Business Model vs. Sacred Cow: The Curious Case of Top-Tier Play


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From AD&D to PF1, I’ve played the incarnations of the game (except for 4e & 5e) for 30 years. For pretty much that entire time, high-level play has always been part of the game, albeit a problematic one. Inflating math that makes die rolls meaningless at worst or drives numbers bloat at best, involuntary tonal shifts in a campaign, GM burden, and other issues have existed pretty consistently through all of these as well. These, combined with the seeming unconscious need to expand spellcasters’ power in each subsequent edition has exacerbated the issue where the “Appendix N” inspirational material has to be discarded in favor of the saga of Beowulf and heroes of Greek myth (most of whom are demigods) just to keep up, resulting in a game that more closely resembles cosmic-tier superhero RPGs than swords-and-sorcery or high fantasy.

Paizo’s blog on the Legendary tier looks to continue that trend where feats that would be considered impossible barring technology or magic will be unlocked via level & skill feats.

If you like it, that’s cool. If you don’t (like me), you’re very likely going to be disappointed unless Legendary is easily removed (as has been suggested – we’ll see). It did get me wondering about the business side of it, though.

Anecdotal ‘realities’ of high-level play:
1. The math breaks down at higher levels

2. The caster-martial disparity is very prominent

3. Most campaigns end by 10-12 (this one is often cited by proponents of high-level play as part of the “what’s the harm in having it” argument)

4. The ‘vast majority’ of games take place in the level 1-12 range.

5. The campaign focus/tone shifts whether the GM or players want it to by virtue of the power the players wield. For some, this is a feature. For others, it morphs the campaign into something radically different that often isn’t as entertaining (thus contributing to point #3).

6. High-level play devolves into rocket tag

7. Proponents of high-level play are fine with “quadratic wizards” and want “quadratic martials” to match to avoid player ‘disenfranchisement’.

Comments on business realities of high-level products made by Paizo (seminars, forum posts, etc.)
1. Low-level modules sell better than high-level ones (significantly so)

2. The 6th installment of an AP typically sells far less than installments 1-3

3. Mythic was not particularly well received and thus was only used for 1 AP and rarely applied to monsters in later products. Whether this was due to WotR being developed while Mythic rules were being written and the disconnect that created in the AP or if it was in response to the Mythic rules themselves, has not been stated to my knowledge.

4. Pathfinder Society tops out in the level 12-13 range

Which begs the question:If high-level play is problematic, or at least challenging to design for, and is less popular by significant and measurable means, how does it make sense to devote ½ of your new edition’s core product to supporting that style of play?

Businesses often like referring to 80-20 rules. We have no way of knowing what the ratio of low-level vs. high-level play is, but the conceptual extrapolation stands: does it make sense from a business standpoint to devote ½ your development effort and page count to something that (for example’s sake) only 20% of your customers will use?

If high-level play equated to a high-end product generating equal or greater revenues, the answer would be obvious. But RPG content doesn’t work that way. So why do it for PF2?

Here are my suspicions:
1. Sacred Cow/legacy/nostalgia – since it’s always been there, the fear is that its absence will be poorly received even though most groups don’t utilize that content.

2. Bestiaries & Monsters – Paizo wants to continue to create high-level monster content for bestiaries and AP backmatter even if most of them won’t see play at a table. Developing monsters that PCs have no mechanical means of challenging would kill enthusiasm for such creatures.

A model that would seem to make more sense would be something similar to what was done in D&D’s early days with the Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal series: gate the core rules by the style of game desired by the level range. Say, PF Heroic (CRB1 = levels 1-10); PF Legendary (CRB 2 = levels 11-20), for example. Bestiaries would be unaffected. We’re already seeing Aps of varying lengths and level ranges with Starfinder. Thus, PF2 APs could be written for Heroic tiers, Legendary tiers, and follow the legacy model of spanning the range. Additionally, Paizo could expand GM advice to address both all levels of play. Finally, Paizo would have a more concrete segmentation of what is selling and what isn’t.

I know it’ll never happen but to me it’s a more elegant solution as it allows the customer to avoid purchasing content that they don’t want need while allowing Paizo to target more efficiently on the content being created for a particular tier of play.

Since PF fans are presumably ok with a steady publication of supplements, would you rather see content divided this way for more targeted focus for both Paizo & customers or do you prefer the all-in-one/across the spectrum approach? (This is a theoretical/curiosity thread, so high-level/epic/mythic fans you can put your flamethrowers away.)

Liberty's Edge

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I think, from a business perspective, they're just analyzing cause and effect. The issues with high level play are why they're adjusting high level play to work better (making the math work and so on), which they hope will increase sales of later AP volumes and other high level content.

If they succeed in making high level play more workable, they are probably correct.

Additionally, they're not necessarily devoting more AP volumes to high level play. They're speeding up leveling at higher levels. For example, I just finished the third book of an AP with PCs at level 10. They'll be Level 13 by the end of the 4th book. The fifth ends with them level 15, and the sixth level 17. This is typical of APs.

If those books each got you one more level, you'd get to level 20 by the end, and no more books would deal with level 14+ play than do right now.


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I get how the APs work. I understand the desire to "fix" high-level play, even if I don't agree with the route they are going.

But companies have finite resources. If Product A is selling more than Product B, barring trying to recoup costs, most companies try to sell the hell out of A rather than continuing to devote resources to Product B.

As a former AP subscriber, I have many APs and all of the installments. The odds of me playing those higher level installments is effectively zero, however. For customers that aren't subscribers, by Paizo's own admission, the higher-level installments sell less.

"Level 20" is just an arbitrary construct anyway. I play RPGs for the story and character development, not with the goal of reaching level 20. Others do, I get that, but based on the info I laid out above, they aren't the majority.

So while I get what you're saying, another way of addressing the 'cause and effect' would be to develop the game around the levels people are playing in greater numbers and expanding that vs. yet another go-round of "fixing" high-level play, which in 30+ years has a pretty soft track record of success.

Liberty's Edge

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They're changing the system completely. However they did that, the experience of all the levels of play they created would change. And however they did it, they'd try and make all the levels of play there were mechanically solid and fun. So why not the option that allows setting continuity?

There's also a matter of how much people object to certain kinds of change. If they dropped having 20 levels of play, the number of players they'd lose would be astronomical, simply because a fair number of Pathfinder fans don't like change.

The designers have specifically noted in various places that they've been very careful and selective in regards to what sacred cows they slaughtered so as to leave the game recognizable and not drive away existing players, while also hopefully attracting new ones. It's a delicate balancing act and saying 'Well, there are only 12 levels now. No more high level play ever!' would destroy that careful balance utterly.

Even some people who never play high level games would probably leave over that.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

To me Paizo has always been gamers making games for gamers.

They are not folks in business suits, looking over spreadsheet, cancelling the bottom 10% of products to try a different 10% to see if it brings in more revenue.

It is my understanding that when Hasbro acquired several RPG games and licenses, they did just that, closing down games that were making a profit (even is only a small one) to "focus" the resources on other games. To me this is a net loss to the gaming industry and players, even if it is a completely rational business decision.

And I am not sure what your complaint or goal is in this thread.
Are you looking for Paizo to produce more short APs, that stop at level 10, and less that go to levels 17-20?
Are you trying to understand their business model and decisions?
Are you trying to influence their business decisions?


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BPorter wrote:
From AD&D to PF1, I’ve played the incarnations of the game (except for 4e & 5e)

I had to stop here, just to highlight that this might effect things presented here, I would prefer a total knowledge (some sort of play-experience) in analyses of all past and current editions of D&D/PF1.

I will read the rest of the post, but I thought this was pertinent, for integrity.

Avanti! *said like Kevin Kline in Wild, Wild West*


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BPorter wrote:

Anecdotal ‘realities’ of high-level play:

1. The math breaks down at higher levels

I know how to repair broken math.

The breakage is from two causes: (1) Specialization improves one specialty faster than the game can compensate for and remain balanced. (2) In some places the game uses linear math when linear does not work. Over a short range, all functions look approximately linear, but go past that short range, such as levels 1-4, and it could end up too high or too low.

Once I determine the cause, I can compensate. The best way to compensate for specialization is to throw new kinds of threats at the PCs before they over-specialize. They will have to diversify their strategies.

BPorter wrote:

3. Most campaigns end by 10-12 (this one is often cited by proponents of high-level play as part of the “what’s the harm in having it” argument)

4. The ‘vast majority’ of games take place in the level 1-12 range.

Most of my games are campaigns that start at 1st level and advance upward from there. Starting at 1st level mean that the low levels are played and, if the game ends for a non-game reason, the high levels might not be played. For example, my wife and I left a Serpent's Skull campaign at 13th level because we moved to a different state. This effect says nothing about the quality of high-level play.

BPorter wrote:
5. The campaign focus/tone shifts whether the GM or players want it to by virtue of the power the players wield. For some, this is a feature. For others, it morphs the campaign into something radically different that often isn’t as entertaining (thus contributing to point #3).

See what I said about point 1. I am a person who considers the shift in tone to be a feature.

I also know players who hate the vulnerability of 1st and 2nd level and love the shift in tone that occurs at 3rd level and beyond.

BPorter wrote:
7. Proponents of high-level play are fine with “quadratic wizards” and want “quadratic martials” to match to avoid player ‘disenfranchisement’.

No, quadratic is too flat a curve. I want exponential.

BPorter wrote:

Comments on business realities of high-level products made by Paizo (seminars, forum posts, etc.)

1. Low-level modules sell better than high-level ones (significantly so)

2. The 6th installment of an AP typically sells far less than installments 1-3

That is a case of campaigns ending before the end of the adventure path.

In contrast, when I finished a Rise of the Runelords campaign at 17th level, the players wanted to keep playing those characters. So I purchased The Witchwar Legacy module which became at 17th level in a country adjacent to the setting of Rise of the Runelords. After the module, I create homebrew material up to 20th level.

BPorter wrote:
3. Mythic was not particularly well received and thus was only used for 1 AP and rarely applied to monsters in later products. Whether this was due to WotR being developed while Mythic rules were being written and the disconnect that created in the AP or if it was in response to the Mythic rules themselves, has not been stated to my knowledge.

Mythic is not related to high-level play. It is supplemental abilities that the PCs start earning at low levels.

BPorter wrote:
Which begs the question: If high-level play is problematic, or at least challenging to design for, and is less popular by significant and measurable means, how does it make sense to devote ½ of your new edition’s core product to supporting that style of play?

That is not what "Begs the question" means.

In what way does "half of your new edition's core product" support high-level play if high level begins at 13th or 14th level? Providing materials for 1st through 20th level would make 13th and higher 40% of the product. And most character class descriptions related to the lower levels, where the characters first learn weapon proficiencies, spellcasting techniques, etc. The text for the high-level abilities is relatively short, mostly saying more of the low-level abilities with higher numbers. The exception is the capstone abilities at 20th level, which is specialty support for high level.

And Paizo offers few modules that start at 17th level. I saw only two when I purchased The Witchwar Legacy.

I skipped many points because they all have one answer that might not apply to others. My players deliberately design their characters to avoid problems at higher levels. They don't go for rocket tag, they don't exploit unbalanced caster abilities, etc. Instead, the tone shifts to intrigue and politics, because they can deal with kings and the monster-equivalent of kings on an equal level.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Mathmuse wrote:
No, quadratic is too flat a curve. I want exponential.

We're not literally measuring the power growth and finding a best fit curve. When we're saying linear fighter vs quadratic wizard, what we're saying is that the fighter grows in in one dimension (more power) while the wizard grows in two dimensions (more power and more options). This is the reason why the problem couldn't be fixed just by giving the fighter bigger numbers. The size of the fighter's numbers was never the problem, the issue was that the wizard was constantly gaining new options while the fighter did not, so by the time you reached 20th the fighter's niche seemed minuscule by comparison.

In practice, the growth in raw combat power isn't linear (two 5th level fighters are much weaker than a 10th level fighter) and probably is closer to the exponential to begin with. But that's not what linear fighter / quadratic wizard is getting it.

Sovereign Court

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If they can at least get the first half of the game right, everything will be alright. Why not take a stab at the unicorn that is fun mechanically sound high level play?

Liberty's Edge

Mistwalker wrote:
To me Paizo has always been gamers making games for gamers.

For the record, I also believe this to be true. I just also felt that noting the business logic of Paizo's decisions (which is quite strong) was important.

Scarab Sages

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Ignoring High Level play would actually be detrimental to low-level play. The existence of high level abilities as a carrot-on-a-stick for players is a core aspect of what makes gaining levels fun. If you remove that, you remove some incentive for players, which hurts the game overall.

Additionally, one might argue that if higher level play were more feasible to run, it would occupy a larger part of the market.


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Is there any reason Paizo Shouldn't try to make high level as high quality as they reasonably can? They want to make a high quality product as best they can.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Deadmanwalking wrote:
Mistwalker wrote:
To me Paizo has always been gamers making games for gamers.
For the record, I also believe this to be true. I just also felt that noting the business logic of Paizo's decisions (which is quite strong) was important.

I agree that Paizo does have a lot of business sense.

I was trying to point out that profit margins/logical pure business case is not the only thing that Paizo looks at when making decisions. Paizo management and employees are gamers, who want the games to be fun to play and to continue to do so for years to come.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
Mistwalker wrote:
To me Paizo has always been gamers making games for gamers.
For the record, I also believe this to be true. I just also felt that noting the business logic of Paizo's decisions (which is quite strong) was important.

Yep, I mean, shortly after 4th Ed's launch, I got a personal reply from Lisa Stevens.

Paizo rocks the free world, as far as companies/businesses go, especially in this day and age of not getting to know your local grocer (cue Godfather).

Also, there is a great bit by Erik Mona out there about his early days at WotC, where he sent out an Email, and someone exclaimed "Who the hell is Erik Mona?!"


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Most of your issues with high level play rest on the assumption that the math is broken (1).

3) Most campaigns end by 10-12: Perhaps the broken math is the cause
4) The ‘vast majority’ of games take place in the level 1-12 range: Perhaps the broken math is the cause. (and btw, this is exactly the same statement as 3)

1. Low-level modules sell better than high-level ones (significantly so): Perhaps the broken math is the cause.
2. The 6th installment of an AP typically sells far less than installments 1-3. Perhaps the broken math is the cause (and btw, this is exactly the same statement as 1)
4. Pathfinder Society tops out in the level 12-13 range: Perhaps the broken math is the cause

does it make sense from a business standpoint to devote ½ your development effort and page count to something that (for example’s sake) only 20% of your customers will use? Perhaps the broken math is the cause
If Product A is selling more than Product B, barring trying to recoup costs, most companies try to sell the hell out of A rather than continuing to devote resources to Product B.Perhaps the broken math is the cause.

If you're a company that sees broken math as the primary cause for a lot of the problems with a product, why not try to fix the broken math and solve all those other problems at the same time?

If you fix the broken math, look at how many of the issues you cite disappear.


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Does anyone else remember when "High Level Play" was trying to swing the cost of building your own fortress, and seeing if you could attract

3-7 8th level fighters
2-12 fighters of 4th to 7th level
20-200 fighters of 1st to 3rd level

or something like that?


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I genuinely wonder how much "groups tend not to finish APs" is a function of "It's hard to get a group of people to keep doing anything regularly for 6+ months."

So some of this could be solved by 3+3 APs, where you can play the same characters all the way through but it also is designed to end at level 10, or start at level 11 depending on what the group wants.


Terquem wrote:

Does anyone else remember when "High Level Play" was trying to swing the cost of building your own fortress, and seeing if you could attract

3-7 8th level fighters
2-12 fighters of 4th to 7th level
20-200 fighters of 1st to 3rd level

or something like that?

Yes, 1st Ed AD&D, the game/rules are readily available for anyone to enjoy, and they should.


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CrystalSeas wrote:

Most of your issues with high level play rest on the assumption that the math is broken (1).

3) Most campaigns end by 10-12: Perhaps the broken math is the cause
4) The ‘vast majority’ of games take place in the level 1-12 range: Perhaps the broken math is the cause. (and btw, this is exactly the same statement as 3)

1. Low-level modules sell better than high-level ones (significantly so): Perhaps the broken math is the cause.
2. The 6th installment of an AP typically sells far less than installments 1-3. Perhaps the broken math is the cause (and btw, this is exactly the same statement as 1)
4. Pathfinder Society tops out in the level 12-13 range: Perhaps the broken math is the cause

does it make sense from a business standpoint to devote ½ your development effort and page count to something that (for example’s sake) only 20% of your customers will use? Perhaps the broken math is the cause
If Product A is selling more than Product B, barring trying to recoup costs, most companies try to sell the hell out of A rather than continuing to devote resources to Product B.Perhaps the broken math is the cause.

If you're a company that sees broken math as the primary cause for a lot of the problems with a product, why not try to fix the broken math and solve all those other problems at the same time?

If you fix the broken math, look at how many of the issues you cite disappear.

This, yes. Let me add a few layers, and a few propositions. Maybe they'll help; I'm not sure.

1. Gamers *like to keep their characters*, and *develop their characters*. From this standpoint, high level play is /very/ attractive. It's just that before, the math breaks down. Fix the math, and people enjoy their PCs, longer.

2. If we look at the pyramid effect, of fewer high level PCs and more lower ones, that's also due to math. But, that can be easily addressed.

A. Switch downtime costs and rewards to be based off of the encounter-awards system. This can let players choose to level their PCs faster at different points in their career, which will up their higher level numbers--and therefore number of players.

B. Offer a level as a Society reward, which has a similar effect as #2, plus opens up a new way to reward players (I hope they do #2 anyway, because it's just that much cleaner in other respects.)

C. Do like the old days, and just let folks start with a LX PC for certain scenarios. This is an old tradition, or "sacred cow." Haha. :D


PossibleCabbage wrote:

I genuinely wonder how much "groups tend not to finish APs" is a function of "It's hard to get a group of people to keep doing anything regularly for 6+ months."

So some of this could be solved by 3+3 APs, where you can play the same characters all the way through but it also is designed to end at level 10, or start at level 11 depending on what the group wants.

This is (appears to be?) what they are trying with Starfinder.


For me our groups lack of high level playing comes from a few things. Time, and mechanical bloat. The fact that you get over the top awesome stuff was the only reason we tried to do it all, not a con in the slightest.

PF2 looks to be solving these issues for me. Easily scalable xp to level makes it super fast for me to adjust the pacing and the unified systems seem to reduce the base line bloat.

For folks who don't like how much level factors into your abilities and find it takes too long to hit higher levels I'd suggest condensing what you get each level to make the game go from 1-10. So lvl 1 gets you all the features and options of levels 1 AND 2, 2 gets you 3 AND 4 etc, but the numerical bonus only scales from 1-10


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PossibleCabbage wrote:

I genuinely wonder how much "groups tend not to finish APs" is a function of "It's hard to get a group of people to keep doing anything regularly for 6+ months."

So some of this could be solved by 3+3 APs, where you can play the same characters all the way through but it also is designed to end at level 10, or start at level 11 depending on what the group wants.

There's also a factor of newbies to consider. Building a 10th level character is quite the endeavor for a new player, so folks are more likely to want to at least start at low levels so they can gradually learn stuff. High level play is also harder on GMs because monster stat blocks get way more complicated than they need to be.

I don't think building a high level PC from scratch will be significantly easier, but it probably will be at least a little less granular with skill points and favored class bonuses gone. But not having to verify what every feat a monster has actually does is a huge time saver for GMs. Casting mechanics be easier too.

Also, don't confuse lack of opportunity with lack of interest. It is hard to find a high level campaign, but there are plenty of us who would enjoy it. I'd probably play PFS if I didn't have to slog through all the low levels to get to the cool stuff.


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Dasrak wrote:
The size of the fighter's numbers was never the problem,

Nitpicking a bit here, but in 3.5 the fighters numbers were a bit to low mainly due not being able to deal with many damage reduction at high level, but also because he generally was a bit lackluster. To add insult to injury the cleric could reach his damage numbers (without using spaltbooks). All of these problems were mostly fixed in pathfinder.

Liberty's Edge

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Captain Morgan wrote:

There's also a factor of newbies to consider. Building a 10th level character is quite the endeavor for a new player, so folks are more likely to want to at least start at low levels so they can gradually learn stuff. High level play is also harder on GMs because monster stat blocks get way more complicated than they need to be.

I don't think building a high level PC from scratch will be significantly easier, but it probably will be at least a little less granular with skill points and favored class bonuses gone. But not having to verify what every feat a monster has actually does is a huge time saver for GMs. Casting mechanics be easier too.

Additionally, we've seen a high level monster stat-block (the Grim Reaper) and it was actually quite simple and easy to work with, IMO. It's terrifying, mind you, but not anywhere close to the complexity of many PF1 monsters.

And I actually do think building a high level PC will be somewhat easier, simply because there are less fiddly little bits and less need for so many different magic items (always a long part of high level chargen in PF1).


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Dasrak wrote:
Mathmuse wrote:
No, quadratic is too flat a curve. I want exponential.
We're not literally measuring the power growth and finding a best fit curve. When we're saying linear fighter vs quadratic wizard, what we're saying is that the fighter grows in in one dimension (more power) while the wizard grows in two dimensions (more power and more options). This is the reason why the problem couldn't be fixed just by giving the fighter bigger numbers. The size of the fighter's numbers was never the problem, the issue was that the wizard was constantly gaining new options while the fighter did not, so by the time you reached 20th the fighter's niche seemed minuscule by comparison.

I have toyed with the idea of giving casters half as many spells known, just to see if that fixes the problem.

The problem is, at low levels, casters really aren't too powerful. They are probably weaker than martials. At high levels, they have way too many options and the balancing aspect of "they have limited uses of their powers" is laughable, as most casters don't run out of casts during any reasonable adventuring day. Even if they do, most can have scrolls or wands cover for them.

It appears as though PF2 might be fixing this problem already as casters aren't getting bonus spells and their base number is being reduced. We will have to see how often casters learn new spells. 1 per level would probably be fine, especially since you can upcast spells now.


CrystalSeas wrote:
If you fix the broken math, look at how many of the issues you cite disappear.

This is an interesting question.

'Fixing the math' might solve the 'rocket tag damage' problem, but if high-level Wizards can simply Wish their problems away, that breaks a lot of possible stories.

And if everyone is starting at level 1, then a lot of games won't make it to level 15 just because of real life problems, TPKs, story coming to a natural end, etc.

So, for people who have played similar game systems (4e, 5e, etc) to high level:
Do you think the high-level math is OK?
Does that make high-level play happen more?


Matthew Downie wrote:
CrystalSeas wrote:
If you fix the broken math, look at how many of the issues you cite disappear.

This is an interesting question.

'Fixing the math' might solve the 'rocket tag damage' problem, but if high-level Wizards can simply Wish their problems away, that breaks a lot of possible stories.

And if everyone is starting at level 1, then a lot of games won't make it to level 15 just because of real life problems, TPKs, story coming to a natural end, etc.

So, for people who have played similar game systems (4e, 5e, etc) to high level:
Do you think the high-level math is OK?
Does that make high-level play happen more?

Having played both of those the maths is okay. Homogeneity killed 4e for us. 5e has good maths but it failed at making high level feel at all like high level. Hopefully PF2E will avoid those two pitfalls.

Also it has already semi solved the Wish problem, now that Wish is a lvl 20 Capstone spell.


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Matthew Downie wrote:
CrystalSeas wrote:
If you fix the broken math, look at how many of the issues you cite disappear.

This is an interesting question.

'Fixing the math' might solve the 'rocket tag damage' problem, but if high-level Wizards can simply Wish their problems away, that breaks a lot of possible stories.

Saying "a wizard has more options" isn't mathematically quantifiable. Wish keeps getting brought up as breaking things, but in my experience, I've never seen it break the story.

Once it was used as an out-of-the-box solution to a problem, but the PCs did need to pay for it.

Matthew Downie wrote:


And if everyone is starting at level 1, then a lot of games won't make it to level 15 just because of real life problems, TPKs, story coming to a natural end, etc.

So, for people who have played similar game systems (4e, 5e, etc) to high level:
Do you think the high-level math is OK?
Does that make high-level play happen more?

So, I've played a bunch of 3.5e games up to 20th level, Pathfinder campaigns up to 19th level, a 4e campaign up to 25th level, and a 5e campaign up to 18th level.

Many other campaigns have been ended, not due to player unhappiness, but due to players moving away or becoming unavailable. I believe that this is the main cause of lack of top-tier play.

Another datapoint - every time I've offered to run high-tier PFS games (level 12+), there is a clamouring of demand for it.

I felt that the play in 5e after around 10th level to be extremely sameish - I didn't feel that my character was achieving any advancement as I levelled up. It was wholly unsatisfying. This even includes when my character was willingly turned into a vampire and also had the opportunity to use several Wishes.

My 4e experience was different. I definitely felt the number bloat; In addition, I felt that the artificial constraints imposed by the system were getting too much in the way of a good game. (And this is not even bringing up the errors that WotC made when figuring monster HP causing combats to take Ages)...

High level Pathfinder, however, highlights several surprising factors.


  • The way that saves (and immunities) tend to outpace spellcasting DCs, especially when the limited high-level (and accordingly high-DC) slots available come into play, mean that Rocket-Tag doesn't happen as often as it is portrayed.
  • Casters, unless explicitly specced to do so, are horrible at inflicting meaningful amounts of damage to enemies. Martial characters are definitely king-of-the-hill in this regards.
  • The groups I played in never tried to pull off the "five-minute adventuring day", either through peer-pressure, or more often due to a campaign-influenced time limit.
  • One particularly surprising thing was the fact that mundane stealth remained very important.
  • Action Economy is again very important. This means that Quickened spells are yet another tax of those high-level spell slots

The high-level 3.5e play that I was playing involved people specifically setting out to break the game. Needless to say, if you try hard enough to break a system, it'll break.


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Malk_Content wrote:

For me our groups lack of high level playing comes from a few things. Time, and mechanical bloat. The fact that you get over the top awesome stuff was the only reason we tried to do it all, not a con in the slightest.

PF2 looks to be solving these issues for me. Easily scalable xp to level makes it super fast for me to adjust the pacing and the unified systems seem to reduce the base line bloat. ...

One problem my players have had with higher levels, which BPorter should add to his list, is opportunity bloat that increases the time of combat.

At 1st level, a PC can move and attack or move and cast a spell. It is pretty simple.

At 11th level, it could be a standard action to cast a spell or attack, a swift action to activate a special ability such as a style feat stance, a move action for another special ability such as a bard song (becomes a move action at 7th level), and then a free action such as Quick Drawing a weapon. In addition, most players playing a caster will spend a few minutes checking their list of prepared spells to decide which one to cast. And an attack could be a standard action or absorb the move action for three iterated attacks and maybe two-weapon fighting, too.

Eleventh-level combat takes three times as long as 1st-level combat.

The Pathfinder 2nd Edition three-actions-per-turn system will balance that problem. The 1st-level characters will have more options and the 11th-level characters will have fewer.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
Additionally, we've seen a high level monster stat-block (the Grim Reaper) and it was actually quite simple and easy to work with, IMO. It's terrifying, mind you, but not anywhere close to the complexity of many PF1 monsters.

Yes, definitely reined more into the realm of management during play.


Matthew Downie wrote:

So, for people who have played similar game systems (4e, 5e, etc) to high level:

Do you think the high-level math is OK?
Does that make high-level play happen more?

I've only played a little 5e, but I will say for 4e, the math worked out pretty well across the board (that was one of their primary design goals after all), but combat was incredibly slow, most of the time, so I'd wager high level play happened less, simply because it took longer to get there. If PF2e manages to solve rocket tag, and keep the math relatively constrained, without combat taking most of a session, I think people will probably be more invested in taking a campaign to higher levels.


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"If high-level play is problematic... how does it make sense to devote ½ of your new edition’s core product to supporting that style of play?"

You're ok with 1-12 play. Leaving 8 levels. But what does level 12 play look like?
You are fighting enemies that are individually more powerful, unless they are in large groups.
So at level 12 you could be fighting level 16 BBEG wizards, barbarians, etc.
In other words, of the 8 levels above what you consider mainstream, at least HALF is relevant to NPCs 12th level PCs could face.

I also think the way they are stringing out abilities, breaking down spells to have lesser effect except on Critical Save Failures, etc, will make play at least up to 15th level more valid.

And Paizo wants to keep the door open to big superheroic finales in APs. Doesn't matter that it is only small part of play (although it is larger part when you consider enemies facing ~12th level PCs), it is something to AIM FOR when anticipating a campaign arc.

I see you also ignore that the P2E math is clearly NOT going to break down at high levels, everything is being designed for that NOT to happen. Early editions simply did not have systemic math design adhered to, which is why the math broke down. When all potential bonuses are accounted for to remain within constrained parameters, the math can't break down. They are addressing caster martial disparity. Rocket tag will be reduced by higher likelyhood to Save, partial failure/success and so on. I mean, you may not be interested in 20th level Legendary Proficiency stuff per se, but it's beggaring belief to think they are not extending the levels of play which work well for most players. (obviously, nobody is required to gain Legendary skill stuff, boosting other skills is just as valid choice)


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Tholomyes wrote:
Matthew Downie wrote:

So, for people who have played similar game systems (4e, 5e, etc) to high level:

Do you think the high-level math is OK?
Does that make high-level play happen more?
I've only played a little 5e, but I will say for 4e, the math worked out pretty well across the board (that was one of their primary design goals after all), but combat was incredibly slow, most of the time, so I'd wager high level play happened less, simply because it took longer to get there

Yep, that and out of turn actions; I was running a 17th-level 4th Ed campaign, and the Warlock spent more time doing stuff on other people's turns than his own or theirs. Tracking conditions becomes a nightmare, and even at higher levels the math breaks down, hence those vulgar fix-feats.


Quandary wrote:

"If high-level play is problematic... how does it make sense to devote ½ of your new edition’s core product to supporting that style of play?"

You're ok with 1-12 play. Leaving 8 levels. But what does level 12 play look like?
You are fighting enemies that are individually more powerful, unless they are in large groups.
So at level 12 you could be fighting level 16 BBEG wizards, barbarians, etc.
In other words, of the 8 levels above what you consider mainstream, at least HALF is relevant to NPCs 12th level PCs could face.

I also think the way they are stringing out abilities, breaking down spells to have lesser effect except on Critical Save Failures, etc, will make play at least up to 15th level more valid.

And Paizo wants to keep the door open to big superheroic finales in APs. Doesn't matter that it is only small part of play (although it is larger part when you consider enemies facing ~12th level PCs), it is something to AIM FOR when anticipating a campaign arc.

I see you also ignore that the P2E math is clearly NOT going to break down at high levels, everything is being designed for that NOT to happen. Early editions simply did not have systemic math design adhered to, which is why the math broke down. When all potential bonuses are accounted for to remain within constrained parameters, the math can't break down. They are addressing caster martial disparity. Rocket tag will be reduced by higher likelyhood to Save, partial failure/success and so on. I mean, you may not be interested in 20th level Legendary Proficiency stuff per se, but it's beggaring belief to think they are not extending the levels of play which work well for most players. (obviously, nobody is required to gain Legendary skill stuff, boosting other skills is just as valid choice)

In some of them sure - But it should not be all of them.


Like the OP I don't like high level play - our solution is to play P6, as it is great for the gritty kind of games that we like:-)

I wonder if there'll be a P62ED? And how hard it would be to create ...


Weather Report wrote:
Terquem wrote:

Does anyone else remember when "High Level Play" was trying to swing the cost of building your own fortress, and seeing if you could attract

3-7 8th level fighters
2-12 fighters of 4th to 7th level
20-200 fighters of 1st to 3rd level

or something like that?

Yes, 1st Ed AD&D, the game/rules are readily available for anyone to enjoy, and they should.

So, I'm not well acquainted with all the Pathfinder rules myself, but are there "High Level Play" rules in the 1st edition for creating a fortress/town/community

and you know, managing it?


GRuzom wrote:

Like the OP I don't like high level play - our solution is to play P6, as it is great for the gritty kind of games that we like:-)

I wonder if there'll be a P62ED? And how hard it would be to create ...

I think it will be harder than in PF1e, because of the way that they're reducing feat chains. A lot of things that used to be level gated just by having large feat prerequisites are going to either scale by level, or have level prereqs in 2e. As a result, I suspect the pool of feats that you can select for post-6th advancement will be fairly limited, at least early on in PF2e's lifetime.

That being said, I'm sure a lot of this will be solved as more books get released, and probably you can even allow certain higher-level feats that don't break the gritty feel, but I suspect it will be harder.


Terquem wrote:
Weather Report wrote:
Terquem wrote:

Does anyone else remember when "High Level Play" was trying to swing the cost of building your own fortress, and seeing if you could attract

3-7 8th level fighters
2-12 fighters of 4th to 7th level
20-200 fighters of 1st to 3rd level

or something like that?

Yes, 1st Ed AD&D, the game/rules are readily available for anyone to enjoy, and they should.

So, I'm not well acquainted with all the Pathfinder rules myself, but are there "High Level Play" rules in the 1st edition for creating a fortress/town/community

and you know, managing it?

There are some pretty similar rules first detailed in the Kingmaker AP, and later expanded on (I believe) in Ultimate Campaign. From what I remember of 1e AD&D, it's not exactly a 1:1 comparison, but I'd wager it's pretty good for that feel.


Make mine Mythic. Moldvay box to Pathfinder. I don't have a problem with high level play.

Liberty's Edge

Tholomyes wrote:
I think it will be harder than in PF1e, because of the way that they're reducing feat chains. A lot of things that used to be level gated just by having large feat prerequisites are going to either scale by level, or have level prereqs in 2e. As a result, I suspect the pool of feats that you can select for post-6th advancement will be fairly limited, at least early on in PF2e's lifetime.

You could also just fiddle with PF2's version of E6. I mean, it's not a huge stretch to allow a Feat or three of higher level if you organize it properly (though really high level Feats are probably too powerful).

There's also nearly limitless skill options, since there's a Skill Feat available to get a new Trained skill and several Skill Feats for every skill, even if you're only Trained in them. If you add a Feat to get additional Expert skills (something that would definitely not be a good idea in normal play but might in E6), you could even get more of those. That could be interesting.


I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11


Terquem wrote:

I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11

Right on, apparently 10+ is rare, at least amongst D&D campaigns, and in general I agree, especially for campaigns that start at early levels, but, to save anecdote time, I have ran several campaigns in different editions that have gone beyond 11th-level.

Liberty's Edge

Terquem wrote:

I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11

I've played every version since AD&D 2E. I think I've only played in a game with high level characters in 3.5 and Pathfinder...but then I only played everything other than Pathfinder briefly, and I've played (or more often run) several games featuring high level characters.


Terquem wrote:

I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11

Because?


Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:
Terquem wrote:

I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11

Because?

In every situation, the players felt board with those characters and were more interested in starting new adventures with new characters in new settings.


I've had several campaigns go into the upper teens in level. The main reason it doesn't, as many have already said is that a player (or more often the GM) moves away or gets a new job/has a baby and can't make the time commitment.

The other reason we avoided high level play is not that the math was bad, but because the classes become so complicated to play that you had to have full system mastery to know how to build your character to actually be effective. A more casual player will struggle with the very complicated action economy + bloated splat book options.

From what I've seen so far, 2E should fix the latter issues (since the can't really do anything about the former).

The Exchange

I feel that high level play tends to fail for three reasons.

1) The saving throw system legacy from 3E
The saving throw system from 3E encourages hyperspecialization for saves to be effective. Coupled wiht the poor save category for most classes, npcs and monsters this creates wildly imbalancing situations that result in games of rocket tag where each side launches a variety of save vs suck/die spells at each other untill one side fails a save.

2) Too much of the game world is known.
There is no fear of the unknown and players can read upon on established game settings. This also does not allow room for the PC's to grow. This has always been a fault of D&D since the TSR early days where settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms & Dragon Lance have long established nations that do not allow for much in the way of independence. Yes, it would be nice to go back to early D&D roots, establish a keep and attract followers but what is the point when you cannot field armies close to what established nations can produce?

3) Martial PC's are too overpowered and combats become cakewalks.
This may be counterintuitive since most complaints on any internet boards are about caster dominance but put simply, monsters do not stack up to martial characters in combat prowess unless there is a big CR disparity. You can see this as each edition of D&D has evolved and PF borrows heavily from this legacy. I can remember in Basic and 1E D&D that monsters were the big antagonists. Then with the arrival of 2E and future games the high level antagonists tend to be NPC's with class levels or monsters that mimic casters (i.e zhentarim agents, assasins, vampire magic users, liches, mummy high priests, etc). Martials hit too hard and too easily so the GM resorts to magic to compensate as pure combat trials are never a challenge if the monster does not have spells, spell like abilities or a mix of combat abilities such as flight and ranged attacks. If martials were scaled down in damage and the DC's of save vs suck/death spells were brought into line at high levels then high level play would be much more feasible.Right now I would think you need to cut martial damage in half and break down saves into good & poor where you need a 4 or better on good saves to make them and a 8 or better on poor saves to make then high level adventures would be accessible to play more often.


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Terquem wrote:

I have played every version of D&D

Every Version

I've never played a game with characters over level 11

To give some unsolicited advice (that's what the internet is for, right?) I'd give 4E a go at Paragon tier if you ever get the chance. In my opinion, that was its' sweet spot. Battles felt about the right kind of length, PCs felt about as powerful as they should be, players had enough gizmos that they didn't feel like spamming one action over-and-over was the obviously best strategy and the game felt about as deadly as it is "supposed to". (I equate 4E paragon tier characters to be about the same scope as 5th-10th level PF characters).


Talek & Luna wrote:

2) Too much of the game world is known.

There is no fear of the unknown and players can read upon on established game settings. This also does not allow room for the PC's to grow. This has always been a fault of D&D since the TSR early days where settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms & Dragon Lance have long established nations that do not allow for much in the way of independence.

Well, that's obviously not true, as you can have growth and independence in the real world, now; one can have great adventures in a familiar world as much as an unfamiliar one.

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