How do I balance encounters for THIS party?


Advice


I'm new to GMing Pathfinder, although not to playing it, and I'm being challenged by encounter design. Especially, given my party...

Party run-down:
  • One of my players optimizes any character he does, and is now playing a bladebound magus. At 3rd, so she just got her blade.
  • One is playing a 3rd-level hunter, complete with (still medium-sized) big cat.
  • Due to circs, that player just acquired a 1st-level NPC commoner who became a Heavens shaman worshiping Desna for her 2nd level.
  • The third main PC, a 3rd-level druid, hasn't really come into his own yet.
  • I'm letting that player bring another PC in, a 2nd-level Life oracle worshiping Sarenrae.

We're using a lot of extras: Hero Pts, Crit cards, Plot Twist cards.

I'm running an AP, so when it was only 3 PCs at 1st or 2nd level, I worried about the CR enough that I threw in a much higher-level NPC to go with them. I needn't have bothered; I ended up having the NPC hang back to "watch behind them" or some such thing, while the party creamed my theoretically At-APL bad-guys. Often without taking a hit. Even after I started routinely maxing out the NPCs' HP.

So now they've got five PCs -- I believe an APL-3 party on the face of it ((3+3+3+2+2)/5), but I'm thinking it's more like APL-5 because of the extra pcs, player abilities, the animal companion, and now, a significant healing presence. No more NPCs helping out, I assure you! :)

So my first question is: Am I right in planning for them as if they're APL-5? (As corroborating evidence, the three 3rd-level PCs just faced a max-HP cyclops (CR-5). They won--the bladebound critted and did 75 pts of damage in one round! But they got scared, first. The tiger got taken down to 1 HP, still in the black.)

~~~

My second question is how to design an encounter that will stress them without breaking them.

Example encounter --

hobgoblin-led attack by goblins:

  • The encounter starts when the PCs spot an enlarged hobgoblin off to the side, up a hill, away from "the main goblin attack" (proceeding off-stage). I looked at the Monster Codex's hobgoblin battlefield zealot for major inspiration, but made improvements. He should still be CR-2, unless I apply the advanced template to take him to CR-3 (but leaving off the +2 natural armor).
  • He's with the troupe's warchanter, a 1st-level goblin bard. Core says a goblin w/ a 1st-level PC class is CR-1/2.
  • Six goblin warriors are theoretically CR-3 (how, I don't know!), but I believe that it would take dozens to challenge my party in even the slightest way. Action economy would be all they had on their side -- rolling lots and lots of attacks trying to hit just once, and then for not a whole lot of damage. Granted, that warchanter might help them out -- if he survives the first round, that is. (I wrote him for a previous bout, back when it was just a party of 3 2nd-level PCs; he didn't.) I could be shocked, but my current plan calls them CR-1/2 together. (They're really there only for color.)
  • They are led by a hobgoblin sergeant, which I pretty much took from the Monster Codex as is, at CR-2.

My plan as I wrote it was to have all of them there off to the side. Is this too much? If I just add up the CR's, I get CR-5, at-APL if I've assessed the group correctly. APL+1 if I advance the zealot, which would be all right, because this is an isolated "while traveling" encounter. APL+Unbeatable, on the other hand, wouldn't feel so good!

When I posted this in a different thread, I described an option of splitting up the foes by having the sergeant come running up with his troupe of goblins after the PCs had defeated the advanced zealot. But one comment I got there (along with the advice to move this problem to a new thread :-) ) has me convinced that after dominating the fight against a CR-3 advanced zealot -- while the other PCs got to turn a CR-1/2 warchanter into mush -- the magus would have no problem whatsoever in taking out the CR-2 sergeant single-handedly, leaving the other 4 PCs & tiger the not-so-heroic job of mopping up 6 CR-1/3 goblins. Not a good choice!

What I'd love to see is the bladebound tackling the zealot (advanced, to keep her busy for a few rounds) while the rest of the party took on the other foes, and that all of the players felt that they had had a significant but survivable challenge. With comic relief from the goblins. I'm just fearful I've misjudged the party's abilities.

Of course, while I'm definitely hoping for help before I run this encounter on Friday, what I'm really hoping for are some guidelines and suggestions for giving my group a challenging, fun time in general.


Throw a trap at them. It doesn't look like you have a super high disable device character in the party - you could hit them with a trap that removes one from the main fight, debuffs, or makes them take some damage before the battle starts to put them on their heels.


Specifically, you could have the goblins in this encounter pepper your group with arrows, then turn and run away (toward the zealot and sergeant) with a 10' deep trench-style pit trap hidden in the path. Without trap sense on your team, someone is probably falling in. Not so deep as to cause massive damage, but takes them out of combat. Bonus to keep it interesting and have goblin shenanigans is goblins could jump in after them.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

One CR 5 mob is not challenging to a party of 5 level 3s. It's his one set of actions against the five of them, plus pets. A real challenge requires as many actions as the party can muster itself.

In the old days of 1E we reckoned the challenge in HD as a rule of thumb. The party has a total of 13 HD, so you need about that many for a standard encounter.
By the rule of thumb your goblins weigh in at 6 HD, +2 for the bard, +3 for the sergeant, and +3 for the zealot, totalling 14 HD, which sounds about right. They are slightly weaker than humans with that number of HD because they are small. But that is OK, when you feel your way around what is a good challenge...better err on the weak side.

Your goblin group should be pretty good, assuming the party has typical wealth/gear per level. It is up to 9 attack actions against the group, which is way more dangerous than you might think. Assuming they crit only on a 20, chances are that you get one crit every 3 rounds on average. If they do on a 19-20, you get two in three rounds (by switching from bow to melee). That may or may not make feel your players to be in danger - many players get a little bit panicky when critted, until they hear the damage.
If you add in the bardic goblin you can improve their attack rolls with Inspire Courage. +1 may not seem like much, but when you do the math you'll see that the small bonus does way more for the goblin band than one might think at first.

Keeping 2 goblins hidden within 30' of the first archer group allows for an old goblin tactic: throwing firepots on those charging their comrades. Sure, not that much damage, but it will get your players attention quickly, if they catch on fire (see rules for burning oil). Making them run first towards group A and then having a group B appear out of reach will also get them very nervous, especially if the first salvo did score a few hits, or when someone catches fire.

You don't need huge amounts of damage to keep players on their toes. An encounter where they lose 1/3 of the party hp will seem challenging enough. If they have to use healing during battle, it will seem to have been a close thing.
I always liked it best when my players were entertained. Even easy fights can do that, and the occasional un-scripted boss kill can go down as fun in memory.

PS: if you want to be nasty to your low level group, make use of critters with damage reduction that they cannot overcome yet and have to deal with the hard way. Using incorporeal critters (shadows for example), darkness or miss chances due to partial cover will also take a lot out of the most optimized character. Then there is poison and disease, especially if they cannot negate the debilitating effects at once. Other beloved challenges are swarm creatures, oozes, level-draining undead, stirges, disenchanters, rust monsters and last but not least a NPC sorcerer.
For a real challenge you can use a sorcerer, an oracle, and three melee types of your choice - let's say fighters or barbarians, all of the same level as your party ;)


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Issue I've noticed, even a single power gamer will break a game. You may need to make something home brewed and nasty bordering into outright illegal to give the rest of your players a chance to be effective if the magus is primarly hogging the show. APs aren't realy built for fully optimized characters, their actualy designed for specific point buys. Depending how they generated the characters they may be overpowered for the AP you are trying to run.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Vatras generally has the right of it with regards to the proposed encounter. As a travelling encounter, this should be fine. I suspect it will only turn out to be slightly challenging, though it depends greatly on how good the hobgoblin/goblin tactics are. Counting the goblins correctly as CR3 gives you an encounter of ~CR6.

For a party of 5 player characters with levels 3,3,3,2, and 2, the APL of the party is approximately 3 per Step 1 as described here. They are not APL5. Their abilities, healing and animal companion are already baked into their normal APL.

A CR6 encounter is therefore APL+3. This is OK. Since this is a travelling encounter, your players have all their resources available and this is likely to require them to use them. The gamemastering page on the pfsrd describes this as an "Epic" encounter based on its CR, but this description innately assumes the party will fight 3 or 4 other encounters in the same day (and therefore have fewer resources available for this fight).

Some more comments that you might find useful:

  • You need to take a close look at your Bladebound Magus and the legality of their character build. I don't think a 75 damage crit at 3rd level is typical (though I can imagine how it *might* be possible). If you have doubts about how anything works, feel free to share the build on the forums and ask some of the experts here to help you audit it.
  • Prewritten content for pathfinder (including Adventure Paths) include a majority of APL+0 and APL+1 encounters, reserving APL+2 encounters for minibosses or as punctuation in the adventure, and keeping back the very dangerous APL+3 and APL+4 encounters for bosses or parts where the story is reaching a climax. Keep this in mind when designing your custom encounters.
  • If your party has their resources about them and is not disadvantaged in some way, an APL+0 or +1 encounter is typically trivial to beat by expending some of their daily capabilities. This is by design.
  • The Magus getting a crit should not be the basis you design encounters around. Unless they cheat, they will get crits no more than 10%-20% of the time, and even then they generally have to get into melee to do so. A player getting a critical hit should be something you all celebrate, not try to work around with your encounter design.
  • Rather than design encounters from scratch (which is what I did when I started DMing Pathfinder), I would look up example encounters in prewritten adventure content designed for Pathfinder.

As an addendum:
You should not send cyclopses against your party, not because they're an APL+2 encounter but because they are very "all or nothing" foes. Assuming your players are not cheating and you are understanding the rules of the game correctly, the cyclops is likely to slay a player character before it dies. The Cyclops has reach, punishing melee players (such as the magus) that come in to strike, and once per day gets to choose to roll a 20 on their attack roll with their Flash of Insight ability. This allows their first attack with their greataxe to critical hit fairly reliably, dealing 9d6+21 damage if they don't power attack.


You've all written such substantive comments, I'm going to have to reply over several posts.

Cellion wrote:

For a party of 5 player characters with levels 3,3,3,2, and 2, the APL of the party is approximately 3 per Step 1 as described here. They are not APL5. Their abilities, healing and animal companion are already baked into their normal APL.

A CR6 encounter is therefore APL+3. This is OK. Since this is a travelling encounter, your players have all their resources available and this is likely to require them to use them. The gamemastering page on the pfsrd describes this as an "Epic" encounter based on its CR, but this description innately assumes the party will fight 3 or 4 other encounters in the same day (and therefore have fewer resources available for this fight).

Thank you, all, for clarifying the matter of party APL. And also for clarifying the difference between APL+3 and Unbeatable. Cellion's quote is just to respond to one of out of all the great comments. OK, the party has an intelligent sword, healing & animal companion because they in essence spent class features for them. 2nd- to 3rd-level class features, to be precise. Got it: they're APL 3. On the other hand, the good news is that APL+2 or +3 is fine if I'm not running encounters back to back. Conversely, a string of "trivial" APL+0 or +1 encounters is still ultimately stressful if each one gets the PCs to spend resources. Also good to know.

Regarding the 6 goblins, I'm not entirely convinced they're at-APL all by themselves, much less higher than APL if I include even just the warchanter. They'd only be an annoyance to a 3rd-level party free to turn against them! However, I do see the general point, that a crowd of low-levels can indeed be played as a nasty threat. Now, melee will get CR-1/3's killed very quickly, so we're definitely talking only one crit threat every three rounds or so -- and, depending on who the target is, these ankle-biters only have a 25 to 33% chance of confirming. Call it one crit confirmation every 10 rounds on average, if the fight lasts until the mud-prancers get it! Even so, those odds of hitting for normal damage with a 1d4 weapon mean they do a collective 4 to 5 pts of damage a round, which if concentrated would whittle down almost any of my PCs in a much more reasonable period of time -- assuming that said PCs aren't free to respond. So thank you for the explanation.

Obviously, if I willfully drop the CR for this encounter, I can't do that. And in terms of discipline, I'm picturing a goblin combat

more like this:
  • 1st turn ~ 0 dam ~ none attack ("tiger!"); Sergeant bellows, "Shoot or I'll be what kills you!"
  • 2nd turn ~ 5 dam ~ 1 argues for flight; Sergeant bellows, "I've got your pickles!" 5 gibber & fire; 2 hit for 5 dam between them.
  • 3rd turn ~ 2 dam ~ 1 celebrates; 1 thwacks arguer over not firing; arguer thwacks back; Sergeant bellows, "Do I have to show you lot what a fist feels like?"; 3 fire; 1 hits for 2 dam.
  • 4th turn ~ 6 dam ~ 1 celebrates; 1 runs out of arrows & complains; arguer & 3 others fire; 1 hits & crits for 6 dam (no card); Sergeant bellows, "Who did that? You're eating fresh meat tonight!"
  • 5th turn ~ 5 fire dam ~ 2 get excited & try to charge, but stumble spectacularly on terrain; 1 (out of arrows) runs to stumbled friends to take arrows; 1 moves up & throws alchemist's fire, which hits for 4 fire dam & 1 splash on PCs & 1 splash on Sergeant; Sergeant bellows, "Yow! I'll burn you a new one with a hot poker, you dog-bit!" 2 fire; both miss.
Even so, I clearly can't have them concentrate fire, above all else not on the (2nd level) healer. But then, that's why these are goblins! :-) Plus, note that this is almost best case; if even one of the PCs starts trading bow-shots, rug-chomper numbers are going to get whittled down dramatically over the course of 5 rounds.

Similarly, Cellion, I'm not repentent about the cyclops. You should have seen the look on the players' faces when their PCs caught sight of that large great-axe! :-) We were careful about AoO's, but the cyclops didn't one-shot anyone because she was "too careful" to use up her once/day ability on the first round, before she knew she was in trouble. She'd been nicked a bit but was feeling pretty good about the fight -- right up until the (enlarged) magus got in that devastating round and sliced her legs clear off. But yes, if she'd survived to her next attack, I would have had to try for a confirmed crit and make the magus spend her hero pts.

So I suppose what it comes down to is that book CR's will be more valid in the future when I don't feel I have to restrain NPCs from obvious tactics.


And about that one devastating round:
The magus did part of the 75+ pts of damage in her regular attack & part in a spell-strike that critted, not all in one attack. (I wasn't clear.) She had enhanced her blade to the max, including being enlarged (thus improving both the damage dice and her strength bonus) -- and then she rolled almost max for damage on both blade and spell. So I do believe the build is legit; my only question would be whether a spell-strike crit gets to double both weapon & shocking grasp damage, as I allowed.

Cellion, I've taken note of your point not to design encounters anticipating blackblade crits. To the extent that I do, it's not "punishment" so much as upping my idea of what will give the player a sense of accomplishment. By the time the cyclops went down, I think the entire party had a sense of accomplishment. Believe me, we all celebrated!

And BearsDragon, as I said earlier, this player could come up with ... well, maybe not a truly devastating summoner ... but an actually effective one! You should have seen the 10th-level "chained" monk he built, although I admit, he used the Martial Artist archetype rather than vanilla. OTOH, he picked a dwarf. He took the entire Dragon-Style line of feats, which let him pick elemental fist. After he paid material costs for a Headband of Inspired Wisdom, Amulet of Natural Armor, and Bracers of Armor, he got the GM to let my character make him "Boots of Enlarge Person." (He also found a Belt of Physical Perfection and GM-special enhanced hand-wraps.) And, you see, whether obvious or not, making these sorts of choices work together are just what he does when he builds a character. Thorvald became legendary!

And now this player is having so much fun with his bladebound. I can't tell him to have the PC stand back for the good of less optimized party-members. We'll see what a variety of CR-levels does for this party... Now that I've been encouraged by you all not to feel faint of heart. Thank-you so much!


Makknus wrote:
Throw a trap at them. It doesn't look like you have a super high disable device character in the party - you could hit them with a trap that removes one from the main fight, debuffs, or makes them take some damage before the battle starts to put them on their heels.
vatras wrote:

PS: if you want to be nasty to your low level group, make use of critters with damage reduction that they cannot overcome yet and have to deal with the hard way. Using incorporeal critters (shadows for example), darkness or miss chances due to partial cover will also take a lot out of the most optimized character. Then there is poison and disease, especially if they cannot negate the debilitating effects at once. Other beloved challenges are swarm creatures, oozes, level-draining undead, stirges, disenchanters, rust monsters and last but not least a NPC sorcerer.

For a real challenge you can use a sorcerer, an oracle, and three melee types of your choice - let's say fighters or barbarians, all of the same level as your party ;)

Thank you, both! I'm taking notes for toughening up my next custom encounter! I don't know that these ideas fit what I've planned this time, and I'm determined to throw goblins at the party one last time, but yes, traps, and DR, and darkness will have to be coming at the party soon. (Preferably before the bladebound gets the ability at 5th to negate DR for a round or two!)

And I'm grateful for the notion of partial cover right now... The archers could find large boulders & fallen tree trunks to take cover behind before combat begins. Plus, they'll be up a gradual slope. They're shooting out, so I couldn't grant them more than partial cover, but it might help keep them in the fight that extra round or two. +1 Reflex as well as +2 AC, she mumbles to herself. <hee-hee!> The warchanter might easily make it to the second turn of battle if I put him up a tree!

vatras wrote:

You don't need huge amounts of damage to keep players on their toes. An encounter where they lose 1/3 of the party hp will seem challenging enough. If they have to use healing during battle, it will seem to have been a close thing.

I always liked it best when my players were entertained. Even easy fights can do that, and the occasional un-scripted boss kill can go down as fun in memory.

That's probably the best set of lines to close my responses on. Thanks so much for the perspective.


Correction to me: that goblin arrow shot that critted would definitely sting if they'd rolled better than a "2." And the "2" made my string of rolls sub-average, so I should have given out 9 pts of damage. (It's a good thing I don't have any 1st-level PCs on this!)


I've already given what feedback I can for the encounter (albeit in a different thread), and a couple posters here have given really good advice in general so I'll just address the question of whether a magus spellstrike crit does double weapon + spell damage or not.

The spell strike uses the weapon's critical multiplier for the weapon damage (so x2 for most melee weapons, up to ~x4), but always does a x2 crit for the spell portion of the damage. Both portions, weapon and spell, threaten and confirm based on the weapon's crit range and attack roll so when one crits so does the other (just as you ran it).


You ruled Spellstrike correctly, it does double (and only double regardless of the weapon multiplier) the spell damage on a weapon crit. One point to be careful on this, is where the Magus is using Spellstrike to gain an additional attack to deliver the spell, that he assigns the attacks an order, the first that lands is the one that delivers the spell.

People have made a number of good points about encounter design and to reiterate:
Single enemy encounters suit the Magus down to the ground because of the way their damage spikes. Facing larger numbers of smaller enemies reduces their impact (not something you have to do, but certainly an option if you want some of the other players more of a chance to shine).
A one-off encounter where players are more free to utilise resources (eg at the end of the day when they are making camp and expect to be able to rest shortly after) will need to be more challenging than the first fight in what they believe is a dungeon crawl, as they will be less inclined to utilise resources.
The party looks on the stronger end of the spectrum: 2 full casters, one potentially with an ACompanion, two 2/3 casters, one with an ACompanions and the other is optimised and very strong at the levels up until the full-casters begin to really shine. Yes, APL broadly takes into account ACompanions, but the additional action economy makes these classes very strong in a combat sense.
I would be concerned as the group increases in size about the length of some of these characters turns and I'd encourage a respect on the ability that allows the Hunter to have a follower. At later levels 2-3 attacks plus from the Hunter then 3-5 from Cat + Follower is looking like a long and ponderous round for other characters to sit through. And it's not like the other characters are slow either: Magus (Conc check followed by multiple attacks and lots of damage dice) Druid (Spell or attack plus ACompanion attacks).
Don't forget as well when calculating the APL of the group that you add 1 to the group's APL if it has 6 players. With potentially 2-3 ACompanions and followers in tow, I think you could easily argue that you add one to the basic APL the group comes in at.


So for a large bladebound magus at level 3 I'd expect them to do something like 1d8 (scimitar) or 2d6 (katana) + 7 (5 str+1 enhancement+1 black blade) +3d6 damage (average ~10-14 damage on a normal attack with a range from 8-19, average ~22-24 dmg per spell strike with a range from 11-37 dmg; twice that on a crit averages around 46 with a range from 22-74). So 75 is definitely possible, particularly when combining both attacks into one number, but is well above the ~58 average one would expect.


Conjoy wrote:
You ruled Spellstrike correctly, it does double (and only double regardless of the weapon multiplier) the spell damage on a weapon crit. One point to be careful on this, is where the Magus is using Spellstrike to gain an additional attack to deliver the spell, that he assigns the attacks an order, the first that lands is the one that delivers the spell.

My thanks to you & to Trekkie90909 for confirming the crit doubling. She's wielding a katana, so it's x2 for both (no prob). Now, the point about the first strike delivering the spell, that we had not been aware of. In fact, please do me the favor of looking at the following from the description for the "Spell Combat" feature and explaining what your ruling is based on.

Ultimate Magic/ Magus wrote:
A magus can choose to cast the spell first or make the weapon attacks first, but if he has more than one attack, he cannot cast the spell between weapon attacks.


Conjoy wrote:

People have made a number of good points about encounter design and to reiterate:

Single enemy encounters suit the Magus down to the ground because of the way their damage spikes. Facing larger numbers of smaller enemies reduces their impact (not something you have to do, but certainly an option if you want some of the other players more of a chance to shine).
A one-off encounter where players are more free to utilise resources (eg at the end of the day when they are making camp and expect to be able to rest shortly after) will need to be more challenging than the first fight in what they believe is a dungeon crawl, as they will be less inclined to utilise resources.

Yes, thanks to all the great comments here & in the other thread, I've figured this out, but thanks for the coherent summary. What I want to try is a party of enemies with varying CRs, one scary enough that the magus has to sweat, but enough others that the magus would go down without friends to get them off her back. Just 6 rug-chompers alone could take her out in 6 rounds or less with concentrated fire, and they would have a lot more discipline if she were the only foe in sight! Given that the "strong enemy" would be doing damage as well, she'd be in a serious bind really fast. She'll need her friends. Yay!

Conjoy wrote:

The party looks on the stronger end of the spectrum: 2 full casters, one potentially with an ACompanion, two 2/3 casters, one with an ACompanions and the other is optimised and very strong at the levels up until the full-casters begin to really shine. Yes, APL broadly takes into account ACompanions, but the additional action economy makes these classes very strong in a combat sense. <snip>

Don't forget as well when calculating the APL of the group that you add 1 to the group's APL if it has 6 players. With potentially 2-3 ACompanions and followers in tow, I think you could easily argue that you add one to the basic APL the group comes in at.

Thank you so much for permission to do that!!! It's not quite that bad... The druid took a domain, and I'm hoping the Spirit Owl stays out of fights. (After reading up on owls, I gave it Blindsense, so it might prove to be a useful non-combatant on the sidelines, but that's different.) The tiger, on the other hand, very much feels like a sixth party member in terms of combat capability, at least coupled with having a highly-optimized member of a highly-capable class in the party. If I let the two together tip the balance into an extra +1 APL, I think I'll do okay in figuring out proper challenges.

As for the part I snipped... yes, slow turns are a concern. The tiger goes on the hunter's initiative, but the followers will have their own. I'm hoping that breaking up player's actions will help the others. It gets worse, of course, when I decide not to use single baddies. All I can do is to give each significant foe their own initiative, to break up my turns... Maybe I need to go find some music...


Why is stressing them important to you?


Trekkie90909 wrote:
So for a large bladebound magus at level 3 I'd expect them to do something like 1d8 (scimitar) or 2d6 (katana) + 7 (5 str+1 enhancement+1 black blade) +3d6 damage (average ~10-14 damage on a normal attack with a range from 8-19, average ~22-24 dmg per spell strike with a range from 11-37 dmg; twice that on a crit averages around 46 with a range from 22-74). So 75 is definitely possible, particularly when combining both attacks into one number, but is well above the ~58 average one would expect.

I love the math! I adore it!

Or... I would if the lines weren't all run together. Sadly, I'm having a hard time figuring out what you're doing here. To help you help me, I've got...

the bloody details:
Her blackblade is a katana* (1d8 medium, 2d6 large), which crits on 18–20/×2. Her normal STR bonus is 3, plus 1 when large. It's currently a +1 blackblade, but she can make it +2 from her pool (5 min/day, so she can do that effectively all day); she can also give it another +1 damage (currently for 1 min/day from its own pool). All of this gets a whole lot nastier at 5th level! Oh, and her BAB is currently 2. (And yes, of course, her Shocking Grasp does 3d6 electrical dam, but it means that both attacks are at -2, and she's only got 4 1st-level slots/day, at least one of which goes to Enlarge. Chill Touch does 1d6 cold dam ea rd for 3 rds, ignoring STR dam.)

    The short form --
  • Reg Medium Attack, no Spellstrike: usually +7 to hit for 1d8+5 dam. (MUCH more ordinary! And her bread-and-butter in a large dungeon.)
  • Reg Medium Attack w/ Spellstrike: usually +5 to hit for 1d8+5 dam (+1 more dam for 1 min/day)
  • Reg Large Attack w/ Spellstrike: usually still +5 to hit (STR bonus offsets size penalty), but now 2d6+6 dam, unless enhanced +1 more.
  • Spell-Strike: usually +5 to hit (possibly +3 vs. metal armor) for the above dam (1d8+5 med, 2d6+6 lg, unless +1 more) -- plus Shocking Grasp (3d6 electrical) or Chill Touch (1d6 cold plus STR dam).
  • All of this crits on an 18-20.

The only saving grace there is that she can choose to forego some attack bonus to get a bonus on her defensive casting check (normally +7 vs. DC 17).

* Yes, she took the Exotic Wpn Prof she needed to wield a katana one-handed.

Ummm, so can you turn that into expected damage ranges for me???


kyrt-ryder wrote:
Why is stressing them important to you?

I don't even know how to answer this. Because they find it fun??? (I mean, they do. I do, when I'm a player. I thought all players did...)

I had a medium-sized constrictor fall out of a tree to (theoretically) constrict on our gnome druid. It missed! And the party turned it into smush before it could act again. I joked about how it was saying "That's not how it went when I practiced!!" as it died... And ok, maybe the players had fun.

But it sure didn't tell them that the world was a dangerous place...


I don't like stress lol. A little challenge now and then is good, but I play the game to roleplay not to 'barely overcome.'


kyrt-ryder wrote:
I don't like stress lol. A little challenge now and then is good, but I play the game to roleplay not to 'barely overcome.'

LOL You're right here! I just edited my reply to amplify on my comment...

I like roleplaying a lot, too. We've had lots of role-playing encounters. But my group likes some serious combat on their plate, too.


What Point Buy ?
AP are Written for 4 pc with 15 Point builds.
You have 5 pc with 2 pets. (Why did one person get the NPC class and other level behind?)
What AP?

2 ogre CR 3
6 Wolves CR 1
In waves
1 Round 4 wolves
2 Round 1 Ogre Javelin fire and closes to melee
3 Round 2nd Ogre Javelin fire and closes to melee
4 Round last 2 wolves
Have them come form 3 different sides


In general there are two extreme phenomena to watch out for.

When using large numbers of individually low CR monsters they'll eventually fall off the RNG. The math breaks down in wonky ways. AC becomes completely useless because only natural 20s hit, damage that isn't area damage becomes overkill. Basically, at the point the encounter design rules say to stop giving XP for wimpy monsters you really do need to stop using them at all.

The other issue is when the players start to fall behind on numbers relative to monsters. Since there are only a few players they don't have to fall completely off the curve where only 1s and 20s matter before problems start. Players can't hit, can't get through DR, can't get through SR, can't pass saves against the enemy's abilities, and can't get the enemy to fail saves against their abilities. Because monsters get HD faster than PCs or classed NPCs they're problems at lower CR-APL gaps than classed NPCs. This is why the encounter design rules call APL+5 encounters impossible. They're not, but individual APL+5 monsters may be even if four APL+3 monsters would have been an appropriate challenge for a large and heavily optimized party.

Some specific abilities have specific counters and the earliest monsters to possess them often shouldn't be used until they're CR=APL as individuals, though of course using more than one to make a higher CR encounter is fine. The most extreme case is the spell Blindness/Deafness, which a CR 2 NPC wizard can cast, but for which the counter isn't available until the party has a level 5 cleric, shaman, or witch. These may need to be further delayed or eschewed entirely if the party has a slower progressing or less comprehensive healer.


Makknus wrote:
Throw a trap at them. It doesn't look like you have a super high disable device character in the party - you could hit them with a trap that removes one from the main fight, debuffs, or makes them take some damage before the battle starts to put them on their heels.

That sounds terrible. While traps to maim the party can be useful to make the later battles harder (due to expenditure of resources like heals and spells), *removing* people from the main fight, before it even starts, is seriously unfun for those concerned.


Well, my earlier numbers were just spit-balling assuming 100% accuracy and a confirmed spell-strike crit since that was the scenario provided.

Since you asked so nicely about a general method however, I put together an 'average damage' calculator that you/anyone interested can check/use. Everyone has edit permission, so I'd recommend copying the sheet before using; that way anyone interested can mess with their own personal copy, and not have to worry about messing up any of the formulae. I might update it at some point to also display minimum 'average' damage (to simulate a player who is rolling low damage consistently), maximum 'average' damage (to simulate the reverse),or just include minimum and maximum numbers for reference. You can get those 'average' numbers by just filling out a couple of the secondary lines with different damage values though so it's not a high priority for me; maximum and minimum on-hit damage is probably of more interest, but is easy to calculate by hand.

Google Drive Sheet.

EDIT: Keep in mind the magus can largely ignore the law of averages with a true strike if they're in a pinch. Also, I just realized I didn't factor concealment into the sheet, so at some point I need to go back and fix that.

If you need more attack lines, just copy and paste one of the existing ones to a free lower grid in the sheet. *Disclaimer* D20s are pretty random; the average values here may-or-may-not provide a good basis for session planning, particularly since averages poorly reproduce the effects of a 'pass/fail' criteria (the miss chance for example provides better planning informattion regarding incorporeal damage reduction than a it does the pass/fail nature of miss-chance).


BearsDragon wrote:
Issue I've noticed, even a single power gamer will break a game. You may need to make something home brewed and nasty bordering into outright illegal to give the rest of your players a chance to be effective if the magus is primarly hogging the show. APs aren't realy built for fully optimized characters, their actualy designed for specific point buys. Depending how they generated the characters they may be overpowered for the AP you are trying to run.

they only really break APs just beef some stuff up or run the advised party level as like 1 lower, etc.


RE Large numbers of small creatures: these can be kept relevant for a longer period of time by either making them into a new swarm creature (and using its stats), or by utilizing the "aid another" mechanics. If you have 1 PC surrounded by 8 enemy creatures, and 7 of them aid the last guy (only have to roll higher than a 10 to aid), then the last guy is going to have a +14 bonus to hit (+12 aid another, +2 flanking).


Added categories for precision damage, other damage which isn't multiplied on a successful crit (e.g. flaming weapon enhancement), and concealment. At some point I might go through and add in blanks for DR, multiple energy damage types, corresponding energy resistances, quick-reference average crit damage (perhaps with lower and upper bounds), minimum 'average' damage, maximum 'average' damage, and damage vs. incorporeal creatures/creatures with fortification, but this should be more than adequate for now. The first 6 blanks contain the average result for each scenario you mentioned. If your player changes weapons to something which uses a different critical multiplier the bottom-most 'general format' formula has separate blanks for separate critical multipliers.


Tom S 820 wrote:

What Point Buy ?

AP are Written for 4 pc with 15 Point builds.
You have 5 pc with 2 pets. (Why did one person get the NPC class and other level behind?)
What AP?

encounter idea:
2 ogre CR 3
6 Wolves CR 1
In waves
1 Round 4 wolves
2 Round 1 Ogre Javelin fire and closes to melee
3 Round 2nd Ogre Javelin fire and closes to melee
4 Round last 2 wolves
Have them come form 3 different sides

Jade Regent.

We started out with 3 players, 3 PCs, 15-pt builds. They've gotten to 3rd by now.

Then a minor, 1st-level commoner NPC (Shayliss Vinder) who came with got called by Desna as a Heavens Shaman. Put it down to RP. Or communication from the powers above to the GM. Or something. So I wanted to turn this character over to a player (the one with the hunter/cat). I asked the player to level her up to 2nd, but told her that Shayliss wouldn't level again until the main party hit 5th -- that starting with 4th, she'll be a consistent 2 levels behind. (And yes, I know that RAW shamans & oracles don't have specific deities, but that's not how I see it. They don't have to have one, is all. But if a goddess wants to send a Spirit Owl, she just does.)

At the same time, the player who has the druid was frustrated. We discussed whether he wanted to discard his PC, and it seemed that adding a new character with different strengths would suffice. So I told him the same thing: do someone at 2nd, knowing that he will be staying 2 levels behind as soon as there's room for it. (1st is just too fragile...)

The extra PCs are essentially free, early cohorts -- even though I've banned the Leadership feat as such LOL! The magus player may get another PC, too, eventually; it depends on who the party recruits as we go along. It will help a lot if the other PCs have developed some by then.

~~
As for the encounter idea, thanks! It's gone into my idea file.


Goblin_Priest wrote:
Makknus wrote:
Throw a trap at them. It doesn't look like you have a super high disable device character in the party - you could hit them with a trap that removes one from the main fight, debuffs, or makes them take some damage before the battle starts to put them on their heels.
That sounds terrible. While traps to maim the party can be useful to make the later battles harder (due to expenditure of resources like heals and spells), *removing* people from the main fight, before it even starts, is seriously unfun for those concerned.

Actually, I tend to agree that concealed pit-traps should be set much, much further back from the main fight than I have room for under present circs. Putting my poor, wimpy, bow-shooting ankle-biters behind a perfectly obvious pit might be a great thing to do (err, in a hallway). If someone falls in while trying to cross to do melee, well... That's different from "Surprise! Everyone will wish you were here! Oh, so will you."

Of course, if the party is going after kobolds, all bets are off. ;)


Atarlost wrote:

In general there are two extreme phenomena to watch out for.

(...)Basically, at the point the encounter design rules say to stop giving XP for wimpy monsters you really do need to stop using them at all.

The other issue is when the players start to fall behind on numbers relative to monsters. (...) Players can't hit, can't get through DR, can't get through SR, can't pass saves against the enemy's abilities, and can't get the enemy to fail saves against their abilities. Because monsters get HD faster than PCs or classed NPCs they're problems at lower CR-APL gaps than classed NPCs. This is why the encounter design rules call APL+5 encounters impossible. They're not, but individual APL+5 monsters may be even if four APL+3 monsters would have been an appropriate challenge for a large and heavily optimized party.

Some specific abilities have specific counters and the earliest monsters to possess them often shouldn't be used until they're CR=APL as individuals, though of course using more than one to make a higher CR encounter is fine. The most extreme case is the spell Blindness/Deafness, which a CR 2 NPC wizard can cast, but for which the counter isn't available until the party has a level 5 cleric, shaman, or witch. These may need to be further delayed or eschewed entirely if the party has a slower progressing or less comprehensive healer.

Thank you very much for these guidelines.

What about magical darkness? Same as blindness? Wouldn't it make a difference as to what my NPC is doing while the PCs are blinded or in darkness? I mean, if they're systematically killing the PCs, it could get very frustrating, very fast. But if they're doing something the PCs want to stop...

Still, it's very much something to keep in mind. I applied the advanced template to the Hobgoblin and stared at the results. Not nat-20-land to hit, but... I've taken the +2 natural armor off!


Trekkie90909, thank you so much for the damage calc. I'm going to have to try to use it sometime when I'm not so tired, I'm afraid. I looked at it, and couldn't quite figure out where to make inputs... I'll go back to it later, though.


Inputs are any grid outlined in black; sorry, I tried color coding things for the most part, but the user interface could definitely be better--it's a little hard to see, but the yellow and green columns are also user inputs, the columns to the left of the sheet are just for ease of reference.


FYI for everyone who helped -- we just finished the encounter.

How the encounter went:
The gnome druid (Player A) put up an entangle first round that totally controlled the battlefield. One hobgoblin (the enlarged "warpriest" -- err, fighter/cleric) was not entangled, but had to run forward to the road (where the party waited) to get out of the area. Without having the time to put up his Shield of Faith. The other hob (the sergeant) also saved, but couldn't make it to the road in one turn, because of the difficult terrain. So he ran back to the rocks where his charges, the goblins, waited. Three of the six goblins were in the affected area, and all three blew their saves. And again. And again. The exasperated sergeant ended up spending his actions pulling goblins turn by turn out of the writhing grass. And cursing them out, turn by turn.

At that point, the hunter's player (Player B) played a Plot Twist card to get one character to change sides, but wanted it to apply to all of the bullied goblins. So that's what she got, for one turn. The three free goblins & the one who had (at that point) been freed all turned and fired at the sergeant. Because they didn't bother taking the -4 for shooting into melee, and with the way the dice came out, two missed altogether, one hit the sergeant, and one hit the struggling goblin still in the sergeant's hands! The goblin started screaming, but the sergeant turned utterly silent. The firing goblins fell over each other backing away from him.

Meanwhile, out on the road, the hunter got in a nice hit on the "warpriest." But what really mattered was that the magus (Player C) advanced, took the AoO (which missed), and did two Chilling Touch strikes. The next round, after her quarry sent out a negative-energy channel, a third Chilling Touch strike finished him off. At that point, the warchanter up in the tree asked the sergeant for permission to sound the retreat. He looked out at a field he couldn't get through, around at his little troop of rebellious "soldiers," and agreed. The goblins cheered!

We didn't play out a chase scene because one of the players had to go to work. I just said that the goblins & sergeant got away. So did the warchanter, but he had to jump out of his tree and across a ten-foot gap to one of the rocks that the goblins had been hiding behind -- which he managed, but badly enough that he fell off behind it, head-first.

The party got a backpack lying among the trees, which held the assembled pickle jars for the goblin troop and a set of camping gear, plus of course, the loot that the "warpriest" had been carrying. That gave them some alchemist potions, masterwork arms, and a wand of Cure Lights! Of course, the condition that goblin cooking/mess stuff was in -- with bits of charred & suspect meat amid the stuck-on grease -- turned the PCs' faces. But they may find something useful to do with two bedrolls, blankets, and a large tent; I know LOL that they can use the wand...

Now for the point of my post: the goblins' arrows did in fact accumulate to do the most damage that the party took. No crits, despite two threats. But they hit a lot more often than I had expected, and took the tiger out of the fight. They concentrated enough on her that she had to hide behind a tree! The magus took an arrow and a negative-energy channel, which combined for only 20% of her HP -- although the enlarged "warpriest" would have done a lot more damage than that if he'd made it through her Magic Shield. Several others took the 1d6 channel. And that was it. Easily survivable. And all three of the players got to shine! Hooray!

Thank you, one and all!


bitter lily wrote:

What about magical darkness? Same as blindness? Wouldn't it make a difference as to what my NPC is doing while the PCs are blinded or in darkness? I mean, if they're systematically killing the PCs, it could get very frustrating, very fast. But if they're doing something the PCs want to stop...

Still, it's very much something to keep in mind. I applied the advanced template to the Hobgoblin and stared at the results. Not nat-20-land to hit, but... I've taken the +2 natural armor off!

The reason Blindness/Deafness is bad is that it's a permanent effect. If no one has the Remove Blindness/Deafness spell or dispel magic (both third level) it's not going away. There are also non-spell permanent or long duration blindness and deafness effects like the crow swarm that should be avoided early for the same reason and require the much rarer remove blindness/deafness specifically. Short duration blindness or deafness or magical darkness only need to be considered for their effect on the encounter they're used in. In theory, things that use darkness magic have that taken into account in their CR. In practice it depends on the party's countermeasures. The way darkness and light spells interact suggest that a darkness spell shouldn't be used on a party that can't cast equal level spells, but if it doesn't produce supernatural darkness darkvision will make it moot and several PC races just have that.


Sounds fun; glad everyone's advice helped, and your party enjoyed it.

Re Atarlost's advice; longer duration/permanent debuffs are fine if used sparingly, and if there are resources available to the party to cure them. An obvious example would be NPCs/Churches in a larger city, but rarer, more intimate examples might include new quest lines for things like rare healing herbs (which can then branch into finding "mentor" figures for the healing-oriented side of the party, if there is one). Still, better to keep that rare, and the condition managable enough the afflicted character(s)' player(s) don't feel left out.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / Advice / How do I balance encounters for THIS party? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.