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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
A lot of great stuff in this thread.
I think one of the reasons some folks think PF2 isn't good for sandbox games is that they assume that every encounter only ends when one side or the other is dead. We didn't play that way in the 70s, and we don't play that way now.
Not all encounters are with bloodthirsty murderers that you can't escape from. Adversaries, whether they be human (oids) or animals or strange creatures, should have their own agenda. Maybe they're not hungry. Maybe they're already tired and don't really want to get into combat. Maybe they are hungry, but they want a nice snack that won't fight back so much. Maybe the PCs can communicate with them and roleplay their way out of violence. Maybe they have a greater desire to mislead the PCs than to murder them. All those things and more are part and parcel of the sandbox DM's toolkit.

Also, somebody said that PF2 doesn't have much of an exploration system. I disagree strongly. There is a wide swath of the game devoted to what's called "exploration mode" and figuring how to handle PCs' various skills within the framework of exploration. There are numerous feats, actions and special mechanics to deal with a variety of exploration-linked situations. There's even a fully fleshed out "hexploration" system which really reminds me of late 70s D&D games we played at the Iowa City Wargaming Federation. I don't personally much care for "hexploration" rules, and tend to prefer using a gridless wilderness map for such things, or for a greater degree of abstraction than "hexploration" requires, but PF2 doesn't force you into either mold.

I still remain convinced that PF2 is no worse prepared for "sandbox" games than any other game system. In OD&D, DD3.x or DD5, you can be in deep trouble if you encounter a critter that's bigger and tougher than you, if the DM persists in the idea that everything is on a kill-or-be-killed agenda. That's no different than in PF2 where a creature 2 or more levels higher than the party's level can be a rough challenge, and 4 or more levels higher means there is almost no way for the PCs to triumph.

But it's not always "kill or be killed". There are so many other ways to spin encounters, especially when an adversary is objectively beyond the PCs' ability to curbstomp. That's part of what I meant when earlier I spoke of "a clever DM".

A DM's job is not supposed to be "easy". He has to balance whatever material he has prepared (or borrowed from a published adventure) with his players' wants, dreams and desires. He has to adapt things on the fly to whatever decisions his players make. And when things go "off the rails" he has to make hard decisions between the railroad and the highway, and all those auxiliary spaces that he may not have prepared or even thought about in advance. That's part of the fun of our shared hobby and shared storytelling antics.
 
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Retreater

Legend
My complaints about the exploration system in PF2 isn't that there aren't rules - it's that the rules don't meaningfully capture what I want in a game or the genre fiction. The attrition of resources isn't supported: food, torches, exhaustion, etc. You don't need any of that stuff, and anything you take away from the party can be recovered in 10 minutes. And if you can't go into an encounter full strength, you've gone against the encounter math and you have a real TPK possibility.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
It's very true that PF2 has moved away from the economics of scarcity and detailed tracking of resources like food, torches and exhaustion. It's not that you can't play that kind of game in PF2, but more like there are so many ways to get around scarcity, added to the notion, misguided or not, that scarcity and the inventory accountancy that often accompanies it isn't all that much fun.
Yes, PF2 offers many possibilities for out-of-combat healing, starting with the Medicine skill. Most groups of PF2 players will inevitably spend 10, 20, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour or more healing after a big fight, without having to expend resources like spell slots or healing potions. They quickly learn that it's best to be at full strength before facing additional encounters, and the PF2 DM is tempted to just let them - although there are also times when PCs simply don't have 10 minutes or more to rest and recover before facing a new challenge.
Sure, that can run the risk of a TPK, if players don't take into account their wounded status when deciding how they will face a new challenge. Sometimes players may need to retreat or even flee from foes, if they're really not ready. That's all part of the fun, IMHO.
Then again, these days there are dozens (or more) of competing RPGs, some of which might be better suited to handle scenarios designed around scarcity and resource management. Nothing wrong with that. And you could do that with PF2, but it's true you'd be fighting against core PF2 design paradigms all the way.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
It's very true that PF2 has moved away from the economics of scarcity and detailed tracking of resources like food, torches and exhaustion. It's not that you can't play that kind of game in PF2, but more like there are so many ways to get around scarcity, added to the notion, misguided or not, that scarcity and the inventory accountancy that often accompanies it isn't all that much fun.
Yes, PF2 offers many possibilities for out-of-combat healing, starting with the Medicine skill. Most groups of PF2 players will inevitably spend 10, 20, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour or more healing after a big fight, without having to expend resources like spell slots or healing potions. They quickly learn that it's best to be at full strength before facing additional encounters, and the PF2 DM is tempted to just let them - although there are also times when PCs simply don't have 10 minutes or more to rest and recover before facing a new challenge.
Sure, that can run the risk of a TPK, if players don't take into account their wounded status when deciding how they will face a new challenge. Sometimes players may need to retreat or even flee from foes, if they're really not ready. That's all part of the fun, IMHO.
Then again, these days there are dozens (or more) of competing RPGs, some of which might be better suited to handle scenarios designed around scarcity and resource management. Nothing wrong with that. And you could do that with PF2, but it's true you'd be fighting against core PF2 design paradigms all the way.
If you run an official AP as-is you quickly learn to give the heroes half an hour after each fight.

Even if the monsters are right there, sitting in the next room just a few yards away.

As you say; if you have the monsters react as you think they should, the game simply ends. With a TPK.

Some of you want to make this out to be a bug (or feature!) with the individual adventure, thus absolving the actual game and it's rules...

...myself I am not ready to let Paizo off the hook so easily.
 

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).

To be honest, I'm not sure I would find PF2e an easy game to run a sandbox in for reasons I mentioned in the post you responded to. It really is a game kind of set up with the idea you need to manage opposition chosen carefully.

Its just that I've noted that a number of the OSR games I've seen, while clearly easier for that would be dull during combat by my standards, so they're not a good substitute.

(And to be clear my experience isn't extremely broad when it comes to the OSR, so there could be cases where that's not true).

(And yeah, give the games by the designer I own, I would not be at all surprised to discover there's a lot of portable tools in WWN).

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.

Well, there's no question that it, like 4e, is not going to be a good choice for people who want to take a more casual approach to combat. Its the catch 22 of combat system and opponent design, honestly; you can design for people who really want to work at it or those who want to take a more casual approach, but there's no obvious way to serve both.
 

!DWolf

Adventurer
Everyone can write shorter, better more concise rules for a rules heavy, medium crunch game like pf2e… right up until they playtest the material. Then it turns out that half the people read your nice concise rule completely differently than you intended and the other half encountered some edge case that needs clarification. So you either publish a nice concise rule that doesn’t actually do what you want or you go back and restate it and add things to clarify edge cases. And eventually your nice concise rule is a big chunky rule. I have mad respect for the designers at paizo.

See for the first 11 or so sessions of my Serpents Skull conversion, I modded the system to be scarcity based survival using a framework on top of the exploration rules. And it worked (it was quite fun in fact) mostly because I could explain to the players what I intended and could make rulings with the full understanding of what I was trying to do when edge cases came up.

If you are wondering, the basics of my system was to give a tough choice each day: Do you catch food (downtime), attempt to get potable water (downtime), set up a better shelter (downtime), rest to recover from the horrible disease you contracted (downtime), or risk explore the dangerous island and look for means of escape (exploration)? I tracked food and water loss with playing cards (blue backed ones were water, red back ones were food, red cards required a fortitude save to avoid disease) so that the characters could see their ever dwindling resources. It actually worked fantastically well once I worked a few of the bugs out of it.
 

!DWolf

Adventurer
Yes, PF2 offers many possibilities for out-of-combat healing, starting with the Medicine skill. Most groups of PF2 players will inevitably spend 10, 20, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour or more healing after a big fight, without having to expend resources like spell slots or healing potions. They quickly learn that it's best to be at full strength before facing additional encounters, and the PF2 DM is tempted to just let them - although there are also times when PCs simply don't have 10 minutes or more to rest and recover before facing a new challenge.
Sure, that can run the risk of a TPK, if players don't take into account their wounded status when deciding how they will face a new challenge. Sometimes players may need to retreat or even flee from foes, if they're really not ready. That's all part of the fun, IMHO.
Exactly this! What happens when after defeating the giant spider, you say to the players: you hear the sounds of many, small feet coming from the corridor to the north!

After attempting to identify what exactly what is approaching via the sound of footfalls alone (and failing), do you:
  • Immediately rush to the entrance of the north corridor to set up a choke point, even though you’re wounded a superior position may be able to overcome it. You also yell down the south corridor for your men (who have emergency healing supplies) to move up so they can give them to you.
  • Retreat down the south corridor to the last room you cleared where your men are waiting to close and barricade the door behind you and help you with the emergency healing supplies. You leave the wizards rat familiar to observe what is coming.
  • Get out your ranged weapons and move to the entrance of the south corridor, then have the wizard cast a crowd control spell on them so you can pick them off at range. If things go bad you can retreat down the south corridor.
  • Have the wizard cast ghost sounds and his illusion spells to make it look like the party is something whatever is coming doesn’t want to handle and trick them into retreating.
  • do something completely different!

For me complex decision making situations like this are what I love about role playing games, and that pf2e makes these situations possible, both in and out of combat, is a big reason that I like it so much.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
To be honest, I'm not sure I would find PF2e an easy game to run a sandbox in for reasons I mentioned in the post you responded to. It really is a game kind of set up with the idea you need to manage opposition chosen carefully.
That’s only going to be an issue if one wants curated combats, but that strikes me as at odds with running an old-school sandbox. The whole point in an old-school sandbox is the PCs decide what to do next, which won’t necessarily be tuned to their capabilities.

Its just that I've noted that a number of the OSR games I've seen, while clearly easier for that would be dull during combat by my standards, so they're not a good substitute.
I can’t think of any off the top of my head that do tactical combat the way 4e and PF2 do. Aside from the general dislike of 4e, I think the approach common in OSR games tends towards strategic play rather than tactical. Combat is supposed to be a failure state after all.

Well, there's no question that it, like 4e, is not going to be a good choice for people who want to take a more casual approach to combat. Its the catch 22 of combat system and opponent design, honestly; you can design for people who really want to work at it or those who want to take a more casual approach, but there's no obvious way to serve both.
It doesn’t help that we had a past GM who was a major a—— about tactics in combat. It’s difficult to teach or nudge the group towards better play because we had the bad experience and one doesn’t want to be that guy.

Edit: Okay fine, I’ll Bowlderize the swear myself.
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Everyone can write shorter, better more concise rules for a rules heavy, medium crunch game like pf2e… right up until they playtest the material. Then it turns out that half the people read your nice concise rule completely differently than you intended and the other half encountered some edge case that needs clarification. So you either publish a nice concise rule that doesn’t actually do what you want or you go back and restate it and add things to clarify edge cases. And eventually your nice concise rule is a big chunky rule. I have mad respect for the designers at paizo.
Eh, there are definitely places where Pathfinder 2e could be better. Just compare the Core Rulebook to the Beginner Box.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I should also add that if we’re talking about sandboxes in general, then the only thing they need is for the PCs to decide what happens next. Once they’ve made that decision, the encounters can be curated appropriately if that’s what one wants. OSR and sandbox play get conflated, but that’s not necessarily the case (e.g., Scum and Villainy is a sandbox game, and it is definitely not an OSR game).
 

That’s only going to be an issue if one wants curated combats, but that strikes me as at odds with running an old-school sandbox. The whole point in an old-school sandbox is the PCs decide what to do next, which won’t necessarily be tuned to their capabilities.

Yeah, but at that point it really behooves you to have a system that's got a fair bit of give in what kind of opposition a given party can deal with. For all of its deadliness under some circumstances, that was true with OD&D, partly because there was a great degree of practical compression with levels; there wasn't a dramatic difference between a 4th level fighter and a 6th level or a 5th level mage and a 7th level one, so a there was a wider range of opposition they could potentially deal with. This was also partly true because, honestly, you could play a long damn time without getting more than a few levels.

This didn't mean you couldn't get in over your head--especially outdoors, you had to manage signals pretty carefully to make sure the PCs realized what kind of problem they were potentially walking into in some cases if you didn't want a high TPK risk--but it did make it much more likely a slightly underpowered party could just slog through.

Other games often have compressed enough power scales that similar things apply; you not only don't need to be cautious about matching ability to opposition, its kind of pointless.



I can’t think of any off the top of my head that do tactical combat the way 4e and PF2 do. Aside from the general dislike of 4e, I think the approach common in OSR games tends towards strategic play rather than tactical. Combat is supposed to be a failure state after all.

That was my understanding too, but I try not to overgeneralize regarding systems and system types I'm only modestly familiar with.

(And as an aside, it doesn't necessarily have to be exactly the approach that 4e and PF2e do; there are games outside the D&D-sphere I'm fine with, but arguably to the degree you can compare them to ones inside the D&D sphere, they're more like the two you mention than any older version of D&D or any of the modern reimaginations of same).

It doesn’t help that we had a past GM who was a major a—— about tactics in combat. It’s difficult to teach or nudge the group towards better play because we had the bad experience and one doesn’t want to be that guy.

Believe me, I'm all too aware how much scar tissue (as my wife calls it) is a thing.
 

I should also add that if we’re talking about sandboxes in general, then the only thing they need is for the PCs to decide what happens next. Once they’ve made that decision, the encounters can be curated appropriately if that’s what one wants. OSR and sandbox play get conflated, but that’s not necessarily the case (e.g., Scum and Villainy is a sandbox game, and it is definitely not an OSR game).

The problem with doing that is, at least in my experience in the past, to make sandbox-type games flow you have to be able to at least sometimes generate opposition on the fly. That's harder to do with a heavily curated approach and still make things make sense.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
The problem with doing that is, at least in my experience in the past, to make sandbox-type games flow you have to be able to at least sometimes generate opposition on the fly. That's harder to do with a heavily curated approach and still make things make sense.
The guidelines for building encounters in Pathfinder 2e work pretty well. I’d feel comfortable improvising an encounter if I had to. The way budgeting works means you could have some templates (e.g., a moderate-threat patrol with a captain might be a −1 and a couple of −2s) and just plug in the appropriate creatures when you need them. If you don’t have creatures of the right level, that can be a pain, but one can use the tables in the “Building Creatures” section of the GMG to scale what you want to the right level.
 

The guidelines for building encounters in Pathfinder 2e work pretty well. I’d feel comfortable improvising an encounter if I had to. The way budgeting works means you could have some templates (e.g., a moderate-threat patrol with a captain might be a −1 and a couple of −2s) and just plug in the appropriate creatures when you need them. If you don’t have creatures of the right level, that can be a pain, but one can use the tables in the “Building Creatures” section of the GMG to scale what you want to the right level.

Your latter case is what I was thinking of, and the issue is there's still going to be a lag while I do that. I was kind of used to being able to plug-and-go.

Spoiled, maybe.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Combat is supposed to be a failure state after all.
I would say that in the case of D&D-like games combat is definitely a reward and not a penalty.

Everything you want out of your session stems from combat: excitement, challenge, experience points and loot.

Obviously many non-combat activities can be great fun too, but let's not pretend D&D games are published with combat as "a state of failure" in mind.

Many games have a far better claim to that, but even in these combat is commonly a success state if not for the characters, then for the players.

I can only think of a very small set of games where combat even approaches a true state of failure.

But back to D&D: everything is centered around combat. Every class is combat capable and easily 99% of published adventures feature combat, and I don't mean as punishment. Not to speak of the endless adventures that consist of nearly nothing else!

Best regards
 

Retreater

Legend
I would say that in the case of D&D-like games combat is definitely a reward and not a penalty.
Was @kenada referring to OSR versions of D&D, where you get XP for loot and not many resources for dealing with combat? In those editions, combat could be seen as a fail state when stealth, negotiation, or other measures failed.
But I agree with you: in practice many of my players like to fight, and it takes only one hothead to force the party's hand into combat.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Your latter case is what I was thinking of, and the issue is there's still going to be a lag while I do that. I was kind of used to being able to plug-and-go.

Spoiled, maybe.
That’s fair. Unless you have the tables nicely laid out, it’s not practical to use them on the fly, so there would be a bit of downtime. One way to mitigate that is to ask the PCs where they are going next at the end of the session, so you can have stuff ready (even if it’s just converted monsters). I actually give XP for that. If they accomplish their goal, the party gets XP. In PF2, one could make that a moderate or even major accomplishment.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I would say that in the case of D&D-like games combat is definitely a reward and not a penalty.
You’re assuming trad play, but that’s not what’s being discussed. @Retreater is right, I’m talking about old-school sandboxes (or, rather, OSR play). In that style of game, encounters aren’t designed with the capabilities of the PCs in mind. Newer ones are emphatic about that.

For example, ENNIE-nominated adventure Halls of the Blood King is for character levels 3 to 5, but it notes as the very beginning:

This adventure is suitable for PCs of 3rd to 5th level. Note that, as an adventure in the old-school style, not all encounters are intended to be balanced to the PCs’ capabilities. Judicious use of stealth, parley, and trickery are to be encouraged, in place of blindly rushing into combat.

Many of the creatures you’ll encounter are 3*–4* HD. The guests they’ll meet are 7** HD or more. The adventure also has a time limit. This isn’t Curse of Strahd where the tracks are carefully laid to a climatic encounter with the main villain. If the PCs want to win (whatever they consider a win), they’re going to have to be clever about it. Getting into a fight, especially a fair fight, is indeed a failure state.

One issue that Pathfinder 2e has with this style is that it just doesn’t work very well with attrition. With enough time, the PCs can heal up fully from any fight (no matter how foolishly picked). You can try to apply time pressure, but that doesn’t work well as a general approach in my experience. For example, taking a little bit of damage in a fight is trivially healed at almost no cost.

I mentioned it in your threat on healing, but I’ll repeat it here: the system strain mechanic from SWN/WWN does a good job of balancing access to healing with making that have a cost. Healing wouldn’t be any less accessible (in fact, I’d just let them Treat Wounds as much as they wanted at the end of combat), but you could only take so much before you had to stop and rest.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
But I agree with you: in practice many of my players like to fight, and it takes only one hothead to force the party's hand into combat.
That strikes me as perfectly reasonable. Not every style is going to resonate with every player. In fact, knowing that helps you target your game at your group’s interests.
 

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