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Pathfinder 2E Regarding the complexity of Pathfinder 2

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Yeah, I think you're clashing with more modern design sensibilities. Not that it's wrong or anything, but there's definitely been a move towards more planned combats than random/naturalistic encounters.
Yep. It’s been a weird progression. My first D&D was 3e, but I never developed that kind of sensibility. A few blogs have nudged me in the older-school direction (The Alexandrian and Grognardia come to mind), but the core of it seems to be that I’m lazy and very comfortable improvising. I think I’ve just hit a point where I want the game to stay out of my way and let me do my thing.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
PF2 definitely doesn't do sandbox right out the gate no.

"random/naturalistic" is the opposite of how Paizo's APs showcase the system.

Judging by 100% of official adventure material, the game is supposed to feature roughly 13 fights per level, every level.

Out of those maybe one is only there for "color" - the heroes aren't meaningfully threatened. Heroes find themselves to just happen to always (>90%) meet challenges appropriate for your level. Meaning that the sense of progress or becoming awesome is severely muted, since it is only if the GM inserts low-level monsters or NPC challenges the players will encounter such.

For instance, at level 5 or 6 or so you would finally be able to ace all those social challenges that frustrated you back at level 1. But those challenges simply evaporate at level 6. Now you're asked to face level 6 challenges.

This means that fighters will continuously find that they meet monsters that hit them on a 3 while they themselves only crit on a 20.

This strict format repeats for each level in every installment. Fight, rinse, repeat.

And while not every encounter is mandatory (you can always miss or skip a dungeon room) the stories are either overtly railroaded or only lightly obscured as such.

It showcases something I would call the polar opposite of a sandbox or "random/naturalistic".
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I’m not running APs, so bringing them up doesn’t seem very relevant. How Paizo choose to design them is nothing more than that — the choices they made when creating their adventures. PF2 doesn’t prescribe an adventuring day or pacing, and it’s not like the guidelines for encounter building stop working just because the encounters arise spontaneously. The GM ultimately still gets to decide the nature of the participants when one happens.

I’d understand if you were talking about set pieces, but I can’t see how that follows from a discussion of how many encounters per level Paizo uses or how easily monsters and fighters hit each other. From what I recall of my PF1 AP experience, Paizo didn’t really make heavy use of set piece encounters. You’d have whatever encounters listed out, but they weren’t like the ones in some of the 4e stuff I’ve run where encounters were clearly designed with the fight in mind.

If it’s the case that PF2 adventures lean more heavily on set piece encounters than PF1 did, then that’s something different. It’d be worth calling out as supporting the point that PF2 combat needs set piece encounters to really sing. However, I’d then expect that to be the topic of discussion rather than this tangent regarding adventure pacing and encounter building.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I’m not running APs, so bringing them up doesn’t seem very relevant.
Of course, to you it won't.

Myself, after a year of running official content I'm itching to play a more flexible campaign where the players have some agency to set the difficulty level themselves.

It's as my fighter player said: getting to be Legendary in pole-arms (his chosen specialty) doesn't feel very "legendary" since monsters keep sporting ever-higher Armor Classes, and you don't really feel like you're ever getting to dominate the game.

The answer of course is that "legendary" is just a label. The point in this game is that you remain 2 points ahead of the other heroes.

But of course I understand his sentiment - there's nothing "legendary" by a +10% boost.

How Paizo choose to design them is nothing more than that — the choices they made when creating their adventures. PF2 doesn’t prescribe an adventuring day or pacing, and it’s not like the guidelines for encounter building stop working just because the encounters arise spontaneously. The GM ultimately still gets to decide the nature of the participants when one happens.
This downplays the importance of showing how the game can be played too much for my liking.

We can of course discuss whether PF2's design is specifically and precisely geared towards the exact playstyle showcased by the official material, but I hope we agree Pathfinder 2 is - like every other game - better equipped to handle some campaign styles than others.

I'm just saying that I find it natural to claim PF2 isn't created for sandbox play. Can it be used for such a campaign? Yes of course, but the question really asks if the game in question really is an easy and straightforward choice of ruleset?

In PF2's case, I'd say you need to tweak so many things you're probably better off using another engine to start with. Again it's not that it can't be done, but why do a lot of work when other games let you get away with a little?

I’d understand if you were talking about set pieces
Not exactly sure what you mean by set pieces?

If you mean a focus on extra-special combats, where extra care has been taken to challenge the players (maybe special terrain or particular interactions between the monsters or tasks the characters have to perform while fighting) then no, there aren't really any set pieces.

If you merely mean that (nearly) every fight is intended to be challenging in itself, then yes, very much so. Everything about the game is geared towards forgetting about resources and making the individual fight the centerpiece of today's excitement.

So when you contrast to 4E, then I think I know what you mean (and agree).

---

I guess I'm getting bored with the ultra-sharp focus on encounter balance. Everything about the game and the adventures suggest it would be a shame if the players were to do something smart that shortcircuits the fight (its challenge level) - that a fight where the lethality has been defused is a waste, but I don't agree. I think things become more interesting and engaging if the players realize they are allowed to make smart story decisions that are rewarded by pushover fights (=less risk of death).

Here of course Pathfinder 2 has a huge advantage over 4E - faster resolution and more spikey randomness. Pushover fights can still happen since they're won quickly. Less easy fights can still become dangerous/interesting if something happens (bad dice luck etc).

I need to get away from the predictability of "level appropriateness". If there's always a new level+3 monster around the corner that completely dominates you during the first round of combat, that negates the entire idea about "zero to hero".
 

Porridge

Explorer
I admit my experience is with PF1 APs (Rise of the Runelords, Council of Thieves, Kingmaker, and Shattered Star), so maybe PF2 is different. Kingmaker may have looked like a hexcrawl, but it too was still just an encounter-driven, linear story. It’s just that instead of a normal dungeon, the wilderness was the dungeon.

Neat. I assume it uses the infiltration subsystem from the GMG?
Yep!

(Though the area is described in enough detail that it seems it would be pretty simple to just run the heist "straight" without the subsystem if one preferred.)
 

My own players tend to feel like the defining feature of their increasing power is that they outclass things once hard for them, they really enjoyed the fight where three adult dragons weren't that dangerous for them, after they had once struggled to take on one. Their builds also function more smoothly at higher level.

As for the kinds of games we're discussing, where the difficulty of a fight is meant to vary based on approaches and circumstances, I've seen the game handle it well, it just requires relatively simple directions in terms of design: Drop the difficulty of uncombined encounters to low/trivial/moderate, so that when they do combine (a soft failure state), the 'situation' is a severe or extreme encounter.

Your adversary roster should be made up of foes that facilitate this. The system itself handles it well, but Paizos adventures arent natively designed for it (and in my eyes, adventures themselves can't be style neutral-- wanting to mess with the style in this way is always a workload, in any system.)

Finally, the GMG has the templates for adventure design you guys are asking for.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Of course, to you it won't.

Myself, after a year of running official content I'm itching to play a more flexible campaign where the players have some agency to set the difficulty level themselves.

It's as my fighter player said: getting to be Legendary in pole-arms (his chosen specialty) doesn't feel very "legendary" since monsters keep sporting ever-higher Armor Classes, and you don't really feel like you're ever getting to dominate the game.

The answer of course is that "legendary" is just a label. The point in this game is that you remain 2 points ahead of the other heroes.

But of course I understand his sentiment - there's nothing "legendary" by a +10% boost.
I have a similar issue with PF2 (and modern systems in general), but it’s the opposite side of that same coin. I look at it this way. If you’re balancing challenges out to an appropriate level of difficulty, then all you’ve done is recreate the experience of those percentile tables from old-school D&D with a lot more indirection. Bleh. Fie to that.

This downplays the importance of showing how the game can be played too much for my liking.
It kind of goes both ways when official adventures get trotted out in a discussion regarding other ways of playing the game.

We can of course discuss whether PF2's design is specifically and precisely geared towards the exact playstyle showcased by the official material, but I hope we agree Pathfinder 2 is - like every other game - better equipped to handle some campaign styles than others.

I'm just saying that I find it natural to claim PF2 isn't created for sandbox play. Can it be used for such a campaign? Yes of course, but the question really asks if the game in question really is an easy and straightforward choice of ruleset?

In PF2's case, I'd say you need to tweak so many things you're probably better off using another engine to start with. Again it's not that it can't be done, but why do a lot of work when other games let you get away with a little?
“Sandbox” often gets taken to mean some kind of *crawl, but it’s a bit broader than that. A sandbox is a game where the PCs make decisions, and what happens next follows from the consequences of those decisions. Basically, you generally start with a world in a status quo, and then you inject the PCs.

I’d argue that an adventure like Winter’s Daughter is a sandbox because it doesn’t prescribe any particular narrative direction. Aside from the hook serving as a default action for the PCs, it doesn’t prescribe any particular outcome. Due to how it’s structured, something will come of it, but what exactly is left open (to be answered by playing through the adventure).

If that seems like a stretch, consider a campaign where the PCs arrive in town. There are several in proximity, and they all have problems needing to be solved. As time goes by, the problems will get worse. As they solve problems, they’ll get stronger by nature of not having been solved quickly enough. This still isn’t a crawl, but it’s a sandbox because how and what gets solved comes down to the decisions the PCs make.

I mention “getting worse” just as a way to keep things in step with PF2’s default power curve. For example, one town has problems with bandits. The town is especially worried because they’ve seen an ogre with the bandits. Eventually, if nothing is done, the ogre will call for help from other ogres, and the ogres will take over the bandits, and now you have a bunch of marauding ogres threatening the town. The bandits aren’t all killed by the ogres, so now they’re potentially a faction you can enlist to help fight the ogres, but the town’s not going to like that. What do you do?

How all that gets solved comes down to what approach the PCs take. That’s if they even bother. They could prefer hanging out in the dragon hotsprings or going after undead instead. As a rule of thumb, if you could run two parties through the same scenario and get wildly different results (differing beyond the details), then you might have a sandbox.

As for a traditional *crawl, I think you can do it as long as you use Proficiency Without Level. The reason isn’t to make higher level monsters easier but to allow lower level ones to stay relevant longer. If you’re just setting up a map for PCs to explore, they’ll eventually get more powerful, and dealing with new areas that were created with lower-level threats would feel boring if those threats aren’t worth anything. However, it might be possible to to keep the standard power curve and emphasize henchman and sidekicks as a way of keeping those lower level areas interesting.

Anyway, if the claim is that PF2 doesn’t have a lot to say on running a sandbox or provide tools for that, then that’s true, but that’s true of 5e and most other modern systems. You end up having to lean pretty heavily on techniques shared by GMs because that stuff just doesn’t get put in books anymore. I can’t comment on older ones that did (beyond my familiarity with OSE), but I expect there wasn’t much more than the procedure to go by (so no advice either).

Not exactly sure what you mean by set pieces?

If you mean a focus on extra-special combats, where extra care has been taken to challenge the players (maybe special terrain or particular interactions between the monsters or tasks the characters have to perform while fighting) then no, there aren't really any set pieces.

If you merely mean that (nearly) every fight is intended to be challenging in itself, then yes, very much so. Everything about the game is geared towards forgetting about resources and making the individual fight the centerpiece of today's excitement.

So when you contrast to 4E, then I think I know what you mean (and agree).
I’d say yes to “extra-special” but not necessarily to focusing on challenge. I think a set piece battle focuses more on creating dramatic moments and setting up the PCs to do cool things. If you have a swashbuckler, then there will be chandeliers to swing from. That kind of thing.

I guess I'm getting bored with the ultra-sharp focus on encounter balance. Everything about the game and the adventures suggest it would be a shame if the players were to do something smart that shortcircuits the fight (its challenge level) - that a fight where the lethality has been defused is a waste, but I don't agree. I think things become more interesting and engaging if the players realize they are allowed to make smart story decisions that are rewarded by pushover fights (=less risk of death).
I’d suggest just ignoring whatever is suggesting that and let the PCs be smart and get their advantage. It may “break” the adventure, but that doesn’t really matter as long as everyone is having fun.
 


Yup! I really like them, they give an idea of how many of each encounter type might belong to different kinds of adventure, and it gives a framework for thinking about adventures (whether those are more like story arcs, or locations, or whatever in your game) that revolves around using different encounter difficulties in different proportions to create different kinds of feels.

Its not hard for me to imagine a variant of "Dungeon Crawl" like "Old School Dungeon Crawl" where combining encounters is mentioned, but it mainly features "Trivial/Low/Moderate" encounters as the modular pieces that might fit together. Its even evident that not all of these recipes feature extreme encounters in any capacity, and some feature limited use of severe encounters.

It's also a better framework for thinking about default adventure design in 2e than any given AP, since the APs likely have individual variations based on whatever the goal was for that particular project.
 

Thomas Shey

Adventurer
About the only thing at least OD&D provided to help with running a sandbox was random encounter charts. And even those if you wanted to really use them right you needed to customize.
 

Thomas Shey

Adventurer
Regarding dungeon crawls, even in the old days most dungeon crawls were mostly composed of what PF2e would call Trivial and Low Encounters, with the occasional exception for a big set-piece that you'd have to work your way through to find. In particular the random encounters were normally weak.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Escape rules and reaction tables as well as XP for gold (traditional method where you bring it back, not the one where you trade it for XP) are all old-school things that can be added to PF2 fairly easy. Combined, they give PCs more control over how they engage with encounters and incentivize them to avoid fights. Another thing that helps are morale rules, so not every fight is to the death but just enough to drive off the enemy.

There are probably other things one can borrow, but those are what came to mind for helping run an old-school dungeon crawl in PF2. To integrate escape, one should start off the encounter by rolling on the reaction table (as appropriate) and find out what the PCs do (parley, escape, fight, etc). Don’t just jump straight into combat. If the PCs do decide to run, switch to the chase subsystem and allow PCs to create obstacles for pursuers by dropping food and treasure (as appropriate for the monster).
 
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kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Its not hard for me to imagine a variant of "Dungeon Crawl" like "Old School Dungeon Crawl" where combining encounters is mentioned, but it mainly features "Trivial/Low/Moderate" encounters as the modular pieces that might fit together. Its even evident that not all of these recipes feature extreme encounters in any capacity, and some feature limited use of severe encounters.
That’d be good for handling a dynamic response to the PCs presence in the dungeon, but I wouldn’t use only that. There’s also wandering monsters (as already noted). If you give the PCs tools to control their engagement in encounters, then the guidelines for encounter building become a bit more advisory because the PCs can pull back and retreat if two encounters combine into something particularly dangerous.

Of course, the real struggle will be training players to stop assuming that the PCs should expect to win every fight, and that they have to engage smartly if they want to survive. 😑
 

Thomas Shey

Adventurer
That’d be good for handling a dynamic response to the PCs presence in the dungeon, but I wouldn’t use only that. There’s also wandering monsters (as already noted). If you give the PCs tools to control their engagement in encounters, then the guidelines for encounter building become a bit more advisory because the PCs can pull back and retreat if two encounters combine into something particularly dangerous.

Of course, the real struggle will be training players to stop assuming that the PCs should expect to win every fight, and that they have to engage smartly if they want to survive. 😑

Especially since even in the old days, plenty of groups didn't assume retreating was a practical choice, given relative movement speeds.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Especially since even in the old days, plenty of groups didn't assume retreating was a practical choice, given relative movement speeds.
Retreat definitely needs to be a viable option if it’s offered.

If players worry that it’s not, then one may want to handle it like a concession in Fate: you are guaranteed to survive, but you'll pay a price. However, instead of having the winning side decide, I think it’d be better to negotiate with the players what the PCs will give up to effect their escape. I expect it should look the same as just doing it ‘normally’ most of the time, but the players won’t have to worry that it can fail. (This assumes one doesn’t use the chase subsystem, which may be too heavyweight for this purpose.)
 

Thomas Shey

Adventurer
I just tend to emphasize that because the only way retreating was possible for heavily armored characters in the Bad Old Days was to make specific use of a couple of (apparently dungeon-specific) rules that almost no one noticed, so no one assumed. Its an intrinsic problem barring, as you say, something like a chase system since otherwise things appear to come down to mostly who has the better movement--and in a pretty fair number of cases that's not at least one of the PCs. People tend to make decisions accordingly.
 

Retreat definitely needs to be a viable option if it’s offered.

If players worry that it’s not, then one may want to handle it like a concession in Fate: you are guaranteed to survive, but you'll pay a price. However, instead of having the winning side decide, I think it’d be better to negotiate with the players what the PCs will give up to effect their escape. I expect it should look the same as just doing it ‘normally’ most of the time, but the players won’t have to worry that it can fail.

That's a pretty interesting way of doing it.

(This assumes one doesn’t use the chase subsystem, which may be too heavyweight for this purpose.)

The chase subsystem as a general structure isn't too bad, though you definitely need to make up some area options beforehand, or at least have a few ideas. Reminds me of something I'll mention in a minute.

I just tend to emphasize that because the only way retreating was possible for heavily armored characters in the Bad Old Days was to make specific use of a couple of (apparently dungeon-specific) rules that almost no one noticed, so no one assumed.

Gotta ask, what were the rules? I played a bit of AD&D, but I was always with guys who had played it for years so I never actually looked too much at the rules.

Its an intrinsic problem barring, as you say, something like a chase system since otherwise things appear to come down to mostly who has the better movement--and in a pretty fair number of cases that's not at least one of the PCs. People tend to make decisions accordingly.

So recently I was watching Critical Role because when I'm doing GM prep work I just get inspired by having the subject on in the background. So they were on some island and after the dungeon part of the adventure there was a chase sequence where Mercer decided to do a classic 4E Skill Challenge. It was interesting to watch, since I'm not sure it fully succeeded and it really started dragging after a while. But it was interesting to see it live and in action (relatively speaking) and compare it to what I've done in the past. I'd be interesting in seeing PF2's chase system in actual action, or something like the Fate system that was described.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Escape rules and reaction tables as well as XP for gold (traditional method where you bring it back, not the one where you trade it for XP) are all old-school things that can be added to PF2 fairly easy. Combined, they give PCs more control over how they engage with encounters and incentivize them to avoid fights. Another thing that helps are morale rules, so not every fight is to the death but just enough to drive off the enemy.
Yes, the GM improvising Will saves when enemies are bloodied or lose numerical advantage etc is easy.

Escape rules I've never gotten to work in satisfactory ways. The players feel it's abstract or even cheating if the standard rules no longer apply. Especially if it means they're denied the satisfaction of not letting a single foe get away! (Some players even focus on movement precisely so they're faster than any fleeing monster, and would protest if the regular rules for movement and stealth aren't used. Especially in 5E this all but ensured escape for hapless monsters were impossible. In PF2, not so much, since often players are relieved and thankful if a monster decides to leg it!

Related to this is the notion heroes want to avoid fights. In 5E players certainly relish fights - in D&D this idea has always been corrupted by simply fights being an award, not a punishment (like in more realistic or at least less levelbased games). At least in PF2 monsters are so deadly that the fights you cannot avoid are often enough...

How do you implement xp for gold, Kenada? Exactly, I mean. In PF2 you have a functioning magic item economy, and if you retain the standard xp system, you will quickly be able to gain a level just by selling a random loot drop.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Retreat definitely needs to be a viable option if it’s offered.

If players worry that it’s not, then one may want to handle it like a concession in Fate: you are guaranteed to survive, but you'll pay a price.

This is a main reason for me replacing the default hero points with something with real narrative power - essentially just renamed Warhammer FRP fate points:

Pay a fate point and you're guaranteed personal survival.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I just tend to emphasize that because the only way retreating was possible for heavily armored characters in the Bad Old Days was to make specific use of a couple of (apparently dungeon-specific) rules that almost no one noticed, so no one assumed. Its an intrinsic problem barring, as you say, something like a chase system since otherwise things appear to come down to mostly who has the better movement--and in a pretty fair number of cases that's not at least one of the PCs. People tend to make decisions accordingly.
Yep. The goal here is to emphasize to the players that those rules will be used, and they will be able to escape if they choose to do that.

That's a pretty interesting way of doing it.
Thanks. Just to be clear, it’s basically just pursuit rules with the guarantee that PCs will succeed if they try to escape (just need to figure out how). It’s not intended as a general concession mechanism, though I don’t think it would be a problem if PCs tried to escape in the middle of a fight (but the price would have to be higher).

The chase subsystem as a general structure isn't too bad, though you definitely need to make up some area options beforehand, or at least have a few ideas. Reminds me of something I'll mention in a minute.
Having to do some prep work is why I wonder if it’s too heavyweight. If we’re talking about adding random encounters, then it needs to be something a GM can easily use to allow PCs to get away from a random encounter.

Gotta ask, what were the rules? I played a bit of AD&D, but I was always with guys who had played it for years so I never actually looked too much at the rules.
I can’t speak to AD&D or OD&D, but OSE’s (B/X) are linked above. I’ll inline them here. Note that turns are defined as ten minutes long. Turns are divided into 60 rounds (each 10 seconds long).

Evasion​

Compare the two sides’ movement rates:
  • Fleeing side faster: The evasion automatically succeeds, unless the fleeing side is forced to stop.
  • Fleeing side not faster: A pursuit occurs.

Pursuit​

Time: Is measured in rounds (see Time, Weight, Movement).
Running: Each side is assumed to be running at full speed (see below).
Line of sight: Most monsters will not continue a pursuit if the characters get out of the monster’s range of vision.
Dropping treasure: If the monsters enjoy treasure, there is a 3-in-6 probability that they will stop pursuit to collect any treasure the characters drop.
Dropping food: Hungry or less intelligent monsters may stop pursuit if characters drop food (3-in-6 chance).
Obstacles: Burning oil or other obstacles may also slow or stop a pursuit.

Running​

Movement rate: During a pursuit, characters run at their full movement rate in feet per round.
Mapping: Is not possible while running.
Exhaustion: Characters become exhausted after running for 30 rounds.
Effects of exhaustion: A –2 penalty to attacks, damage, and Armour Class.
Resting: The penalties for exhaustion last until characters have rested for three full turns.

So recently I was watching Critical Role because when I'm doing GM prep work I just get inspired by having the subject on in the background. So they were on some island and after the dungeon part of the adventure there was a chase sequence where Mercer decided to do a classic 4E Skill Challenge. It was interesting to watch, since I'm not sure it fully succeeded and it really started dragging after a while. But it was interesting to see it live and in action (relatively speaking) and compare it to what I've done in the past. I'd be interesting in seeing PF2's chase system in actual action, or something like the Fate system that was described.
There’s some discussion of VP-based systems on page 2 of the exploration thread here. It’s not restricted to chase, but there’s a chase at the end of this recap post.

Escape rules I've never gotten to work in satisfactory ways. The players feel it's abstract or even cheating if the standard rules no longer apply. Especially if it means they're denied the satisfaction of not letting a single foe get away! (Some players even focus on movement precisely so they're faster than any fleeing monster, and would protest if the regular rules for movement and stealth aren't used. Especially in 5E this all but ensured escape for hapless monsters were impossible. In PF2, not so much, since often players are relieved and thankful if a monster decides to leg it!
The escape rules are only for the PCs. It’s a way to communicate to the players that they can escape if they get into trouble. As discussed above, you’d play it out at the table (most likely using theater of the mind). If an enemy tried to flee, you’d just keep doing things normally. However, if that resulted in running straight into a room full of guards ready to attack, then they’d have the ability to retreat. There will be a cost to it, but it’s less than “well, you failed to stop the guy from fleeing, so we have to tear up everyone’s characters and make new ones”.

Related to this is the notion heroes want to avoid fights. In 5E players certainly relish fights - in D&D this idea has always been corrupted by simply fights being an award, not a punishment (like in more realistic or at least less levelbased games). At least in PF2 monsters are so deadly that the fights you cannot avoid are often enough...
The goal is to give players a way to control the engagement and get out of trouble, especially if we’re allowing for encounters to combine or even be just too difficult to fight head-on. Implicit in this is the expectation that combat be devalued. If the players keep assuming everything is there to fight, then it may be necessary to reduce XP from defeating monsters and to supply it through other means (accomplishments, treasure, relationships, whatever other than combat).
 

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