Low Level Adventure Design


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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LuniasM wrote:
Crits happen. It's part of the game, and if we gave all low-level threats 20/x2 weapons you'd still see some of them kill Level 1 players on a lucky crit. Like I've said earlier, I crit someone 4 times with shortsword-wielding mooks that only had a +3 to hit and 1d6+1 damage. It was still enough damage to keep that player down for the entire fight despite all her defenses. You cannot account for the randomness of dice rolls and HP will be low enough at early levels for all but the most niche builds that lucky rolls can kill. Sometimes players die due to bad encounter and monster design, other times players die from a string of bad rolls. I do think giving an orc a Falcata and calling it a CR 1/3 is too much, but in my experience those encounters are the exception, not the norm.

It's not easy to one-shot kill even a first level character with a x2 crit. The occasional high damage roll from a two-handed, power attacking type will do it.

Drop them for the fight, sure. That's not a huge problem though. Kill them if they've already taken damage? Sure. They made the call to stay in the fight hurt.

Straight from full to below -Con in one-shot? That's harder.


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@ Jeff,

I totally agree: you generally have to take melee hits. Don't take my Rappan Athuk methodology as a Pathfinder general strategy. In general, the more deadly a target is at what it does, the less you can let it do that thing to you.

@ Head,

DM'ing by minimizing the "rocket tag" aspect is a totally legitimate way to DM. Dm'ing by mathematically constructing encounters to spread damage against PC's out is a totally legitimate way to DM.

The system, as designed, encourages burst play.

The players should dictate what level of burst they want to face and the DM should provide it.

As long as RPGs have had crits, the crits have favored the monster side, because there are only x PC's and infinite monsters over time. Sooner or later, a crit will kill a PC.

My friends have always called this the Kolbold Principle: Enough kobolds throwing enough stones will crit down even the toughest fighter.

Dark Archive

Headfirst wrote:
thejeff wrote:
And at the same time, the rest of the groups playing through that adventure find the encounter easy. Because it all hinges on whether the bad guy rolls a 20 and gets his autokill.

Optimally, you would balance out the encounter with stuff other than huge critical hits. In my opinion, low CR monsters should make more use of combat maneuvers, as they're much more interesting than just dishing out wads of damage. Plus, players can actually respond to them, unlike huge critical hits.

Fighter had his greatsword disarmed? He can always switch to another weapon or try to pick it back up. Cleric got tripped? Quick, someone go cover her while she gets back up! Instead of just beheading the wizard, the orc thought it would be much more intimidating to sunder his quarterstaff; what a show of ferocity! That orc who charged the rogue didn't just insta-gib her with a crit; he bull-rushed her back into a 10 ft. pit, dealing less damage but taking her out of the fight for a round while she climbs back up. Meanwhile, the orc chieftain lunges in to grapple the group's raging barbarian.

Now that's a fight scene! Instead of just another plain old encounter with orcs, you've told a great story. Nobody remembers that one battle where they killed an orc with a greatsword, but you'd better believe that fighter's going to remember the time he killed an orc with the knife from his cooking kit after he got disarmed. Or when the rogue tricked the orc into following him down into the pit, knowing that the creature had a good chance of falling prone inside and being subject to a wicked sneak attack. The cleric, used to saving the day herself, is thankful to the party member who rushes to her aid after she got tripped. The wizard didn't really care much for that cheap quarterstaff anyway, but it made for a great image to have the orc sunder it right in half! And what barbarian wouldn't cherish the tale of how they once beat an orc chieftain to death with their bare hands!

I'm a huge fan of Combat Maneuvers, but in my experience being tripped is a big deal if you're next to any more than 1 enemy - the AoOs get a +4 to hit since you're prone when they attack, making it that much more likely that you'll take enough damage to die.

Also second the "bring a backup weapon" thing for disarms - I'll explain in a minute.

I've been in this situation on both sides of the screen. In Jade Regent the party samurai charged the boss and on the boss's next turn he crit the samurai, knocking him out easily from full HP at level 2. In a recent module I played a cleric and got disarmed. I tried to pick up my weapon and got crit on the AoO by a battleaxe-wielding barbarian - Level 3, dead from maximum hp. I've had bosses get crit and killed before they get a turn before. It's not something unique to the players, though I tend to hear more complaints about the dead character than the dead NPC.

Crits are random and they force players and GMs alike to adapt - perhaps you ambush an NPC travelling with the party in hopes of shaking them up but kill them on a crit. Suddenly you have to improvise and take the story in a new direction. A player challenges the villain to a duel, and somehow manages to pull through and vanquishes them a few encounters early. That has an impact on the story that everyone will remember for years. A party rushes into a dungeon eager to earn their first treasure haul and someone gets 1-shot in the first encounter forcing a retreat - in the future the party acts very cautiously, and the event causes the players to roleplay their responses to such a sudden death. Maybe one character starts taking more risks because their last day could be tomorrow and they want to experience everything while another who always dreamed of being a hero starts to understand that the reality of his job isn't as glamorous as they once believed. There is so much potential for great storytelling behind the random crits that allows you to explore different possibilities than you normally would. It sucks to lose a character but it isn't the end of the world unless you treat it as such. In my experience you only truly lose when you give up.


Headfirst wrote:
See, I don't think it is a complex issue. My argument is that low-level Pathfinder shouldn't be setup like rocket tag. 1-2 hits should only disable d6 classes. Now, to keep battles interesting and challenging, increase the number of enemies.

It's kind of interesting, really.

On the one hand, low level combat is fairly realistic. You're generally prone to seeing a lot of missing in both directions, but there's a lot of potential for someone to end up unconscious the first time they get hit, and only the most hardy of classes can really expect to still be up after a second hit (assuming no healing).

On the other hand, that's a pretty terrible play experience. Low level combat ends up being boring and drawn out because nobody can hit each other. When someone does finally hit, that's pretty much the end of the fight.

A lot of aspect of D&D (and thus Pathfinder) emulate real life fairly well at low levels. The Jumping example in The Alexandrian's Calibrating Your Expectations essay comes to mind. So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

Grand Lodge

ZZTRaider wrote:
So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

I'd rather not bring realism into the mix at all if possible; this is entirely a question of gameplay. All I want is to generally increase the survival rate of low-level characters by reducing the frequency and scale of critical hits caused by low-level monsters.

And it's actually quite simple. Instead of one orc with a falchion and a 17 Strength, why not have two orcs with clubs, small shields, and 13 Strength? Two attacks at 1d6+1 (20/x2) is much more manageable than one attack at 2d4+4 (18-20/x2). But, if you total it all up, 2d6+2 overall damage is actually a bit more than 2d4+4, yet the orcs with clubs aren't going to insta-kill PCs as often.


Head,

Do the thing you are proposing. There will be good and bad consequences. You'll make more adjustments. It's the DM cycle of life.

You are thinking about this mathematically and positively and your intended outcome is the betterment of the player experience. It's the right place to be.


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Some people enjoy that 'we could die at any moment' tension. If you don't like it, why not remove critical hits from the game entirely? As far as I can tell their main purpose is to add sudden death to the game.

Grand Lodge

I'm already doing this, have been for decades, and it works great. What I'm trying to do is spread the word to help other people ease new players into the game. Maybe, just maybe, someone from Paizo will read this and take it to heart, too, modifying future official content to not include so many deadly critical hits in low-level adventures.


I'll share a bit of anecdotal evidence that is fresh on my mind. My family recently started the "Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde" campaign in 3.5 with a fresh set of adventurers (Elf Druid, Human Fighter, Human Rogue, and Human Warlock). Between the Warlock's Eldritch Blast (1d6 damage that requires a ranged touch roll, for those who don't know) and the Fighter's Greatsword (2d6 + 1.5x STR) most fights ended fairly quickly. The one exception was the room where we encountered the 3rd level Hobgoblin Cleric and three Hobgoblin Skeletons. The Skeletons were wearing half-plate to bump their AC to 19, while the Cleric had enough armor for a 16 AC, plus heavy mace, plus spells. Even that encounter was going OK until the Cleric hit the Fighter with a Cause Moderate Wounds spell and rolled high on 2d8+3. Fighter goes down in one hit, and from there two other characters go down until the last woman standing (the Warlock) manages to defeat the last creature as the Fighter reaches -8 HP. The Warlock quickly steps to the Fighter and pours a potion down her gullet at -9 HP, after which the other characters (who made their stabilization rolls) decided it was a good time to rest for the day.

One of the exciting things about low-level play is that circumstances can turn on a dime. One of the bad things if you want to keep your characters alive is that circumstances can turn on a dime.


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LuniasM wrote:
Snowblind wrote:
LuniasM wrote:


Rynjin wrote:
Zombie, Medium Humanoid (CR 1/2): Slam +4, 1d6+4 (average 7.5 damage). Hit 45% of the time, and can drop most characters in two hits. Generally encounter in packs of 2-4.
You left out the bit where Zombies are permanently staggered. That drastically reduces their power, and then you have to account for player strategies - making 1 attack then using Acrobatics to move away is a perfectly valid strategy that all but neutralizes them as a threat. The DR is the biggest threat, but Slashing is a common damage type (I rarely see someone build around a Bludgeoning weapon, sadly. So many missed Hammer Time jokes). I wouldn't exactly call them a challenge even for a Level 1 party.
That tactic does not work well for most characters. Zombies can charge up to their move speed (as per normal for staggered creatures, but it is specifically noted in their stat block). Moving away just gives them more of an attack bonus from charging and potentially sends the acrobatics user prone(nice job there). You could potentially kite them with a bow or something, but that requires open space to maneuver in, and how often do you fight zombies in the open with plenty of room to maneuver without the zombies getting support from more dangerous threats.
Ah, forgot about that Standard Action Charge clause. That does make them a bit more of a threat. Nonetheless, they do lack action economy, and charging can be countered with a Brace weapon for automatic 2x damage or a reach weapon to trip on your AoO. Not as easy to pull off but you get the idea. Their reflex saves are also pretty low, so blasting could be effective.

Blasting is terrible vs zombies at low levels. Most zombies have at least two hit dice and toughness for 12+ Hp. When your blasting spells deal 1d4 damage and require you to be in fondling range of the zombies, you're just asking to die. I had a witch and wizard die in the same encounter this way because neither of them learned from their mistakes. One ran up and used shocking grasp for 3 damage and the other burning hands for 3, then the zombie proceeded to mash them into paste.

Likewise, weapons with brace are virtually all piercing weapons so the zombies are at best going to take normal damage from most low-level PCs since they're going to ignore the first 5 damage from piercing or bludgeoning weapons.

Tripping is legit, but mostly against humanoid zombies (animal zombies not so much) and even then said zombies tend to have a +1 BAB and a +2 or +3 Strength modifier which gives them a CMD of at least middling range, which means you might fail. It may also be asking to die if you don't have Improved Trip since you'll provoke.

Even reach weapons aren't certain because the zombies most easily tripped (humanoids) retain proficiency with their weapons which means you will likely encounter them with things like spears which even the reach playing field (spears being one of the most common weapons throughout history due to their simplicity and length).

What is less terrible is any sort of manipulation of terrain that prevents a zombie from charging or further hampers their already limited movement. Spells like grease or even over turning a table or chairs or anything that creates difficult terrain or cover helps a ton. Generally speaking your best bet is to actually brave the proverbial fire and let your friend with the greataxe/sword hack them to bits since ranged weapons suck against them.

Or use a lot of alchemist fire.


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Headfirst wrote:
ZZTRaider wrote:
So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

I'd rather not bring realism into the mix at all if possible; this is entirely a question of gameplay. All I want is to generally increase the survival rate of low-level characters by reducing the frequency and scale of critical hits caused by low-level monsters.

And it's actually quite simple. Instead of one orc with a falchion and a 17 Strength, why not have two orcs with clubs, small shields, and 13 Strength? Two attacks at 1d6+1 (20/x2) is much more manageable than one attack at 2d4+4 (18-20/x2). But, if you total it all up, 2d6+2 overall damage is actually a bit more than 2d4+4, yet the orcs with clubs aren't going to insta-kill PCs as often.

Um, no it isn't. It's 9 damage on average either way except the clubs hit can hit for up to 14 damage where the 2d4+4 caps at 12, until you account for critical threats which is more complicated.

And the reason you don't have two orcs with 13 Strength is because orcs you fight are orc warriors. Their base Str is 13 as normal for an NPC warrior. You're setting their base Str at 9, which is an orc pansy.
EDIT: Or an orc spellcaster which is another can of worms since it means they probably have other orc buddies who aren't wussies who are now 10 ft. tall wielding razor sharp airplane wings at 3d6+6.


Ashiel wrote:
Headfirst wrote:
ZZTRaider wrote:
So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

I'd rather not bring realism into the mix at all if possible; this is entirely a question of gameplay. All I want is to generally increase the survival rate of low-level characters by reducing the frequency and scale of critical hits caused by low-level monsters.

And it's actually quite simple. Instead of one orc with a falchion and a 17 Strength, why not have two orcs with clubs, small shields, and 13 Strength? Two attacks at 1d6+1 (20/x2) is much more manageable than one attack at 2d4+4 (18-20/x2). But, if you total it all up, 2d6+2 overall damage is actually a bit more than 2d4+4, yet the orcs with clubs aren't going to insta-kill PCs as often.

Um, no it isn't. It's 9 damage on average either way except the clubs hit can hit for up to 14 damage where the 2d4+4 caps at 12, until you account for critical threats which is more complicated.

Except the 9 damage from the 2 clubs can easily be split up between people or have only one hit. Which is the point. It's also less likely to crit, even with 2 rolls instead of one.

And I'd still rather have the (2d4+4(18-20/x2) falchion than a (1d8+4(x4) pickax, since that's really likely to kill on a crit, even if the falchion does more average damage.

Sovereign Court

thejeff wrote:
Except the 9 damage from the 2 clubs can easily be split up between people or have only one hit. Which is the point. It's also less likely to crit, even with 2 rolls instead of one.

True - but that's more of an argument to use goblins at level 1 instead of nerfing orcs to the point that they're not orcs anymore.

Grand Lodge

I totally agree that goblins are probably better for low-level adventures, but my overall argument is that a lot of low CR monsters should be tweaked in such a way as to reduce the alpha strike critical hits that can instantly take a full health character to negative Constitution.


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thejeff wrote:
Ashiel wrote:
Headfirst wrote:
ZZTRaider wrote:
So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

I'd rather not bring realism into the mix at all if possible; this is entirely a question of gameplay. All I want is to generally increase the survival rate of low-level characters by reducing the frequency and scale of critical hits caused by low-level monsters.

And it's actually quite simple. Instead of one orc with a falchion and a 17 Strength, why not have two orcs with clubs, small shields, and 13 Strength? Two attacks at 1d6+1 (20/x2) is much more manageable than one attack at 2d4+4 (18-20/x2). But, if you total it all up, 2d6+2 overall damage is actually a bit more than 2d4+4, yet the orcs with clubs aren't going to insta-kill PCs as often.

Um, no it isn't. It's 9 damage on average either way except the clubs hit can hit for up to 14 damage where the 2d4+4 caps at 12, until you account for critical threats which is more complicated.

Except the 9 damage from the 2 clubs can easily be split up between people or have only one hit. Which is the point. It's also less likely to crit, even with 2 rolls instead of one.

And I'd still rather have the (2d4+4(18-20/x2) falchion than a (1d8+4(x4) pickax, since that's really likely to kill on a crit, even if the falchion does more average damage.

The encounter that he was describing is actually more likely to end with dead PCs because he's doubling the orcs in exchange for giving them cruddy gear and bad stats, but now you have to inflict twice as much damage over the course of the fight and given the orc a partner that can cover his flanks or provide a flanking buddy or harass multiple foes at once making it harder to keep the orcs from geeking the squishies.

So you're dealing with the same total damage but doubling the HP and action economy of the encounter and saying "Look how great I nerfed it, it'll be so much easier to survive now!", which is ludicrous.

(>_<)


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Ashiel wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Ashiel wrote:
Headfirst wrote:
ZZTRaider wrote:
So, the question becomes, what do you actually want out of the game? Where do you want the balance point to be between realism and gameplay?

I'd rather not bring realism into the mix at all if possible; this is entirely a question of gameplay. All I want is to generally increase the survival rate of low-level characters by reducing the frequency and scale of critical hits caused by low-level monsters.

And it's actually quite simple. Instead of one orc with a falchion and a 17 Strength, why not have two orcs with clubs, small shields, and 13 Strength? Two attacks at 1d6+1 (20/x2) is much more manageable than one attack at 2d4+4 (18-20/x2). But, if you total it all up, 2d6+2 overall damage is actually a bit more than 2d4+4, yet the orcs with clubs aren't going to insta-kill PCs as often.

Um, no it isn't. It's 9 damage on average either way except the clubs hit can hit for up to 14 damage where the 2d4+4 caps at 12, until you account for critical threats which is more complicated.

Except the 9 damage from the 2 clubs can easily be split up between people or have only one hit. Which is the point. It's also less likely to crit, even with 2 rolls instead of one.

And I'd still rather have the (2d4+4(18-20/x2) falchion than a (1d8+4(x4) pickax, since that's really likely to kill on a crit, even if the falchion does more average damage.

The encounter that he was describing is actually more likely to end with dead PCs because he's doubling the orcs in exchange for giving them cruddy gear and bad stats, but now you have to inflict twice as much damage over the course of the fight and given the orc a partner that can cover his flanks or provide a flanking buddy or harass multiple foes at once making it harder to keep the orcs from geeking the squishies.

So you're dealing with the same total damage but doubling the HP and action economy of the encounter and saying "Look how great I nerfed it, it'll...

No. It's more likely to end in a TPK and probably more likely to end with characters down, depending on how challenging a fight it's supposed to be, but it's less likely to end with one PC dead and everyone else untouched. Which is the problem with even easy fights involving swingy crit builds. Either they're no challenge or someone dies.

The fight may actually be somewhat harder, but still less likely to leave a PC dead.


Ive noticed that I often started out the Lv. 1 parties on various giant bugs. Getting nearly eaten by a maggot teaches the pecking order quickly.


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thejeff wrote:

No. It's more likely to end in a TPK and probably more likely to end with characters down, depending on how challenging a fight it's supposed to be, but it's less likely to end with one PC dead and everyone else untouched. Which is the problem with even easy fights involving swingy crit builds. Either they're no challenge or someone dies.

The fight may actually be somewhat harder, but still less likely to leave a PC dead.

Yes. Now the fight is likely to last much longer and give more attacks against the PCs. The PCs have to output twice as much damage to resolve the threat so unless the PCs are all pushing damage really hard, they are more likely to suffer greater amounts of damage over the course of the fight.

Greater damage means people fall down. When all the people fall down, you have a dead party. The club wielding orcs (even these physically handicapped orcs) can still down a party member in a single round by just pummeling them with twice as many attacks since they're still dealing DPR enough to drop squishies in 1 round and most everyone else in 2 rounds. Once you're down, you're not contributing to taking them out and there's 100% more meat to carve through now and carving down one of them just means you cut their DPR in half, not ended it.

The idea that this is an easier encounter because a less than 10% chance to kill someone with a sudden big hit is still insane. If an orc with +4 to hit needs to hit AC 14 (lowballing it) the orc has a 15% chance to threaten a critical and a 60% to confirm it, bringing the chance for a big crit to a 9% chance to actually nuke someone for 4d4+8 damage. If they've got a 16 AC, it drops to 7.5%. If they've got a 20 AC (chainmail, 14 dex, heavy shield) then there's less than a 5% chance a threat roll will result in a nuked PC.

But no, let's double the HP/actions of the enemy team. That'll balance it out, yep. As opposed to just, I dunno, giving the orc a mace or something. That would be too complicated, right?


Ashiel wrote:
thejeff wrote:

No. It's more likely to end in a TPK and probably more likely to end with characters down, depending on how challenging a fight it's supposed to be, but it's less likely to end with one PC dead and everyone else untouched. Which is the problem with even easy fights involving swingy crit builds. Either they're no challenge or someone dies.

The fight may actually be somewhat harder, but still less likely to leave a PC dead.

Yes. Now the fight is likely to last much longer and give more attacks against the PCs. The PCs have to output twice as much damage to resolve the threat so unless the PCs are all pushing damage really hard, they are more likely to suffer greater amounts of damage over the course of the fight.

Greater damage means people fall down. When all the people fall down, you have a dead party. The club wielding orcs (even these physically handicapped orcs) can still down a party member in a single round by just pummeling them with twice as many attacks since they're still dealing DPR enough to drop squishies in 1 round and most everyone else in 2 rounds. Once you're down, you're not contributing to taking them out and there's 100% more meat to carve through now and carving down one of them just means you cut their DPR in half, not ended it.

The idea that this is an easier encounter because a less than 10% chance to kill someone with a sudden big hit is still insane. If an orc with +4 to hit needs to hit AC 14 (lowballing it) the orc has a 15% chance to threaten a critical and a 60% to confirm it, bringing the chance for a big crit to a 9% chance to actually nuke someone for 4d4+8 damage. If they've got a 16 AC, it drops to 7.5%. If they've got a 20 AC (chainmail, 14 dex, heavy shield) then there's less than a 5% chance a threat roll will result in a nuked PC.

But no, let's double the HP/actions of the enemy team. That'll balance it out, yep. As opposed to just, I dunno, giving the orc a mace or something. That would be too complicated, right?

Probably a better idea, IMO.

But it's that "less than a 5% chance" thing that bothers me. That's the whole point of the problem. It's an easy fight, unless you trip that 5% chance and someone dies. Or worse with the great axe approach, where the chance of a crit is even lower, but death is even more certain if you hit one. I don't mind hard fights. I mind easy fights where a lucky shot kills someone.

Grand Lodge

Ashiel, I think you've missed a key point I've been trying to make: The goal here isn't to make encounters easier. Indeed, as you've pointed out, two orcs will take longer to kill than one, meaning they might actually deal more damage over the course of the fight. That's fine.

Will party members still go down? Yeah, of course they will. But there's a big difference between going down after two rounds of an orc beating on you with a club and getting instantly, permanently killed by an orc in one lucky critical hit. Even low level characters have access to healing spells/potions/skills, they can recover from some of the party going down. Also, a DM can spread out the orcs when there are more of them.

But yeah, replacing the single orc's falchion with a mace would do it too.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber
Rynjin wrote:

HAHAHA oh man that encounter was hilarious for me (as the GM).

Not so great for the players though.

T'was the opposite for me when I DM'ed Captain Falcata...

Party witch won the initiative; cast hold person on falcata dude... he failed his save. The party rogue/ranger/gunslinger captain walked to him and CDG'ed his head off.

I was quite pissed. I had high hopes for that high crittin' guy.... :P


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Headfirst wrote:
Ashiel, I think you've missed a key point I've been trying to make: The goal here isn't to make encounters easier. Indeed, as you've pointed out, two orcs will take longer to kill than one, meaning they might actually deal more damage over the course of the fight. That's fine.

No, it's not fine. It means you have a greater risk of a TPK because instead of having a very small chance that one character is going to get chunked, you have a much larger chance that multiple PCs drop unconscious during the fight. With every PC that drops, damage output drops, resistance drops. So you're basically stacking it so that PCs have to do more damage to clear the fight but making it harder to avoid taking hits and dropping.

I'm not even getting into what I think about throwing handicapped orcs at the party because people don't like critical hits. Because that's really what this is about is not liking critical hits. It doesn't matter what the threat range is on the weapon, it's not liking that 2-3 hits worth of damage is going to kill someone.

Meanwhile, sleep + coup de grace.


Ashiel wrote:
Headfirst wrote:
Ashiel, I think you've missed a key point I've been trying to make: The goal here isn't to make encounters easier. Indeed, as you've pointed out, two orcs will take longer to kill than one, meaning they might actually deal more damage over the course of the fight. That's fine.

No, it's not fine. It means you have a greater risk of a TPK because instead of having a very small chance that one character is going to get chunked, you have a much larger chance that multiple PCs drop unconscious during the fight. With every PC that drops, damage output drops, resistance drops. So you're basically stacking it so that PCs have to do more damage to clear the fight but making it harder to avoid taking hits and dropping.

I'm not even getting into what I think about throwing handicapped orcs at the party because people don't like critical hits. Because that's really what this is about is not liking critical hits. It doesn't matter what the threat range is on the weapon, it's not liking that 2-3 hits worth of damage is going to kill someone.

Meanwhile, sleep + coup de grace.

or he could make the orcs slavers and not go for the kill, or he could scatter them out quite far from each other, have the others sleeping or otherwise unable to fight optimally(like rowing a boat and fighting back with oars rather than drop them and draw weapons...)

The OP's problem is not the dropping of a character in one hit... it's the outright killing of a character in one hit... which is a valid concern... however, I believe you are correct, the Orcs in this scenario seem to be rather unnecessary for that purpose... it would be better to use a weaker race altogether.


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Yeah. Why choose monsters that have specific edges and hindrances and then try to play opposite of those? If the threat of burst is too intense, just switch them up. It's not like there aren't tons of critters of low CR that have different schemes.

One thing that I find heartbreaking is how bad poison mechanics are in Pathfinder from a gameplay perspective. Poison used to mean something so having a fight with a bunch of CR 1/4 giant spiders that dealt 1d2-4 damage was still challenging because you were taking stat damage the whole time so even though your life was in almost no danger they were still painful and worked very well in mixed groups.

Unfortunately there is precious little to distinguish these enemies from one-another aside from their raw statistics. Orcs are melee incarnate, goblins will tear you apart in skirmishes, kobolds are surprisingly wily, and hobgoblins are just the warrior dudes, then you've got vermin and animals and so forth which are a little different here and there.

In all honesty though, goblins can and do wreck people if they aren't just made to suicide themselves. Your standard goblins are terrifying with massive stealth checks and the ability to seriously focus-fire down enemies.

I just don't see much point in defanging the monsters and I say this as someone who got too cocky and took an orc crit to the face on my last level 1 PC.


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M1k31 wrote:
or he could make the orcs slavers and not go for the kill, or he could scatter them out quite far from each other, have the others sleeping or otherwise unable to fight optimally(like rowing a boat and fighting back with oars rather than drop them and draw weapons...)

Also, I wanted to point out that, again, I don't see the point of handicapping enemies just to handicap them. Are our heroes so grossly fragile that they can't risk death and must fight the paddle-orcs?

Quote:
The OP's problem is not the dropping of a character in one hit... it's the outright killing of a character in one hit... which is a valid concern... however, I believe you are correct, the Orcs in this scenario seem to be rather unnecessary for that purpose... it would be better to use a weaker race altogether.

See this axe? See how it's buried in Johnny's head? Johnny's actually kind of happy that he DID die after that hit.


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Ashiel wrote:
M1k31 wrote:
or he could make the orcs slavers and not go for the kill, or he could scatter them out quite far from each other, have the others sleeping or otherwise unable to fight optimally(like rowing a boat and fighting back with oars rather than drop them and draw weapons...)

Also, I wanted to point out that, again, I don't see the point of handicapping enemies just to handicap them. Are our heroes so grossly fragile that they can't risk death and must fight the paddle-orcs?

My point was that he could minimize the combat efficiency of the increased numbers to make them closer to the original difficulty... if he needs to. The OP is looking at this from a video game standpoint, level one is closest to the tutorial stage... when is the last time you died in a tutorial?

Dying your first time in this game can really suck if you die within the first few rolls, especially if you spend all sorts of time researching class, feats, archetypes, spells, race, skills... you can easily spend an hour creating your first character mechanically, if you roleplay it that can be double that time, if you die in your opponents first crit that could be only 3 rolls of the die(perception, Initiative, opponents attack roll)... which is what maybe 5 minutes of play including dialog?

What has a player learned about the game in that time? Does that teach them anything about how to build a character? Are they likely to play again? These are all valid questions the OP is concerned about.

Grand Lodge

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Ashiel wrote:
I don't see the point of handicapping enemies just to handicap them.

See, this is why you don't quite understand what this thread is about yet. You still think we're suggesting a reduction in difficulty. The overall difficulty of the game can remain intact even as the insta-kill odds are reduced.

Instantly, permanently killing a newbie entirely because of bad luck is poor RPG design form in any medium.

Shadow Lodge

Headfirst wrote:
Instantly, permanently killing a newbie entirely because of bad luck is poor RPG design form in any medium.

Or it's a good lesson that death can happen, sometimes for no reason. And if that's what the group wants, those that learn that lesson and stick around will be welcome. Those that don't probably don't jive with the rest of the group.


LuniasM wrote:
Rynjin wrote:

Never played Kingmaker, but Wrath is notorious for being pretty much the easiest AP Paizo has ever made (even if the players don't get Mythic tiers).

Look at Reign of Winter or Carrion Crown some time.

Kingmaker is very swingy. One day you'll fight a few bandits, nothing too hard, and the next you can come across an Owlbear or Will-o'-Wisp. And that's book 1.

Wrath is pretty easy overall, but there are a few fights that caused problems - the Huecuva was almost a TPK, the Alchemist was very frustrating due to Smoke Bomb and hit-and-run tactics, and a certain enemy in Book 2 drained the party's paladin from Level 6 to Level 1 in a single turn, and nearly crit on an Enervation too.

Kingmaker is sandbox with no enforced order for the outdoor map encounters (there are triggers for the set events). There is nothing preventing characters at first level from heading directly to the 4th module's content, except their own ability to realize they are in over their heads and to pick a different direction. My party chewed through the low-level content with few issues. They wound up running from spider swarms (as they should have; they had no area effect damage) and came back better prepared. They entirely missed the hidden content of a couple of hexes. Every single high crit multiple or high damage weapon that had me a bit nervous, was in the party's hands the next fight.

Grand Lodge

TOZ wrote:
Headfirst wrote:
Instantly, permanently killing a newbie entirely because of bad luck is poor RPG design form in any medium.
Or it's a good lesson that death can happen, sometimes for no reason. And if that's what the group wants, those that learn that lesson and stick around will be welcome. Those that don't probably don't jive with the rest of the group.

This issue has less to do with group dynamics than it does with a new player's first impressions of Pathfinder (or RPGs in general). Both are important, but I can't help but think there are a good number of people out there who might be huge Pathfinder and/or RPG fans right now had their first experience with the game not ended prematurely with a poorly designed low level adventure.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I'm well aware of the problems of new player hazing. I watched a 1st level druid get claw/claw/rended by a troll after the player spent over an hour rolling her character for her first session. Obviously, she didn't come back to our 'introductory campaign'. Some groups prefer that such players not come back, of course.


Gevaudan wrote:

{. . .}

My answer is: yes, as long as the DM is teaching them before they get 1-shot what it is that can 1-shot them and why.

Because there are assigned checks for magic/planes/nature, people check those things often before and in combat. Weapons don't have an assigned check, because it's assumed that a martial proficiency character can identify any weapon.

This creates a disconnect between the player, who might not realize that the dude on the raft is wielding a weapon that is prone to 1HKO, and the PC, who knows immediately and if they were actually in control, would be much more careful or act more desperately.

Solving that disconnect is paramount for the player and DM.

To expand on this, offer the players Knowledge Checks about their enemy's weapons, except instead of using Knowledge (something), the relevant skill is Profession (Soldier), Craft (Weapons), or Profession (Sailor) (the last being for nautical weapons), with Fighter Training adding a bonus to any such roll (probably 1/2 Fighter level or something like that, to put it in line with things like Trapfinding). The point is not so much the knowledge that the characters get out of each individual check (although this is useful), but to get the players accustomed to adjusting their strategies on the fly to what they see their enemies wielding.

With respect to group/GM dynamics and the concept of "teaching a lesson", it might be worth a visit to one of the threads about harsh GMs, especially the parts about gameplay in 1st Edition days . . . .


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Headfirst wrote:
Instantly, permanently killing a newbie entirely because of bad luck is poor RPG design form in any medium.

Perhaps the solution is to change the RPG design rather than change the encounters. House rules are an option.

Paizo makes a product called the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck. It adds randomness to the effect of critical hits. For example, a critical stab with a spear could Rupture Abdominal Cavity for double damage and 1 Con damage. Very few of the cards say triple damage. For a weapon that deals x3 damage, draw two cards and pick one. The extra effects are brutal, but less likely to kill than triple damage.

Rynjin wrote:
Likewise at low levels combat maneuvers are harder to build into, and probably harder for a low level party to deal with in the first place, while still not being partouclarly "realistic" unless you have a couple of guys going around whacking the Prone or Grapple or Disarmed dudes in the face.

Most of the x3 crit weapons are axes. I remember an episode of Conquest TV series talking about axes (The Axman Cometh. The host argued that the ax was a psychological weapon that put opponents on the defense because of its potential to kill in one blow. Another episode dealt with the weapons of Romans vs. barbarians. The Roman legionaires had standard gladius (shortsword), legion shield (heavy wooden shield), and soliferum (pilum javelin). The barbarians varied and some used axes as shield breakers.

The realism is that axes were an intimidating barbarian weapon. And sundering shields with berserker strength was part of that realism. The triple damage on the axes was supposed to represent that in D&D 3rd Edition. But Pathfinder has better sundering rules, so perhaps we can represent that better nowadays.

Let me borrow an old idea from the Homebrew/House Rules/Homebrew subforum: Alternative Criticals by Svipdag. The idea is to have critical hits perform combat maneuvers instead of extra damage.

If a x3 crit ax has a critical hit, the confirmation role is a combat maneuver check instead. On a successful deck, the weapon deals double damage to the target and also performs a sunder on an item held or worn by the target. This combat maneuver does not provoke an attack of opportunity, but the combat maneuver check confirmation roll will benefit from any bonuses to sunder attempts. If the crit was during a sunder maneuver, then the two rolls for damage are combined into triple damage on the item.

A x4 crit pickax acts like an ax, but its sunder damage is doubled, too. A x3 crit hammer or punching dagger performs a bull rush, a x3 crit brace weapon performs a trip (great for interrupting charges), a x3 crit reach weapon performs a reposition, and a crit with a weapon with a combat maneuver special property performs that maneuver. If a weapon qualifies for multiple combat maneuvers, pick one.

This does steal some glory from the feats Bull Rush Strike, Disarming Strike, Repositioning Strike, Sundering Strike, and Tripping Strike. We can allow them to stack with the weapon's own combat maneuver, if they match.

Grand Lodge

Let me approach this subject from a different angle:

Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

In my home games, I have a house rule where no character can be instantly killed. You always bleed for at least one round, even if you have 6 hp and an ogre crits you for 40. This rule only applies to damage taken in combat, though; you can't just jump off a 200 ft. cliff because your allies are standing at the bottom and can quickly stabilize you.

Not only is this a bit more forgiving (we have a group that really loves their characters, treating them like people and not just chess pieces in a board game), but it also introduces fun situations where the whole team has to work together to save party members when they go down. We had one battle where the fighter suffered a critical hit that reduced him way below his Constitution. The only way he could be stabilized, though was one character moving full speed to get to him. Another character had to ready his action to toss him a healer's kit as he passed by. It was a hectic scene, but it all worked out in the end.


Actually, I'm more likely to let the dice play out as they roll at 1st or 2nd because the player hasn't had them so long they've become that attached.

I try not to kill my players - have my foes use non-optimized tactics, non-lethal blows, etc. But even still, stuff happens and sometimes a character will bite it. Easier to deal with early on than 5 levels in.

Of course, at higher levels, death is an inconvenience, not a game ender.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Headfirst wrote:

Let me approach this subject from a different angle:

Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

Yes and no. I judge how the table feels about character death, crits, and character attachment. I will do what I can to make sure characters get a chance to react rather than die without ever acting. But if the dice continue to work against the party, I let them fall.

I do prefer to start games at 2nd or 3rd level to help with new character survivability. And I am tired of playing at 1st level after starting so many campaigns there that never progressed into the unknown level ranges above.

I also consider using the Death Flag rules found here.


PFS just has an inherit difficulty with the 1-2 subtier of the 1-5 tier. That game will be seeing, in an established group, an even spread of lvl 1-3; so the poor lvl 1s end up fighting a winter wolf when they should be killing rats.

So instead you get a new meta-game: If you have a lvl 3, send him in first. If you end up with a full group of lvl 1s, use the system rules in place to fight smarter than you will ever fight again (Defensive actions, deny full round attacks, reach weapon trips and disarms, Flank, Aid another, cover, visibility, acid flasks).


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Headfirst wrote:

Let me approach this subject from a different angle:

Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

It's never happened, actually. But yeah, I'd let the dice fall as they will. I'm not really squeamish about killing PCs, of any level, including via Coup de Grace if the situation makes sense for it, as our 1st level Wizard learned in Carrion Crown.

Dark Archive

Headfirst wrote:

Let me approach this subject from a different angle:

Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

It depends on player skill level and character optimization. I never fudge, but I will sometimes design encounters (in advance, not on the fly) in response to the level of character optimization. My players always attempt to optimize so I have the reverse of your problem, default encounters at CR in printed product is a cakewalk.

I have no problem with instant kill rules. In my current non-PF/non-d20 game there is a constant threat of Critical hit = death, as an effect with little to do with the players remaining hit points. This is what my players are used to and are 100% ok with as far as the system goes but each group and GM is different.
What is your group expectations of risks, player mortality rates, heroics and mechanics to support such in an RPG? What are yours?

Headfirst wrote:

In my home games, I have a house rule where no character can be instantly killed. You always bleed for at least one round, even if you have 6 hp and an ogre crits you for 40. This rule only applies to damage taken in combat, though; you can't just jump off a 200 ft. cliff because your allies are standing at the bottom and can quickly stabilize you.

Not only is this a bit more forgiving (we have a group that really loves their characters, treating them like people and not just chess pieces in a board game), but it also introduces fun situations where the whole team has to work together to save party members when they go down. We had one battle where the fighter suffered a critical hit that reduced him way below his Constitution. The only way he could be stabilized, though was one character moving full speed to get to him. Another character had to ready his action to toss him a healer's kit as he passed by. It was a hectic scene, but it all worked out in the end.

Another idea (which may have been mentioned) is to provide x2 or x3 max 1st level hit points for PCs and critical NPCs (named PC allies, BBEG) to increase durability at low levels. Maybe also allow for a faster per day healing rate (1/2 Con +level) so that they can also recover this higher base and get back into the action after a days rest.

The extra hp can help with a few issues beyond crits, it can also alleviate some 15-minute workday problems as the players will be able to take on a few extra encounters per day before requiring a need to rest after a few fights.
While extra hp are great they are not really as powerful as they may initially seem and all you are doing is setting a different math for survivability/difficulty level of the game for starting characters.

What they allow for:
- Longer play sessions before breaks (hp are a resource)
- Less need for healing throughout the day
- More potential risk taking or heroics
- Lower mortality rate at low levels due to crits or bad luck in fights.


Headfirst wrote:

Let me approach this subject from a different angle:

Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

I never fudge rolls. I make all my attack and damage rolls right out in public in front of everyone.

I do redesign encounters to make them more interesting. Fewer nuclear options, more mooks are the general changes. I don't like the 1 bad guy against a party of five. I'd rather see 1 bad guy plus four or five mooks against the party.

Shadow Lodge

M1k31 wrote:
My point was that he could minimize the combat efficiency of the increased numbers to make them closer to the original difficulty... if he needs to. The OP is looking at this from a video game standpoint, level one is closest to the tutorial stage... when is the last time you died in a tutorial?

Except level 1 isn't a tutorial in most games. Experienced players also often play from level 1 in multiple campaigns. They already know how the game works, and some of them like the grittier, more lethal feel of the first few levels, as compared to the larger-than-life deeds of mid to high level characters.

Adjusting difficulty for new players is a valid concern, but it's not identical with adjusting difficulty at level 1. For new players, Paizo can (and does) release specially designed material such as the Beginner Box, Strategy Guide, or We Be Goblins. It would also be beneficial to GMs to have resources on helping new players and adjusting game difficulty in general (such as by point buy or using hero points to reduce sudden death), though I'm not sure where to put those given that the Gamemastery Guide has been published.

TriOmegaZero wrote:
I'm well aware of the problems of new player hazing. I watched a 1st level druid get claw/claw/rended by a troll after the player spent over an hour rolling her character for her first session. Obviously, she didn't come back to our 'introductory campaign'. Some groups prefer that such players not come back, of course.

And those groups are perfectly capable of driving off new players no matter how official modules and bestiary entries are written. Note: the first level druid was killed by a troll, typically CR 5.

Headfirst wrote:
Do any of you actually insta-kill 1st level characters with critical hits, or do you fudge rolls, redesign encounters, or introduce house rules to avoid it?

I can't remember it ever happening to a PC in any game I've been in, as a GM or player. Maybe some of the other GMs have fudged - I haven't. My group tends to play very cautiously for the first few levels, and earn a lot of our first level through exploration. We also see a lot more goblins than orcs and use higher stats so even the squishies have decent dex and con.

Liberty's Edge

My last 2 games' first encounters:

A group of cultists (com2) with daggers and an adept5 leader, also armed with a dagger and blah spells.

A group of greensting and then ghost scorpions. (The greensting were actually more trouble - look at that AC!)

Yeah, low damage and no particular threat from crits is the way to go for the first level or 2.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Weirdo wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
I'm well aware of the problems of new player hazing. I watched a 1st level druid get claw/claw/rended by a troll after the player spent over an hour rolling her character for her first session. Obviously, she didn't come back to our 'introductory campaign'. Some groups prefer that such players not come back, of course.
And those groups are perfectly capable of driving off new players no matter how official modules and bestiary entries are written. Note: the first level druid was killed by a troll, typically CR 5.

Yes, that was my point.

Shadow Lodge

I know, I am emphasizing your point.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Excellent! We are on the same page.

It was an unfortunate series of events. Druid was on watch the first night, GM randomly rolled a troll, druid wins initiative, calls a warning and charges. Next round, troll has druid in full attack range.

Claw, claw, rend, neg 10, druid is in two pieces.

Grand Lodge

EldonG wrote:

My last 2 games' first encounters:

A group of cultists (com2) with daggers and an adept5 leader, also armed with a dagger and blah spells.

A group of greensting and then ghost scorpions. (The greensting were actually more trouble - look at that AC!)

Yeah, low damage and no particular threat from crits is the way to go for the first level or 2.

These sound like great battles to throw at a low-level party and it's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for in this thread! Let's springboard off of this and brainstorm some other great encounters for low-level parties.

Grand Lodge

TriOmegaZero wrote:
I also consider using the Death Flag rules found here.

Oh snap, I really like that death flag rule, though not exactly as written (with the conviction pool and all). There's a great system in there somewhere, where players get to decide when 'stuff gets real,' turning up the risk in exchange for some other benefit.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Headfirst wrote:
There's a great system in there somewhere, where players get to decide when 'stuff gets real,' turning up the risk in exchange for some other benefit.

Yep, that's what I love about it. You can have the "I want it to be real and dangerous and know that I survived by my wits and luck" player alongside the "I don't want to lose my character to random chance" player with no problem whatsoever, assuming the players buy in. The first guy always has his flag raised, the second never does. The rest of the party can find the balance that works for them.

Grand Lodge

Auxmaulous wrote:
Another idea (which may have been mentioned) is to provide x2 or x3 max 1st level hit points for PCs

That would do it, but I'm wary of changing things that affect the rest of the game's progression. How about this: What if 1st level characters received another full HD of hit points as a one-time, unreplenishable gift of temporary hit points? For example, if your fighter starts with 12 hp, he also gets a pool of 12 temporary hp that, once gone, are gone forever.

Another difference is that these temporary hit points are on the "bottom of the stack," unlike normal temporary hp. In other words, you lose them between 0 and -1 instead of when you're at maximum. So, our 12 hp fighter (14 Con) gets hit by a goblin for 6 points, no big deal, now he's got 6 left. Then he gets crit by an arrow for 24. Crap, game over, right? That takes him to -18. Not so fast: He takes the first 6 of that 24 to his regular hp, but the next 12 are all eaten up by those one-time temporary hit points. When all is said and done, he's been reduced to -6, down, but still alive and able to be saved by his friends. Be more careful next time, fighter!

While this wouldn't entirely rid the game of unlucky crits insta-killing 1st level characters, it would certainly alleviate it.

Liberty's Edge

Headfirst wrote:
EldonG wrote:

My last 2 games' first encounters:

A group of cultists (com2) with daggers and an adept5 leader, also armed with a dagger and blah spells.

A group of greensting and then ghost scorpions. (The greensting were actually more trouble - look at that AC!)

Yeah, low damage and no particular threat from crits is the way to go for the first level or 2.

These sound like great battles to throw at a low-level party and it's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for in this thread! Let's springboard off of this and brainstorm some other great encounters for low-level parties.

Well, it depends on where you want the campaign to go. There's a creepy cult in my online game...in the other, it was an intro area for a buried tomb that the party has yet to get to, in a desert area.

Once you have an idea of where the game is headed, it's not too hard - look for d3 or d4 damage with no huge crit multiples...

Another game I ran started off with street gangs selling drugs - the drugs slowly broke down resistance to suggestion, and there was a group planning to abuse it. Those early encounters involved commoner thugs, with a warrior for backup at best. Mostly, subdual damage.

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