Encounter Scaling


Pathfinder Society

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

Hi, I just wanted to spend some time talking about how we do scaling.

Even ignoring the difference in power level between PCs of equal level from things like optimization, synergy, play skill etc.,

inevitably, groups at the edge of tier calculations will potentially find the difficulty problematic in one direction or the other.

Examples of groups that must play 4 player adjustment in Subtier 6-7 in a 3-7

7,7,7,7
4,5,7,7
5,5,5,4,4

Either one is likely to encounter multiple CR 8 encounters over the course of their adventure. (9 - 1 for 4-player adjustment, assuming that the adjustment is done properly)

The first group will have a "challenging encounter"
The second group will have a "hard encounter"
The third group will have an "epic encounter"

---

I think the most dangerous spot to be difficulty wise in PFS is in-between tiers, playing up with the 4 player adjustment.

---

Is this a problem?
If so is there an easy way to fix it that doesn't complicate running older scenarios any more than we already do?

5/5

It is an issue and I don't see any way to fix it, certainly not for older scenarios. For newer ones you could look at introducing more subtiers and insist people play within them but that will make putting together tables more difficult.

People just need to be more aware of what they are playing, what sort of game they are in and remember that running away is an option.

I ran Sealed Gate this week with levels 8,8,9,10,10, so high tier with the 4 player adjustment. They didn't have a single full caster and only the Rogue had a

Spoiler:
swarmbane clasp

It was carnage but they managed to flee. They lost some gold and access to what was in the camp but they all lived and completed the rest but not without difficulty.

That really is where the difference in make up becomes start. My Sealed Gate group were Rogue, Hunter, Paladin, Fighter and Rogue/Magus. A group of Cleric, Sorcerer, Ranger, Barbarian and Oracle would probably have been absolutely fine.

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

For season 0-3, if nobody's in the high tier, you don't have to play up. That rule doesn't apply to newer scenarios however.

In the 4,4,5,5,5 case, I'd propose that they may want to use a couple of pregens to either reduce APL, or get more ready for the high tier.

EDIT: or of course take a look at their character folders, maybe someone has an alternative PC they can play that would shift the tier.

I do try to spot this before it happens and discuss it with players if they're heading into a weird tier.

Silver Crusade 3/5

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I started a thread about this in the Spring.

I also included many examples of groups that must play up under the current rules that are likely to get creamed.

The majority opinion seemed to be that the APL system works as intended.

Edit: just to choose one example. Consider the following group showing up to play #6-02: The Silver Mount Collection (Tier 3-7):

    4, 4, 4, 4, 7

Their total party level is 23. Their APL = 23/5 = 4.6, so they play up with the 4-player adjustment. Good luck!

Silver Crusade 3/5

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Ascalaphus wrote:
In the 4,4,5,5,5 case, I'd propose that they may want to use a couple of pregens to either reduce APL, or get more ready for the high tier.

As we saw in the thread about pregens, there are GMs in my local area who will not let us play pregens if we have characters in tier.

Silver Crusade 5/5 5/5

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The problem is greatly exacerbated by the difference in difficulty in different scenarios.

I gave a scathing 1 star review to Sealed Gate partly because it was so much more difficult than players have been trained to expect and build their characters for. I tell beginning players that PFS is fairly forgiving and they do not need to bring hyperoptimized characters to succeed. That should be more consistently true than it is.

Obviously difficulty is very hard to gauge. It depends so much on the abilities of the characters and players, how well fitted the group is for a scenario, etc. But some of the scenarios seem very much like the author was "out to get the players" by grabbing things overpowered for their CR or by giving them huge circumstance bonuses not factored into their CR (eg, setting up virtually guaranteed surprise attack rounds with high initiative monsters is significantly more difficult than the CR tends to imply, multiple "Save or Suck" effects get very silly as eventually the odds of failing a save become quite high).

We can't change the existing scenarios. But one can definitely hope for a more level playing field in the future.

Its been proposed in the past but part of the solution may be some form of fan grading of the scenarios. Some indication ahead of time that a scenario is going to be more difficult, bring your A game.

I have NO problem with the difficulty level of The Waking Rune, for example. The characters and players know what they're facing (or should). The problem is when the scenario blurb and the opening briefing don't make it obvious that they're in deep waters.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Captain, California—Sacramento aka FLite

I recently played to X.6->play up scenarios in a row.

In the first one, there was a near TPK as we were mostly level 1-2 and none of us could touch the NPC with DR and fast healing. (The druid who pulled us up to high tier played suboptimally, and wound up with no offensive spells, trying to fight the thing with a club...)

The second time the two high tier pcs went down (as in full hp to con dead) in the first two rounds of the first combat (in the first 30 minutes of game) to a pair of natural 20s attached to x4 crits. Leaving 3 low tier players, two of them played by kids, to get slaughtered. The GM was so flustered and chagrined that he just walked away from the table and we all agreed to just pretend that night never happened. (at which point I ran something else instead.)

At this point I will play an upper tier pregen or leave the table rather than play an X.6 game.

1/5

I'm sure I'll provoke the ire of some GMs, but when I run a game, I will scale "monster intelligence" to the group to bring the difficulty down if needed. My objective is never to kill the players, rather to ensure everyone at the table has a good time. This is a game and people play games for fun. To me, that outweighs any argument you can throw at me as to why "I'm doing it wrong".

When I run games, I believe that I am on the same team as the players. I want them to win. I do try to knock at least one player down over the course of a scenario, just to keep them on their toes. I'll also provide more liberal circumstance bonuses (GM discretion) to outmatched groups that do a little thinking. I also do everything I can to encourage creativity and roleplaying, being a roleplaying game and all.

In my opinion, if you're running games with the goal of killing players, you're likely killing fun as well. Some groups do appreciate difficulty more than others, and if I know the group I'm running a game for and know they like things more challenging, I'll run it accordingly for their enjoyment. That said, generally groups that appreciate challenge are so well optimized that they steamroll most encounters.

I also believe in being a bit more forgiving in lower tiers. I have no desire to kill a new player at level 1 or 2. What a huge buzzkill. However, by the time you've made it to level 10 or 11, you've seen a lot of what PFS will throw at you. I expect you to a be bit more prepared and the VC sending players on a quest may even make gearing recommendations if I feel they are needed.

Anyway, the most important point that I want to convey here is that the reason PFS is successful and continues to grow is that people playing it have fun. Anything you can do to increase enjoyment as a GM of a table is helping PFS. Anything you do that decreases enjoyment is hurting PFS as a whole. Just something I believe everyone should keep in mind when playing at or running tables.

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

x4 crits in low-level adventures seem to be a thing of the dark times of season 0-1, when writers had yet to realize how enormously bad an idea that was in terms of writing a fun adventure. Even though it makes perfect sense as a favored weapon for the god of sudden accidental death. Fun > Flavor.

Grading scenarios by difficulty is, well, difficult. Reading reviews can help, but not every reviewer is equally representative. It's easier to know if a review would apply to your group if the review mentions what kind of party had that easy/hard time. ("They had four barbarians and thought the enemies went down easy.")

What annoys me most is when an author manipulates the CR grading system to produce encounters that are technically within the limits of the tier, but are really much harder. A level 2 barbarian is supposedly only a CR 1 encounter, and two of them a CR 3. But their to-hit and damage output can easily kill a L1 character with a lucky roll.

Likewise you have shenanigans like adding a Young template to a monster with weapon finesse or that relies on ranged attacks. Supposed downscaling increases its to-hit by +3.

Terrain that really favours enemies is supposed to be worth +1 EL, but that's often ignored. Like everyone having to squeeze into a room where they then get fireballed and fast-bombed by an optimized alchemist.

I'm fine with the challenge, but let's be honest about how hard it is, instead of pretending it's easy because that's what blind faith in normal CR counting rules tells you.

The Exchange

I'm ok with the the encounter design and tier system as is because a huge majority of the time scenarios actually provide much less experience than an appropriate group should receive to level in 3 adventures. The game normally was designed on the safe side.

I had actually made an example of this before. Something such as the Refuge of Time would need the low tier playing high tier and the high tier playing at +2-3 more cr to even get enough exp for 1/3rd a level as appropriate.

The fact is the scenarios are actually easy and shortchanging you on an appropriate game as is.

Sealed Gate:

I recently played this with a decently prepared group of 4 people. We played high tier hard mode and I was the only one out of subtier (9, 10, 11, 11). It met my expectations for a difficult adventure and was the first time I had a character die, but with the extra prestige society has the death didn't even cut into my normal wealth. Went back and rated the game 5/5 because it was so much fun.

I think prestige is enough reason to not worry about CR and tiers overly much. Every character has built in extra wealth and has free access to spells and gear as they see fit.

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

@Ragoz: I'm not saying scenarios should be easier or harder; I'm saying authors should be honest about how hard they are, instead of manipulating corner cases of CR calculation.

The Exchange

I was just saying I think it's ok if something gets slightly stronger from say, the young template, because normally any given encounter is 2-3 cr below where it should be anyway. It could be a tad misleading but really doesn't matter in the end.

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

Ragoz: when the low subtier has the same monster as the high subtier, but with a Young template, that increases its AC and to-hit?

Silver Crusade 5/5 5/5

trik wrote:

That said, generally groups that appreciate challenge are so well optimized that they steamroll most encounters.

I believe that this is actually very false.

Players that appreciate a challenge at the table do NOT build over optimized characters. Players with over optimized characters often SAY that they like challenge (and quite possibly think they do) but if they really wanted a challenge in play why would they build their power houses?


CR corner cutting can be very lethal.

One instance of low tier Young Template Shenanigans in particular...:

5-04; The Stolen Heir.

The Young Template doesn't affect the DC of the (at tier 1-2, save-or-die) gaze attacks of Basalisks.

The Exchange

pauljathome wrote:

I believe that this is actually very false.

Players that appreciate a challenge at the table do NOT build over optimized characters. Players with over optimized characters often SAY that they like challenge (and quite possibly think they do) but if they really wanted a challenge in play why would they build their power houses?

So they can have fun playing 4 man Sealed Gate hard mode out of subtier (still scary, did die)!

Ascalaphus wrote:
when the low subtier has the same monster as the high subtier, but with a Young template, that increases its AC and to-hit?

It still loses some other stats. My point being if both encounters already aren't hard enough, and the lower one makes it harder than it would seem it still has only brought it to an appropriate level.

Here's a thread I made a while back about this. I didn't continue the project but this is an example of what I mean. You'll notice the massive shortcutting of level appropriate exp needed even in a 'hard' adventure:

Check the Refuge of Time tab

Silver Crusade 5/5

Ragoz, there are some pretty egregious examples of things getting made significantly more powerful by the young template. The classic example that comes to mind are young shadows, I remember hearing about them, but I'm not sure if they actually show up in a PFS scenario. Also, the BBEG in The Sanos abduction is made more dangerous by the young template it gets in the low subtier, it gets much harder to hit and it gets better at hitting for reasons I won't say outright but are pretty easy to infer. Those are just off the top of my head.

Liberty's Edge

It's all just formulas and numbers to try to give players an idea of how difficult it might be. Player skill and experience, class mix, GM experience, strings of bad luck, all have far more impact on the challenge of the encounters than the tier calculation, but these variables can't be quantified. As the GM , if you don't think your players are able to play up, then don't. Blindly following a simplistic formula doesn't do anyone any favours. You can also offer to play up for the first encounter and then down shift if they are getting creamed, they lose some GP for the lower tier, but hopefully live, learn and still have fun.

Certain classes skew the average dramatically, Musketmasters, Summoners, Zen Archers for example, often drop the CR by 2 or 3 levels when played well.

If the groups given were my local players, the results would be:

Cake walk (any season/almost any mix)
Some Challenge (depending on who/what was 7th and season)
Significant Challenge (season 4+ only)

It's not that the characters are over optimized or the GMs take it easy on them (especially me), they are just good players working well together for the most part.

BTW Kyle Baird is the only author who consistently makes the challenge match the CR. IMHO.

Silver Crusade 3/5

EricMcG wrote:
As the GM , if you don't think your players are able to play up, then don't. Blindly following a simplistic formula doesn't do anyone any favours. You can also offer to play up for the first encounter and then down shift if they are getting creamed, they lose some GP for the lower tier, but hopefully live, learn and still have fun.

Eric, did you know that we are not allowed to do that in PFS?

Scarab Sages 5/5 5/5 Venture-Captain, Washington—Spokane

The Fox wrote:
EricMcG wrote:
As the GM , if you don't think your players are able to play up, then don't. Blindly following a simplistic formula doesn't do anyone any favours. You can also offer to play up for the first encounter and then down shift if they are getting creamed, they lose some GP for the lower tier, but hopefully live, learn and still have fun.
Eric, did you know that we are not allowed to do that in PFS?

The Fox is correct. You are not allowed to alter encounters in a PFS run scenario/module/AP. You must run as written in the scenario and per the APL calculated prior to the start of the game. Running the scenario in the way you have described is in violation of the Guide to Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild.


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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

I think some of this onus is on the players. I have a couple characters which don't do well in high tier. When it looks like the table is swinging high I state that I am not comfortable playing up. If the group ends up playing up I walk away.

It is always ok to walk away from a table you do not feel comfortable playing at before the game has started.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Captain, California—Sacramento aka FLite

InfiniteTimelines wrote:

CR corner cutting can be very lethal.

** spoiler omitted **

Actually:

Spoiler:
the whole party can be turned back to flesh for 2 PP (not 2 pp each, 2 pp) Break Enchantment

Silver Crusade 5/5

FLite wrote:
InfiniteTimelines wrote:

CR corner cutting can be very lethal.

** spoiler omitted **

Actually:

** spoiler omitted **

I'm not so sure about that:
A basilisk's gaze will petrify a creature as flesh to stone, which is a sixth level spell with a duration of instantaneous. Now, break enchantment can reverse an instaneous effect, so we look good so far. But there's this line in the spell that leads me to believe otherwise:

"If the spell is one that cannot be dispelled by dispel magic, break enchantment works only if that spell is 5th level or lower."

Since flesh to stone can't be dispelled by dispel magic, we have to look at what spell level flesh to stone is, which is six. So, unless there's something I'm missing, break enchantment won't fix somebody petrified by a basilisk.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Captain, California—Sacramento aka FLite

UndeadMitch wrote:
FLite wrote:
InfiniteTimelines wrote:

CR corner cutting can be very lethal.

** spoiler omitted **

Actually:

** spoiler omitted **

** spoiler omitted **

Hmm... Someone I generally trust told me it worked... But that may be carry over from 3.5 (apparently it worked there.) Some people seem to be saying it still works, but general consenus seems to be no.

Anyway, there is still

Spoiler:
stone to flesh, 660 gold, or 2 pp. Or of course, basalisk blood, if someone can make the knowledge check :)

5/5

FLite wrote:

Anyway, there is still

** spoiler omitted **

Sure, although that risks

Spoiler:
a DC15 Fort save or die and with no benefits from magic items or buffs
3/5

Let midtiers choose to play down with 6 person non-adjustments? I absolutely HATE any game where we end up 5 players and midtier. Not once, to my recollection, has such a game (playing up with 4 person adjustment) felt at all correctly balanced for the party.

5/5 RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

Players used to have the flexibility to decide on what sub-tier to play an adventure when the APL was midtier. Unfortunately because of too many players not playing well with others, the option to choose to play up or down was removed from players in the majority of cases.

Community & Digital Content Director

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Removed a baiting post and the responses to it.

Scarab Sages 4/5

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I think a special case similar to what's in there for seasons 0-3 would be ok. If no one is in the high tier, but the APL is between tiers, let them choose to play low tier no adjustment, even with 5 or 6 players. The gold is the same for an out of tier character, so there'd be less incentive to bully players into playing up. But there would still be a small reward for groups that do so in the access to the high tier chronicle items and boons, which is equivalent to the bonus from scenarios with hard mode.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Captain, California—Sacramento aka FLite

Ferious Thune wrote:
which is equivalent to the bonus from scenarios with hard mode.

There is no bonus to playing scenarios with hard mode. Just bragging rights.

Scarab Sages 4/5

FLite wrote:
Ferious Thune wrote:
which is equivalent to the bonus from scenarios with hard mode.
There is no bonus to playing scenarios with hard mode. Just bragging rights.

There are boons that do provide a bonus. The boons aren't part of the scenario directly, but if you have the boon, and you play hard mode, there is an additional benefit. Granted, that's rarer than if there were something on the chronicle sheet.

EDIT: At least, I think that's right, unless I'm remembering incorrectly. I don't have my character folder with me right now.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Captain, California—Sacramento aka FLite

Ferious Thune wrote:
FLite wrote:
Ferious Thune wrote:
which is equivalent to the bonus from scenarios with hard mode.
There is no bonus to playing scenarios with hard mode. Just bragging rights.

There are boons that do provide a bonus. The boons aren't part of the scenario directly, but if you have the boon, and you play hard mode, there is an additional benefit. Granted, that's rarer than if there were something on the chronicle sheet.

EDIT: At least, I think that's right, unless I'm remembering incorrectly. I don't have my character folder with me right now.

No, I think you are right. I forgot about that boon.

Grand Lodge

pauljathome wrote:
trik wrote:

That said, generally groups that appreciate challenge are so well optimized that they steamroll most encounters.

I believe that this is actually very false.

Players that appreciate a challenge at the table do NOT build over optimized characters. Players with over optimized characters often SAY that they like challenge (and quite possibly think they do) but if they really wanted a challenge in play why would they build their power houses?

I can't answer for everyone, but I know the reason I play my power houses is because I want to do the best that I personally can and then see that challenged. It's a game. Some people who plays games have competitive mindsets. We're all there to enjoy the experience, but at the same time it would be nice to be challenged. That doesn't always mean numbers, sometimes you have to think things through, even in combat. But being confronted with a problem, working to the best of your abilities, and failing or succeeding is fun. Failing for the bittersweet satisfaction of knowing you did all you could, and succeeding for the moment of triumph when you used everything available to you and you pushed through. I actually find it quite insulting that you would say that optimizers do not enjoy a challenge. I know some people for whom that is true, but I'd say there's a split or divide where both sides exist.

It also feels good to know that you can shore up for newer players when necessary. Holding back until you need to bring out the big guns generally seems to impress upon new players both the general level of play and the fact that there is something deeper, and I think that is a happy space for optimization to exist in. I find that those who are so against optimization as to express public distaste for people who operate on that level are closer to the problem with our community. Rather we should be encouraging a level of social responsibility, you can dominate the table without ever rolling a die.

Silver Crusade 5/5 5/5

Kurthnaga wrote:

I want to do the best that I personally can and then see that challenged.

The obvious way to both get a challenge AND to do the best that you can do is to use handicaps of some kind. Done in lots and lots of games. Been suggested on these boards countless times.

No stat below 10. Restrict your sources. Restrict your classes to tier 4. Etc

Quote:
I find that those who are so against optimization as to express public distaste for people who operate on that level are closer to the problem with our community. Rather we should be encouraging a level of social responsibility, you can dominate the table without ever rolling a die.

You might not be referring to me, but I did NOT say that I am against optimization. Just that people who indulge in it are NOT looking for a challenge.

I'm all for social responsibility and it is true that many optimizers (by no means all, mind) do try and not roflstomp the table. However, human nature being what it is, it is very easy to convince yourself that your character isn't that overpowered. I've had many a conversation with somebody who states that their monstrosity isn't that powerful.

I know that I try hard to follow that socially responsible line. I know that I don't always succeed, even in my own mind. I suspect that I succeed even less in other peoples minds

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