PFS is neither easy, nor is it hard - Discuss!


Pathfinder Society

Liberty's Edge

This is not intended to start a flame war, though that outcome is potential. It is simply a plea for sanity. I have heard some people talk about PFS scenarios being "easy" or "hard". I think that very few games deserve to be described in such a way. Or, perhaps all games are "easy" except a few (I think chess would count as hard).

Baling hay is hard (assuming it's done by hand). Shucking corn or picking cotton or fruit all day is hard (basically any form of all-day manual labor). Designing a reverse triangular merger (an actual thing) is hard. Preparing a tax return for a composite filing S-corporation in 28 states is hard (as is anything mentally taxing, like trying to conduct astrophysical research, etc.)

PFS is not hard. The rules are all there and require basic math skills and reading comprehension.

But encounters themselves? They rely on dice. And that means luck. So "easy" and "hard" are meaningless descriptors.

To whit: Let's say the party faces a series of high-CR encounters. That might seem "hard", but is it really?

Your party of level 7's faces an 18th level wizard? Not hard, just unwinnable.

Facing an enemy impervious to every ability and weapon your group possesses isn't hard. It's unfair, but not "hard". There's no difficulty when there's nothing you can do. It's just not an appropriate way to even frame the discussion.

And calling encounters "easy" is no better. They don't require tactical acumen? HORSE POO. Show me one that does. It takes NO acumen to roll a 15 with a +12 to hit. That's not a skill, it's just a thing.

Maybe you feel differently. Please explain to me how exactly, then, an encounter is easy or hard, when there really isn't much "acumen" in any of them. It's a simple choice of moving or attacking. And the dice are with you, or they're not.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

Figuring out what the correct answer to 'which faction do you choose from the two vying for support' or 'what do you say to make the NPC favorable to the society' is hard. You can't just roll a Diplomacy check and get the right answer.

Shadow Lodge

I personally think that it depends on the scenario and the party.

A party of 7 people min-maxed for combat in a combat-heavy scenario is a cake-walk from what I have seen [I play in too many of these, and run them regularly, unfortunately]

On the other hand, a party of all-faces with a low min-max level in a combat-heavy scenario could escalate into a TPK quickly.

It also works in reverse, where a min-maxed combat party in an RP scenario will find themselves in awkward positions where they might not get Gold or Prestige because the highest charisma in the party is a 9 [which I have seen], and an all-face party in an RP scenario can cake-walk the scenarios easily.

But, I think it is important to note that the fun of PFS, at least in my experience, is less about how much you are challenged by encounters, and more about getting to play a fun game with a group of old friends, or a group of new ones.

Liberty's Edge

I agree with you guys about the point of PFS. I attended a game last night at a new location and had a great time. we spent a great deal of time swapping "war stories" and such.

But I still think that having the wrong party TPK has less to do with any kind of difficulty than it does with luck. You either have options or you don't. If you run out you are more unlucky than unskilled. If you need to roll near nat 20's to win, no amount of brains will save you. You need luck. similarly, if the GM crits and your key players die, your wonderfully laid plans die too. that doesn't make it hard, just annoying.

still, I'm probably worried about something that doesn't really matter anyway. I still like PFS.

Shadow Lodge 5/5

Player choice can also be a big factor. One character provoking an AoO can leave the team down one PC, making the rest of the scenario that much more difficult. A PC breaking ranks to flee in the face of hopelessness is much the same. I've seen both happen multiple times.

4/5

6 people marked this as a favorite.

I may have some effect here, too.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Mind you, min maxing and able to do social scenarios are not opposite ends of the spectrum. My 5th level 7 int 7 wisdom sorcerer is rocking a +23ish diplomacy.. I think he's made more skill checks than my more well rounded characters.

5/5

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think that one facet to it is regional variation. I'm probably less travelled than some of you here, but the power level and table size differences between Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Singapore are clear, and that definitely affects the difficulty of a scenario.

Regions with a 'culture of powergaming', especially where most tables have the full six players, will naturally have an easier time at scenarios than those without.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

You are assuming foregone conclusions. The "hard" part is using the available resources to turn something that might appear unwinnable into something winnable or in making sure you are prepared to always have resources on hand to be able to turn an unwinnable situation into a winnable one.

5/5

Derek Weil wrote:
Your party of level 7's faces an 18th level wizard? Not hard, just unwinnable.

This is rather ironic given there is a scenario which actually does this.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

PFS is not easy or hard in the same way that a wall made of 90% red bricks and 10% blue bricks is not red.

The difficulty for PFS is highly variable. Between

1) The power level of your teammates. If the party is a druid thats a pair of dragonstyle pouncing velociraptors, two monkchinegun zen archers and a stun happy channeling cleric you can a get carried like a wand of CLW with no trouble. If you have the childlike halfling bard, the rogue 1/bard 1/cleric 1/fighter 1/wizard 1 and a heal bot then you're going to need to bring some damage yourself.

2) The level difficulty. The scenarios require more optimization as you level.

3) Table population. 4 spoony bards can get crushed. 7 spoony bards are still a force to be reckoned with.

4) The season/scenario. Some seasons are harder than others, earlier seasons were a lot easier, season 3.5-5 ratched up the difficulty, season 4 ramped it down a little.

5) How well your group fits the scenario. Sometimes you're 4 barbarians and a baby. Sometimes its a druid in the woods.

6) Is the DM looking to stamp the screen a bit more or breaking out the marshmellow fluff?

7) The dice gods. A d20 is a very variable, linear thing. Crits happen....and so do streaks of 1's.

Despite the often heard, rarely shown cries of "its all tactics" the vast majority of your characters power comes from your build.


Hard comes into play when character's powers aren't the determining factors but rather the actions that have to be taken.
For example: my rogue was fighting a bunch of Zil, with rolling less than average on the dice I could down a Zil per turn if I had sneak attack. However I was in no such position as their was no flank and combat started on surprise round with me surrounded by 4 of them and my party could not make their way efficiently to me. This turned into a hard combat even though my party and I were easily capable of killing all the Zil on even footing i.e without the environment slowing us down.

Many times tactics and positioning are the determining factors for how difficult a fight is.
P.s Valeros should never be underestimated

Liberty's Edge

@andreww - I am aware of exactly which scenario you're referring to. It's also notoriously lethal at low tier - not truly unwinnable though.

One thing that I will come right out and call hard is making the best of action economy.

Also, it's true that using the right stuff at the right time matters. But then you have to roll. I had my ranger fail fort saves against the nauseated condition in two consecutive scenarios. It's his second best save (a hair behind Reflex). In both cases I had the all the right stuff to win the encounter, but the dice took me out of it.

Look, my argument may be useless. I agree that some things about the game can be hard. But I get the feeling that some folks think PFS is too hard or too easy. I don't think that either is really true.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Northwest aka WalterGM

Table Variation wrote:
I may have some effect here, too.

I cannot favorite your posts enough.


luck, or, more accurately, randomness, can play a big part in how "hard" or "easy" encounters, scenarios, or campaigns are, but that is only part of it. preparation is one of the biggest factors in a scenario. there have been plenty of tables i've run where what would have been a very challenging set of encounters for the group were turned into a very easy set of encounters simply by the players asking the right questions, paying attention to where they were going and what they were doing, and choosing to prepare and equip properly. strategy and tactics also play a huge part. you can have a table of fully optimized characters, but if the players running those characters aren't making sound decisions, things can go very badly.


Derek, I enjoy your "difficulty as luck" assertion but submit that, even while using random calculations, PFS scenarios range from "way too easy to F(#&!!!, dead." I especially like the logical progression that takes party make-up into account.

In my opinion (forged out of need for verisimilitude), the "big-wigs" in Absolom are pretty bad at keeping track of who's good at what. Ambrus might put 4-7 members against...well, whatever, and tell them that it's all about negotiation. 6 combat-maxed super-optimized kill-bots? Oops.

The fact that you rarely know what to expect is a lot of the draw for me; I maintain a decent combat optimization while ensuring that I have some sort of non-combat value. Semi-optimized for one, capable of many.

Liberty's Edge

Yeah, that makes sense Abyssian. They also don't like to hand out useful facts too often. And I've definitely seen encounters that were set up so that PC victory was either all but assured or very unlikely. So I agree there is more than just luck at play. And Matthew, you've hit on a big point about players acting wisely and asking good questions.

As I'm thinking things through, I can remember one game where a fellow player sundered a bad cleric's holy symbol. It had a big effect on the encounter, and probably made it demonstratively easier, dice aside.

That's what I hoped I might get out of the discussion too. In another game, my lore warden disarmed and then grappled the BBEG caster. Those actions completely changed the encounter and made it objectively easy.

Players acting foolishly does make the game "harder" in that the likelihood of achieving a favorable outcome is diminished. From this perspective, I think easy and hard could make sense.

So player victory is likely = easy
and player victory is unlikely = hard

I can work with that paradigm.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Agent, Nevada—Las Vegas aka kinevon

How difficult a scenario or encouter can be is based off of many factoirs, which can make the same encounter or scenario look very different to different people.

Or, to put it another way, objectively, and in general reports, Bonekeep Part 1 is a killer scenario.

For the party I played it with a few days ago, in general and for most of the scenario, it didn't seem tolive up to iuts reputation. Overall, for our party, only one encounter was truly difficult, and even that one got tromped on. Party of 6 PCs, 3rd-5th level, only one combat animal. But we were fairly well prepared, and did what we could to work together, so everyone counted and contributed.

Again, sometimes you get parties whose components synergize well, and what would be difficult for another party is a cakewalk for that party. You get a party whose components don't play well together, and the difficulty ramps up rapidly.

Consider: Merisiel is not a bad Rogue build, and can be quitre effective if the rest of the party remembers that setting things up to let her flank is a good thing. If your party is just a charge in and hit group, Merisiel might appear to be fairly weak.

And, as G-Zeus mentioned, Valeros shouldn't be underestimated.


OP seems to be making a distinction between 'hard' and 'dangerous' and saying that a dangerous encounter is not 'hard' unless it requires great skill to get through it - an encounter that you win or lose based on luck is not 'hard'.

I would argue that there is a lot of skill in Pathfinder - making an effective build, picking appropriate spells for the day, deciding whether to power attack or not based on an estimation of enemy AC, focusing attacks on the correct target, knowing when to stick together and when to spread out, knowing when to Dimension Door to safety... Just because you've mastered these skills doesn't mean that the majority of people could.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Just popping in to mention that I keep reading this thread title in the voice of Gandalf.

2/5

How lucky do you need to be?

That's another way to evaluate whether a given situation is easy or hard.

An easy situation means your party's abilities, knowledge, equipment, strategy etc. give you an excellent chance of beating the guards, solving the puzzle, finding the hidden thingy and so on, even if your dice rolls are poor.

A hard situation means you need really good rolls to have that same chance of success.

Note that there are some differences between 'hard for the character' and 'hard for the player'. Take a player like me, who's been playing PFS irregularly for less than a year and hasn't gotten a character above 3rd level. Hand me a 7th level wizard and I might get through a one-on-one CR5 encounter, such as a barbed devil. Without doing some research, I wouldn't know what spells would work, even if I had them. A really good, experienced player might be able to beat the same devil with a 3rd level druid, four potions and a couple of good rolls.

Having the tools to succeed in the scenario is not the same as knowing how to use those tools.

The Exchange 5/5

Smallfoot wrote:

How lucky do you need to be?

That's another way to evaluate whether a given situation is easy or hard.

An easy situation means your party's abilities, knowledge, equipment, strategy etc. give you an excellent chance of beating the guards, solving the puzzle, finding the hidden thingy and so on, even if your dice rolls are poor.

A hard situation means you need really good rolls to have that same chance of success.

Note that there are some differences between 'hard for the character' and 'hard for the player'. Take a player like me, who's been playing PFS irregularly for less than a year and hasn't gotten a character above 3rd level. Hand me a 7th level wizard and I might get through a one-on-one CR5 encounter, such as a barbed devil. Without doing some research, I wouldn't know what spells would work, even if I had them. A really good, experienced player might be able to beat the same devil with a 3rd level druid, four potions and a couple of good rolls.

Having the tools to succeed in the scenario is not the same as knowing how to use those tools.

a perfect example of this...

while running a Crypt Braker Alchemist, whose bombs do acid damage I ran myself out of bombs fighting a Succubus (who has Acid resistance 10), and THEN remembered that Holy Water damages Evil Outsiders. Did more damage with the Flasks of Holy Water than twice the number of bombs! Yeah... player experience would have made a major difference in the "hard vs. easy" of that encounter.

Grand Lodge 4/5

TOZ wrote:
Player choice can also be a big factor. One character provoking an AoO can leave the team down one PC, making the rest of the scenario that much more difficult. A PC breaking ranks to flee in the face of hopelessness is much the same. I've seen both happen multiple times.

I've seen players 'role' play their way into leaving others in a clutch. What should have been a 'simple' (but tough encounter) in the Varisian highlands went from 'tough' to 'oh crap we're gonna die' because one player figured at the 12 point hit from a giant his rogue would run instead of utilizing his sneak attack flank to maul said giant. Only luck, every spell one caster had and the inventive use of another PCs class features kept this from going south.

SO, yeah.. table variation (and visits from Mr. Murphy) can really effect how 'easy' something goes. A party of roguely types, with sneak attacks, might rock one combat heavy scenario running into a rogue heavy scenario finding their PCs not able to do as much.

I've seen 'thug' parties with 9 (or lower) cha and only single (or no) digit skills in social skills role play their way into things. But that comes down to Table GM's preference on how role playing can effect things (and how creative players are)

The Exchange 5/5

I've also seen it really turn off players. One of my friends hasn't played in months 'cause he was running a healer (playing up) that moved up to heal everyone (channel I think) and ... everyone fled the room and left him alone to be full attacked by the BBE. (Something his normal group would not do - but he was playing at the local shop, and you get "the luck of the draw" there. He is kind of turned off on PFS right now...).

Several events like this has him real turned off on PFS (it's like the 3rd or 4th time his healer is KIA.)

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