Leaders of Golarion and the misunderstanding of challenge - a rant


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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Really, you're gonna pull the old "Declare Victory and Run" trick?

Fine, here's the parting shots:

Your position was built on the erroneous position that any character could be a big-time villain without actually earning said position. That, and that only combat gained experience, or that a character could somehow gain experience for a long time without going up a level.

None of that is true (and that's the nicest way I can say that). A level 6 character who somehow defeats a level/CR 15 enemy through wit, guile, or trickery and luck gains the same experience as if they somehow defeated them through combat (and let's be honest, luck). So madam Blood Mistress, even if she somehow managed to attain her position without ever touching a blade or at least being a really, really good liar (which, as repeatedly pointed out, is canonically impossible), would still be around level 19 or so.


SAMAS wrote:

Really, you're gonna pull the old "Declare Victory and Run" trick?

Fine, here's the parting shots:

Your position was built on the erroneous position that any character could be a big-time villain without actually earning said position. That, and that only combat gained experience, or that a character could somehow gain experience for a long time without going up a level.

None of that is true (and that's the nicest way I can say that). A level 6 character who somehow defeats a level/CR 15 enemy through wit, guile, or trickery and luck gains the same experience as if they somehow defeated them through combat (and let's be honest, luck). So madam Blood Mistress, even if she somehow managed to attain her position without ever touching a blade or at least being a really, really good liar (which, as repeatedly pointed out, is canonically impossible), would still be around level 19 or so.

Well, I guess I'm back. That didn't take long :)

I am sorry that you have come to believe, that this is some form of competition between myself and those who disagree with my viewpoints. I have considered, and still do consider, this thread an exchange of opinions on the setting, the prevalence of a story-telling trope, and the (in my opinion) misunderstanding of what constitutes a "challenge". As such I have never considered, nor do I consider, this a thread where I can "declare victory" as you put it.

Since I have returned, it would be a shame to let your claims go unanswered, so I will adress them.

My points were not built on the erroneous position that you can be a big-time villain without earning said position. My position was the exact opposite, so perhaps you should reread the posts I made, to ensure that you have not missed anything else. My point was in fact, that a character could be a big-time villain IF they earned said position, in spite of them of them being low level.

I have never claimed that only combat grants experience, so kindly stop claiming that I have. I have simply not felt the need to address your points about getting experience from social encounters, because it has been stated repeatedly (at least twice, I think) that there are no rules for NPCs earning experience. So while I have never claimed that you could somehow gain experience for a long time, without leveling up, as you so incorrectly state that I have, I'll clarify that what I -have- stated, is that I believe that a character's "worth" should be measured by their actions and accomplishments, not their level. And before that even becomes cause for an argument, let me clarify that I seperate "leveling up" and "accomplishment". A level 2 expert who brokers a very important and succesful deal for his guild has "accomplished" something, and as such would get promoted based on his actions(he might even level). While another merchant from the same guild could go out and slaughter kobolds and goblins, until he was level 4(or levels by whatever means, that are not immediately relevant to his guild), and while he would now be higher level than his colleague, his colleague is higher in the guild hierachy than him, based on accomplishment, not level.

Your final argument is again based on the presumption that NPCs gain experience in the same way that PCs do. I have explained how it is not impossible for a low level character to attain a high bonus on certain skill checks, and as such I take your claim of canonical impossibility and deny its validity. I also do not agree with the idea that such a character should necessarily be level 19, although I do not claim that attaining that level in this manner, would be completely impossible.

Finally I request that you please stop strawmanning me. Go back and read my previous posts, until you no longer mistake my claims for something they're not.

-Nearyn

EDIT: I edited a rude statement. My apologies.

Liberty's Edge

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Honestly, I'm cool with Nearyn leaving. I still disagree with him, but this has been a polite discussion with absolutely no give thus far, we've stated all our points, and I think we've pretty much hit either the 'Agree to disagree.' stage of the argument, or alternately the ugly descent into personal attacks, name calling, and possibly the flinging of poop.

I prefer the first option. :)

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

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The fallacy of your argument, Nearyn, is that your fluff will never be backed up by numbers.

You can indeed make a low level character with influence...with lots of other low level characters. To higher level characters, she will be a flunky, and simply not be able to do their job better then they, because she doesn't have the numbers.

If she somehow manages to overcome them and prevail...she has earned xp, has leveled, and is now an equal.

The difference in high level NPC's and PC's is pretty simple - the PC's tend to gain levels rapidly, and NPC's tend to gain them over years.

But all your fluff, for the REd Mantis or a King, is about those NPC's building their influence, EARNING XP as they do so, and become badass as they do so. Otherwise, as soon as they start trying to spread influence, someone with a higher modifier then them is going to stop them cold and walk all over them.

Earth politics don't work in Golarion. A low level character MUST have the support of high levels to rule, and will, in essence, be a puppet ruler. The only way he can shake free of being a puppet is to become greater, to gain the xp and the levels, until he's built personal and social power to the point where he can shake off the domination of others and be a true ruler...where his numbers now back his fluff.

And if we're talking about positions that have to be earned, not inherited...survival of the fittest will cleanse off the unworthy very quickly.

You can GM fiat anything you want, but the numbers won't back you. And if you're trying to make a believable world, that's a strike against you.

Trying to compare Golarion to Earth, where no one has ever exceeded level 6, just isn't going to work. As is pointed out, the gap is too much between high and low levels. Sure, between level 4 and 6 people you can make the gap work, but a ten level gap?

Nope. Nobody is going to believe it. And you're trying for believability as much as flavor.

If you want to make a 'weak' ruler, just use NPC or ROgue levels. They won't have personal might. But anyone with tons of ranks in social skills can be a political force...as long as they take the steps to protect themselves against magic which sidesteps all their skills. The ease with which magic can derail uses of skills would fairly force people to higher levels of competence to overcome that problem, too.

===Aelryinth

Sovereign Court

Nearyn, I sympathize with your desire to make a more storied and socially realistic collection of leaders, but the rules are working against you. The level mechanic rolls everything together in the notion of overall effectiveness: you cannot become an influential speaker, a keen tactician, or a master of intrigue without also becoming a relatively skilled combatant.

It makes for some ridiculous political systems (the numbers trumping the fluff as Aelryinth suggests), but that's where we are. D&D and Pathfinder aren't systems that make for holistic world design: it's a battle simulator, where you design every character assuming that, at some point, they'll be personally fighting for their lives. Even the Queen.


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Selk wrote:

Nearyn, I sympathize with your desire to make a more storied and socially realistic collection of leaders, but the rules are working against you. The level mechanic rolls everything together in the notion of overall effectiveness: you cannot become an influential speaker, a keen tactician, or a master of intrigue without also becoming a relatively skilled combatant.

It makes for some ridiculous political systems (the numbers trumping the fluff as Aelryinth suggests), but that's where we are. D&D and Pathfinder aren't systems that make for holistic world design: it's a battle simulator, where you design every character assuming that, at some point, they'll be personally fighting for their lives. Even the Queen.

Though you can definitely downplay the combatant part. Experts and aristocrats make fine leaders. There are archetypes or just feat/ability/spell selections that can heavily prioritize social or other skills over combat ability.


Really, if you don't want the villain to fight the PCs, you can do it in two simple words:

"I/(S)He Surrender(s)".


Nearyn wrote:
SAMAS wrote:

Really, you're gonna pull the old "Declare Victory and Run" trick?

Fine, here's the parting shots:

Your position was built on the erroneous position that any character could be a big-time villain without actually earning said position. That, and that only combat gained experience, or that a character could somehow gain experience for a long time without going up a level.

None of that is true (and that's the nicest way I can say that). A level 6 character who somehow defeats a level/CR 15 enemy through wit, guile, or trickery and luck gains the same experience as if they somehow defeated them through combat (and let's be honest, luck). So madam Blood Mistress, even if she somehow managed to attain her position without ever touching a blade or at least being a really, really good liar (which, as repeatedly pointed out, is canonically impossible), would still be around level 19 or so.

Quote:
My points were not built on the erroneous position that you can be a big-time villain without earning said position. My position was the exact opposite, so perhaps you should reread the posts I made, to ensure that you have not missed anything else. My point was in fact, that a character could be a big-time villain IF they earned said position, in spite of them of them being low level.

Except they cannot earn said position without raising to a high level. So yes, you are saying that they raise to that position without earning it.

Level in Pathfinder isn't about how tough you are in combat. It's also a measure of how good you are at what you do. You have a job, right? On the off chance that you don't, let's assume you do. How long have you had that job? Are you better at that job now than you were when you first started? If so, you have gained levels (or rather, improved in the way that level gaining is supposed to represent). This is more or less automatic. If you do your job, you get better at it.

Now, the Inner Sea NPC Codex gives an example of a Red Mantis Initiate at Level 7 of his base class (no actual ranks of Red Mantis Assassin). So you're claiming that your hypothetical Mistress of Blood has literally learned nothing of significance about her profession since she was a trainee.

As someone pointed out, in order to rise through the ranks of the Red Mantis, you have to put in actual work. As in applying Sawtooth Saber to throat(back, sternum, etc...), and approaching new clients. How do they do that? A Red Mantis shows up behind you, unbidden and undetected, and basically says: "How may we help you?" And these people serve kings and other high-ranking nobles. And you can't do that just once, you have to do it over and over again.

So yes, Pathfinder canon explicitly says that to be leader of the Red Mantis, you have to be a Red Mantis, and a damn good one.

(Did we mention that you picked a bad example of an important NPC to shoehorn into a low level? Because you picked a really bad example of an important NPC to shoehorn into a low level. And your continued insistence upon that example is the primary reason we're on page three of this thread.)

Quote:
I have never claimed that only combat grants experience, so kindly stop claiming that I have. I have simply not felt the need to address your points about getting experience from social encounters, because it has been stated repeatedly (at least twice, I think) that there are no rules for NPCs earning experience.

There are no rules, but plenty of precedent. Several Adventure Paths talk about having allied and enemy NPCs grow along with the players.

Quote:
So while I have never claimed that you could somehow gain experience for a long time, without leveling up, as you so incorrectly state that I have,

Have you not spent the last three pages claiming that someone can be head of an international assassins' guild/cult while not advancing past the skills of a trainee only through a dubious reputation gained with only the skills of a trainee?

Have you not admitted on said previous pages that yes, said person would likely fold like an origami frog if someone actually challenged them?

Then yeah, your words have implied this in every way but explicitly saying it. You have explicitly laid out a character who, as the saying goes, Talks the Talk without Walking the Walk. Only they're not even good for the Talking at the level you want them to be Walking.

Quote:
I'll clarify that what I -have- stated, is that I believe that a character's "worth" should be measured by their actions and accomplishments, not their level. And before that even becomes cause for an argument, let me clarify that I seperate "leveling up" and "accomplishment".

But the game, as both Written and Intended, doesn't. Leveling up is explicitly written as part of the rewards of said accomplishments.

Quote:
A level 2 expert who brokers a very important and succesful deal for his guild has "accomplished" something, and as such would get promoted based on his actions(he might even level). While another merchant from the same guild could go out and slaughter kobolds and goblins, until he was level 4(or levels by whatever means, that are not immediately relevant to his guild), and while he would now be higher level than his colleague, his colleague is higher in the guild hierachy than him, based on accomplishment, not level.

This is true. Here's what you're failing to realize, however:

That first merchant? How many of those big deals do you think he'll have to make to get to the next ranking? How many bigger deals do you think he'll have to make? How many unscrupulous rivals will he have to outmaneuver to actually score the promotions he thinks he's earned/deserves? All of that is gaining experience right along with the promotion. How many levels would he gain?

What about the rank after that? And the rank after that? Until he's Regional manager? National manager? Until he takes over the company? Now many deals would that take?

And what about Merchant #2, who goes around killing monsters in his spare time? Is he a rival? He slides that short sword of his into Goblins so easily, that blade could go into your ribs just as fast. Could he be an ally instead? a Patsy? Better learn how to read him fast. And hire some better bodyguards. That means more work, more deals.

You think all that is gonna leave him just at level 6? Him? Actually, maybe. After all, he is just a merchant. Mme. Mistress of Blood, who has to go around spilling blood and proving her devotion to her god on top of the wheeling and dealing? Whose rivals are most certainly not above trying to spill her blood? Who often had to face Adventurers, Mercenaries, and Minions either protecting or as her targets (to say nothing of those seeking revenge)? Not so much.

Quote:
Your final argument is again based on the presumption that NPCs gain experience in the same way that PCs do. I have explained how it is not impossible for a low level character to attain a high bonus on certain skill checks,

No you didn't. A character can only have as many skill ranks in a skill as they have levels. You said a high stat was 16, right? So 3(stat bonus) + 6(skill ranks) +3(Class skill bonus to be generous) is a skill total of 12. Plus... let's say you got the Skill Focus feat for another 3, and if you're lucky, a trait bonus, too. That's a total of 16 max, which your average 15th level character beats on ranks and class skill alone, to say nothing of a stat bonus around 5 or more, trait bonuses, and Skill Focus of their own (and heaven help you if they or a friend has Glibness, Eagle's Splendor, or other such buffing spells). Good luck with that.

Quote:
and as such I take your claim of canonical impossibility and deny its validity. I also do not agree with the idea that such a character should necessarily be level 19, although I do not claim that attaining that level in this manner, would be completely impossible.

And in her line of work, not just probable, but required. (and canonically so, apparently). Again, would you like to try a better example?


@SAMAS: Yeah, I think you and I are done for now. You have failed to stop strawmanning, failed to heed my very simple request, and have instead opted to make a nuisance of yourself. You are free to keep your opinion, however don't expect me to accept it as gospel, just because you tout it so. Also, when I say that (and can prove that) I've said something, telling me I haven't is not gonna convince me. The same thing goes for what I have not said.

Perhaps, if you cease your annoying attempts at reading into my posts, in order to back your argument, that I am saying something I am not, then perhaps you and I can continue something constructive. Until then, I'll probably continue to read your posts over to see if you make an interesting point about the subject at hand, but otherwise, don't expect to see a response from me.

@Aelryinth: Hey Aelryinth. You're late to the party I'm afraid, I was about to leave :(

Am I to understand that you maintain that circumstance and planning(and planning for circumstance?) cannot advance a lowish-mid-level character, beyond a person with no such drive, but who just happen to be higher level? Surely roleplay can help a player overcome challenges well above their normal paygrade, so roleplay (or in world actions, if you will) should be able to help an NPC do the same, right? Could it not be said that the math would not -usually- back up the fluff?

@Selk: Ho there Selk, and a fair welcome to you too :) Thank you for your sympathy. I'm afraid I don't agree with the point about you not being able to be a skilled tactician and whatnot, without being a good combatant. I can certainly see the point you're making about the relative escalation of skill, following the progression of levels, but surely the system is open enough for us to make a character who is weak(ish?) in combat, but can outdo his betters(by betters I mean certain people of higher level) in key areas?

+++++

It appears to me (though I may be wrong, so pardon me) that I'm hearing alot of "If you're not high enough level, some unscrupulous person within your organization will take you out, by virtue of being higher level", but does that generalization not avoid the 'human' aspect of the characters?

Perhaps I am a level 2 commoner trying to make a name for myself with the local guild, and maybe I -could- be easily outdone by Brian over there, who just happens to be level 6. But what if Brian likes me? What if Brian wants to see me succeed? What if Brian is non-confrontational, and achieved his level through a series of reactionary behavior, rather than proactive behavior? What if I am high in my hierarchy by virtue of lucky circumstance, and there -is- a person lower down the rung, who is gunning for my position, but he does not have the right skill(knowledge:local, or somesuch) to actually put together the pieces he needs to advance? Or perhaps he is so far down the rung, that despite him knowing in his heart of hearts, that he is better than me, he cannot make himself go through the effort it would take to deal with all the other people on the ladder, and then deal with me, not to mention the pre-planning? Again, this could be argued to be a corner-case, but don't the corner-cases deserve some love every now and again? That is, provided it even is a corner-case and that the human-element does not(should not?) seep into the explanation of how character A managed B?

Thoughts?

-Nearyn

Liberty's Edge

Nearyn wrote:

@SAMAS: Yeah, I think you and I are done for now. You have failed to stop strawmanning, failed to heed my very simple request, and have instead opted to make a nuisance of yourself. You are free to keep your opinion, however don't expect me to accept it as gospel, just because you tout it so. Also, when I say that (and can prove that) I've said something, telling me I haven't is not gonna convince me. The same thing goes for what I have not said.

Perhaps, if you cease your annoying attempts at reading into my posts, in order to back your argument, that I am saying something I am not, then perhaps you and I can continue something constructive. Until then, I'll probably continue to read your posts over to see if you make an interesting point about the subject at hand, but otherwise, don't expect to see a response from me.

I'm not getting involved in this sub-argument. For what should be obvious reasons. :)

Nearyn wrote:

@Aelryinth: Hey Aelryinth. You're late to the party I'm afraid, I was about to leave :(

Am I to understand that you maintain that circumstance and planning(and planning for circumstance?) cannot advance a lowish-mid-level character, beyond a person with no such drive, but who just happen to be higher level? Surely roleplay can help a player overcome challenges well above their normal paygrade, so roleplay (or in world actions, if you will) should be able to help an NPC do the same, right? Could it not be said that the math would not -usually- back up the fluff?

That's not quite what he's saying. He's saying that doing that successfully gains you levels, and rather rapidly at that. So...a clever person who overcomes many foes of higher level than they rather rapidly becomes on par with the foes they've defeated. Now, IMO and based on the stuff listed in the game, NPCs don't necessarily advance precisely the ways PCs do...but they advance in the same general way: By accomplishing things. And it breaks verisimilitude if you've got someone low level accomplishing huge amounts and never gaining levels from it.

And that, outside isolated events, by the time we're talking a five or ten level differences, overcoming people that much better than you starts to be utterly unbelievable. In the 'strains suspension of disbelief' sense. And a ruler has to compete against pretty high level people pretty regularly.

The issue isn't that "A 5th level character can never beat a 15th level one under any circumstances." it's that "A 5th level character cannot regularly beat 15th level characters as part of their day job, and remain plausible". And that's what a competent ruler who isn't a puppet needs to do: Beat high level characters regularly as part of their day job.

And they especially can't regularly beat 15th level characters and remain 5th level, due to the first point above.

Nearyn wrote:
@Selk: Ho there Selk, and a fair welcome to you too :) Thank you for your sympathy. I'm afraid I don't agree with the point about you not being able to be a skilled tactician and whatnot, without being a good combatant. I can certainly see the point you're making about the relative escalation of skill, following the progression of levels, but surely the system is open enough for us to make a character who is weak(ish?) in combat, but can outdo his betters(by betters I mean certain people of higher level) in key areas?

It is. But you do it by making him, say, an Expert and two levels lower than his 'betters', not 10 levels lower. That second one doesn't work.

A 13th level Expert (or Rogue 1/Expert 12 if we're using the default stat rules) built for it can easily outmaneuver many (though not all) 15th level characters. A 5th level character, however, cannot. For reasons mentioned above.

Nearyn wrote:

It appears to me (though I may be wrong, so pardon me) that I'm hearing alot of "If you're not high enough level, some unscrupulous person within your organization will take you out, by virtue of being higher level", but does that generalization not avoid the 'human' aspect of the characters?

Perhaps I am a level 2 commoner trying to make a name for myself with the local guild, and maybe I -could- be easily outdone by Brian over there, who just happens to be level 6. But what if Brian likes me? What if Brian wants to see me succeed? What if Brian is non-confrontational, and achieved his level through a series of reactionary behavior, rather than proactive behavior? What if I am high in my hierarchy by virtue of lucky circumstance, and there -is- a person lower down the rung, who is gunning for my position, but he does not have the right skill(knowledge:local, or somesuch) to actually put together the pieces he needs to advance? Or perhaps he is so far down the rung, that despite him knowing in his heart of hearts, that he is better than me, he cannot make himself go through the effort it would take to deal with all the other people on the ladder, and then deal with me, not to mention the pre-planning? Again, this could be argued to be a corner-case, but don't the corner-cases deserve some love every now and again? That is, provided it even is a corner-case and that the human-element does not(should not?) seep into the explanation of how character A managed B?

Thoughts?

-Nearyn

This kind of logic is absolutely viable when talking about a two level difference. But by the time we're talking about 5 or 10 levels, other people will have promoted the higher level self-effacing guy over the lower level one without the higher level guy saying a word. His worst day of work is better than the lower level guy's best day, and that gets noticed.

The difference in capability bestowed by vastly higher levels is just not to be overestimated. A 15th level guy with a similar focus to a 5th level guy, is like comparing the strongest weightlifter on Earth to a 6 year old child in a contest involving strength. The difference is so great and so obvious that absolutely nobody will pick the 6 year old when they can have the weightlifter (unless they want someone easy to control, anyway, which goes back to the 'puppet' thing).


Nearyn wrote:


It appears to me (though I may be wrong, so pardon me) that I'm hearing alot of "If you're not high enough level, some unscrupulous person within your organization will take you out, by virtue of being higher level", but does that generalization not avoid the 'human' aspect of the characters?

Perhaps I am a level 2 commoner trying to make a name for myself with the local guild, and maybe I -could- be easily outdone by Brian over there, who just happens to be level 6. But what if Brian likes me? What if Brian wants to see me succeed? What if Brian is non-confrontational, and achieved his level through a series of reactionary behavior, rather than proactive behavior? What if I am high in my hierarchy by virtue of lucky circumstance, and there -is- a person lower down the rung, who is gunning for my position, but he does not have the right skill(knowledge:local, or somesuch) to actually put together the pieces he needs to advance? Or perhaps he is so far down the rung, that despite him knowing in his heart of hearts, that he is better than me, he cannot make himself go through the effort it would take to deal with all the other people on the ladder, and then deal with me, not to mention the pre-planning? Again, this could be argued to be a corner-case, but don't the corner-cases deserve some love every now and again? That is, provided it even is a corner-case and that the human-element does not (should not?) seep into the explanation of how character A managed B?

I think that the scenario you depicted is surely possible, just as your previous posts were when you described how a "fluffy"/narrativist mastermind could still very well work even if not necessarily backed by a corresponding "crunchy"/simulationist character sheet.

Indeed, Eberron (at least 3.5 Eberron, I don't know about 4E) is a setting built (among other things) on the premise of subverting the very Asskicking Equals Authority trope, and to your credit many of the mechanisms put to work to create a self-consistent DnD setting where rulers were NOT high-level, all-powerful characters resemble very closely some of the situations you depict.

The problem is, Eberron was envisioned to be a generally low-level setting, with PCs being the exception. Thus, there weren't too many high level NPCs around, and those few that there were usually had better things to do than publicly ruling kingdoms (often, however, that included being grey eminences behind a throne or two).

On Golarion, however, once the presence of a non-negligible amount of high-level NPCs has been established, your "low-level NPC using a combination of personal relations and a devious mastermind to achieve lofty goals better suited crunch-wise to more powerful characters" becomes, in my opinion, an unstable equilibrium situation. Whatever he can achieve through guile and long-term planning, there's a higher-level guy around who could do with a much smaller effort (or much better, should he decide to put the same effort and time into it). Perhaps he might out-gambit his rivals a couple of times, or more, but according to the law of large numbers he is sooner or later bound to fail and be replaced (or at least his leadership questioned).

Given a set of laws governing its evolution, every system is bound to follow its path of least resistance. This is why, though I believe there's certainly room for a couple of comparatively lower-level rulers of the kind you described, I feel they should be the exception rather than the rule.


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I think there is a really important aspect to this discussion you have to address, if you are meaningfully going to handle the issue of how high level leaders in Golarion are/should be; namely just how common are characters of various level?

As a data point let us use Sandpoint, the most iconic town in the setting and ground zero for the setting as a whole. Sandpoint is a town of 1.240 (according to RotRL: BO) and it is ruled by 7th level character (Kendra Deverin; aristocrat 4/expert 3). Among the named individuals in the section describing the town he have 30 characters who are 4th level or higher and of them roughly ¼ are 6th or higher.

The number of named 1st level characters is small, and most of them are called out as children or at least young and explicitly inexperienced. In fact the single most common character level for a named townsperson is 3rd. Now let us assume that the characters named in the book are the mostly prominent and/or skilled citizens, so that your run of the mill servant, shopkeeper or serf is slightly less capable, this still leaves us with the average adult most likely being 2nd level.

If we assume some fairly simplistic - but nor unrealistic giving healing magic – demographics. Roughly 1/3 of the citizens (413) of Sandpoint are children, who by default are going to be 1st level. Of the remaining roughly 800 people who are adults let us say that half are too young, incompetent, unambitious or boring to have advanced to the 2nd level, that gives us an additional roughly 400 1st level characters. However, that still leaves us with nearly 400 adults who are 2nd level or above and some indication that of these maybe 1/10 are 4th level or higher.

I think that is fairly convincing evidence that Golarion from the get go was designed to be a relatively high level campaign setting. Unlike many previous D&D setting which assumed than maybe less than 10% of all adulated ever advanced beyond the 1st level, Pathfinder mostly like takes place in a world were as much as half of all adults have gained at least one level. Moreover, even marginally competent or experienced individuals are likely to have advanced to the 3rd level. The following people in Sandpoint are all 3rd level: Naffer Tosk (Grave-Digger, Gardner at the Bone Yard), Maver Kesk (Town Jeweler), Gorvi (Garbage Man), Vachedi (Jailer), Savah Bevaniky (Armsdealer), Larz Rovenky (Tanner), Nisk Tander /Alchemist), Jesk Cracktooth Berinni (Innkeeper), Banny Harker (Sawmill Foreman), Bilivar Wheen (Wheelwright), Chod Bevuk (Butcher) and Gressel Tenniwar (Innkeeper).

In fact not level, but whether or not a character has NPC class levels, seem to be the dividing line between exceptional and ordinary individuals. Case in point, the town baker Alma Avertin is 7th level (expert), while notorious local ex-adventurer Ameiko Kaijitsu only is 5th level (aristocrat/bard/rogue).

So with these things in mind I must say that I find it quite plausible that most leaders of nations or major city-states/tribal confederacies/international organizations are going to clock in at, at least 8th level (as to be more competent than a random frontier town baker) and maybe are going to cluster around the 12th to 14th level. However, unless they seized power by might or trickery (and thus are likely to have adventuring class levels), they are mostly going to be “high level” aristocrats and experts. Having levels in the double digits ensure that they are not total pushovers, as they can muster reasonably okay Saving Throw bonuses and HP, and the same time enforce them as being well above average in pure competence, without making them into personally unstoppable swordsmen or mages.

That is not the same as that you are not going to see the occasional “low-level” ruler (i.e. level 4-8). However they are going to be comparatively rare and are mostly going to be newly appointed or ascended rulers. They are exactly going to be the kind of rulers who will quickly develop a reputation of being if not controlled, then at least heavily influenced by their advisors and political “allies”; or they are figurehead rulers whose role tend to be mostly ceremonial.

However, I also think it is worth pointing out that from an “in-setting” perspective it may be difficult to distinguish between a 6th and an 12th level aristocrat, unless you have sustained and close interaction with the character. The important point here is that we really do not have any guidelines to set the DCs for “ruling a country” skill checks. If we assume that a rich low-corruption country, with strong central institutions and broad popular legitimacy is “easy” to run, the DCs faced by the ruler may be so low that it is effectively impossible to figure out if he (or she) is throwing a +8 or a +18 modifier at the problem. Seen from inside setting it is just possible to know that the country is at peace, the taxes are being paid, the army is strong and the nobles seem to accept the status quo.


Limnen_euron wrote:


[...] once the presence of a non-negligible amount of high-level NPCs has been established [...]
JCAB wrote:


If we assume some fairly simplistic - but nor unrealistic giving healing magic – demographics. Roughly 1/3 of the citizens (413) of Sandpoint are children, who by default are going to be 1st level. Of the remaining roughly 800 people who are adults let us say that half are too young, incompetent, unambitious or boring to have advanced to the 2nd level, that gives us an additional roughly 400 1st level characters. However, that still leaves us with nearly 400 adults who are 2nd level or above and some indication that of these maybe 1/10 are 4th level or higher.

I think that is fairly convincing evidence that Golarion from the get go was designed to be a relatively high level campaign setting. Unlike many previous D&D setting which assumed than maybe less than 10% of all adulated ever advanced beyond the 1st level, Pathfinder mostly like takes place in a world were as much as half of all adults have gained at least one level. Moreover, even marginally competent or experienced individuals are likely to have advanced to the 3rd level. The following people in Sandpoint are all 3rd level: Naffer Tosk (Grave-Digger, Gardner at the Bone Yard), Maver Kesk (Town Jeweler), Gorvi (Garbage Man), Vachedi (Jailer), Savah Bevaniky (Armsdealer), Larz Rovenky (Tanner), Nisk Tander /Alchemist), Jesk Cracktooth Berinni (Innkeeper), Banny Harker (Sawmill Foreman), Bilivar Wheen (Wheelwright), Chod Bevuk (Butcher) and Gressel Tenniwar (Innkeeper).

[...]

So with these things in mind I must say that I find it quite plausible that most leaders of nations or major city-states/tribal confederacies/international organizations are going to clock in at, at least 8th level (as to be more competent than a random frontier town baker) and maybe are going to cluster around the 12th to 14th level. However, unless they seized power by might or trickery (and thus are likely to have adventuring class levels), they are mostly going to be “high level” aristocrats and experts. Having levels in the double digits ensure that they are not total pushovers, as they can muster reasonably okay Saving Throw bonuses and HP, and the same time enforce them as being well above average in pure competence, without making them into personally unstoppable swordsmen or mages.

Yeah, precisely that. I was about to write a similar post but I'm very glad you beat me to the point. My laziness thanks you :)

Liberty's Edge

@JCAB:

Indeed! Check out my population demographics for a rough analysis of exactly this based on the Settlement Rules. It matches up pretty well with Sandpoint as presented, too.


Here is another point to consider, when dealing with how to stat NPCs, including important leaders: Pathfinder NPCs seem to have a strong preference for multiclassing and against spellcasting, if we go by the Sandpoint chapter in RotRL:BO. A lot of characters with adventuring class levels multiclass in to expert and few multiclass into aristocrat. On the other hand, not a single named character can cast level 3 spells. The character with the highest caster level is oddly enough the owner of the local theater, a 6th level bard. The town priest is 4th level and highest level character with spellcasting ability is Niska Mvashti (a local historian and fortune-teller), who is a druid 3/sorcerer 4/mystic theurge 1. Most of the characters with levels in classes granting spell casting abilities only have one or two levels in that class, and then multiclass into expert.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

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Nearyn,

The answer for circumstance doing what you want to is...No.

Circumstance in this instance means 'GM Fiat'. Circumstance will not suffice to overcome a 5 or 10 level difference in ability, time after time after time. You're basically saying the character got to where he is based on luck...and as soon as he faces a real challenge where GM fiat will be bonedead obvious, he'll fold.

Circumstance bonuses are usually +2, and they aren't given out all the time...which is basically what you're saying is done here. Instead of being a lucky award once in a while, you're basically forcing the NPC to exist on them, which doesn't follow the rules. After all, other NPC's should be getting those same bonuses too, right?

So, the only way to truly compare ability is straight up innate skills, feats, what have you.

WHen it comes down to it, the math of Pathfinder does not allow you to do what you want with any sense of realism. If you have a low level ruler, its because there's some high level people backing him and keeping him in that position, while real power rests elsewhere. Rulers In Name Only aren't that uncommon in history, by the way...the whole idea of Shogunate Japan is based on real power resting with the maternal grandfather of the Emperor, and being effectively the head of the government. The people can revere the low level and isolated Emperor, but all the power was in the hands of the head of a powerful family that had cut and thrust its way into the position of power.

==Aelryinth


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This again speaks to the true measure of power being what class you are, not your level. The really powerful classes (full casters especially) are very rare. Even “high level” characters do not really seem to have reliable access to “high level” spells. In many circumstances, an 8th level wizard is going to be much rarer and much more individually dangerous than the aristocrat 6/expert 6 king. However the king still has sufficient “inherent skill” to have a chance to hold off the wizard, until his kingsguards (aristocrat 2/warrior 8) can subdue the interloper.

In Game of Thrones terms, a character like Ser Merrin Trent (the guy who kills Arya’s “dancing master”) is maybe, like I suggested above an aristocrat 2/ warrior 8. If faced by a random thug (commoner 2) he can dispatch him with contemptible ease, but if forced to fight an inexperienced hero, let say Jon Snow (fighter 3/ ranger 3) he would be in serious trouble, even though he out-levels Jon.

So my point is that “high level” characters may be fairly unexceptional, but level is not the only measure of power; you also need to consider degree of optimization, classes (adventuring vs NPC; full caster vs low-tier martial), Attributes and gear. A fairly low-level leader (say 7th level), 25 points of Attributes, all paladin levels and gear like a 15th level PC, is surely more personally dangerous than a 14th level aristocrat, with 10s across the board in Attributes and only clad in masterwork breastplate and wielding a +2 short sword.

Moreover, said 7th level paladin could easily throw around skill like Diplomacy +12, Knowledge (Nobility) +10, Profession (Military Officer) +10, Sense Motive +10, which quite conceivably would be enough to effectively run his kingdom. And if I was the GM I could easily consider granting him circumstance bonuses to these skill rolls in the +4 to +8 range, if his rule was considered exceptionally virtuous and legitimate.


Personally I would favor the 15 aristocrat for a hereditary monarch that's supposed to be competent. Aristocrats suck in combat even at level 20 so it's not for the combat challenge but for the skills. You could even build him for social encounters by using his feats for things like skill focus (bluff) and so on. He's even less good at combat when you do that. HE would be forced to use his wit to challenge the heroes.

"Why don't the PCs just kill him?" He has bodyguards for that.

"Why don't the bodyguards, particularly the court mage, just kill him and take the throne?" Because not everyone is like that. In our own history not every ruler was a competent warrior in personal combat. Many were great at strategy or hold their forces together more than dueling.

Most bodyguards do their duty for a variety of reasons: money, prestige, a cushy job with a steady paycheck, etc.

Some do so because they are honorable people who do their duty because it is right. This is does preclude them from being used in Tyrannia to guard Emperor Evilbad. If the emperor is hereditary, the perhaps Evilbad is actually the rightful ruler and it is therefore the bodyguard's duty to protect the emperor even if he's a distasteful man. Perhaps the evil of Tyrannia falls to Values Dissonance (since we're throwing tropes around here.) The poor slaves they mistreat are of another race they are taught since childbirth to disdain and look down upon as something less than sentient. Their women or even emn are mistreated because of a long history of such abuse. An LN bodyguard could still uphold this state without being personally evil. The personal bodyguard to the Queen in CotCC was LN for this reason.

There is also the religious argument. Perhaps the King is considered to have the divine right to rule. This is not unprecedented on Golarion. Some to that effect is mentioned in the Red Mantis fluff. Maybe the evil country is a theocracy where the ruler is also the high priest of the ruling religion. This is also a classic and could be used as a legitimate (in my opinion) way to have the BBEG be level 15 or higher. Or at least have flunkies that are higher and not betray him/her. If Asmodeus commands a Pit Fiend to help House Thrune it will do so with perfect loyalty even if it could smash Abrogail's face in like it was made of tissue paper.

About that particular example, Abrogail being level 18 isn't surprising to me at all. It makes sense House Thrune made being individually powerful a part of the pact. Everyone who rules gets an instant infusion of the powers of Hell. Either that or Hell decided it'd be the best way to protect the bearers of the pact and empowered them on their own initiative.

All that said, perhaps the bodyguards do decide to kill the king and take the throne for themselves. That can be an interesting idea as well. That's what happened in Rome and it led to the downfall of their empire. In fact, the main reason that it didn't instantly fall due to the instability is because it didn't have a close enough rival that could take advantage of it.


Larkos wrote:

Personally I would favor the 15 aristocrat for a hereditary monarch that's supposed to be competent. Aristocrats suck in combat even at level 20 so it's not for the combat challenge but for the skills. You could even build him for social encounters by using his feats for things like skill focus (bluff) and so on.

"Why don't the bodyguards, particularly the court mage, just kill him and take the throne?" Because not everyone is like that. In our own history not every ruler was a competent warrior in personal combat. Many were great at strategy or hold their forces together more than dueling.

Most bodyguards do their duty for a variety of reasons: money, prestige, a cushy job with a steady paycheck, etc.

Some do so because they are honorable people who do their duty because it is right. This is does preclude them from being used in Tyrannia to guard Emperor Evilbad. If the emperor is hereditary, the perhaps Evilbad is actually the rightful ruler and it is therefore the bodyguard's duty to protect the emperor even if he's a distasteful man. Perhaps the evil of Tyrannia falls to Values Dissonance (since we're throwing tropes around here.) The poor slaves they mistreat are of another race they are taught since childbirth to disdain and look down upon as something less than sentient. Their women or even emn are mistreated because of a long history of such abuse. An LN bodyguard could still uphold this state without being personally evil. The personal bodyguard to the Queen in CotCC was LN for this reason.

There is also the religious argument. Perhaps the King is considered to have the divine right to rule. This is not unprecedented on Golarion. Some to that effect is mentioned in the Red Mantis fluff. Maybe the evil country is a theocracy where the ruler is also the high priest of the ruling religion. This is also a classic and...

And because he has the skills to inspire and command loyalty even if he doesn't have the combat ability to beat up his rivals. Maybe his diplomacy is high enough to befriend possible rivals. Maybe he plays them off one another, keeping any one from being confident enough to try for a coup.


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thejeff wrote:
And because he has the skills to inspire and command loyalty even if he doesn't have the combat ability to beat up his rivals. Maybe his diplomacy is high enough to befriend possible rivals. Maybe he plays them off one another, keeping any one from being confident enough to try for a coup.

Right it'd be a lot like Lord Shojo in Order of the stick. He's a mid-level Aristocrat who rules using his natural intelligence.


Here is what I would expect from your typical king of a moderately warlike nation. While in no way capable of standing his own against an even vaguely optimized adventurer of his own level, I will not necessarily fold the moment a mid-level wizard targets him. The king knows he is a very capable swordsman, but he has seen enough of the true masters at work to known what his limitations are. If faced with overwhelming odds he will retreat, commit suicide or surrender as appropriate, depending on circumstances and the opponent facing him.

His true strength lies in his leadership and strategic abilities. He is a very competent field commander (Profession – Military Officer + 24) and an inspiring leader who commands the respect of his followers (Diplomacy + 15) and terrifies his enemies (+24).

Likewise, he has a very good understanding of the inner workings and politics of his kingdom (Knowledge – Local +12; Knowledge – Nobility +18) and is a good enough judge of character (Sense Motive +11) to realize if his courtiers and advisors are trying to lead him astray.

NOTE: Remember that the king’s councilors and friends or family can make Aid Another skill actions to help him on rolls to manage the kingdom. The bonus from Aid Another is untyped and thus stacks with itself. The only limit to how many people can aid any given roll is GM fiat (CRB p. 86). So in theory a king with a large council of moderately skilled advisors – or a president advised by the elected senate of his republic – could throw extremely high skill modifiers at issues related to governance.

Typical Martially Inclined King
Human Male; Lawful Neutral; Aristocrat 6/Warrior 6

Attributes (20 pts): Strength 12, Dexterity 10, Constitution 14, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 14, Charisma 16

Feats: Great Fortitude, Iron Will; Skill Focus – Profession (Military Officer); Skill Focus (Intimidate); Leadership; Prodigy – Perform (Oratory), Profession (Military Officer); Toughness

Skills: Diplomacy 6 ranks, Intimidate 12 ranks, Knowledge (History) 6 ranks, Knowledge (Local) 6 ranks, Knowledge (Nobility) 12 ranks, Perception 6 ranks, Perform (Oratory) 6 ranks, Profession (Military Officer) 12 ranks, Ride 12 ranks, Sense Motive 6 ranks

Gear: Circlet of Persuasion, Mithral Banded Mail +3, Longsword +2, Heavy Metal Shield +2, Ring of Protection +3, Cloak of Protection +5, Amulet of Proof Against Location and Detection

AC: 27 (If his guards are nearby, he will fight Full Defensive, otherwise he will Fight Defensively to hold his own until help arrives)
HP: 126
Fort Save: +14
Ref Save: +9
Will Save: +14


To be fair, even a high level ruler can be brought low by a group of lower level people. Generally a group of four that can be as low as four levels below the ruler :)

Also this is generally why my high level npcs are either locked away and trying to break free, or uninterested in ruling a country.


Compare the higher level aristocrat/warrior king to this paladin, half his level. Granted this paladin is way over-geared and uses the 25 point build, but that is just the point. Even though he is six levels lower, he can more or less match or exceed the much higher level character, because he has a better class and is much more focused on battle. So if the martial king is good enough a personal fighter to survive being a king, the hero king is as well. The big difference is that the hero king is much weaker in the skills department, but as I said in the martial king post, that can be some ward mitigated by a cadre of loyal and competent advisors.

Hero King
Human Male; Lawful Good; Paladin 6

Attributes (25 pts): Strength 18, Dexterity 8, Constitution 14, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 12, Charisma 17

Feats: Improved Initiative, Power Attack; Iron Will; Great Fortitude

Skills: Diplomacy 6 ranks, Knowledge (Nobility) 3 ranks, Knowledge (Religion) 3 ranks, Profession (Military Officer) 6 ranks, Ride 3 ranks, Sense Motive 3 ranks

Gear: Holy Great Sword +2, Amulet of Natural Armor +3, Cloak of Protection +3, Full-Plate +3, Ring of Protection +3

AC: 27
HP: 88
Fort Save: +13
Ref Save: +7
Will Save: +12

Important Class Features: Aura of Courage (Immune to Fear), Divine Health (Immune to Disease), Lay on Hands (Heal self 3d6 as a swift action 6/day), Divine Bond (Improve Weapon), Spells (for example Divine Favor).

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

Note that NPC class levels are counted at 1/2 for determining CR, too. So that Aristo/Nob king is effectively a CR 6 threat solo.

I'd probably drop his Ride to 6 ranks and give him ranks in Profession (Economics or Merchant) to reflect knowledge of how the money moves in his kingdom.

And I'd give him a wayfinder with a clear spindle to stop those pesky mind controlling effects from evil peeps.

==Aelryinth

Liberty's Edge

JCAB wrote:
Here is another point to consider, when dealing with how to stat NPCs, including important leaders: Pathfinder NPCs seem to have a strong preference for multiclassing and against spellcasting, if we go by the Sandpoint chapter in RotRL:BO. A lot of characters with adventuring class levels multiclass in to expert and few multiclass into aristocrat. On the other hand, not a single named character can cast level 3 spells. The character with the highest caster level is oddly enough the owner of the local theater, a 6th level bard. The town priest is 4th level and highest level character with spellcasting ability is Niska Mvashti (a local historian and fortune-teller), who is a druid 3/sorcerer 4/mystic theurge 1. Most of the characters with levels in classes granting spell casting abilities only have one or two levels in that class, and then multiclass into expert.

Sandpoint isn't a good barometer for this particular thing, since it's specifically designed so that PCs need to do a bunch of stuff involving saving the town themselves. Looking at other settlements or listed characters this is not generally true of Golarion as a whole. Multi-classing is pretty common, but a lack of casters? Not so much.


Of the 45 major character listed in the back of "Guide to Korvosa" nine are able to cast 3rd or higher level spells. I don't known what, if anything, that says of the setting.


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Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

According to Varisia: Birthplace of Legends, 9th-level spellcasting is available for purchase in Korvosa; 8th-level in Magnimar, Riddleport, and Kaer Maga; 7th-level in Janderhoff; 4th-level in Sandpoint. NPC spellcasters are assumed in the setting, even if they're not named and statted.


Why do the few high-level adventure class characters out there not simply tele-smite/fry-and-scry/SoD every ruler they don’t like (and take over the nation)? I think there are a couple of possible answers which take the metaphysics (the game rules) of the setting into account.

First off, I think that I have produced a reasonable case for that while high level characters are common, combat focused single-adventurer-class characters (especially casters) are not. From this already very limited pool of characters, we can start by removing all the characters capable of such tactics, but fundamentally disinclined to do so. This included hermit archdruids in the Mwangi Expanse, various high level monks only concerned with perfecting the body and soul and so forth. We can also disregard characters capable and willing, but otherwise engaged. This included high-level crusaders fighting in or near the Worldwound, monarchs who spend most of the time ruling their own nations and wizards perpetually engaged in research and such. While such characters could conceivably take out on hour or two to kill off somebody they don’t like, in most cases that would seem like a stupid use of their time. Killing low-level threats is for minions and henchmen.

This leaves us with a very much reduced pool of individuals capable of, willing to and with ample opportunity to engage in high-level regicide. So again, why don’t they? Because, and this is important to remember, the history of Golarion clearly shows they don’t do. I at least can’t remember reading of a single instance where a king, barbarian warlord or major threat was stopped by scry-n-fry tactics, in the setting as written.

Option One – Everybody is High Level: Anyone in power or who owns anything worth owning is high level, with adventuring class levels, is optimized and carries battle gear. This seems to be many people’s default assumption and what Nearyn dislikes. To me this seems to a viable, but boring solution.

Option Two – MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction): The kind of people who would like to engage in anti-ruler operations has a lot of enemies. The moment they pop out of their heavily warded lairs to crush a 6th level king they dislike, a substantial fraction of high level enemies converge (by means of their own teleportation magic) to get a shot at them. Possible by the rules, but nothing in the setting indicates this is the case.

Option Three – Stop Being Silly!: A group of epic level beings have decided that indiscriminate epidemic of regicide, based solely on the fact that a given king is not a total badass is a bad thing. As such they make sure that once anyone get powerful enough to engage in that sort of behavior, they receive a visit from the group along with a sternly worded warning, not to do anything stupid. My favorite candidate for this is a council of Gold and Silver dragons, supported by several high-end Inevitables and Archons. The council is not omnipotent and can’t stop everyone who try to scry-n-fry the king of Korvosa, but (and to misquote Tony Stark) “If they can’t defend the social order, they can damn well avenge it!” As for plausibility, same as above (but I think this is way more fun).

Option Four – The Secret Service Solution: High level bodyguards capable of effectively dealing with this kind of shenanigans are, if not commonly then at least sufficiently, available. Again, remember the limitations of teleporting. It would generally be easier for a king or other ruler to surround himself with high level bodyguards, than for the assassins to strike with like numbers. If you are a Good or Lawful Neutral ruler, an order of elite paladins, sworn to defend the throne and the ruler seems like a good fit. It is easy to explain why they don’t try to take power for themselves and they can deploy not inconsiderable martial resources in the king’s defense. Bound outsiders, the undead, constructs, orders of monks or simply exceptional people who are well-paid or like the monarch also could be viable. Personally, this is the solution I like best. I think it can be modeled in the rules and is supported in the setting, as several rulers seem to have elite guards or servants who can serve in this role.


Joana wrote:
According to Varisia: Birthplace of Legends, 9th-level spellcasting is available for purchase in Korvosa; 8th-level in Magnimar, Riddleport, and Kaer Maga; 7th-level in Janderhoff; 4th-level in Sandpoint. NPC spellcasters are assumed in the setting, even if they're not named and statted.

This seems to me, at least the point about 4th level spells being available in Sandpoint, to be either a case of miscommunication in the writing staff or an artifact of the rules concerning town/city size and available trade goods/services. Personally I tend to favor specialized information over generalized information, according to a Lex Specialis principle, and would as such not allow characters to purchase 4th level spell casting services in Sandpoint; but I will grant that reasonable people can disagree on the matter.

What I will say is that as a general rule, my experience is that the setting becomes less engaging and less fun to play in, the more frequent high level spell casting is. So based on a desire to maximize fun for my players, I usually err on the side of reducing the number and power of NPC spellcasters.


I'm going to take this to a meta level for a moment. Those arguing that characters CAN be low level are disregarding a very key problem.

Every six months, one of these rulers might be designated the BBEG of an Adventure Path. Not 'your personal campaign', but something meant for general publication. This enforces a very tight structure, including pre-selecting a CR range that can be used. On average, APs end with the PCs at around level 15-16, which means the CR has to be something that would be appropriate to challenge PCs of those levels.

And people tend to be kind of touchy when something new deviates wildly from previously published material.

This pretty much dictates that more NPC rulers will fall into the high range than the low, simply so that future authors and developers won't continually find themselves in a position of having to justify a previously-discussed NPC suddenly adding ten levels and an artifact they didn't have before. You can get away with that every now and again, but not every time you start on a new AP.

Nothing's stopping you in a homebrew campaign, but Golarion's got to support the main product and that imposes design limitations.


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Well I think the point Nearyn was trying to raise was that every BBEG don’t have to be a local ruler. Sometimes the end boss could be a powerful entity bound to serve the ruler by ancient pacts and once the guardian was defeated in the final climatic battle the ruler could/would surrender, commit suicide or whatever. You still have your CR20 encounter, but the king don’t personally have to be anything more challenging than a 6th level aristocrat.

Liberty's Edge

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JCAB wrote:
Joana wrote:
According to Varisia: Birthplace of Legends, 9th-level spellcasting is available for purchase in Korvosa; 8th-level in Magnimar, Riddleport, and Kaer Maga; 7th-level in Janderhoff; 4th-level in Sandpoint. NPC spellcasters are assumed in the setting, even if they're not named and statted.
This seems to me, at least the point about 4th level spells being available in Sandpoint, to be either a case of miscommunication in the writing staff or an artifact of the rules concerning town/city size and available trade goods/services. Personally I tend to favor specialized information over generalized information, according to a Lex Specialis principle, and would as such not allow characters to purchase 4th level spell casting services in Sandpoint; but I will grant that reasonable people can disagree on the matter.

I agree with you on Sandpoint. The others, however, are relatively accurate to the setting books for the cities in question. There's a 16th level Wizard in Korvosa and a 15th level one in Magnimar, for example (as well as a named 13th level Cleric in Korvosa and a 15th level one in Magnimar...neither being alone). Now, all those are among the highest level people in the area, and not exactly commonplace...but they certainly exist.

JCAB wrote:
What I will say is that as a general rule, my experience is that the setting becomes less engaging and less fun to play in, the more frequent high level spell casting is. So based on a desire to maximize fun for my players, I usually err on the side of reducing the number and power of NPC spellcasters.

This is a perfectly reasonable way to do things, but it is not the way the Pathfinder setting as a whole is designed or the way that world actually works.

Which is sorta what we're talking about. :)


I think that's why I prefer using the core version of spellcasting availability under goods and services. It's much more limited that the GMG guide.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Deadmanwalking wrote:
JCAB wrote:
What I will say is that as a general rule, my experience is that the setting becomes less engaging and less fun to play in, the more frequent high level spell casting is. So based on a desire to maximize fun for my players, I usually err on the side of reducing the number and power of NPC spellcasters.

This is a perfectly reasonable way to do things, but it is not the way the Pathfinder setting as a whole is designed or the way that world actually works.

Which is sorta what we're talking about. :)

Yeah, I prefer a lower-level, lower-magic setting as well. But that's not Golarion-as-written.


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@Deadmanwalking
It seems to me as if you are saying that the number of high-level casters who are willing to sell spell casting services, is somehow proportionally related to the number of casters who are willing to engage in regicide. If that is the case I disagree. I will tend to think that even marginally competent rulers will tend to try and recruit high level characters in their domains into the existing power-structure and give them a stake in the status quo. Once a cavalier, fighter or paladin reaches the double-digit levels he is almost certainly going to be summoned to court to be knighted or the equivalent and given honors, title and land; all in attempt to make such a powerful individuals interests align with the monarch’s. Unless such he is obviously gunning for the throne of course. Likewise casters of all stripes are invited to become honorary professors at a local university, with a fat yearly stipend for next to no actual work and plenty of opportunity to recruit the best (or most attractive) apprentices

As I understand the issue being debated, the question is if a low-level (4th - 8th) character could hold on to a throne, in any but the smallest and most insignificant countries in Golarion. My stand is yes they could, but such rulers are rare and most of them would either be puppets, purely ceremonial or rely on the goodwill of allies or strong popular support. The moment they are abandoned by their secret backers or allies or public support falters (say in face of harvest failure or an epidemic), competent (high-level) nobles and other elites will begin to conspire against them. As such, low-level rulers who can act truly as sovereigns are all but unheard of.

However, I also think that some of the writers tend to go overboard when they stat NPC in supplements. Especially when they are not actually indented to be BBEG in APs. For example, I personally don’t see the point in Headmaster Toff Ornelos of the Acadamae being 17th level. He is not the end boss in an AP. He is just a powerful evil-Dumbledore mentioned in a setting book. If I had written the Guide to Korvosa, I think I would have kept him at maybe level 12 or 14.

Also as I understand Naeryn’s OP, what he is reacting against is the tendency to make the king/ emperor /grand pubah the BBRG. I agree with his point that a ruler could be sufficiently effective at his job, at say 6th or 8th level that his domain would not collapse due to incompetence. If you want to set an AP in an area ruled by such a character I really don’t see why it should be impossible for the writers to construct a set-up where a low-level ruler is in effect immune to Scry-N-Fry and the BBEG in the AP is the ruler's brother, epic pet, bound demon or whatever.


JCAB wrote:
Also as I understand Naeryn’s OP, what he is reacting against is the tendency to make the king/ emperor /grand pubah the BBRG. I agree with his point that a ruler could be sufficiently effective at his job, at say 6th or 8th level that his domain would not collapse due to incompetence. If you want to set an AP in an area ruled by such a character I really don’t see why it should be impossible for the writers to construct a set-up where a low-level ruler is in effect immune to Scry-N-Fry and the BBEG in the AP is the ruler's brother, epic pet, bound demon or whatever.

You could certainly do that, but it would be hard to avoid at least giving the impression that the ruler wasn't really the puppet of the BBEG in that case.

Possible, but tricky.


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JCAB wrote:
Especially when they are not actually indented to be BBEG in Aps.

So you completely missed my point. Anybody in a secondary supplement who gets more than a few lines is potentially going to be one of these down the line. To use your example, just because the head of the Acadame has not yet been featured in an AP doesn't mean he will not be. In fact, given the background on the Acadamae, he's a very good candidate for such at some point in the future. Just because that AP hasn't been written yet doesn't make it good practice to make him unsuitable for it.


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Chris Kenney wrote:
JCAB wrote:
Especially when they are not actually indented to be BBEG in Aps.
So you completely missed my point. Anybody in a secondary supplement who gets more than a few lines is potentially going to be one of these down the line. To use your example, just because the head of the Acadame has not yet been featured in an AP doesn't mean he will not be. In fact, given the background on the Acadamae, he's a very good candidate for such at some point in the future. Just because that AP hasn't been written yet doesn't make it good practice to make him unsuitable for it.

I don’t think I missed your point, but I do disagree with it. By the same logic, the aforementioned baker in Sandpoint (Alma Avertin; expert 7) should also have her level increased to the high double digits and be given adventuring class levels, as she is given as much description as Toff Ornelos.

Personally, and you are of course free to disagree, I think that it improves the setting’s verisimilitude if the writers make an effort to not over-populate it with high-level casters, mainly because they can change the setting much, with so little effort that you as a GM has to jump through hoops to explain why they don’t.


thejeff wrote:
JCAB wrote:
Also as I understand Naeryn’s OP, what he is reacting against is the tendency to make the king/ emperor /grand pubah the BBRG. I agree with his point that a ruler could be sufficiently effective at his job, at say 6th or 8th level that his domain would not collapse due to incompetence. If you want to set an AP in an area ruled by such a character I really don’t see why it should be impossible for the writers to construct a set-up where a low-level ruler is in effect immune to Scry-N-Fry and the BBEG in the AP is the ruler's brother, epic pet, bound demon or whatever.

You could certainly do that, but it would be hard to avoid at least giving the impression that the ruler wasn't really the puppet of the BBEG in that case.

Possible, but tricky.

You are correct that I might be tricky, but I have great faith in the Paizo writing staff. To use an example made earlier in this thread; you can make a fair argument that Vader is personally more powerful than Palpatine in RotJ, but the power-relationship between them is unquestionable in Palpatine’s favor. Likewise, I don’t anyone think that President Obama is a puppet for his SS security detail or that low-level wizard who stole his master’s Shield Guardian is actually being controlled by the golem.

As I see it, the problem with the kind of set up Naeryn is asking for is mostly how you prevent the PC from reducing the mastermind to a fine red mist once they hit level 10 or 12. And as I have said earlier, I think that is a very manageable task, even without resorting to GM fiat, which I agree is a unsatisfactory way to prevent a premature conclusion to an AP.

Liberty's Edge

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JCAB wrote:

@Deadmanwalking

It seems to me as if you are saying that the number of high-level casters who are willing to sell spell casting services, is somehow proportionally related to the number of casters who are willing to engage in regicide.

What? No, that's not what I was saying at all. I was specifically disagreeing with you saying that spellcasters were rare in the default setting. That's all.

JCAB wrote:
If that is the case I disagree. I will tend to think that even marginally competent rulers will tend to try and recruit high level characters in their domains into the existing power-structure and give them a stake in the status quo. Once a cavalier, fighter or paladin reaches the double-digit levels he is almost certainly going to be summoned to court to be knighted or the equivalent and given honors, title and land; all in attempt to make such a powerful individuals interests align with the monarch’s. Unless such he is obviously gunning for the throne of course. Likewise casters of all stripes are invited to become honorary professors at a local university, with a fat yearly stipend for next to no actual work and plenty of opportunity to recruit the best (or most attractive) apprentices

And I agree with this. Like I said, all I was doing was noting that spellcasters were more common than you said they were.

JCAB wrote:
As I understand the issue being debated, the question is if a low-level (4th - 8th) character could hold on to a throne, in any but the smallest and most insignificant countries in Golarion. My stand is yes they could, but such rulers are rare and most of them would either be puppets, purely ceremonial or rely on the goodwill of allies or strong popular support. The moment they are abandoned by their secret backers or allies or public support falters (say in face of harvest failure or an epidemic), competent (high-level) nobles and other elites will begin to conspire against them. As such, low-level rulers who can act truly as sovereigns are all but unheard of.

And this, too, I agree with completely.

JCAB wrote:
However, I also think that some of the writers tend to go overboard when they stat NPC in supplements. Especially when they are not actually indented to be BBEG in APs. For example, I personally don’t see the point in Headmaster Toff Ornelos of the Acadamae being 17th level. He is not the end boss in an AP. He is just a powerful evil-Dumbledore mentioned in a setting book. If I had written the Guide to Korvosa, I think I would have kept him at maybe level 12 or 14.

And in doing so made the world a very different place. I'm not gonna argue with you about your preferences for lower level characters or settings, that's a perfectly legitimate preference, but I will argue that the writers are definitively not 'going overboard'. They're establishing a baseline for how common high-level characters are in the world...and then sticking to it pretty well. When you come up with a set of numbers (like I did for my population demographics thing) and can then apply those fairly successfully to most setting books the company makes (which I have)...they've established a pretty coherent world there. And having done that, changes from those standards are both weird and notable.

JCAB wrote:
Also as I understand Naeryn’s OP, what he is reacting against is the tendency to make the king/ emperor /grand pubah the BBRG. I agree with his point that a ruler could be sufficiently effective at his job, at say 6th or 8th level that his domain would not collapse due to incompetence. If you want to set an AP in an area ruled by such a character I really don’t see why it should be impossible for the writers to construct a set-up where a low-level ruler is in effect immune to Scry-N-Fry and the BBEG in the AP is the ruler's brother, epic pet, bound demon or whatever.

You certainly can. Once or twice. The issue is that you can't have it as anything other than exceptions to the rule without causing real problems in verisimilitude.

And, for the record, the River Kingdoms, with many squabbling small domains, actually do average a lot lower level in terms of rulers. So you could definitely do something there if you really wanted.


@Deadmanwalking

Okay - sorry, I must have misunderstood what you wrote earlier.

As for the issue of establishing a baseline I fundamentally agree. Yes, by making a character like Toff Ornelos 17th level the writers or developers definitely makes statement about how rare or common high-level characters and magic is in Golarion. And I don’t have anything fundamentally against where they place this baseline.

My problem is that sometimes they seem to forget some of the knock-on effects of all these high-level casters running around and in doing so they burden the GMs with trying to conjure up reasonable explanations for why the high-level elites don’t simply wave their hands a make the plot go away. However if they were a bit more conservative in their NPC levelling, those kinds of problems are dramatically reduced. It becomes way easier to construct plots, adventures and even entire APs and maintain verisimilitude.

Liberty's Edge

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JCAB wrote:

@Deadmanwalking

Okay - sorry, I must have misunderstood what you wrote earlier.

No worries, these things happen.

JCAB wrote:
As for the issue of establishing a baseline I fundamentally agree. Yes, by making a character like Toff Ornelos 17th level the writers or developers definitely makes statement about how rare or common high-level characters and magic is in Golarion. And I don’t have anything fundamentally against where they place this baseline.

Cool, glad we're on the same page there, then.

JCAB wrote:
My problem is that sometimes they seem to forget some of the knock-on effects of all these high-level casters running around and in doing so they burden the GMs with trying to conjure up reasonable explanations for why the high-level elites don’t simply wave their hands a make the plot go away. However if they were a bit more conservative in their NPC levelling, those kinds of problems are dramatically reduced. It becomes way easier to construct plots, adventures and even entire APs and maintain verisimilitude.

I dunno about that. Very few of the high level characters in question are Good, and most have jobs of one sort or another, which goes a long way towards explaining their lack of involvement in the stuff the PCs get involved in. In instances where that isn't true, other explanations are usually offered...and pretty good ones at that.


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Okay, getting back to Nearyn’s original post, how could you make a set up where the final battle is against a minion of the actual mastermind and not the mastermind himself. As I have already mentioned I think this component requires two components:

1: The mastermind needs some sort of effective defense against Scry-N-Fry/Tele-Fragging.
2: The mastermind needs a way to control a much more powerful “minion” or “henchman”.

Guards. As for the first issue, again as I have already mentioned I think competent bodyguards are a good way to solve it. The same bodyguards (or bodyguard, singular) could actually serve as the end boss, in which case an important component of the AP would be to acquire weapons capable of hurting the guard/guards.

Magical Barriers. The mastermind is blessed by a deity, who has made it so that all summoning and teleportation fails with close proximity. The same effect could be produced by an artifact or be linked to a specific location (i.e. his lair).

The Doomsday Curse. The mastermind has arranged for an impossibly potent curse to be linked to his death. Where he to die or even just suffer considerable bodily or mental harm, thousands of innocent people would die and the land would be ravaged and scourged of all life.

The Lex Luther Option. Nobody but the PC believes that the mastermind is evil. If the PCs move against him directly they would be declared enemies of the state and hunted down by lawmen and mercenaries. Their lands and property would be seized and their family and friend detained and (roughly) questioned.

Secret Identity. The identity and location of the mastermind remains a secret. Nondetection and similar magicis used to prevent scrying.

Contingency. The mastermind is affected by a unique type of Contingency spell. Whenever he is targeted by an attack, he is immediately teleported to a safe haven on another plane.

As for how he could control a potential BBEG:

The Pokemon Solution. The mastermind control a powerful artifact which allow him to force a mighty being to fight on his behalf.

Blood is thicker. The mastermind is the parent, sibling or lover of the actual threat.

Divine Mandate. The mastermind is a high-ranking priest or servant of a deity, who has commanded the guardian to protect him at all costs. Alternatively the mastermind is a guru, philosopher or prophet and the guardian it somehow convinced that he speak for the god/gods.

Ancient Pact. Long ago the guardian vowed to defend whoever wears the crown of the realm. The mastermind does currently. While the guardian does not agree with the mastermind’s actions, he is more concerned about breaking his word, than he is with human life.

Life Debt. Somehow, against all odds the mastermind once saved the guardian’s life. Now he will do anything to pay back that debt.

Release the Kraken! The mastermind does not actually control the monster, he has mere released it and fled the scene.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Toff Ornelos is the headmaster of a wizard college--one of the more respected magical institutions in the world,as a matter of fact, and an especially ruthless one at that. Speaking for myself, it would break my immersion if he *didn't* have access to 9th level spells.

Liberty's Edge

Revan wrote:
Toff Ornelos is the headmaster of a wizard college--one of the more respected magical institutions in the world,as a matter of fact, and an especially ruthless one at that. Speaking for myself, it would break my immersion if he *didn't* have access to 9th level spells.

He actually doesn't. He's an Aristocrat 1/Wizard 16. Still pretty formidable and a reasonable headmaster, IMO.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Ha! Fair enough, and I'm caught in my hyperbole. More to the point, I feel like all the high level NPCs who have been specifically called out in this thread so far are the ones who absolutely have the most justification for being high-level.


Odraude wrote:
I think that's why I prefer using the core version of spellcasting availability under goods and services. It's much more limited that the GMG guide.

What is the core version?


pennywit wrote:
Odraude wrote:
I think that's why I prefer using the core version of spellcasting availability under goods and services. It's much more limited that the GMG guide.
What is the core version?

Spellcasting Services are as followed:

Small town gets 1st level spells.
Large town gets 2nd level spells.
Small city gets 3rd and 4th
Large city gets 5th and 6th
Metropolis gets 7th or 8th
9th not really available

Liberty's Edge

Odraude wrote:
pennywit wrote:
Odraude wrote:
I think that's why I prefer using the core version of spellcasting availability under goods and services. It's much more limited that the GMG guide.
What is the core version?

Spellcasting Services are as followed:

Small town gets 1st level spells.
Large town gets 2nd level spells.
Small city gets 3rd and 4th
Large city gets 5th and 6th
Metropolis gets 7th or 8th
9th not really available

That's not actually a whole lot different. The definitions are a bit blurrier with that one and in the GMG there's technically a way to get 9th level spells in a big enough place with a magic academy or something, but it's pretty similar at a basic level.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
Odraude wrote:
pennywit wrote:
Odraude wrote:
I think that's why I prefer using the core version of spellcasting availability under goods and services. It's much more limited that the GMG guide.
What is the core version?

Spellcasting Services are as followed:

Small town gets 1st level spells.
Large town gets 2nd level spells.
Small city gets 3rd and 4th
Large city gets 5th and 6th
Metropolis gets 7th or 8th
9th not really available

That's not actually a whole lot different. The definitions are a bit blurrier with that one and in the GMG there's technically a way to get 9th level spells in a big enough place with a magic academy or something, but it's pretty similar at a basic level.

It's different enough honestly. With the core version, you don't get 4th level spells until Small City, as opposed to small town. After that it seems like it's one step behind the GMG. I prefer not having fourth level spells in small towns.

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