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Pathfinder 2E Pathfinder 2 and the two dichotomies

CapnZapp

Legend
What do I mean by this pretentious title?

I mean that after extensively play testing the game (we have a single session left of the entire levels 1-20 Extinction Curse campaign), there are two "hidden" issues that bugs us greatly:

1. The hero/monster dichotomy
2. The martial/magic dichotomy


At a given level, a monster is simply* more powerful than a hero. Most egregiously, this applies to NPCs too. Monsters and NPCs (generally) have far superior attack, damage and AC values. This feels very jarring. When you're a Fighter with Legendary proficiency, and you STILL face enemy soldiers, assassins, kings and whatnot that have you beat on "fightery values" (such as attack bonus or AC) by a whopping 5 or 10 points, it really distracts you from immersing yourself in the game world.

At the same time, monsters use the exact same magics as heroes. Since Pathfinder 2 does absolutely everything it can to prevent spellcasting heroes from dominating the game, this means that magic is ALWAYS trumped by the sword. What I mean is, that many monsters have spells and other innate powers. But nearly without exception the monsters are FAR BETTER served by simply ignoring their spells to instead eat your face.

The only exception is monsters presented as pure spellcasters that ALSO are higher level than you. The entire notion of Incapacitation is to a large degree meant to stop low level monsters from spamming save or die spells at you, since if you need to roll 3 or 7 on one save, that's okay, but if you need to do it a dozen times, that strategy becomes overwhelming. Fair enough, and so Incapacitation ensures you need to roll a 1 to be inconvenienced by most spells. Except for these monsters, it's a FAR better strategy to simply ignore the spells and swipe at you with their claws.


The problem can be described thusly:

Monsters feel like they have values maybe 5 level higher than heroes. For physical combat only! Not only does this take the shine off your cool new AC or Striking weapon damage, but it also means monsters are rarely served by wasting two actions to cast a spell. This applies at level 1 and it applies at level 20. You will NEVER be able to feel proud of your newly increased stats - leveling up ALWAYS means facing new monsters that outstrip your values...


In summary, the balanced provided by Pathfinder 2 just doesn't work. It feels bad.

It sucks the fun out of the game when you realize the only place left for magic is in two special cases:
a) high level heroes. At high level player character spellcasting classes finally become powerful, but this is only because players are very free to choose the very best spells. Monsters are routinely given spells that are best classified as "useless". The culprit is often spelled "Incapacitation".
b) spellcasting monsters higher level than the heroes. And even then, there are many cases where the monster will STILL sport a higher DPR by simply ditching spells and using physical attacks. The single worst case of this phenomenon I encountered is exhibited by the enemy alchemist Thessekka. Given the choice between the weakest class - the Alchemist - and its bombs, and its robust monster physique, the comparison becomes outright ridiculous. But check out the numbers for yourself:


*) Of course, since heroes will win 99% of encounters, the situation is really more intricate than that. Just to take a single example: monsters have rarely any recuperative powers (and those they do have are nearly always feeble). This is of course because a drawn-out fight where combatants rarely go down make for dull boring and slow combats. So in the end heroes do outclass monsters. But that does not change or excuse the facts discussed above.
 

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Retreater

Legend
To further back up your observations, my play experience was documented the these forums when I had numerous TPKs in Age of Ashes. I think a big part of the challenge came from me trying to run the monsters as simply as possible.
I didn't often use the enemies' spells or very situational abilities, defaulting to movement and attacks. The monster attacks alone are usually high enough to hit on second and third attacks, sometimes even to critically hit. It wouldn't be rare to get two criticals a turn on a single character.
But then when I had breath weapons or spell effects on a hazard, those DCs were set so high that I'd often get crit fails from characters - sometimes on the primary and secondary effect (so on two back to back rolls).
 

ronaldsf

Explorer
I dunno, the game is balanced to enhance drama and tension. Monsters and NPCs in PF2E are tuned to increase danger to the party while being less versatile so that they're simpler for GMs to run. Since PCs have greater access to healing abilities and ways to shift the battlefield, that kind of needs to countered by higher stats for equal-level monsters.

If the game were to lower monster stats, then to maintain a situation where Monster Level = PC Level (to keep encounter balancing simple and intuitive), then there would need to be much more healing abilities on monsters. Which is arguably less fun and interesting for everyone involved.

Levels exist as a concept so that it's easier for GMs and adventure writers to balance encounters. I know you're running an AP, but in the future if you prefer monsters to have similar stats, then perhaps build encounters with a higher # of lower-level monsters? That can prevent the sense that monsters perpetually hit and defend better than PCs. PF2E's math lets you tune encounters for the desired result that you want.
 

meltdownpass

Explorer
In summary, the balanced provided by Pathfinder 2 just doesn't work. It feels bad.

It sucks the fun out of the game when you realize the only place left for magic is in two special cases:
a) high level heroes. At high level player character spellcasting classes finally become powerful, but this is only because players are very free to choose the very best spells. Monsters are routinely given spells that are best classified as "useless". The culprit is often spelled "Incapacitation".
b) spellcasting monsters higher level than the heroes. And even then, there are many cases where the monster will STILL sport a higher DPR by simply ditching spells and using physical attacks. The single worst case of this phenomenon I encountered is exhibited by the enemy alchemist Thessekka. Given the choice between the weakest class - the Alchemist - and its bombs, and its robust monster physique, the comparison becomes outright ridiculous. But check out the numbers for yourself:
Perhaps I'm not fully grasping the point you're making or the monster statblock here, but I don't see a huge discrepancy between the greater alchemist's fire and the base attacks. Base attack is +28 Attack, 3d8+12 Damage vs. the Alchemist Fire +29 Attack, 3d8 3 persistent; 7 splash/10'. Both take a single action.

Granted, I do feel there is a problem when there's only a very situational benefit to the limited-use alchemical items that are this creature's distinguishing characteristic. This creature could throw all of its damaging bombs in one turn, and then for the remainder of the battle is essentially just a melee beatstick.

In my experience, Pathfinder 2 does a very poor job of distinguishing between "monster classes" because all monsters have very high baseline stats. As a miniatures wargame I prefer the job D&D 4E did on this front because the role identity of monsters was better defined.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
The stat discrepancy felt bad for my players. It’s obvious they tuned it such that two same-level creatures would be a moderate-threat encounter for a party, but it means that same level creatures can hit more often than the fighter. We had a similar issue with 5e where NPCs got multiple attacks well before PCs did, so my players would ask questions like: oh is this a high level fighter (no, that’s just how the opponent is designed).
 

JmanTheDM

Explorer
I dunno.

the 2 "problems" the OP lists feels like they cancel each other out. but only if you are not running a game "optimized", and by optimized I mean as a wargamer would optimize things. there's nothing inherently wrong with playing NPC's in a non-"optimized" way. Doing so is actually true to the fiction (but likely not so if viewing it as a wargamer would view a wargame).

Also, sub optimal use of spells or alchemical actions (in a wargamer context) instead of strictly using Melee significantly changes the "mouth feel" of the encounter. likely to the net benefit of the players and GM.

Cheers,

J.

p.s. as this is not germane to the thread at hand:
In the official modules I've run my players through, I'd say I've run only about 50% of them exactly as written. the rest have been revised, updated, strengthened (and weakened) to create the kind of mouth feel that I'm aiming for in that specific area of the module. there have been several encounters where the wave of mooks crashes against the wall of my players with little to no effect. they've loved it. likewise, several encounters have been "buffed" to provide a different challenge rather than a simple straight up fight.

Its a choice (not a wrong choice, simply a choice) to run a module exactly as written and encounters in an optimized way, which will therefore deliver a very specific (paizo AP default) mouth feel when played. but it is a choice.
 

GreyLord

Hero
At the same time, monsters use the exact same magics as heroes. Since Pathfinder 2 does absolutely everything it can to prevent spellcasting heroes from dominating the game, this means that magic is ALWAYS trumped by the sword. What I mean is, that many monsters have spells and other innate powers. But nearly without exception the monsters are FAR BETTER served by simply ignoring their spells to instead eat your face.

We didn't play to a high enough level to really see as much of PF2e as our group could have. What you posted in that paragraph actually REALLY intrigues me. One problem I've had occasionally with PF1e is how magic CAN (that's a can, not will as some try to imply) outmatch everything else. It was a difficulty with D20 all the way back to 3e. I like the idea that those who are martial characters may stand a better chance.

At a given level, a monster is simply* more powerful than a hero. Most egregiously, this applies to NPCs too. Monsters and NPCs (generally) have far superior attack, damage and AC values. This feels very jarring. When you're a Fighter with Legendary proficiency, and you STILL face enemy soldiers, assassins, kings and whatnot that have you beat on "fightery values" (such as attack bonus or AC) by a whopping 5 or 10 points, it really distracts you from immersing yourself in the game world.

This is something I've experienced with PF2e, or it felt as if we experienced it. I found it was not fun at the time.

I've recently been asked to give PF2e another shot though, and one of the things offered was that I could GM the game. The idea was if I did have things I did not really enjoy in how PF2e was done last time, I could adapt how it plays to my taste.

I've been browsing many of the places that discuss PF2e (forums, reddit) in regards to this recently. Some of the suggestions I'm tossing up in my head regarding this issue are as follows...

1. Have a larger group than usual. This means that you can have more people playing the game (if you can get the players) which means you should have more attacks to compensate overall.

2. Start adventures with the PC's one or two levels higher than suggested and keep them at that higher level in comparison to what the adventure suggests.

There are other suggestions, but those are two that I'm tossing around. I still don't feel I have mastery of the rules well enough to run the game (I don't have the rulebooks, another player does. I only have the Archives and the BB at this point), but I am entertaining the idea of perhaps giving it a shot again. If I do and I end up running it (but someone else will be hosting it), I AM looking at ideas regarding this very thing on how to mitigate it. The above two are the primary things that I am considering, though there may be better ways to do it that I am unaware of yet.

Still have several weeks until I need to make a decision on this, though.
 

TreChriron

Explorer
All d20 systems are eminently hackable. I get the problem statement but what would you do to fix it (in your mind)? Maybe give magic-focused foes more at-will abilities? Increase DCs for those abilities (maybe by increasing the linked Attribute)? Maybe just lower attack bonus and AC by a certain amount to put them where you want?
 


1. Have a larger group than usual. This means that you can have more people playing the game (if you can get the players) which means you should have more attacks to compensate overall.
My two cents: don’t do this. I feel that part of my bad experience with PF2 was that we were running it with 6 players over VTT.

This was our experience:
  • 3 action turn with 6 players meant that there were often 3 x 10 actions between each player’s turn (5 other players and 5 monsters). This slowed combat to a crawl for us and was particularly an issue when my turn (wizard) took 30 s (one spell + either move or Shield), while other characters’ turns took much longer;
  • The GM tried to compensate by putting fewer stronger monsters. Suddenly, the threat level of fights is going up and it is taking longer to recover between each fight because monsters do more damage;
  • Our fight days tended to move at the speed of the character with the fewest spell slots. All it takes is one character to blow all their spells in one combat and the whole group has to rest, further slowing progress down.
 

transmission89

Adventurer
If you find the moderate encounter too “intense” for your group (as In perhaps Paizo’s definition of what is expected from the player for moderate doesn’t match your group’s vibe), as a GM, use the weak monster template. The number adjustments from that will provide a good enough impact on the dice rolling without having to resort to more players or other shenanigans a GM might have to conjure up (given you’ve already got enough work as a GM, so take it easy and use a ready made tool already provided for you)
 

JmanTheDM

Explorer
sometimes this is easier said than done, but another HUGE way to influence encounter difficulty is to play with 5PC's instead of 4, but keep all the encounters the same.

Cheers,

J.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
All d20 systems are eminently hackable.
Counter argument: PF2 is very much not hackable.

Trust me, I have tried - but every change you make is immediately countered by the ripple effects to any of the over 2000+ feats in the game. Change this here, and you will inadvertently have nerfed (or boosted) something unexpected over there.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
We didn't play to a high enough level to really see as much of PF2e as our group could have. What you posted in that paragraph actually REALLY intrigues me. One problem I've had occasionally with PF1e is how magic CAN (that's a can, not will as some try to imply) outmatch everything else. It was a difficulty with D20 all the way back to 3e. I like the idea that those who are martial characters may stand a better chance.
Yeah...

Martials are excellent at low levels and remain useful throughout. That's not the problem.

The problem is that as the GM you come to the realization that even supposedly magical monsters are just better off clawing you to death.

It's not that magic is useless in absolute terms (if you get to choose the good spells). It's that relative to monster melee it pales in comparison.

It's just not fun when a built-in ability (and I mean everything from claws and bites to something like a breath attack) is so clearly superior to what the Spells chapter can offer a given monster.

Fearing "smart" (spellcasting) monsters more than brutes is to me central to the D&D experience.

In PF2 caster monsters don't feel right. They aren't the glass cannons they ought to be - they're not glass because they follow monster creation rules, and they're not cannons because magic just never is (since it's available to PCs as well)...
 
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nevin

Adventurer
Yeah...

Martials are excellent at low levels and remain useful throughout. That's not the problem.

The problem is that as the GM you come to the realization that even supposedly magical monsters are just better off clawing you to death.

It's not that magic is useless in absolute terms (if you get to choose the good spells). It's that relative to monster melee it pales in comparison.

It's just not fun when a built-in ability (and I mean everything from claws and bites to something like a breath attack) is so clearly superior to what the Spells chapter can offer a given monster.

Fearing "smart" (spellcasting) monsters more than brutes is to me central to the D&D experience.

In PF2 caster monsters don't feel right. They aren't the glass cannons they ought to be - they're not glass because they follow monster creation rules, and they're not cannons because magic just never is (since it's available to PCs as well)...
Well after years of everyone screaming about smart casters being too effective this was predictable. Everything that takes away from players options takes away from DM options. I think pathfinders strategy for controlling magical power creep is like squeezing the egg in your hand because you might drop it. They just broke it
 

CapnZapp

Legend
The sad thing is, 5E had already solved the puzzle a full four years earlier... Seeing PF2 go for such a heavy-handed approach (yet one decidedly less fun) was a disappointment.

It's a contributing factor to me suspecting Paizo didn't even look at 5E and the winds that are blowing since 2015 during PF2 design - a fatal error if you ask me. :(
 

nevin

Adventurer
Its. Ot
I dunno, the game is balanced to enhance drama and tension. Monsters and NPCs in PF2E are tuned to increase danger to the party while being less versatile so that they're simpler for GMs to run. Since PCs have greater access to healing abilities and ways to shift the battlefield, that kind of needs to countered by higher stats for equal-level monsters.

If the game were to lower monster stats, then to maintain a situation where Monster Level = PC Level (to keep encounter balancing simple and intuitive), then there would need to be much more healing abilities on monsters. Which is arguably less fun and interesting for everyone involved.

Levels exist as a concept so that it's easier for GMs and adventure writers to balance encounters. I know you're running an AP, but in the future if you prefer monsters to have similar stats, then perhaps build encounters with a higher # of lower-level monsters? That can prevent the sense that monsters perpetually hit and defend better than PCs. PF2E's math lets you tune encounters for the desired result that you want
I understand what you are saying but drama and tension cant be the default setting. Otherwise it ceases to be drama and just becomes a pain in ass instead.
 

wakedown

Explorer
It's a contributing factor to me suspecting Paizo didn't even look at 5E and the winds that are blowing since 2015 during PF2 design - a fatal error if you ask me. :(

I think this myth has been dispelled.. D&D Next Playtest hit the public in May 2012. From the PF2 team, Bonner was still at Wizards at that time, having just released War of the Spider Queen.

Radney-MacFarland, IIRC, also has things out there on social media which indicate experience with 5E prior to PF2E.

Bulmahn is credited on SotDL adventures in 2016, so at least had that exposure.

Seifter came out of the PFS Community (RogueEidolon) and was pretty intense into the rules, so it wouldn't surprise me if he was the one member of the team who hadn't actually ever tried Next or 5E, but PF2E AFAIK was also his first time ever contributing to rules for a TTRPG.

I believe there's also been some insider commentary out there on social media from former team members that suggest a lot of the PF2E systems were hastily developed all alongside each other for the playtest 2018Q1 and bolted together to make the aggressive release schedule.

That said, PF2E was something they were planning back in 2014 as a response to D&D Next but ended up delaying it 4 years, so it's outright unbelievable they would be ignorant of Next/5E for those tactical decisions.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
so it's outright unbelievable they would be ignorant of Next/5E for those tactical decisions.
I would have thought so too.

Imagine my surprise and bafflement when I can find absolutely zero traces of 5E's design philosophy (if not outright design elements) in the CRB!

What I'm saying is that the intent might have been there, but that matters little when there aren't any results to show for it...

that suggest a lot of the PF2E systems were hastily developed all alongside each other for the playtest 2018Q1 and bolted together to make the aggressive release schedule
This unfortunately shows. Painfully so.
 
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