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I'm running a homebrew for 7 young adult players, and I was worried about this at first too. After the first game, I wasn't sure the game would last. Players constantly check out mentally, socialize, or play with their phones. But they say they enjoy it, and they keep coming back. They're currently at 12th level, and when I said I had a rough outline taking them to 20th, everyone seemed excited to see where it goes.
I agree with a lot of the suggestions above on efficiency in combat and decision making. I accidentally allowed a really tough problem / combat take up an entire 4 hour session (for example) when I should have dropped clues (they didn't need to defeat the 4 mythic fire elementals, there were ways around them).
I keep combat moving as quickly as possible. I find it especially helps to declare the two people who are up, and who is up on deck. I don't mind if they roll their attack rolls in advance (they've been honest to a fault).
I use the slow advancement schedule, however I don't strictly stick to XP totals. If it would make more sense to finish off an encounter with more or less XP, then I do so. If, for example, the PC's abandon the pursuit of an enemy compound, I may add some reinforcements for when they return, and don't add in the extra XP (mostly cause it may throw the story off to have them too high a level too soon).
As for excitement, my group tends to like the 5 to 10 round encounter. To me, the excitement is keeping some legitimate and various threats alive on the battlefield. I try to play the encounters intelligently (if they opponents are intelligent). Read some of the optimization guides on the various classes or group tactics, then use tactics that the PCs may use. For example, that ghast cleric could cause headaches for the PCs with Obscuring Mist spells while waves of his ghoul friends stalk the PCs through the mist (and limiting ranged attacks), and while the PCs should easily make the paralysis save, the threat increases with the sheer numbers. Things get more interesting if anyone fails their save.
I also run a homebrew, which is kind of like a military campaign, so I usually think of how a particular group would defend their territory, and what tactics they may use.
In my experience, you also have to be careful not to include too many creatures in an encounter that are just too low on the CR scale. For example, I tend to only go as low as APL -3 for the minimum CR creature in an encounter. As an example, 4th level PCs really don’t get a challenge at all from skeletons. At CR 1/3 they really are just a speed bump.
In other words, I look to fill encounters with opponents that are at least APL -3 and up to APL +3. If the individual opponent’s CR is APL -4 or worse, the encounters tend to be less than fun.
Looking closer at the example you gave (4 skeletons, 2 ghouls, and 1 ghast cleric 4), I’m calling the ghast a CR 4, which really makes the entire encounter a CR6. One may think that is a tough fight. However, the skeletons should be discounted as they fall too far under the CR range. They may not have any chance at really hurting the party.
I also don’t remember where I read this but an appropriate CR encounter tends to use up 1/4 of the parties resources. In other words, four CR4 encounters for your group should be it before they need rest. With that said, try throwing three CR 4 encounters at them at once or in short waves.
Using the same example as above, the PCs could run into a 4th level ghast cleric (CR4) who rouses his troops and the group is hit with two waves of ghouls (3 in each wave for CR4 each). And if they still steamroll that, maybe a 3rd waves comes to the cleric’s aid.
Thanks for all the input. Looks like I need to check out / purchase Unchained sooner rather than later. I also missed some of those threads when I did my search.
Another alternate to #1 was to reduce the number of extra attacks to the levels listed in 5e, so martials would only see 3 extra attacks in their progression, but I'll check out Unchained first.
I normally wouldn't mind playing around with something like this, but this particular campaign has been going very well, and everyone has expressed interest in continuing to 20th, so I don't want to throw rules experiments in either.
I debated on where to post this, and thought it most appropriate to place it here as I'm interested in how others think this may fit with the existing PF rules.
Some friends were telling me about 5e and I'm thinking of house-ruling a couple items.
1. All iterative attacks are just full attacks. In other words, once a PC has gained an iterative attack, use your full attack bonus rather than -5 on the 2nd attack.
I'm not a fan of house rules, but I'd like this attempt at simplifying the math while adding some dynamics to combat as our group goes into 12th level and beyond.
If you wish to go more loosely, just plan 4 to 5 encounters as I mentioned above that are CR appropriate. Use those as a group of encounters that would probably be confronted before a rest period is available (roughly). Obviously, this will vary by group. Figure out a period of game time that seems to be agreeable to your players and yourself for when leveling up seems appropriate. My games are more combat focused so we tend to complete 3 or 4 encounter groups (12 CR appropriate encounters) in one four hour session. As such we tend to level up 2nd or 3rd gaming session.
Interestingly enough, I'm retooling an old campaign that I built myself. While I tend to use milestones as well, I still like to calculate the XP for each encounter and have a running total.
Basically, I have a big Excel spreadsheet with a worksheet for every 2 or 3 levels. I split it into chapters like an AP, but whatever works best for you will do. I also use the Slow XP chart. This way if the PCs skip something, or bypass a few encounters, I don't really sweat it. The players tend to level up every other gaming session (or third session), and it seems to be going well.
Yes, compiling Excel spreadsheets on encounters and treasure tables is what I call fun and relaxing.
So for example, if in Chapter 1, I want to go from Level 1 to Level 3, that is 7,500 XP on the slow path per PC, which is 30,000 total XP. I'll then list out columns for Encounter Name, XP, # of encounters (may have more than one orc after all), and total XP. When the total XP is at 30,000, I then plan encounter groups. For example, the PCs may need to overcome an orc outpost. That may consist of 4-5 appropriate encounters. I try to stick to 4-5 because if the PCs mess up and the whole complex comes down on their heads then they have an epic but survivable (barely) encounter.
I also make another Excel sheet for treasure and in a similar manner, calculate the total I want to give and split accordingly among types of treasure.
I'll stop before this gets much longer, but I hope this is helpful.
Thanks for all of the replies. I don't see the Inquisitor very much at my table, so I wasn't aware of the options there.
I don't really have a problem with granting FE Arcane Caster to my home campaign but I do like to make sure I'm sticking to the rules as much as possible (ie minimum house rules). However, I this sect is rare and rather fanatical so they aren't well represented in my world. As a counter balance, there is also a group that is extremely opposed to the "immortals" and their divine servants, who have similar powers.
Is there such a thing out there somewhere?
In my homebrew, I have a group that specializes in hunting down arcane casters, basically a religious sect that sees all magic that comes from a source other than divine as heretical. None of the PCs have this ability, but they'll be running into some of their fanatics soon. Just thought I'd check to see if one of the various supplement books has come out with something like this that I missed. I don't think I've missed it, but just in case . . .
Other than that, they have the Inquisitor feat from the Nyambe campaign setting.
I ran a similar group through Second Darkness. I was hesitant at first as well, but they ended up steam rolling through most encounters.
On one hand, I was surprised how quickly they chewed through encounters, but that AP also seemed to have quite a few week fights (if I recall correctly)
Armageddon Echo spoiler:
We even had the flying invisible wizard move from theory to actual game play. However as someone pointed out earlier the APs don't always optimize enemy tactics or lairs.
The wizard at the end received reports of an enemy force fighting their way to his position. He gathered his allies including the dragon for a great show down, I even cheated an enlarged some rooms to give more maneuverability. The dragon and minions went down fast. A few people dropped, but eventually, the wizard just ran out of spells after eluding the remaining PCs.
But unless you are going to add scrolls and wands to the AP enemies as written just to screw over the PCs, the AP enemies won't likely be spamming them with fireballs.
It has been a long time since I ran RotRL, but I'd suggest reviewing everything just to make sure there isn't some point where they can only move forward with a caster. For example, I can't recall if you need a caster to get into a certain forgotten laboratory.
In addition, the AP does a pretty good job of letting the PCs know that they may be facing wizards. They should have plenty of time to gear themselves accordingly.