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Player reach + AOO = game breaking mechanic?


Advice


I recently GM'ed a PFS scenario (my first time) for a bunch of level one and two characters (Paladin, Barbarian, Fighter, Witch). I felt like I was pretty prepared and ready for battle.

However, there was one mechanic I hadnt prepared myself for: player reach. The Paladin had a longspear with an attack bonus and damage bonus of +6, and before any of my NPC's got close enough to attack, they were all AOO'ed to negative hit points. The monsters: dogs, guards, violet fungus, zombies, ghouls. I think the only monsters that got a hit in were the violet fungus and one ghoul, the latter only because the Paladin made a crucial mistake and triggered an AOO himself.

The players ended up cake-walking over the scenario. I wish I had more to work with to make it more challenging for them, but I either lacked the resources or the knowledge of how to contend with this. Any advice in case I encounter a similar situation in the future?


Stealth.
Range attacks.
High HP/AC.
And I seem to remember there's a trick somewhere about returning the favor when one AoOs.
Or just start having bigger monsters with reach.


Acrobatics skill.

Also, each character only gets one AoO per round, unless they have combat reflexes feat.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Reach is a big advantage. However, you only get one AoO a turn without Combat Reflexes, and if you get past that spear he has to drop it or retreat.

A number of other options:

Sunder (stop short of the AoO and smash the spear)
Use Acrobatics skill (to avoid AoO)
Mobility (+4 AC to AoOs)

Otherwise, your player has found a valid tactic: keep 'em at a distance.


Axl wrote:

Acrobatics skill.

Also, each character only gets one AoO per round, unless they have combat reflexes feat.

And Paladins aren't likely to have high Dex so not too many AoOs even WITH the feat.


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Let them have the confidence from this session. Use it to draw them into sticky situations the next session.


Yeah I would so do all of those things if this was a home game, but seeing as this is a Pathfinder Society game, I have to strictly abide by the stats for the encounters as written. Unfortunately, the barbarian and paladin are twin brothers new to Pathfinder, and they had an experienced veteran help create their characters for power-gaming, so they are more like fourth or fifth level characters instead of level two, but I'm still restricted to the "Tiers 1-2" monsters. They're power gaming without even realizing it, and since they're so new, they don't think of it as a bad thing. But the other two players were pretty much useless, since the monsters were already dead before the fight began.


Ok, there's a lot of good advice here. I've played a number of scenarios, but players never had reach so the GM's never had to contend with it.

I will make extra sure to keep track of number of AoO's per round, but with three fighters, chance is one of them can get a hit in before the round is over.

Sunder, Mobility and Acrobatics regarding AoOs aren't rules I had familiarized myself with. I'm excited to add those to my arsenal. Thanks!

Osirion

This should naturally balance itself out around 4-5th level, when monsters get multiple attacks and are large with a 10' reach. The same thing happened in one of my homegames, and this particular build doesnt fare as well when the monsters can do the same back, PLUS close and fight adjacent without a penalty, where the reach fighter has to keep a space there or drop weapons. It is still a good build, just not as dominating...


Monsters will get reach too soon enough :).

As for the paladin having to drop his spear or retreat if you get close to him, my understanding is that he can merely take a 5 foot step back and still attack? So the 'retreat' option is actually a non-issue unless he has no room behind him.

If they are using min-max'ed chars and you're stuck to putting things of their CR against them I think you're just not going to be able to cope. I haven't played any PFS games though, so don't put much stock in anything I've posted :).


2 people marked this as a favorite.
davidernst11 wrote:
Yeah I would so do all of those things if this was a home game, but seeing as this is a Pathfinder Society game, I have to strictly abide by the stats for the encounters as written. Unfortunately, the barbarian and paladin are twin brothers new to Pathfinder, and they had an experienced veteran help create their characters for power-gaming, so they are more like fourth or fifth level characters instead of level two, but I'm still restricted to the "Tiers 1-2" monsters. They're power gaming without even realizing it, and since they're so new, they don't think of it as a bad thing. But the other two players were pretty much useless, since the monsters were already dead before the fight began.

Using a reach weapon is not really powergaming unless they did other things. Things should get easier for you as a GM once you get access to higher level monsters.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Bladeace wrote:
As for the paladin having to drop his spear or retreat if you get close to him, my understanding is that he can merely take a 5 foot step back and still attack? So the 'retreat' option is actually a non-issue unless he has no room behind him.

This is true enough, but if he retreats, so must his allies and what is good for him may not be good for them.

As for mon-maxing, why a longspear? There are plenty of reach weapons that are far more versatile and do more damage.


Something that attacks will saves will get them.


Barbarian gets temp. Paralyzed, pally flanked by skeletons.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
davidernst11 wrote:
Yeah I would so do all of those things if this was a home game, but seeing as this is a Pathfinder Society game, I have to strictly abide by the stats for the encounters as written. Unfortunately, the barbarian and paladin are twin brothers new to Pathfinder, and they had an experienced veteran help create their characters for power-gaming, so they are more like fourth or fifth level characters instead of level two, but I'm still restricted to the "Tiers 1-2" monsters. They're power gaming without even realizing it, and since they're so new, they don't think of it as a bad thing. But the other two players were pretty much useless, since the monsters were already dead before the fight began.

Having a spear and hitting someone before they hit you is power gaming? Really?

Here is my advice if this situation comes up in the future: Let Them, that is what spears are for after all.

Qadira

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

The intelligent foes (guards, maybe ghouls) can fight defensively during their approach (+2 AC -4 attack), which might make the AoO miss. Then it becomes a game of 5' steps, which don't provoke. They could even total defence their way into melee in place of their first attack (+4 AC).

Cheliax

Yeah, the player took it easier on you. He could have been using a lucerne hammer, bardiche, etc.


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if i can give one piece of advice. dont think of this game as dm vs player. you are there to help other people have fun by letting them play there characters. they should sweat at times, and trust me they will. but other times you should let players mop the floor with npcs, sometimes that what is really fun.


I guess instead of saying "Power Gaming" I should have said "Optimized". An experienced player helped make them characters that could have maximum damage at first level, so the barbarian regularly does 15-40 points of damage, and the Paladin does slightly less, but at reach.

Don't get me wrong, those guys had a lot of fun pulverizing all the monsters to oblivion, but I thought they would have enjoyed it more if they were the wee bit challenged, and the other players seemed bored.


davidernst11 wrote:
the other players seemed bored.

I think this is more important to address than the players with uber damage.

One possibility would be to have your more intelligent enemies avoid the barbarian/paladin since they've established a reputation for BAMF-ing all over the place and the [intelligent] enemies feel they have a better chance of succeeding at their goals by going after the others.

Also, as has already been recommended, try to use Acrobatics, etc to avoid provking an AoO. Without seeing the players' character sheets in question, I'd guess the DC would be about 20 or something.


One thing I would address is this. If the players that are killing everything die because they held back they will not be happy. I would definitely not get them to hold back, and then allow them to die.


longspear is broken.


non perisans can't handle the spartans. I suggest not throwing monsters into them like a wood chipper. Also they can normally only make one aoo per turn.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
davidernst11 wrote:

I guess instead of saying "Power Gaming" I should have said "Optimized". An experienced player helped make them characters that could have maximum damage at first level, so the barbarian regularly does 15-40 points of damage, and the Paladin does slightly less, but at reach.

Don't get me wrong, those guys had a lot of fun pulverizing all the monsters to oblivion, but I thought they would have enjoyed it more if they were the wee bit challenged, and the other players seemed bored.

Curious as to how a 1st level character is doing 15-40 damage?

As for the other players being bored maybe give them some hints as to things they could do also, don't let them just sit and watch.


I'll be honest being challenged at level 1 aggravates me to no end but more importantly where are they getting 40 damage from at that level?

Assuming 20 str which they shouldn't have but lets assume they got it somehow for +5 times 1.5 for 2hand to +7 toss in power attack for +3 gives you +10 and 1d8 from a longspear for a maximum damage of 18 unless they crit which at 20 x3 won't be happening often enough to care.

I'd like to know if they aren't fudging their sheets to be honest.

Grand Lodge

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Ghouls, Violet Fungus, Guard Dogs? I think I know which Society scenario you're talking about.

That scenario is a season 0, all of which tend to be on the easy side because they were designed for 3.5 rules and PF PCs are more powerful, especially at low levels.

Try them against a season 2 or 3 scenario. (Except First Steps, that series was designed to be a cakewalk.)


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swarms. Swarms. Swarms.


Sounds to me like some rules are being forgotten/misread. Regularly doing 40 damage at first? MAYBE a Barbarian with a Falchion who's on a real hotstreak with the dice, but that's not a reach weapon, and also not going to happen all the time. Definitely sounds like people were taking more AoOs than they should. Just really look at these builds and how they're being played to make sure everything is right.


gnomersy wrote:

I'll be honest being challenged at level 1 aggravates me to no end but more importantly where are they getting 40 damage from at that level?

Assuming 20 str which they shouldn't have but lets assume they got it somehow for +5 times 1.5 for 2hand to +7 toss in power attack for +3 gives you +10 and 1d8 from a longspear for a maximum damage of 18 unless they crit which at 20 x3 won't be happening often enough to care.

I'd like to know if they aren't fudging their sheets to be honest.

The level 1 barb in my game can do that. 20 str + raging + enlarged + power attack with a greatsword is 6d6+30 damage on a crit.


Xexyz wrote:
gnomersy wrote:

I'll be honest being challenged at level 1 aggravates me to no end but more importantly where are they getting 40 damage from at that level?

Assuming 20 str which they shouldn't have but lets assume they got it somehow for +5 times 1.5 for 2hand to +7 toss in power attack for +3 gives you +10 and 1d8 from a longspear for a maximum damage of 18 unless they crit which at 20 x3 won't be happening often enough to care.

I'd like to know if they aren't fudging their sheets to be honest.

The level 1 barb in my game can do that. 20 str + raging + enlarged + power attack with a greatsword is 6d6+30 damage on a crit.

Yes there's the chance but crits aren't important since they aren't common. Also that still doesn't add up +5 for 20 +2 for rage +1 for enlarge +4 for two hand +3 for power attack = 3d6 +15 you don't double static bonuses on crits do you?


Yes static bonuses get multiplied on crits.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Quote:

A critical hit means that you roll your damage more than once, with all your usual bonuses, and add the rolls together. Unless otherwise specified, the threat range for a critical hit on an attack roll is 20, and the multiplier is ×2.

Exception: Precision damage (such as from a rogue's sneak attack class feature) and additional damage dice from special weapon qualities (such as flaming) are not multiplied when you score a critical hit.

Bolded for emphasis.


I think my suggestion would be not to advance on the paladin but instead wait, ready an action to 5' step and hit him if he approaches. Then, assuming the paladin wants to attack the bad guys, he moves to 10' range which would allow him an attack except that the monster's ready goes off first. They close the range (not allowing an AoO, because 5' steps don't) so that he is no longer able to attack them (they're inside his reach) and the monster gets a swing. Next round, the monster goes first (because of their ready) and can either attack the paladin again OR (if you're feeling mean) they can ready again to 5' step forwards and attack the paladin if he 5' steps backwards in order to attack them. (The paladin can, of course, choose to draw a non-reach weapon and hit the monster with it, so I wouldn't advise *telling* him what your ready is).

This is not unreasonable for an intelligent monster. Long spears are intended to keep people at a distance so when you see someone pointing one at you, you don't naturally want to charge them. This is just a variation on "I ready an action to hit any enemy who moves up to me", but requires a bit more thought to take into account the character's reach.

Also, remember that without combat reflexes, no AoO when flat footed so if your monsters get initiative they can run up and hit the paladin to their heart's content.

Another option is just to use missile weapons. Unshielded characters will take some hits and if they close it's 'drop bow, draw sword, 5'step, attack'.

Final suggestion would be to turn the lights out. No AoO on monsters you can't see. (Although of course, if you are running a PFS game I guess you have to run exactly as written and if there isn't anything with a darkness spell then there isn't).

The 'reach' tactic is all very well against monsters that die on one hit, but once you're up to 3 hit die monsters it's not much more effective than winning initiative.

Good luck. I think optimising characters makes for boring games and have house ruled that "no PC can start with a 20, 18s only allowed with special permission".


Thanks everyone. I wanted to note that the barbarian in question has 18 strength, power attack, two handed weapon, and rage. All put together, and he gets +12 damage on a d12 die. Crits are rare, but they did happen a couple times, but still, 13-24 damage is rough enough for a level 1 encounter. The paladin has a longspear, and when push comes to shove, he will drop it and start attacking with his Two Weapon Fighting feat. Even with a -2, they'll hit 80% of the time.

Ill be sure to make sure the next thing I learn will be the ins and outs of combat maneuvers. I've really got to start thinking like the enemies. My problem is that I try to be fair, each new group of enemies I send out doesn't know how viciously the last group was slaughtered, so I pretend like I have no knowledge of their techniques until a couple of the enemies have been hit. But by that point, the four or five enemies I have to work with are dead. Rinse. Repeat.

Readied actions will probably be my goto next time.


Being fair is ok. What you can do is have some enemies run away instead of fighting to the last man. Those that escape can report back to whoever they work for.


I fully agree with your starting point. 'Mind reading' monsters aren't fair. But the game is less fun if it's not challenging for the players (something that many players just don't seem to realise) and if you're in a position that you can't just throw 'tougher monsters' you need to rebalance the odds somehow.


Ranged Combat.
A few Goblins with alchemist fire or bows ftw :)


the Paladin has TWF?

Ok that sounds really weird. What are his stats?

To be honest... that really doesnt seem like hes optimizing in any way.

As far as its a PFS game I assume you're using pointbuy. Thats why I dont get how that paladin can be any effective (I'd be really interested in the build).

And the barbarian looks like 90% of all level 1 barbarians that are created. I guess even the Paizo characters are facing stats like these.

To me that sounds like you have to deal with the same problems every DM has to manage. At level one Melee's are kinda tough because they're killing enemies with one hit due to their one hit dice. But after that hitpoints increase faster than damage, so....

Just go with those advices in here.


deusvult wrote:
Axl wrote:

Acrobatics skill.

Also, each character only gets one AoO per round, unless they have combat reflexes feat.

And Paladins aren't likely to have high Dex so not too many AoOs even WITH the feat.

I disagree, as do a lot of people including the creators of the game. Have you not seen the mighty archer paladin? While not perfect by any definition, they are incredibly dangerous, and always have a high dexterity. An archer paladin is a mere two steps away from being a reach paladin. That step is taking a reach weapon and combat reflexes. A high-level archer paladin might take it anyway, just to take advantage of snap shot, and it's friends.


I hate the advice to "wait for higher levels" or "it should round itself out in 4-5 levels". That's alot of gameplay to trivialize.

Anyway, as a GM, I generally try to sculpt specific encounters around what my players are using as PC's, so that I can turn their strength into weakness, and provide a certain amount of challenge to their game.


Echoing wraithstrike because it's one of, if not the most important thing as a DM : Being fair is OK. You should continue to do it.

This does not precludes enemies trying to act intelligently. For example, are they dumb enough to run over toward someone holding a spear ? It's obvious that they will be at a reach disadvantage and get hit. Also, as said, it's only one AoO per character (except if said character as taken Combat Reflexes and has a decent dex). So multiple opponents attacking the same character are likely to land some attacks before being mowed down.

But really, I only see things working as intended here. Good tactics and well-built characters are supposed to lead to success, and sometimes not being challenged because you did everything right is okay.

You said it was your first session with this group. It's normal to have a bit of issue with game balance, because you don't yet know how well your group will behave in combat. Now that you do, you will be able to better adjust opponents tactics, without having to resort to out of game knowledge. (For example, the first session of my recently started Kingmaker campaign was easy-mode for my players, second had 2 characters in negative and a fair share of damage spreaded accross all characters, because I now know where to set the difficulty cursor to challenge them.)

The only real advice I have to give though is to be careful about the internal balance of your group. If the other players are at a loss about their characters or how to play them effectively, don't hesitate to offer them some advice about how to build them or usable tactics, to keep them in line with more knowledgeable players. This will improve group dynamics over time. The trick is doing this without holding their hands too much, otherwise they'll never do it by themselves... But it's part of the fun of being a GM.


In case anyone missed it, the OP said several times that this is for PFS. He can not change the encounters at all, they have to be ran in the way the module presents them with very little deviation.

Cheliax

He's got combat reflexes and two-weapon fighting, and he uses a longspear? This is not an optimized PC; this is something that I would be trying to fix.


davidernst11 wrote:

I've really got to start thinking like the enemies. My problem is that I try to be fair, each new group of enemies I send out doesn't know how viciously the last group was slaughtered, so I pretend like I have no knowledge of their techniques until a couple of the enemies have been hit. But by that point, the four or five enemies I have to work with are dead. Rinse. Repeat.

First of all, kudos to you for 'being fair'. This is the right thing to be doing. Don't deviate from this!

Secondly, you are approaching this right when you say 'start thinking like the enemies' this is really your job as a GM. You are roleplaying the NPCs not playing a board game against your friends.

Third, a small piece of advice going hand in hand with part 2- if you are judging different groups of PCs from session to session.. have them introduce themselves including a description. If it's always the same group this is even easier as that won't change. In both cases get a mental picture of each of the characters. Make judgements based upon that based on the NPC(s) you are representing.

If the NPC is smart/savvy enough to think 'like a PC' then do so and ask yourself how you might leap to conclusions based upon a description.

Who would you throw your WILL save spell at? The archer or the big dumb fighter-type.. but not the cleric! If you think the descriptions point you that way go for it.

When you are 'wrong' even though YOU knew that ahead of time, then you ADD to the immersion in the game.

For thinking opponents I tend to assume combat reflexes with reach weapons (though if they have heavy armor I mitigate that a bit) and don't assume it without them. If pressed I will 'test' it, preferably with someone that can take the AOO (either by being expendable or being hard to hit) just as I would as a player.

In other words you are spot on when you say 'think like the NPCs'.

-James

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