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RPG Superstar 2015

Where is the Balance? Where is the fun?


Pathfinder Society® General Discussion

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I have played a number of PFS games recently and found them to be very much different from the games that we played in the early years of PFS. Some aspects of these games are making it more difficult to play and run the games and have fun. I have not mentioned anything here about this, but now I feel I have too. I was waiting to see if the next game would be better. And the next and so on.

Firstly – The encounters are ridiculously tough. I don’t believe that the last five mods that I have played at Tier 1-5 could be successfully completed with a team of 1st level adventurers. This is a problem because the new players play 1st level characters (often the iconics). It seem to me that games need to be playtested against a team of 4 (or maybe 5) iconics and the iconics should win 90% of the time. They don’t! In fact some of the games (the last five I have played) could never be completed successfully with a group of 1st level iconics. TPK in these mods ends up with the players not returning and GMs not wanting to GM games where they think they’ll just destroy another adventuring group. The GMs feel that they have responsibility for the outcome. It all just creates bad feeling in an environment where we want the players to have an awesome experience.

Secondly – The games that I have played recently seem to lack in the plot department. I really hate to say this, because I have loved my PFS, but I think that the overwhelming encounters are also overwhelming the plot. Players are struggling to find any in game character motivation. It is hard for a short adventure to create a plot that will engage the players for the length of the scenario, but I feel that there has been a deterioration of plots in recent times. Many games just seem to be - go from encounter 1 to 2 and so on. There have been chases (which are odd) and investigation (which is sometimes good), but overall plot seem to be coming a distant second to challenge. And don't get me wrong I want some challenge too, but I crave plot (both as GM and player).

Thirdly – Faction missions seem unnecessary now. They seem to be getting the players to do something for no particular reason. In early seasons players would sit at the table before a game and discuss their support for their faction. They would entertain themselves before the game with in character chat and teasing about one faction or another. This doesn’t seem to happen any more. The faction talk at our tables seems to have died down, and I think that faction mission completion has become a little cared for bother to be added to a game. Things that are done because there is a benefit, not just for love of the faction. Don’t get me wrong, I love the factions in PFS (or I did), but I think their flavor and the way they are done is killing them. I do think that the number of factions has changed things, but also the fact that once all of the factions had an interconnection. Now some have no real connection.

I am writing this because I care about the game. I hate to give such negative feedback, but I mean it all, and I feel that if I don’t things will not change. The 1st level problem is a very serious one. Perhaps a special starting character Tier needs to be created. Currently I would say that Tier 1-2 is a myth. It is really Tier 2 and if you play with a team of first level characters then bad luck. Remember that all of the starting characters and players will be 1st level. We need them in our game. The characters in the game are the focus and they are expected to beat the baddies most of the time. Please don't suggest running First Steps for the starting characters. I think we are all bored with these games. Tier 1-2 games need to be ok to play with a group of 1st levels. Otherwise back to the drawing board.

I really am a keen PFS fan and have played since the beginning of the campaign, but right now I am not keen to GM, because I hate to murder the party, and playing has not been much fun either. I have discussed this with other players and our local VC and while I don’t want to speak for them, I think that there is a lot of the same feeling.

Regards

Disillusioned PFS fan

The Exchange *** Venture-Lieutenant, Australia—Sydney

I will use this opportunity to try and provide some advice on how to address these issues from a GMs perspective.

To address each of your points:

Firstly, the deadliness of an encounter is determined not only by the stat block, but by how the NPC is run. Does the Hill Giant who just watched a Wizard incinerate his friend have to take the attack of opportunity against the rogue who is sneaking up in a flank? Does the Succubus have to fly out of reach of everything when she is clearly dominating the combat? A 'mistake' in tactics can easily turn the tide in combat by giving the PCs a fighting chance. If you feel that the party is suffering, pull some punches, the stat block is already hurting them enough. A lot of the newer mods make it very easy to challenge a party, it leaves toning them down to the GM.

Secondly, I have noticed that in recent mods there has been a substantial amount of plot. I'm sorry, but I disagree with you on this point. Perhaps you can find a way to reveal more of the background to the players through NPCs they encounter. The end of the scenario is an excellent place for a debrief, the Venture Captain can congratulate them and fill them in about a little of what they had a hand in stopping.

Thirdly, I find that factions mean more when the GM makes the factions mean more. Describe the couriers of the missions coming in and providing the mission. Maybe have a halfling slave approach the Chelish faction members before immediately reporting to the Andoren members. Try and encourage a bit of healthy competition. Some players new to PFS in general aren't fully aware of the deep rivalries between the factions, maybe taking some time to explain these rivalries will encourage players to engage a bit more. Also, there are the faction goals that were sent out for season 4, perhaps focusing on these instead of the faction missions may make for a more enjoyable experience?

These are all just my own little ideas, I hope they help in some way.

Good gaming!

Shadow Lodge *** Dedicated Voter 2014

Quote:
Firstly – The encounters are ridiculously tough. I don’t believe that the last five mods that I have played at Tier 1-5 could be successfully completed with a team of 1st level adventurers.

Well thats to be expected. If its supposed to be a challenge for 2nd level characters, brand spanking new 1st level characters should get roflcoptered by it. Having starting gear is like being level 0, and being iconics probably drops it down 1.

With the replay rules in effect I would seriously consider making more effective first level characters

For newbies without any higher levels to play meatshield I'd go with first steps just to get them enough HP to live.

Quote:
Secondly – The games that I have played recently seem to lack in the plot department.

Agreed. A lot of times it seems like there's a lot of plot behind the screen but it doesn't seem to come to the forfront.

Quote:
Thirdly – Faction missions seem unnecessary now. They seem to be getting the players to do something for no particular reason

Agreed, sometimes they'd be almost interchangable, but its hard enough getting a good adventure without having a slave to free in every one.

Silver Crusade **

I happen to agree, of late. I see great scenario plots, but the plot is only on the summary page. The PC's can't get it. The combats, well, level 1 players just get massacred these days, through no fault of their own. As for factions...I'd be happy to see most of them go. Honestly, adding the Silver Crusade and the Grand Lodge would have been enough, or even just the Grand Lodge. The other 3....not so much.

I love PFS, but I feel it may have made a few missteps so far this season. I'm hoping that my concerns are proven unfounded and I'll be laughed at in the near future.

Lantern Lodge ** Venture-Lieutenant, New York—Syracuse , Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka SirGeshko

Keep in mind that season 4 scenarios are designed for 6 PCs, not 4. There are typically rules in the Mod describing how to play down for fewer PCs.

Most of the PKs I've witnessed have been from GMs not pre-paring the module, and using their own tactics, rather than what is written in the scenario.
For instance, in First Steps 1: In Service to Lore:

Spoiler:
The PCs are ambushed by a group of bandits. If you look at their stat blocks and play them optimally, its very easy to perform a TPK (Color Spray in a narrow alley, anyone?). As written, however, the group lacks cohesiveness and trust in each other, and they open with questionable tactics (obscuring mist 20% miss chance for EVERYONE!), the spellcaster saving the color spray to escape if her buddies get killed.

By playing the baddies as living beings rather than combat automatons you can inject realism, convey plot points (talking is a free action!), and avoid unnecessary party wipes.

Grand Lodge ** RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015

It's not that "Tier 1-2" actually means "Tier 2" - that would mean the whole party needs to be level 2 for it to be appropriate. No, it's that it really is "Tier 1-2" and not "Tier 1". If you have a whole table full of brand new players/characters, you should be running First Steps. If you have a mix of level 1-2 PCs, then Tier 1-2 should be fine.


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Golariofun wrote:
Firstly – The encounters are ridiculously tough.

With regards to the more recent seasons, I tend to agree with you. But prepare to be bombarded with people saying "there's no such thing as a tough encounter, that's a failure on the GM's part or the player's part, etc., etc." :-(

The Exchange ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

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Golariofun, which scenarios have you played recently? Which early scenarios are you using for comparison?

'Cause there are precious-few adventures deadlier to low-level PCs than "Blood at Dralcard Manor".

Sovereign Court ***** Owner - Enchanted Grounds

Chris Mortika wrote:

Golariofun, which scenarios have you played recently? Which early scenarios are you using for comparison?

'Cause there are precious-few adventures deadlier to low-level PCs than "Blood at Dralcard Manor".

I nominate Skeleton Moon. It was just as deadly for the exact same reason, and the damned thing got plopped down in between the good guys and the exit. Try to run through? Splat. Try to get to it to fight (you had to go down stairs)? Splat. Try to get on the ledge to take a ranged shot? Splat. So ridiculous...

I'm assuming, seeing as these are retired, spoilers are okay.

Now, because hogarth invited it, I feel the need to weigh in (-:

When a GM is running 4 level 1 players who are using pre-gens through a scenario, can we please agree that this is an entirely different situation than 6 1st level PCs designed by knowledgeable gamers?

I really do think that the power level of encounters is right in the middle of those two extremes. I don't believe it is the writers' faults that those 4 1st level pre-gens are in extreme danger. I really think it is up to the GM to adjust his "smarts" (so to speak) to keep from annihilating that table. It is far easier to play dumb (fight defensively, don't use power attack, don't flank, etc.) than it is to figure out how to make a bad encounter challenging for the other extreme (or for the middle ground, for that matter).

Sorry to be the one to jump on that, hogarth. But I really do think that's a skill that needs to be discussed by GMs. Creating a Tier 1-5 (sub-tiers 1, 2-3, 4-5) would be cool, but I think Paizo isn't in a position for a larger work load.

Edit: PS - if you want to see the whole argument before it gets going here, go to this thread from last week.

Liberty's Edge *****

The plot not being realized by the PC’s is a failure of the GM.

Not everything revealed to PCs should be in boxed text. As the GM, you can find cool ways to reveal the information during and after the scenario. If, as a GM, you don’t do this, then I feel you are making a mistake.

The plots in season 4 are incredibly rich and exciting, and not for GM’s eyes only.

A band of rank newbies (level 1, no experience) really should be playing First Steps, or at the very least pick one of the easier earlier season scenarios to introduce the party. If I am not playing First Steps, I will never start a PC at level 1.0 for any scenario. I will apply at least 1 GM credit if not 2 or 3, and start playing the character at 2nd level.

With the ease of season 0, 1, & 2 scenarios informing the majority of our GM base, GMs had to learn how to run hard core. What I mean is if there is a scale of 1 to 10 on how difficult and tactically savvy you make the encounters, in many cases (aside from Darkest Vengeance and Dalsine Affair) you had to run at 11 to make it even remotely challenging. This was GM training by fire, and based on frustration of not having fun, GM’s learned to be hard core.

This is no longer necessary in late season 3 and season 4. So now, it will take a little bit for GM’s to relearn how to modify how they run an encounter (from difficulty 1 to 10) based on the composition of the party, and perhaps make adjustments on the fly based on how things are going.

If, as a GM (and I see you are with 2 stars), you are running everything at 11 still, then many of the TPKs and character deaths are your fault, and not the fault of the scenario or encounter.

As for the faction missions… with all the effort the campaign staff has gone to in making the factions meaningful and interesting, I don’t understand this complaint. I imagine it has everything to do with there being too many factions, rather than a change in how they are presented.

The Exchange ****

I'm stealing a post from a different thread, 'cause it relates here I think (and it was my post anyway).

Adventures with one or two big fights are great for showcasing plots.
.
A story that goes somewhere is often lost in the "little" fights - the judge trying to ensure that every Iron Cobra fights to the last HP... but he trims the NPC telling us WHY we are even here.

If we are in the boss fight and one of the players asks "who is this guy and why are we trying to kill him again?" then I know I as the judge have failed. It may be a little failure, but it's still a fail.

If we are in the boss fight and the Pistol Cheese Whiz drops the BBE and all the mooks in the surprise round... and the Sorcerer goes over to kick the body, because the "evil dude" deserves it, that's a win. Even if it was a "Cake Walk"...

Often we (as judges) are getting fixated on getting all the encounters into the time slot - and the adventures are getting longer (IMHO). Something has to get trimmed - and it seems the back-story, or plot is the easiest part to trim.

Paizo Employee ** Developer

To the OP and those echoing his concerns, can you please cite specific examples of encounters that you found too difficult or scenarios that felt plotless? I have several suspects in the first category, but the less vague this sort of feedback is, the more it helps the campaigns authors and those of us working on scenario development and campaign management. Thanks for the honest feedback; we appreciate it.

Silver Crusade ***

I disagree with the OP about plots. The newer scenarios I've played have had interesting plots, for the most part.

But I agree with the battles getting too tough in some scenarios. Temple of Emperyeal Enlightenment and Severing Ties are two scenarios that had lots of great role playing, and only a couple of fights, but the fights seem to be insane.

Sovereign Court ***** Venture-Captain, West Virginia—Charleston , Marathon Voter 2014 aka Netopalis

I will spoiler the particular encounters from recent scenarios that I think are rather difficult.

Season 4 stuff:

Both of the main fights in Severing Ties can be BRUTAL, especially to a new party.
Rise of the Goblin Guild isn't as bad, but I have seen the Slime Mold present an extremely difficult challenge to new players who aren't prepared to get out of pits quickly. Both times I ran this, somebody nearly died from it.

I really like the stories from Season 4. All 3 of the Season 4 scenarios that I have played/ran have had excellent plots. I wish that I could play more of them, but the level ranges somewhat preclude that.

I will, however, note a few situations where I felt that there was a great plot that just didn't quite get through.

The Dalsine Affair:
While I really like the story for this one, it's largely told through a single NPC's exposition. I noticed my players' attention waning as he told everybody the story. My players didn't really feel like they had much interaction with the plot.

Rise of the Goblin Guild:
RGG has a great plot if you catch Ekkie. If Ekkie gets away, the plot really loses a lot of its potential. That chase scene is a tough one, and a few poor rolls can mean that the bulk of the plot is lost.

Voice in the Void:
There's a plot?

The Exchange ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Season 0 and Season 1 adventures seemed to have, in many cases, grander plots. In the first four scenarios, PCs (1st level PC, mind you) stymie an ancient invasion of Absalom, prevent an explosive war between Andoran and Cheliax, secure the Silken Way, and breaking a deadly curse on a fellow Pathfinder. A lot of early adventures are big stuff.

At least, bigger than, say, kicking a competitor out of a demi-plane to save face for Amara Li.
Many recent scenarios have been ell-plotted, but the adventures aren't as grandiose. Your character can brag about foiling Archduke Moloch's return to Qadira. It's a little less impressive to boast of keeping a Sczarni smuggling route safe.

Is this a bad thing? Meh. It's a thing.

Liberty's Edge *****

Chris Mortika wrote:

Season 0 and Season 1 adventures seemed to have, in many cases, grander plots. In the first four scenarios, PCs (1st level PC, mind you) stymie an ancient invasion of Absalom, prevent an explosive war between Andoran and Cheliax, secure the Silken Way, and breaking a deadly curse on a fellow Pathfinder. A lot of early adventures are big stuff.

At least, bigger than, say, kicking a competitor out of a demi-plane to save face for Amara Li.
Many recent scenarios have been ell-plotted, but the adventures aren't as grandiose. Your character can brag about foiling Archduke Moloch's return to Qadira. It's a little less impressive to boast of keeping a Sczarni smuggling route safe.

Is this a bad thing? Meh. It's a thing.

That’s an incredibly salient point Chris.

People’s definition of what constitutes “plot” or “interesting” may be different.

In other words, the OP might be equating “epic” with “plot” and is lamenting that the current season doesn’t seem to do “epic” as much as he is used to or would like.

My response to that, would be that the entire season 4 arc is looking to have an epic climax (and potentially a few epic mid-season scenes) and just like any other story, you gotta build up to it. You can’t have 26 epic scenarios tie into an epic climax, because then the climax won’t be quite so epic.

But yeah, most of the scenarios aren’t built around “epic” anymore, that is true.

*****

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There are three main factors when determining if a scenario is difficult:

1) Scenario as designed/written.
2) GM
3) Players

1) This one seems pretty straight forward but it's really not. There are guidelines in place for authors that restrict the CR range for encounters. The problem is that the CR system doesn't work. Often CR is estimated for things like environmental conditions or terrain advantages. One author's CR 5 is another author's CR 1 (not me, I swear). Perhaps not as obvious is the way things are written or presented. The details and clues of the story can lead the PCs to follow a certain path, perhaps one that is more deadly than the author or developer can see when reading it (one that comes to mind is when the PCs routinely trigger more than one encounter at a time by following what the VC said to do)

2) Three big things here. How closely to the scenario as written is the GM running things? Often GMs think they need to change things to make it more "fun." Unfortunately this "fun" almost always changes the difficulty. Does the GM roll out in the open? GMs can affect difficulty by soft-balling from behind a screen. Heck, GMs can softball or hardball (i.e. cheat) without a screen.. Finally here, how tactically knowledgeable is your GM? Do they play the 18 INT NPC smartly? Do they overplay the INT 1 vermin? Do the NPC rogues 5-ft and then ready to attack when their buddy moves into a flank?

3) Easy to identify here is, "are the players new?" If they are, they're probably CR -1 or -2. ;-) Are the characters conceptual builds or optimized cheese-monkeys? Do the players know each other and the roles and capabilities of each other's characters?

The range here is amazing. If you have a GM who wants to make it fun by adding mooks, rolls in the open, is tactically cunning and running a table of n00bs, the easiest scenario will turn deadly. If you have a GM who refuses to kill characters by pulling punches, who isn't tactically sound, who doesn't understand the NPC tactics and is running a table of cheese monkey players who all know each other, it could be the hardest scenario every written and they'll still walk all over it.

*****

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Golariofun wrote:
Firstly – The encounters are ridiculously tough. I don’t believe that the last five mods that I have played at Tier 1-5 could be successfully completed with a team of 1st level adventurers. This is a problem because the new players play 1st level characters (often the iconics). It seem to me that games need to be playtested against a team of 4 (or maybe 5) iconics and the iconics should win 90% of the time. They don’t! In fact some of the games (the last five I have played) could never be completed successfully with a group of 1st level iconics. TPK in these mods ends up with the players not returning and GMs not wanting to GM games where they think they’ll just destroy another adventuring group. The GMs feel that they have responsibility for the outcome. It all just creates bad feeling in an environment where we want the players to have an awesome experience.

Even if 4 iconics only "won" 90% of the time, that's still 9% too low. If tables "failed" 10% of the time, there'd be a HUGE uproar.

Quite frankly, if your table of level 1's are dying in these scenarios, your GM is terrible. Sorry the truth hurts. There are many reasons why they could be "doing it wrong," from lack of prep, lack of rules knowledge, or lack of a simple understanding that the players are supposed to freaking win unless they are horribly unlucky or being purposefully stupid.

Liberty's Edge *****

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Kyle Baird wrote:
...or lack of a simple understanding that the players are supposed to freaking win unless they are horribly unlucky or being purposefully stupid.

I think this is the key take-away here.

When I give advice to new GMs, or even experienced ones who ask for advice, I say this:

“I used to be a GM vs. Player type of GM. I wanted my NPCs to win, and so I’d make encounters harder as the encounter wore on, just to stymie or at least make things difficult for the players. Part of my fun as a GM, at that time, was tactically sticking it to the players. Like I was playing one side in a two-sided war strategy game, instead of playing a cooperative story-telling RPG. When I started GM’ing for Living Greyhawk and concurrently acting as campaign co-coordinator for Living Dragonstar as developer, I realized that it wasn’t about winning. As the GM, your job is to tell a story, adjudicate the rules, and most importantly make sure your players have fun. The roll of NPCs, mooks, monsters, traps, et. al. is to be beaten by the player characters. As the GM, your job is to make it as fun for the players as you can while they are doing just that.”


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Kyle Baird wrote:

]Even if 4 iconics only "won" 90% of the time, that's still 9% too low. If tables "failed" 10% of the time, there'd be a HUGE uproar.

If we get to the point where a short-handed underpowered table wins 99% of the time, Then I'm never playing PFS again. What's the point if success is guaranteed? I want to work for it, I want horrible things to happen, and I want characters to die. Yes, even my characters.

Because that what makes survival meaningful. Otherwise, I'm gaining levels based on how long I can keep my butt in a chair. Might as well print out chronicle sheets and sign em myself, it would be equally challenging.

*****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The iconics are anything but "under powered." When run by average players, they do quite well.


Kyle Baird wrote:

1) Scenario as designed/written.

1) This one seems pretty straight forward but it's really not. There are guidelines in place for authors that restrict the CR range for encounters. The problem is that the CR system doesn't work. Often CR is estimated for things like environmental conditions or terrain advantages. One author's CR 5 is another author's CR 1 (not me, I swear). Perhaps not as obvious is the way things are written or presented. The details and clues of the story can lead the PCs to follow a certain path, perhaps one that is more deadly than the author or developer can see when reading it (one that comes to mind is when the PCs routinely trigger more than one encounter at a time by following what the VC said to do)

I would add:

  • Encounters with a single "boss" creature can often result in one-hit kills vs. low tier PCs.
  • Some encounter CRs are based on having a particular ability available.

  • *****

    Kyle Baird wrote:
    Golariofun wrote:
    Firstly – The encounters are ridiculously tough. I don’t believe that the last five mods that I have played at Tier 1-5 could be successfully completed with a team of 1st level adventurers. This is a problem because the new players play 1st level characters (often the iconics). It seem to me that games need to be playtested against a team of 4 (or maybe 5) iconics and the iconics should win 90% of the time. They don’t! In fact some of the games (the last five I have played) could never be completed successfully with a group of 1st level iconics. TPK in these mods ends up with the players not returning and GMs not wanting to GM games where they think they’ll just destroy another adventuring group. The GMs feel that they have responsibility for the outcome. It all just creates bad feeling in an environment where we want the players to have an awesome experience.

    Even if 4 iconics only "won" 90% of the time, that's still 9% too low. If tables "failed" 10% of the time, there'd be a HUGE uproar.

    Quite frankly, if your table of level 1's are dying in these scenarios, your GM is terrible. Sorry the truth hurts. There are many reasons why they could be "doing it wrong," from lack of prep, lack of rules knowledge, or lack of a simple understanding that the players are supposed to freaking win unless they are horribly unlucky or being purposefully stupid.

    One of the biggest things is whether characters are willing to cut their losses and flee from a fight that hits all their weak points in order to regroup and try again with better knowledge (or just flat out abandon the scenario if the fight is too hard). Many many players don't like to have their characters flee.

    I've had two TPKs (approaching 100 sessions now), so that's about 2% failures. One of them was for a table of generally good tacticians with new characters that were min-maxed for their group by a good optimizer. It was a great table overall. Their problem was when the magus (their best tactician, always proposing a smart option for every encounter) recommended they flee from a dangerous encounter due to being low on resources, the others decided to engage for a few rounds and two characters dropped. All the others dropped trying to carry the fallen and leave no man behind (meanwhile the BBEG absolutely needs at least one body to be left behind because he wears corpses to perpetrate his scheme and he lost his current body attacking the PCs).

    The other TPK was due to several characters being very very foolish, and since it was a totally new table of PFSers (long time Pathfinder/3.5ers though) for First Steps Part 2 on the first encounter, I just had them send in a new team of all the same characters and they did a lot better that time.


    Chris Mortika wrote:

    Golariofun, which scenarios have you played recently? Which early scenarios are you using for comparison?

    'Cause there are precious-few adventures deadlier to low-level PCs than "Blood at Dralcard Manor".

    I can vouch for that.

    Spoiler:
    Stupid advanced assassin vine.

    Liberty's Edge *** Venture-Lieutenant, Canada—Montreal , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Ryan. Costello

    I always try to run the most recent season, but Severing Ties made me rethink that. It certainly caught my group by surprise. My group consisted of: two players I game with regularly, one new to PFS that session, one with about five scenarios spread across two characters; a longtime PFS semi-regular with a new character; an RPG veteran of 2nd/3.5 ed. The party consisted of a witch, a fighter, an oracle, and a cleric.

    Of the four encounters, two are CR four and one is, according to the scenario, impossible and meant to be avoided. The group played well, they were creative, they were tactical. I played my threats illogically pulling punches, and modified for a smaller group. It still nearly resulted in a TPK.

    If people are saying the early seasons were ridiculously easy, I might have to play a few of them to convince the players left on the first after that session that PFS is not out to kill them every time.

    Grand Lodge

    Trying to balance PFS can be incredibly hard.

    Take it from me. I lead a group of about 15-25 players that runs the gamut from hyper-optimized Casters with all sorts of Controlling nonsense and Martials with DPR that can one-shot final bosses, to people who barely understand what the difference is between a Standard and a Move Action is, to this very day.

    The simple fact of the matter is that it's not PFS's fault. It's Pathfinder's. Pathfinder is a game where not all the classes are balanced, not all the mechanical interactions are entirely fair, and combats can be incredibly swingy due to the prevalence of powerful spikes in damage and save-or-suck effects. Also, the game is highly skill-based, and as such, there's a huge difference between a highly skilled player and a not highly skilled player controlling the same pregen.

    Earlier PFS scenarios, to be quite frank, were often far too easy. It was not uncommon at Tier 1-2 to have enemies that had a piddly +1 to their to-hit versus AC. Scenarios like this often over-compensated in favor of those who chose not to cheese the wazoo out of their characters, but instead chose to build characters focused more on concept rather than DPR or highly efficient Spells. And people just sort of accepted this. However, as PFS grew and, as with all things, people began to 'figure out' the inner workings and general standards of the campaign (PFS is a highly human-focused campaign, for instance, so certain builds of characters become far more viable because oftentimes the enemies you fight are Human NPCs with PC Class levels), people inevitably started to build 'stronger' characters who were more prepared for the challenges ahead.

    To be honest, I don't know what PFS can actually do to fix this, short of creating 'hard mode' and 'easy mode' versions of scenarios (they already kinda do this by allowing people to 'play up' or 'play down'). The very premise of PFS is that you can play with a random group of people from any of the classes controlled by players with varying skill levels (sorta like real life, really). I honestly think that we all just have to learn to deal with it, and adapt to the situation by realizing that the later scenarios are starting to be built with an eye toward the more optimized characters as opposed to the less-optimized ones. However, I do believe that a great deal of this can be fixed by actually following the darn script of the scenarios and playing the enemies suboptimally as written. Seriously. So many enemies and big bads do tactically terrible things like drinking a healing potion in the middle of battle, and 'smart' GMs will ignore this, leading to player deaths and an amped up difficulty. There's actually a really good chance that if players are dying with Level 1 Pregens in Tier 1-2 scenarios, the GM is taking NPCs and playing them way too hard (read: playing them in a way contrary to their tactics written in their stat block).


    There's also a multiplier effect that happens as a game system grows.

    With the core rules, you can only do so much. But as we add more race options, class options, gear options, spell options, the possibilities go up exponentially, because the pieces all affect each other.

    There's not really a good way out of this. Living Greyhawk tried the opposite, of banning quite a lot of things from organized play, and it hurt product sales.

    *****

    Ryan. Costello wrote:

    I always try to run the most recent season, but Severing Ties made me rethink that. It certainly caught my group by surprise. My group consisted of: two players I game with regularly, one new to PFS that session, one with about five scenarios spread across two characters; a longtime PFS semi-regular with a new character; an RPG veteran of 2nd/3.5 ed. The party consisted of a witch, a fighter, an oracle, and a cleric.

    Of the four encounters, two are CR four and one is, according to the scenario, impossible and meant to be avoided. The group played well, they were creative, they were tactical. I played my threats illogically pulling punches, and modified for a smaller group. It still nearly resulted in a TPK.

    If people are saying the early seasons were ridiculously easy, I might have to play a few of them to convince the players left on the first after that session that PFS is not out to kill them every time.

    Severing Ties is just rough. When I ran it, there was very nearly a TPK minus a fleeng cleric, prevented by a sorcerer using a reroll shirt, succeeding on the reroll, and some very tactical play from the cleric and sorcerer. After that I nearly perma-killed three characters except for a different sorcerer who had literally just leveled up and chosen the perfect spell known to save those characters. Now granted, the table had half 3s and half 4s rather than half 4s and half 5s, and I told them it was going to be rough. Rob Lundeen was the author of the scenario in the first TPK I mention above as well. His scenarios have some of the best RP in PFS, in my opinion, and they are also extremely challenging. This makes it the best of both worlds for someone who loves RPing and also wants a hefty challenge with a good chance of failure, but it can sometimes really seem a bait-and-switch to players who love their RP and are hoping for light combat and easy challenges to go with it for a less hectic pace.


    Mark Moreland wrote:
    To the OP and those echoing his concerns, can you please cite specific examples of encounters that you found too difficult or scenarios that felt plotless? I have several suspects in the first category, but the less vague this sort of feedback is, the more it helps the campaigns authors and those of us working on scenario development and campaign management. Thanks for the honest feedback; we appreciate it.

    Rise of the Goblin Guild:

    spoiler:

    The slime mold in the pit trap is brutal, but in a good way.

    The hobgoblin at the end is stupidly strong, an average damage roll knocks over 80% of first level characters and a crit would kill. The encounter basically turns into bombing it with the alchemists fire that's lying around everywhere. An unfun encounter.

    *****

    Funky Badger wrote:
    Mark Moreland wrote:
    To the OP and those echoing his concerns, can you please cite specific examples of encounters that you found too difficult or scenarios that felt plotless? I have several suspects in the first category, but the less vague this sort of feedback is, the more it helps the campaigns authors and those of us working on scenario development and campaign management. Thanks for the honest feedback; we appreciate it.

    Rise of the Goblin Guild:

    ** spoiler omitted **

    So this post leads to an interesting question that I wanted to bring up but forgot--so I'm not picking on you Funky Badger, but rather you inspired me:

    I've seen a lot of anguish over BBEG melee types (in some cases solo BBEG melee types) who have one or two attacks with a to-hit that is expected to hit a level 1 character's AC and damage (from either the one or two attacks) that is expected to drop a level 1 character in one full attack. I'm talking about enemies that have two attacks for 1d6+4 or one attack for 1d8+8, with maybe a +8 to hit.

    My question to those who find this too much is--given action economy, do you really want your BBEG to not be able to do this much damage on its one turn? If there's even one level 2 melee character, that mean it will take two to three turns to drop that character, even without any healing done by the other three to six characters. Even if there's no front-liner, characters can spread out and use ranged attacks.

    I actually played a scenario with one of those two attacks for 1d6+4 enemies alongside a paladin who found the amount of damage too high, which surprised me. We annihilated the thing on round 2 with little actual threat, even though we didn't go out of our way to prevent its full attacks. But the fact that it could hit so hard added a palpable feeling of danger, even though we were really completely safe.


    @Rogue Eidolon

    Spikey damage like that at micro-level is poor design. 2xd6+4 is far less deadly than 1d8+8.

    Its the difference between giving a Gnoll a greataxe, or a battle-axe.

    Never mind baddies in 1st level adventures armed with scythes of all things. Just no need for it...

    The underlying point you allude to (maybe indirectly) is single high-damage output baddies make for poor encounters, e.g. either they crit and kill someone or they get dog-piled.

    Its not easy building challenging (and fun) encounters, but I think at times more thought needs to be put into it...

    *****

    Funky Badger wrote:

    @Rogue Eidolon

    Spikey damage like that at micro-level is poor design. 2xd6+4 is far less deadly than 1d8+8.

    Its the difference between giving a Gnoll a greataxe, or a battle-axe.

    Never mind baddies in 1st level adventures armed with scythes of all things. Just no need for it...

    The underlying point you allude to (maybe indirectly) is single high-damage output baddies make for poor encounters, e.g. either they crit and kill someone or they get dog-piled.

    Its not easy building challenging (and fun) encounters, but I think at times more thought needs to be put into it...

    Yup--I was more surprised at the paladin's dislike of the two attacks for d6+4. I thought that was an eminently fair Tier 1-2 solo damage routine, with a particularly low chance for a sudden crit kill. My level 2 14 Con barbarian would have needed to be hit like 4 times to be dropped.

    Silver Crusade **

    2 people marked this as a favorite.

    I play the scenarios as written. Only with 1st level players do I throw them a break. I'm not GM vs Players, I'm NPCs vs Players. The NPCs want to win, and I play em that way.

    Do I go crazy and change the scenario? No.
    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    As a player, I don't want the enemy to fold like cardboard and give me a win, just because I'm the player. I want to earn it, to have a little fear, to be worried about the outcome. I like the scenarios that make the whole table suddenly have a case of tourettes.

    All this to say: yes, the party should win, but not if the GM is throwing out the rules to make it so.

    Liberty's Edge *****

    Alexander_Damocles wrote:


    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    Hmmm... not sure I want to play at your table now ;p

    *****

    3 people marked this as a favorite.
    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Alexander_Damocles wrote:


    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    Hmmm... not sure I want to play at your table now ;p

    To be fair, it wasn't his fault at all. That d4 was razor sharp, and he couldn't have known it would go right through the eye and pierce the brain. Like he said--it was the result of a bad dice roll. A very bad one. If anything, blame Gamescience for making their dice so exact that they couldn't settle for rounded corners.

    Liberty's Edge *****

    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Alexander_Damocles wrote:


    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    Hmmm... not sure I want to play at your table now ;p
    To be fair, it wasn't his fault at all. That d4 was razor sharp, and he couldn't have known it would go right through the eye and pierce the brain. Like he said--it was the result of a bad dice roll. A very bad one. If anything, blame Gamescience for making their dice so exact that they couldn't settle for rounded corners.

    Could you use those as shurikens?

    *****

    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Alexander_Damocles wrote:


    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    Hmmm... not sure I want to play at your table now ;p
    To be fair, it wasn't his fault at all. That d4 was razor sharp, and he couldn't have known it would go right through the eye and pierce the brain. Like he said--it was the result of a bad dice roll. A very bad one. If anything, blame Gamescience for making their dice so exact that they couldn't settle for rounded corners.
    Could you use those as shurikens?

    Unfortunately, reskinning is not allowed in PFS, and using them as shurikens would allow you to use them with the Ninja Trick Flurry of Stars to fire off two more for a swift action. They can only be used as an improvised thrown or melee weapon, though they do qualify for Catch-Off Guard if used in melee. I suppose you could put one in between each finger and make them into a brass knuckle of sorts, but expect table variation.

    *****

    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    What if I have throw anything?

    *****

    Kyle Baird wrote:
    What if I have throw anything?

    That'll negate your -4 penalty, but as it isn't a splash weapon, you don't add the +1 circumstance bonus, nor can you add your Int bonus if you are an Alchemist. If your GM allows it, you could consider rigging a dice bag as an improvised splash weapon, set to scatter the d4s out at your enemies on contact like grapeshot, but that depends heavily on GM interpretation.

    **** Venture-Captain, Pennsylvania—Philadelphia

    Now are the game science d4 piercing or bashing damage or both since the have the blunted tip?

    *****

    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Since its not a splash weapon, I get to add my STR
    bonus instead :-)

    Silver Crusade ***

    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Alexander_Damocles wrote:


    Have I killed players? Yes.
    Were those deaths the result of bad dice rolls? Yep.

    Hmmm... not sure I want to play at your table now ;p
    To be fair, it wasn't his fault at all. That d4 was razor sharp, and he couldn't have known it would go right through the eye and pierce the brain. Like he said--it was the result of a bad dice roll. A very bad one. If anything, blame Gamescience for making their dice so exact that they couldn't settle for rounded corners.
    Could you use those as shurikens?

    No, they're caltrops. They're meant to be laid on the floor, not thrown.


    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    I've seen a lot of anguish over BBEG melee types (in some cases solo BBEG melee types) who have one or two attacks with a to-hit that is expected to hit a level 1 character's AC and damage (from either the one or two attacks) that is expected to drop a level 1 character in one full attack. I'm talking about enemies that have two attacks for 1d6+4 or one attack for 1d8+8, with maybe a +8 to hit.

    I'm less concerned about one-hit knockouts than I am about one hit kills (on a non-crit).

    *****

    Jeffrey Fox wrote:
    Now are the game science d4 piercing or bashing damage or both since the have the blunted tip?

    It's actually P and B, like a morningstar. So good against either DR type, but you can't avoid splitting an ooze with them. Sorry.

    Kyle Baird wrote:


    Since its not a splash weapon, I get to add my STR
    bonus instead :-)

    True, but as a gamer, your Int is probably superior to your Str.

    *****

    hogarth wrote:
    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    I've seen a lot of anguish over BBEG melee types (in some cases solo BBEG melee types) who have one or two attacks with a to-hit that is expected to hit a level 1 character's AC and damage (from either the one or two attacks) that is expected to drop a level 1 character in one full attack. I'm talking about enemies that have two attacks for 1d6+4 or one attack for 1d8+8, with maybe a +8 to hit.
    I'm less concerned about one-hit knockouts than I am about one hit kills (on a non-crit).

    I'm in agreement here, with the caveat that the character in question isn't like a 10 Con d6 hit dice type who put favored class bonus into skill points. Tier 1-2 opponents really shouldn't be able to do more than 20 damage in a blow without critting, and players should make level 1 characters who can be alive at the end of taking 19 damage from full health. Multiple hits that tally up to more than that are fair game, though, in my opinion, even though unfortunately sometimes that can lead to bad parity. If you're particularly squishy and the enemy is a big damage dealer on a full attack, keep them at a distance, using withdraw action if necessary.

    Liberty's Edge *****

    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    Jeffrey Fox wrote:
    Now are the game science d4 piercing or bashing damage or both since the have the blunted tip?

    It's actually P and B, like a morningstar. So good against either DR type, but you can't avoid splitting an ooze with them. Sorry.

    Kyle Baird wrote:


    Since its not a splash weapon, I get to add my STR
    bonus instead :-)
    True, but as a gamer, your Int is probably superior to your Str.

    have you met Kyle, he looks pretty strong

    *****

    Andrew Christian wrote:
    Rogue Eidolon wrote:
    Jeffrey Fox wrote:
    Now are the game science d4 piercing or bashing damage or both since the have the blunted tip?

    It's actually P and B, like a morningstar. So good against either DR type, but you can't avoid splitting an ooze with them. Sorry.

    Kyle Baird wrote:


    Since its not a splash weapon, I get to add my STR
    bonus instead :-)
    True, but as a gamer, your Int is probably superior to your Str.
    have you met Kyle, he looks pretty strong

    I met him once. I still think Int bonus would be higher than Str bonus, but I'll admit it isn't nearly as much of a gap as it is for me (with my Str penalty).

    Silver Crusade **

    Good heavens, I leave y'all alone for a few hours...

    The Exchange **

    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules Subscriber
    Kyle Baird wrote:
    The iconics are anything but "under powered." When run by average players, they do quite well.

    I ran a 7-11 module not long ago where the whole party was actually saved by the 14 year old playing the level 7 iconic gunslinger...

    Grand Lodge *****

    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Tales Subscriber

    I would like to chime in here with my experience. A well written scenario offers me a lot of options.

    I think I GMed Voices of the Void 7 times and it was my early favourite. I had groups with 4 level 1 to 7 players and the last one was a game with 6 experienced players level 2-3.

    In all these games I killed one character. This was done with the weakest monster of the whole scenario and was an utter failure of the group if newbies (the character killed was played by an experienced player who watched him being devoured slowly over 5 rounds).

    I do roll in the open and I follow tactics.

    So what are tactics to soften / harden a fight?

    1) follow someone fleeing a room. Giving characters the option to regroup can make loads of difference.
    2) buffs that expire. This can be connected with 1) or it can be done in conjunction with noise from an earlier fight. The strong group will carry through straight - meet the buffed up monster / BBEG. The weaker group might need to lick wounds between fights. Often tactics are that someone buffs when he hears noises. Take advantage of that. Possibly even suggest a very weak group to recoup first.
    3) concentrating damage or spreading it out. Concentrating all damage on the weakest member is the most deadly version - spreading it or preferably attacking the tank makes it much less deadly.
    4) spell selection - there are spells that take out someone - especially weak willed fighters or barbarians. This does alter the balance significantly. So you need to know when to use them to maximum devastation and when to use the safer option of a HP drain.
    5) kicking someone already on the ground. I avoid it with weaker groups. But it can get the scare into owner powered groups if one of them is on the ground and they know they 'won' but only have this one round to save their comrade.

    I always try to make it challenging - while avoiding outright kills.

    I think I managed well with a single TPK in 100+ games but many more games were TPK or death was avoided by lucky rolls or heroic actions.

    Do I meta game as GM? Only as far as the meta gaming is justifiable by the plot and the motivations of the monsters.

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