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Pathfinder 2E Looks like I will be running a PF2e game in a few weeks...suggestions?

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Capn, I strongly disagree with the entirety of your comments.
A clever DM can use PF2 (or any other flavor of RPG) to run any of the types of games being discussed here. You can do "sandbox" games just as easily as with any other game.
And far from being a "combat arena" centered system, PF2 goes out of its way to codify all sorts of out of combat situations.

Folks, don't let the strong opinions of one forum poster sway you one way or another (including me). The best way to judge a game on its relative merits is to play it for a few sessions. For PF2, the beginner's box and the Trouble in Otari adventures are a good place to start, but you can just as well use it for homebrewed adventures as for following published materials. I'm sure the same is true for almost any flavor of RPG anyone would care to mention.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
And a highly ritualized arena-style combat at that, where if the opposition is even slightly too difficult will likely result in PC death.
That’s the point. Pathfinder 2e isn’t different from earlier editions of D&D in that regard. Old-school D&D has a reputation for being very deadly exactly because PCs are fragile and tougher creatures will destroy them. The game evolved the way it did because enough people wanted balanced arena fights, but that doesn’t mean the things you identify as a problem are a problem for a creative agenda that eschews arena fights.

Nothing about this particular variant of D&D is suited to sandbox play with very varied encounters. As soon as you deviate with long range or unusual terrain or monster groups interacting the meat of the game, it's carefully calibrated - and heavily enforced - balance, goes out the window.
This seems like a shift in the goalposts. So now not only combining encounters but also those with larger scares or varied terrain are problematic too? I think the idea of balance being offered has been distorted in a way that won’t resonate with those who do want balanced fights. I expect those who want balanced encounters assume they should win every fight (without having to engage in war tactics) rather than have them all be so tuned for optimal amounts of exertion from both them and the PCs in every case. 5e doesn’t even do that!

You would not utilize the strengths of PF2 and you would have to manage yourself what the game does not.

I'm not saying you can't make it happen. Heck, I could make it happen!

But why would I? I'm saying I would strongly recommend a looser version of D&D for it.
I agree and disagree with you here. I burned out on PF2 because my group just isn’t into tactical play in combat, and my preferences as a GM shifted. I don’t like the way skill resolution works in PF2, and I don’t like DCs. Ironically, I declared it would be too much work to try to fix skill actions in PF2, and here I am retrocloning WWN because the book is such a mess.

Pathfinder 2e would not be my recommendation if someone wanted to do an old-school or sandbox campaign. I would recommend an OSR system because there is a lot more community support for that kind of play, and those systems are more in line with my aesthetics and preferences. However, if someone really likes PF2, they can make it work.

Again, Pathfinder 2e isn’t very different from OSR games in how deadly encounters can be if you follow OSR-style principles, but you have to follow all of them, and that means giving up on balanced encounters. As soon as you do that, then the issues you cite with PF2 become non-issues (because having balanced encounters is not a thing one values in this approach). Getting into those fights is a failure state. You’re not supposed to just go up and wail on everything.

My advice for anyone wanting to run an old-school style game in PF2 to read the Principia Apocrypha and take it to heart. You’re going to have to do things differently than one might running a Paizo adventure path where encounters are parceled out in balanced chunks. It’s different, but those differences are the point.
 

Retreater

Legend
But if there's any edition of D&D or Pathfinder that simply isn't geared for "any" adventure in my opinion, it's Pathfinder 2. Think of PF2 as perhaps the most specialized version of D&D there is (that I've come across).
IMO, D&D 4e might be equally as specialized.

I can say that PF2 isn't a satisfying as a "combat arena" game for me - which I know from my attempt at running Abomination Vaults. D&D 4e handles that much better by having tighter combat options, more interesting creature design, more defined powers and rules options for classes.

I've run part of two APs. I don't think either of my experiences adequately tested PF2, because they were just that: tests and not real games. We wanted to see how the system works, to learn how combat and other subsystems worked. But what we didn't do in either was actually have a campaign with role-playing, character motivations, mysteries, sessions of exploring, etc. Until that is done, you're just rolling dice to see how fun combat is without any real connection to a character or story.

It's test-driving a new car in the dealer's parking lot. You don't really know how it drives until you get it on the open road.
 

willrali

Explorer
Folks, don't let the strong opinions of one forum poster sway you one way or another (including me). The best way to judge a game on its relative merits is to play it for a few sessions. For PF2, the beginner's box and the Trouble in Otari adventures are a good place to start, but you can just as well use it for homebrewed adventures as for following published materials. I'm sure the same is true for almost any flavor of RPG anyone would care to mention.

I couldn't say how many undecided new players peruse this particular forum, but I'm going to guess not many ;)

Edition warring is as old as dirt and people love to do it.

(I've avoided going on to the dnd forums to proclaim how the 5th edition's classes and levels all manage to feel exactly the same thanks to its 'everyone gets +2 to whatever stuff at lvl 1 and +6 to stuff at lvl 20' routine. And how it drove me away from the hobby for a few years. Like, why even bother having classes and levels at all? But this is the pathfinder forum so we're amongst friends :))
 

A clever DM can use PF2 (or any other flavor of RPG) to run any of the types of games being discussed here. You can do "sandbox" games just as easily as with any other game.

I'm not going to find myself on the same side as CZ on many things related to PF2e, but I think I will on this one.

Your second sentence and your first contradict each other. If it requires a "clever" DM do do this, its not "just as easy". And that's true with all kinds of games trying to do all kinds of things. There are wrenches and screwdrivers and Swiss Army knives; trying to use the first for the second or vice versa will always be harder than using the right tool for the job. And the third has the virtue its less hard, but it also means that most of what makes a game work is always going to have to come from the GM, which is less true with a system more aimed at the style of play it wants.
 

Pathfinder 2e would not be my recommendation if someone wanted to do an old-school or sandbox campaign. I would recommend an OSR system because there is a lot more community support for that kind of play, and those systems are more in line with my aesthetics and preferences. However, if someone really likes PF2, they can make it work.

Just an aside (and to make it clear I liked most of your post) but the problem with this for some of us would be that even when I'm wanting to run a sandbox, I want more mechanical engagement than most OSR games seem to want to give. Tactical play and wide open worlds are not intrinsically contradictory wants, though the combination can make running the game much more challenging (in terms of the fact that good mechanical support for tactical play often makes for opponents that are harder to do on the fly).
 

Retreater

Legend
Just an aside (and to make it clear I liked most of your post) but the problem with this for some of us would be that even when I'm wanting to run a sandbox, I want more mechanical engagement than most OSR games seem to want to give. Tactical play and wide open worlds are not intrinsically contradictory wants, though the combination can make running the game much more challenging (in terms of the fact that good mechanical support for tactical play often makes for opponents that are harder to do on the fly).
Maybe we don't need one system to do both? Maybe we can have one system for tactical combat play and another for world exploration?
This is an old tradition in D&D when Outdoor Survival came recommended as the overworld portion of the game.
 

Maybe we don't need one system to do both? Maybe we can have one system for tactical combat play and another for world exploration?
This is an old tradition in D&D when Outdoor Survival came recommended as the overworld portion of the game.

Please don't take this wrong, but my attitude toward such things is "I'd rather gouge out my eyes." I don't have an issue with subsystems that extend a base system into different areas, but the last thing I want is entirely distinct subsystems; didn't like it decades ago, and my opinion of it has not improved with time.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Just an aside (and to make it clear I liked most of your post) but the problem with this for some of us would be that even when I'm wanting to run a sandbox, I want more mechanical engagement than most OSR games seem to want to give.
That’s fair. I apologize if I created the impression I was discouraging PF2 or suggesting one shouldn’t try to do sandbox games in it. My intent wasn’t that so much as to say that if someone asked, my default recommendation would be something else like OSE (or another B/X game) or WWN rather PF2. WWN in particular is designed around sandbox games and has a bunch of good tools for the GM, which are also system independent (so usable in PF2).

Tactical play and wide open worlds are not intrinsically contradictory wants, though the combination can make running the game much more challenging (in terms of the fact that good mechanical support for tactical play often makes for opponents that are harder to do on the fly).
PF2 was mechanically fine. Its approach just didn’t work well for my group. That would have been true whether I was running my sandbox or running a pre-written adventure module. If the fight’s difficulty was “moderate threat” or higher, it was a potentially dangerous situation because my group just wasn’t inclined to do what the system expected of them.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Maybe we don't need one system to do both? Maybe we can have one system for tactical combat play and another for world exploration?
This is an old tradition in D&D when Outdoor Survival came recommended as the overworld portion of the game.
That worked in OD&D because OD&D characters had no skills. It was an empty space where you could plug in whatever approach you wanted. Doing that in a game like PF2 would be really weird because you’d have to set aside various aspects of the characters that should otherwise work in the exploration structure.
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
That’s the point. Pathfinder 2e isn’t different from earlier editions of D&D in that regard. Old-school D&D has a reputation for being very deadly exactly because PCs are fragile and tougher creatures will destroy them. The game evolved the way it did because enough people wanted balanced arena fights, but that doesn’t mean the things you identify as a problem are a problem for a creative agenda that eschews arena fights.


This seems like a shift in the goalposts. So now not only combining encounters but also those with larger scares or varied terrain are problematic too? I think the idea of balance being offered has been distorted in a way that won’t resonate with those who do want balanced fights. I expect those who want balanced encounters assume they should win every fight (without having to engage in war tactics) rather than have them all be so tuned for optimal amounts of exertion from both them and the PCs in every case. 5e doesn’t even do that!

I feel like people talk about "sandboxing" like you should be able to handle problems that are tougher than you'd normally find in a curated experience, and that's totally not the case. It's the reverse: you find stuff that you can't handle, and you should deal with it in a non-combat way like using diplomacy, deception or simply beat feet. In this, PF2 is great for a group that desires mechanical engagement on that front. If you don't want that mechanical engagement, then it's not going to be for you. But it's worth noting that it's not about whether it works or not, but if it jives with your own stylistic sensibilities.

That worked in OD&D because OD&D characters had no skills. It was an empty space where you could plug in whatever approach you wanted. Doing that in a game like PF2 would be really weird because you’d have to set aside various aspects of the characters that should otherwise work in the exploration structure.

Yeah, PF2 is meant to specifically be a unified system. If you don't like that, then fine, but that's personal complaint rather than a systemic one.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
PF2 is great for a group that desires mechanical engagement on that front. If you don't want that mechanical engagement, then it's not going to be for you. But it's worth noting that it's not about whether it works or not, but if it jives with your own stylistic sensibilities.
PF2 has some tools (mostly different applications of the VP subsystem), but it’s a bit lacking on the GM-side of things. It’s easy to fix, even if it’s just by not having everything react automatically with murderous intent. Now training the PCs to do the same …. 😂
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
PF2 has some tools (mostly different applications of the VP subsystem), but it’s a bit lacking on the GM-side of things.

Sure. It's the skeleton that is valuable to me, anyways. Gives me something to play with and manages to solidly attach itself to the players and their characters, but can do with me being situationally loose with it when I feel like it. As I've said before, it basically does what I was already trying to do with 5E, but without me having to create it from whole cloth.

It’s easy to fix, even if it’s just by not having everything react automatically with murderous intent.

Exactly. A lot of the problem here is that GMs assume that if they have the advantage, monsters will simply kill off everything and everyone through attrition rather than backing off, taking what they got, and/or simply driving them off. While wounds might just be numbers for players, they shouldn't be for the characters and their enemies; things don't like being wounded and hurt.

For example, if you attack an animal that is much tougher than you and manage to wound it, it strikes back hard enough that it forces you to think twice and back off. However, it doesn't follow and in fact runs off itself; the animal isn't interested in a fight right now and would rather stay lightly wounded than continue a fight they might win but at cost. Or maybe it chases and aggressively howls at you, but doesn't attack because it's more interested in you getting out of its territory. These sorts of results are totally understandable and make animals who are specifically not like that (Owlbears come to mind) much more interesting and dangerous.

If you have an organized or an intelligent enemy, maybe they force the party to retreat but hold up to reorganize and deal with their own dead and wounded. They can certainly attempt to track down the players, but it's totally understandable to hold their own position and try to heal/recover who they can and bury who they can't. If they beat the party solidly, they can also always take hostages/prisoners depending on how they function. They might interrogate them, impress them into service, loot them, or maybe make an example of one of them. There are a lot of options, and none of them are system dependent: these are things that need to be done because if they aren't, any system can fail. And the second half of that...

Now training the PCs to do the same …. 😂

... is this. And I think it's not even that players will always attack everything, but the bigger problem is that no one ever wants to leave someone behind. It goes against so many cultural and storytelling instincts that it just feels bad, but it's something that needs to be an option. Too often a TPK happens because someone got into a bad/stupid/unlucky position and just gets got, and then the party descends into the depressing depths of the sunk-cost fallacy trying to save them.

Having a player or two die in a sandbox campaign should totally be something that happens, because it instills the right level of danger for a campaign where you can go anywhere. The problem is that everyone has a "One for all, all for one!" mentality when it comes to getting killed. People have problems retreating when someone gets left behind, and that's a system-less problem. Everyone needs to internalize the classic Neil McCauley quote:

358423244-tumblr_mmf8pqmKeG1r8e98zo1_500.gif
 

Retreater

Legend
That worked in OD&D because OD&D characters had no skills. It was an empty space where you could plug in whatever approach you wanted. Doing that in a game like PF2 would be really weird because you’d have to set aside various aspects of the characters that should otherwise work in the exploration structure.
I guess it could be weird. I just find the exploration structure of PF2 lacking. I know that Paizo published a stronghold subsystem in book 1 of Age of Ashes and hexcrawling in book 2 of the same AP. And Kingmaker in PF1 had a fairly robust system of kingdom building and resource collecting.
I think porting something over like the hexcrawl mechanics of Forbidden Lands and using another combat system - such as the one from PF2 (because I'm not partial to the FL combat mechanics) - could be awesome. But YMMV.
I haven't come across any characters who are substantially tooled for exploration activities at the expense of effectiveness in combat in PF2, but you may have a broader experience with the system. What I have seen is terribly ineffective and bad mechanics in PF2's exploration activities (such as "follow the leader" - which is make a group check using the lowest modifier of anyone in the party - which is the exact opposite of how that should function.) Terrible rule.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Exactly. A lot of the problem here is that GMs assume that if they have the advantage, monsters will simply kill off everything and everyone through attrition rather than backing off, taking what they got, and/or simply driving them off. While wounds might just be numbers for players, they shouldn't be for the characters and their enemies; things don't like being wounded and hurt.

For example, if you attack an animal that is much tougher than you and manage to wound it, it strikes back hard enough that it forces you to think twice and back off. However, it doesn't follow and in fact runs off itself; the animal isn't interested in a fight right now and would rather stay lightly wounded than continue a fight they might win but at cost. Or maybe it chases and aggressively howls at you, but doesn't attack because it's more interested in you getting out of its territory. These sorts of results are totally understandable and make animals who are specifically not like that (Owlbears come to mind) much more interesting and dangerous.

If you have an organized or an intelligent enemy, maybe they force the party to retreat but hold up to reorganize and deal with their own dead and wounded. They can certainly attempt to track down the players, but it's totally understandable to hold their own position and try to heal/recover who they can and bury who they can't. If they beat the party solidly, they can also always take hostages/prisoners depending on how they function. They might interrogate them, impress them into service, loot them, or maybe make an example of one of them. There are a lot of options, and none of them are system dependent: these are things that need to be done because if they aren't, any system can fail. And the second half of that...
I was thinking before the combat even begins. The PCs overhear that the guards are having a bad day, and instead of upgrading it to being murdered, they give the guards some coin or drugs or whatever to go have some fun (provided that the guards forget this ever happened). It can also go the other way. The guard could ask the PCs for something to avoid having to fight or even try to recruit them. There’s a lot of ways things can go just starting from the initial encounter. (Otherwise, I agree once things get going. Not everything is going to run the PCs down until they die tired.)

... is this. And I think it's not even that players will always attack everything, but the bigger problem is that no one ever wants to leave someone behind. It goes against so many cultural and storytelling instincts that it just feels bad, but it's something that needs to be an option. Too often a TPK happens because someone got into a bad/stupid/unlucky position and just gets got, and then the party descends into the depressing depths of the sunk-cost fallacy trying to save them.

Having a player or two die in a sandbox campaign should totally be something that happens, because it instills the right level of danger for a campaign where you can go anywhere. The problem is that everyone has a "One for all, all for one!" mentality when it comes to getting killed. People have problems retreating when someone gets left behind, and that's a system-less problem. Everyone needs to internalize the classic Neil McCauley quote:

358423244-tumblr_mmf8pqmKeG1r8e98zo1_500.gif
It could also be failing to think strategically. It may be possible that the party “wins” at the cost of losing several or most members. Does that help them accomplish their goal? It doesn’t help that the death safety net makes it harder to realize that you’re in trouble.

If someone goes down and hasn’t hit dying 4 yet, you can still heal them and get the back up. I’d expect most parties to try to rescue that person. Maybe once someone really does die, it’s time for the GM to stop and find out the PCs’ intentions. It may be the players are so focused on the tactical game that they’ve lost sight of what they’d actually want to do in that situation. I had to do that in the ghoul rout when I ran OSE.

My players are starting to learn though. When they ran into some coffer corpses and couldn’t hurt them, they opted to retreat. I didn’t even have to suggest it! 😄
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I guess it could be weird. I just find the exploration structure of PF2 lacking. I know that Paizo published a stronghold subsystem in book 1 of Age of Ashes and hexcrawling in book 2 of the same AP. And Kingmaker in PF1 had a fairly robust system of kingdom building and resource collecting.
I think porting something over like the hexcrawl mechanics of Forbidden Lands and using another combat system - such as the one from PF2 (because I'm not partial to the FL combat mechanics) - could be awesome. But YMMV.
I haven't come across any characters who are substantially tooled for exploration activities at the expense of effectiveness in combat in PF2, but you may have a broader experience with the system. What I have seen is terribly ineffective and bad mechanics in PF2's exploration activities (such as "follow the leader" - which is make a group check using the lowest modifier of anyone in the party - which is the exact opposite of how that should function.) Terrible rule.
The way your original post read sounded like you were suggesting playing a completely different game for exploration. As long as it builds on core mechanics like using skill checks, then I think it’s fine. I didn’t use hexploration or the procedure described in Age of Ashes when we were doing PF2. I used something that was a simplified variant of the Alexandrian’s hexcrawl procedure.

To put it another way, I wanted to use Gavin Norman’s Dolmenwood hexcrawl procedure in PF2, I’d replace the x-in-6 stuff with appropriate Survival skill checks and modifiers. I’d treat Gavin’s list of actions as new hexcrawl activities and ignore the ones the system provides because they don’t work well at the hexcrawl scale.
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
I was thinking before the combat even begins. The PCs overhear that the guards are having a bad day, and instead of upgrading it to being murdered, they give the guards some coin or drugs or whatever to go have some fun (provided that the guards forget this ever happened). It can also go the other way. The guard could ask the PCs for something to avoid having to fight or even try to recruit them. There’s a lot of ways things can go just starting from the initial encounter. (Otherwise, I agree once things get going. Not everything is going to run the PCs down until they die tired.)

You can even go further than that: if you are going to be, say, exploring an area, it's worthwhile to research what could potentially be in that area. You can talk to local officials who might warn of places that might have been bandit strongholds or had recent raids, talk to the local ranger/guide to see what sort of wildlife you might encounter... if you have players who are interested in a bit of preparation, you can do some really cool set-up stuff.

For example, you're going to go to the Screeching Woods. Well, why is it called the Screeching Woods? Through local knowledge or just asking around, you find out that it's an area with a particular breed of Screeching Owlbear. So without even setting foot in the area, you should know to be careful since Owlbears typically fight to the death. Suddenly you might want to invest in some sort of distraction or tactic that might allow you to bail out on a fight if it happens because the creature won't do it on its own.

And once they enter? Well, they can find trees that have been rubbed up against with feathers lodged in them, they can occasionally hear the sounds, etc... you can give them opportunities to be on-guard, though there's always the risk that something bad can happen. And if they're too low of level... well, you entered the place. You either knew the risk or you didn't do the research.

It could also be failing to think strategically. It may be possible that the party “wins” at the cost of losing several or most members. Does that help them accomplish their goal? It doesn’t help that the death safety net makes it harder to realize that you’re in trouble.

If someone goes down and hasn’t hit dying 4 yet, you can still heal them and get the back up. I’d expect most parties to try to rescue that person. Maybe once someone really does die, it’s time for the GM to stop and find out the PCs’ intentions. It may be the players are so focused on the tactical game that they’ve lost sight of what they’d actually want to do in that situation. I had to do that in the ghoul rout when I ran OSE.

Sure. Thinking strategically instead of emotionally can be difficult, especially when it comes to leaving another player to potentially die. If I have one lucky thing, it's that my players have long joked about "the pirate code", so "any man who falls behind gets left behind" is something they can internalize. ;)

My players are starting to learn though. When they ran into some coffer corpses and couldn’t hurt them, they opted to retreat. I didn’t even have to suggest it! 😄

giphy.gif
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
For example, you're going to go to the Screeching Woods. Well, why is it called the Screeching Woods? Through local knowledge or just asking around, you find out that it's an area with a particular breed of Screeching Owlbear. So without even setting foot in the area, you should know to be careful since Owlbears typically fight to the death. Suddenly you might want to invest in some sort of distraction or tactic that might allow you to bail out on a fight if it happens because the creature won't do it on its own.
You’d think so anyway, but I should probably return that thumbs up on behalf of my players. 🙃

Alas, my players still have some learning to do. While they were in town last session, they sought out a researcher they’d met before to ask him about some of the things they’d found. One of the topics was about creatures they’d encountered (dark creepers). He told them about how they liked to acquire treasure, and oh yeah, they explode when they die. My players responded with o rly faces, so ….

So what happens when they get into a fight with them? The barbarian wades into the middle and uses her whirlwind attack to cleave them all down. She kills three creepers and finishes off the stalker she was fighting. The creepers blind her and the priest, and the stalker explodes and kills the barbarian.

Fortunately for the barbarian, WWN is not as harsh as OSE, so she was only Mortally Wounded, and the priest was able to find and heal her before her time ran out. Of course, while that was happening, the thief kills the one upstairs with him and blinds himself. 😲
 

!DWolf

Adventurer
What I have seen is terribly ineffective and bad mechanics in PF2's exploration activities (such as "follow the leader" - which is make a group check using the lowest modifier of anyone in the party - which is the exact opposite of how that should function.) Terrible rule.

Good news, that is not how Follow the Expert works:

Follow the Expert said:
Choose an ally attempting a recurring skill check while exploring, such as climbing, or performing a different exploration tactic that requires a skill check (like Avoiding Notice). The ally must be at least an expert in that skill and must be willing to provide assistance. While Following the Expert, you match their tactic or attempt similar skill checks. Thanks to your ally’s assistance, you can add your level as a proficiency bonus to the associated skill check, even if you’re untrained. Additionally, you gain a circumstance bonus to your skill check based on your ally’s proficiency (+2 for expert, +3 for master, and +4 for legendary).

You may be conflating it with the Quiet Allies skill feat which is used in combination with the Follow the Expert rule to prevent situations like this.
 

Retreater

Legend
Good news, that is not how Follow the Expert works:
It does function a little better, but should've been streamlined into less text to make it easier to remember, easier to apply. Like a simple "use the modifier from your expert's skill check." It's not going to have the exact same results, but for simplicity's sake, I saved 98 words.

You may be conflating it with the Quiet Allies skill feat which is used in combination with the Follow the Expert rule to prevent situations like this.
I am, apparently. Which is exactly the terrible rule I was trying to remember.
 

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