By design, the deck is always stacked against the GM in RPGs. If the players aren’t winning then the game has to restart. Players with overly strict or egotistical GMs end up quitting and sharing tales of caution. However, when things are simply too easy and the game lacks challenge, the players get bored and leave.
While the flavor and core mechanics of Pathfinder are excellent, the challenge rating system, or CR, often falls short of providing the expected challenge. The foundation was built on the mechanics of the Core rules with an assumption of a 15 point buy and 4 player characters. With multiple rule expansions, higher point buys, tables with more than four players or a variety of NPC allies some of which can be basically bought with the Leadership feat: the foundation is crumbling.
Even 4 player groups with a strict GM have to face, new classes, archetypes, feats, spells, and optional rules that has allowed for a level of optimization that the CR system just plain fails measure up against. CR completely falls short against veteran players with even a slight desire to optimize and an experienced hand at approaching the game.
To underline my point all of the following encounters are CR 7.
- A single 9th level human expert
- A single 8th level half-elf sorcerer
- A troll with the half dragon template
- A 5th level cleric/1st level cavalier gnome riding a wolf and leading a group of four level 2 fighter 1/rogue 1’s.
The first two encounters can potentially end before the “enemy” can act if the GM roll poorly on Initiative. Neither experts nor sorcerers have the standard mechanics to makes them particularly high hit point pools and the actions economy of four characters to one is going to make this a speed bump at best.
The third encounter has the potential to challenge simply because trolls have more HP to go around and with the half dragon template a way to damage all foes at once, a way to possibly negate actions (by flying,) multiple attacks in melee, and generally better defenses. The action economy still favors the PCs strongly and against even a 5th level party the outcome of the battle is a foregone conclusion barring unusual die rolls.
The final encounter potentially divides the party’s actions and if terrain or preparation favors the bad guys we might actually present a challenge. In the very least we might go more then 1-2 rounds.
Against a veteran group of players with even 4th level characters I’d call none of those encounters challenging. Add them together and you have a moderate challenge for a 5th level party of my players. The only worry I’d have is if I started rolling hot with the troll. Things get ugly fast when a player falls, the action economy may well shift.
The boring way to fix the problems of CR is to nerf and houserule your players into a box. Yet restrict magic items and lowering point buys just isn’t as fun. Pathfinder needs a new scale, one that meets the realities of a GM facing a better class of player. Our solution is APCR!
The APCR or advanced player challenge rating is based off of a few design concepts that experienced GMs have used for years that level the playing field. The $2 General line will give you a masterfully built NPC with a CR and APCR that has that extra kick that will test your optimized players. Each NPC will be complete with minions, something new to toss your veterans a curveball, a sensible yet compelling backstory, and sound tactical advice.
For our first installment we give Diero Domine. Like some of the best villian's he's a dark mirror to some common hero tropes. A peasant Robin Hood magus taking a dark path, he needs to be stopped but he isn't entirely in the wrong.
Capable GMs will definitely get more than one fight out of this one!
Are there errors or omissions in this product information? Got corrections? Let us know at