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Pathfinder 2E Tell me about The Abomination Vaults

Reynard

Legend
Specifically from the perspective of a new to PF2 GM (but long experienced D&D GM).

I bought the first installment and like what I have read. I plan on using the dungeon to introduce players to PF2 once it gets the Fantasy Grounds treatment.

So I'm not really looking to be sold on it (though if it is terrible I could be un-soldon it). Rather I am looking for advice on how to run it for someone who has GMed every iteration of D&D including PF1, but hasn't played or run PF2.

Thanks.
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
Since you've played adventure paths before (as opposed to WotC adventure) you might know this already:

Adventure Paths can come across as inflexible, and in my experience this is amplified by how the rules of Pathfinder 2 operate.

The first thing you might have already heard elsewhere - PF2 combat can be incredibly lethal, especially for 5E players accustomed to being able to just charge ahead, trusting their abilities and defenses to handle most heat unless you take especially headless or ill-advised actions.

That will get you killed in PF2.

The other really big thing to watch out for is that PF2 combats are designed in isolation - that is, there is little accommodation for either of the two following things that GMs in other systems do fairly often and naturally:
1) the heroes enter combat while not at full health. Unless you have especially battle-hardened veteran tacticians as players, try to encourage them to always always always heal back up to full hp before exploring further. The important point from the GM's side: always give the heroes time to recuperate. This might mean ignoring the fact the heroes just rested for 45 minutes. At least until you know why I made this recommendation...
2) combine encounters (running fights, reinforcements, monsters ganging up for safety etc). Put very simply: never do this as a new GM, full stop. (As you become experienced with the system you will a) see what I mean and b) start seeing ways to pull this off "safely" anyway).

That's the two main traps we fell into, at least.

The final piece of advice is to be honest and open with the fact that magic is generally feeble at low level. For instance, I would simply suggest you steer your players away from a class such as the Wizard entirely for an AP that only lasts through the low 10 levels such as the one you have chosen. (Playing a Wizard in this spring's other AP -Fists of the Ruby Phoenix- on the other hand, will likely be awesome!)

Bards and Druids are generally considered reasonable precisely because they can do other things than spend slots to cast spells. And the Cleric is awesome thanks to one single spell: Heal :)

Good luck with your game!
 
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Retreater

Legend
Not specific to Abomination Vaults, but more general about learning any new system is to be flexible as the GM. Let the players retool their characters. Talk to them about the expectations of how play is different in PF2 compared to other games (including 5e). Don't be afraid to have "do-overs," fudge die rolls, have the monsters make poor decisions, etc. - my experience is that no system fidelity, sense of campaign realism, etc., is worth a bad time. Wait to pull out all the stops until the training wheels are off. (Conversely, try running a couple short Society modules to learn the system before diving into an Adventure Path - and those should be available right now on Fantasy Grounds.)

Good luck!

Incidentally, I'm trying to get a game of this started on Roll20 (after adding all the elements of it myself). Would love to get a few ENWorld friends involved.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
Some advice off the top of my head.

Having briefly skimmed the first part of the adventure:
  • The paizo forums usually have great threads on the specific modules. Check them out.
  • Use exploration mode! Let the PCs explore between encounters and not just kick in the next door, fight the next monster, repeat (see the third paragraph on page 6 for the authors 'subtly' reminding you of this).
  • I am going to disagree strongly with Captain Zapp about monsters. Feel free to take James Jacobs’ advice (sidebar on page 8) and use the tactics listed in the module (for example have the miflits retreat as indicated) instead of making them all fight to death in their rooms. Zapp runs games in a very specific way that makes some things much more difficult than they would otherwise be.
  • You will want to keep track of time since some encounters happen only at night. I personally have found a time wheel quite useful in my games but since you're on a VTT, you'll probably need a different option.
General Advice:
  • If you can, record your game then go back over it and see how it played, what worked, what didn't, and check for rules errors and themes (intentional or otherwise).
  • In a dungeoncrawl pacing is very important. Try to frequently mix things up between combat, roleplay, puzzles, and exploration. Try not to have the game degenerate into open door, clear room, rest, repeat. The module (from what I read) seems very good at helping with this.
  • Also pay attention to the mood and themes of the area/module/ap and try to match your narration to the mood and your plot to the themes.
  • Narrative difficulty control is your friend. Use it to adjust the modules difficulty without having to change any numbers.
  • Verisimilitude is important in any sort of dungeon setting. The monsters shouldn't just sit in their rooms having no impact on any other section of the dungeon (with some exceptions).
  • An easy way to achieve narrative difficulty control and verisimilitude in a dungeon setting is through foreshadowing (immediate, proximal, and distant). Note that this particular module seems to already include a lot of it, but if your players are having difficulty (or you foresee them having difficulty with a particular encounter) you can always add more.
PF2e Advice:
  • PF2e seems very similar on the surface to 5e/PF1 but it is a very different animal in play. Beware veteran players of other systems "optimizing to suboptimal results" and coming in with skewed expectations. The common examples everyone cites are spellcasters and making a third strike at -10 MAP instead of taking a more effective action, but there are a bunch of others.
  • PF2e tends to be a diffrent type of power fantasy than 3.0/3.5/4e/5e/PF1 editions (depending on how people play them of course). PF2e defaults more to 'I'm awesome because I won against overwhelming odds' than 'I won against overwhelming odds because I'm so awesome'. If your players don't realize this it can easily result in a TPK.
  • There is a good video by Collective Arcana on Feats.
  • Use the free archetype variant. There is a reason people rave about it.
  • Don't deny the PCs advantages gained through exploration. Never ever arbitrarily increase the difficulty of an encounter to compensate for the PCs gaining an advantage through skilled or clever play - if you do, you are effectively teaching them that such play is worthless and only a linear stream of combats through the module is acceptable.
  • The starting stat modifiers of a character (without voluntary flaws) should add up to +9.
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
Some advice off the top of my head.

Having briefly skimmed the first part of the adventure:
  • The paizo forums usually have great threads on the specific modules. Check them out.
  • Use exploration mode! Let the PCs explore between encounters and not just kick in the next door, fight the next monster, repeat (see the third paragraph on page 6 for the authors 'subtly' reminding you of this).
  • I am going to disagree strongly with Captain Zapp about monsters. Feel free to take James Jacobs’ advice (sidebar on page 8) and use the tactics listed in the module (for example have the miflits retreat as indicated) instead of making them all fight to death in their rooms. Zapp runs games in a very specific way that makes some things much more difficult than they would otherwise be.
  • You will want to keep track of time since some encounters happen only at night. I personally have found a time wheel quite useful in my games but since you're on a VTT, you'll probably need a different option.
General Advice:
  • If you can, record your game then go back over it and see how it played, what worked, what didn't, and check for rules errors and themes (intentional or otherwise).
  • In a dungeoncrawl pacing is very important. Try to frequently mix things up between combat, roleplay, puzzles, and exploration. Try not to have the game degenerate into open door, clear room, rest, repeat. The module (from what I read) seems very good at helping with this.
  • Also pay attention to the mood and themes of the area/module/ap and try to match your narration to the mood and your plot to the themes.
  • Narrative difficulty control is your friend. Use it to adjust the modules difficulty without having to change any numbers.
  • Verisimilitude is important in any sort of dungeon setting. The monsters shouldn't just sit in their rooms having no impact on any other section of the dungeon (with some exceptions).
  • An easy way to achieve narrative difficulty control and verisimilitude in a dungeon setting is through foreshadowing (immediate, proximal, and distant). Note that this particular module seems to already include a lot of it, but if your players are having difficulty (or you foresee them having difficulty with a particular encounter) you can always add more.
PF2e Advice:
  • PF2e seems very similar on the surface to 5e/PF1 but it is a very different animal in play. Beware veteran players of other systems "optimizing to suboptimal results" and coming in with skewed expectations. The common examples everyone cites are spellcasters and making a third strike at -10 MAP instead of taking a more effective action, but there are a bunch of others.
  • PF2e tends to be a diffrent type of power fantasy than 3.0/3.5/4e/5e/PF1 editions (depending on how people play them of course). PF2e defaults more to 'I'm awesome because I won against overwhelming odds' than 'I won against overwhelming odds because I'm so awesome'. If your players don't realize this it can easily result in a TPK.
  • There is a good video by Collective Arcana on Feats.
  • Use the free archetype variant. There is a reason people rave about it.
  • Don't deny the PCs advantages gained through exploration. Never ever arbitrarily increase the difficulty of an encounter to compensate for the PCs gaining an advantage through skilled or clever play - if you do, you are effectively teaching them that such play is worthless and only a linear stream of combats through the module is acceptable.
  • The starting stat modifiers of a character (without voluntary flaws) should add up to +9.
This is all awesome stuff. I’d like to add a couple of things that apply generally but not necessarily to this AP (but hopefully since the Abomination Vaults is trying to be a large dungeon complex).

The first thing is that not every encounter needs to be a fight. If it seems like the monsters might just be guarded or cautious towards the PCs, start with that and see what happens next. If the PCs can get a chance to parlay, they can potentially avoid fights or even make friends. In a large dungeon, there are usually factions. If you make friends, it reduces the number of things that are trying to kill you, and your friends can help you out against the other factions.

The second thing is don’t have everything fight to the death. In old-school D&D, morale mechanics help diffuse fights by making it possible for them to end early. You don’t have to add morale to PF2, but if the PCs kill an important combatant or just do particularly good, have monsters pull back or even surrender. If you just roll things into the next fight, that can be bad, so don’t do that. Think of the implications of that, and have the creatures in the dungeon react organically. However, keep in mind also that consequences need not be immediate (e.g., “Think offscreen too”).

Both of these may be what @!DWolf means by narrative difficulty control, but I figured they were worth calling out explicitly.
 


Retreater

Legend
The second thing is don’t have everything fight to the death. In old-school D&D, morale mechanics help diffuse fights by making it possible for them to end early. You don’t have to add morale to PF2, but if the PCs kill an important combatant or just do particularly good, have monsters pull back or even surrender. If you just roll things into the next fight, that can be bad, so don’t do that. Think of the implications of that, and have the creatures in the dungeon react organically. However, keep in mind also that consequences need not be immediate (e.g., “Think offscreen too”).

Both of these may be what @!DWolf means by narrative difficulty control, but I figured they were worth calling out explicitly.
James Jacobs uses the exact phrase "fights to the death" 12 times in the first book. (I did a search of the PDF.) If you consider these specific mentions and others that can be implied, probably close to 1/3 or more of the battles are with creatures that do fight to the death - as called out by the adventure. So if you run the game in this way, you are going against the design principles of Abomination Vaults, and one might assume the paradigm of PF2. After all, it's hard to argue with James Jacobs about Pathfinder design intent.

However, I would argue. The designers are not at your table, and modifications have to be made for your table and the players who are there. I've seen how disastrous a game can be when you try to run a game "by the book."
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
James Jacobs uses the exact phrase "fights to the death" 12 times in the first book. (I did a search of the PDF.) If you consider these specific mentions and others that can be implied, probably close to 1/3 or more of the battles are with creatures that do fight to the death - as called out by the adventure. So if you run the game in this way, you are going against the design principles of Abomination Vaults, and one might assume the paradigm of PF2. After all, it's hard to argue with James Jacobs about Pathfinder design intent.
I was really hoping it was the other way, or they wouldn’t be that explicit, but alas. I’d say ignore James Jacobs and run the dungeon as a living complex. It will make the dungeon more interesting if you favor verisimilitude over just running encounters as combat challenges outside of a wider context.

(But I don’t like how Paizo writes adventures, which I’m sure colors my opinion.)

However, I would argue. The designers are not at your table, and modifications have to be made for your table and the players who are there. I've seen how disastrous a game can be when you try to run a game "by the book."
This exactly. It strikes me as completely fair to warn people off a certain style that results in adverse outcomes. Running rigidly by the book and echewing exploration mode seems to be a combination for misery.
 
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!DWolf

Explorer
It’s not that bad. The module reminds GMs about exploration (subtly) and has a sidebar about living dungeons. It also specifically calls out when monsters will fight to death (or until destroyed for undead and constructs) meaning that is NOT the assumed default (or otherwise it wouldn’t have to tell you that). It also calls out when a creature will retreat or surrender and when they will start an encounter with a warning display or talking (letting PCs flex social skills and feats). There are a lot of instances where the players can simply safely retreat as monsters are specified not to pursue. It also sometimes details further tactics and actions once a monster retreats or is defeated (goes to area X and joins the forces there; allies with the monsters in area Y for revenge; stays away for a couple of days until the PCs leave and then returns; realizes that they can’t defeat the PCs and begs for mercy; attempts to lure the PCs to the lair of its enemy so they kill each other; etc.).
 

Retreater

Legend
It also sometimes details further tactics and actions once a monster retreats or is defeated (goes to area X and joins the forces there; allies with the monsters in area Y for revenge
I know how combined encounters turn out in PF2, so I won't be making use of that specific advice in the module.
The best advice I can give is to take all of the adventure advice with a big grain of salt. Feel free to adapt the adventure to suit your group. Paizo staff can't know how every group functions.
 


kenada

Hero
Supporter
I know how combined encounters turn out in PF2, so I won't be making use of that specific advice in the module.
I’ve been thinking about the purported difficulty of PF2. Monsters in OSE are dangerous, but it and other OSR games don’t really have the same reputation that PF2 does for being lethal. People acknowledge the lethality, but the expectations are different. I wonder how much that is at play here.

Is there an expectation in PF2 that of course you should be able to beat the encounters because why else have them? It seems like Paizo is trying to hint at another style of play, but PF2 lack systemic support for it. If you can do the things that @!DWolf discusses, then the fact that an encounter has become an extreme-threat matters less because the PCs can deescalate and disengage.

This is an area where I feel like PF2 is sending off really mixed messages. On the one hand, exploration mode calls back to an old-school style of play, and adventurers seem to support that. On the other, there is an expectations mismatch, and the system doesn’t quite do enough to support that style of play (e.g., it lacks morale and engagement mechanics).

With all that said and given the warnings you sometimes see to new GMs that they really should use all the rules and procedures in OSE, I’m not sure how inclined people are overall to that style of play in a D&D-like game. Was it always that way, or did play evolve to eschew it, and now use them becomes an intentioned choice?

Anyway, I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying: know your group. If your players are going to expect to fight everything regardless of how reasonable that seems or how much you hint otherwise, then it might be necessary to avoid certain things that would fail given their expectations. Otherwise, I think you can run a dynamic dungeon quite well. It’s going to be dangerous, but that also strikes me as part of the point.

(I don’t know how well-Jacquayed the map is. If it’s linear, as Paizo’s sometimes are, then that’s not going to work. However, since this is supposed to be a large-scale dungeon, I’d hope it wasn’t just a linear slog. Unfortunately, the last “megadungeon” campaign I ran from Paizo was Shattered Star, and its dungeons were mostly linear affairs, so I’m not that hopeful.)
 

Retreater

Legend
(I don’t know how well-Jacquayed the map is. If it’s linear, as Paizo’s sometimes are, then that’s not going to work. However, since this is supposed to be a large-scale dungeon, I’d hope it wasn’t just a linear slog. Unfortunately, the last “megadungeon” campaign I ran from Paizo was Shattered Star, and its dungeons were mostly linear affairs, so I’m not that hopeful.)
It seems pretty well-Jacquayed, at least in the regard that there are numerous entrances to each level, other ways around.

I’ve been thinking about the purported difficulty of PF2. Monsters in OSE are dangerous, but it and other OSR games don’t really have the same reputation that PF2 does for being lethal. People acknowledge the lethality, but the expectations are different. I wonder how much that is at play here.
Yeah. I've been playing in an OSE conversion of "Caverns of Thracia" and GMing an original adventure in Swords & Wizardry (another OSR game influenced by OD&D). "Caverns of Thracia" has had a handful of PC deaths, and my S&W game has had zero deaths in over a dozen sessions. Compared to my experience with Age of Ashes, these two adventures have been cakewalks.

I'd like to say that it's clever tactical play that has allowed us to be successful in these OSR adventures, but here's my interpretation. Characters are deceptively weak in PF2, and OSR characters are more badass than PF2 characters.

1) Well-armored characters in OSR games don't get hit often. A character with an AC 18-19 character (using ascending AC), and a monster has like a +1-3 bonus at low levels, you're not getting hit that often. And when you do, it's on average 3-4 points of damage. The most stoutly defensive characters in PF2 have a better than 15% chance of being hit with every attack (likely multiple attacks a round, likely with criticals).

2) Sleep and other spells in OSR games mean something. In PF2 casters can maybe negate a threat for a round. In OSR games, low level spells can legit end an encounter.

It's mostly number inflation and lengthy description of feats and special abilities that give the appearance of greater power level. In truth, compared within their own systems, I would say the OSR characters are better.
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
Yeah. I've been playing in an OSE conversion of "Caverns of Thracia" and GMing an original adventure in Swords & Wizardry (another OSR game influenced by OD&D). "Caverns of Thracia" has had a handful of PC deaths, and my S&W game has had zero deaths in over a dozen sessions. Compared to my experience with Age of Ashes, these two adventures have been cakewalks.

I'd like to say that it's clever tactical play that has allowed us to be successful in these OSR adventures, but here's my interpretation. Characters are deceptively weak in PF2, and OSR characters are more badass than PF2 characters.

1) Well-armored characters in OSR games don't get hit often. A character with an AC 18-19 character (using ascending AC), and a monster has like a +1-3 bonus at low levels, you're not getting hit that often. And when you do, it's on average 3-4 points of damage. The most stoutly defensive characters in PF2 have a better than 15% chance of being hit with every attack (likely multiple attacks a round, likely with criticals).

2) Sleep and other spells in OSR games mean something. In PF2 casters can maybe negate a threat for a round. In OSR games, low level spells can legit end an encounter.

It's mostly number inflation and lengthy description of feats and special abilities that give the appearance of greater power level. In truth, compared within their own systems, I would say the OSR characters are better.
Professor Dungeon Master did a video recently that came to a similar conclusion for 5e. Newer games are “better balanced”, but characters end up being more vulnerable. The thing that keeps them from dying outright is the death mechanics. It’s one of the reasons why I won’t institute such a rule in my OSE game. I don’t want the safety net because the lack of one is makes players cautious, which results in prudent play.

PF2 goes one step further than 5e in baking swinginess into the overall design of combat. Critical hits hurt, and they’re necessary to make higher level creatures dangerous enough to keep them in line with the system’s encounter-building guidelines. Unfortunately, you lose the predictability you see in OSE that lets players decide whether to keep pushing or pull back and retreat.

I’ve been wondering what things would look like in PF2 if you stripped hit points way down and tried to reduce the swinginess while preserving the overall balance. My intuition tells me is it would feel better to (some) players because they couldn’t or would be less likely to drop from high hit points to down in one hit.

The other stuff about sleep is more complicated because strategic spells (like sleep) are balanced at the tactical level in PF2. I don’t think that one is solvable without conceding that quadratic wizards are actually desirable to some extent, which is supposedly the thing we should want fixed. Maybe further expand exploration mode with tactical actions and magic to help people deal with encounters? 🤔
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Is there an expectation in PF2 that of course you should be able to beat the encounters because why else have them? It seems like Paizo is trying to hint at another style of play, but PF2 lack systemic support for it. If you can do the things that @!DWolf discusses, then the fact that an encounter has become an extreme-threat matters less because the PCs can deescalate and disengage.

This is an area where I feel like PF2 is sending off really mixed messages. ul.)
Very much this.

Some of the most frustrating aspects of the ruleset is how clearly you see different rules going in different directions - not all pointing in the same direction.

And yes, I see the occasional message from Paizo people that suggests they intended PF2 to be a much more free and flexible ruleset than what PF1 turned out as. Which clashes violently with how i see PF2 as the single most restricted and regulated ruleset I've ever seen, even more locked down than 4E.

Finally, while the rules themselves doesn't proscribe a certain play style, they do lend themselves to one pkay style in particular. When all the Adventure Paths we've seen so far very strongly doubles down on this lethal rigid railroad campaign style it doesn't really help if Paizo people claim you can do it in other ways. Show us, don't tell us, Paizo!

One area where I feel Paizo fell particularly short is the selection of variant rules:

Variant rules would have been an excellent opportunity to support other approaches, yet the GMG offers no options to switch up the game: no rules for simpler play, no rules for sandbox play, no rules for resource management, no variant Incapacitation rule, ...

Some of the GMG options are well received, but they aren't really offering any support for playing the game in those other ways Paizo claims they wanted their game to support.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
The most stoutly defensive characters in PF2 have a better than 15% chance of being hit with every attack (likely multiple attacks a round, likely with criticals).
Yes. To really drive home this point monsters can easily have a 15% chance of NOT hitting you.

When you're up against a BBEG it can even have a 50% chance of critting you, meaning that it hits you on rolling a 2.

Characters can easily go from 100% health to 0 hp in a single round. (Especially during single-digit levels. At high level the monster-hero balance markedly shifts in the heroes favor)



The way a monster of your own level has a massively higher attack bonus than yourself is one of the aspects my players like the least.

It also means Paizo has massively overvalued defensive properties. We quickly realized that the defensive game only favors the monsters (giving them more rounds to inflict damage) plus of course that longer drawn-out fights focused on avoidance and denial are simply less fun and slows the story.

So we quickly concluded going all out (and having a single Cleric) is faster, more efficient, more fun and just better.

You can't really tank in D&D and you definitely can't do it in PF2. Random chance plays a HUGE role. Yes, the fighter is more likely than the Wizard to have luck good enough to last as a tank for long enough.

But this misses the point: in order to give up offensive you need CERTAINTY. Your OSR numbers tell me you have that certainty.

PF2 don't.

If you're hit on a 15, adding +2 AC is worthwhile since it represents lowering the monster's chance of hitting from 30% to 20%, reducing incoming damage by a THIRD.

But when you're hit on a 5, adding +2 only means the monster goes from 80% to 70%. The damage reduction is much less significant, even taking critical into account. If you're going to run out of hit points anyway even if you are supposedly very defensive, it just ain't worth your while.

Much better then to instead kill the monsters. After all a dead monster is the only monster guaranteed to stop causing you damage.

And with significant battle healing available from the Heal spell and the Medicine skill, well, loads and loads of other abilities just fall by the wayside.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
2) Sleep and other spells in OSR games mean something. In PF2 casters can maybe negate a threat for a round. In OSR games, low level spells can legit end an encounter.
PF2 is written by someone coming fresh from the harrowing experience of playing a high-level Fighter in PF1 in a party full of spellcasters.

"Never again shall a spell be able to win an encounter by itself!" is the motto of PF2 magic.

In my experience PF2 and 5E faced the same problem: 3rd edition casters were horribly overpowered.

I find that the 5E solution is massively better. While casters were brought much more in line with Fighters, they still get to do pretty awesome stuff, and WotC managed to balance them at every level (at least somewhat).

PF2 went for a much less elegant and less successful approach (even though Paizo had 5E to study and learn from!):
  • Spells are horribly weak at low levels, particularly in the area of killing monsters. Playing a damage dealing caster at levels 1-6 is a joke, compared to the damage a martial can cause
  • They're strong at levels 10-15 and arguably approaching overpowered at the highest levels
  • Since weapon attacks are often just better than spells, and monster attacks are better than player attack, it leads to the very unfortunate situation where a monster is generally best served by completely ignoring any spell list it might have, and simply use it's far deadlier special attacks.

Even wizardly monsters are most often better off skipping their magic to instead use their swords or claws, especially when of lower level than the heroes.

(I have slowly come to the realization there actually exists people that believe a low level monster is reasonably expected to use it's spells even in the face of Incapacitation. Find that notion utterly preposterous since instead of wasting two actions hoping you roll a 1 or 2 on your save, they can just... eat your face.

Meaning I kind of see how Incapacitation was intended to shield player characters... but hoo boy what a flawed concept that is!)

I cannot emphasize enough how wonky this feels, especially over a while campaign (we're level 19 now). As a GM I've basically given up on checking out the particulars of the spells detailed, unless the monster is significantly higher level than the heroes AND have been given the actually good spells.

In all other cases, if the monster has a breath attack or other area effect it is very likely much better than it's spells. And in any event the monster is likely sporting physical attacks with higher attack and damage values than even the strongest Fighter.

All of this because Pathfinder 2 is severely overcompensating for how 3E/PF1 casters ruled the world as gods.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
PF2 goes one step further than 5e in baking swinginess into the overall design of combat. Critical hits hurt, and they’re necessary to make higher level creatures dangerous enough to keep them in line with the system’s encounter-building guidelines. Unfortunately, you lose the predictability you see in OSE that lets players decide whether to keep pushing or pull back and retreat.

I’ve been wondering what things would look like in PF2 if you stripped hit points way down and tried to reduce the swinginess while preserving the overall balance. My intuition tells me is it would feel better to (some) players because they couldn’t or would be less likely to drop from high hit points to down in one hit.
Pathfinder 2 goes significantly further than 5E in this regard.

(But yes, as I remember 5E really the only character that felt reasonable able to actually tank was the Barbarian. Meaning twice the hp of the character with the most hp is the needed level of hp to make you able to tank with any degree of predictableness)

Since PF2 aims (and even succeeds!) in making every combat exciting - there's little of the "bag of hp" feeling people accuse 5E of - there really is no time for that OSE predictability.

Of course what no game since arguably 3E has remembered is that losing 9 out of 72 hp can still feel exciting if you know there are no good ways to get it back (without expending your only potion, or asking the Cleric to weaken her ability to provide emergency healing, or to admit temporary defeat and walk back to the inn, ...)

It all goes back to one thing: today's players have no patience. Free healing is popular since it allows you to be awesome always. The price you pay is losing control, at least if you still want the game to be exciting or challenging.

(Yes, this is a "get off my lawn" argument, but that doesn't mean it isn't true)
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
It’s probably worth moving the discussion into it’s own topic since this was originally about Abomination Vaults. At the same time, I’m not sure how much legs the discussion has. I’m going to consolidate some and try to keep responses brief.

And yes, I see the occasional message from Paizo people that suggests they intended PF2 to be a much more free and flexible ruleset than what PF1 turned out as. Which clashes violently with how i see PF2 as the single most restricted and regulated ruleset I've ever seen, even more locked down than 4E.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had here a few months back regarding OSE. Someone was trying warn about some of the problems OSE had that later games solved, and I’m like: no, that’s a feature. In PF2’s case, I don’t agree PF2 is as constraining regarding rulings and such that you perceive it as; but I’ll concede a lot of that comes down to perception and how one uses the system.

Finally, while the rules themselves doesn't proscribe a certain play style, they do lend themselves to one pkay style in particular. When all the Adventure Paths we've seen so far very strongly doubles down on this lethal rigid railroad campaign style it doesn't really help if Paizo people claim you can do it in other ways. Show us, don't tell us, Paizo!
Paizo designed PF2 to support the adventures they wanted to write. I haven’t seen anything that strikes me as markedly different from PF1, so I expect they’d have written more or less the same ones even if PF2 were just a *book for 5e.

Pathfinder 2 goes significantly further than 5E in this regard.

(But yes, as I remember 5E really the only character that felt reasonable able to actually tank was the Barbarian. Meaning twice the hp of the character with the most hp is the needed level of hp to make you able to tank with any degree of predictableness)

Since PF2 aims (and even succeeds!) in making every combat exciting - there's little of the "bag of hp" feeling people accuse 5E of - there really is no time for that OSE predictability.

Of course what no game since arguably 3E has remembered is that losing 9 out of 72 hp can still feel exciting if you know there are no good ways to get it back (without expending your only potion, or asking the Cleric to weaken her ability to provide emergency healing, or to admit temporary defeat and walk back to the inn, ...)

It all goes back to one thing: today's players have no patience. Free healing is popular since it allows you to be awesome always. The price you pay is losing control, at least if you still want the game to be exciting or challenging.

(Yes, this is a "get off my lawn" argument, but that doesn't mean it isn't true)
The thing that drives predictability in old-school D&D is the absence of critical hits, which didn’t become a core feature of the game until 3e. Since you died at 0 hit points, you needed to be careful, but you could assess how safe it was to remain in combat. Critical hits mess that up, and easier dying rules remove the incentive to retreat.

Where I’m going with this for PF2 is that PF2 embraces the big hits. Combat feels dangerous again, but instead of being the result of systems that work together to discourage careless play, it’s just part of the flavor. That would be fine, but now players have fewer signals to tell them when they should retreat.

Not having that indicator would be fine if the game just assumed you were always supposed to win fights, but it causes problems when encounters snowball or when you throw an impossible encounter at the PCs (as the GMG suggests for e.g., hexploration). Because you can be dropped at any time, the only indicator you have is just how easily the enemy hits you (or crits you!).

Well, there is one more indicator: foreshadowing. If you know an impossible encounter is coming, or encounters have snowballed, then you need to signal that to the PCs, so they can take measures or try to avoid it. This gets back to what @!DWolf was discussing earlier regarding narrative difficulty control. I’d prefer in-combat signals too (beyond obliterating the fighter and letting everyone flee in a panic), but that’s not how things work.
 

Retreater

Legend
Well, there is one more indicator: foreshadowing.
My issue as a first time PF2 GM was that I had difficulty predicting some of the challenging encounters. Part of this was due to just how swingy crits can be. It seemed that sometimes a crit could deal 10 damage and sometimes 45, depending on the dice results. And they happened often, like 5+ times per battle.
This is why I suggest to the OP what others suggested to me. Start with a few shorter adventures before diving headfirst into an Adventure Path, be willing to modify the adventure, and allow "redos" (especially as your players are learning the system).
PF2 isn't like when we went from 3.5 to PF1 - the gameplay has changed significantly. Don't expect players (or yourself as the GM) to be instantly ready to run the greatest campaign ever. It's a learning time.
 

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