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Pathfinder 2E Tell me about PF2E for Sandboxing

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It wasn’t an accident. Paizo wants high-level adventurers to be super heroes compared to their lower-level foes. If a 10th level swordsman is waylaid by a group of 1st level bandits, they should stand absolutely no chance. It’s the aesthetic they want for their adventures. You’re not supposed to be fighting those weaker creatures. You’re supposed to be taking on even bigger threats as you advance in level (with destroying the occasional mob of lower-level enemies being a reminder of how strong you are now).

Proficiency without Level flattens that curve. Lower-level enemies stay threats for longer. That was the “problem” in the link shared above. In core, a wizard could obliterate a group of lower-level creatures with a fireball, but Proficiency without Level helped make them a little more likely to survive.

The reality is that PF2 isn’t designed for sandbox play out of the box. If you look at what Paizo writes about in the CRB and the GMG, there’s an assumption that you’re doing story-based campaigns. Even when you’re hexploring, there’s still an underlying story. You’ve got your encounters, and what the GMG calls a “sandbox” is just letting the PCs decide how they go about doing them. If you want to do a traditional sandbox (where PCs have agency, and you have the world react to their exercising it), then you’ll need to make some adjustments and be mindful of what the system assumes.

Here are some things that come to mind:
  • Proficiency without Level helps tamp down the power curve.
  • Consider having multiple characters per player or multiple parties. That allows lower-level characters to continue delving into those Swamps of Doom while higher-level ones push into new frontiers.
  • Have new problems crop up when the PCs aren’t around for a while. If there’s no one there to rein in the goblins, maybe they eventually band together and procure combat ogres, so now you need those higher-level PCs back to deal with the problem.
  • Allow areas to be depleted or cleared. @!DWolf discusses this a bit in the exploration thread linked above with his island-based exploration game.
  • Adjust the XP curve. I increased the XP it took to gain levels at higher levels, so PCs naturally slowed down advancement.
  • Impose a level cap. You could do this across your setting (like I did). You could also impose a cap that PCs can break through by accomplishing or finding something in a given region.
Admittedly, the last idea (level cap unlocks) is a bit game-y and has metaphysical implications for a setting. It could also start feeling rote if the PCs have to do it several times over the course of a campaign (like climbing towers to survey an area in an open world video game), so maybe only do it once or twice (if at all).
Thanks. That's the kind of information I was hoping to get.


Enough to turn a battle heavily especially with lower level low-hit point opponents. And it wasn't like outdoor encounters tended to happen at dungeon encounter pace mostly.
Well, in my experience there are a couple problems:

First, wizards and clerics had to be careful because there are usually 6 or 8 encounter checks per day -- regardless of whether you are moving or camping. So you could just blast through your spells because the night watches invited doom.

Second, you were hexcrawling to find things -- preferably tombs and monster lairs and stuff. You wanted to keep something in the tank for when you came across the ogers playing football with the skull sized diamond.

People often complain about the asymmetrical power relationship between martials and casters. I feel like most of the time, those people ignored all the rules that balanced the two. Among them were things like random encounter checks.

The problem with that was the other end of it; it was just as likely some of those encounters were trivial, and the spellcasters could sit back and eat popcorn during it. Squad of goblins? Let the fighters and rogues deal with it. Or use Sleep (a notorious way in most of the early editions to trivialize a lot of low level encounters).

Also the "6 or 8 encounter checks per day" must have been specific so some editions, because it certainly wasn't the case in OD&D; as I recall those had two, so barring anything from moving into a new hex--and you weren't necessarily moving through many of those in a given terrain--you might have three, and not all three were going to occur.

But honestly, it was going to be a problem either way; even if the PCs didn't overpower the lower end, there was plenty at the upper end that was going to be waaaay too much for, say, a fourth level party in many cases. Most dragons or giants come to mind.


Generally speaking, I think the cracks really show -- in any edition or variant -- when it is trivial to rest to regain limited use abilities (which in most editions is "magical stuff" whether spells or ki or whatever). If resting is trivial then characters always nova and anything that resembled balance is tossed out the window.

But, this has probably moved too far afield of the subject.

I think its still relevant; in PF2e for example, while you have focus spells, a lot of things are still recovery-per-day, so when dealing with an outdoor sandbox you still have some restraint on that (at least as much as D&D has ever had when it comes to spells).


I own PF2E and reading it, there's a lot there I think is interesting and I want to give running it a go. Generally speaking though, I don't care for Adventure Path style campaigns. I am okay with adventures that can be inserted into an ongoing game, specifically an "open world" sandbox campaign.

Since in my head Pathfinder is synonymous with Adventure Path, I am worried that PF2E is not going to work for an open world game.

Is that true? If not, tell me about sandboxing in Pathfinder.

If you mean a classic "old school" valley with goblins there, an umber hulk there, and always a small chance of the soaring dragon spotting you, then yeah, no. Then you need at the very least to use the proficiency without level optional variant. Out of the box, the game doesn't do uncalibrated encounters without careful thought to balance.

But there's more to it than Paizo wants to let on. You might want to read up on the situation with resource-management and time spent between encounters. In short, there is little to no resource-management expected by the default rules, and Paizo isn't telling you how to reinstate it in your game.

I've meaning to do a series of posts where I argue several important variant rules are missing from the CRB and the GMG. Until such time, I can unfortunately only suggest you read some of the more critical voices in this very subforum to find out what isn't nearly as easy to accomplish as Paizo wants to let on.


Generally speaking, I think the cracks really show -- in any edition or variant -- when it is trivial to rest to regain limited use abilities (which in most editions is "magical stuff" whether spells or ki or whatever). If resting is trivial then characters always nova and anything that resembled balance is tossed out the window.

But, this has probably moved too far afield of the subject.
Except possibly for high-level spellcasters, you really can't "nova" in PF2.

What you can and will do, however, is go all out in every single encounter, since there really isn't any concept of an easy encounter. Now, I'm obviously talking of APs, but the entire game is built on the idea that everybody loves truly hard encounters and don't really want to waste time on easy ones where you basically coast through combat.

So the philosophical question becomes:

Do you still nova if you do it every fight?

Doctor Futurity

I run hexloration campaigns in PF2E per GMG rules pretty consistently, but what I do with the encounter tables is create slightly more elaborate ones that are based on party level. So a chart for CL 0-2, CL 3-4, CL 5-6, CL 7-8, CL 9-10 etc. Then, when I check which chart to roll on for the encounter I roll a positive D4, a negative D4, add the first and subtract the second to the currently average party level, and then use the indicated chart. If the encounter is for some reason meant to be easier or more difficult just substitute a smaller or larger die as appropriate. Example: an easier random result would be challenge level -1D6+1D4 added to APL (average result would be APL-1). Tougher encounter? -1D4+1D6 generates APL+1 on average. Then, just work out a range of encounters but modify the # of foes by the actual expected toughness.

That said....the GMG advises an occasional deadly or impossible encounter in the mix for hexploration, but my suggestion is to broadcast in some means how lethal the encounter is (whether it's the PCs seeing a higher level beast cleave a cow or deer in two in one hit, a bloodied paladin telling them to flee, or even just a easy DC intuition roll on Wisdom telling them this is a certain death situation.) My players have a habit of sticking around and fighting until they suddenly realize they bit off more than they can chew, then griping about it; conversely, the GM in PF2E needs to be nice and include at least as many easy encounters for the group to tread on.....such design flies in the face of conventional hexploration, but if you design the charts you have control over this stuff so I advise just baking it in, a nice fair range of difficulty from trivial to deadly.
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