Encounter design in PFS scenarios


Pathfinder Society

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Silver Crusade 1/5

It seems to me that many of the recent encounters that I have DM'ed my players steam roll with little or no threat to their character unless the players are playing out of tier.

FOr instance in a recent game that I ran I had six players five that were in the correct tier and one newb el 1. The encounter as written was three rogues who to get any kind of their bonus's rely on movement and positioning and when a party outnumbers them 2 to 1 that will never happen. IMO their need to at least 2 more rogues or 1 more Rogue and the boss that were el+2 to make the encounter more challenging for my players. The boss should have had a potion of invisibility or two to make things more challenging.

Grand Lodge 2/5 RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Lou Diamond wrote:

It seems to me that many of the recent encounters that I have DM'ed my players steam roll with little or no threat to their character unless the players are playing out of tier.

FOr instance in a recent game that I ran I had six players five that were in the correct tier and one newb el 1. The encounter as written was three rogues who to get any kind of their bonus's rely on movement and positioning and when a party outnumbers them 2 to 1 that will never happen. IMO their need to at least 2 more rogues or 1 more Rogue and the boss that were el+2 to make the encounter more challenging for my players. The boss should have had a potion of invisibility or two to make things more challenging.

A first level rogue who hits with a single sneak attack has the potential to drop a first level PC from full HP to dying. That's not a challenge?

2/5

Was it an older scenario? I feel like older scenarios have to have at least one fight with skeletons or zombies and one with rogue NPCs.

Anyway, sneak attack is pretty swingy and sometimes it just doesnt work and the npcs get rolled, oh well. Sometimes it works, though, and its pretty scary. A recent low lvl scenario had a dual wielding rogue and company who seemed pretty effective (dice can always be a factor). My main character is fairly robust but was nearly knocked under by some random rogues in a "Surprise! Ambush, place yourselves here" kind of deal with rogues winning initiative after a surprise round. I also remember a scenario where you are climbing onto a boat with rogue npcs. You dont get your dex bonus when climbing so hopefully everyone is stealthy and the mooks arent waiting for you.

Silver Crusade 1/5

JIggy we were playing a season 5 scenario at 4-5. Also there was no chance of the NPC's winning initiative, one of the PC's was a gunslinger with a +11 initiative and was averaging a 22 to 25 initiative so the rogues would have had to roll a 19 or 20 to win initiative and one of the other PC's was a monk who just flat out beat the crap out of one of the baddies after the baddie who got hit by a snowball.

Sovereign Court 2/5

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Lou Diamond wrote:
one of the PC's was a gunslinger with a +11 initiative and was averaging a 22 to 25 initiative

Your problem is a hyper optimized PC run by a player who doesn't understand that trivializing combat has some downsides for everybody at the table (players and GMs alike). If it becomes a problem, you should talk to this player and explain why it's a problem, and maybe ask them to tone it down a bit.

Also, snowball is dumb.

It's difficult to write scenarios for players who are prone to building over powered PCs. If you design a scenario that expects everyone to be very strong, it makes puts extra pressure on people who don't build optimized PCs.

Liberty's Edge 3/5

There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

A lot of the TPKness comes from how the dm does initiative. If they do "Ha! you are surprised by everything!" you're gonna die. If you're actually allowed a perception roll or the caveat that an adventurer kicking in the door kind of expects trouble, not so much.

Silver Crusade

Readying actions out of combat is a problem, too.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Hrothdane wrote:
Readying actions out of combat is a problem, too.

There's no specific rule against it, and its unfortunately one of those things like stealth that seems to have different rules for PCs and NPCs.

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

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Special Initiative Actions:
Here are ways to change when you act during combat by altering your place in the initiative order.

Delay...
Ready...

There is a rule against it. Some people just play it wrong.

5/5

If I'm guessing right, I have run that scanario twice. First it was close since the mooks allmost dropped party's Big Hitter straight up and gave the party some nasty bruises. Second time it was all over in three rounds with all bad guys down and not a scratch on the PCs. The die has speaketh.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber

My observations on this: If the table has five or more players, than yes, it's probably not going to be all that hard for them. One PC may take a beating, but overall the party is going to succeed.

However, if it's three or four player, it tends to get more balanced.

I GM a lot, once or twice a week on average. When I run my PFS games, I don't try to beat the PCs in the fight, because the GM's creatures are intended to go down. What I do like to do is spread as much chaos as I can in the fights, forcing to PCs to use resources.

If the high AC fighter is the only one being attacked and never takes damage then the cleric never has to heal, no party resources expended.
However, if I spreading damage and status effects around, that can keep the PC's on their toes.

Also, remember that casters are usually smart. Force Will saves on martial characters and Reflex saves on casters. The big bad fighter isn't much of a help when he runs away from the fight for four rounds.

Finally, unless it violates the tactics of the encounter, try to get some of the critters around the party, most parties assume that the critters are going to run straight ahead, NFL style. Bring them in from the side and threaten the casters and archers.

5/5

The thing is, Pathfinders aren't supposed to be just combat monsters - they spend three years learning how to be explorers as well. Many players ignore this campaign background when character-building, and so they overpower the combats (and sometimes complain when they play an exploration scenario and don't have the skills they need to succeed).

Ultimately, though - the players are supposed to win. The less time that combat takes, the more time the GM has to bring the setting alive and engage in roleplaying. It takes a while for many GMs to see this as the "silver lining" of overpowered characters, though. If you want to enjoy Pathfinder by winning combats, you should consider playing instead of GMing.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Agent, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill

I have noticed that the Year 5 low level adventures seemed to have toned things down from Year 4 but not the high levels. This makes sense to me. Being deadly to newbs is a good way to not have your newbs come back. Higher level characters, however, are already hooked.

I have also noticed the sneak attach problem in PFS. Sense there are a fair number of city encounters in PFS, the rogue type characters are a very common encounter. And while they usually come in at least pairs, the party tendency to out number them, focus fire or have a better build can frequently cause a flanking buddy to drop before the sneak attacker has much of a chance to do anything. And I think part of the problem with this is traditional thinking. When authors think of street toughs they normally think in terms of fighters & rogues. But there is not reason in a fantasy world why they might not include a caster. One 4th level sorcerer with Glitterdust and 3 4th level rogues is a lot more powerful than 4 4th level rogues.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

GM Lamplighter wrote:
The thing is, Pathfinders aren't supposed to be just combat monsters - they spend three years learning how to be explorers as well.

There are also field commissions, which seem by far to be the more popular option for player characters. They've moved away from the three years of training/hazing approach.

Quote:
Many players ignore this campaign background when character-building, and so they overpower the combats (and sometimes complain when they play an exploration scenario and don't have the skills they need to succeed).

Or don't know it. The society is a good justification for sending whatever random characters show up to the table on their whacky hijinks, and some people don't see the need to take it further than that. The society certainly runs into enough trouble that they would keep Grock the Rock on staff to accompany their archeologists, and you don't even bend suspension of disbelief until you have a party of ALL Grocks.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Pirate Rob wrote:

Special Initiative Actions:

Here are ways to change when you act during combat by altering your place in the initiative order.

Delay...
Ready...

There is a rule against it. Some people just play it wrong.

That you can do it in combat is no guarantee that you can't do it out of combat. I think the old example was someone guarding a door to shoot the first person to try to come in it.

Just to be clear, i don't like this tactic and I don't use it. I assume that when the party is kicking in a door, the party has readied actions, my monsters have readied actions, its a wash, roll init and start your blasting. I just don't feel i have enough to beat the DM over the head with.

Grand Lodge

ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

Spoiler:
Assuming you are referring to the first encounter, plane shifting the big nasty to the Positive Energy Plane in round 1 solved that problem :)

In all seriousness, that encounter truly was a game of bazooka tag. More than half of our party could have easily died in round 2.

Grand Lodge 2/5 RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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E. Quint wrote:
ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

** spoiler omitted **

Spoiler:
Why would you send it there? I sent it to the Abyss where it could step on some demons. Thanks for enlisting in the 5th Mendevian Crusade! ;)
Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Agent, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill

E. Quint wrote:

[

** spoiler omitted **

Spoiler:
Actually that isn't true if the GM follows the listed tactics. Only 1 character is likely to die in the second round. Which is exactly what happened to my Magus. Fortunately, thanks to a Breath of Life spell, I got better and finished it off while lying on the ground. The really sad part is I would have finished it off on the first round with a crit from an empowered, intensified shocking grasp if I hadn't failed the relatively easy SR check, including when I rerolled it with my shirt reroll.
Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

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Spoiler:
Plane shifting it denies you the ability to animate a scenario destroying steed to ride roughshod over the rest of the scenario.

Dark Archive 5/5 ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Minnesota—Minneapolis aka Silbeg

Jiggy wrote:
E. Quint wrote:
ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

** spoiler omitted **

** spoiler omitted **

Elven Entanglement:
Far too clever.

Step 1... get steamrollered when the thing wins initiative (against a Gunslinger with +13-5 init).

Step 2... Gunslinger tried to get out of there by tumbling.. FAIL

Step 3... Bard D-Doors Gunslinger and Cleric to safe spot. Cleric heals all three, applies oil of bless weapon to gun.

Step 4... Bard D-Doors all three back into danger - Gunslinger fires with haste and rapid shot, barely finishing off the critter before it can trample again. 4 Grit used to increase touch to 2nd range band (one per shot)

Shadow Lodge 5/5

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GM Lamplighter wrote:
Ultimately, though - the players are supposed to win.

What? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


I think the issue is pfs scenario are written with a broad spectrum of players in mind. Until pfs can write a general way to make scenarios harder that works as a generic rule all scenario have to be surivavable by the weakest players.

Here's an example in my home game I have 4 players. 1 of these is not a gamer he's there to do social stuff with his friends. Me makes lots of mistakes and often has no foreward planning for anything. My second player has a full understanding of the fantasy narrative but has a learning disability. Finally I have 2 players with a lot of experience that make characters within the framework of the people they play with. (Basically as per example above they both grasp trivializing encounters can hurt the game for others).

Now based on my limited pfs experience if you threw in "player more focused on optimized mechanics" to the above 4 you'd cover most of the people I've played with in a generalized way.

Essentially the learning disabled and the inexperienced player need to be able to survive the pfs encounter in the case random table searing puts 4-6 people all falling in that description.

However my actual experience has been about 50% of the player base at my local group falls into the experienced player or "player more focused on mechanics" resulting in the scenario being on the easy side.

Grand Lodge

Jiggy wrote:
E. Quint wrote:
ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

** spoiler omitted **

** spoiler omitted **

Spoiler:
because the though of it getting pumped so full of positive energy that it pops was highly amusing to my cleric

TOZ -

Spoiler:
2 paladins in the party...

Shadow Lodge 5/5

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Mojorat wrote:
Until pfs can write a general way to make scenarios harder that works as a generic rule all scenario have to be surivavable by the weakest players.

I wish more scenarios had hard mode. And some scenarios should have Baird mode.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Care Baird wrote:
Mojorat wrote:
Until pfs can write a general way to make scenarios harder that works as a generic rule all scenario have to be survivable by the weakest players.
I wish more scenarios had hard mode. And some scenarios should have Baird mode.

Not every facility has either the paper shredder or the water fountain necessary to give the character sheets the proper treatment after Baird mode.

The Exchange 3/5

It is true though, sometimes I'll look at an encounter, realize how hopelessly mismatched the enemy is and instead approach from the direction of how can I at least entertain my players.

Grand Lodge 2/5 RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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Codanous wrote:
It is true though, sometimes I'll look at an encounter, realize how hopelessly mismatched the enemy is and instead approach from the direction of how can I at least entertain my players.

One of my favorite experiences was when a scenario contained multiple encounters against a gang that was no challenge at all. The GM played it up for comedic effect (boasting while obviously losing, flashing gang signs while falling over, etc) and I had a great time.

Sovereign Court 2/5

Codanous wrote:
It is true though, sometimes I'll look at an encounter, realize how hopelessly mismatched the enemy is and instead approach from the direction of how can I at least entertain my players.

This is good advice.

Spoiler:
That's usually what I do when I'm asked to run Refuge of Time. That wizard usually gets stomped really quickly after he's used enervate or disintegrate because his prepared spells are not really all that great. A couple of times now, I've had him dimensional step to the statue and try to get a heal out of it just for lulz. One time he got knocked out by the mass inflict critical wounds effect.

In Feast of Sigils the BBEG got hit by both the blind and deafness conditions. Then she got pinged by a Fairie Fire but didn't realize it because she couldn't make the spellcraft check. Per her tactics when she was outmatched she was supposed to quaff a potion of invisibility and try to run, but she had no escape route, and couldn't tell where she was at. So I just had her drink the potion (and not go invisible) and fall prone into the fetal position.

Liberty's Edge 4/5

Don't take it personally.

This is something I've learned recently after GMing PFS for a few years. Don't get attached to the BBGs. Let them steamroller through. If the players are fun to be with, use the extra time for elaborate descriptions of the environment, maybe find a journal outlining the backstory. If they're not much fun, go home early, there are players who only want the scrap of paper and that's fine too.

4/5

There are scenarios with BBEG's who win a lot, or at least take people down with them.

People complain about them as well.

Some of the ones I've GMed:

In Wrath's Shadow, BBEG packs a punch, even if his ghouls are fairly useless
Waking Rune, Anyone who tells you Krune doesn't pack a punch, had a GM who didn't play the conjurer to his potential
Haunting of Hinojai, the evoker in this scenario using invisibility, flying, major image, and powerful evocation spells, the samurai skeletons hit like trucks, and the final BBEG uses a nasty combination of black tentacles and other spells, pretty hard mode all the way through
Fortress of the Nail, Bad Doggy eats groups, assuming they dare to survive his breath weapon


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Care Baird wrote:
Mojorat wrote:
Until pfs can write a general way to make scenarios harder that works as a generic rule all scenario have to be surivavable by the weakest players.
I wish more scenarios had hard mode. And some scenarios should have Baird mode.

I honestly don't think the issue is specifically the scenarios. But a lot of players don't seem to grasp that pfs doesn't need Iberia optimization.

So at an average table of 5-6 in my local area 1/3 will be in the abnormally optimizes range. But there's no way I can think of to pre plan scenario to account for this.

I just aimed for a mid range schtick... I also have a non special lap dog on my gnome alchemist. The goal is to get snuggles the Chihuahua through as many encounters as possible with no training or special powers. My gnome is lvl 4 so far... though I suspect snuggles days are numbered.

The Exchange 3/5

David_Bross wrote:

There are scenarios with BBEG's who win a lot, or at least take people down with them.

People complain about them as well.

** spoiler omitted **

I've played or gm'd all four of those and are the same four scenarios I'd also describe as being tough. I've gm'd

:

In wrath's shadow: two player character deaths and 1 mount on final boss in low tier.
Waking rune: 2 player deaths-which required raises
Fortress of nail: dog breathed two pcs into oblivion requiring raises.

As a player haunts was terrifying and got close to death several times.

Silver Crusade 3/5

Codanous wrote:
David_Bross wrote:

There are scenarios with BBEG's who win a lot, or at least take people down with them.

People complain about them as well.

** spoiler omitted **

I've played or gm'd all four of those and are the same four scenarios I'd also describe as being tough. I've gm'd

** spoiler omitted **

I'm happy to say I was at the table for all of those scenarios with you, on one side of the screen or the other. :)

The other one to add:

Spoiler:
The Goblinblood Dead. The lieutenant was brutal.

Shadow Lodge 5/5

At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.

Sczarni 1/5

TOZ wrote:
At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.

Err.... How? You can easily avoid all combat?

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Akinra wrote:
TOZ wrote:
At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.
Err.... How? You can easily avoid all combat?

Probably went something like This

Shadow Lodge 4/5

You can get killed by a lot of things in that scenario, particularily if you are mindful about leaving no evidence. Torching the place would be so much simpler.

Grand Lodge 2/5 RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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Muser wrote:
Torching the place would be so much simpler.

I think I have an idea for my next GM star replay.

Shadow Lodge 4/5

You'll go far. I can tell.

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

Akinra wrote:
TOZ wrote:
At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.
Err.... How? You can easily avoid all combat?

One idiot attacked the Guardian.

Grand Lodge 5/5

TriOmegaZero wrote:
Akinra wrote:
TOZ wrote:
At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.
Err.... How? You can easily avoid all combat?
One idiot attacked the Guardian.

WUZNT ME!

Silver Crusade 5/5 ⦵⦵

TriOmegaZero wrote:
Akinra wrote:
TOZ wrote:
At Phoenix Comicon we had a TPK in Library of the Lion.
Err.... How? You can easily avoid all combat?
One idiot attacked the Guardian.

Attacked?

In my group one insane gnome cleric licked the Guardian. And made me help, because he was to short to lick that high.

That's the same gnome that has been quoted as saying, "I am Lawful Good, b***h!"

Liberty's Edge 3/5

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ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

As the writer of that scenario and a GM who has seen PCs beat that encounter in one round on two occasions, I assure you the goal was not a TPK. The goal was a good time. It's kind of a bummer to hear so many players didn't get past that encounter in the scenario, especially when there are pretty regular "encounters are too easy" threads, like this one.


"Ryan Costello wrote:


ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.
As the writer of that scenario and a GM who has seen PCs beat that encounter in one round on two occasions, I assure you the goal was not a TPK. The goal was a good time. It's kind of a bummer to hear so many players didn't get past that encounter in the scenario, especially when there are pretty regular "encounters are too easy" threads, like this one.

I now feel sorry for Ryan :(

The Exchange 3/5

I enjoyed elven entanglement, thought it was definitely challenging, the way it kind of just drops you into the middle of it like that was interesting and well done. I wish more encounters dropped players into a firefight like that.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Im for it, but they need to add a caveat about the party not being surprised just because they were teleported into direct danger. They really should expect it by now.

Silver Crusade

E. Quint wrote:
ScrollMasterRob wrote:
There seem to be a few season 5 mods where the writers are trying to TPK the players in the first round. "Elven Entanglement" certainly rises to the top of the septic tank.

** spoiler omitted **

Of course, by that level your characters will have suitable countermeasures. If not, the DM will know, having read the adventure, that they should get these countermeasures, or forestall the game until the party has leveled enough.

It's like Paizo WANTS the dm's to read adventures carefully. ;)

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Trying to murderhobo a door knocker. New levels of pathfindering!

5/5

Ryan Costello wrote:
As the writer of that scenario and a GM who has seen PCs beat that encounter in one round on two occasions, I assure you the goal was not a TPK. The goal was a good time.

Lies. We both know that John's outlines include, "No matter what, make sure the turnover doesn't allow for the GM to run a fun game. Give the GM the tools to TPK in every encounter."

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