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Gamemaster Talk-Synergy of 6 PCs: Why +2 APL Seems The Right Module or AP Challenge


Advice

Taldor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Gamemasters,
Plus 2 average party level (APL) seems the right challenge level for modules and adventure paths (APs). There's a pretty powerful synergy that occurs when you have 6 regular players. Per the game rules the APL of a Level 5 group of 6 PCs becomes 6. Yet, when I go to pick out a portion of an AP or a Module, I notice the L2, and L3 challenges placed there are cake-walks, and so I tend to outright pull something +2 APL higher, and that seems to do the trick.

As a matter of advice, has anyone else noticed this as well? Here are some details:
>Pulling a L5 module or AP for a L5 group doesn't challenge because of the basic rule regarding 6 players, that you increase the base APL by +1.
>A module or AP that is only +1 APL higher contains challenges (traps or monsters/NPCs) that are up to APL-3 (thus a L5 mod or AP contains L2 encounters) which aren't much of a challenge at all. Caveat: Yes, I am aware that gamemasters can add to the number of creatures (I get that, but it's not the design/module/AP-section point that I'm making).
>There is a game-breaking threshold (as noted in the Advanced Player's Guide that selecting opponents more than 3 levels higher runs the risk of that monster/NPC possessing something the players cannot overcome. So keeping selection higher, but still within 3 levels is key. Caveat: Because the range of monsters/NPC in higher level modules and APs (relative to the average party level of the group) will contain monsters that are already APL+3 relative to the module or AP recommended level... there IS a risk of monsters/NPCs now being APL+5 (ex: six level 5 PCs=APL 6 versus a L8 module or AP with monsters/NPCs that are L11 (L8 module or AP epic fight of APL+3 = CR11 vs the party the base of CR6). Risk: There is a chance the individual characters cannot overcome certain aspects without the full groups synergy (acting as a full group with sufficient resources). That is, a CR11 will fry that PC who is actually only CR5 within an APL6 group (of six L5 PCs).

*takes breath*
I sound pretty geeked-out over the math, but I kinda love this aspect of my game design. I constantly calibrate challenges that excite the players, and create a compelling game because of it. (I do recognize that not all the encounters are that high of a level, and I do recognize that as a matter of story/design I can place certain items as treasure in the game to help players overcome the bbeg (or at least compensate for any game-breaking abilities. I get that as well.) Awareness: my group is currently NOT overpowered, the group currently does not have any excess wealth or power (but rather is exactly aligned to recommended character wealth levels).

My questions to anyone who's been willing to read my CR-crunching notes above:
1.How many of you tend to feel the same way when selecting modules or APs (or excerpts of them) to run??
2. How many of you run modules or APs at the recommended level versus picking out higher (+2 APL) modules or APs to run that challenge your group.

Summary Example: If I have six players at L5 (=APL6), I'm most likely going to pick a module or an AP that is designed at Level 8.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I find that standard modules are fine at lower levels, but the system breaks down at higher levels. The party I run is 15th level, and an encounter of less than APL+3 is a speedbump that burns little party resources. Characters at this level have tons of options, so there are few monsters that have abilities the PC's can't overcome or adapt to.

BTW - party consists of a fighter/hellknight, rogue, ranger/cleric, cleric, and two wizards. With one cohort (had to limit leadership), an intelligent magic item, simulacrums, and summoned creatures, they have a great economy of actions ratio.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber

One of the RotRL threads has a great suggestion.

Normal CR - but

For each combat class over 4 add 50% hps to the critters

For each spellcaster class over 4 add one mook per encounter

For each specialist class (3/4 BAB like rogue/bard) increase saves and DC's by 1 on everything.

People have reported great success with this formula - it's how I intend to fix the issue.

As you state - increasing the CR puts you at risk of hitting breakpoints in the power curve - where a party simply won't have the right gear/spells/abilities to be effective against some monsters.

This is especially true if you are using modules or AP's as they usually have singular fights against one or two 'bosses' that will be the entire CR - and that's where the danger comes in.

It's easier to do the CR+2 if you are doing your own encounters as you can keep the individual CR of each critter lower and make up for it in other ways, the modules/ap's won't account for that disparity.


I think it depends on your party's and group's composition. Any group with a bard you can safely up the APL levels by +1 or +2 to what is recommended in the guidelines.

If you have a player that is super creative with wizards and is always toeing the line with what is RAW or RAI on obscure spells found in splats, you can basically throw anything you want at the party at high levels and they'll find a way to win.


I like having easy encounters sometimes. Too many tough encounters makes me feel like my PC is Inspector Clouseau after a while.

Taldor

Ckorik wrote:
1. For each combat class over 4 add 50% hps to the critters. 2. For each spellcaster class over 4 add one mook per encounter. 3. For each specialist class (3/4 BAB like rogue/bard) increase saves and DC's by 1 on everything.

Thanks, but can you help me with a Use Case:

1. A human ranger 3/rogue5 has 67 hp
1a. --Change to 100hp?
2. 2 spellcasters in party
2a. --Add 2 mooks (assuming 1-hit-dead kinda thing? I presume to provide the feel of a kill to the spell casters, but primarily designed to be "targets" that absorb at least 1 of their powerful spells?)
3. 1 Bard and 1 rogue in party
3a. Increase saves and DCs by 1 on everything

Let me know if this is what you Ckorik means?


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber

From the other thread...

Matthew Bellizzi wrote:

Have a look at this post to start with
http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2owy9?Different-Sized-Party-than-Module-Recomme ndation

I especially like Doomed Heros suggestion which I use when all 6 of my players are there. which is....

Standard group makeup is 4, generally with 1 primary damage character and 1 primary caster. The other two slots are usually called utility characters (healers and buffers are included in this group for these purposes).

When converting modules for groups larger than 4 a good rule of thumb is this:

For every additional primary damage character, boost all enemy HP by 50%

For every additional caster, add one enemy of the same CR as the average level of the group.

For every additional Utility character, increase enemy DCs and Saves by +1.

Simply boosting enemy HD is a problem primarily because it pushes their saves, and the saving throw DCs of their abilities beyond level-appropriateness. To compensate for even one extra primary damage dealer all enemies will have to have the HD increased by about 1/2 the party's level. That's about the number of extra HP needed to provide a challenge. Unfortunately because HD is tied to so much else, it messes things up. The bad guys will be much less effected by player abilities, and players will fail saves far more frequently.

Simply adding more enemies without boosting their HP becomes a problem because player AoE will become the answer to nearly every encounter. Between Cleave and Fireball, the addition of extra enemies will barely be noticed.

You mentioned you had a party of 6 but only listed 5 so I'll go off of that. You have 1 fighter, 2 casters, 2 utility - this gives us one extra caster based on the above formula.

For 1 caster we add 1 monster of APL to the encounter.

Using RotRL I will give two examples:

Spoiler:

First fight is against 3 goblins (CR 1/3) for a total of CR 1 - to make this fight challenging we add 1 monster CR1 to the encounter (say a goblin dog (CR1) - because our APL is 1 we could opt to add 3 more goblins as well - I would make the choice based on the casters spell selection at this point - if they only have magic missile - I'd add a single critter - if they have burning hands - I'd add 3 goblins - feel free to let the monsters bunch up for the caster if you make it more goblins - the idea on a 'average' encounter isn't to kill the PC's after all - it's to let them enjoy their powers.

Moving to the end of the first part of RotRL we have the BBEG fight. This is against Nualia (CR 5) and 1 yeth hound (CR 3) - for a CR 6 fight. The APL for this encounter is expected to be 3 for a CR+3 fight (epic in other words).

We use the above formula to see we need another CR 3 creature to give this party a hard time - in this case a single yeth hound added (CR 3) gives us the extra punch we need to make it a challenge. This actually makes the encounter CR 7.

Note that if you were to use a module actually crafted at a higher level (+2 APL) your BBEG fight above (CR 6) - would assume an APL of 5 and thus the encounter would be tuned to CR 9 (5+3). Picking on another encounter from RotRL I'll find a CR 9 encounter to show the difference.

The first CR 9 encounter in RotRL is the BBEG fight in the end of the second book - this fight is regarded as a TPK encounter and many GM's actually take pains to have a contingency plan as to why the party is revived or saved that is plausible for the campaign just due to it's reputation.

This fight is against Xanesha a female lamia matriarch rogue 1.

She has SR 19, 133 HPS, AC 25, good touch AC (16), spells, SLA's, Wisdom drain, sneak attack, and a medusa mask that can take out PC's

The APL is expected to be 7 when they fight her for an APL+2 encounter - and she is still known as a party killer. This is why running a module designed for a higher level party can backfire - the rest of the encounters in the second part of RotRL *can* be done by a lower level group (although it would be brutal IMO) - but when you run into that BBEG it usually is balanced not just around party level - but an expected equipment and resource level that a lower level party just can't match.

You could of course compensate for this by adjusting down - but that's easier to mess up than it is to adjust up.

Does that make sense?

Taldor

Ckorik wrote:
We use the above formula to see we need another CR 3 creature to give this party a hard time - in this case a single yeth hound added (CR 3) gives us the extra punch we need to make it a challenge. This actually makes the encounter CR 7.

Ckorik - your details are very much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time.

In the passage you wrote (quoted above) it almost certifies that the end result of this technique is exactly the principle I'm speaking of. Namely, by boosting the overall encounter levels when dealing with a full group.

I am running six players, sorry if I wasn't clear:
>Fighter
>Word of Power Sorcerer
>Wizard
>Oracle
>Bard
>Rogue

This campaign started early this year, and I just came off a 4 year campaign that ran Pathfinder from level 1 to Level 15 with homebrew adventure paths. (That campaign started with the ALPHA PLAYTEST) lol. But I digress.

So, over the years I've run hundreds of encounters, and now it's time for me to focus on improving and tweaking my approach even more.

Armed with the technique you mention, I interpret this as basically (in my own words):
>Feel free to use max hit points or +50% boost to hp as needed
>Add 1 more APL CR foe to each encounter

Note: I'm not okay with arbitrarily increasing the +1 to saves for opponents (mosters or NPCs). However, I am okay with trying to roll high. Over the years, by letting myself follow the same standards of the game, I get to "play along too" as a GM. I rarely, if ever, need to fudge anything. As you can tell, the purpose of this discussion is to find that "sweet spot" of combat challenge at any level through bettering my overall game design skills.

The RotRL example is good (I'm assuming you're referencing the updated Pathfinder RPG version and not the 3.5 version of RotRL?)


Quote:

My questions to anyone who's been willing to read my CR-crunching notes above:

1.How many of you tend to feel the same way when selecting modules or APs (or excerpts of them) to run??
2. How many of you run modules or APs at the recommended level versus picking out higher (+2 APL) modules or APs to run that challenge your group.

Summary Example: If I have six players at L5 (=APL6), I'm most likely going to pick a module or an AP that is designed at Level 8.

There's another set of variables to consider:

* Is the wealth of your party at, below, or above the recommended guidelines. If it's *significantly* below or above, then you need to consider adjusting the CR of challenging encounters. You also might want to consider the quality of wealth distribution. If every one has optimal gear for their level (best possible items) and it's done in a very well-thought-out way, that might mean a CR increase is necessary.

* What point buy/rolling system did you use? If you used a significantly high or low point buy/rolling system, then you might want to consider adjusting the CR accordingly.

* How well do the party members work with each other? If the whole party is picking teamwork feats, purposely designing characters to work with each other, and completely tailoring classes/spell choices/tactics to be totally optimal, that might beg for an increase in CR. If the opposite is true. . . that might call for a reduction in CR.

* Gaming experience. If there are no veteran players, you might want to consider a CR decrease. If the whole party has played a lot Pathfinder for long, extended campaigns. . . you might could consider a CR increase.

If the above ideas are "fractional", they could potentially add up to another CR increase -- especially for larger parties.

So, for instance, for a 4-5 man crew, you typically run at CR = APL + 1 for "challenging" encounters.

For a 6 man crew, you bump it up to APL + 2.

If you run at 20 point buy, use wealth that is above the guidelines, and they're working well as a team, and an experienced player or two is on the team -- that might justify a bump up to APL + 3. If the APL + 2 encounters are frequently too easy over multiple levels, it's definitely worth thinking about.

Keep in mind though that the progression for CRs isn't linear. Sometimes the game system expects you to have certain counters to certain abilities -- if you don't have them, the encounter gets *a lot* harder than even the CR system would expect. So be careful assuming a blanket CR = APL + 3 is always going to work.

Taldor

Right Meabolex - there are a lot of other things to consider. Its not a straight clear match between CR pluses v. APL.

It seems we GMs need to know our group, and keep tweaking until we find the sweet spot. The players do like the XP rewards, and my bumped up challenges do seem to generate a worthy but not excessive amount each session, even when distributed over six players.

So, I must be doing something right here. And this conversation has helped greatly.

The +2 APL system works very well though, especially at calculating (or taking a swag at) the amount of challenge for each encounter.

This past session they faced 8 CR2 skum, and 1 CR8 Barbarian Skum for a CR of 10. Each character is level 6 now. I treat the players as CR7 due to 6 players. Their wealth is textbook perfect as I've been monitoring wealth-handout amounts using the Ultimate Equipment guide.

It played like an AP+2. As it should. But mathematically this adds up to an APL+3 (Player Group CR with 6 player adjustment is 7 base.)

Thus, I'm now setting my max range for epic encounters to CR11. Any one character soloing a boss will likely die, but for the whole group this amount of CR should make for a great climax at the end of this homebrew adventure path.

And to sum up the theory:
1) Take party level +2 (if you have six players) as your base
2) Plan encounters for Hard Challenging and Epic as you normally would, starting from the new base.
Summary: APL+2 is my new base, until this system of "planning" games breaks down. I will re-evaluate each level, and watch for problems, but it seems to be working very well.

Another way to put it:
Hard= the new +3
Challenging= the new +4
Epic= the new +5

Also, Meabolex----Player Tenure is very HIGH.
Starting Years for the Players:
1986
1977
1976
1995
1984
1992

and me... 1981.

So... maybe I should wipe them all out one day (TPK just for fun!) lol jk

Pax


Pax Veritas wrote:

This past session they faced 8 CR2 skum, and 1 CR8 Barbarian Skum for a CR of 10. Each character is level 6 now. I treat the players as CR7 due to 6 players. Their wealth is textbook perfect as I've been monitoring wealth-handout amounts using the Ultimate Equipment guide.

It played like an AP+2. As it should. But mathematically this adds up to an APL+3 (Player Group CR with 6 player adjustment is 7 base.)

Be careful with those low CR guys in large quantities. While the book says that encounter might be CR +6, I've often found that to be dubious. My parties have often been able to kill ridiculous numbers of low CR bad guys without hardly using any resources. Sometimes I slap an advanced template on them just to see if it makes a difference. . . it usually doesn't. My advice would be to increase the difficulty of the environment in situations with lots of low CR guys. For the skum, perhaps having the encounter in freezing cold water would be fun.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber

Just popping in to remind folks, the harder you make a fight the more likely it'll be your party stops to rest. With 6 players gameplay slows down dramatically as the extra combat turns eat up time. Occasionally it's okay to leave encounters as is to increase the pace of the game/story. If encounters are easier they end quicker, allowing you to continue the story without slowing down.

In my games if I use a high point-buy and have 6-PCs EL+2 sounds about right (though I am loathe to add levels to NPCs, preferring to add more minions/hazards to an encounter).

If I use a 15 point but than EL+1 tends to work about right.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber
Pax Veritas wrote:
Ckorik wrote:
We use the above formula to see we need another CR 3 creature to give this party a hard time - in this case a single yeth hound added (CR 3) gives us the extra punch we need to make it a challenge. This actually makes the encounter CR 7.

Ckorik - your details are very much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time.

In the passage you wrote (quoted above) it almost certifies that the end result of this technique is exactly the principle I'm speaking of. Namely, by boosting the overall encounter levels when dealing with a full group.

I am running six players, sorry if I wasn't clear:
>Fighter - full BAB
>Word of Power Sorcerer - Arcane
>Wizard - Arcane
>Oracle - utility (healing)
>Bard - utility
>Rogue - utility

Note: I'm not okay with arbitrarily increasing the +1 to saves for opponents (mosters or NPCs). However, I am okay with trying to roll high. Over the years, by letting myself follow the same standards of the game, I get to "play along too" as a GM. I rarely, if ever, need to fudge anything. As you can tell, the purpose of this discussion is to find that "sweet spot" of combat challenge at any level through bettering my overall game design skills.

The RotRL example is good (I'm assuming you're referencing the updated Pathfinder RPG version and not the 3.5 version of RotRL?)

I was using the new version of RotRL. Looking over your group I see you have 1 extra arcane and 1 extra utility.

I understand why you don't like the saves/dc's - however the guidelines are assuming you use the PL as a base (you are using PL+1) and building encounters like that.

By using PL+1 as the base you already are (in a way) increasing the saves/dc's by 1 - as these increase with the CR level naturally - using your system would make increasing the saves further dangerous.


Ckorik wrote:

Normal CR - but

For each combat class over 4 add 50% hps to the critters

For each spellcaster class over 4 add one mook per encounter

For each specialist class (3/4 BAB like rogue/bard) increase saves and DC's by 1 on everything.

I was going to suggest something similar, but less well defined. I understand the first to items on your list and use them myself. Make monsters tougher so that they don't get dropped by damage in a single round, and more numerous so that it takes more than one round of failed saves before a fight is over.

Why would having an extra rogue in the party cause you to increase saves and DCs?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber
Blueluck wrote:
Ckorik wrote:

Normal CR - but

For each combat class over 4 add 50% hps to the critters

For each spellcaster class over 4 add one mook per encounter

For each specialist class (3/4 BAB like rogue/bard) increase saves and DC's by 1 on everything.

I was going to suggest something similar, but less well defined. I understand the first to items on your list and use them myself. Make monsters tougher so that they don't get dropped by damage in a single round, and more numerous so that it takes more than one round of failed saves before a fight is over.

Why would having an extra rogue in the party cause you to increase saves and DCs?

Utility classes (bard/rogue/cleric/etc with 3/4 BAB) are utility because they bring some benefit to the group via buffs or tricks or other such things that typically interact with the encounter by reducing it's effectiveness.

If a bard inspires courage on the group that's +1 to hit and +1 dmg - that +1 to hit increases the CMB of the PC's - another utility class (say a cleric) can buff the party (bull's strength) or possibly take an enemy out of action (hold person). The Bard could fascinate the encounter or cast a spell (most of their spells are more party friendly than a full arcane).

The general rule is to increase saves/dc's to offset the extra chances and buffs that a utility class brings to the table.

Obviously you have to gauge your own group and how they play to figure out the real roles - a rogue who takes swashbuckler and has melee feats up the wazoo for instance might need to be looked at as another full BAB class instead of utility - one that uses dirty tricks and feint and such to debuff the encounter would be more utility.

It's a tough call and the rules are not set in stone, it's more like a rule of thumb based on the typical roles those classes represent.


Ckorik wrote:
Blueluck wrote:
Ckorik wrote:

Normal CR - but

For each combat class over 4 add 50% hps to the critters

For each spellcaster class over 4 add one mook per encounter

For each specialist class (3/4 BAB like rogue/bard) increase saves and DC's by 1 on everything.

I was going to suggest something similar, but less well defined. I understand the first to items on your list and use them myself. Make monsters tougher so that they don't get dropped by damage in a single round, and more numerous so that it takes more than one round of failed saves before a fight is over.

Why would having an extra rogue in the party cause you to increase saves and DCs?

Utility classes (bard/rogue/cleric/etc with 3/4 BAB) are utility because they bring some benefit to the group via buffs or tricks or other such things that typically interact with the encounter by reducing it's effectiveness.

If a bard inspires courage on the group that's +1 to hit and +1 dmg - that +1 to hit increases the CMB of the PC's - another utility class (say a cleric) can buff the party (bull's strength) or possibly take an enemy out of action (hold person). The Bard could fascinate the encounter or cast a spell (most of their spells are more party friendly than a full arcane).

The general rule is to increase saves/dc's to offset the extra chances and buffs that a utility class brings to the table.

Obviously you have to gauge your own group and how they play to figure out the real roles - a rogue who takes swashbuckler and has melee feats up the wazoo for instance might need to be looked at as another full BAB class instead of utility - one that uses dirty tricks and feint and such to debuff the encounter would be more utility.

It's a tough call and the rules are not set in stone, it's more like a rule of thumb based on the typical roles those classes represent.

a swashbuckler with lots of combat feats, a martial character does not make. it's merely a utility character who got jealous and is trying to keep up with the martials.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber
Shuriken Nekogami wrote:


a swashbuckler with lots of combat feats, a martial character does not make. it's merely a utility character who...

:) yes - but if you have someone who breaks the game playing AM Barbarian - or the halfling paladin on a wardog with a lance - and they decide to play a concept character to keep from being 'that guy' - they most likely will still keep up. I've seen it happen, sometimes giving 'that guy' the monk doesn't bring the party down as much as it lets the GM balance for the entire group.


Make sure your encounters are not always solvable with atk vs AC. A fighter/vampire/ advanced, dualwielding agile scorpion whips, with high UMD allowing for wand of shield, wand of mage armor, etc, built to high dex, enlarged for the extra reach, etc etc, with the choice of environment and timing in favour of the baddie can be quite the challenge for a party that is used to brute force. I built one that could only be hit on a natural 20 for my party (thanks Hero Lab). They soon also regretted neglegting will saves...

Taldor

Yeah, Hero Lab is awesome, Tandriniel. When you say "solvable"... what actually "solves" the battle with the vamp then? Area effect spells or ranged touch?

More to the point, it looks like you made a rather wicked bbeg for your group to confront or obey, which is more along the lines of creating APL encounters higher than recommended gameplay.


Pax Veritas wrote:

Yeah, Hero Lab is awesome, Tandriniel. When you say "solvable"... what actually "solves" the battle with the vamp then? Area effect spells or ranged touch?

More to the point, it looks like you made a rather wicked bbeg for your group to confront or obey, which is more along the lines of creating APL encounters higher than recommended gameplay.

I planned they should disarm her or sunder her weapons, sunder armor, and then rip her apart. I expected it to be over in 3 rounds, since the CR was about the same as the APL. Not so, for a number of reasons. Ranged touch might have worked, but her AC was wicked high, partly because of dex. Oh yeah, and maybe I shouldn't have added her riding dragon vampire as well... Lucky for the party the vampires took a cohort and left to feed, planning to come back later (had to save them somehow....).

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