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Pathfinder 2E Tell me about The Abomination Vaults

CapnZapp

Legend
The thing that drives predictability in old-school D&D is the absence of critical hits
Well, with respect, there's one even more important aspect:

The baseline of hit probability.

If one game is designed so that an "average" foe for a hero of a certain level needs to roll 15+ on the d20 to score a hit, I'd call that a relatively predictable game. (Sure you can roll five 20's in a row, but outliers have no place in a discussion about predictability - unless of course they're not outliers at all) More powerful monsters might then need only 10+ to hit you, while weak monsters must roll a 20 to do so.

If another game is designed so the same foe only needs to roll 5+ on the d20, that makes the game much less predictable.

I guess you could say that the game is just as predictable, only predicting "the hero will fall", but now I'm discussing specifically from the player's viewpoint. The relevant question is "can I trust my defenses to hold for X rounds unless I have significantly worse than average luck?" If yes, we call that game predictable. If no, we don't.

What this boils down to is the following:

How large percentage of my maximum hit points can I expect to lose in a single round, against "reasonable" opposition?

Or, even more to the point: how many rounds can I expect to remain standing?

If this number is 3 or more, that game is relatively predictable. More is of course better, but at 3 you reach the significant milestones where you
1) have time to see where things are going
and
2) have time to do something about it without it being too late

If you can only expect to withstand one or two rounds of enemy fire, then you and your friends generally don't have time to react. (Obviously every number is very approximate, but just to get the point across).

---

Sure criticals also reduce predictability, but at least in games where they only occur once every twenty rolls, and/or when damage is only doubled or less, their impact is in the end analysis limited.

---

Pathfinder 2 is considerably less predictable than any other D&D game, in that a hero's hit points might yo-yo between "lots" and "none" more than once in a single fight. Foes are very likely to score at least one hit each round, and criticals come often and early.

You basically have no predictability at all. Being a defensive Fighter does not mean you can be reasonably certain not to go down in the first round of combat. It all depends on how many enemies that target you, if they score one or three hits each, and whether you suffered more than one critical that round.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
(I guess I changed subjects there so posting this in its own post): this does not translate to PF2 heroes dying all that more often. First off, you're not dead at 0 hp. Second, modern types of damage mitigation then becomes of outmost importance.

While in "classic" D&D fantasy Conan's hit points and AC can be trusted to keep him safe in all but the most dangerous situations or during the most brave/stupid assaults, in PF2 you must think much more tactically (read more modern). His HP and AC aren't exactly useless, but won't save you.

You need to use movement to deny monsters optimal attack patterns. Movement and placement to prevent monsters from ganging up on vulnerable party members. Using spells and effects that harass and weaken the enemy. The action economy is of paramount importance.

Time and time again I see my players fail at this. They don't see how even the (unharmed) Wizard could be used to block access to the (savaged) Fighter. Even for a single round, such tactics have a huge impact, if it gives the Cleric the breathing space she needs to restore the Fighter into formidable shape while still keeping the Rogue (or whatever) afloat too.

Just to take a related series of examples: In the latest fight the Wizard didn't realize he was positioned to the northwest of the battle. While this was away from the demons that assaulted from the south and easy, they could see a Marilith approach from the northwest. By not moving away from the position as "nearest foe" that Wizard doomed himself to spending the entire combat frantically chased around the battlefield, since of course I played the Marilith to keep hounding one foe until it drops (and the Wizard constantly having to spend one action on movement, for which he additionally took an attack of opportunity each round). The fighter is constantly trying to spend his actions on attacks, not realizing the overall battle would go much smoother if he inserted himself between the desperate Fighter and "his" Marilith.

That's examples of positioning, and specifically relative positioning. Even on a featureless green field does such factors play a huge role.

Then there's initiative. I can't say I like it, but for optimal play you need to quickly ignore what the die rolls say, and reorganize the initiative order in optimal fashion: casters acting right after the big bad when they want to slap a short-term debuff onto him, so all their allies get to enjoy it before the big bad acts. This, the relative order of iniative counts, is arguably more important than ever, compared to the traditional aim of initiative rolls - to score highly, to act first. (Acting first is obviously mega important if only to reposition yourself to minimize the risks of getting ganged up on, and/or make sure enemies waste actions on movement)

And so on.

5E is a much better game for players who like their characters to take care of themselves. Just move up to a big bad wait until the combat system spits out "you have defeated this foe", and then walk up to the next one.
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
Hit probability is a thing, but if I’m a player looking to decide whether to stay or keep fighting, the most obvious thing to consider is the worst case scenario. Without crits, that’s easy. If I have 20 hp left, and I see the creature does 2d6, then I know I can definitely take one more hit. It may happen this round, or it may happen in a few rounds, but I know I am guaranteed to survive at least one more. That helps me know I can continue in the fight.

When you add crits, especially frequent ones with such a wide range of damage, that consideration disappears. I may know the creature does 2d6, but it could end up doing 24 damage in the worst case scenario. I now have to decide whether I want to push my luck. Additionally, if the worst case scenario is such that I can lose most or even all of my hit points in one hit, then my only options are not to fight at all (obviously not the intent) or roll with it.

That’s not a criticism of PF2. That’s just how it goes about creating dangerous feeling combat situations without having combat be actually dangerous. In that first scenario, I’m worried about how long I can stay because I die at 0 hit points. If I make a mistake, I’m gone. In the second one, I’m weighing the risk of going down and potentially hurting my party tactically. If we take the risk, we can win, but it could also swing the battle against us.

The effect of PF2’s design is that you want to do what you can to control and mitigate that swinginess. You’re right about how tactics factor into that. Using debuffs and movement is a big part of controlling that. If you can force an enemy to burn action economy getting to you, those are hits you’ve mitigated at the cost of your own action. If it’s the difference between a hit and not, then going for a stroll in combat is quite good effective healing at no cost.

If I were to levy any complaint about this particular design decision, I would say that it’s not for every group. If your group is like mine (not very tactically inclined), then they’re going to struggle with taking the steps they need to take to survive and win. For whatever reason, they have a much easier internalizing the old-school approach and playing accordingly than they did the tactical approach favored by PF2.

Trying to bring this back around to the topic at hand, but I think @Retreater’s suggestion to run something small for your group first is a good one. Groups will respond differently to PF2’s tactical play, and knowing how your players will helps you tailor and tweak things to be fun for them. This is especially true if you are bringing in assumptions from previous editions because PF2 upends a few of them (particularly with regards to encounter guidelines that actually work for the most part).
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Hit probability is a thing, but if I’m a player looking to decide whether to stay or keep fighting, the most obvious thing to consider is the worst case scenario. Without crits, that’s easy. If I have 20 hp left, and I see the creature does 2d6, then I know I can definitely take one more hit. It may happen this round, or it may happen in a few rounds, but I know I am guaranteed to survive at least one more. That helps me know I can continue in the fight.

When you add crits, especially frequent ones with such a wide range of damage, that consideration disappears. I may know the creature does 2d6, but it could end up doing 24 damage in the worst case scenario. I now have to decide whether I want to push my luck. Additionally, if the worst case scenario is such that I can lose most or even all of my hit points in one hit, then my only options are not to fight at all (obviously not the intent) or roll with it.
Yes, in that case critical play an outsized role in your ability to predict combat.

But "2d6" to me suggests a old-D&D thinking where monsters individually deal relatively little damage per tirn compared to your overall hp total.

PF2 isn't like that, which is why I said what I said. When you drop from half a dozen regular hits even with no criticals, the factor I talked about (is rolling 10 normally a hit or normally a miss?) gains prominence.

In PF2 three monsters can score NINE hits on you even at level 1. That's a potential for catastrophic damage unseen in other D&D games.

Also, PF2 crits are more semi-regular and less exceptional, which also helps shift the calculations.

In PF2 you simply can't tank. There is no way to become semi-impervious, except possibly at the highest levels (where Stoneskin 20 can make level 15-17 monster attacks appear really really feeble).

You can mitigate, but this is more like shifting the risk of dropping from, say, 30% to 15%. No matter how careful your precautions are, a BBEG can still bulldoze through them all.
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
Yes, in that case critical play an outsized role in your ability to predict combat.

But "2d6" to me suggests a old-D&D thinking where monsters individually deal relatively little damage per tirn compared to your overall hp total.

PF2 isn't like that, which is why I said what I said. When you drop from half a dozen regular hits even with no criticals, the factor I talked about (is rolling 10 normally a hit or normally a miss?) gains prominence.

In PF2 three monsters can score NINE hits on you even at level 1. That's a potential for catastrophic damage unseen in other D&D games.

Also, PF2 crits are more semi-regular and less exceptional, which also helps shift the calculations.

In PF2 you simply can't tank. There is no way to become semi-impervious, except possibly at the highest levels (where Stoneskin 20 can make level 15-17 monster attacks appear really really feeble).
You should know that I’m aware how PF2 works. 😛

I picked those values because they kept the example simple. It doesn’t matter whether there are modifiers or additional hits (from extra attacks or creatures). In a real situation, a PC would be considering the totality of the battlefield. If the sum total of incoming damage is less than one’s current hit points, then you can stay. If it’s not, then you have to decide whether to push your luck or take other measures to stay alive.

I’m also not talking about tanking. Tanking in D&D has always been a bad idea. The game is just not designed for it. If you try to tank, you will burn through your healing very quickly. This is true even in 4e with defenders. If a defender takes all the hits, they’ll run out of healing surges, and the adventuring day will end prematurely. You want to spread the damage around. What I’m talking about is the above calculus: is this a dangerous situation (yet), and what should I do in response?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
You should know that I’m aware how PF2 works. 😛
I apologize if I gave the impression you don't. I know you do.

I picked those values because they kept the example simple. It doesn’t matter whether there are modifiers or additional hits (from extra attacks or creatures). In a real situation, a PC would be considering the totality of the battlefield. If the sum total of incoming damage is less than one’s current hit points, then you can stay. If it’s not, then you have to decide whether to push your luck or take other measures to stay alive.
In Pathfinder 2, you can't make that assessment. You can go from max hp to 0 hp in a single round at any time. Sure it's not the average result, but it's not that you need extreme bad luck for it to happen.

In fact, it depends more on combatant decisions than luck. By this I mean that yes, sure, any foe scoring three criticals on three attacks will mess up your day, even if you're the most defensive Champion or the sturdiest Barbarian. But more importantly, if most or even half of the foes happen to target you, you will likely go down.

So unlike regular hp-and-level-based fantasy, in Pathfinder 2 you need to think much more "modern", more tactically. Just charging into the midst of combat, and the next round executing an awesome whirlwind attack that cuts down all the enemies in one fell swoop just isn't supported by PF2.

By I digress. My point was that this phenomenon is not caused mainly by criticals per se. Just the fact monsters hit more than they miss, and that they deal significant damage contributes more to this effect imho.

I’m also not talking about tanking. Tanking in D&D has always been a bad idea. The game is just not designed for it.
I agree. It's unfortunate, but I agree.

I've always felt there is an opportunity for a D&D-style game to support the Tank-DPS-Healer trinity popularized by World of Warcraft (only not as extreme of course). But a D&D game that finally drops the idea that fighters must automatically be best at BOTH attacking and defending.

You'd add design space, put simply. If a character needs to choose between tanking and damage-dealing and can't do both at the same time, the game can actually allow the tank to truly tank. In the current paradigm that'd be overpowered. But if the tank just isn't great at dealing damage, and thus needs damage-dealers (and healers), you'd strengthen the party bonds and let more people shine in cooperating to overcome the enemy.

(None of this means fighters can't be good damage dealers. As long as you can't do both at the same time, mission accomplished. In technical terms, allowing even fighters to respecc into damage dealers is fine. After all, being forced into a single role at character creation and then never being able to try out other roles during 20 levels is unnecessary and unfun)

The now-old Warcraft d20 stand-alone games were abject failures in this regard, since they didn't meaningfully change D&D to play more like WoW.

If you try to tank, you will burn through your healing very quickly. This is true even in 4e with defenders. If a defender takes all the hits, they’ll run out of healing surges, and the adventuring day will end prematurely. You want to spread the damage around.
Yes, I always found 4E healing surge rules extremely artificial and wonky. You really can't play a ranger or wizard the traditional way - staying out of trouble - since your healing surges are a significant party resource that needs to be put to use.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about 4E, but being compelled as an archer to move up to a monster just to let it bite chunks out of me only because I had chunks left to spare was near the top of the list... I mean, to a degree you're already advantaged by spreading incoming monster attacks over as many party members as possible (to avoid any single party member being overwhelmed) in every role-playing game. You definitely don't need a rule that significantly strengthens that compulsion. Luckily newer games drops that dreadful idea, so that the party can allocated all available healing to those that need it.[/QUOTE]

What I’m talking about is the above calculus: is this a dangerous situation (yet), and what should I do in response?
That sure is a worthy concept. But in Pathfinder 2, even an encounter rated "Low" is "dangerous" (per this definition) already before it started (at least at low level).

The game really does not support the idea that you should be given a decision point when you are supposed to evaluate "flight or flee". In official Adventure Paths, 99% of monsters are neatly packaged in encounter chunks so you know you're supposed to be able to defeat them.

Meaning that "yes, this encounter can drop me at any time, but I don't have to consider retreating because a combination of game mechanics will ensure that I will very likely prevail".

In fact, Pathfinder 2's selling point (if you ask me) is its ability to make nearly every fight into a tense nail-biter where you first reach the "we're doomed" stage, followed by the "heroic comeback" stage, followed by the "rout" or "mopup" stage.

As you can imagine, if the game is designed to maximize the thrill, it really doesn't support the notion that you should be able to predict the coming combat rounds and make rational decisions about staying or retreating.

Not only do very few iterations of D&D actually support retreat in any meaningful degree (it's nearly always up to GM fiat), Pathfinder 2 is all about every combat being challenging and exciting, yet ultimately surmountable. You basically need to trust the system to give you the tools you need to overcome even seemingly overwhelming odds - and the system actually does this.

But yes, it is meta when you're asked to take on fight after fight where you "should have" lost, yet nearly never actually do. Such a decision is clearly made by the player, not the character. The character is expected to act as if in an action movie. Indiana Jones never reflects on his multiple near-death experiences, he just throws himself into the next seemingly impossible situation. There's no room to roleplay your character asking rational questions in games designed with this philosophy.

I really think it is disingenuous (or ignorant) to argue Pathfinder 2 supports sandbox play (where characters roleplaying rational survival decisions is a cornerstone) out of the box. It just doesn't, on so many levels. This one is one of the less immediately apparent reasons why.
 
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Retreater

Legend
In fact, Pathfinder 2's selling point (if you ask me) is its ability to make nearly every fight into a tense nail-biter where you first reach the "we're doomed" stage, followed by the "heroic comeback" stage, followed by the "rout" or "mopup" stage.
Yes. I think my group had this experience reinforced throughout the 66% of sessions that didn't have TPKs, so they had the mentality "all the encounters seem challenging - so why run from this one. It will turn around."
The TTRPG social contract punishes the player who is the first to decide to run away after a character falls. "So you're just leaving my character to die? It would be better if you would stick this out so we don't have more character deaths and you can try to save my character."
It seems many players prefer the actions lead to a TPK over the loss of one or more individual PCs. GMs however don't like this dynamic because it can mean the end of their campaign.
 

kenada

Hero
Supporter
I really think it is disingenuous (or ignorant) to argue Pathfinder 2 supports sandbox play (where characters roleplaying rational survival decisions is a cornerstone) out of the box. It just doesn't, on so many levels. This one is one of the less immediately apparent reasons why.
Are any of us arguing that it does so out of the box? I certainly conceded in my post earlier in this thread that it does not, but it also only requires a few extra considerations to make work. It’s not like exploration in 5e, which not only barely supports it but goes the extra step of including class features that trivialize any substantive exploration mechanics one may try to add (the Alexandrian has started a series on hex crawls in 5e, and Justin has been complaining about this on Twitter for a while).

The issue we’ve been discussing here is a red herring as far as sandbox play goes. You don’t have to do it like old-school D&D. Nothing says it’s just about dungeon crawling, or that you have to be making life and death decisions all the time. That’s almost as peculiar of a definition of “sandbox” as the one Paizo puts forth in the GMG. The thing that defines a sandbox is that the world reacts to what the PCs are doing. Specific outcomes or paths are not prescribed. That means everyone (including the GM) may be surprised at some point how things go.

Regarding being able to reason about your situation in combat, we seem to agree mostly, and it’s come down to picking nits. I don’t think PF2 is unique for having creatures with multiple attacks. 5e creatures can have them too, and they did in earlier editions of Pathfinder and D&D too (although 4e may be the odd one out here). No, it wasn’t guaranteed. On the other hand, the usually didn’t suffer from MAP or iterative penalties to the same extent (if at all). Additionally, encounters were not necessarily tuned to the PCs, so the PCs could sometimes be facing overwhelming forces (e.g., 2d4 goblins wandering in a dungeon in B/X).

But that doesn’t really matter. I agree that you can’t really make an assessment during combat based just on your current situation because it can change so rapidly (whether due to crits or taking lots of hits from creatures or whatever). I also agree that modern games don’t do enough to make retreat a possibility (though PF2 does provide a chase subsystem, which can be used for that). I think that’s why we make such a point of emphasizing techniques to help players make informed decisions during play. If you read the battle reports in the exploration thread, it’s obviously working better than hewing rigidly to the rules and material as written, which seems to result in players who don’t want to play PF2 anymore.

And to emphasize, none of those concessions stop you from running a sandbox game. If you’re doing a dungeon, PF2 gives you most of the tools you need. It doesn’t really teach you how to use them, but it’s hardly unique in that regard. However, to its credit, PF2 at least has an exploration procedure (albeit with some gaps). No, you can’t run a certain style where characters need to be deathly afraid of dying (though I’d argue that running with core proficiency and not tuning encounters to the PCs should be more than scary enough), but that doesn’t mean you can’t run a sandbox. There’s more to sandboxes than running deadly dungeons.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
I'd say it supports it mostly out of the box, but the assertions being made here aren't really my experiences of how the game works in practice.

If you're including encounters on the lower half of the guidelines, they won't be as hard as is being suggested in this thread, nor as swingy, as the math works in the other direction, allowing your pcs to reliably chunk foes and rendering the critical hits they take much rarer. AOE spells become a much bigger chunk of their health, both because of critical failure effects and foes having less HP.

These are the encounters that should make up a dungeon with that OSE, combining encounters style, because the combined encounters you get for mismanagement of those lower end pieces are hard (severe/extreme) bit still survivable.

Retreat is manageable, although I'd probably transition immediately into the chase rules when the PCs announce their intention to book it, assuming the monster actually wants to follow. Running away isn't a fight, so the encounter mode isn't the right fit once the PCs have decided to 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.
Not to go all “Ship of Theseus” on you, but how many changes can you make to PF2 before it is no longer recognizably PF2?

If you both reduced the hp and more importantly, reduced the impact of the d20, I feel that you would end up with a game that doesn’t really feel like PF2.
 

The effect of PF2’s design is that you want to do what you can to control and mitigate that swinginess. You’re right about how tactics factor into that. Using debuffs and movement is a big part of controlling that. If you can force an enemy to burn action economy getting to you, those are hits you’ve mitigated at the cost of your own action. If it’s the difference between a hit and not, then going for a stroll in combat is quite good effective healing at no cost.
I think there is an RP aspect to this as well. Getting a hit in than retreating to deny the monster an attack is fine if my character is a skirmisher, but it is not the way I want to play my frothing barbarian or my bulwark fighter (even if it would be tactically optimal). Likewise, guy who once per combat (or once per two combats) steps in between the monster and the heavily wounded fighter is not how I generally want to play my wizards and sorcerers (but I would absolutely play a cleric that way).
 
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The-Magic-Sword

Adventurer
One of the best that i ever GM ... Thanks Paizo and James Jacobs ... I am in the middle of book one and having a blast ... A lot of space for the gm to create... I recommend start with level 0 characters...
If you wouldn't mind throwing it into a spoiler box, what have been some of the best moments so far?
 

dave2008

Legend
One of the best that i ever GM ... Thanks Paizo and James Jacobs ... I am in the middle of book one and having a blast ... A lot of space for the gm to create... I recommend start with level 0 characters...
I too would be curious what makes it good IYO. I generally dislike published adventures (whether they are Paizo, WotC, Kobold Press, Goodman Games, etc.), so I am interested in what makes a good adventure book in your view.
 


dave2008

Legend
I start running it tonight on Roll20 - well, we're doing Session 0 tonight. But I'll also keep a running tally of what I think are some highlights to share later.
So you found some more people willing to Play PF2 - great. After enjoying playing it, did it make you want to trying GMing it again?
 


Retreater

Legend
So you found some more people willing to Play PF2 - great. After enjoying playing it, did it make you want to trying GMing it again?
Yeah. There were more than enough people interested once I put it on Roll20. I had to turn away enough players to make an entire second table - after the listing had been up just a few hours.
There were a few factors that made me want to try GMing again.
1) Realizing my first group with their playstyle and attitude could've made any campaign or system not fun for me.
2) Seeing what automation was available in Roll20 that makes it a decent player experience (even if it could use more content for GMs).
3) The Abomination Vaults has pretty good reviews and feels more in my wheelhouse than other APs.
4) I was putting it into Roll20 to test my skills, and figured I might as well run it since I was already doing the work.
5) Paizo and PF2 are important in the industry. As someone who tries to be involved in the profession (even in a limited way), I should be familiar with the design from these creators.
6) I want to challenge myself. I believe trying other systems hones the craft of being a good GM.
 

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