Combat Encounter Construction


Homebrew and House Rules

Scarab Sages

I developed this for a home campaign and decided to share with the community. I ran through these types of combat encounters and found them to be much more challenging, interesting, and fun than those I found in most products (you come across three goblin warriors wielding short swords... again!).

To construct a combat encounter, I broke down the (general) types of opponents that I wanted the party to face. The first key design decision was the manipulation of the hit point values.

Infantry
Infantry units are the melee troops and they use their abilities to block their opponents from attacking the artillery. They have average hit points per hit die.
Artillery
Artillery units are the ranged troops and they use their abilities to assist their allies and hinder their enemies. They have average hit points per hit die.
Minion
Minions are similar to infantry and artillery, but they are typically so far below the level of a player character that a one-on-one match would be clearly uneven. In addition, minions have minimal hit points (e.g., one hit point per die, so a Zombie from the Bestiary would have 5 hit points (2d8+3)).
Commander
Commanders are usually of a base class (e.g., Cleric) and always have full hit points (e.g, a 5th level cleric with 14 CON with +1 HP for favored class would have 55 HP (5d8+10+5)). If they are of a melee class, they take the forefront of battle while their troops flank or perform ranged attacks. If they are a support class, they use their abilities to assist their troops in attacking.
Solo
Solo units are higher level than a player character, have full hit points, and are not a base class (e.g., the Cockatrice from the bestiary would have 50 HP (5d10)). They are typically a large monster with multiple attacks, auras, and/or reaction abilities.
Extra
Extras accompany Solo units if the party is greater than four characters. They are similar to a Solo unit in that they have full hit points, but they are always below the level of a Solo unit. Sometimes the Extra is not a unit at all; it can be an added weather/terrain effect that either hinders the player characters or aids the Solo unit.

With these opponent types I developed the following opponent party types. The key design decision for these party types is that the opponent party should be able to hit at least one other defense besides AC (the exception is Solo encounters). For example, the Cockatrice can hit AC and force a PC to make a Fort Save. Another example is a Warrior with a Ranseur weapon and the Improved Disarm Feat who can attack AC to do damage or attack CMB to disarm a PC. PC Parties are very good at beefing up AC; there is no reason that an opponent party should exclusively focus on AC.

Commander & Troops
This party consists of a commander with a mixture of infantry and artillery units. Some parties may only have a commander and infantry; others may have only a commander and artillery.
Infantry & Artillery
This party consists of infantry and artillery with no commander.
Horde
This party consists entirely of minion units. Though the minions are lower level than the player characters, their real strength lies in their numbers.
Solo
This party consists of one Solo unit and possibly Extra units. If there are only four player characters, then it is just the Solo unit. If there are five or six players, then the solo unit is accompanied by one or two Extra units.

Which then lead me to the development of constructing appropriate opponent party compositions. I decided each session should be designed for four hours (yes, inspired by PFS), and that each session should be one mission. Each session would have two or three combat encounters and the rest of the encounters would be story/skill encounters. Players could expect to increase in level every three sessions (yes, inspired by PFS again). The scenarios would be for four to six PCs (If only three players show up, the fourth PC can be controlled by the GM). These calculations gave me the XP budget for each session.

I won't get too detailed in the math, but if someone finds it important I'll post it. Since the PCs would be generated with 15 pt buy, the CR system from the Core Rule Book needed no adjustment and was used as-is. I came up with the following (encounter refers to combat, skill, or story, so don't jump to the conclusion that there are five combat encounters in one scenario!):

APL 1 Scenario
CR 1/2 Encounter --> If 5+ players, increase to CR 1
CR 1 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 2
CR 2 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 3
CR 2 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 3
CR 3 Encounter --> If 6 Players, increase to CR 5

APL 2 Scenario
CR 1 Encounter --> If 5+ players, increase to CR 2
CR 2 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 3
CR 3 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 4
CR 3 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 4
CR 4 Encounter --> If 6 Players, increase to CR 6

APL 4 Scenario
CR 3 Encounter --> If 5+ players, increase to CR 4
CR 4 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 5
CR 5 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 6
CR 5 Encounter --> If 5+ Players, increase to CR 6
CR 6 Encounter --> If 6 Players, increase to CR 8

...and I'll follow up with examples.

-Perry Snow

edited: I modified the AC argument to include Solo encounters as the exception to the design

Scarab Sages

For this APL 1 scenario, Varisian thieves had stolen a magical object. Unfortunately, their escape leads to nothing but trouble for everyone. Since this was an APL 1 scenario and I wanted the PC Party to delve into the world of Varisia, I made three encounters story/skill and only two as combat.

Combat Encounter 1: Infantry and Artillery
CR 2 for Four PCs
Human Rogue Level 1 (CR 1/2) x2
Average Hit Points
High Dex, Average Strength, Low Wisdom
Feats: Two-weapon Fighting

Gnome Sorcerer Level 1 (CR 1/2) (Fey Bloodline) x1
Average Hit Points
Spell: Sleep, Magic Missile

For Five or more PCs, add another Gnome Sorcerer to increase CR to CR 3

Combat Encounter 2: Solo
CR 3 for Four PCs
Giant Crab with the Large Template added (CR 3) x1
Max Hit Points 3d8+12 = 36 HP
AC 19

For Six PCs, add these two Crabs to increase CR to CR 5:
Crab with one reduced Hit Die and the Young Template added (CR 1) x2
Max Hit Points: 2d8 = 16 HP
AC 16

Scarab Sages

For this APL 2 Scenario, Halfling terrorists have obtained incriminating letters. The PCs mission is to supply something other than what the Halflings want. I designed the scenario to have three combat encounters.

Combat Encounter 1: Infantry and Artillery
CR 2 for Four PCs and because this particular encounter the PCs have surprise. (Surprise lowers the CR by 1)

Human Cleric Level 2 (CR 1) (Pharasma) x1
Since this is the commander, Max Hit Points: 2d8 + 2 Con Bonus + 2 favored class = 20 HP
Spells: Cause Fear

Halfling Adept Level 1 (CR 1/3) x3
Since this is Artillery, average Hit Points.
Spells: Cause Fear

For Five or more PCs, add three more Halfling Adepts to increase the CR to CR 3.

Combat Encounter 2: Solo
CR 3 for Four PCs
Owlbear with the Young Template applied (CR 3)
Max Hit Points: 5d10+10 = 60 HP
AC 16

For Five or more PCs, add another owlbear to increase the CR to CR 4
Owlbear with the Young Template applied and two reduced Hit Dice (CR 1)
Max Hit Points: 3d10+6 = 36 HP

Combat Encounter 3: Horde
CR 4 for Four PCs
Halfling Rogue Level 1 (CR 1/2) x4
Minimum Hit Points: 1d8 + 1 Con Bonus + 1 Favored Class = 3 HP
Feat: Blind-Fight

Halfling Bard Level 1 (CR 1/2) x2
Minimum Hit Points: 1d8 + 1 Con Bonus + 1 Favored Class = 3 HP
Spells: Obscuring Mist, Hideous Laughter

For Six PCs, add four more Halfling Rogues and two more Halfling Bards to increase the CR to CR 6.

Scarab Sages

For this APL 4 Scenario, a Half-Elf group allied with the local Goblin Tribe is attempting to reach a magical artifact before the PCs in a marshland. There is plenty of difficult terrain and small pools.
Combat Encounter 1: Horde
CR 5 for Four PCs
Goblin Warror Level 1 (CR 1/2) x6
Minimum Hit Points: 1d10 + 1 Favored Class = 2 HP
Weapon: Crossbow, Shortsword
Feat: Rapid Reload

Goblin Adept Level 1 (CR 1/2) x2
Minimum Hit Points: 1d6 + 1 Favored Class = 2 HP
Spells: Bless, Command

For Five or more PCs, add three more Goblin Warriors and one more Goblin Adept to increase the CR to CR 6

Combat Encounter 2: Infantry & Artillery
CR 5 for four PCs
Half-Elf Ranger Level 2 (Skill Focus: Intimidate) (CR 1) x2
Favored Enemy: Humanoid(Human)
Average Hit Dice

Half-Elf Cleric Level 2 (Gozreh, Skill Focus: Acrobatics) x2
Average Hit Dice
Domains: Weather, Plant
Spells: Doom, Entangle

For Five or more PCs, add one more Half-Elf Ranger and one more Half-Elf Cleric to increase the CR to CR 6

Combat Encounter 3: Solo
CR 6 for Four PCs
Gibbering Mouther with the Advanced Template (CR 6) x1
Maximum Hit Points: 4d8+36 = 68 HP
AC 24

For Six PCs, change the terrain from normal stonework to all muddy (difficult terrain) and add one Young Gibbering Mouther. This increases the CR to CR 8
Gibbering Mouther with the Young Template (CR 4) x1
Maximum Hit Points: 4d8+20 = 52 HP
AC 20

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