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PF2E How is PF2E prep and GMing?


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kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I find PF2 to be a really solid dungeon crawler. It stands out amongst modern versions of the game.

Exploration mode is basically a modern take on the 10 minute turn. This makes it compatible with wandering monster checks and other old school techniques built on turns.

Hazards are well detailed and the guidance on building them in the GMG.

Monster designs are more classical compared to other versions of D&D. Many feel like puzzles or traps.

There are some pretty decent hexcrawl mechanics in the GMG.

One of my short runs was an adaptation of Tower of the Black Pearl (Dungeon Crawl Classics).
My PCs have spent the last few sessions dipping their toes into a megadungeon, and that matches our experience. Exploration mode works very well and maps very nicely onto some of those old-school structures. You don’t have to use them, but I think it helps make the dungeon feel alive and dangerous (which then helps provide an opportunity cost for resting).

I’m not sure I agree about the hexploration stuff in the GMG. While it’s better than the exploration rules from Kingmaker and Ultimate Campaign, it still doesn’t do enough to make travel itself interesting. Admittedly, I don’t like player-known structures for hexcrawling (due to my experience running a Kingmaker campaign, especially compared to my current one).
 

Porridge

Explorer
@Reynard I find PF2 to be a really solid dungeon crawler. It stands out amongst modern versions of the game.
I’ll second this. That said, I’ll confess that my favorite parts of Paizo’s recent APs have been ones which have placed more emphasis on skill and RPing challenges.

The second book of Age of Ashes is a good example. The party is invited as guests to an elven city with the goal of making a good impression. And then there’s a whole level’s worth of XP (and several sessions worth of material) that comes from them pursuing this task in various ways, almost none of which involves combat.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I’ll second this. That said, I’ll confess that my favorite parts of Paizo’s recent APs have been ones which have placed more emphasis on skill and RPing challenges.

The second book of Age of Ashes is a good example. The party is invited as guests to an elven city with the goal of making a good impression. And then there’s a whole level’s worth of XP (and several sessions worth of material) that comes from them pursuing this task in a various ways, almost none of which involves combat.
That's interesting. Maybe I will look that up.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
We're running an official AP that's at times brutally hard. At these times, more than half of the party has ended encounters at less than half hit points. Since the next encounter might be just as hard, the only way they would go deeper into the dungeon was if allowed to heal up fully, which (after much clutter, choice anxiety and calculations) translates to "half an hour to two hours later".

The sandbox option to throw in a couple of low-level wandering critters to make the party get a move on never felt appropriate - I couldn't in my heart punish them for getting smashed up by brutally hard encounters, could I?
CapnZapp, you clearly have made the decision not to run with attrition. And that's absolutely OK. It's a valid and fun way to play to allow your players to completely heal up after every encounter, especially if your players apparently will just quit the game rather than play in an attrition game.

But it makes your statements that PF2 doesn't work with attrition seem hollow. I am also playing in an AP that's at times brutally hard (likely the same one as you). Most encounters have half the party at low HP -- just like yours (met any elemental giants backed up by dozens of archers yet?). But we have a different play style. We LIKE attrition. After each encounter we ask the GM if it looks safe to rest and the typical answer is "maybe for 10 minutes, but any longer than that and patrols will be coming". So we do go into the next encounter down on HP. We do have to spend magical healing between encounters just to get our fighter up to 75%. Because we like that style of play.

This honestly is not meant as a disparagement on your style of play -- it would be hypocritical of me to say so, as I'm also playing in a fun 4E campaign which absolutely is "full heals between encounters", but it doesn't seem like the differences between our styles are based on the systems -- it seems that they re based on the GM style.

Which, for my money is a strong win -- it makes it clear that PF2 can work well with a full-heal or an attrition play style. It can even do so with using published Adventure Paths, so it doesn't even require much GM work. In fact, our two different experiences show that all it takes is a simple bit of GM direction.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
For hit point attrition, here are my experiences for various systems of D&D:
  • AD&D: Just brutal. Even at mid levels the cost of healing was so high, and natural healing so slow that running out of healing was the main reason to turn around and go home. At low levels the game is defined by attrition, no way I could see to play any other style (unless you throw in some magical help, I guess)
  • 3E / PF1: Mixed at low levels. Having a healbot ... err ... cleric in the party made a big difference. I have many memories of LG tables self-organizing with yells going out "anyone have a cleric around level 5?". At higher levels you needed a cleric to counter some insta-death attacks, but once a wand of cure light wounds became cheap (maybe around level 6?) hit-point attrition was not possible without GM fiat
  • 4E: Hit point attrition is replaced with healing surge attrition. You could run attrition scenarios (and I did!) but it was not the default and didn't;t have the same feel. Going into a fight low on hits makes you feel worried. Going in with only one or two surges just didn't.
  • 13th Age: Uses a similar system to 4E (recoveries instead of surges). Because it integrates combat and non-combat encounters better than most D&D variants, it made it easier to design attrition scenarios, but out-of-the-box, not designed for attrition games.
  • PF2: I'd place it lower than AD&D (of course!) and about the same as level 3-5 3E/PF1, but definitely easier to run attrition games in than mid-high 3E/PF1, 4e or 13A.
I have played/run less than 20 5E games, so I cannot comment on its suitability. But if you are interested in running attrition scenarios across a variety of play levels, then either go for AD&D -- which is out-of-the-box all about hit point attrition -- or PF2, which in my experience is the next most easy for a GM to tailor for attrition.
 

dave2008

Legend
  • 4E: Hit point attrition is replaced with healing surge attrition. You could run attrition scenarios (and I did!) but it was not the default and didn't;t have the same feel. Going into a fight low on hits makes you feel worried. Going in with only one or two surges just didn't
With a slight tweak we made being low on surges absolutely terrifying.
 


dave2008

Legend
What a hint. Now tell us about it!
Sorry - I didn't want to go off on 4e discussion.
4e Heroic Surges
We renamed healing surges to heroic surges and allowed / required you to spend them on more things. So instead of encounter powers and daily powers an encounter power cost 1 HS and a daily cost 2 HS. Also, once you passed a power by 10 levels its usage dropped one rank. So a level 1 encounter power became at-will at level 11 (require no HS to use). That is the major change, but you could also spend HS on other things too (like moving faster or doing more damage or making an extra attack).
 

Numidius

Explorer
Sorry - I didn't want to go off on 4e discussion.
4e Heroic Surges
We renamed healing surges to heroic surges and allowed / required you to spend them on more things. So instead of encounter powers and daily powers an encounter power cost 1 HS and a daily cost 2 HS. Also, once you passed a power by 10 levels its usage dropped one rank. So a level 1 encounter power became at-will at level 11 (require no HS to use). That is the major change, but you could also spend HS on other things too (like moving faster or doing more damage or making an extra attack).
Cool. I kind of anticipated that, intuitively from reading your posts lately, being me also deciding on starting a PF2 game.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Question: In 5e I can, and have, effectively wipe out a party's resources in 1 encounter or 8 encounters. I assume this is still generally possible in PF2e, except for a party with medicine - is that correct?
You can do either. Medicine works during downtime. You have Battle Medicine which works once a day per person with Battle Medicine. It can be one big heal boost if you have your medicine skill built up high enough, which everyone is unlikely to invest in as it takes away from other skills.

I can only speak to my experience, so I want to make that clear. Once you get rid of the combat healing which you can do in a slow series of encounters or in one powerful encounter, proceeding on is highly risky. You can get back to full hit points using medicine after the encounter with no dying or wounded conditions. If your next fight is dangerous, you might die. And if no one takes medicine, your party will definitely progress slower. A Medic is not a must have, but does make things easier.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Well I didn't think I would either. Then I got the idea to add more monsters to chapter 5 of Extinction Curse for the express purpose of drawing out the combats over the whole week leading up to the chapter's finale.

I got a rude awakening when the party simply went out, killed half a dozen critters, retreated to their base for a few hours, then went out again. They made a clean sweep of more than a whole level's worth of encounters with only a single night's rest. This was enabled in part by having three strong martials (that probably did 90% of the damage between them) and in part by having two patient caster characters that rationed their spell slots.
Medicine skill makes low level healing much easier with time being the main limiter in PF2. It's hard to spread fights out over a week unless you make each of those fights annihilate party resources each day in PF2. I can see that problem occurring. The way PF2 medicine is set up fights spread out over a week would require you to either only give the party information on a given day making narration the limiter or flat out make each fight take all their combat healing and spell resources sending the message not to go into the next fight without full resources. Hit point attrition and natural healing will not limit their ability to take on fights spread out into finite encounters where they have a ton of time per encounter and each encounter doesn't take many of their resources. They can go all day if the encounters don't drain them.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Well, that might be technically true, but very far from practical reality in any minmaxing group...

Translation: there are feats to remove almost every restriction mentioned. The safe bet is instead that 20-80 minutes after a fight, everybody is back at max hp (not counting diseases and curses etc now) at zero cost in resources.
This is how it is unless you specifically design the encounter otherwise. This is my experience up to level 12. Players enter nearly every combat at full hit points with no dying or wounded condition. You can make them feel harried, but it will take some encounter design practice to get the feel you want as base PF2 is designed for pretty swingy challenges where hit points rise and fall quickly. In base PF2 characters are often put down and get the dying and wounded conditions on a per combat basis, not a per day or per week basis. Every serious combat has a chance for you to end up the ground and dying/wounded even if you enter it at full hit points.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
It looks like Continual recovery is only a 2nd level feat so I presume it is pretty common to have. I mean, it is an interesting choice: it appears hit points are a tactical resource rather than a strategic resource in PF2E, and spells per day, rage, etc are more strategic resources. Does that mean classes like fighters and rogues don't have to deal with strategic resource management at all?
Fighters and rogues do not have to deal with strategic resource management. If they have a medic with continual recovery and fight things that don't take them out, they can go all day. If they run into something that can take them without combat healing, it might be a TPK and you'll find out real quick if it is.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
CapnZapp, you clearly have made the decision not to run with attrition. And that's absolutely OK. It's a valid and fun way to play to allow your players to completely heal up after every encounter, especially if your players apparently will just quit the game rather than play in an attrition game.

But it makes your statements that PF2 doesn't work with attrition seem hollow. I am also playing in an AP that's at times brutally hard (likely the same one as you). Most encounters have half the party at low HP -- just like yours (met any elemental giants backed up by dozens of archers yet?). But we have a different play style. We LIKE attrition. After each encounter we ask the GM if it looks safe to rest and the typical answer is "maybe for 10 minutes, but any longer than that and patrols will be coming". So we do go into the next encounter down on HP. We do have to spend magical healing between encounters just to get our fighter up to 75%. Because we like that style of play.

This honestly is not meant as a disparagement on your style of play -- it would be hypocritical of me to say so, as I'm also playing in a fun 4E campaign which absolutely is "full heals between encounters", but it doesn't seem like the differences between our styles are based on the systems -- it seems that they re based on the GM style.

Which, for my money is a strong win -- it makes it clear that PF2 can work well with a full-heal or an attrition play style. It can even do so with using published Adventure Paths, so it doesn't even require much GM work. In fact, our two different experiences show that all it takes is a simple bit of GM direction.
I too started out with the goal of limiting "risk free" healing to 10 minutes. (The whole game seems predicated on ten minutes being available after encounters, maybe not always but at least regularly). This then became "lets try to rest for 20" then 30, and it didn't take many levels before damage and hit point totals became large enough that Treat Wounds can't keep up, which leads us to my current assessment: 20-80 minutes.

But your definition of brutally hard doesn't match mine. How could it when you say your players keep adventuring with just the fighter at 75% (and presumably everybody else at lower hp)?

To paint the picture for everybody else, what happens after a hard encounter (when several party members have dropped, and been given minimal healing to stave off the Dying condition)?

In my case, the party seeks out a safe-ish place and hunker down to heal up. They don't use magical healing unless forced to. They don't press on if they don't have to.

My options - remember I'm running an official AP here - would be:
1) follow the script. Since the script often says nothing about monsters moving about (and often specifies very very long leading times before reacting in relevant ways, such as by ordering underlings to scout the area) this rest becomes risk-free. The players then spend maybe 15-30 minutes in real time hashing out exactly who gets what type of treatment, and exactly how many hit points are restored in each case. This is the case where "you rest for an hour and heal up completely" would have been a HUGE timesaver (since it arrives at the exact same end result in seconds instead of minutes).
2) add (weak) wandering monsters to add a risk - and therefore also a cost - to the healing up. However, if the aim is to make heroes keep adventuring, this cannot accomplish that. The only results are after all a) the party gets even more weakened, meaning the players will keep resting even more, or b) they retreat to heal up in a less "hot" zone. Or, of course, c) they blow their resource-based healing (=their Cleric's spells) and break off adventuring for the day.
3) invent new (strong) wandering monsters. But all this does is reinforce the feeling of "this dungeon is too strong for us". Making the party break off more often means less story progress per playing hour (and more cluttery downtime-admin).

Do note that none of these results say "the heroes grit their teeth and keep exploring". Why? Because the dungeon is clearly too dangerous for that to be a logical course of action.

Also note that the script almost never put a time pressure on the heroes. Sure, there's the odd mention of a prisoner dying in X hours if not saved before, but that is not communicated to the players beforehand, and so doesn't constitute a meaningful pressure point. On occasion, they enter a zone where strange things happen maybe every 8 hours. While this might be intended to make heroes hurry along, it fails to take the subject of this very thread into account - 8 hours is simply a very long time in PF2. We've already discussed in detail how much healing that affords a party.

It boils down to this: If you can get this battered when you start a combat at full health, risking a new such encounter when not at full health comes off as reckless at best. My players doesn't like that idea, and they avoid taking TPK-levels of risk when they don't have to.

On a meta level, my players are so experienced they've seen through the illusion of time pressure. Probably 99.9% of modules lie when they tell the heroes they must hurry. Almost every module is written so that the heroes arrive in the nick of time, regardless of when they actually arrive. I can't remember when I read a module that actually explored the fail case.

For example (I'm just making things up here): "if they don't get there in time, the dragon eats the princess, and Chapter 5 explores the chaos that erupts in the kingdom. Remember, Chapter 5 is optional and should yield no XP. It's purpose is to drive home that failure is actually possible. It's a punishment for failure, not a reward for being too cautious. If the heroes had just been a little more daring and active, they would have saved the princess. The reward is nice magical loot plus getting to skip chapter 5".

But anyhoo - I'm trying to run the AP as written, my players aren't reckless, and I don't see any tools to make them take more risks. You say "CapnZapp, you clearly have made the decision not to run with attrition" but I can't recognize myself in that at all. I have made no such decision, not that I can think of. If anything, I would have liked a bit of attrition, but my players aren't having it, not in a game where almost any encounter can take any one of the PCs from full to zero hp.


Zapp

PS. The obvious solution is to make the dungeon less dangerous. I mean, it's not that I don't understand this to be the obvious way to encourage heroes to take more risks and press on even when not at peak health. I've already dropped the idea to modify dungeon encounters for five players (the default is four). I've already started to switch out a couple of encounters each level for a bigger bunch of much lower enemies (such a fight is not only less random and therefore easier to control, it also gives the poor Wizard a chance to shine through his otherwise mediocre area attacks).

PPS. Adding actual time pressure (of the "The Dragon will eat the princess in three days time. Please hurry!" kind) works less well in PF2 than in other D&D games. Why? Because it incentivizes the cost-free healing that is Medicine et al! If you dungeon delve traditionally, and use up your Cleric's resources to proceed faster, all you end up doing is hasten the end of the adventuring day. And in this case, you only have three of those! If you instead depend on Medicine, you can probably reach the Dragon during the very first day (by taking a dozen or more 20-80 minute rests), and then camp just before the big fight (to make that fight more enjoyable for the casters in the party). In other words, adding "free" healing (coupled by the non-dependance on chiefly arcane casters) breaks a lot of D&D assumptions and paradigms.

Which brings us back to the basic conclusion "Paizo ought to have discussed this in the CRB and they should have offered an attrition variant in the GMG".
 
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Celtavian

Dragon Lord
I too started out with the goal of limiting "risk free" healing to 10 minutes. (The whole game seems predicated on ten minutes being available after encounters, maybe not always but at least regularly). This then became "lets try to rest for 20" then 30, and it didn't take many levels before damage and hit point totals became large enough that Treat Wounds can't keep up, which leads us to my current assessment: 20-80 minutes.

But your definition of brutally hard doesn't match mine. How could it when you say your players keep adventuring with just the fighter at 75% (and presumably everybody else at lower hp)?

To paint the picture for everybody else, what happens after a hard encounter (when several party members have dropped, and been given minimal healing to stave off the Dying condition)?

In my case, the party seeks out a safe-ish place and hunker down to heal up. They don't use magical healing unless forced to. They don't press on if they don't have to.

My options - remember I'm running an official AP here - would be:
1) follow the script. Since the script often says nothing about monsters moving about (and often specifies very very long leading times before reacting in relevant ways, such as by ordering underlings to scout the area) this rest becomes risk-free. The players then spend maybe 15-30 minutes in real time hashing out exactly who gets what type of treatment, and exactly how many hit points are restored in each case. This is the case where "you rest for an hour and heal up completely" would have been a HUGE timesaver (since it arrives at the exact same end result in seconds instead of minutes).
2) add (weak) wandering monsters to add a risk - and therefore also a cost - to the healing up. However, if the aim is to make heroes keep adventuring, this cannot accomplish that. The only results are after all a) the party gets even more weakened, meaning the players will keep resting even more, or b) they retreat to heal up in a less "hot" zone. Or, of course, c) they blow their resource-based healing (=their Cleric's spells) and break off adventuring for the day.
3) invent new (strong) wandering monsters. But all this does is reinforce the feeling of "this dungeon is too strong for us". Making the party break off more often means less story progress per playing hour (and more cluttery downtime-admin).

Do note that none of these results say "the heroes grit their teeth and keep exploring". Why? Because the dungeon is clearly too dangerous for that to be a logical course of action.

Also note that the script almost never put a time pressure on the heroes. Sure, there's the odd mention of a prisoner dying in X hours if not saved before, but that is not communicated to the players beforehand, and so doesn't constitute a meaningful pressure point. On occasion, they enter a zone where strange things happen maybe every 8 hours. While this might be intended to make heroes hurry along, it fails to take the subject of this very thread into account - 8 hours is simply a very long time in PF2. We've already discussed in detail how much healing that affords a party.

It boils down to this: If you can get this battered when you start a combat at full health, risking a new such encounter when not at full health comes off as reckless at best. My players doesn't like that idea, and they avoid taking TPK-levels of risk when they don't have to.

On a meta level, my players are so experienced they've seen through the illusion of time pressure. Probably 99.9% of modules lie when they tell the heroes they must hurry. Almost every module is written so that the heroes arrive in the nick of time, regardless of when they actually arrive. I can't remember when I read a module that actually explored the fail case.

For example (I'm just making things up here): "if they don't get there in time, the dragon eats the princess, and Chapter 5 explores the chaos that erupts in the kingdom. Remember, Chapter 5 is optional and should yield no XP. It's purpose is to drive home that failure is actually possible. It's a punishment for failure, not a reward for being too cautious. If the heroes had just been a little more daring and active, they would have saved the princess. The reward is nice magical loot plus getting to skip chapter 5".

But anyhoo - I'm trying to run the AP as written, my players aren't reckless, and I don't see any tools to make them take more risks. You say "CapnZapp, you clearly have made the decision not to run with attrition" but I can't recognize myself in that at all. I have made no such decision, not that I can think of. If anything, I would have liked a bit of attrition, but my players aren't having it, not in a game where almost any encounter can take any one of the PCs from full to zero hp.


Zapp

PS. The obvious solution is to make the dungeon less dangerous. I mean, it's not that I don't understand this to be the obvious way to encourage heroes to take more risks and press on even when not at peak health. I've already dropped the idea to modify dungeon encounters for five players (the default is four). I've already started to switch out a couple of encounters each level for a bigger bunch of much lower enemies (such a fight is not only less random and therefore easier to control, it also gives the poor Wizard a chance to shine through his otherwise mediocre area attacks).

PPS. Adding actual time pressure (of the "The Dragon will eat the princess in three days time. Please hurry!" kind) works less well in PF2 than in other D&D games. Why? Because it incentivizes the cost-free healing that is Medicine et al! If you dungeon delve traditionally, and use up your Cleric's resources to proceed faster, all you end up doing is hasten the end of the adventuring day. And in this case, you only have three of those! If you instead depend on Medicine, you can probably reach the Dragon during the very first day (by taking a dozen or more 20-80 minute rests), and then camp just before the big fight (to make that fight more enjoyable for the casters in the party). In other words, adding "free" healing (coupled by the non-dependance on chiefly arcane casters) breaks a lot of D&D assumptions and paradigms.

Which brings us back to the basic conclusion "Paizo ought to have discussed this in the CRB and they should have offered an attrition variant in the GMG".
But doesn't that better mirror the cinematic fantasy that D&D/PF is meant to capture? You rarely see the knight or adventurer how up severely worn down when fighting a dragon. They usually show up ready to fight and then end up in an extremely long, drawn out continuous fight where the dragon threatens not only them but the area around if they can't stop it. PF2 may not fit the paradigm we have been accustomed to over the years, but fights feel far more cinematic to me. Medicine is a lot better way to show out of combat healing than CLW wands and potions. I feel that the method they came up with in PF2 feels a whole lot better for story-telling purposes and fights feel more intense and cinematic. I found it quite easy to harry a party and keep them form out of combat healing by having them pursued to get that attrition feel.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
But doesn't that better mirror the cinematic fantasy that D&D/PF is meant to capture? You rarely see the knight or adventurer how up severely worn down when fighting a dragon.
No, but that's not a reason to not support a long-established way of playing the game. (In other words, just because your preferred way of playing is right doesn't mean the other guy's way is wrong)

Medicine is a lot better way to show out of combat healing than CLW wands and potions.
Yeah, except it misses the fundamental point of much of the criticism - the criticism isn't how you heal up between fights, but that you do it at all (and more to the point, that your ability to do so is taken for granted - that you're given the ability uncritically, as if it was entirely uncontroversial). In the eyes of an "attritionist" such as maybe Dave, whether you heal up by magic items or by inherent abilities is irrelevant. They are one and the same obstacle to a way of playing, only skinned slightly differently. A great way of handling this would be to have made these abilities of uncommon rarity, thus immediately enabling the attritionist GM to use the game as is, no drawn out arguments with perturbed players necessary.

Cheers
 
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Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Yeah, except it misses the fundamental point of much of the criticism - the criticism isn't how you heal up between fights, but that you do it at all (and more to the point, that your ability to do so is taken for granted - that you're given the ability uncritically, as if it was entirely uncontroversial). In the eyes of an "attritionist" such as maybe Dave, whether you heal up by magic items or by inherent abilities is irrelevant. They are one and the same obstacle to a way of playing, only skinned slightly differently. A great way of handling this would be to have made these abilities of uncommon rarity, thus immediately enabling the attritionist GM to use the game as is, no drawn out arguments with perturbed players necessary.

Cheers
I still believe it is far easier to harry a party in PF2 than it was in PF1. In Pf1 it took rounds to heal up to full. You could heal an entire party up to full using wands, potions, and channeling within a matter of rounds or minutes. In 5E it does require a short rest to get some hit points back or you can rely on pop up healing if you have people with healing word or cure light wounds. It depends. We never had a lot of trouble healing up in 5E.

If you want to create attrition in PF2, all you have to do is not give them hours of downtime. In 10 minutes they cannot get back that many hit points. They literally need hours as you stated to get back hit points from a low number, especially if they level.

I'm not seeing how it that different than other versions of the game. For all of 3E it was not hard to get people back up in hit points. It wasn't hard to keep people up or dominate in 5E.

Dave's main advantage in this regard seems less about the rules and more about playing with players that don't tend to optimize for combat. If his players do the same thing in PF2, then he won't have much of a problem with attrition. In fact, he might accidentally kill more players using his 0 hit point rule and playing with players who never play clerics, bards, or druids who heal.

All I know is I would have no trouble building attrition encounters in PF2. It's easier to me than previous editions of D&D even with medicine, especially so at higher levels.

I built a life oracle in PF1 that could heal an entire party in combat to full 12 to 14 times a day. That doesn't even include using channeling or CLW wands. She had high hit points being Con-focused and light form that made her immune to crits and a lot of other things. She was far more powerful as a healer than anything in PF2 or 5E and attrition was a non-issue in PF1 unless you built your party really poorly.
 

Reynard

Legend
I am looking at the encounter building rules and they are based on Party Level. If I want to create a more open world, sandbox style situation, what is the best method?

The thing that seems easiest is to assume any given encounter is rated as"Standard" for it's level. So, an encounter of 4 4th level monsters is a Level 6 encounter if I am reading the math right. If the party is 5th level when they engage the encounter, it is considered Sever for them, but if they are 8th level is is considered Trivial. Actual XP awards for the encounter would be based on their level when they engage it.

Am I reading that math right?
 

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