Brainstorming on Module Difficulty


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Silver Crusade

Of late, I have seen several threads discussing the very high lethality of some modules, and the lack of challenge presented by other modules. What I would like to see here is a brainstorm of ideas on how to make modules that are both challenging and survivable. Please, be respectful of the various ideas.

My personal idea is to use more NPCs of less lethality. It lessens the odds of the dreaded one shot kill, while increasing the action economy of the NPCs. It also serves the purpose of making the PCs feel more heroic, as 6 vs 1 isn't that inspiring.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

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A major part of the problem hinges on the variations between one table and another.

I can have four 1st-level characters at my table -- a wizard, a witch, a summoner and a druid -- while Kyle at the next table over has a well-rounded set of four 2nd-level characters and two 3rd-level clerics. My players are relatively new, while Kyle's players are on their fourth PFS characters.

And somewhere, there's a scenario writer and a line editor trying to design an encounter that challenges Kyle's table but doesn't wipe mine out.

The solution, I think, is for the GMs to know the adventures well enough to adapt the encounters to the reality at the table.

Let me give you a positive example: A couple months ago, I was playing PFS in a party of five, between 2nd and 4th levels. This was a late Season 0 adventure, Tier 1-7. We reached an encounter, and the GM threw the 3-4 subtier version at us. We dispatched it within one round. So he threw reinforcements for the enemy: the 6-7 encounter, which we defeated. And then again. And then doubled. And then a fifth time, with additional NPCs. And it got tougher and tougher, but he knew us well enough to do what he needed to do, in order to give us a good, fair fight.

If he'd been GMing for a party without our resources or table skills, he'd have used his judgement and run the scenario as written.

I don't think the solution is to label some adventues as hard, and some as cakewalks, because a cakewalk for a commando strike team is going to be deadly for an ill-balanced group that hasn't played together. I think the solution is to encourage GMs to modify the encounters --everything from number of opponenets to their tactics and equipment-- to better suit the realities of their tables.

Silver Crusade

Chris Mortika wrote:

A major part of the problem hinges on the variations between one table and another.

I can have four 1st-level characters at my table -- a wizard, a witch, a summoner and a druid -- while Kyle at the next table over has a well-rounded set of four 2nd-level characters and two 3rd-level clerics. My players are relatively new, while Kyle's players are on their fourth PFS characters.

And somewhere, there's a scenario writer and a line editor trying to design an encounter that challenges Kyle's table but doesn't wipe mine out.

The solution, I think, is for the GMs to know the adventures well enough to adapt the encounters to the reality at the table.

Let me give you a positive example: A couple months ago, I was playing PFS in a party of five, between 2nd and 4th levels. This was a late Season 0 adventure, Tier 1-7. We reached an encounter, and the GM threw the 3-4 subtier version at us. We dispatched it within one round. So he threw reinforcements for the enemy: the 6-7 encounter, which we defeated. And then again. And then doubled. And then a fifth time, with additional NPCs. And it got tougher and tougher, but he knew us well enough to do what he needed to do, in order to give us a good, fair fight.

If he'd been GMing for a party without our resources or table skills, he'd have used his judgement and run the scenario as written.

I don't think the solution is to label some adventues as hard, and some as cakewalks, because a cakewalk for a commando strike team is going to be deadly for an ill-balanced group that hasn't played together. I think the solution is to encourage GMs to modify the encounters --everything from number of opponenets to their tactics and equipment-- to better suit the realities of their tables.

The problem with that as this is an organized play setting, everyone is supposed to get the exact same module. I personally have no problem altering mods and adding enemies, but then at what point am I writing my own module on the fly, and not running the actual pfs sanctioned scenario?

Shadow Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southwest

Chris Mortika wrote:
A major part of the problem hinges on the variations between one table and another.

What Chris is refers to above is what I have learned is the single largest challenge of making an appropriately challenging scenario.

Different groups or different players plaing different PCs will have unique areas where they are strong and other areas where they are challenged.

Table A may be able to dispense huge amounts of damage per round while
being challenged by saves.

Table B may have huge skill reserves and ability to control the battlefield but lack the ability to handle foes with hardness or damage reduction.

The closest I have been able to come to writing for appropriate challenge is to work to ensure the the types of challenges are distributed over different areas (saves, skills, damage, control, etc.).

The scenarios that specific tables find over challenging (with a few exceptions) are usually those that align themselves with that parties weakness.

Scarab Sages

Alexander_Damocles wrote:

Of late, I have seen several threads discussing the very high lethality of some modules, and the lack of challenge presented by other modules. What I would like to see here is a brainstorm of ideas on how to make modules that are both challenging and survivable. Please, be respectful of the various ideas.

My personal idea is to use more NPCs of less lethality. It lessens the odds of the dreaded one shot kill, while increasing the action economy of the NPCs. It also serves the purpose of making the PCs feel more heroic, as 6 vs 1 isn't that inspiring.

One problem in the modules is that there is no scaling for differently sized parties. While one solo monster may prove a threat to a four-person party, a six-person party will simply demolish the monster (lots of flanking opportunities, and eventually the monster WILL fail a save against a spell caster).

I'm sure there is a reason (somewhere) for Paizo refusing to scale encounters in their scenarios...

-Perry

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Alexander_Damocles wrote:


The problem with that as this is an organized play setting, everyone is supposed to get the exact same module. I personally have no problem altering mods and adding enemies, but then at what point am I writing my own module on the fly, and not running the actual pfs sanctioned scenario?

I'm not sure that "everybody's getting the exact same module" is desirable.

We already include different sub-tiers, so the 4th-level party isn't getting the same adventure as the 7th-level party. The question is: should the four-player party get the same adventure as the seven-player party?

5/5 Venture-Agent, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka Pirate Rob

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While adjusting for player skill is exceedingly complex, writing encounters that have an extra mook for every player above 4 is not particularly complicated and could be used to help fix a large number of encounters.

Encounter without mooks are a little harder to adjust but there are some fairly easy ways to help a little bit even if they aren't perfect.

Liberty's Edge 5/5 ⦵⦵ Venture-Agent, Virginia—Hampton Roads aka Darius Silverbolt

I have always been a fan on not having One BBEG in the final encounter in the scenario's as these have a tendency to either mop the floor with the party or just get owned because the party has 6 full rounds action vs his one.

I prefer to see battle with several weaker opponents with one leader type of guy who isn't a lot stronger. Also this encounter doesn't need to have all the roles filled (Fighter, rouge, wizard, cleric) in the final encounter but actually have a missing component or two.

This allows for more than one hero to shine. Makes an encounter more memorable, and less chance of fluke defeats or easy wins.

Silver Crusade

Chris Mortika wrote:
Alexander_Damocles wrote:


The problem with that as this is an organized play setting, everyone is supposed to get the exact same module. I personally have no problem altering mods and adding enemies, but then at what point am I writing my own module on the fly, and not running the actual pfs sanctioned scenario?

I'm not sure that "everybody's getting the exact same module" is desirable.

We already include different sub-tiers, so the 4th-level party isn't getting the same adventure as the 7th-level party. The question is: should the four-player party get the same adventure as the seven-player party?

I completely agree with that approach, but currently there are no guidelines for this. Should future mods come with guidelines for party size or party optimization? For example, for every extra player, add another CR 1/2 of tier mook?

The Exchange

I once ran a table of eight for the last session of PaizoconUK (DMs had dropped out from fatigue/Shadow Lodge Special the previous night).

It was Tier 3-4, and after the first encounter, Joshua Frost let me add in the Tier 1-2 monsters to beef up the encounters a bit. It was a pretty good solution that he came up with on the fly.

Cheers

2/5

There are some basic things that can be done:

1) Optimize the spellcasters: Too often I see spellcasters that are non-optimized and have terrible spell selections and use terrible tactics. Right now, you can literally take 6 optimized level 1 PCs and play subtier 6-7 in some scenarios. And you'd probably want to, just to make it challenging.

Also spellcasters, when outnumbered, already do poorly without having terrible tactics and spells.

2) Make the final encounter challenging at least. It should be very rare that the final encounter is beaten in 1 round (which is not the case currently).

3) Admit there is powercreep in PFS and ramp up encounters accordingly.

4) Instead of having 1 big opponent that needs to kill 1 character per round to stand a chance, multiple problems / opponents, is the way to go.

5) Better playtesters or stats people who have the foresight to see problems.

6) Increase the CR of humanoids with levels, so the CR system is meaningful again. For example, a Fighter is a CR 1/2 creature but it's obvious they're much better than zombies. Trusting (blindly) in the CR system in this case can cause a TPK.

There's probably more, that's just off the top of my head.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Jason S wrote:


3) Admit there is powercreep in PFS and ramp up encounters accordingly.

5) Better playtesters or stats people who have the foresight to see problems.

Jason,

If additional books are producing power creep, then new players, who might own only the core rulebook, are at a disadvantage. If we increse the level of difficulty to compensate for people who can afford to buy superior characters, then the baseline new players are just going to see their characters die more frequently.

And playtesting is the responsibility of the author.

2/5

Chris Mortika wrote:
If we increse the level of difficulty to compensate for people who can afford to buy superior characters, then the baseline new players are just going to see their characters die more frequently.

True, but currently many encounters don't challenge Core rulebook PCs. In scenario design, is it safe to assume the group has 1+ wands of CLW? I think so. I think they either need to assume each group has a wand of CLW or they need to assume every group does not have a wand of CLW (and make us pay gold for them if we want them).

For example, last night the scenario I played we finished in 1.5 hours and only one character took damage, a total of 6 damage. 6 damage in a scenario! Almost all characters were core (4/6), we even had a (non Zen Archer) monk, and no healer. No, it wasn't a season 0 scenario.

My point is, encounters need to be ramped up and need to seriously challenge the pregens at a minimum.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southwest

Jason S wrote:
Chris Mortika wrote:
If we increse the level of difficulty to compensate for people who can afford to buy superior characters, then the baseline new players are just going to see their characters die more frequently.

True, but currently many encounters don't challenge Core rulebook PCs. In scenario design, is it safe to assume the group has 1+ wands of CLW? I think so. I think they either need to assume each group has a wand of CLW or they need to assume every group does not have a wand of CLW (and make us pay gold for them if we want them).

For example, last night the scenario I played we finished in 1.5 hours and only one character took damage, a total of 6 damage. 6 damage in a scenario! Almost all characters were core (4/6), we even had a (non Zen Archer) monk, and no healer. No, it wasn't a season 0 scenario.

My point is, encounters need to be ramped up and need to seriously challenge the pregens at a minimum.

and yet that same scenario that your table had such an easy time with could be the bane of another table, perhaps even leading to a tpk.

I would agree that the nature of the challenges within a scenario should be varied and should be structured to target all areas of character competency so that more tables can be challenged in different sections.

2/5

Eric Brittain wrote:
and yet that same scenario that your table had such an easy time with could be the bane of another table, perhaps even leading to a tpk.

I doubt it, that's the point. Only 3 characters were needed to smush every opponent each combat, and lasted 1 round. Rangers, Cavaliers, and Barbarians are OP? Come on...

It was actually a skill based adventure (that's why the combats were so easy) with some roleplay.

Grand Lodge 5/5

While I realize PFS is designed to attract new players to the game, it is also a game of skill to some degree. If every scenario has to allow for a party of new characters to survive in spite of poor choices and/or inexperience, then you can't challenge a party of decent skill, let alone the optimizers.

We *can* assume that every party will have a wand of CLW and someone who can use it, because Painlord told us we have to have one! :)

It would be better to throw a pre-gen healer in with such a party and let them play a challenging adventure, rtaher than to let them stumble through and "win" anyway. True, your character dying might be a mood-killer for a new player, but so is sitting there for four hours and watching other people play a game.

This is at its worst with large tables. We don't always even get through the first round of initiative with a 6-7 person party before the enconuter is over - the folks without a +4 initiative mod might as well not be there, since they don't even get to act. At the least, adding additional targets for parties over 4 will give folks a chance to roll some dice and have some fun.

The idea of adding the Tier 1-2 opponents to the Tier 3-4 ones sounds promising, actually - it won't up the threat level in most cases, but provides more targets and a slight increase in challenge. Will have to look at that - but until something is sanctioned, it will remain theoretical.


I have played in so many scenarios where the "BBEG"/final encounter is a one-round affair it is not funny. Even a lot of the more notorious ones.

I, too, am a fan of the idea of increasing the number (not the toughness) of foes in an encounter for parties over 4. In one scenario, I felt so frustrated because I couldn't get a Cleave off... against morlocks! You know, the race with the special ability of fitting two of their medium-sized number in a 5' square. I realize that a party can be overwhelmed by weaker foes that greatly outnumber them, but stating out an encounter with a line like "3 orcs (+1 per party member over 4)" isn't adding a lot of text to a scenario, but would add a lot of challenge. Some classes are made to plow through hordes of weaker foes (Cleave/Great Cleave builds, AoE blasters, etc), and this would give them that chance to shine.

Silver Crusade

TwoWolves wrote:


I have played in so many scenarios where the "BBEG"/final encounter is a one-round affair it is not funny. Even a lot of the more notorious ones.

I, too, am a fan of the idea of increasing the number (not the toughness) of foes in an encounter for parties over 4. In one scenario, I felt so frustrated because I couldn't get a Cleave off... against morlocks! You know, the race with the special ability of fitting two of their medium-sized number in a 5' square. I realize that a party can be overwhelmed by weaker foes that greatly outnumber them, but stating out an encounter with a line like "3 orcs (+1 per party member over 4)" isn't adding a lot of text to a scenario, but would add a lot of challenge. Some classes are made to plow through hordes of weaker foes (Cleave/Great Cleave builds, AoE blasters, etc), and this would give them that chance to shine.

I once had a party with no healer, so I offered them a pregen cleric to sit in the back and heal as needed. They refused....until one player died in the first combat. I think its a bit strange that modules are designed around four player tables, when most tables run at 5/6 players.

Liberty's Edge 5/5 ⦵⦵ Venture-Agent, Virginia—Hampton Roads aka Darius Silverbolt

TwoWolves wrote:


I have played in so many scenarios where the "BBEG"/final encounter is a one-round affair it is not funny. Even a lot of the more notorious ones.

I, too, am a fan of the idea of increasing the number (not the toughness) of foes in an encounter for parties over 4. In one scenario, I felt so frustrated because I couldn't get a Cleave off... against morlocks! You know, the race with the special ability of fitting two of their medium-sized number in a 5' square. I realize that a party can be overwhelmed by weaker foes that greatly outnumber them, but stating out an encounter with a line like "3 orcs (+1 per party member over 4)" isn't adding a lot of text to a scenario, but would add a lot of challenge. Some classes are made to plow through hordes of weaker foes (Cleave/Great Cleave builds, AoE blasters, etc), and this would give them that chance to shine.

How Optimized was the party you play with? Is it a home game where the players play together more often or do you play in a store and get more random assortment of players?

There is a lot of variables that go into how easy a module can be.

1. Player Count (5+ players starts making it easy.
2. PC Optimization
3. How often players play together. Random store / Con games tend to have people who don't play together as much. Players who player together constantly can control what is at their table Class-wise. Form solid tactics and work well as a team.
4. GM play style - Some GM will not kill a PC not matter what, some GM are out for the body count, other let dice fall as they may.
5. Module Difficulty - Some are just harder than others, Also does a group play up or down when on the split?

These are just some of the things that make a scenario too easy or two hard. Only one of these can Paizo & Writers control with the current rules.

I think the modules are fine. I am a open rolling GM myself. I have on average killed one adventurer per 2 scenario's (I have run 68 so far) and only 4 were permanent. I average 5-6 players per table and have had only three TPK's. I don't change anything and I follow the tactics written as much as I can. Sure I have made mistakes but scenario difficulty isn't the problem for us. Out of my list I would say Point 2,3,& 4 has led to more issues for us than anything.


I only really play PFS at conventions, and even then only a couple of times a year. Except for this latest Gen Con, I never have more than one or two players I know and regularly play with, so it's not like we are a well-oiled machine or anything. Even then, I wouldn't say the parties I've played in are optimized, just not gimped.

Like I said, I've been in parties of people who just met that one-round the final fight plenty of times, even in scenarios that have a rep for being tough, although admittedly I have limited experience with the higher tier scenarios. I have also played in sessions where the DM will pull the next-highest tier foes on us because we are cake-walking the fight, sometimes telling/asking us first, sometimes not. It just seems to me that writing the scenarios in such a way that more warm bodies at the table means more targets in the adventure proper might be the easiest way to address this.

Sovereign Court

A proper combat encounter should feature a clear hierarchy of foes. Example follows:

1 boss
2 bodyguards
4 mooks

And you can vary these numbers. Nevertheless, you could have a kobold Adept 3 as the boss (CR 1), two kobold warrior 2 (CR 1/2 each, unless I'm mistaken), and 4 ordinary kobolds (CR 1/4 each). This would total an encounter of CR 4, APL+2, thus a "hard" encounter. Remember that having 6 PCs in the group would make it a "challenging" encounter. Against four 1st-level characters it would be an epic encounter, but entirely doable.

In the past the encounters have been mostly very easy, but certain outrageous errors have been made. The now retired scenario Blood at Dralkard Manor featured a 5th-level wizard pitted against Tier 1-2 adventurers. This wizard had a Lightning Bolt memorized, as well as a small lizard delivering 5d6 Shocking Grasps. So, yeah...

Grand Lodge Venture-Agent, Texas—Mansfield aka sieylianna

TwoWolves wrote:
I have played in so many scenarios where the "BBEG"/final encounter is a one-round affair it is not funny. Even a lot of the more notorious ones.

Something I did while writing modules for previous living campaigns was to put the toughest fight first. Not all of the time, but just once in a while to deter metagame thinking.

1. People expect PFS modules to have three combats.

2. People expect the final combat to be the toughest.

So people conserve resources for the final battle which means that it is probably going to be a trivial fight, particularly if the party has a chance to prep before combat.

2/5

Another way to make encounters challenging without blasting everyone is to give the PCs different tasks to do, which take their time.

For example, I won't mention which scenario but one encounter (when I ran it) had:

1) One PC had to disarm the acid syringes that was killing the person they were trying to rescue. This took 1D3 rounds.

2) Two PCs had to activate the device they needed to find and kill the BBG. This took 3-5 rounds.

3) One PC was basically healing the entire time, bringing up downed PCs and stopping bleeds.

As you can see, everyone was occupied and if we had a a group of 4 (we had 6 PCs), no one would even be attacking. So that made it a fairly cinematic ending without crushing someone.

The main problem I see with most scenarios is that they're built for 4 PCs, when typically I run with 5-6 PCs (and the infamous 7 PC table last night). The PCs have so many actions, unless a BBG charms or immediately takes a PC out of the action, he has no chance at all. And the problem is, how do you take a PC out of action without killing him? The best answer imo is to give him something else to do (for a few rounds).

Having said that, if this formula is overused it gets annoying quickly.

The Exchange

The only thing I ask is that from here on out, when the main baddy is a spellcaster and by himself (can think of many scenarios with this situation), give him dimension door or something to aid in escaping a grapple or at least being hard to reach. I cannot tell you how many times battles, especially 7-11 & higher, where the spellcaster gets owned easily because they aren't prepared to be caught up in a grapple or are too easily surrounded.

Sczarni 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Connecticut—Manchester aka Cpt_kirstov

Joseph Caubo wrote:
The only thing I ask is that from here on out, when the main baddy is a spellcaster and by himself (can think of many scenarios with this situation), give him dimension door or something to aid in escaping a grapple or at least being hard to reach. I cannot tell you how many times battles, especially 7-11 & higher, where the spellcaster gets owned easily because they aren't prepared to be caught up in a grapple or are too easily surrounded.

Especially when the monk can move something like 80 ft on a single move!

Grand Lodge

Pirate Rob wrote:

While adjusting for player skill is exceedingly complex, writing encounters that have an extra mook for every player above 4 is not particularly complicated and could be used to help fix a large number of encounters.

This. It's the fastest and easiest way to up the challenge of the encounter without completely rewriting or overpowering the one-shot capability of the BBEG. There should be more license for GMs to control enemy tactics and add in more minions to let the party struggle with trying to off the big baddy fast. There's nothing wrong with duplicating bodyguards if an experienced GM knows that the party will tsunami the final fight as written.

Grand Lodge 4/5

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

The only problem with letting GMs adjust encounters on the fly is that you can run into situations where the GM misjudges the difficulty and causes deaths (or worse, TPKs).

If you're going to go down the road of allowing GM adjustment of scenarios (which I actually favor, in principle), you need to include clear guidelines on what they should be able to do -- whether that's adding additional bad guys or increasing hit points, or whatever.

Paizo used to include a "scaling the adventure" sidebar in the Dungeon Magazine days, but that was largely focused around adjusting for character levels (which the tiering system already handles). Still, it should be something that can be squeezed into an adventure (especially on that's just distributed in PDF form).

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Thorkull wrote:
Paizo used to include a "scaling the adventure" sidebar in the Dungeon Magazine days, but that was largely focused around adjusting for character levels (which the tiering system already handles). Still, it should be something that can be squeezed into an adventure (especially on that's just distributed in PDF form).

I've posted in favour of something like this for quite a while: clear statements about how to boost encounters for 6+ player tables.

There are a couple of possible ways to do it. The guidelines could be built into the scenarios themselves. That would be the most acccurate way to give the appropriate challenges. However, it would probably be limited to new releases. Going back to make adjustments to old scenarios will probably never make it to the top to the To Do list (look at Season 0 conversions). That's not a criticism of the developer, just the reality that new releases take priority.

Alternatively, general guidelines could come out in the Guide (or possibly FAQ). For example: if you have 6 players, increase the number of foes of CR less than the party by 50% (rounded down). (Note: just an example, I haven't done the math). Something like that would have the benefit of being all-inclusive, but may increase the challenge differently from scenario to scenario.

Either way, it will be something to be considered by the new campaign head.


A couple random ones bugging me lately.

1) Stop having all bad guys automatically fight to the death - it changes the dynamics and challenge of the encounters. What kind of idiot (even a semi-intelligent predator creature) stands there and dies just to disable (not even kill) one more PF? This is the most annoying thing to me in living campaigns. Half of the fun in some modules is the chase and recurring villains we get to actually fight.

2) Don't give the bad guys 9 actions in "box text" or multiple rounds of combat prep just to ramp up the encounter. We the party show up 3 days after we were expected at 2AM during the festival of lights only to find the bad guy crouching in a shadowed corner with all his prep spells up.

That means you may want to forego the monologue. I can't think of many evil guy monologues that wouldn't be interrupted by at least a crossbow bolt.

"HAHA! You fools! You have walked right into my-" <schlakt!>

"Ugh. Well, now you've REALLY-" <crackle>

3) Are PFs useless peons or are we useful adventurers? Sometimes we are both in the same event.

"I need you to uncover the plot for x and deliver this item to my brother. This is critical to the survival of the planet but I have better things to do. You trained monkeys go do this for me."

Suspension of disbelief for me would be easier if it weren't for these three things. Thanks for listening.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southwest

duhtroll wrote:

A couple random ones bugging me lately.

<snip>
3) Are PFs useless peons or are we useful adventurers? Sometimes we are both in the same event.

"I need you to uncover the plot for x and deliver this item to my brother. This is critical to the survival of the planet but I have better things to do. You trained monkeys go do this for me."
<snip>

I think that this last one may just be a Pathfinder Venture Captain trope.

Any organization that builds a 'group sense' will have these.

I doubt that any experiecned field agents would take this seriously.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Regarding duhtroll's first item, it's kinda dicey. Generally speaking, fights are where Pathfinders find their loot. If I have a few wounded NPCs flee, then I can imagine the hullabaloo when the characters get their chronicle sheets with about a third of the gold awarded.

If the Pathfinders are going to pursue wounded enemies with the gleam of avarice in their eyes, then it makes sense for NPCs to keep fighting, rather than turn tail and get matching arrow wounds in the back.

Regarding your second item, that's more a question to table GMs than module writers. If the players have gone off-script, then the GM shouldn't keep the same pre-programmed enemies enacting the same tableaus.

And, at the last, at least they don't call us "maggots."

Liberty's Edge 5/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Chris Mortika wrote:

A major part of the problem hinges on the variations between one table and another.

I can have four 1st-level characters at my table -- a wizard, a witch, a summoner and a druid -- while Kyle at the next table over has a well-rounded set of four 2nd-level characters and two 3rd-level clerics. My players are relatively new, while Kyle's players are on their fourth PFS characters.

And somewhere, there's a scenario writer and a line editor trying to design an encounter that challenges Kyle's table but doesn't wipe mine out.

The solution, I think, is for the GMs to know the adventures well enough to adapt the encounters to the reality at the table.

Let me give you a positive example: A couple months ago, I was playing PFS in a party of five, between 2nd and 4th levels. This was a late Season 0 adventure, Tier 1-7. We reached an encounter, and the GM threw the 3-4 subtier version at us. We dispatched it within one round. So he threw reinforcements for the enemy: the 6-7 encounter, which we defeated. And then again. And then doubled. And then a fifth time, with additional NPCs. And it got tougher and tougher, but he knew us well enough to do what he needed to do, in order to give us a good, fair fight.

If he'd been GMing for a party without our resources or table skills, he'd have used his judgement and run the scenario as written.

I don't think the solution is to label some adventues as hard, and some as cakewalks, because a cakewalk for a commando strike team is going to be deadly for an ill-balanced group that hasn't played together. I think the solution is to encourage GMs to modify the encounters --everything from number of opponenets to their tactics and equipment-- to better suit the realities of their tables.

But if this expanded fight uses resources that cost gold to replace, how can he tell how much you should use or shouldn't use before he stops sending mooks at you? Pathfinder has changed the CR/EL thing a bit, so I don't understand it completely, but in 3.0 and 3.5 it was basically an EL equal to the party's APL should take 25% resources, and for every +1 you add to the EL increases the amount used by 25%.

So if the CR of the pathfinder encounter is 3 and the APL is 3, then you expect them to use 25% of their resources. So that means using 25% of ALL resources, not just consumables. That means spells as well.

How is a GM supposed to adjudicate this so that only 25% is used, and that the one more wave of mooks doesn't mean you start using consumables that move the CR above equal to +1/2 or even +1 or +2?

You gotta be REAL careful when modifying these modules as written.

Penumbral Accords:
In this module, the badguy in the back office who is experimenting on a slave is an alchemist. He has a spider climb extract. He also likely has several rounds to prep himself for battle, as the PC's noisily dispatch the Iron Cobra or Ice Golem (depending on tier). His combat tactics section of his stat block indicates he doesn't actually use spider climb (he probably drank it as prep prior to the PC's arriving) until he gets surrounded or is significantly hurt, then he climbs the walls. Well he has invisibility and the fetchling shadow blur thingy, so he's incredibly hard to hit, and will almost assuredly get a surprise bomb attack. Starting him up on the ceiling or the wall makes for an incredibly deadly encounter. We almost had a TPK, but for a lucky attack by the sorcerer. Everyone else was unconscious. I've seen this happen to others playing through the module as well. Sure, it makes for a memorable battle. But it increases the CR well beyond what it was intended. We expended almost 100% of our resources before the final battle (of course the final battle is so ridiculously easy, that we didn't need to do anything but swing our weapons a couple times). This includes almost 100% of our consumables. If the encounter was run as written, we expend maybe 50% of our resources, which is about what it should have consumed based on CR to APL. This is why I'm very dead set against modifying encounters to make them tougher or easier.

Grand Lodge Venture-Agent, Texas—Mansfield aka sieylianna

duhtroll wrote:
Suspension of disbelief for me would be easier if it weren't for these three things. Thanks for listening.

One thing I find really annoying is when the VC wakes you in the middle of the night and you must jump on a ship immediately, but you are being sent to resolve an issue which he has known about for days. It brings to mind the old adage that a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

Liberty's Edge 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Alaska—Anchorage aka Dragnmoon

sieylianna wrote:
duhtroll wrote:
Suspension of disbelief for me would be easier if it weren't for these three things. Thanks for listening.
One thing I find really annoying is when the VC wakes you in the middle of the night and you must jump on a ship immediately, but you are being sent to resolve an issue which he has known about for days. It brings to mind the old adage that a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

Ah, good old Drandle Dreng is known well for that.

2/5

duhtroll wrote:

3) Are PFs useless peons or are we useful adventurers? Sometimes we are both in the same event.

"I need you to uncover the plot for x and deliver this item to my brother. This is critical to the survival of the planet but I have better things to do. You trained monkeys go do this for me."

LOL, that's so true.

Another funny one was a recent scenario where you're supposed to retrieve item X, "an item so powerful it could change the destiny of Golarion" (or something similar). Serious stuff right? I'm thinking we're about to see a major artifact at least.

We finally get the item and it turns out to be a +2 flaming burst axe that no one wants. LOL. Table comments: "We went through all that for this? Seriously?"

The Exchange Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Alexander_Damocles wrote:
The problem with that as this is an organized play setting, everyone is supposed to get the exact same module. I personally have no problem altering mods and adding enemies, but then at what point am I writing my own module on the fly, and not...

How do you write a module that is survivable for 4 3rd level characters but challenging for 6 4th level characters? Both scenarios should play at subtier 3-4 but there is clearly a huge gulf between the two. Further, (should be) it unlikely those 6 4th level characters would survive a module designed around 6-7th level characters.

Ultimately the lethality of an individual module is going to vary greatly based on your group mix and I'm not sure there is a real solution to this.

There is also a fair amount of difference between a group of optimizers and non-optimizers, who do you write modules for?

Liberty's Edge 3/5

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

This discussion has me pondering the question "How many characters are at your average PFS table?" For instance: at GenCon did most tables have 4 players? Or did most have 6?

The group I play with usually has 6.

The Exchange Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Githzilla wrote:

This discussion has me pondering the question "How many characters are at your average PFS table?" For instance: at GenCon did most tables have 4 players? Or did most have 6?

The group I play with usually has 6.

It's safe to say that at gencon the vast majority of tables had 6-7 players. There might have been a few high level tables with 4-5.

2/5

Dennis Baker wrote:
How do you write a module that is survivable for 4 3rd level characters but challenging for 6 4th level characters? Both scenarios should play at subtier 3-4 but there is clearly a huge gulf between the two. Further, (should be) it unlikely those 6 4th level characters would survive a module designed around 6-7th level characters.

That's a good question, but you did a great job with Sewer Dragons.

For me, most slots at Gen Con were 6 players. I had one 5 PC slot and one 7 PC slot (special).

5/5 Venture-Agent, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka Pirate Rob

Quick little story time:

Playing at KublaCon we had a table with 5 strong players including:
11th level Druid
11th level Cleric
11th level Summoner
11th level Fighter
10th level Ranger/Shadowdancer

Our gm took one look at us, realized that the shadow companion alone could solo most of the mod and just offered to give us our chronicle sheets or let him have fun with the mod.

We choose the fun route, we used more consumables than normal but had a lot more fun. My most memorable bit of that module was when we got ambushed by 2 iron golems and asked why we didn't get perception checks. GM's answer: "because they're not in the mod"

How does this reconcile with the concept of Organized play, should the GM have done what he did? We all understood and agreed that death was more likely doing it this way but we were prepared and accepted the challenge. I think it was the final adventure before retirement for 3 of the players at the table, so they especially enjoyed the ridiculously harder than normal capstone to their play.

Liberty's Edge 4/5

Githzilla wrote:

This discussion has me pondering the question "How many characters are at your average PFS table?" For instance: at GenCon did most tables have 4 players? Or did most have 6?

The group I play with usually has 6.

At present, most games I DM, and most games I am playing, run around 3-4 players, with a still all-too-rare spike to 5 or 6.

We just platyed Sewer Dragons, and, with the 4 PCs present, only had two that could deal effectively with the final encounter. My Gunslinger decided not to waste his expensive bullets on a target he could only hurt 1 time out of 6 hits or so, on average.

Grand Lodge

Pirate Rob wrote:


Our gm took one look at us, realized that the shadow companion alone could solo most of the mod and just offered to give us our chronicle sheets or let him have fun with the mod.

We choose the fun route, we used more consumables than normal but had a lot more fun.

Awesome GM. Sounds brilliant.

Of course there would have been hysteria if someone was actually killed but he sounds like he handled it really nicely.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Dennis Baker wrote:
Githzilla wrote:

This discussion has me pondering the question "How many characters are at your average PFS table?" For instance: at GenCon did most tables have 4 players? Or did most have 6?

The group I play with usually has 6.

It's safe to say that at gencon the vast majority of tables had 6-7 players. There might have been a few high level tables with 4-5.

There were actually very few 7 player tables, apart from the Special. I think there were probably more "spaces" at tables as you went up in Tier.

My tally: 3 7-player tables (tho I got an unusual amount), 3 tables of 6, a table of 5, and 2 tables of 4.
I suspect most GMs saw a higher percentage of 6's, due to me picking up tables at the last minute.


Chris Mortika wrote:
Regarding duhtroll's first item, it's kinda dicey. Generally speaking, fights are where Pathfinders find their loot. If I have a few wounded NPCs flee, then I can imagine the hullabaloo when the characters get their chronicle sheets with about a third of the gold awarded.

Wait a sec - that's metagaming. Didn't think we were s'posed ta do that. ;)

Seriously, I was referring to creatures too. A hungry (owl, dire)bear is a hungry bear until it becomes a wounded bear. Then even *it* knows it is doomed and will run. But not in PFS!

Even using metagaming - can players really fault you for having the near-death bad guy attempt to escape? As long as it isn't written in the mod that "he gets away no matter what the PCs do!" (which is another bad one but I have not seen it in PFS so far) then rational players should have no problem with it.

Sometimes survival is more important than gold and item access. The game is supposed to have some chance of failure.

Chris Mortika wrote:
If the Pathfinders are going to pursue wounded enemies with the gleam of avarice in their eyes, then it makes sense for NPCs to keep fighting, rather than turn tail and get matching arrow wounds in the back.

Again, metagaming. That is assuming everyone knows the results of every combat and that every party will pursue. Actually, I don't even believe that is the case *knowing* the treasure is running away. If it is a close fight, some parties will just be happy to be alive.

Defeat doesn't mean death. The rules used to say that but I haven't looked it up in the PFCRB.

Chris Mortika wrote:
Regarding your second item, that's more a question to table GMs than module writers. If the players have gone off-script, then the GM shouldn't keep the same pre-programmed enemies enacting the same tableaus.

Which is again why I think tactics should be suggested, not scripted and mandatory. GMs need flexibility to make games fun.

The Exchange Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

K Neil Shackleton wrote:
Dennis Baker wrote:
Githzilla wrote:

This discussion has me pondering the question "How many characters are at your average PFS table?" For instance: at GenCon did most tables have 4 players? Or did most have 6?

The group I play with usually has 6.

It's safe to say that at gencon the vast majority of tables had 6-7 players. There might have been a few high level tables with 4-5.

There were actually very few 7 player tables, apart from the Special. I think there were probably more "spaces" at tables as you went up in Tier.

My tally: 3 7-player tables (tho I got an unusual amount), 3 tables of 6, a table of 5, and 2 tables of 4.
I suspect most GMs saw a higher percentage of 6's, due to me picking up tables at the last minute.

This is good to hear.

Liberty's Edge 5/5 ⦵⦵ Venture-Agent, Virginia—Hampton Roads aka Darius Silverbolt

When it comes to the syndrome "Bad guys fight to the death every time". I admit I don't adhere to that strictly as a GM.

I have let bad guys run in my games. It doesn't happen much but there are times where this is needed.

Reason 1 -
I have had fights where the Bad Guys (BG's) just aren't hurting the PC's and attrition is just killing the BG's and some will break and run. This is useful as it keeps the PC's feeling they are ADVENTURERS and TOUGH. Also it makes it more real to believe the story which is important to the RPG element.

Now when the BG's run away and actually get away I don't reduce the gold / treasure. Why punish the players for butt kicking for goodness?

Reason 2
The encounter is dragging and killing a lot of play time. I run my events in a store and closing times must be kept in mind so one doesn't run out of time. When the encounter is long I ask myself several questions. Why is it long? Are the BG's accomplishing anything storywise? Are the BG's in this particular encounter apart of the main plot or are they a semi-random encounter? If I determine the BG's have no reason to be there and it don't make sense to continue the fight I might disengage in order to continue the story.

Treasure wise it really depends on each encounter how I judge the scene has gone. I never would strip the encounter of all gold or treasure unless the actions of the PC's just demanded of it.

Reason 3 (The most common for me)
I have yet to run a game that went perfectly to script. The nature of this game is the players action can change what is happening and the GM must respond appropriately. At time BG tactics have to be changed as they might no longer make sense. Story's have to be changed because the players either skipped something or killed someone important. This game requires a human interaction to make it work and humans are the best random generators I have ever seen.

Liberty's Edge Contributor

3 people marked this as a favorite.

As a game designer of some of these scenarios, this topic is of great interest to me.

I think a number of you folks have nailed the reasoning behind the variance.

1. scaling the tiers can really wonk a scenario.
2. diversity of players and playing styles can really wonk a scenario.
3. increasing or decreasing the mount of PCs at a table can really wonk a scenario
4. Having a table with mixed levels can really wonk a scenario
5. different GMs can really wonk a scenario.

Neil Shackleton's suggestion to have a solid guide for adjusting a scenario for the number of players is spot on.

I also think Org Play tends to encourage character optimization and therefore, writers should err on the side of optimized encounters. That said, there might need to be clearer guidelines for scenario writers as to what an optimized encounter is.

I have another idea as well.

Create a solid guideline for GMs to tweak a scenario. And make those guidelines very very simple. The objective would not be to solve the problem (which is never going to happen nor should it, there should be diversity between different scenarios, otherwise everything becomes the same and therefore, boring), but instead should take a little of the sting away when the CR of an entire scenario seems way off.

Something like a once per game modification, which can only be applied under certain conditions.

For example:
If more than two characters die, the remaining characters gain a +2 "avenge the fallen" bonus for the rest of the scenario.
or
If the PCs complete two encounters with minimal damage (all party members have at least 3/4 of their total hp left.) Then play the next encounter up a tier. If the PCs at at the top tier, give their opponents a +2 bonus to every d20 roll.

Note: the aforementioned solutions likely need a little more thought than I gave them, they're just examples I used to showcase the concept.

Silver Crusade

So, it looks like the consensus is to have guidelines on adding an extra mook per character for parties above a certain size.

One other thing I believe may be skewing the curve a bit is the fact that PA destroys the WBL table. Every adventure, a character can gain a purchase of 750 gp or less. By level two, thats an extra 2250 gold. A 2nd lvl PC should have 1000 gp earned. Well....the PA alone gets them double the WBL, and then the gold rewards they have earned is likely 1200-1500.

Most importantly, I see the fact that having an infinite supply of wands of infernal healing and wands of cure light wounds makes healing trivial. Every time combat ends, out come the wands, health goes back right quick, and no one cares how many HP they lost. What would happen if the free wand per adventure went away (don't get me started on magus using wands in PFS.....)? Suddenly, you get more conservative tactics. Suddenly, that cleric became a lot more useful. Suddenly, the final battle might matter because of attrition.

I know the PA for item purchase has been with the system for a long time, but should we give players 500 points of free healing per character per module?

The Exchange

Alexander_Damocles wrote:

So, it looks like the consensus is to have guidelines on adding an extra mook per character for parties above a certain size.

One other thing I believe may be skewing the curve a bit is the fact that PA destroys the WBL table. Every adventure, a character can gain a purchase of 750 gp or less. By level two, thats an extra 2250 gold. A 2nd lvl PC should have 1000 gp earned. Well....the PA alone gets them double the WBL, and then the gold rewards they have earned is likely 1200-1500.

Most importantly, I see the fact that having an infinite supply of wands of infernal healing and wands of cure light wounds makes healing trivial. Every time combat ends, out come the wands, health goes back right quick, and no one cares how many HP they lost. What would happen if the free wand per adventure went away (don't get me started on magus using wands in PFS.....)? Suddenly, you get more conservative tactics. Suddenly, that cleric became a lot more useful. Suddenly, the final battle might matter because of attrition.

I know the PA for item purchase has been with the system for a long time, but should we give players 500 points of free healing per character per module?

I would happily invite said player to sit down at my table. When I kill their character and ask, "do you have 16 PA" and they say "no," I will chuckle. Then I will ask "well do you have 5450 gp for a Raise Dead?" If they don't have it, they'll have to sell items that they haven't bought with PA (because you can't sell back PA items), and I will chuckle. Then I get to ask them "do you have 8 PA or 2760 gp to remove the two negative levels from Raise Dead?" Once again, they have to sell items back or maintain their negative levels until they get enough, and I will chuckle either way.

Give them 500 points of free healing per scenario. When they're dead, they can't be healed through a wand. You'll find most players save up their PA so I will only chuckle instead of laugh maniacally.

/Should they not have enough to Raise Dead I will laugh maniacally.

2/5

Alexander_Damocles wrote:
Stuff

It's true, healers aren't quite as important with wands, but I think that's a good thing. In PFS, we don't want a healer PC to be a required member of the party and we don't want that character turned into a healing battery. Having said that, in-combat healing is still useful.

It's true, I think each encounter should assume that the PCs are at full health. And yes, it would be a completely different campaign if healing wands weren't readily available.

My experience so far is that PA doesn't ruin the economy. You can only buy so many level 1 wands. After that (and maybe a vanity) most PCs save their PA for Raise Dead (and rescuing your body) in case of emergency. You're not buying extra loot with the PA, the PA is just there to ensure you can continue playing your character.

Edit: Joseph is evil. And a ninja. And he basically said the same thing I did.

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