Leaders of Golarion and the misunderstanding of challenge - a rant


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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Silver Crusade

Kryzbyn wrote:
Any straight up group fight against one BBEG is going to be a curb stomp.

Incorrect. The two TPK's I have had against my party on AP BBEG's have been when said BBEG was alone.

Also

Spoiler:
Jade Regent ends with a battle against 4 equally levelled opponents


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It is not completely impossible for a level 4 creature to kill a level 17 one, but it is so improbable as makes no odds. About the best chance is for a Slumber Hex or the Repose Blessing/Domain to enable a coup de grace, but that is a pretty wild chance. At 17th level, you are virtually immune to anything a 4th level character can throw a you, and virtually guaranteed to kill them the first time you attack them.

Again, being excellent at combat is a *major part of the Hurricane King's position*--and the added levels come, inherently, with boosts to everything else that would make him a competent ruler in the first place. Nor would traps and minions make him any more challenging, if he were a 10th level character against a party of 17ths. The traps and minions might be challenging; he would blow over in a stiff breeze. Now, that's not *always* the wrong choice, but certainly makes no sense for the man who's job description is 'most fearsome pirate in the world.' Incidentally, he should still have traps and minions and things, because that's more exciting, and because the CR system is imperfect and doesn't account for action economy very well.

Being from a backstabbing noble family doesn't account for *arcane* power per se, but it does suggest at least some degree of personal prowess to have survived and thrived. Combine that with said family also being noted for their deals with devils--indeed, being the leaders of a semi-theocracy thereof--and it's far from nonsensical. Certainly, it would be coherent for Abrogail to be an aristocratic dilettante, a puppet ruler propped up by an infernal bargain. But it is nothing to Asmodeus to grant her power in her mortal timeframe in exchange for her immortal soul. And it is much to his benefit to let the people of Cheliax, his foothold in the war for the souls of Golarion, dream themselves the masters in their little arrangements, and give it power enough to defend itself from mortal interference.

Also, note on the Hurricane King and the leader of the Red Mantis--both are the highest ranking members of organizations which have associated Prestige Classes--Shackles Pirate and Red Mantis Assassin, respectively. Thematically, they should have the full progression in those prestige classes, (as both are, in fact, noted to have), meaning they can't be anything less than 15th level.


I skipped a few post so my point may have already been made.

It is not likely to have a lower level leader for reasons already mentioned especially in an evil nation.

However it is possible for an aristocrat 5/bard 2 to be in charge, but only if he is protected by someone or something higher in fantasyland. Maybe he is part of some evil organization and he lets it slip that if any harm comes to him the organization will come after whoever does it. Maybe it is rumored that some evil dragon/outsider/etc is associated with him. Beyond that, that is not much reason why someone is fantasy land is not going to gun for him.

What works logically in novels, and what works logically due to game mechanics are far apart in nature.

As for PCs' taking out leaders of nations I have had some that would have done it, if it were not so risky. Others would never do it, but depending on a real life social contract is not good evidence that the game is not better off with higher level rulers.


Levels are an abstraction. One way to think of this abstraction is as 'weight of destiny.' PCs gain weight of destiny by overcoming challenges, but NPCs have a variety of other ways that they have attracted this 'destiny.'

A wizard might have spent his life is arcane studies. Even though he has worse physical stats than a lvl one commoner, and hasn't exercised or engaged in martial training, he still has a lot more hit points and a much higher BAB because his studies have given him a 'weight of destiny' that changes everything around him, converting, for example, an arrow wound that would kill a commoner into only a minor flesh wound. Many other examples exist.

For a ruler, the very fact that he is a ruler, probably imparts a 'weight of destiny' far above that of the average person. Basically, people that matter are automatically high level, not because you have to be high level to matter, but because being someone who matters makes you high level.


Nearyn wrote:
I don't see the connection between coming from a family of chronic backstabberage, and surging with great arcane power. I simply don't see the connection.

I am not saying that she is a powerfull sorceress because of her family (although it is probably Infernal Bloodline, so ...), I am saying that if she didn´t have power of her own, she would probably be quickly murdered and replaced by her relatives.


Latrecis wrote:


This math in turn makes all the Earth equivalent examples in the thread above entirely irrelevant. On Earth, political power has and remains driven almost entirely by loyalty. If more people think you should be in charge than think you shouldn't, you're in charge.

The problem is there's no indication that this doesn't also hold on Golarion.

Being king isn't about being personally invulnerable -- heck, any commoner with a suitable grudge can offer her soul to a pit fiend in exchange for killing the hated monarch.

Approach it from the BBEG's perspective. What is to be gained by killing the king?

In any even semi-stable society, not much. The king could die at any point from choking on his food or a failed saving throw against a fatal illness; the society is set up to accept that and to deal with issues of succession by normal methods, which might be hereditary, might be a vote of the college of cardinals, whatever. Unless the BBEG is in a position to step into the slot via normal succession (e.g. the BBEG is the crown prince), killing the king doesn't do much.

If the BBEG plans on replacing the normal system by force main, he'll then have the issue of trying to govern and unwilling and hostile new country. Good luck enforcing your laws when the enforcers are on the other side.

If the BBEG is just trying to enforce policy changes on the target country -- he doesn't like the current king's diplomatic positions -- well, the king is dead, long live the next one, who is just as likely to continue the current policies as change them.

And in all of these cases, even if the king is personally weak, if the king is desired by the powerful of his people, he will have an entourage. There's no reason that a 5th level aristocrat can't have a 20th level wizard at his beck and call, advising him, and protecting him: think what Merlin is to Arthur. And the Knights of the Round Table are generally equally loyal to Arthur precisely because they're tired of the anarchy they experienced when there wasn't a king around to rule. So if you want to take out Arthur.... even if you could, you'd have to go through Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain, and Merlin first.

Liberty's Edge

@Orfamay Quest:

You're absolutely right...in a hereditary monarchy. Which Golarion doesn't actually have a lot of. And the rulers of which average significantly lower level.

In a non-hereditary setup, the leader has to have done something to earn people's loyalty, even if that's just won an election. And, frankly, high level characters are just inherently vastly better at that most of the time.


Disagree with pretty much everything about the original post, most especially the thought of the leader of the Red Mantis Assassins not even being good enough to be a good Red Mantis Assassin - that just seems silly to me.

To each their own (scale), I guess.

-TimD


Deadmanwalking wrote:

@Orfamay Quest:

You're absolutely right...in a hereditary monarchy. Which Golarion doesn't actually have a lot of. And the rulers of which average significantly lower level.

In a non-hereditary setup, the leader has to have done something to earn people's loyalty, even if that's just won an election. And, frankly, high level characters are just inherently vastly better at that most of the time.

That depends. A higher level character that hasn't put any points into Charisma or Charisma-based skills won't really be all that great at diplomatic abilities. And in a world steeped with magic, people would be VERY watchful over using magic to gain the upper hand in diplomatic abilities. So I could see a higher level character deferring to a lower level character because that lower level NPC has ranks in Diplomacy and Skill Focus.

It's a lot like why Superman, despite being able to break and bend the president, doesn't do such a thing.

That said, I generally agree that the leader should be a high level, or should have some form protection that is high level. Like a council of high level warriors that protect the young emperor until he comes of age.


Flip it on its head: The fact that Ulthun II being a lower-level leader is the exception rather than the norm is a big part of what makes him interesting. If it were the rule, rather than the exception, he wouldn't be as intriguing a figure as he is.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

For me it's not so much that the leaders of Golarion are powerful, as I think cause and effect is reversed in that they are in leadership positions because they are powerful and not powerful because they just happen to be leaders.

On the other hand what's starting to bother me about Golarion is it's starting to get the Forgotten Realm's Archmage on Every Street Corner Effect. There are just so many powerful people and other entities floating around out there now, and they aren't just a little powerful, but near the top range of the level scale. I've lost count of them now. I would like to see it where people that are above level 11, where people start to become legendary, are very extremely rare, and it should be even rarer the higher one goes up from that.

One of the best aspects of the Golarion setting when it started is it lacked that, and the players ended up being the heroes. Now, slowly, Golarion is starting to move away from that. They were so willing to add new and exciting things I think they forgot to keep that in check.


Deadmanwalking wrote:


In a non-hereditary setup, the leader has to have done something to earn people's loyalty, even if that's just won an election.

Shrug. Pull a sword out of a stone, and be vouched for by a high-level wizard. That seemed to work for Merlin.


The short answer to the OP's query: Do the leaders of the major nations have to be so high?

The short answer is yes. The long answer... will have to wait until I can get a real keyboard under me. This will take a moment....

Liberty's Edge

Odraude wrote:
That depends. A higher level character that hasn't put any points into Charisma or Charisma-based skills won't really be all that great at diplomatic abilities. And in a world steeped with magic, people would be VERY watchful over using magic to gain the upper hand in diplomatic abilities. So I could see a higher level character deferring to a lower level character because that lower level NPC has ranks in Diplomacy and Skill Focus.

Charisma isn't the only way to earn people's loyalty either. Deeds of valour or helping people with godlike power could do just as well. As could a number of other things. Heck, just being the guy who conquered a country could cement a fair amount of loyalty out of fear and respect.

Odraude wrote:
It's a lot like why Superman, despite being able to break and bend the president, doesn't do such a thing.

That's sadly not something that really works well in Pathfinder due to the aforementioned "People who are competent at just about anything are, in fact, competent at fighting, too. And to roughly the same degree."

Odraude wrote:
That said, I generally agree that the leader should be a high level, or should have some form protection that is high level. Like a council of high level warriors that protect the young emperor until he comes of age.

Agreed. Obviously.

Drock11 wrote:
For me it's not so much that the leaders of Golarion are powerful, as I think cause and effect is reversed in that they are in leadership positions because they are powerful and not powerful because they just happen to be leaders.

Also agreed. Again, rather obviously. :)

Drock11 wrote:

On the other hand what's starting to bother me about Golarion is it's starting to get the Forgotten Realm's Archmage on Every Street Corner Effect. There are just so many powerful people and other entities floating around out there now, and they aren't just a little powerful, but near the top range of the level scale. I've lost count of them now. I would like to see it where people that are above level 11, where people start to become legendary, are very extremely rare, and it should be even rarer the higher one goes up from that.

One of the best aspects of the Golarion setting when it started is it lacked that, and the players ended up being the heroes. Now, slowly, Golarion is starting to move away from that. They were so willing to add new and exciting things I think they forgot to keep that in check.

Eh, check out my population demographics by level (mentioned earlier). Those synch up pretty well with published work and the published work has never really changed too much. Mostly, high level people have never been either very common or extraordinarily uncommon, and as we get more and more city and area books we just see more and more of them. They're still rare enough for PCs to be seriously unique in a few ways.

Orfamay Quest wrote:
Deadmanwalking wrote:


In a non-hereditary setup, the leader has to have done something to earn people's loyalty, even if that's just won an election.
Shrug. Pull a sword out of a stone, and be vouched for by a high-level wizard. That seemed to work for Merlin.

Sure, but there aren't a lot of rulers 'picked by the Gods' (or whoever) like that in Golarion either...and those that are literally picked by the Gods are powered by them and thus high level Oracles or Clerics or something.

And it's debatable that, if you were to write up Camelot, you'd list Merlin, not Arthur as the real ruler. At least in his early days.


D20 is a game about Personal Power.
Every character is in a constant state of acquiring more personal power via class levels.
Even the Commoners although their gains are insignificant compared to PC classes.

I tend to agree with the OP in principle but have some issues with the execution of a real world model in game terms. A realistic "boss fight" is anticlimactic if the boss is a level 5 Aristocrat. Also toppling a kingdom is problematic for even high level characters where the final fight involves 4 PCs (of any level), going against 500 "mooks". The PCs can be virtually indestructible but the action economy works against them. Playing it out is boring.

We can make all kinds of rationalizations as to why this ruler or that person is such and such level. It doesn't matter beyond mechanical combat. If the PCs don't fight that person the level is not relevant.

A decent analogy is the wandering monster table. The players may not leave a geographic region but the random encounters scale up with them. Rationalizing why isn't really important. If you don't scale it, the encounters don't matter (I know lots of us don't even use random tables).

Fantasy game worlds jump through lots of hoops to make their sillier elements fit in. Mind Flayers would depopulate entire regions with the dietary needs of a small population. The same is true of most large predatory fantasy species. How much protein does an adult dragon need daily?

Fantasy game world economics are even worse. The PFRPG 50% value for sales rules is problematic in a real world analysis. It works though mechanically. It keeps PC wealth by level in check.

It's fun to figure out the distribution of level 6 wizards in a city of 100,000 people but it's not necessary for a game to run. The number of X class at Y level is determined by story needs not population distribution; otherwise PC level would be capped by population; that would go over like a lead balloon.

On Golarion; I like the distribution of Aristocrat levels among rulers.

One of our local DMs solves the issue of Players as Nobility by requiring that player start as an Aristocrat lvl1, any real advantage gained by having a rich well connected family is offset by the NPC class levels. While the PC can neglect his Aristocrat advancement for more personal power, his family will still consider him a failure since he hasn't advanced in the thing that provides access to the money and influence; the NPC class levels.

That DM's rationalization is that levels denote social status. Levels in Wizard impart status among the spellcasting community, but not among merchants, mercenaries, etc. The Wizard's personal power is significant, he can achieve a measure of respect due to his ability to do amazing things but he will always be an outsider to non wizards.
The Wizard may achieve a measure of political power by becoming the Grand Vizier or some such but that power is from the office and that office could be stripped (and likely would go to someone with the influence to get the appointment in the first place).
The Wizard could pull a Scry n Fry coup and become King, but he's still an outsider to all the people who make a city state or nation run. He may continue to rule since he's kinda scary and potent but his political power comes from the people beneath him, who will either benefit from his place at the top or not support him.

This is why the world isn't run by high level casters; the ones with the inclination to rule invariably lose out on acquiring wizard levels while trying to be the ruler.

He does the same thing with players that want to open private businesses. They need Expert levels to get the type of contacts and relationships needed to be competitive in Buisness. Opening up a potion/magic item/weapons/artsy fartsy shop is tempting for some players, especially if they gain some benefit like more loot per level.

This way the DM in question doesnt have to say "no you can't do that" to players but also doesn't have to deal with game breaking side systems that have no downside. Currently he's midway through Kingmaker and the ruler and several other PCs are already multiclassed into things most PCs would never take but have some ridiculous advantages that most PCs wouldn't ever dream of.


Well, I'm back.

My answer is twofold: One is in-universe, and the other is in-game.

Being a ruler is dangerous. Rest assured, in real life or a fictional character, if you are a head of state, there is somebody that is going to want you dead. And in a Fantasy World like Golarion, that's more true than ever.

Quote:
Why must the leader himself be a challenge? Why does he have to be immune to scry and fry?

Pure Darwin: Those who cannot protect themselves from such a tactic are likely already dead, probably from scry n'fry.

Quote:
If someone is sufficiently powerful, why should they not just be able to port in and devastate a ruler?

Many of them can.

The second reason, as I stated, was for gameplay purposes. If the BBEG of your campaign is only Level six, then the PCs can, and sooner or later will, kill him at Level 6. Maybe not your players/party specifically, but somebody will figure out how to get at them away from their elite guards/bound Genie/Fiendish servants. Nobles and even kings throughout real-life history have been killed by an assassin in the toilet, for example. High-level rulers give GMs a buffer against the ingenuity of their players, so they can't off the BBEG less than halfway through the campaign. Now, you may be cool with that, but how many GMs out there are willing to effectively plan out or write two campaigns when they know that one of them will never be used?

And all that blowback you mentioned? How much of that would overwhelm a low- to mid-level party?


I do think that Scry and Fry is a lot less usable in the terms of national leaders.

The Palace, seat of power etc. Will be Warded from Scrying and permanent Dimensional Anchors would be a foregone conclusion I'd think. Any ruler is gonna have some NonDetection going on, some anti poison tech and the ability to call for backup.

Players are ingenious, the people with a vested interest in keeping someone on a throne should be too.


Yeah, the low level rulers are probably pretty well protected from outside attack. It's treachery from within that's the problem. Or just being run by the high level power behind the throne. Which could be non-magical, just an advisor giving selfish advice. What 5th level monarch could resist a high level diplomancer bard who's taken the time to become a trusted friend.


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I'll play the role of the hypothetical game-designer. I'm writing the entry for Blood Mistress Jakalyn, the leader of the Red Mantis Assassins, and arguably one of the most dangerous people on Golarion.

Does she have to be powerful? No she does not, she has to be dangerous, that does not necessitate her being powerful. All she has to be, is dangerous. I am the game designer, how can I make her dangerous? I could make the point that while she is not the most competent blade-artist wire-fu assassin, she is an exceptionally gifted planner, with a devious intellect that permits her to stage the death of nearly anyone she desires. In so doing, I do not give her alot of personal power, because her character does not need it. What I -am- doing, is making her dangerous, which is central to her character. I decide to make her a level 7 rogue. I don't even have to give her a single level of Red Mantis Assassin, but I could, if I so desired.

I establish that Jakalyn is a rogue, who is so well-connected, so deviously intelligent, so feared and in control of an organization so resourceful, that nobody on Golarion can honestly claim to be safe from her. This is fluff I establish. As I write this, I do not need to address every person on the board who claims they can solo Jakalyn. I do not need to make up preventative scenarios for how she deals with interlopers. All I need to do is establish that she -can- deal with them. That she does have contingencies in place, and emphasize just how unlikely it is, that anyone who did not dedicate themself to it 100%, would ever find themselves in a position where they'd pose even the slightest threat to her. In so doing, I leave the character vaguely defined so the GMs who use the material can make of her what they wish, while providing them with fluff, a general idea of how dangerous she is, how she operates and of course, tell them that she is a level 7 rogue, for purposes of actual dice-relevant situations.

My hypothetical self has now created a Blood-mistress for the Red Mantis Assassins. She is now the character leading the assassin cult, and she is not even level 10. It works, I just did it. If players want to challenge her, GMs can now feel justified in springing horrendous stuff on their players, because the entry describing the character justifies it. What need does this character have to be able to fight a barbarian straight up in a fight? She does not. She needs to be dangerous, and if she is influential enough to be able to land the PCs in an international incident, just by sending a single letter with the right words and her seal, to the right person, then lo and behold, she fills the role of archnemesis just fine, despite her being level 7.

-Nearyn


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And you've just made up a character whose stats don't back up your claims. At least if you're doing anything like playing by the rules in making her up.

Does she have any actual mechanical skills to back up "so well-connected, so deviously intelligent, so feared and in control of an organization so resourceful". I mean sure, she's in control of the Mantis, so she's got that, but is she the smartest of the Red Mantis Assassins? Not likely, if there are much higher level ones. Does she have the skills and feats and talents to actually earn that place among them? Not necessarily combat skills - blade-artist wire-fu stuff, but the social skills to bluff and persuade and intimidate her opponents (and fellow assassins). Or to keep them from doing the same to her.

If you just handwave everything and keep the PCs from ever actually meeting her, it'll work just fine. The behind the scenes manipulator is a great master villain. But if you're just handwaving everything, who cares what level she is.
OTOH, if the PCs ever actually meet her, even in a non-combat setting, then you run the risk of even her social skills not living up to her rep - as your higher level diplomat charms her and she can't see through your bluffer's lies and your fighter can scare her off and your sense motive guy sees right through her manipulation and lies. She doesn't even have the skill to sneak away.

OTOH, high level aristocrats would make good rulers or even good behind the villains, as might experts. Plenty of skills, decent saves, but not very good combat ability. That's probably a better approach than low level PC classes.


thejeff wrote:

And you've just made up a character whose stats don't back up your claims. At least if you're doing anything like playing by the rules in making her up.

Does she have any actual mechanical skills to back up "so well-connected,

Aside from the fact that I can establish however many allies or contacts that I want to, as part of her fluff, there is no level requirement for using the contact system.

thejeff wrote:
so deviously intelligent

If I want to stat her, I could give her whatever intelligence I felt like. It would not be the first officially published character who has exceptional stats, just because they do. With that said, even a 16 intelligence should do. There is not 1 single solitary definition of what each stat implies. If I place her int at 16 and state that she is a deviously intelligent, dangerous woman, then the that should be reflected in how she is portrayed in character, and how she acts, not by me specifying the relevance of her exact mental attributes on a point by point basis.

thejeff wrote:
so feared and in control of an organization so resourceful". I mean sure, she's in control of the Mantis, so she's got that, but is she the smartest of the Red Mantis Assassins?

She does not have to be. There might well be a wizard with a tricked out int-stat in the Red Mantis, and no, she is not gonna have a higher int that him. However, that does not make her less of a Blood Mistress, nor does it diminish the relevance of me establishing that she has a mind for putting you in the ground.

thejeff wrote:
Not likely, if there are much higher level ones. Does she have the skills and feats and talents to actually earn that place among them?

As far as I've been able to tell, positions such as these are earned, meaning they're not reliant on skills or stats, but of achievements. If she's managed what she needed to manage to become Blood Mistress, then she's Blood Mistress. Was it a stroke of luck? Perhaps. You'll never know, until I publish the lore about her rise to power. Until then, you can make your own story up at your own table, as is your right as a GM.

thejeff wrote:
OTOH, if the PCs ever actually meet her, even in a non-combat setting, then you run the risk of even her social skills not living up to her rep

What rep are you talking about? I only remember saying she was dangerous. Does the fact that certain people in the world are better than her at certain things, diminish the fact that your throat will be cut in your sleep, if she wills it?

thejeff wrote:
as your higher level diplomat charms her and she can't see through your bluffer's lies and your fighter can scare her off and your sense motive guy sees right through her manipulation and lies. She doesn't even have the skill to sneak away.

Yes, it is almost like people who are better at stuff than others, are better at stuff than others. What point are you trying to make? Yes if she gets diplo-bombed and the DM has no intention of doing anything about it, then she has been diplo-bombed. That is the same for every other person in the setting, so why should it be different for her? If the PCs roll an opposed check vs her and succeed, they win the opposed skill check, just like any other situation in the game, before or since.

thejeff wrote:

OTOH, high level aristocrats would make good rulers or even good behind the villains, as might experts. Plenty of skills, decent saves, but not very good combat ability. That's probably a better approach than low level PC classes.

To each their own. I don't mind high level rulers, only the fact that the fallacy that their high level is necessary for them to provide a challenge, causes them to be prevalent for no reason.

-Nearyn


Also, while there are some villains whom it's doable for them to be low-level anything (Like a young foppish prince, head filled with stories of glorious wars and conquest, who ascends to the throne after his father's untimely death and declares war on your peaceful nation), but Leader of the most dreaded international assassins' guild on the planet is not one of them. Remember, high levels are not just about power. They are literally about experience. What you've seen, what you've done, what you know. Level 6 is just barely above "Local Crime Boss" in Golarion terms. Nobody of import in the Red Mantis organization is gonna listen to a level 6 Rogue, i.e.: Someone who has never faced the real challenges of their world.

Nearyn wrote:
thejeff wrote:

And you've just made up a character whose stats don't back up your claims. At least if you're doing anything like playing by the rules in making her up.

Does she have any actual mechanical skills to back up "so well-connected,

Aside from the fact that I can establish however many allies or contacts that I want to, as part of her fluff, there is no level requirement for using the contact system.

Well there is the question of why such powerful people would be willing to go to such lengths for such a lowly thug.

Quote:
thejeff wrote:
so deviously intelligent

If I want to stat her, I could give her whatever intelligence I felt like. It would not be the first officially published character who has exceptional stats, just because they do. With that said, even a 16 intelligence should do. There is not 1 single solitary definition of what each stat implies. If I place her int at 16 and state that she is a deviously intelligent, dangerous woman, then the that should be reflected in how she is portrayed in character, and how she acts, not by me specifying the relevance of her exact mental attributes on a point by point basis.

thejeff wrote:
so feared and in control of an organization so resourceful". I mean sure, she's in control of the Mantis, so she's got that, but is she the smartest of the Red Mantis Assassins?

She does not have to be. There might well be a wizard with a tricked out int-stat in the Red Mantis, and no, she is not gonna have a higher int that him. However, that does not make her less of a Blood Mistress, nor does it diminish the relevance of me establishing that she has a mind for putting you in the ground.

thejeff wrote:
Not likely, if there are much higher level ones. Does she have the skills and feats and talents to actually earn that place among them?

As far as I've been able to tell, positions such as these are earned, meaning they're not reliant on skills or stats, but of achievements. If she's managed what she needed to manage to become Blood Mistress, then she's Blood Mistress. Was it a stroke of luck? Perhaps. You'll never know, until I publish the lore about her rise to power. Until then, you can make your own story up at your own table, as is your right as a GM.

thejeff wrote:
OTOH, if the PCs ever actually meet her, even in a non-combat setting, then you run the risk of even her social skills not living up to her rep
What rep are you talking about? I only remember saying she was dangerous. Does the fact that certain people in the world are better than her at certain things, diminish the fact that your throat will be cut in your sleep, if she wills it?

Who cares about the will of a nobody? Why would the members of an international organization of assassins take commands from a person who doesn't have the skill to train the initiates in the art or instruct the acolytes in the faith?

Quote:
thejeff wrote:
as your higher level diplomat charms her and she can't see through your bluffer's lies and your fighter can scare her off and your sense motive guy sees right through her manipulation and lies. She doesn't even have the skill to sneak away.
Yes, it is almost like people who are better at stuff than others, are better at stuff than others. What point are you trying to make? Yes if she gets diplo-bombed and the DM has no intention of doing anything about it, then she has been diplo-bombed. That is the same for every other person in the setting, so why should it be different for her? If the PCs roll an opposed check vs her and succeed, they win the opposed skill check, just like any other situation in the game, before or since.

It shouldn't be different for her, but rather difficult. As a BBEG, diplo-bombing, Barbarian-bombing, Alcemist-bombing, or whatever kind of bombing a target you could hit without a roll tends to leave players disappointed.

Quote:
thejeff wrote:
OTOH, high level aristocrats would make good rulers or even good behind the villains, as might experts. Plenty of skills, decent saves, but not very good combat ability. That's probably a better approach than low level PC classes.
To each their own. I don't mind high level rulers, only the fact that the fallacy that their high level is necessary for them to provide a challenge, causes them to be prevalent for no reason.

Have you ever looked at the stat sheet of a high-level character?


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I'm getting the sense that this to a very real degree comes down to that old "Only if you run it that way" argument.

Which isn't a problem, it's just that it also falls into "I just disagree" territory.

I think it's not unwise - from a design perspective - to design a setting the way they did, accounting for a certain type of jerkish behavior some players are known for rather than making one particularly vulnerable to it.

It is, afterall, a lot easier to redesign lower level versions of NPC's than it is to tack on a whole bunch of levels.


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Because you're trying to set up a situation where the villain is powerful only by GM fiat in a game system where power is quantified by the rules.

You've got a leader of the world wide Assassin's Guild who could be killed by any of the more skilled assassin's she rules. OK, that's fine, maybe she's a strategic genius or something that really represented in the rules, so they keep her around. But she doesn't even have the basic skills to do politics well. The higher level assassins can lie to her at will and know basically everything she's planning. Some of them will be able to talk her into anything they want her to do.

That's not a leader, that's a puppet.

But she's really good at something. We're not sure what, it's sort of vaguely defined, but somehow she's doing a good job at running the most dreaded international assassins' guild on the planet.

It's kind of a shame that PF links everything to combat ability and I like the idea of scary people who aren't good at combat, but the level mechanic is what makes people better at what they do in PF.


Rather, the level mechanic has always been a measure of one's abilities. True, it's easier to make non-combat villains in a point-buy system, but again, that's what the NPC classes or for. They may have descent BAB or saves by high level, but they have no feats, and few to no class features. Against one PC, let alone four to six....

When a fight is just plain wrong
We all sing the Curbstomp Song
People dying left and right
It's a slaughter, not a fight!


TheWarriorPoet519 wrote:

I'm getting the sense that this to a very real degree comes down to that old "Only if you run it that way" argument.

Which isn't a problem, it's just that it also falls into "I just disagree" territory.

I think it's not unwise - from a design perspective - to design a setting the way they did, accounting for a certain type of jerkish behavior some players are known for rather than making one particularly vulnerable to it.

It is, afterall, a lot easier to redesign lower level versions of NPC's than it is to tack on a whole bunch of levels.

Pretty much this.

For me, it comes down to GMing 101: You can change things. The stuff in the books is the baseline view for the setting, set that way for all the reasons people have delineated above (PCs are bastards, NPCs raiding places, etc etc.)

You can certainly alter anything you choose to flavor the game for yourself and your players. There are good reasons to have lower level rulers, or higher level, as long as you are capable of addressing the questions that come up from your players. Heck, the designers are great but don't always take everything that PCs can think up into account and you have to add protections from things they'd never think of. This has become more apparent in recent years in things like comics, where they've had to address why supers haven't killed the President or taken all the nukes and so on.

As with everything, they've given you the beginning of the game but if you have specifics in mind you have to adjust what is written to take that into account.

tl;dr: The trope exists as a baseline.


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Just going to comment that the Red Mantis is a cult that views assassination as the holiest of holies.

And the primary way to advance in the Red Mantis is personally carrying out successful missions.

Jakalyn-as-civilian-schemer would never rise to being Blood Mistress of the Red Mantis - at best, she'd be someone else's valued strategist or secretary.

The Red Mantis has a place for civilian assistants, but it isn't at the top.

Golarion's very much a place where a low level sovereign, who is the real leader of the nation, is an anomaly indicating unusual circumstances.

My own assumption when I see a low level national ruler in this setting is "okay, that's almost certainly a puppet, who's actually in charge?"


Revan wrote:
It is not completely impossible for a level 4 creature to kill a level 17 one, but it is so improbable as makes no odds.

There's really no number of level 1-4 characters who can pose a credible threat to a 17th level wizard. The question isn't whether they can beat him or not, because they can't. The question is how many the flying wizard has to kill with fire from several hundred feet away and behind his arrow-blocking wind wall before the rest get the message and bow down.

Make no mistake, the 17th level wizard has a truly horrendous amount of power. He creates and destroys entire (demi)planes of existence at a whim. He can travel from one side of the world to the other (or to the moon, or another solar system) in seconds, he can summon forth angelic creatures of immense power that are virtually unkillable, he can bend mighty dragons to his will (or transform into one, if he is of a mind). Even the Spawn of Rovagug are only an inconvenience. He can mold your mind and memories like clay. He has arranged failsafes against anything getting through his defenses, and no divination can touch him (the same cannot be said for you). He might not even live in his palace, and instead maintains a private holiday home in the sun (there's already one 16th level wizard who lives there in canon), while all you ever interact with is a projection. He has a mind surpassing those of demigods, wisdom not all that far behind, and middling personal charisma backed by the ability to perfectly know just the right thing to say at the right time (assuming he didn't drop some of the ridiculous number of skill points he has from his INT score into Diplomacy anyway). His mere presence inspires an instant desire to bow down and prostrate yourself before his angelic countenance. If he really has a need, he can bend reality itself to his will.

He is for all intents and purposes a god who's stingy about handing out power to his followers. Which should say something about why people haven't quite cottoned on to Razmir yet.

If he wants to rule a kingdom with an iron fist (perhaps he uses mechanical monsters to enforce the rule of law), there's nothing that level 1-4 characters can do to stop him. If he wants to rule a kingdom with love and fluffy bunnies, then he can do that too. Happiness is mandatory, citizen.

And the funniest part of all that is how so much of it is good for a ruler to have. This hypothetical 17th level wizard who's just dusted the 6th level Aristocrat is categorically better:

- He's a genius who can outpace the best minds of Earth in his sleep. Economic prosperity, here we come. No more budgetary complaints.
- Apply that intelligence and some constructs to the manual labour, giving the citizens time to enjoy a life of the arts, philosophy, and sciences.
- Moment of Prescience and Diplomacy ranks from skill points make trade negotiations a breeze. Really, they make any sort of negotiation a breeze.
- Personal power capable of obliterating an army makes national security simplistic. And if he needs more or has more important things to deal with, he just summons something to do it for him.
- Especially if he puts his mind to divination spells that reveal a threat before it even arrives.
- Long-distance trade is trivialised before long.
- Teleportation means he (and trusted assistants) can get anywhere he needs to at speed, allowing a much quicker response time to disasters. Assuming they haven't been foreseen via divination.
- That bending reality to his will part? There's a Tian Xia nation in Golarion who use a Wish spell every five years or so to grant fertility and prosperity to their country.

And if he wants to leave a puppet king in place, then he can absolutely do that too. Not that anybody worth the name would really be fooled about who's actually running the show.


Of course, Powers Behind the Throne might WANT to stay behind the throne. "The risks are far less, and the rewards almost as great." -- Londo Molari, _Babylon 5_. Let some schmuck be the official ruler and take the assassination hits for you. Just make sure you have your fingers into all of their successors (actually, in _Babylon 5_, that's dirtier than you might think). One ruler gets scried 'n' fried: pull out the next one, and check your own defenses. Rinse and repeat as needed. Of course, that assumes a system with some kind of orderly transition built in, whether hereditary monarchy, oligarchic election, or even nominally democratic election. This won't work in Lands of the Linnorm Kings, Cheliax, or several other similar places. Arguably, it DOES work in Galt, where the government seems to get replaced on the average about once every 5 years, with very unpleasant consequences for the members of the replaced government, and with the Gray Gardeners being the Power Behind the Throne (and considering the customary fate of the nominal rulers, having good reason to want to stay behind the throne, even if it is in part self-inflicted).


I find these differing opinons interesting.

I must admit that I am a bit shocked to see basic story-telling waved off as GM fiat, but I guess we have different opinions on what exactly GM fiat means.

I would like to know, why exactly some people maintain that, as a GM, it is not possible to have certain characters, let us take Blood Mistress Jakalyn, since we're already talking about her, hold their office without being high-level?

What exactly do you, the people in disagreement, want Jakalyn to be? And why is it necessary to you, that she is that?

-Nearyn


Nearyn wrote:

I find these differing opinons interesting.

I must admit that I am a bit shocked to see basic story-telling waved off as GM fiat, but I guess we have different opinions on what exactly GM fiat means.

I would like to know, why exactly some people maintain that, as a GM, it is not possible to have certain characters, let us take Blood Mistress Jakalyn, since we're already talking about her, hold their office without being high-level?

What exactly do you, the people in disagreement, want Jakalyn to be? And why is it necessary to you, that she is that?

I want, particularly in an evil organization of assassins, the leader to have mechanics that actually back up her reputation. In PF, that's represented by level. That's what power is determined by. It doesn't just determine combat skill, but everything else as well. If there's a low level character running a high powered organization with a number of more powerful followers, I'm going to assume one or more of those more powerful characters is actually running things behind the scenes - because they can. Because high level characters can manipulate lower level ones like that. Or it'll break my suspension of disbelief that one of those others hasn't replaced her.

There are cases where that won't necessarily be true - hereditary rulers in strongly lawful and good countries or organizations, possibly fanatical cults where the leader is divinely appointed. Even in those cases, I'd expect the higher level followers to be manipulating things from behind the scenes, possibly for perfectly good reasons.

As I said, I'm perfectly fine with the mastermind manipulator villain who's useless in a physical fight, but I'd expect that villain to have the social skills to back that up.


@thejeff: Interesting. So from reading this, am I to understand that you do not believe you can have a mastermind manipulator-villain who is not a social-skill powerhouse?

Do you not think a, for instance, level 5 expert, could attain influence and power well in excess of that of a level 16 fighter, if she was to singlemindedly chase it? Especially if said character had at least moderately decent base-stats? I think she could.

See, to me at least, being influential does not rely on you being skillful, it relies on you making the right decisions, knowing when to make secure moves, knowing when to gamble, and finally, on you not failing. Should you manage these, I can easily see a low-level character attain power and influence well above that of high-level parties.

I don't believe power comes from levels. Power comes from results.

-Nearyn


Nearyn wrote:

@thejeff: Interesting. So from reading this, am I to understand that you do not believe you can have a mastermind manipulator-villain who is not a social-skill powerhouse?

Do you not think a, for instance, level 5 expert, could attain influence and power well in excess of that of a level 16 fighter, if she was to singlemindedly chase it? Especially if said character had at least moderately decent base-stats? I think she could.

See, to me at least, being influential does not rely on you being skillful, it relies on you making the right decisions, knowing when to make secure moves, knowing when to gamble, and finally, on you not failing. Should you do that, I can easily see a low-level character attain power and influence well above that of high-level parties.

I don't believe power comes from levels. Power comes from results.

Well, a level 5 expert could easily have social skills well above a 16th level fighter :).

But will still be pathetic in comparison to a high level social skills rogue or worse, bard.

And yes, you can't have a mastermind manipulator villain who can't actually manipulate people. If you can't get away with lying to people, talk them into things and know when they're feeding you lies, you're not going to be good at manipulating people. That's what the social skills are for.


The Red Mantis are an interesting corner case, because between the Faction Guide and Faith & Philosophies we actually have the rules for how a PC could advance in the organization.

And the primary method of advancement is personally carrying out assassinations. The Red Mantis view being killers for hire as a sacred duty.

I'd expect the person who climbed to the top of a centuries old lawful-aligned organization to do have done so by following the rules of the organization, rather than completely bypassing them.

In this case, following the rules would mean that Jakalyn conceivably has hundreds of kills under her belt.

In other words, the Blood Mistress of Achaekek, He Who Walks in Blood, has a staggering amount of blood on her hands (kind of a theme going here). And she did the dirty work herself, because that's the how the Red Mantis roll - your prestige in the organization is directly tied to what you've done yourself.

Anyways, we actually have the rules for what it takes to get on the Red Mantis ruling council, and it'd be weird if Jakalyn was a glaring exception to those rules just for the sake of making her low level.

(Amusingly, the Inner Sea World Guide doesn't even give a level/class breakdown for Jakalyn; we only know that she's a cleric 9/red mantis assassin 10 (with the little "+" indicating she may be mythic!) because of Inner Sea Magic.)


@thejeff: Good to see that we agree on the potential difference in social skills. And I'd not dispute that if two characters both optimized for the same result, then the higher level one, would probably have the advantage.

I don't agree with your last assessment though. I'd argue you could easily run a low-level Master Manipulator, even with semi-low social skills. Let us imagine that I do not simply establish that she -is- an influential powerhouse, although, as the designer, I could just do that. I want to make sure that if a player was to recreate the character and play her, the player could do what she did.

What such a character needs to succeed is not necessarily high social skills, as much as it is an evil mind. The will and patience to make every card in the deck play right into her hand. Work hard enough, and patiently enough, and you can stack circumstance bonuses ludicrously high, even so high that it could obviate a skill check, because the person you'd want to manipulate cannot make himself NOT do as you ask. This could be anywhere from as crude as "I've watched you, and have come to learn that you love your fiancé very dearly. Do as I say and do it now, or I will -not- give the signal, telling the sellswords I hired earlier today, to not brutally murder her" to something more elaborate. The point is, if you have the mind for it, you can make alot of very little. A couple of well placed spies, and most bluff checks made against her count for naught, because she -knows- you're lying. Or at least you get slapped with a severe penalty. Sure that does not make her immune to a high enough roll, but no character really is. Not even the greatest lords in the realm rose to the height of their power without losing a few encounters in their time(combat, social or otherwise), I'd assume.

So I maintain that you can make a master manipulator-villain, without them being social powerhouses.

@Zhangar: Very intersting. That at least adds a real reason to her being higher level than first published. Although I could easily see a good story being written about her exceeding her peers, even as the outleveled her. With that said, the structure of the cult at least gives a believable reason for why she should be... let's say higher-than-low-level. :)

-Nearyn

Liberty's Edge

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Nearyn wrote:

I find these differing opinons interesting.

I must admit that I am a bit shocked to see basic story-telling waved off as GM fiat, but I guess we have different opinions on what exactly GM fiat means.

You're running into a narrativist/simulationist disconnect, I think.

From a simulationist perspective, a character as presented must be able to, through the abilities they are presented as having (level, stats, feats, spells, etc.), effect the game world in the manner they are said to have done, or there is a huge problem with verisimilitude. See, from the simulationist perspective of "The rules of the game are the laws of physics for this world." you are actively breaking the laws of physics, and thus game immersion, every time you fudge around them.

This perspective can easily be mixed with a more 'story-telling' kind of game, but it necessitates the world being plausible in its' own right without the intervention of 'Plot says so.', which is in many ways needed to make someone low level the head of the Red Mantis.

Nearyn wrote:
I would like to know, why exactly some people maintain that, as a GM, it is not possible to have certain characters, let us take Blood Mistress Jakalyn, since we're already talking about her, hold their office without being high-level?

Because, for reasons noted above, it breaks verisimilitude. It's implausible on a level that breaks suspension of disbelief and kicks people out of being able to imagine Golarion as a living, breathing, world where stuff goes on outside sight of the PCs in a logical fashion. It screams "This only happened because the plot said so."

Have you ever read a book or seen a movie or TV show where something clearly only happened because it was necessary to the plot, with no real logical explanation? A character making a decision deeply against their previous behavior for instance?

That really throws a lot of people out of being able to think of the fiction as 'real'. It breaks the illusion of plausibility...and that's bad and damages people's ability to enjoy fiction, RPGs included.

Nearyn wrote:

What exactly do you, the people in disagreement, want Jakalyn to be? And why is it necessary to you, that she is that?

-Nearyn

She needs to be someone that has personally killed extremely danagerous (ie: high level) people. Not just planned their deaths, but personally carried them out. She needs to be someone other Red Mantis Assassins (a ruthless, Evil-aligned, backstabbing lot) would both respect and hesitate to cross. She needs to be someone who is very difficult to kill. She needs to be someone who can spot a lie or tell one on par with some of the most skilled liars in the world.

In short, she needs to be a woman of impressive capabilities. Someone who has risen through the ranks to become one of the greatest assassins in existence. The greatest assassins in existence are, pretty definitionally, not low-level. Not in a world that uses levels, anyway.

The same kind of criteria (not the specific ones obviously, but the same general sort of thing) apply to just about anyone who has become a ruler through their own capabilities. Hereditary rulers need not have such things...but then, as I've noted, they tend to be a lot less impressive in Golarion in general (with a few notable exceptions).


Just responding to one thing ... I think paladins make excellent rulers for good-aligned militant kingdoms (i.e., Lastwall), and very good lords at the level of (say) duke and below. They could also be excellent advisors on matters religious and military.

But ...

Although I firmly subscribe to the notion that Lawful Good is not the same as Lawful Stupid, I do think that a paladin would have trouble with some of the deceptions that a king or emperor has to practice.


Deadmanwalking wrote:

You're running into a narrativist/simulationist disconnect, I think.

From a simulationist perspective, a character as presented must be able to, through the abilities they are presented as having (level, stats, feats, spells, etc.),

Surely there is more to the game than what is on your character sheet.

Let me take an example from an adventure path I'm presently playing. Me and my group are escaping from prison. Unfortunately the alarm has been raised, and the only escape route we see, that being the gatehouse, is locked down tight with tens of guards inside. If we were to approach it, enter it, and try to kill them, we'd all die. Instead my character started a large fire and smoked them out. With them being in coughing fits and having taken non-lethal damage, we were able to win a fight way above our paygrade and escape.

Now if my character was to be a published NPC, his lore would say something along the lines of "He broke out of maximum security prison". Some people would then say 'this breaks my suspension of disbelief', but those people did not consider the simple fact that a person can overcome trials much greater than himself if circumstances can be made to give the right advantage.

That is not just 'the plot said so', the is 'level 1 character overcoming CR 6 encounter through wit' and is perfectly believable, even from a simulationist perspective.

I believe I've established that I dislike the arbitrary, but to me it would not make for a bad story, nor a bad character, if White Estrid had won her fight against the Linnorm by dropping a land-slide on it, or one of the other millions of possibilities that we could probably make up if we put our creativity to it. Sure not all rulers need to have a david-vs-goliath story, as I said, I don't object to high-level rulers. I'm just arguing that with a game as open as this, it's really not that hard to imagine a way to simulate how things could have happened.

I find your viewpoint of Jakalyn interesting, and also in line with what Zhangar told us of the organization. I don't agree that she should necessarily be the way you describe, but I don't particularly mind either. What matters to me, in the end, is that we wind up with an interesting character that works in the setting-context. I believe she did when she was level 12, but someone disagreed and made her level 19 (potentially mythic, whatever the + sign in her level description means). I don't believe that was necessary, but I'm not the designer, so bad news for me :(

-Nearyn

Liberty's Edge

Nearyn wrote:
@thejeff: Good to see that we agree on the potential difference in social skills. And I'd not dispute that if two characters both optimized for the same result, then the higher level one, would probably have the advantage.

There's no 'probably' about it. And nothing stopping a 16th level Fighter being a social powerhouse. Class skills are easy to get, being a human with decent Int gets you enough of them, and 16 ranks is rather absurd.

Nearyn wrote:
I don't agree with your last assessment though. I'd argue you could easily run a low-level Master Manipulator, even with semi-low social skills. Let us imagine that I do not simply establish that she -is- an influential powerhouse, although, as the designer, I could just do that. I want to make sure that if a player was to recreate the character and play her, the player could do what she did.

Indeed. This is the primary criteria for this working without breaking verisimilitude. Unfortunately, you really need skills (or powerful spells) to pull it off.

Nearyn wrote:
What such a character needs to succeed is not necessarily high social skills, as much as it is an evil mind. The will and patience to make every card in the deck play right into her hand.

Not really, no. Not going by the rules, anyway.

Nearyn wrote:
Work hard enough, and patiently enough, and you can stack circumstance bonuses ludicrously high, even so high that it could obviate a skill check, because the person you'd want to manipulate cannot make himself NOT do as you ask.

Uh...not by the rules. Bonuses of the same type don't actually stack, for one thing, and for another most skills have a pretty explicit list of what gives them bonuses. Anything beyond those is basically GM fiat...as in "The GM gave you a bonus because it was cool." Which rings a little hollow and false if the GM is giving it to their own NPCs for stuff the PCs never even saw happen.

Nearyn wrote:
This could be anywhere from as crude as "I've watched you, and have come to learn that you love your fiancee very dearly. Do as I say and do it now, or I will -not- give the signal, telling the sellswords I hired earlier today, to not brutally murder her"

Which in no way works on anyone, say, 5-10 levels higher than you. Or at least not reliably. There's a non-zero chance that the person in question simply puts a sword to your throat and says "Please give the signal."...with their Intimidate bonus higher than you can resist. Or casts Charm Person and tells you to please give the signal, or a dozen other possibilities.

But you can pick your targets, you say? People who wouldn't risk it? Not without Sense Motive you can't. Anyone with Bluff higher than you can see through you think is whatever kind of person they want you to think. Heck, at low levels, you're likely killing their unwanted fiancee for them, since they never cared about her in the first place!

Nearyn wrote:
to something more elaborate. The point is, if you have the mind for it, you can make alot of very little. A couple of well placed spies, and most bluff checks made against her count for naught, because she -knows- you're lying.

Are these spies higher level than your hypothetical mastermind? And if so, how'd she acquire them? Because Perception checks reveal spies who are much lower level than the people they're spying on basically automatically.

Nearyn wrote:
Or at least you get slapped with a severe penalty. Sure that does not make her immune to a high enough roll, but no character really is. Not even the greatest lords in the realm rose to the height of their power without losing a few encounters in their time(combat, social or otherwise), I'd assume.

Sure...but if a 15th level character loses a social encounter, they've got some ability to bounce back, and can probably avoid getting killed since there's legitimate risk to their enemy in doing so. A 5th level character doing the kind of dirty tactics you're talking about? a 15h level character will just cast Disintegrate or casually behead them...as you've mentioned previously, actually.

The issue you have is that 15th level characters basically don't have to care about little things like laws...and so if you spy on them, or Gods help you threaten their fiancee, they have no reason not to destroy you utterly. Yes, some will have scruples against that...but once again, you can't reliably tell which because of your lack of Sense Motive.

Nearyn wrote:
So I maintain that you can make a master manipulator-villain, without them being social powerhouses.

Not very well, no. Not without powerful magic to take the place of such skills anyway.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
Nearyn wrote:

I find these differing opinons interesting.

I must admit that I am a bit shocked to see basic story-telling waved off as GM fiat, but I guess we have different opinions on what exactly GM fiat means.

You're running into a narrativist/simulationist disconnect, I think.

From a simulationist perspective, a character as presented must be able to, through the abilities they are presented as having (level, stats, feats, spells, etc.), effect the game world in the manner they are said to have done, or there is a huge problem with verisimilitude. See, from the simulationist perspective of "The rules of the game are the laws of physics for this world." you are actively breaking the laws of physics, and thus game immersion, every time you fudge around them.

This perspective can easily be mixed with a more 'story-telling' kind of game, but it necessitates the world being plausible in its' own right without the intervention of 'Plot says so.', which is in many ways needed to make someone low level the head of the Red Mantis.

Nearyn wrote:
I would like to know, why exactly some people maintain that, as a GM, it is not possible to have certain characters, let us take Blood Mistress Jakalyn, since we're already talking about her, hold their office without being high-level?

Because, for reasons noted above, it breaks verisimilitude. It's implausible on a level that breaks suspension of disbelief and kicks people out of being able to imagine Golarion as a living, breathing, world where stuff goes on outside sight of the PCs in a logical fashion. It screams "This only happened because the plot said so."

Have you ever read a book or seen a movie or TV show where something clearly only happened because it was necessary to the plot, with no real logical explanation? A character making a decision deeply against their previous behavior for instance?

That really throws a lot of people out of being able to think of the fiction as 'real'. It breaks the illusion of...

This is actually the heart of the disagreement, I think. Naeryn is approaching the subject from a Narrativist viewpoint, and most of of those of us who disagree are coming at it from a Simulationist angle.

Note here, that there's nothing actually WRONG with this, but it both viewpoints have different emphases on what's important and it explains why there's a degree of "talking-past-each-other" going on here.


Had a long, slightly sarcastic post, but really Zhangar and Deadmanwalking summed it up much better.

-TimD


Nearyn wrote:

Surely there is more to the game than what is on your character sheet.

Of course there is. But statistically speaking, which category would you be more surprised to see having the largest representation among Golarion's rulers:

- those naturally imbued with social skills AND/OR strength to claim / maintain their offices (in such countries where martial might is considered an important factor in that regard) OR

- those that, DESPITE comparatively lacking those skills, are able to tip the scales in their favor through what we would call "smart role-playing"?

In the end, it's very much like asking yourself: "Who's more likely to defeat a CR 19 Ancient Red Dragon? The 20th level paladin or the 7th level expert who crafted a devious plan?" I wouldn't rule out the latter a priori, but I feel like it should be the exception, not the rule.

As Deadmanwalking very eloquently put it, simulationist and narrativist viewpoints are supposed to go hand in hand as a rule; otherwise in the long run the whole setting would kind of feel lacking in self-consistency.

Liberty's Edge

Nearyn wrote:
Surely there is more to the game than what is on your character sheet.

Of course there is. But there aren't usually capabilities that aren't on the character sheet. After all, listing what the character can do is what a character sheet is for.

Nearyn wrote:
Let me take an example from an adventure path I'm presently playing. Me and my group are escaping from prison. Unfortunately the alarm has been raised, and the only escape route we see, that being the gatehouse, is locked down tight with tens of guards inside. If we were to approach it, enter it, and try to kill them, we'd all die. Instead my character started a large fire and smoked them out. With them being in coughing fits and having taken non-lethal damage, we were able to win a fight way above our paygrade and escape.

Indeed! And an excellent plan. But one that won't always work. Ingenuity is great, but over a career, the more you rely on it to get you out of scrapes you can't manage by actual capability the more likely you are to wind up messily dead.

Having an event or three like this where they fought 'above their weight class' is perfectly believable for an NPC...having their entire career made up of such events? Not so much. Having their role in the campaign predicated on them always succeeding at things like this? Definitely doesn't work.

Nearyn wrote:
Now if my character was to be a published NPC, his lore would say something along the lines of "He broke out of maximum security prison". Some people would then say 'this breaks my suspension of disbelief', but those people did not consider the simple fact that a person can overcome trials much greater than himself if circumstances can be made to give the right advantage.

They certainly can, but doing so is (and should be) an event. Something big and impressive in such a character's history that demonstrates their skills...not their day-to-day life. And, in a system with levels, such events should likely gain them one...meaning that simply by having done such things the character would no longer be low level, even if they were when they did them.

Nearyn wrote:
That is not just 'the plot said so', the is 'level 1 character overcoming CR 6 encounter through wit' and is perfectly believable, even from a simulationist perspective.

Oh, it is. As an isolated or rare event. If he does it every week...then it violates suspension of disbelief. Especially if he does so while remaining 1st level.

Nearyn wrote:
I believe I've established that I dislike the arbitrary, but to me it would not make for a bad story, nor a bad character, if White Estrid had won her fight against the Linnorm by dropping a land-slide on it, or one of the other millions of possibilities that we could probably make up if we put our creativity to it. Sure not all rulers need to have a david-vs-goliath story, as I said, I don't object to high-level rulers. I'm just arguing that with a game as open as this, it's really not that hard to imagine a way to simulate how things could have happened.

Sure, if that was the story they wanted to tell. But having that story told too many times gets implausible, and makes it less impressive when people do such things, and steals the thunder from PCs who pull things like that off.

Nearyn wrote:

I find your viewpoint of Jakalyn interesting, and also in line with what Zhangar told us of the organization. I don't agree that she should necessarily be the way you describe, but I don't particularly mind either. What matters to me, in the end, is that we wind up with an interesting character that works in the setting-context. I believe she did when she was level 12, but someone disagreed and made her level 19 (potentially mythic, whatever the + sign in her level description means). I don't believe that was necessary, but I'm not the designer, so bad news for me :(

-Nearyn

It's necessary for her to be one of the highest level members of the Red Mantis, both thematically and in terms of realism. That could be 12th level...but if it is, the Red Mantis is suddenly much less frightening.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
There's no 'probably' about it. And nothing stopping a 16th level Fighter being a social powerhouse.

I never said there was, and -yes- there is a 'probably' about it. Don't just contradict me to contradict me, I never said both characters used the same build, nor that they were the same class, only that they both tried to optimize for the same goal.

deadmanwalking wrote:

Not really, no. Not going by the rules, anyway.

Yes really, by the rules, yes.

deaddmanwalking wrote:
Uh...not by the rules. Bonuses of the same type don't actually stack, for one thing, and for another most skills have a pretty explicit list of what gives them bonuses. Anything beyond those is basically GM fiat...as in "The GM gave you a bonus because it was cool." Which rings a little hollow and false if the GM is giving it to their own NPCs for stuff the PCs never even saw happen.

First off, Circumstance bonuses stack with all other bonuses, including other circumstance bonuses. Secondly if I work my ass off to stage a situation in my favor at your table, and you show me nothing in return, then I'm sorry to say, but I'm not returning to your table. This is one of those cases where I believe we DM in different ways. I believe in rewarding my players for effort. And I'm well entitled to do just that, within both the rules, and the spirit of the system.

deadmanwalking wrote:
Which in no way works on anyone, say, 5-10 levels higher than you. Or at least not reliably. There's a non-zero chance that the person in question simply puts a sword to your throat and says "Please give the signal."...with their Intimidate bonus higher than you can resist.

Now who is not being simulationist about it? You need to do a full minute of talking to her in order to intimidate her, and nothing forces her to give you that long past not simly agreeing to do what she says, before she up and leaves, or simply gives another signal to 'take her life'. Even should you attempt to charm her, you'd not only have to have charm memorized (or being spont casting), but you'd have to beat her initiative to not give such a signal(assuming the signal is not simply a word spoken to someone within earshot, in which case you're boned, because she can do that as a free action, out of turn). Again, my example works just fine from a simulationist standpoint.

deadmanwalking wrote:
But you can pick your targets, you say? People who wouldn't risk it? Not without Sense Motive you can't. Anyone with Bluff higher than you can see through you think is whatever kind of person they want you to think. Heck, at low levels, you're likely killing their unwanted fiancee for them, since they never cared about her in the first place!

Speculation and nothing more. Nothing in sense motive allows you to determine even the slightest bit about a person's level, nor their skills. Two people in love who don't believe they have anything to hide, would hardly be difficult to make out, I've witnessed such behavior among my friends, it's quite easy to spot.

deadmanwalking wrote:
Are these spies higher level than your hypothetical mastermind? And if so, how'd she acquire them? Because Perception checks reveal spies who are much lower level than the people they're spying on basically automatically.

Hirelings (easy to aquire), or they could be followers (requires leadership), or they could be teams (Ultimate campaign). That is, of course, assuming I wanna be simulationist about it. Also no, perception checks do not reveal spies, perception checks oppose stealth checks. Not every spy works with stealth as his main skill. Some of them just sit at tables and make perception-checks all day, then return home, write what they heard down on a scroll and passes it on. You are not guaranteed to spot everything wrong, jus because you have the skills to actually do spot that something is wrong. Just like you don't get to see through a disguise, despite your high perception, if you're not looking for someone who is disguised, or have a reason to really look a person over in the first place.

-Nearyn

EDIT: Reading my post over, it comes off as snarky. It is not meant to. Please read it in a positive, conversationalist manner, because that is what it is intended to be.


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Nearyn wrote:
Do you not think a, for instance, level 5 expert, could attain influence and power well in excess of that of a level 16 fighter, if she was to singlemindedly chase it? Especially if said character had at least moderately decent base-stats? I think she could.

No, because by the time she obtained it, she would no longer be 5th level.

Quote:

See, to me at least, being influential does not rely on you being skillful, it relies on you making the right decisions, knowing when to make secure moves, knowing when to gamble, and finally, on you not failing. Should you manage these, I can easily see a low-level character attain power and influence well above that of high-level parties.

I don't believe power comes from levels. Power comes from results.

-Nearyn

And levels come with those results.

I don't know if you've ever looked in a published module or Adventure Path, but they always tell GMs to award experience for things like making deals and solving encounters with words as well as blade and spell. Every contact she makes, every job she sees to completion, every deal she closes, every time her influence grows, she's gaining XP just as if she were killing Kobolds in a cave.

And that's assuming she hasn't had to deal with would-be heroes, angered families of past victims, or rivals trying to usurp her position at any time during her rise to power. Which is bloody unlikely to say the least.


Nearyn wrote:
I don't believe power comes from levels. Power comes from results.

I think in this sentence lies the answer to your problems. Of course a 5-level character has the same potitial as a 20-level character to accomplish amazing deeds, although it will be very hard. What makes the difference is the effect: A CR 20 encouter gives 307,200 XP. Even in a 6+ group with slow XP track thats enough to put the character on 8-level. This is a rather extreme example, but you get the idea. Most leaders are not just sitting idle in their rooms.

So unless NPC cannot gain XP, which would make the world rather static, they are bound to gain levels. Of course Jakalyn might have been a 7-level, she might even have been able to reach her current position at this level. However this feat alone should be worth much expirience, she was bound to get even more while gaining her bloody reputation, and holding her position.

Liberty's Edge

Nearyn wrote:
I never said there was, and -yes- there is a 'probably' about it. Don't just contradict me to contradict me, I never said both characters used the same build, nor that they were the same class, only that they both tried to optimize for the same goal.

Sorry, that wasn't intended to be directed at you per se, I just like to note that Class doesn't matter that much compared to level for purposes of being a social powerhouse when it comes up in discussions like this.

It was intended more as a pedantic note than a contradiction.

Nearyn wrote:
Yes really, by the rules, yes.

I disagree.

Nearyn wrote:
First off, Circumstance bonuses stack with all other bonuses, including other circumstance bonuses. Secondly if I work my ass off to stage a situation in my favor at your table, and you show me nothing in return, then I'm sorry to say, but I'm not returning to your table. This is one of those cases where I believe we DM in different ways. I believe in rewarding my players for effort. And I'm well entitled to do just that, within both the rules, and the spirit of the system.

Oh, you misunderstand. I totally give such bonuses to PCs. But would I do what amounted to giving them to NPCs during scenes in those NPCs backstories? No, that's the point where it starts feeling masturbatory and deeply unfair. Indeed, by giving the NPC such bonuses in scenes that never even happened, you're cheapening the work the PCs put into it when you give them such things.

And more importantly, because this is about keeping people's immersion going, it feels both unfair and unrealistic to the players, and will be called out as such.

Nearyn wrote:
Now who is not being simulationist about it?

I'm at least as much a narrativist as a simulationist in many ways...so maybe not entirely, but see below.

Nearyn wrote:
You need to do a full minute of talking to her in order to intimidate her, and nothing forces her to give you that long past not simly agreeing to do what she says, before she up and leaves, or simply gives another signal to 'take her life'.

Uh...it takes her a minute to intimidate you, too. You can start your attempt the same round she starts hers. Or a round later at the latest. Pretty readily.

Nearyn wrote:
Even should you attempt to charm her, you'd not only have to have charm memorized (or being spont casting), but you'd have to beat her initiative to not give such a signal(assuming the signal is not simply a word spoken to someone within earshot, in which case you're boned, because she can do that as a free action, out of turn).

People of double your level tend to have better Initiative than you. And a lot of people keep Charm Person memorized, or have it as a spontaneous spell. Besides, it was just one example. All you need is some sort of 'You're my mindslave' spell. Or one of several other tricks. The point is, there's stuff they can do.

Nearyn wrote:
Again, my example works just fine from a simulationist standpoint.

No, it doesn't. Not everyone reacts to threats by caving. Personally, based on my reactions to threats to those I care about, I'd get a bonus to resist Intimidation under those circumstances. So...there's a chance of a penalty to the intimidator there, rather than a bonus. And they have no way of judging which person they're dealing with sans Sense Motive.

And even if the person in question caves...what keeps them from hunting this low-level person who dared to threaten their fiancee down and killing them messily? Oh, right, nothing. Threatening what amount to demigods and rulers of countries like this is basically both stupid and suicidal.

Nearyn wrote:
Speculation and nothing more. Nothing in sense motive allows you to determine even the slightest bit about a person's level, nor their skills. Two people in love who don't believe they have anything to hide, would hardly be difficult to make out, I've witnessed such behavior among my friends, it's quite easy to spot.

No, of course it doesn't. But it can tell you, say, if they're the kind of person to cave if their family is threatened, or the kind to not only not cave but find and kill everyone you've ever loved for daring to contemplate such a thing. Or the kind of person to laugh because they were a con man playing her anyway.

And you're right, it's quite easy to spot people who are in love and not hiding it. But your stated plan counts on it being genuine...which is a lot harder to tell, since people fake caring about other people all the time for a host of reasons, or at least exaggerate how much they care.

Nearyn wrote:
Hirelings (easy to aquire), or they could be followers (requires leadership), or they could be teams (Ultimate campaign). That is, of course, assuming I wanna be simulationist about it.

None of those result in followers higher level than your own. Okay, hirelings does if you have enough money...how'd this erson get all that money?

Nearyn wrote:

Also no, perception checks do not reveal spies, perception checks oppose stealth checks. Not every spy works with stealth as his main stat. Some of them just sit at tables and make perception-checks all day, then return home, write what they heard down on a scroll and passes it on. You are not guaranteed to spot everything wrong, jus because you have the skills to actually do spot that something is wrong. Just like you don't get to see through a disguise, despite your high perception, if you're not looking for someone who is disguised, or have a reason to really look a person over in the first place.

-Nearyn

Secret meetings usually don't take place in public...and when they do, people usually look out for anyone listening too closely or sitting nearby (which would be a similarly easy Sense Motive check vs. the spy's Bluff).

I'm not saying spying will never work, I'm saying if it's required for your plan to work and you're dealing with someone of double your own level or more...your odds of success are really low.

Nearyn wrote:
EDIT: Reading my post over, it comes off as snarky. It is not meant to. Please read it in a positive, conversationalist manner, because that is what it is intended to be.

Noted. Hopefully mine doesn't come off as overly snarky or confrontational. That's not my intent either.


There's also "Go ahead. Kill them. I'll slaughter you and all your friends, family and associates. Then I'll have mine resurrected."

Liberty's Edge

thejeff wrote:
There's also "Go ahead. Kill them. I'll slaughter you and all your friends, family and associates. Then I'll have mine resurrected."

There is that.

I was sorta assuming that the plan involved some way of stopping that, but I guess with True Resurrection there pretty much isn't such a method available at anything but the highest levels...

Still, they could threaten to torture her or something. Resurrection can't stop that.


I feel like we could continue this, but I no longer want to. I think I've established perfectly sound ways, in which a person of lower level can aquire more power and influence than is expected of her CR, and I've also made my point that level does necessarily equate to challenge. I see that not everyone agrees, but my points have been made. Some have disputed them, yet not proved them wrong. What I take away, is that we probably all agree that a GM can run the game as he wants to, but we all want the setting to make sense. To some that means rulers should be high level, to some it means rulers could be high level.

As stated in the opening post, I don't really know why I started this thread. Well, I still don't know why I did it, but I appreciate what I got from it. Thanks for your opinions and your ideas. Presently I don't feel like continueing the conversation, but should I feel like it, I might return. Until then...

/thread

-Nearyn

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