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Pathfinder 2E Pathfinder 2 and the two dichotomies


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The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
Speaking as a 4e to 5e to PF2e GM and Player, Pathfinder 2e is similar in that it follows a philosophy of streamlining the system-- as Morrus mentioned in his original review, its about the same complexity as 5e, just denser in terms of available options and more thorough rules support, its a very accessible game. It also uses a bounded accuracy system, although those bounds scale with level, instead of staying relatively static (which is why character optimization doesn't break it.)

So I do see a valid rationale for comparing it to 5e, I think there was some learning from that system, coupled with a desire to not throw the baby out with the bathwater that led to Pathfinder 2e. It does what 5e does, but its more thoughtful about how to implement its streamlining, rather than taking a hatchet to rules and options to offer a stripped down rule set under the premise that the players won't care anyway-- which was successful, but seems to be causing some growing pains once the players it introduces, and retains, aren't actually new anymore.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
It also uses a bounded accuracy system, although those bounds scale with level, instead of staying relatively static (which is why character optimization doesn't break it.)
No, that’s not bounded accuracy. The point of bounded accuracy is that the numbers don’t go up. 5e doesn’t assume progression, but we know that PF2 has an expected progression because it has optional variants like Automatic Bonus Progression that enumerate the progression in order to remove the dependency on magic items it assumes. PF2 is basically the opposite of 5e in this regard, and calling what it does “bounded accuracy” is a stretch.

Rodney Thompson wrote about it during the development of D&D Next. What PF2 does is not this. PF2 in fact is doing something completely different. PF2 is designed specifically that if you don’t keep up, you can’t contribute. This is how lower level foes become worthless fodder and how higher level creatures actually work as solo boss monsters.

Rodney Thompson D&D designer said:
Conventional D&D wisdom tells us that the maxim "the numbers go up" is an inherent part of the class and level progression in D&D. While that might be true, in the next iteration of the game we're experimenting with something we call the bounded accuracy system.

The basic premise behind the bounded accuracy system is simple: we make no assumptions on the DM's side of the game that the player's attack and spell accuracy, or their defenses, increase as a result of gaining levels. Instead, we represent the difference in characters of various levels primarily through their hit points, the amount of damage they deal, and the various new abilities they have gained. Characters can fight tougher monsters not because they can finally hit them, but because their damage is sufficient to take a significant chunk out of the monster's hit points; likewise, the character can now stand up to a few hits from that monster without being killed easily, thanks to the character's increased hit points. Furthermore, gaining levels grants the characters new capabilities, which go much farther toward making your character feel different than simple numerical increases.

Now, note that I said that we make no assumptions on the DM's side of the game about increased accuracy and defenses. This does not mean that the players do not gain bonuses to accuracy and defenses. It does mean, however, that we do not need to make sure that characters advance on a set schedule, and we can let each class advance at its own appropriate pace. Thus, wizards don't have to gain a +10 bonus to weapon attack rolls just for reaching a higher level in order to keep participating; if wizards never gain an accuracy bonus, they can still contribute just fine to the ongoing play experience.

This extends beyond simple attacks and damage. We also make the same assumptions about character ability modifiers and skill bonuses. Thus, our expected DCs do not scale automatically with level, and instead a DC is left to represent the fixed value of the difficulty of some task, not the difficulty of the task relative to level.

We think the bounded accuracy system is good for the game for a number of different reasons, including the following:

Getting better at something means actually getting better at something. Since target numbers (DCs for checks, AC, and so on) and monster accuracy don't scale with level, gaining a +1 bonus means you are actually 5% better at succeeding at that task, not simply hitting some basic competence level. When a fighter gets a +1 increase to his or her attack bonus, it means he or she hits monsters across the board 5% more often. This means that characters, as they gain levels, see a tangible increase in their competence, not just in being able to accomplish more amazing things, but also in how often they succeed at tasks they perform regularly.

Nonspecialized characters can more easily participate in many scenes. While it's true that increases in accuracy are real and tangible, it also means that characters can achieve a basic level of competence just through how players assign their ability bonuses. Although a character who gains a +6 bonus to checks made to hide might do so with incredible ease, the character with only a naked ability bonus still has a chance to participate. We want to use the system to make it so that specialized characters find tasks increasingly trivial, while other characters can still make attempts without feeling they are wasting their time.

The DM's monster roster expands, never contracts. Although low-level characters probably don't stack up well against higher-level monsters, thanks to the high hit points and high damage numbers of those monsters, as the characters gain levels, the lower-level monsters continue to be useful to the DM, just in greater numbers. While we might fight only four goblins at a time at 1st level, we might take on twelve of them at 5th level without breaking a sweat. Since the monsters don't lose the ability to hit the player characters—instead they take out a smaller percentage chunk of the characters' hit points—the DM can continue to increase the number of monsters instead of needing to design or find whole new monsters. Thus, the repertoire of monsters available for DMs to use in an adventure only increases over time, as new monsters become acceptable challenges and old monsters simply need to have their quantity increased.

Bounded accuracy makes it easier to DM and easier to adjudicate improvised scenes. After a short period of DMing, DMs should gain a clear sense of how to assign DCs to various tasks. If the DM knows that for most characters a DC of 15 is a mildly difficult check, then the DM starts to associate DC values with in-world difficulties. Thus, when it comes time to improvise, a link has been created between the difficulty of the challenge in the world (balancing as you run across this rickety bridge is pretty tough due to the breaking planks, especially if you're not a nimble character) and the target number. Since those target numbers don't change, the longer a DM runs his or her game, the easier it is going to be to set quick target numbers, improvise monster attack bonuses and AC, or determine just what kind of bonus a skilled NPC has to a particular check. The DM's understanding of how difficult tasks are ceases to be a moving target under a bounded accuracy system.

It opens up new possibilities of encounter and adventure design. A 1st-level character might not fight the black dragon plaguing the town in a face-to-face fight and expect to survive. But if they rally the town to their side, outfit the guards with bows and arrows, and whittle the dragon down with dozens of attacks instead of only four or five, the possibilities grow. With the bounded accuracy system, lower-level creatures banding together can erode a higher-level creature's hit points, which cuts both ways; now, fights involving hordes of orcs against the higher-level party can be threatening using only the basic orc stat block, and the city militia can still battle against the fire giants rampaging at the gates without having to inflate the statistics of the city guards to make that possible.

It is easier for players and DMs to understand the relative strength and difficulty of things. Under the bounded accuracy system, a DM can describe a hobgoblin wearing chainmail, and, no matter what the level of the characters, a player can reasonably guess that the hobgoblin's AC is around 15; the description of the world matches up to mechanical expectations, and eventually players will see chainmail, or leather armor, or plate mail in game and have an instinctive response to how tough things are. Likewise, a DM knows that he or she can reasonably expect players to understand the difficulty of things based purely on their in-world description, and so the DM can focus more on the details of the world rather than on setting player expectations.

It's good for verisimilitude. The bounded accuracy system lets us perpetually associate difficulty numbers with certain tasks based on what they are in the world, without the need to constantly escalate the story behind those tasks. For example, we can say that breaking down an iron-banded wooden door is a DC 17 check, and that can live in the game no matter what level the players are. There's no need to constantly escalate the in-world descriptions to match a growing DC; an iron-banded door is just as tough to break down at 20th level as it was at 1st, and it might still be a challenge for a party consisting of heroes without great Strength scores. There's no need to make it a solid adamantine door encrusted with ancient runes just to make it a moderate challenge for the high-level characters. Instead, we let that adamantine door encrusted with ancient runes have its own high DC as a reflection of its difficulty in the world. If players have the means of breaking down the super difficult adamantine door, it's because they pursued player options that make that so, and it is not simply a side effect of continuing to adventure.

This feeds in with the earlier point about DMs and players understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses of things, since it not only makes it easier to understand play expectations, but it also ties those expectations very firmly to what those things are in the world. Now, we want to avoid situations where DMs feel bound by the numbers. ("Hey," says the player, "you said it was an iron-bound wooden door and I rolled a 17, what do you mean I didn't break it down?") We hope to do that by making sure we focus more on teaching DMs how to determine DCs and other numbers, and letting them adjust descriptions and difficulties based on their needs.

Edit: Finally found a working Wayback Machine link. I’ve updated the post with it but kept the quote for ease of reference.
 
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dave2008

Legend
It also uses a bounded accuracy system, although those bounds scale with level, instead of staying relatively static (which is why character optimization doesn't break it.)
That is not what bounded accuracy means, at least within the context of the definition for 5e. Actually, a lot of your description of 5e seems off to me, but clearly you are coming at things from a different perspective than I am.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
I disagree with Thompson's definition of bounded accuracy (and had other sources discussing this in more detail that I've misplaced, oops) in that it conflates two interrelated concepts, both of which 5e explores-- the influence of level in causing bonuses to go up, and the influence of bonuses capable of overwhelming the D20. To his mind they were probably the same thing, but they can be separated, which is what Pathfinder 2e does, so we have to understand it from both dimensions.

The first is what he discusses in the article, they don't assume the numbers go up (accuracy wise) from the DM's perspective so a low level player can swing, and potentially hit a high level foe or vice versa. This is also what Pathfinder 2e doesn't have, as you guys mention, a sufficiently higher level foe is effectively invincible.

But Bounded Accuracy is also the limitation of bonuses to keep the math within a certain range, when you see people discussing how character optimization in Pathfinder 1st edition often made rolling a d20 formality? That's what I'm discussing as another aspect of Bounded Accuracy, that 5e introduces to prevent that, accuracy bonuses are literally bounded. Pathfinder 2e and 5e both do this in order to prevent the players from optimizing away the d20 in order to keep variance relatively important. Its a big part of why 5e moved to Advantage + Disadvantage, and Pathfinder 2e is so finicky about preventing your from stacking bonuses.

In 5e terms that's the same thing, after all if you're already avoiding level scaling, then keeping the rest of the system's bonuses in line is the flipside-- a low level has a chance to win, a high level has a chance to lose, and you can't optimize that away either. But you can also go the Pathfinder 2e route, keep the variance similar but keep the upper and lower boundaries moving to emulate that feeling of level making you directly more powerful.

This is also why Pathfinder 2e's definition of Mook and Boss are contingent on their level position relative to the party, a +3 monster is a roughly the same amount of hard to hit regardless of what level it actually is, so you could actually drop level from prof for players (you'd have to eliminate item bonuses from both sides too though, those were hard coded back in after playtest data suggested people liked item upgrades being a requirement) but give monsters level variation in a +4/-4 range, and the balance would be maintained almost perfectly, with feats and stuff resulting in only minor increases and decreases in accuracy.

Which is the material variance in the PF2e system, level just serving to let different monsters play different roles to create a sense of power progression (struggling against adult dragons, and then being able to bat them aside with ease later, because they've gone from being +4 monsters to -4 monsters) on a math engine that polices variances to keep the d20 important and to stop character optimization from getting out of control.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Speaking as a 4e to 5e to PF2e GM and Player, Pathfinder 2e is similar in that it follows a philosophy of streamlining the system-- as Morrus mentioned in his original review, its about the same complexity as 5e, just denser in terms of available options and more thorough rules support, its a very accessible game. It also uses a bounded accuracy system, although those bounds scale with level, instead of staying relatively static (which is why character optimization doesn't break it.)

So I do see a valid rationale for comparing it to 5e, I think there was some learning from that system, coupled with a desire to not throw the baby out with the bathwater that led to Pathfinder 2e. It does what 5e does, but its more thoughtful about how to implement its streamlining, rather than taking a hatchet to rules and options to offer a stripped down rule set under the premise that the players won't care anyway-- which was successful, but seems to be causing some growing pains once the players it introduces, and retains, aren't actually new anymore.
I disagree with literally everything here.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
No, that’s not bounded accuracy. The point of bounded accuracy is that the numbers don’t go up. 5e doesn’t assume progression, but we know that PF2 has an expected progression because it has optional variants like Automatic Bonus Progression that enumerate the progression in order to remove the dependency on magic items it assumes. PF2 is basically the opposite of 5e in this regard, and calling what it does “bounded accuracy” is a stretch.
I'd call calling two diametrically opposite things the same a stretch ;)

Other than that, you're completely right.

Of course, if we imagine Paizo having the same mistaken impression of what WotC were doing with 5E as this poster here, it would sure explain a few things... :LOL: (And for those just tuning in; no, the mere fact both games try to "contain" the range of possible outcomes don't mean anything about them is the same. Just look at 5E magic items, which are allowed to be actual bonuses, whereas PF2 items are things you just need not to fall back. In PF2, loot isn't a pleasant surprise - it's something that relieves your performance anxiety... But back to bounded accuracy - it includes being able to "use Orcs for longer", and that alone is a distinguishing factor)
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
I disagree with Thompson's definition of bounded accuracy (and had other sources discussing this in more detail that I've misplaced, oops) in that it conflates two interrelated concepts, both of which 5e explores-- the influence of level in causing bonuses to go up, and the influence of bonuses capable of overwhelming the D20. To his mind they were probably the same thing, but they can be separated, which is what Pathfinder 2e does, so we have to understand it from both dimensions.

The first is what he discusses in the article, they don't assume the numbers go up (accuracy wise) from the DM's perspective so a low level player can swing, and potentially hit a high level foe or vice versa. This is also what Pathfinder 2e doesn't have, as you guys mention, a sufficiently higher level foe is effectively invincible.

But Bounded Accuracy is also the limitation of bonuses to keep the math within a certain range, when you see people discussing how character optimization in Pathfinder 1st edition often made rolling a d20 formality? That's what I'm discussing as another aspect of Bounded Accuracy, that 5e introduces to prevent that, accuracy bonuses are literally bounded. Pathfinder 2e and 5e both do this in order to prevent the players from optimizing away the d20 in order to keep variance relatively important. Its a big part of why 5e moved to Advantage + Disadvantage, and Pathfinder 2e is so finicky about preventing your from stacking bonuses.

In 5e terms that's the same thing, after all if you're already avoiding level scaling, then keeping the rest of the system's bonuses in line is the flipside-- a low level has a chance to win, a high level has a chance to lose, and you can't optimize that away either. But you can also go the Pathfinder 2e route, keep the variance similar but keep the upper and lower boundaries moving to emulate that feeling of level making you directly more powerful.

This is also why Pathfinder 2e's definition of Mook and Boss are contingent on their level position relative to the party, a +3 monster is a roughly the same amount of hard to hit regardless of what level it actually is, so you could actually drop level from prof for players (you'd have to eliminate item bonuses from both sides too though, those were hard coded back in after playtest data suggested people liked item upgrades being a requirement) but give monsters level variation in a +4/-4 range, and the balance would be maintained almost perfectly, with feats and stuff resulting in only minor increases and decreases in accuracy.

Which is the material variance in the PF2e system, level just serving to let different monsters play different roles to create a sense of power progression (struggling against adult dragons, and then being able to bat them aside with ease later, because they've gone from being +4 monsters to -4 monsters) on a math engine that polices variances to keep the d20 important and to stop character optimization from getting out of control.
I can’t agree with this. “Bounded accuracy” is a term coined by WotC for the approach 5e took to progression. You can claim that what PF2 does is “bounded accuracy”, but it’s just not the same thing. None of the benefits that Rodney Thompson cites are present in PF2. Trying to say they both have “bounded accuracy” just doesn’t feel like an honest comparison. It’s really stretching things.

I don’t think it follows that just because PF2 came out differently that Paizo failed to learn from their peers. Nothing says doing so means you have to come to the same conclusion. Look at the OSR. Are they wrong for eschewing certain design truisms? No, and not having those things is often the point. I’d say the same goes for PF2. Paizo had certain things they wanted to do (tell super-heroic stories, and provide character customization that can’t “win” the game), and they did it. Balance is a means to that end, and not having “bounded accuracy” like 5e does the point.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
I can’t agree with this. “Bounded accuracy” is a term coined by WotC for the approach 5e took to progression. You can claim that what PF2 does is “bounded accuracy”, but it’s just not the same thing. None of the benefits that Rodney Thompson cites are present in PF2. Trying to say they both have “bounded accuracy” just doesn’t feel like an honest comparison. It’s really stretching things.

I don’t think it follows that just because PF2 came out differently that Paizo failed to learn from their peers. Nothing says doing so means you have to come to the same conclusion. Look at the OSR. Are they wrong for eschewing certain design truisms? No, and not having those things is often the point. I’d say the same goes for PF2. Paizo had certain things they wanted to do (tell super-heroic stories, and provide character customization that can’t “win” the game), and they did it. Balance is a means to that end, and not having “bounded accuracy” like 5e does the point.
TBF, I had this article in my head when I was using the term, whether or not that thing is properly called 'bounded accuracy' by it's creators prescriptive definition (and descriptively, it is often used to refer to the way 5e contains mathematical variation) is immaterial to my point that both Pathfinder 2e and Dungeons and Dragons 5e 'contain' their bonuses in a way that some Pathfinder 1e players find deal breakingly similar, we can use a different term for that if necessary to facilitate the discussion?
 

transmission89

Adventurer
TBF, I had this article in my head when I was using the term, whether or not that thing is properly called 'bounded accuracy' by it's creators prescriptive definition (and descriptively, it is often used to refer to the way 5e contains mathematical variation) is immaterial to my point that both Pathfinder 2e and Dungeons and Dragons 5e 'contain' their bonuses in a way that some Pathfinder 1e players find deal breakingly similar, we can use a different term for that if necessary to facilitate the discussion?
I get what you meant. Paizo sought to rein in mods compared to PF1, even if it’s not Bounded AccuracyTM.

What about Rein In Mods. PF2 RIMs Better than PF1?
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
TBF, I had this article in my head when I was using the term, whether or not that thing is properly called 'bounded accuracy' by it's creators prescriptive definition (and descriptively, it is often used to refer to the way 5e contains mathematical variation) is immaterial to my point that both Pathfinder 2e and Dungeons and Dragons 5e 'contain' their bonuses in a way that some Pathfinder 1e players find deal breakingly similar, we can use a different term for that if necessary to facilitate the discussion?
We can give it a different name, but PF2 and 5e are still doing different things. PF2 still has the progression treadmill (including a table of level-based DCs). 5e dispensed with that, but PF2 did not. People will say you’re not supposed to set the DC based on the PCs, but what how does that get handled in practice? Just like DM David says: by describing obstacles of legendary proportions.

So, yes, it’s true that both systems opted to constrain their math, but the why and how they did that are completely different. It’s like saying that PF2 is similar to HERO because both systems are designed to let you pick options that are constrained within a given power level (ignoring for the sake of argument how well either of those systems succeeds in that regard). The comparison is superficial.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
We can give it a different name, but PF2 and 5e are still doing different things. PF2 still has the progression treadmill (including a table of level-based DCs). 5e dispensed with that, but PF2 did not. People will say you’re not supposed to set the DC based on the PCs, but what how does that get handled in practice? Just like DM David says: by describing obstacles of legendary proportions.

So, yes, it’s true that both systems opted to constrain their math, but the why and how they did that are completely different. It’s like saying that PF2 is similar to HERO because both systems are designed to let you pick options that are constrained within a given power level (ignoring for the sake of argument how well either of those systems succeeds in that regard). The comparison is superficial.
Nevertheless, the pf1e players we're discussing view it as similar, because both have the primary effect of limiting the kind of optimization inherent in 1e. The similarity is relative, and I would certainly see it as intertextuality between the two systems.

In practice, 5e DCs do often get scaled based off the talents of the party.
 

transmission89

Adventurer
We can give it a different name, but PF2 and 5e are still doing different things. PF2 still has the progression treadmill (including a table of level-based DCs). 5e dispensed with that, but PF2 did not. People will say you’re not supposed to set the DC based on the PCs, but what how does that get handled in practice? Just like DM David says: by describing obstacles of legendary proportions.

So, yes, it’s true that both systems opted to constrain their math, but the why and how they did that are completely different. It’s like saying that PF2 is similar to HERO because both systems are designed to let you pick options that are constrained within a given power level (ignoring for the sake of argument how well either of those systems succeeds in that regard). The comparison is superficial.
Indeed. Paizo wanted to keep that “heroic progress“ feeling, but wanted to cut back on d20+40 being rolled. I think it’s a smart move they took doing that to further differentiate. I remember during 5e play testing, a large number of people were unhappy that orcs and goblins could still pose a threat to a higher level character (of course, a large number liked that). So it offers something to those people.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Nevertheless, the pf1e players we're discussing view it as similar, because both have the primary effect of limiting the kind of optimization inherent in 1e. The similarity is relative, and I would certainly see it as intertextuality between the two systems.
I feel like this is selling PF2 short. It was claimed that Paizo didn’t learn from 5e, but you can look at where 5e has balance problems (like multiclassing or feat parity) and see how that wouldn’t address the issues you cite from PF1, so the only thing to learn would be what doesn’t work (for the presumed goal of preventing people from “winning” through character building). That’s not to say 5e is bad or wrong for doing what it did, but the designers prioritized different things and made different trade-offs.

In practice, 5e DCs do often get scaled based off the talents of the party.
I intimated that in the D&D forum here in a post on flat DCs and got pushback, so I decided to avoid controversy by not going there. However, I agree. That’s why I’m not a fan of non-flat DCs. 😅
 
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The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
I don't view it as a bad thing, when I discuss their intertextuality I mean that they're approaching the same problems and solving them with solutions that are related. I prefer Pathfinder 2e's solution, in fact, and what you describe in terms of 5es problems are what eventually drove us into the arms of 2e.

My group pushed 5e way past its breaking point. Items as a bonus is all well and good, until you actually want to give them out without 'voiding the warranty' as it were and the system shattered.

Honestly, I'm pretty sure how hard my group pushed the system is the reason my perspective on 5e is so alien to Dave and Zapp. We tested that system's limits, the limits of its 'balance' the actual effects of BA, Magic Items, Feats, Multiclassing and etc.
 

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