Pathfinder 2E Theory Crafting: Gritty Low Magic or a Potpourri of Variant Rules

miggyG777

Explorer
So I want to shift my PF2 to a more low magic world than Golarion.

In order to achieve that I'd like to utilize the following Variant Rules as provided by the GMG:


Magic Item Variants: Automatic Bonus Progression & High-Quality Items


Proficiency Without Level

Now it seems that ABP and High-Quality Items would not really work well together numberwise, unless you were to remove some of the bonus progression from the ABP, as far as I can tell by the RAW.
However, I want to keep High-Quality Items (sans Devastating Weapons / Resilient Armor) in the game, to still give my players some cool choices when it comes to gear, while not having to meticulously keep an eye on item progression as per default and reduce the overall amount of magic in the game. That would mean that the High-Quality Items essentially still give boni like magical items that would stack (?) with the boni from the ABP.

I can see that this would favor the PCs in terms of game math, therefore, and also for a more gritty overall tone, I thought about putting the Proficiency Without Level rule into place, which reduces the proficiency buff based on level, scaling down the power-curve of the PC.

Generally, the Proficiency Without Level rule implies, that a DM adjusts the DCs and monsters to accommodate for the lower overall proficiencies. However, as I am giving the PCs the ability to stack ABP with High-Quality Items, I thought that by not adjusting the DCs I could basically give them the boni they would normally get via Level Proficiency in the form of items.

Of course this would not achieve the exact same feeling and balance as per the original rules, i.e. you wouldn't have items for every skill. That means overall the difficulty of the game would increase (which is ok for me) but at the same time, even if a PC stacked the item bonus of a High-Quality Item with the ABP, it would also not be too overpowered.

It'd be nice to hear some thoughts on this by DMs that have some experience with PF2.
 
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dave2008

Legend
So I want to shift my PF2 to a more low magic world than Golarion.

In order to achieve that I'd like to utilize the following Variant Rules as provided by the GMG:


Magic Item Variants: Automatic Bonus Progression & High-Quality Items


Proficiency Without Level

Now it seems that ABP and High-Quality Items would not really work well together numberwise, unless you were to remove some of the bonus progression from the ABP, as far as I can tell by the RAW.
However, I want to keep High-Quality Items (sans Devastating Weapons / Resilient Armor) in the game, to still give my players some cool choices when it comes to gear, while not having to meticulously keep an eye on item progression as per default and reduce the overall amount of magic in the game. That would mean that the High-Quality Items essentially still give boni like magical items that would stack (?) with the boni from the ABP.

I can see that this would favor the PCs in terms of game math, therefore, and also for a more gritty overall tone, I thought about putting the Proficiency Without Level rule into place, which reduces the proficiency buff based on level, scaling down the power-curve of the PC.

Generally, the Proficiency Without Level rule implies, that a DM adjusts the DCs and monsters to accommodate for the lower overall proficiencies. However, as I am giving the PCs the ability to stack ABP with High-Quality Items, I thought that by not adjusting the DCs I could basically give them the boni they would normally get via Level Proficiency in the form of items.

Of course this would not achieve the exact same feeling and balance as per the original rules, i.e. you wouldn't have items for every skill. That means overall the difficulty of the game would increase (which is ok for me) but at the same time, even if a PC stacked the item bonus of a High-Quality Item with the ABP, it would also not be too overpowered.

It'd be nice to hear some thoughts on this by DMs that have some experience with PF2.
I don't know PF2 well enough to help, but if I ever try to play PF2 again, this sounds like how I would like to play. So I will be keeping an eye on this thread and would love to hear how it works out for you.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Generally, the Proficiency Without Level rule implies, that a DM adjusts the DCs and monsters to accommodate for the lower overall proficiencies. However, as I am giving the PCs the ability to stack ABP with High-Quality Items, I thought that by not adjusting the DCs I could basically give them the boni they would normally get via Level Proficiency in the form of items.
Stacking Automatic Bonus Progression and High-Quality items wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference once you get past the lower levels. Creatures would be including their level in their checks and defenses while the PCs would at best get +6 (from an item and their progression) over twenty levels. They would very quickly reach a point where creatures almost always crit them and they needed crits themselves to even hit.

When I ran PF2, I used the Proficiency without Level variant. It’s not too bad subtracting the creature’s level before you roll or look at their defenses. Depending on the tools you use, they might do it for you automatically. I know from experience both PF2e Toolbox for Foundry and Hero Lab can do it. I assume Pathbuilder can. The primary reason to use Proficiency without Level is it opens up much more of the bestiary at once for potential opponents. Once you hit 5th level or so, almost the entire thing is within the acceptable challenge band for the party.
 

miggyG777

Explorer
Stacking Automatic Bonus Progression and High-Quality items wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference once you get past the lower levels. Creatures would be including their level in their checks and defenses while the PCs would at best get +6 (from an item and their progression) over twenty levels. They would very quickly reach a point where creatures almost always crit them and they needed crits themselves to even hit.

When I ran PF2, I used the Proficiency without Level variant. It’s not too bad subtracting the creature’s level before you roll or look at their defenses. Depending on the tools you use, they might do it for you automatically. I know from experience both PF2e Toolbox for Foundry and Hero Lab can do it. I assume Pathbuilder can. The primary reason to use Proficiency without Level is it opens up much more of the bestiary at once for potential opponents. Once you hit 5th level or so, almost the entire thing is within the acceptable challenge band for the party.

Thanks for your thoughts. If I ran the Proficiency Without Level (PWL) as you describe it, would the extra +3 that PCs can get from a stacking of ABP and HQ-Items even impact the game severely?

The default entry for PWL states:
"the new DCs make it a little harder for high-level characters to succeed than it would be when using the default numbers from the Core Rulebook, in keeping with the theme mentioned earlier."
So perhaps the stacking modifiers would be offset by this. Ideally I'd want to stay close to the original game balance so I can keep using the encounter building math while only having to apply minor quick tweaks such as the one you suggested.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Thanks for your thoughts. If I ran the Proficiency Without Level (PWL) as you describe it, would the extra +3 that PCs can get from a stacking of ABP and HQ-Items even impact the game severely?
I doubt it. You’ll get a slight advantage, but the skill increases from ABP come pretty late. There’s also no guarantee that PCs will go out of their way to stack bonuses to their advantage. If it does become a problem, you can then make adjustments.

The default entry for PWL states: So perhaps the stacking modifiers would be offset by this. Ideally I'd want to stay close to the original game balance so I can keep using the encounter building math while only having to apply minor quick tweaks such as the one you suggested.
That’s pretty much all the rules recommend doing. There is a new chart for calculating XP for building encounters, and there’s an alternate Simple DC table. There are some other considerations (technically it makes summoning a little better), and you will want to align the DCs for e.g., Treat Wounds, but the big one is just subtracting the level.

I didn’t like the Simple DC table though. A level 20 DC is 20, but an expert DC is 20? I think that’s too severe. I ended up using an adjusted one that toned down the simple DCs a bit to make them more reasonable. Otherwise, it messes up the intuition “this seems like a fair challenge for an expert” by making that DC actually quite difficult for a character who just has expert in a skill.

Looking through my old house rules, this is what I used. It was just something I put together based on what felt right. I considered it more important that the DCs felt fair versus having simple DCs be ‘gritty’.

Proficiency​
DC​
Untrained
10​
Trained
14​
Expert
17​
Master
20​
Legendary
23​
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Honestly, if you are worried about balance, just reduce the party level by 1, 2 max. If in Foundry, you can just click Weak to drop the monster the right amount if needed instead of reducing party level.

So far I am running Abomination Vaults for a group of 4. I barely give out items and do not use ABP, and I nerfed some healing a bit so you can't use Treat Wounds all day long, etc. After level 4 I just started considering the party one level lower, and it works very well. When I put a severe encounter on the group, it feels severe, not extreme. None of them are crafting either, so no help like that. All is well.

So far none of my games have any issues without the "suggested" magical item bonuses.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Dragonsbane, it sounds like your game is working very well.
I totally agree that magic items are optional, as long as the DM takes the lesser powers of the PCs into account when deciding what sort of threats they will face.
Many folks moan about how PF2 simply doesn't work if players don't have all their christmas tree lights on (meaning, if they don't have all the magic item bonuses equipped as soon as their level permits). I think that's hooey. You don't need to use a complex variant like ABP to make the game work.

This said, I have nothing against modding the game with various variant rules. PF2 is open-ended enough that you can plus in variant rules and still play the game. As pointed out above, some resources (like Foundry, AoN or others) allow you to adjust creature statblocks on the fly, and many DMs prefer to design their own creatures and NPCs anyway.

Still, I like the idea of the PCs finding cool magic items in some old crypt or dungeon, and leveraging those items into more and more powerful attacks. I tend to dislike PCs being able to buy whatever items they find on the pages of some rulebook, but game logic suggests that if they visit a big enough city, they can probably find whatever they are looking for, up to a point. How you approach magic item availability is a huge discussion in itself, and it's really the same question regardless of what game system you're using. Players like finding loot that they can use, and spending their gold on cool things used to make them more powerful. That's a fundamental conceit of RPGs in general. You can fight against it, if you want, but IMHO you miss out on part of the fun.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
I rather like your Christmas lights analogy! Additionally I like your forum title, similar to mine :)

Perhaps on your advice, I will toss out a few more items... on NPCs as they use them against the player heh! But perhaps you have a point, I will throw some meat in the cage and see what happens.
 

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