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Pathfinder 2E Pathfinder 2 and support for other playing styles/subgenres

CapnZapp

Legend
To add to the already loong list of flaws and annoyances exhibited by the Pathfinder 2 ruleset, let's discuss its ability to support other ways of playing the game than Adventure Paths and Pathfinder Society play.

I find the game entirely unsuitable for modding of this kind. Not only does the official support for variants (mostly provided by the Gamesmastery Guide) not really widen the base, it is very difficult to tweak the game yourself, since the ruleset features a myriad of interlocking subsystems. Let's discuss a couple of common use cases. If your reaction is "use another game for that", this only proves my point.

- old-school sandbox play. This playing style features much more randomness in encounters. That is, if you walk up to the red dragon, you simply will face a monster eight levels above you. Pathfinder 2 simply cannot handle this as written. You might say, "but there is a variant for proficiency without level". Yes, but that still requires you to recalculate every stat on the spot, all the time.

And still, this style of play also features something Paizo decidedly does not provide support for: resource management. Does the GMG offer a variant to make every healing potion or Cure Wounds spell count? No. Can you do it yourself? Well, you need to scour the rulebooks for every renewable no-cost healing resource. Sure Medicine and Lay on Hands might be simple to identify, but lurking among the thousands of feats and spells there are many other you need to be aware of. An official variant explaining exactly what you need to restrict would have been VERY welcome, but we're sold out of luck.

- tweaks to available equipment. Say you want to set your game in ancient greece or something. You will find it incredibly hard to remove, say, heavy armor from the game, or things like greatswords. This impacts different classes unequally, and I would say it is next to impossible to predict where the impact will fall. Sure you can easily disallow entire classes, but that's usually considered far too inflexible. But scouring through the hundreds and hundreds of class feats is a huge job; much more work-intensive that for, say, D&D 5E.

For example, Xoth has created Players' Guides to support a Sword & Sorcery setting in Pathfinder 1 and 5th Edition. I can't imagine the work needed to pull this off in Pathfinder 2. I mean, it would require LOADS more work to recalibrate the game to support a subset of spells and weaponry. Creating a new PF2 class (like Courtier or Cultist) is simply too much work to ask of a small independent publisher. It would involve creating a hundred new feats, and balancing them against the already existing 2000+ feats.

Which is why I'm adding "extremely inflexible" and "poor modding support" to the list of things Pathfinder 2 does badly.

tl;dr: either run PF2 as is, or don't use the game at all.

PS: Just look at Paizo's botched attempt with the recent Adventure Path Agents of Edgewatch to see how Paizo themselves was caught up by this issue. (As a very brief recap - their adventure path lets players play law enforcement heroes. But the official attempt by Paizo to support this while still avoiding criticism for heroes killing and looting criminals involved them simply stating "no hero attack causes lethal damage", meaning the game works as normal, except no bad guy will ever die. In my opinion, this is a glaring admission of the ruleset's inability to be meaningfully tweaked.*)

*) I do NOT mind them trying to address police brutality issues; this is entirely looking at it from a game-design perspective.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
- old-school sandbox play. This playing style features much more randomness in encounters. That is, if you walk up to the red dragon, you simply will face a monster eight levels above you. Pathfinder 2 simply cannot handle this as written. You might say, "but there is a variant for proficiency without level". Yes, but that still requires you to recalculate every stat on the spot, all the time.
So already at your first point, you completely lost me. What you describe as antithetical to old-school sandbox play is actually closer to how old school sandbox play often works. Not every thing is meant to be confronted by the players through fair combat encounters, i.e., "combat as sport." OSR advocates "combat as war." Unequal encounters produced by randomness are often a point of pride in OSR sandbox games, which gets discussed fairly frequently in a number of OSR guides, such as the Principia Apocrypha. What matters in these cases though is that the GM appropriately telegraphs the relative danger. Sometimes the best way to deal with that dragon that is eight levels above you is to avoid it (i.e., don't walk up to it as if it was a fair encounter), negotiate with it, bring in allies who can help, devise other strategies that can bypass/overcome it, or come back Metroidvania style when you are equipped to deal with it.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I ran a sandbox in PF2. Of the reasons why I switched to OSE, none of them had to do with whether PF2 could support sandbox play. It did, and it worked fine generally. I find the argument presented that PF2 can’t do sandbox play unpersuasive. It conflicts the with actual experience, and it’s appears predicated on the assumption that PF2 can’t do other styles of play.

@Aldarc touches on why that problematic: balance. Old-school sandboxes don’t really concern themselves with balancing encounters against the capabilities of the PCs. If you say to someone running that kind of game that the PCs can encounter a dragon, and it will kill them if they fight it, the response you should expect is: yes, that’s the point. I think there are a few areas where PF2 doesn’t provide useful tools out of the box (reaction rolls, morale, evasion/retreat), but those are added easily.

The other issue mentioned is attrition. The assumption is that it works like story-driven games, which are paced around the adventuring day. That’s not how old-school sandboxes work. In old-school play, time operates on a fixed schedule. As time ticks by, the GM is making checks for wandering monsters. You can’t spend an unlimited time resting because either something will find you, or something will show up in the dungeon and negate some of your progress. Necrotic Gnome has really good examples of the latter in their adventures, which feature random events in place of a traditional wandering monsters table.

There is one area where PF2 does not do enough, which is creating an appropriate sense of danger. PF2 makes combat feel dangerous by making it swingy. You can go down at any moment (whether from crits or because you took a bunch of lucky hits), but the dying condition gives everyone a chance to get you back in the fight, so while it feels dangerous, it’s not that lethal. Consequently, it encourages PCs to push their luck. If they instead died at 0 hit points or had less forgiving dying mechanics, they would be more inclined to pursue a “combat as war” approach because it would be instrumental to their survival.

For example, the PCs spent most of last session preparing to attack a pack of ghouls in a dungeon. They think there are 8 or so ghouls. The cleric wants to destroy them, but fighting the ghouls in a fair fight is suicide. She might be able to turn a few of them per turn if she gets lucky, but there’s a pretty good chance at least a few PCs (or the entire party) could die. Ghouls have crappy THAC0, but there are still 8 of them. The plan is to set up an ambush and use fire (and retainers) to their advantage.

If we were doing PF2, I expect the PCs would have charged in and attacked the ghouls even though 8 ghouls is a well beyond an extreme-threat encounter for a 1st level party. There’s nothing in PF2 that disincentivizes them not to push their luck. In OSE, they’re all afraid of dying. Even if PCs start at max hit points, most creatures can still kill a PC very easily. If you can create an appropriate sense of danger, then you can induce that “combat as war” style of play, and the old-school sandbox should work.

I’ll note I did use Proficiency Without Level. Recalculating stats on the fly wasn’t really a big deal. If you’re using a VTT like Foundry, the PF2E Toolbox handles that for you automatically. I was motivated at the time to flatten out the difficulty (because I didn’t understand or appreciate the importance that imminent death played to the game loop), but I had also grown tired of having to audit my players’ character sheets to make sure they were updating their proficiencies correctly. It’s far more burdensome to have to audit everyone’s sheet all the time than to subtract level from an check or defense when we get into combat.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I’m making this a separate post because it was a separate argument. The argument against customizing equipment lists seems very similar to the one we had a while back regarding rarity. It’s postulated that in spite of the system’s providing tools to let you control the availability of things (i.e., rarity) that it’s just too much work. I don’t find that compelling without better examples. The one regarding heavy armor is exaggerated. The difference between heavy armor and medium armor is +1 AC. No class depends on having access to heavy armor, and champions in medium armor are still going to end up better than their peers (because of of their proficiency progression). If there happens to be a feat pertaining to heavy armor, then it’s just not applicable. It’s not like PF2 is lacking customization options.
 

TreChriron

Explorer
Supporter
To add to the already loong list of flaws and annoyances exhibited by the Pathfinder 2 ruleset, let's discuss its ability to support other ways of playing the game than Adventure Paths and Pathfinder Society play.
Your starting premise is flawed. In your opinion, it has a long list of flaws. However, in practice, I think your expectations are flawed. Reading through your recent list of posts, and the list you added here, it's obvious that PF2 doesn't play they way you want. In fact, I believe D&D 4e is more your to your style. Or maybe a generic game you can tune to your tastes? (GURPS, HERO 6e, Cypher, Cortex Plus, FATE)?

Why not a) find a game you love and b) play it? Why not focus your energies on building a gaming community, or building your local gaming community, or building your personal game table? Why not build or find YOUR game and then talk about it?

I've seen some butthurt in my day (been doing this for 40 years...) but your vitriol is taking the cake. Maybe take a step back and regroup? I can't imagine you are very happy right now nor can I imagine you're having fun. This is supposed to be a hobby and recreational activity which generally the focus is to have fun...

Go find your joy dude. PF2 is not your game. Since you never offer any solutions, I'm guessing it's not THE game you're going to hack either. 🙃
 

Retreater

Legend
PS: Just look at Paizo's botched attempt with the recent Adventure Path Agents of Edgewatch to see how Paizo themselves was caught up by this issue. (As a very brief recap - their adventure path lets players play law enforcement heroes. But the official attempt by Paizo to support this while still avoiding criticism for heroes killing and looting criminals involved them simply stating "no hero attack causes lethal damage", meaning the game works as normal, except no bad guy will ever die. In my opinion, this is a glaring admission of the ruleset's inability to be meaningfully tweaked.*)
I mean, you could say the same thing with nearly any other edition of the game. In 3.x I was a player in a game where we were town guards who were allowed to use only nonlethal weapons (saps). Then there was an undead attack, and per the rules, they were immune to nonlethal damage. That was frustrating - but now that I'm thinking about it nearly 20 years later, had the DM presented it differently, it could've been an awesome, survival horror experience.

Or imagine a 1e/2e game focusing on unarmed combat.

There are systems built for a specific type of experience. I'm not sure I love the types of experiences I've had so far in PF2, but don't frustrate yourself trying to fit a circle into a square hole.

(And BTW, I've been on record many times that I think Paizo should stick with good, old-fashioned adventures for a bit. They shouldn't feel the need to present oddball Adventure Paths every time - which is why I'm excited about Abomination Vaults.)
 

Justice and Rule

Adventurer
There is one area where PF2 does not do enough, which is creating an appropriate sense of danger. PF2 makes combat feel dangerous by making it swingy. You can go down at any moment (whether from crits or because you took a bunch of lucky hits), but the dying condition gives everyone a chance to get you back in the fight, so while it feels dangerous, it’s not that lethal. Consequently, it encourages PCs to push their luck. If they instead died at 0 hit points or had less forgiving dying mechanics, they would be more inclined to pursue a “combat as war” approach because it would be instrumental to their survival.

I find this fascinating because in my one-offs with people who were newer with D&D, there were two things that absolutely freaked them out. The first was Orcs getting back up after being reduced to 0 hit points. The second was the Wounded condition, because it gave them a set amount of times that they could potentially be healed from 0 during a battle.

Now I haven't had a chance to play it with my grognard group (largely because they're not as technically-inclined as the previous group), but they cut their teeth on Chainmail and the original pamphlets. They were pretty breezy with combat after they figured out you couldn't just die, so I wonder how they'd react to PF2's version.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I find this fascinating because in my one-offs with people who were newer with D&D, there were two things that absolutely freaked them out. The first was Orcs getting back up after being reduced to 0 hit points. The second was the Wounded condition, because it gave them a set amount of times that they could potentially be healed from 0 during a battle.

Now I haven't had a chance to play it with my grognard group (largely because they're not as technically-inclined as the previous group), but they cut their teeth on Chainmail and the original pamphlets. They were pretty breezy with combat after they figured out you couldn't just die, so I wonder how they'd react to PF2's version.
It would be interesting if someone did a study on that. I’ve read that newbies tend to play (in general) very differently than those with prior experience.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Thinking about it a bit, while it wouldn’t directly create a sense of danger, dividing XP rewards for killing monsters by 20 might change the risk-reward calculus. I’d also eliminate XP for hazards, but that’s a separate issue. Most of your XP in this approach would come from accomplishments. Murderhoboing things is not an accomplishment.
 

Teemu

Adventurer
I’ve recently started Agents of Edgewatch and I haven’t experienced any issues with the rules not being able to fit the concept. We don’t use the AP specific non-lethal damage rules and instead rely on the default PF2 lethal and nonlethal attacks. No issues. We also use the GMG automatic progression variant, which seems to fit the AP theme like a glove.
 

dave2008

Legend
Since you never offer any solutions,
I guess you really haven't read many of Cap's post then. They often offer suggestions on how to fix things and they vehemently don't like 4e. They also have a similar (to PF2) love/hate relationship with 5e in that they are mostly critical of the things they like or see the potential in.

To be clear, I am not saying that Cap is correct, just that your characterization of them seems off to me.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
I was just about to address that.

No problem, TreChiron and Dave - have a look at threads started by me in this forum; you will easily see that I have tried many attempts at actually fixing troublesome subsystems. Just to take three examples off the top of my head: recall knowledge, medicine and earn income/crafting.

Why do I do that? It's not that I expect Paizo to just add my solutions to the next printing of the CRB.

Instead i do it to conclusively prove my points: that Paizo's dev team is producing much more wordy and complex rules text than what is good for the game.

And also to show you how devilishly hard it is to meaningfully mod the game; which is the current topic.

PS I'm a he/him.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
There are systems built for a specific type of experience. I'm not sure I love the types of experiences I've had so far in PF2, but don't frustrate yourself trying to fit a circle into a square hole.
You say "yourself" presumably addressing me, but you should really have addressed Paizo. The point here is: what were they thinking when they used a murder simulator (which basically is what nearly every fantasy rpg is, when you boil things down to essentials, in particular the D&D strain) to emulate police work?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
This ties into a greater frustration I have, and now I'm obviously no longer addressing Retreater, which is the present current in gamer discourse where it's almost as if people are surprised by what fantasy role-playing games really is about.

It's about killing others* and taking their loot. Yep you heard that right, and in your heart you know it's true.

Somehow this upsets people as if it's something new. It's as if current gamers want to have the cake (everybody is equal) and eat it (still have exciting fights to the death). I really can't understand this so-called logic, where games scramble to "fix" issues of otherism* while still remaining the same murder simulator at the core! Yes, rape and plunder, discrimination and inequality is bad. But I refuse to get upset about, say, gender issues as long as every successful max-level hero will have ended the lives of hundreds of creatures, likely including dozens of intelligent human(oids).

*) Apparently, and yes, I was surprised by this, the definition of "otherism" is a positive one: "Regard for the rights, welfare, and point of view of others." I'm of course using the term in its contemporary meaning, which AFAIK essentially is the exact opposite. Just telling you this so you know I know what the term means, and yes, I find it entirely good and refreshing that we clean out our own society of prejudice. I just can't understand why you would want to play in the fantasy genre if you cannot accept prejudice in a made-up world, since that is essentially the entire reason for having it. At least I play in the fantasy genre because I want to revel in the fantasy of my character being better, richer, stronger and more successful than everybody else, even though this basically proves every stupid idea from phrenology onwards to be literally correct and physically provable within the game world.

tl;dr: Yes, in fantasy gaming some people are just straight-up better than others. Deal with it.
 

Thinking about it a bit, while it wouldn’t directly create a sense of danger, dividing XP rewards for killing monsters by 20 might change the risk-reward calculus. I’d also eliminate XP for hazards, but that’s a separate issue. Most of your XP in this approach would come from accomplishments. Murderhoboing things is not an accomplishment.
If that is the case, I would recommend multiplying the rewards for accomplishments by 20 instead (or simply divide by 5/multiply by 5). Levelling up is slow enough, especially for low levels!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
If that is the case, I would recommend multiplying the rewards for accomplishments by 20 instead (or simply divide by 5/multiply by 5). Levelling up is slow enough, especially for low levels!
My spontaneous observation is:

Why bother dividing by 20? Any number divided by 20 is a non-significant number. Why not simply say "no XP for killing things". Much simpler, pretty much the exact same result.

Especially if this leads you to take the logical next step: ditching XP entirely, and just have heroes level up when the adventure predicates it, which is what every XP system ends up with eventually anyway! :)
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
If that is the case, I would recommend multiplying the rewards for accomplishments by 20 instead (or simply divide by 5/multiply by 5). Levelling up is slow enough, especially for low levels!
I wanted to shift the balance of XP closer to what old-school D&D does, but I was too lazy to do the math to pick the “right” divisor. The goal would be at least 75% of the XP from non-combat sources.

The CRB discusses which types of accomplishments you should expect to reward and how frequently. Based on that and the expected frequency of advancement, you should get a bit less that half of your XP per level from accomplishments.

If we wanted to tilt the balance, tripling or quadrupling accomplishment XP should do the trick. Even quintupling might not be a bad idea. However, that would speed things up too much. It might be better to double accomplishment XP and halve combat XP (still eliminating hazard XP).

I still haven’t dug too deeply into the math, but I at least poked at it this time on my phone’s calculator. Hopefully doubling and halving feel a bit better.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Why bother dividing by 20? Any number divided by 20 is a non-significant number. Why not simply say "no XP for killing things". Much simpler, pretty much the exact same result.
Like I said in my response to @FrozenNorth, it was basically a number pulled out of a hat. I picked something big because I wanted it to be clearly lower. The double and halving approach is probably more reasonable.

Especially if this leads you to take the logical next step: ditching XP entirely, and just have heroes level up when the adventure predicates it, which is what every XP system ends up with eventually anyway! :)
Note that I’m making this suggestion this in the context of old-school sandbox play. How you get your XP is what defines the default action. If it’s treasure combat, and combat is a comparatively poor and dangerous way to get XP, then PCs will take steps to avoid combat while getting as much treasure as possible.

I also want to note that PCs aren’t presumably heroes in old-school sandbox play. The Principia Apocrypha (as mentioned by @Aldarc) touches on this. A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming is another good document. If PCs want to become heroes, they have to do things to earn it. The GM isn’t necessarily going to put those there since the GM’s role is to be a neutral arbiter.

While it gets into a bit of a rut, the thread here on the point of GM notes has several good descriptions of how people go about running their sandboxes and what that means for them. If you want to see a comparison of the old-school sandbox to anthocentric play, I posted a comparison of my OSE game to our Scum & Villainy game on page 13. Anthrocentric play is not what people mean when they talk about story-driven play in D&D, but it’s close enough for this comparison.

Getting back to the original topic of XP, having XP as a reward is meant to reinforce the intended gameplay loop. In sandbox play, it’s that the PCs have agency, and the rewards reinforce the default actions of the sandbox. In old-school play, that’s retrieving treasure (by going out and finding it). If you wanted to run a different kind of sandbox (e.g., about life in a royal court), then the reward mechanics would be based on that. PbtA and FitD games are good examples of this (though I would not put them in the sandbox category).

Additionally, milestone XP are a violation of my principles (as enumerated in @the-Magic-Sword’s thread on his PF2 West Marches game). They need revision (thanks to the GM notes thread), but that wouldn’t change things as far as adventures go. Anyway, the story is emergent in old-school sandbox play. For me to decide something is a milestone, I have to know where things are going, and I don’t. The players have the agency to walk away from “the adventure” or go in a completely different direction. In essence, I don’t prep plots.
 

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