they are immune to Detection and Scrying effects. Stuff like Fighters hitting flying enemies so hard with their sword they come down to earth. Plus like all that magic stuff.

That does sound cool and paints a clearer picture.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
When I think about high level play in 3rd Ed I'm picturing games where all the heroes can fly, are immune to fire, can shoot lightning and teleport cross the continent for afternoon tea. Stuff that 5e don't do well cause of attunement. Or 4th Ed which has similar hard math but you ended the game with powers that said "once per day, when you die_____."
You clearly want 3E levels of gonzo, and 3E is still available for you to use.

Meanwhile, significantly curtailing these excesses of high level play in 3E/PF1 has been the main goal of all three main editions published since...

Regards
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I would say the math is similar, but the sorts of things high level characters can do dramatically ups the ante. Stuff like a Barbarian growing Dragon Wings when they rage. Stuff like high level Rogues possibly being so good at Deception they are immune to Detection and Scrying effects. Stuff like Fighters hitting flying enemies so hard with their sword they come down to earth. Plus like all that magic stuff.
I would agree with Disgruntled and say that from a 3E perspective, no, high level characters can't do "dramatically" different things.

Let's be honest. The point of PF2 is to not allow imbalanced hijinks. Even 5E comes out as gonzo in comparison.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That doesn't sound very different.
That is because it isn't.

"Different" means many things at once. Where you see being able to explode entire cities, Paizo sees a clear risk of one tactic being fundamentally far stronger than another.

If PF2 does only one thing, it is "there's no way to trivialize a fight". There's no cheese.

Yes, that means that just like level 4 players have no way to defeat a bear but to engage it in a "fair fight", level 20 characters have no overpowered imbalanced ways to not have to fight a level 20 beastie using the constraints of a "fair fight".

At level 20 facing a monster your own level is easier than it was at level 4, but that's just about it. Make it a level 22 creature and the math, the arena, the actions available, and the challenge will be comparable.

Why? Because if it was incomparable there would be no way to ensure balance.

---

Let's take an example. The Scare to Death ability (feat). It allows you to spend a single action and quite literally scare a monster to death. By that I mean just that. It goes from full health to being dead in an instant. You spend only a single action to do this. This sounds like 3E-style gonzo right?

Yes.

And no.

That's because Paizo has carefully calibrated and restricted the ability in a way that is distinctly unlike the unlimited 3rd edition.

First off, it only works on critters your own level and lower (because Incapacitation). This is important, since it promises that GMs won't see their cool BBEGs go down to "trickery" (unless you start rolling only 1s on your dice of course)

Secondly, if you do the math, you end up with maybe a 20% success rate. 30% tops. If the monster has 300 hp, that means that your ability on average kills 60 or 80 hit points worth of monster. But a regular attack does that too! If the regular attack does 50 damage but has a 25% shot at scoring a critical for 100 hp damage, the average does fall into the 60-80 range (62.5 to be exact). Note: this compares the feat to your first attack. Compared to your third attack, it is clearly better. But so is everything else.

So in that purely mathematical statistical sense the ability can be defended as "balanced". That's not what proponents of 3rd edition usually want. In 3E there are loads and loads of abilities that completely short-circuit the intended defenses of monsters.

Now, you might think this is the case here. If your initial Intimidation check scores a crit, the monster has to make a literal save or die Fortitude save, but will often fail on even rolling a 19. But that does not change the fact that you will not score that critical more than maybe 20-30% of the time.

That said, narratively the ability still comes off as jarring. Or "cool" depending on your POV. By POV I mean the game is clearly thinking of it being used in a regular dungeon fight where one quick monster death matters little. But in a more civilized campaign, let's say there's a gladiator arena. I find it hard to imagine gladiators wanting to go up against a hero with a proven track record of one-shotting his opponent (no matter their defenses) once every four bouts. You circle your opponent, the tension is rising... and then he lifts an eyebrow, and you drop dead from fright! (Another example of how singularly focused at standard dungeon delving Pathfinder 2 really is)

This should tell you if PF2 is a game for you.

If you consider this to put a lid on high-level heroics, and want build choices to make or break combats, stick with 3E (or PF1). If you consider this a huge boon, since now your high-level monsters are assured some measure of a "fair fight", and one group of min-maxed heroes aren't decisively more potent than another, at the cost of fundamentally restricting high-level game play to the same bounds as low-level game play, then PF2 is definitely the game for you.

Fundamentally, the only reason Scare to Death is restricted to level 15 is to offer more "high level hijinks". But the ability is still on a leash. It's not like 3E at all, where a careful combination of various abilities could shatter the math entirely. There is no balance-related reason the Scare to Death feat couldn't be offered at level 4, for example.

Z

Disclaimer: I have only GMd one campaign from 1 to 20, so there can be more examples than this.
 
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dave2008

Legend
That doesn't sound very different. "The ancient red dragon uses a 10th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party" isn't all that different than "the young red dragon uses a 4th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party



It ain't hard to use a young red's statblock but make it colossal and increase it's reach by 10 feet.
How about we take a different approach: what are you looking for in high level play?
 

That doesn't sound very different. "The ancient red dragon uses a 10th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party" isn't all that different than "the young red dragon uses a 4th level spell that deals damage and almost kills the party



It ain't hard to use a young red's statblock but make it colossal and increase it's reach by 10 feet.
There's no 4th level Massacre (which is 9th level my bad) the spell can actually instantly finish off PCs, and has a stakes mechanic where if it doesn't kill, it recoils back, hitting the same creatures again, as well as the caster. It feels way more epic than just dropping a fireball or something on them would have at low level (in my experience anyway, I've run those lower level Dragon fights with the same party when they were around 7.) If that doesn't feel different, I'm not sure what to tell you, because it just fundamentally is different in actual play. It only seems similar if you abstract it, and that just isn't how the game is played-- 'we fought a tough monster and the party almost died' is a pretty apt description of a boss encounter at any level of any well designed game in this genre.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
There's no 4th level Massacre (which is 9th level my bad) the spell can actually instantly finish off PCs, and has a stakes mechanic where if it doesn't kill, it recoils back, hitting the same creatures again, as well as the caster.
Sure, but if you compare the PF2 version to the PF1 version you see clear differences.

PF1: Massacre – d20PFSRD
PF2: Massacre - Spells - Archives of Nethys: Pathfinder 2nd Edition Database

How you want to characterize the difference is up to you. If you go "The PF2 version is way more balanced" play PF2. If you go "The PF1 version is way more epic" play PF1.

(The PF2 spell might come across as very similar to a superficial comparison, but as soon as you dive deeper you realize the PF2 spell is WAY more likely to not kill anyone and thus blow up in your face.)
 

Zapp, are we doing your usual again today?

Edit: I realize this might be a little unclear, I didn't say anything about Pathfinder 1e, so I don't appreciate the random 'just asking questions' routine about a point I didn't make, and you're already morphing this thread into one of your usual rants about your dislike of the game's balanced math, and it doesn't seem to be much improved from the repetition.
 
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If you consider this to put a lid on high-level heroics, and want build choices to make or break combats, stick with 3E (or PF1). If you consider this a huge boon, since now your high-level monsters are assured some measure of a "fair fight", and one group of min-maxed heroes aren't decisively more potent than another, at the cost of fundamentally restricting high-level game play to the same bounds as low-level game play, then PF2 is definitely the game for you.

I just remember someone from Paizo talking about high level gains at a Paizo Con I attended and discussing how high level adventures should encourage crazy shit and not just have dungeons that had a mess of restrictions to prevent teleporting. He was discussing corridors covered in knives where you had to fly to continue or rooms you could only reach by teleporting or areas where you needed a minimum amount of fire resistance not to instantly be turned to ash.
Wondered how that worked in Pathfinder 2nd Ed.

That and playing some SHADOWS OF THE DEMON LORD where you hit cap at level 10 but start the campaign saving the world. It reminded me that you don't need to have a level in the teens to go epic. But just having a story where ya saved the world didn't make the heroes "epic."
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I just remember someone from Paizo talking about high level gains at a Paizo Con I attended and discussing how high level adventures should encourage crazy shit and not just have dungeons that had a mess of restrictions to prevent teleporting. He was discussing corridors covered in knives where you had to fly to continue or rooms you could only reach by teleporting or areas where you needed a minimum amount of fire resistance not to instantly be turned to ash.
Wondered how that worked in Pathfinder 2nd Ed.
Well, my answer would be "I don't think so".

Why? Not because "we can't let have the players too much fun".

But because "our adventure paths must work for all sorts of parties". So far I haven't encountered any AP you couldn't complete with a party of four Barbarians, say.

And yes, this is a distinct difference to what you're describing. What you're describing, in fact, is Monte Cook 3E adventures. There you simply die if you don't bring a real superstar of a hero to the party. Meaning a high-level Wizard of course! :LOL:
 

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