Why are published monsters not working?


Advice

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Not to derail this, but that is not how ironskin works. Read it again.


The monsters aren't the problem, the GM is the problem. Learn to use more CR appropriate monsters and stop looking for higher CR monsters. Google-fu a copy of Alex Augunas' How to Build Challenging Encounters document and give it a read. It will help you immensely.

Paizo Employee Designer

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Lynceus wrote:

More great points and good advice. I especially like the idea of "minor enemies" who fly or use obnoxious defenses- they aren't the big threat, but their ability to...ah...fly in the face of the party might make my group think about how to deal with the problem.

Special thanks for the change to the thread name! That's much better. I was really having a bad day, but no reason to bring that to the forums.

Yeah, I changed the name because it seemed like the new one was a better match.

It's actually not easy to create a good solid "teaching" adventure for special ability fights. I remember one such encounter in the PFS scenario Veteran's Vault, which could really hose PCs who weren't prepared but then lacked the offensive stamina to follow through (caster with limited offense in spells per day and absolutely 0 offense once those spells were gone), even if the team was completely on the ropes; it worked really well because it scared unprepared groups and taught them a lesson without killing them.


Bill Dunn wrote:
Except the fact that they didn't choose to play a wizard probably indicates what type of campaign they want to play. They don't want to play a regular campaign balanced around the presence of a wizard, a cleric, a rogue, and a fighter. They'd probably prefer a campaign where they're going mano a mano with their enemies - so consider focusing a bit more around that sort of campaign. Plan to use more martial NPCs with high BABs, high physical stats, and weapons that can be disarmed, that can be pushed about a battlefield with bull rush, that own big nasty beasts as pets, and don't require lots of magic to resist or overcome, just good old fashioned elbow grease and guts.

Except that they did choose to play Pathfinder, which is game full of magic (including enemies with magic even with actual spell casting) and all manner of evil beings which don't fight fair or fight mano a mano. There are plenty of ways for them not to play wizards and deal with challenges that are often more easily dealt with by wizards or clerics. But so far is seems like they're willfully ignoring those possibilities. If they didn't want a world of magic, then Pathfinder probably isn't the best system to represent the kind of game they wanted.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Claxon wrote:
Bill Dunn wrote:
Except the fact that they didn't choose to play a wizard probably indicates what type of campaign they want to play. They don't want to play a regular campaign balanced around the presence of a wizard, a cleric, a rogue, and a fighter. They'd probably prefer a campaign where they're going mano a mano with their enemies - so consider focusing a bit more around that sort of campaign. Plan to use more martial NPCs with high BABs, high physical stats, and weapons that can be disarmed, that can be pushed about a battlefield with bull rush, that own big nasty beasts as pets, and don't require lots of magic to resist or overcome, just good old fashioned elbow grease and guts.
Except that they did choose to play Pathfinder, which is game full of magic (including enemies with magic even with actual spell casting) and all manner of evil beings which don't fight fair or fight mano a mano. There are plenty of ways for them not to play wizards and deal with challenges that are often more easily dealt with by wizards or clerics. But so far is seems like they're willfully ignoring those possibilities. If they didn't want a world of magic, then Pathfinder probably isn't the best system to represent the kind of game they wanted.

That's ridiculous. From the sounds of things, they're enjoying their PF characters well enough and there is a host of campaign options that PF handles just fine. There's no reason they need to pursue another game system.


They don't need to pursue another game system, as long as they understanding they're ignoring a significant part of the game by ignoring the magic based enemies and challenges normally present in the game.

Sure, you can make that sort of game work, even with Pathfinder. That is why E6 exists. However, Pathfinder is not ideally suited for this purpose.


One of the strengths of RPG's is that they sell you on the idea that you can play any character you want, whatever idea you have in your mind can become real. Unfortunately, no game system can really deliver on that promise- there are going to be concepts that work, and ones that don't.

In addition, team-oriented tactical games, like Pathfinder, are written with certain expectations, and can fall apart if you do things in a strange or less optimal fashion. Good players can overcome these expectations, but only if they have the system mastery to know what they are getting themselves into, and what options they have to work with.

My group doesn't strategize well. Session Zero was a total failure- they came to the table with the character concept they thought would be 'fun'. Some tweaking had to be made, originally the Fighter used that archetype that requires you to use a one-handed weapon and not even a shield. Because he wanted to use combat maneuvers, and to him, that archetype added bonuses to those, so it was good, right?

We eventually sold him on Lore Warden, but his tendency to suffer from decision paralysis and act like a Big Stupid Fighter in combat not only makes him less effective, it means the party has to put a lot more work in keeping him alive.

Now what you see in a lot of computer games, is that the developers can't think of every possible strategy or combination the players will use in battles. You have to start with some kind of baseline expectations- like the classic Fighter/Cleric/Wizard/Rogue party. So you create content based on that. But players will be like, oh no, we're going to use four Clerics! And the game can't be written to take that into account.

Sneakily, what the developers of those games do is, they find ways to funnel you into making the kinds of characters they are making the content for. They buff some classes, nerf others, make better gear options for the 'right' classes, and so on (see most MMO's for details on how this works).

Pathfinder has to do this to some extent, and it's not malicious or anything, it's just that creating content balanced for the all-Rogue party is not an efficient use of resources. If you want to know why it's easier to create and play "Conan the Barbarian" in Pathfinder than "Simon Belmont", that's why. Because the party that uses Conan is easier to build content for.

But players like options, even if balancing those options can be a very difficult task. Like most people who like Pathfinder, I've sighed at how some options just seem to suck compared to others- but I totally get why that is. Overhauling Mounted Combat, a subsystem only a small percentage of players even use, and only a percentage of the game's content even allows to be used, simply can't be a priority for a successful business model. So we're left to our own devices to patch these rules, if we want them in the game.

That's the lesson I'm taking away from this thread- if you decide you want to deviate from the base assumptions, the core conceits of the game, you're kind of on your own. As much as it irks me, Claxon is right. You want to drive a square peg into a round hole, you're basically flying solo.

Again, there is no malice in creating options some players want, and leaving them under-supported. It's just assumed that if you want to let your players be a party of Rangers, both you as the GM and the players have to figure out how that's going to work. Because devoting man-hours and money for the "Ultimate Ranger Party" sourcebook only works if a large percentage of the people who play this game will buy it.


If nothing works, try this.

The Mirror of Turning

When a member of the party looks into this mirror, the entire party is cloned. After the clones are killed, the clones & all their equipment vanish. The mirror breaks, & all the pcs gain a +1 magic item.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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Bill Dunn wrote:
Claxon wrote:
Bill Dunn wrote:
Except the fact that they didn't choose to play a wizard probably indicates what type of campaign they want to play. They don't want to play a regular campaign balanced around the presence of a wizard, a cleric, a rogue, and a fighter. They'd probably prefer a campaign where they're going mano a mano with their enemies - so consider focusing a bit more around that sort of campaign. Plan to use more martial NPCs with high BABs, high physical stats, and weapons that can be disarmed, that can be pushed about a battlefield with bull rush, that own big nasty beasts as pets, and don't require lots of magic to resist or overcome, just good old fashioned elbow grease and guts.
Except that they did choose to play Pathfinder, which is game full of magic (including enemies with magic even with actual spell casting) and all manner of evil beings which don't fight fair or fight mano a mano. There are plenty of ways for them not to play wizards and deal with challenges that are often more easily dealt with by wizards or clerics. But so far is seems like they're willfully ignoring those possibilities. If they didn't want a world of magic, then Pathfinder probably isn't the best system to represent the kind of game they wanted.
That's ridiculous. From the sounds of things, they're enjoying their PF characters well enough and there is a host of campaign options that PF handles just fine. There's no reason they need to pursue another game system.

More than that, I'm a little surprised at the assumption that a party without a wizard simply can't be expected to deal with a wizard. I've had groups without a single 9-level caster amongst them finish APs like Rise of the Runelords where the final boss is

Minor RotRL Spoiler:
an immortal archmage backed by a dragon and magical giants
, as well as several others. You may not have hard counters or direct corollaries to a lot of wizard spells, but you should still have the resources to defeat a wizard (or cleric, druid, etc.). Isn't it actually pretty normal for enemies to have access to powers or special abilities the party doesn't?


It is normal for that sort of thing, but the BEST option for dealing with those problems is having the right tool for the job. Consider how many enemies have debilitating effects that only the Cleric has a ready answer for.

You can use an Oracle instead of a Cleric, but he's not the best at dealing with those problems. Just like how having a Wizard to solve problems for you is better than a Bard with Use Magic Device trained.

Sure, an experienced player can make things work, especially if his character is well optimized. It's simply a truth though that there is a "best" solution, and it's easier to employ it.


Lynceus wrote:

It is normal for that sort of thing, but the BEST option for dealing with those problems is having the right tool for the job. Consider how many enemies have debilitating effects that only the Cleric has a ready answer for.

You can use an Oracle instead of a Cleric, but he's not the best at dealing with those problems. Just like how having a Wizard to solve problems for you is better than a Bard with Use Magic Device trained.

Sure, an experienced player can make things work, especially if his character is well optimized. It's simply a truth though that there is a "best" solution, and it's easier to employ it.

Indeed, and I would say the problem with your group is that sounds like they poured everything into their specialties (which isn't uncommon) but their specialties don't cover a wide enough array of things to be generally prepared for all situations.

The best tool for the job would make it significantly easier, but your players (if they use forethought, and make good use of resources) can succeed in fights against primarily magical/flying/etc enemies but it will be more challenging then throwing them against the things they're best designed to challenge. And I'm not saying they shouldn't get to encounter things they're strong against, I'm just also saying you shouldn't not put them up against things they're not prepared for because it was their choice to not be prepared. It's not even that they don't have the optimal tool, it outright seems like they don't have the tools for certain things.


The problem isn't that they don't have a wizard - they don't have a full caster at all - I suspect the ability to handle that type of enemy will become easier as the warpriest levels up.

Honestly the '6th level' casters are fine overall but the mid levels are the worst - waiting for access to spells the game assumes you have hurts. I think they had a better idea of altering the spell list and making 'critical' spells come online sooner (like on the summoner list) - the playerbase abusing the crap out of it for cheaper potions/scrolls/etc. (or potions of spells that otherwise were illegal) and we haven't seen an innovative spell list again - it would be really helpful though especially as the warpriest can 'fill in' for the cleric in almost every aspect except the clutch spell access.

I would humbly suggest if you want to 'train' your group on how to deal with oddball stuff - give them some items that solve the problem shortly before you toss it at them.

Example:

Wizard fight - party finds some scrolls - dispel magic - protection from energy - perhaps another counter to the wizards spells - not a 'perfect' defeat the wizard card but using them would make the fight 'easy'.

Flying fight - party finds cache of potions of fly - or a scroll of air walk - communal, or both.

Ranged fight - party finds a magic bow

etc.

If you your group is stubborn about it - then give them what they need and beat 'em over the head (ok that's a metaphor don't do that) with the problem. If you have them find 2 longbows and a crossbow they can't complain when the fight involves archers right?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lynceus wrote:


More great points and good advice. I especially like the idea of "minor enemies" who fly or use obnoxious defenses- they aren't the big threat, but their ability to...ah...fly in the face of the party might make my group think about how to deal with the problem.

Pixies, imps, quasits, poltergeists, atomies, allips, and of course dragons can make for good starting creatures to add class levels to. The Accuser seems to have a special potential in that it can record the fights and teleport back to its boss to replay all the enemies tricks and tactics. In my experience, there are fewer tings that make the players panic more than an enemy escaping with information about them.

Also remember to consider monster synergy. For example, will'o'wisps and shambling mounds can be one of the nastiest monster pairings you can do (having the will'o'wisp jolt the shambling mounds to power them up.)

Quote:


In addition, team-oriented tactical games, like Pathfinder, are written with certain expectations, and can fall apart if you do things in a strange or less optimal fashion. Good players can overcome these expectations, but only if they have the system mastery to know what they are getting themselves into, and what options they have to work with.

My group doesn't strategize well. Session Zero was a total failure- they came to the table with the character concept they thought would be 'fun'. Some tweaking had to be made, originally the Fighter used that archetype that requires you to use a one-handed weapon and not even a shield. Because he wanted to use combat maneuvers, and to him, that archetype added bonuses to those, so it was good, right?

We eventually sold him on Lore Warden, but his tendency to suffer from decision paralysis and act like a Big Stupid Fighter in combat not only makes him less effective, it means the party has to put a lot more work in keeping him alive.

Perhaps sitting down with the players and discussing strategy (and maybe how the game is going) might work for you? Certainly, there might be some advantages the players potentially have they might not be thinking about. For example, the combat maneuver fighter could use Sunder or Steal to ruin a spellcaster's day by targeting the caster's holy symbol or spell component pouch.


Reposting from another thread (Force multipliers for low level enemies vs. higher level PCs?) with some editing to make it a better fit to this thread:

Pick enemy NPCs and monsters that can make good use of teamwork feats. These are also available to PCs, but in practice it seems that very few PCs ever use them unless they have a class feature (like Cavalier, Hunter, or Inquisitor) that hands them out, but as the GM, feel free to build/rebuild all your NPCs with optimized Teamwork feats and tactical training, while leaving them with gear that is generally not worth looting. In addition to laying traps, have them do things like scatter eggshells on the ground to impair PCs' Stealth. Also have the more organized enemies organize them into squads of optimized composition.

Since with your party you have to worry about certain enemy abilities resulting in a TPK due to party weaknesses, when you send opponents after them that target their weaknesses, have them be working for somebody who actually wants to capture them alive, not just to throw them in a dungeon forever, but to use them for some purpose, so that they get captured but then have a chance to earn their back their freedom, perhaps filling in some of their deficiencies in the process.


even the fight with the CR 9 Bone Devil

That should be a TPK a Bonedevil, specialy if it uses its wall of ice at will...

Sovereign Court

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GMing is teaching
It's actually very obvious in your group. You taught them that x4 crits are scary so they buy a jingasa. You taught them that being trapped by AoOs is scary so they take Escape Route. And, you've taught them that Melee Is Always The Answer. And they're attentive students.

Unlearning is painful
You can see this in PFS when people complain about "Year of the Skill Check". In the dim past, you could solve most PFS adventures almost entirely with violence, and lots of character build guides recommend dumping intelligence to 7. Maybe there was an important skill check, but it was sufficient if only one PC could make it. Approximately since John Compton took over, adventures became more sophisticated. Environmental challenges, social confrontations, archeology, chases - Indiana Jones has to do a lot more than just punch up Nazis.

So unlearning that you could safely dump Intelligence and utterly ignore the feelings of NPCs was painful for many people, leading to complaints. Not as many complaints lately though, so maybe the new paradigm has sunk in more and people are feeling the sting less.

So, be kind to your players. If they've never fought a well-played wizard, don't confront them with a high-level well-played wizard rightaway.

The teacher has to learn, too
You want to teach your players to diversify, but you aren't all that experienced in that yourself. And you have only so much time you want to spend on building completely different things. Perfectly reasonable.

So start small. Add a low-level wizard to an encounter, and play him smart. (And by "wizard" I mean both the actual class but also witches, sorcerers, alchemist, fey trickster creatures and what have you.) It's not the main issue of the encounter, it's a thorn in the side. It allows you to build up an idea of how you can use those enemies, and how they work.

Once you get comfortable with that, start playing around with mid-level ones. It's a lot less work to make a mid-level wizard if you're already good at low-level ones. Meanwhile, your players won't be completely blindsided either.

Starting points
The flying buffer mentioned is a good one. Pick one that can't threaten the party on his own. Like an evil pixie bard with no directly deadly spells. It relies on ground-pounding thugs. When the PCs beat those, it flees. However, it finds the next group of thugs, and explains them how to fight the PCs based on what he's seen, and buffs them. And you gave the pixie some description and mannerisms so they recognize it's the same one. Eventually, your players will come up with a way to lure the pixie into a low-ceiling room, or perhaps shoot it with a bow. Your players seem smart enough to learn from things that give them difficulty.

Another one is the challenge that isn't about simply beating the enemy into pulp. Have enemies take a hostage that they can kill with a readied action (high value NPC with few HD). Enemies aren't looking for combat, they make some demands that aren't all that outrageous. But unless the party comes up with a way to get the hostage away from the guy with a knife at his throat, they can't use simple violence. (Possible solutions include a potion of invisibility, sneaking up to the hostage-taker and disarming him.) By not raising the demands too high, you make just letting the enemies have their way for now an acceptable solution, too.

Notice that both these tactics employ first frustrating your players a bit with an enemy that they can't easily attack. I find that a little bit of player frustration is a good thing: at the time they complain, but when they take revenge later it's far far sweeter than if they beat the enemy the first time with no complications.


Good advice from Ascalaphus.


I've found out a couple of things after running an adventure path, several modules and a whole lot of PFS scenarios:
- Monsters aren't as optimised as your players. Players tend to specialise in one or two things and let the other party members take care of the rest. Monsters tend to be more well-rounded and are jacks of several trades. Sure, there are more brute monsters and more caster-like enemies, but say, an Erinyes seems built for both melee and ranged attacks, while not being absolutely spectacular on either, as well as packing a few nasty spells. A PC completely specced on using the bow has a much higher damage output than the average Erinyes. Moreover, enemies tend to have rather vanilla feats and equipment, easily accessible by every GM (basically, most of the big hardcover books). Meanwhile, players get to cherry-pick from all different kinds of splatbooks.
- Related to my first point, players are overall more powerful than enemies of a reasonable CR. As someone earlier said, I think most enemies are built for four point-buy 15 PCs. The more you deviate from that, the bigger the imbalance will become. Enemies have to-hits and damage outputs calculated for relatively weaker PCs. And wealthy characters can shore up weak points, Bestiary enemies can't. If you get hit a lot, buy more AC. If you fail a lot of saves, get Iron Will or resistance bonuses.
- Moreover, I think the CR system is broken. CR doesn't seem to scale well. Some things are horribly under-CRed (Ghouls, for example), and tweaking encounters according to suggested CR doesn't seem to do much. Planting several lower-CR mooks next to a higher-CR boss means two PCs are busy for one round dealing with the mooks before taking on the boss, gaining him only a slight advantage. The drop in HP and damage output once you go down a CR is so significant that those are more speedbumps than actual challenges.
- Related to the previous point, action economy. I've seen countless PFS scenarios, modules and APs where the writers think one high-CR monster is a proper challenge for a party. It isn't. It has a lot of hit points and damage output, but can still only take one action per turn. Smart PCs will stay clear of full-attack options so the enemy can only focus on one character at a time, leaving at least three other people left to deal with him (assuming a party of four). Those 50 extra HP don't mean a lot if there are three people with greatswords chopping at him. And again, peppering the fight with lower-CR mooks to even out the action economy isn't worth it, IMHO. A creature with CR equal to PC level isn't much of a challenge most of the time, especially if people have AoE effects.
- Finally, I've found that a lot of prepublished encounters have sub-optimal tactics (mostly in APs, scenarios and modules, not Bestiary monsters, as they don't have tactics). A flying creature locked in a small room so it can't use Flyby Attack easily, tactics specifically calling out not using certain abilities, and so on. Meanwhile, as I've said before, players have specialised in a few things and are fighting to their full capability. I've often seen encounters that were deadly on paper end up as cakewalks purely because tactics were favouring the PCs.


Lynceus wrote:

One of the strengths of RPG's is that they sell you on the idea that you can play any character you want, whatever idea you have in your mind can become real. Unfortunately, no game system can really deliver on that promise- there are going to be concepts that work, and ones that don't.

In addition, team-oriented tactical games, like Pathfinder, are written with certain expectations, and can fall apart if you do things in a strange or less optimal fashion. Good players can overcome these expectations, but only if they have the system mastery to know what they are getting themselves into, and what options they have to work with.

My group doesn't strategize well. Session Zero was a total failure- they came to the table with the character concept they thought would be 'fun'. Some tweaking had to be made, originally the Fighter used that archetype that requires you to use a one-handed weapon and not even a shield. Because he wanted to use combat maneuvers, and to him, that archetype added bonuses to those, so it was good, right? ...

That is frustrating to us GMs. The game offers the players a storehouse full of the tools (classes and abilities) that the PCs need, but they chose the tools they want rather than the tools they need.

Others have given advice on handling this. Comment #66 by Ascalaphus is especially well written. The key is training the PCs.

I like to teach with real life examples, so let me pick on the PCs in the Iron Gods adventure path I run. We recently finished the 4th module, Valley of the Brain Collectors. A trivial spoiler is that the adventure takes place in a valley and that the party will encounter neh-thalggu, also known as brain collectors. Early in the module, a few friendly NPCs provide warnings about what they have seen in the upper valley.

The warnings aren't enough if the party lacks the proper abilities. The party contained a half-elf magus, a strix skald, a dwarf gunslinger/rogue, a human fighter, and a human bloodrager. No primary casters, except for the fighter's wizard cohort. This party lacked the good abilities for fighting neh-thalggu. But they wouldn't encounter the main colony of neh-thalggu until the end of the module, at 12th level.

In most of the valley, I rolled random encounters off the table in the module. But at 11th level I replaced one random encounter with a designed encounter: a neh-thalggu (CR 8) and an athach giant (CR 12). The neh-thalggu was to teach the party how to fight neh-thalggu. The athach was to give the party members who could not fight neh-thalggu their own challenge, and to boost the XP of the encounter, because the neh-thalggu would feel like a CR 12 challenge in itself.

The magus made a good knowledge roll and learned the neh-thalggu's defenses. He used his one effective prepared spell against it over and over again off by spending his arcane pool. The skald used her two valuable and versatile Spell Kenning slots to mimic him. I silently chortled when the fighter's player complained that none of the spells his wizard cohort had prepared were any good against the neh-thalggu. The bloodrager was a GMPC who specialized in helping the other party members, so she could contribute a little out of her eclectic skillset. The fighter and the gunslinger fought the athach.

(By the way, due to Spell Kenning, a 5th-level skald is as good at adverse-condition removal as a 3rd-level cleric.)

When the party entered the lair of the neh-thalggu a level later, they were prepared. But the teaching did not stop there. I added an alien monster based on a cloaker. The party had not fought a cloaker yet, so it was a new challenge. And a mere CR 5 challenge, so it wasn't going to cripple them. I don't know of any cloakers in the adventure path, but identifying weaknesses is always good for the party.

And still the teaching continued. In a side quest between modules, I threw in an encounter with a Technic League team accompanied by a myrmidon robot. They understood my message when I held up the cover of the 5th module to show them what a myrmidon robot looked like. It was another training opportunity.


Quentin Coldwater wrote:
- Related to my first point, players are overall more powerful than enemies of a reasonable CR.

They're supposed to be. After all, the game is designed on the assumption that the PCs will win encounters and get to continue the game. If monsters were equal to the party then you'd get a TPK the first time they have some bad rolls, the GM has hot dice, or they make a tactical error.

Quentin Coldwater wrote:
- Moreover, I think the CR system is broken. CR doesn't seem to scale well. Some things are horribly under-CRed (Ghouls, for example), and tweaking encounters according to suggested CR doesn't seem to do much. Planting several lower-CR mooks next to a higher-CR boss means two PCs are busy for one round dealing with the mooks before taking on the boss, gaining him only a slight advantage. The drop in HP and damage output once you go down a CR is so significant that those are more speedbumps than actual challenges.

The CR system is only broken if you expect it to be ironclad rules for perfect encounter design, which it was never intended to be. CR still works just fine in it's intended role as a vague guideline to help the GM determine roughly how powerful a given enemy is.


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Maybe the published monsters would have a better chance of working if their agent would get them some actual paying gigs.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lynceus wrote:
Well I generally have been using multiple monsters, I know action economy is King- I haven't used a Dragon in over two years now. I was just using the Nuckelavee as an example; I've found lots of under-performers while rifling through monsters. This is a long post, sorry, so... ** spoiler omitted **...

Finished reading this thread. Most of the advice is solid. CR is only a general rating and for the 'standard 15 pt buy group of 4.'

One very simple method to increase encounter difficulty is using waves...and no opportunities for rest. Low-level flunkies you can routinely wipe out get a lot tougher when you're out of turn undead and healing. Especially when the second, third, fourth, etc. waves of reinforcements show up. And you're on your third day without sleep...few spells and suffering from fatigue.

Mix it up. Add a few dozen helpless citizens in the mix and now your AoE damage abilities cannot be used (unless you have selective or are using turn undead).

Puppy rush...have the bad guys disguised or mixed up among the civilians.

Also (I don't know all the group's capabilities but) how would the group fare:

If their weapons were Greased? The swashbuckler could probably make the save...but how are the other pair's reflex saves? If you fail, your weapon is on the ground...you can pick it up which provokes or hopefully draw your backup? And have a nice Unseen Servant grab the fallen weapon and move it away.

How's their touch AC? Witchfire I'm looking at you, especially if you pair some of them with a group of Fire support.

Flyers?

Incorporeals? (This can be a serious pain...attacking from the ground or walls while staying inside the rock?)

Waves of Allips?

Fighting on difficult terrain? No charging, no 5 foot steps.

Being Entangled (spells or tanglefoot bags).

Concealment? Even a 20% miss chance adds up if everyone you are facing has it.

Maybe the approach to the BBEG fortress has some long stretches along a narrow mountain path. How's that Climb/Balance check in full armor? ***good place to stage an ambush with ranged fliers that also say Grease the pathway/Bull Rush, Aqeuous Orb, etc...don't have a fall to the death but say a nice 40 foot drop to a gully to keep the PCs honest. And add in altitude sickness or say exposure to extreme elements (the party did pack Endure Elements/cold weather clothing right?)

Fighting in the dark? or Darkness? Against foes with blindsight?

A standard pit trap...with 4 sleeping invisible gibbering mouthers at the bottom. Say with a Glyph that is triggered by a falling PC that say weakens their will save...or say stuns/paralyzes them for a round? And a nice Alarm spell to let the Gibbering Mouther's know that dinner has arrived? PC falls, lands prone (+4 to be hit) and is now subject to 24 attacks...plus the gibbering...oh the gibbering....oh and be sure to pair them with something other creature, say a flyer like a few shadows (or a greater shadow) that doesn't mind doing a flyby strength drain touch attack.

Pit trap with ooze(s) on the bottom? Or say ooze(s) on the ceiling that drop on the first person(s) that walks under them? Auto-engulf goodness.

A walkway across a chasm...that is actually made of glass and disguised? And a nice Glyph with a Shatter spell? Below your fall is broken by a nice ground cover of stalagmites? Some of which are ???

Attend a conference where your weapons are peace-bonded? You'll lose your first action/round freeing it when you are attacked?

Attacked while sleeping? You don't sleep in that fancy armor do you? Especially if you are attacked by something that tunneled or earth glided right under you?

Air Elemental (Large) CR 5. Attack: Whirlwind form: Moves along the party picking them up (without provoking) then fly STRAIGHT UP (100' perfect flight) and as a free action, drop the PCs from the top of their 40' whirlwind. A 140 foot or so fall will probably ruin some of the PC's day. And remember when you fall, you land PRONE.

Phase Spider (group of them) ambush. I'm guessing the PCs cannot routinely see into Ethereal plane so these spodders get their surprise attacks against flat-footed ACs (well not anyone who has Uncanny dodge, etc...)

Just a few ideas to make their life interesting.


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Stirges. They suck.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

So do Wights at level 1.


I skipped a bunch of this, but to my understanding, you are familiar with ways to augment monsters to make them more challenging, as well as multiple of moderate CR > single high CR; your issue is that the game's roster of monsters is forcing you to invest time you don't have/don't want to in order to challenge the group. I think this is possible, too.

If the group can't handle fighting an entire group of say ranged/flying monsters but plow through melee/grounded monsters, why not throw those grounded monsters at them, and just pepper in one or two ranged/flying monsters? Tell your group that even if they're not going to specialize in ranged combat, it's still foolish to go out adventuring without a bow/crossbow, and eventually, means to fly - even if it's for 1 combat per day.


What you are missing is this creature has a stealthy of +17 (after adjustment for size), spring attack, wind stance, lighting stance and a 50’ movement. It should be using hit a run tactics not stand and deliver. Don’t bother with a full attack simply keep moving. Start it 25’ away from who it will attack, and use its breath weapon in the surprise round. Then move in and attack the squishy and end up 25’ away. Keep its distance and use the breath weapon as often as possible. If the combat is going against it use a withdrawal and stealth (Lighting stance gives it concealment so it effectively has HIPS). If the party has any animals like horses they are probably diseased and have a good chance of dying.

This is not a monster to use in a dungeon encounter, but rather a wilderness encounter where it can use the terrain to its advantage. Figuring out the proper tactics for each monster can be difficult especially if your strong point is not tactics. If you are not looking at the strength of the monster and try, and run them all the same then most of them are going to seem like crap.


Rerednaw wrote:
One very simple method to increase encounter difficulty is using waves...and no opportunities for rest. Low-level flunkies you can routinely wipe out get a lot tougher when you're out of turn undead and healing. Especially when the second, third, fourth, etc. waves of reinforcements show up. And you're on your third day without sleep...few spells and suffering from fatigue.

So that only parties with resting spells and/or magical modes of movement succeed?

Lantern Lodge

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Lynceus wrote:
Now when I have a Cleric use Deeper Darkness to help it's Bone Devil ally, and the party doesn't even have a scroll of Daylight, then I have no pity for them, that's something that's come up before, and they should know better! ^-^

now how can said character READ said scroll if they cant see to use it? that's where oils come in, Wands and potions are better than scrolls.

Classic is the Remove Blindness/deafness scroll. So many times have i had characters try to use a scroll to cure that spell.

As for fly being 60' have the characters with ready actions to charge the flying creature when they get in range (Could also stop the flight) so everyone could get a round at it. My person favorite is readying a Wall of Force in front of a fast flyer Every fight has a way of solving it the players just need to find it.


Ha, that's cute about the Scroll of Daylight. I suppose you'd have to cast it outside the area of darkness. I'd allow it though, I have enough consumable hate in my gaming circle.

Most magic items in my campaign already provide clues as to their function, or simply auto-identify themselves to avoid slowing down play for no good reason. I think if it ever comes up I'll say "the runes on the magical scroll glow with magic light, allowing you to read them even in darkness".

I already use a lot of alternative consumables, like ceramic 'spell tiles' that activate when you break them, as opposed to standard potions. Same rules for making them/using them, but now you have something you could use when holding your breath, for example.

Some might argue that such limitations are meant to balance these items, but given the existence of Wondrous Item consumables that already exist and don't have these limitations, I don't see any real balancing factors.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lynceus wrote:

Ha, that's cute about the Scroll of Daylight. I suppose you'd have to cast it outside the area of darkness. I'd allow it though, I have enough consumable hate in my gaming circle.

Most magic items in my campaign already provide clues as to their function, or simply auto-identify themselves to avoid slowing down play for no good reason. I think if it ever comes up I'll say "the runes on the magical scroll glow with magic light, allowing you to read them even in darkness".

I already use a lot of alternative consumables, like ceramic 'spell tiles' that activate when you break them, as opposed to standard potions. Same rules for making them/using them, but now you have something you could use when holding your breath, for example.

Some might argue that such limitations are meant to balance these items, but given the existence of Wondrous Item consumables that already exist and don't have these limitations, I don't see any real balancing factors.

I suppose since you stated you don't always have the luxury of time to come up with basically paper to the party's rock...read a few of the published adventures by Paizo. Or even use/reskin a few of the encounters. Under most monster entries (especially for bosses) they usually have a 'tactics' section. While it doesn't cover all contingencies it does sometimes give some good ideas on how to use existing stock monsters.

Alternatively 5 room dungeon (google it) is a good read.

In Pathfinder using the AP's I've personally very rarely re-statted monsters...and usually it's by applying the advanced template. I find throwing an extra wave of mooks usually covers the fact that the party is above the AP's APL ratings due to gear or optimization.

Good luck whatever you decide.


Two more notes:

1) A fight generally isn't even a truly serious one unless it's APL+4 - that's when things get truly serious. "At CR" encounters are more-or-less intentionally designed to be cakewalks.

2) How often PCs are able to rest also influences this. Really, the goal usually isn't to "seriously test" the party with every encounter, because they'll usually stomp all over anything in their path when they've got full resources. Rather, most encounters should simply be seen as a way to drain their resources before the actual challenge happens. An "average" day has about four battles with 25% of the party's resources drained in each fight, so they should usually have at least three fights before anything you actually want to be a challenge - maybe one or two more if they've got a lot of resources and don't burn them too quickly.

For added help, you can also send things that they'd want to use resources on, such as a couple waves of weak undead to burn Channel Energy or something. Just be sure to give everyone a chance to shine. XD

The point is that published monsters can be - and usually are - effective... but only if you use them right.


I read the first page but not the second so sorry if this has been said,
But the monsters/encounters can also use all of the same stuff that that PC's can use. So a few monster/NPC consumables and they can be very tough.

Also prep-work can kill you as a GM, and having to spend time modding every encounter can take up a lot of time.
So work up some general ways to help said encounters that can be used by most if not all of them.
The other side of the coin is de-buffs that cannot be easily removed from the PC's might be an option.
I know often GM's have a problem with players sleeping and or regaining their abilities but maybe you have to not let them do so. If they get used to not sleeping as easily then maybe they save some of their good stuff/abilities and not use it every time.

Good Luck
MDC


^I'd feel rather bad if my gamemastering was causing my players to be sleeping . . . .


Monsters using consumables is very unpopular with the people I play Pathfinder with- the general attitude is that the monster is "drinking/eating/using our treasure".

I mean, consider this. What if, instead of giving enemies magic weapons, any enemy that has a clue the party is coming, just used oil of magic weapon? If instead of giving four enemies +1 swords, a caster enemy has a wand of magic weapon?

Sure, the extra money saved on gear would have to go somewhere, and I don't think most GM's would try to cheat the party out of loot this way- they'd make up the difference elsewhere- but the perception of the players is the important thing.

That's not saying I never have enemies use consumables, but it's not a common occurrence for these very reasons. With charged items, the party always recovers them partially charged, but I never deduct charges the NPC uses. I don't know if my players realize that, or even appreciate it, but I feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Way back in middle school, in my AD&D days, my friends and I were playing, and we had to fight an evil wizard, who had a Staff of Power. He used it's charges like candy to deal damage to us, and then when we almost had him beat, he decided to break it out of spite, dealing massive damage with it's Retributive Strike power.

That left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure it was a legitimate course of actions for a person in a fantasy world to take, but it removed any sense of player agency from the proceedings. The NPC was vastly more powerful due to an item that we would never be allowed to use ourselves. Sometimes legitimate actions people in the game world could take aren't fun. Enemies could build traps that no Rogue could spot or disarm with a little bit of creativity- thereby removing any sense of agency from the player.

If the players aren't having fun, I feel, the GM has failed at his job. Now I fully admit, there are some players who actually like being kicked in the unmentionables, because they feel more challenged, and more ecstatic when they win. My hat's off to them, but I know I'd feel very frustrated playing that kind of game- so unless my players say that's what they want, that's not the game I plan on running.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Going up against an enemy that uses consumables isn't being "kicked in the unmentionables", it's a part of the game.

If players are getting angry at opponents for using consumables because they auto-decided whatever their opponents have is their treasure and shouldn't be used up that speaks more to player entitlement issues than a gamemastering or system issue.


Lynceus wrote:

Monsters using consumables is very unpopular with the people I play Pathfinder with- the general attitude is that the monster is "drinking/eating/using our treasure".

I mean, consider this. What if, instead of giving enemies magic weapons, any enemy that has a clue the party is coming, just used oil of magic weapon? If instead of giving four enemies +1 swords, a caster enemy has a wand of magic weapon?

Sure, the extra money saved on gear would have to go somewhere, and I don't think most GM's would try to cheat the party out of loot this way- they'd make up the difference elsewhere- but the perception of the players is the important thing.

That's not saying I never have enemies use consumables, but it's not a common occurrence for these very reasons. With charged items, the party always recovers them partially charged, but I never deduct charges the NPC uses. I don't know if my players realize that, or even appreciate it, but I feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Way back in middle school, in my AD&D days, my friends and I were playing, and we had to fight an evil wizard, who had a Staff of Power. He used it's charges like candy to deal damage to us, and then when we almost had him beat, he decided to break it out of spite, dealing massive damage with it's Retributive Strike power.

That left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure it was a legitimate course of actions for a person in a fantasy world to take, but it removed any sense of player agency from the proceedings. The NPC was vastly more powerful due to an item that we would never be allowed to use ourselves. Sometimes legitimate actions people in the game world could take aren't fun. Enemies could build traps that no Rogue could spot or disarm with a little bit of creativity- thereby removing any sense of agency from the player.

If the players aren't having fun, I feel, the GM has failed at his job. Now I fully admit, there are some players who actually like being kicked in the unmentionables, because they feel more challenged, and...

OK, I think I'm getting a better understanding of the root of the problem here: the GM in this group has a perception of fun that isn't matching the players' unified perception of fun. This is a bit more serious of a problem than balancing encounters. From what I've read on here (and I've skipped quite a few posts), your players all build their characters to be hyper-specialized, which is geared toward getting through encounters in a very specific way. The few times you've deviated from the expected monster tactics they're designed to dominate against, they've fallen apart and called shenanigans, accusing you of fishing for a TPK. They also call shenanigans any time a monster uses a consumable, claiming that you're eliminating their treasure.

Based on this, it doesn't sound like your group cares much for playing Pathfinder as much as they simply enjoy the instant gratification of winning a game in the most efficient way possible. It also sounds like you're frustrated with this behavior, since you're looking in vein on ways to challenge them, when it's simply impossible to do with them telling you how to DM. It's like when my daughter and I play hide-and-seek, she tells me to go hide in the bathroom, and I go hide in the bathroom, and she finds me in two seconds because that's where she told me to hide. Your players are telling you what to do, and building their characters knowing you'll listen, which doesn't really sound fun for you.

Of course, the DM is SUPPOSED to consider his party's strengths and weaknesses when designing an encounter, making sure he WON'T TPK, but in your case, this is a bit much. It's a bit overplayed, but your best bet is to talk to the players and tell them that you're not having fun with the current play style. Another solution could be to ask if anyone else would like to DM for a while so you can just take a break; it sounds like an exhausting situation.

P.S. If I've misunderstood the situation, sorry for being presumptuous!


Lynceus wrote:

Way back in middle school, in my AD&D days, my friends and I were playing, and we had to fight an evil wizard, who had a Staff of Power. He used it's charges like candy to deal damage to us, and then when we almost had him beat, he decided to break it out of spite, dealing massive damage with it's Retributive Strike power.

That left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure it was a legitimate course of actions for a person in a fantasy world to take, but it removed any sense of player agency from the proceedings. The NPC was vastly more powerful due to an item that we would never be allowed to use ourselves. Sometimes legitimate actions people in the game world could take aren't fun. Enemies could build traps that no Rogue could spot or disarm with a little bit of creativity- thereby removing any sense of agency from the player.

Player agency is letting the PCs' actions matter. The evil wizard breaking the Staff of Power was the NPC's actions mattering. No player agency involved.

True, it is a big disappointment. The wizard managed one last act of vengeance against the party, and they could do nothing because it was unexpected. An experienced GM could have spread rumors of this wizard destroying other people's magic items, so that they might have guessed that he might destroy his staff and maybe stolen it from him beforehand. But a middle-school GM is unlikely to have such sophistication. Especially a GM that lays undetectable traps in the dungeon--what is the point of those? Undetectable and unavoidable traps are a boring tax on hit points, "You step on a pressure plate and you all take 15 damage. That's all."

Let me pull another example from my own game. At the end of the 4th module of the Iron Gods campaign, the evil boss Dimension Doored away right before he was defeated. He went into his treasure room and packed up all the valuable treasure except for the macguffin that party was after. Then he turned invisible and Dimension Doored outside. The party was on a side quest to find him, and learned that he went to the beginning of the 5th module.

Denying them treasure sounds like evil GMing, right? Nope. Chasing an opponent who has personally wronged the party is more exciting than fighting an opponent who did evil to other people. Furthermore, they will get the treasure in the end. Actually, I didn't take away treasure, because in the module the treasure room was empty except for the macguffin. The boss will have treasure that I added as a reward for the side quest.

And this gets back to the point of published monsters not working. My party would have defeated the boss if I played him as fighting to the death. But his motivations went beyond fighting, so he was not yet defeated. A monster can be more than his Bestiary entry.


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Lynceus wrote:


That left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure it was a legitimate course of actions for a person in a fantasy world to take, but it removed any sense of player agency from the proceedings. The NPC was vastly more powerful due to an item that we would never be allowed to use ourselves. Sometimes legitimate actions people in the game world could take aren't fun. Enemies could build traps that no Rogue could spot or disarm with a little bit of creativity- thereby removing any sense of agency from the player.

I'm really not sure I follow the logic here. How does the wizard breaking the staff remove any sense of player agency? Aren't the players the ones who drove him so hard that he took a last, bitter stab at them? Does failure to secure the juiciest piece of loot from the wizard's dead body remove player agency? That doesn't make sense.


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I mean, let's say you decided before the adventure that "unless the PCs manage to steal, disarm, or otherwise get the BBEG to drop the macguffin, the villain will use their dying breath to destroy the mystic whatsit which the ownership of would make the characters' next task much easier" isn't that in a way enabling player agency?

That is, if in their fight they decide it's more important to get the thing than kill the person holding the thing, they get the thing. If they decide otherwise, they don't get the thing.

Like say we make this easy, the object is on a pedestal 30' away from the baddie, and the PCs can sneak up pretty easily if they're smart and cautious, but on the bad guy's first turn he's going to walk over and pick it up. If the arcane caster in the party cast mage hand instead of letting loose with the most powerful spell they've got, they're going to get the mystic dingus.

I think respecting player agency involves consequences both for things the players did do, and for things they could have done but didn't for whatever reason.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lynceus wrote:

I had a much longer post, but I decided just to get to the point. I spent a good two hours last night looking for new monsters to challenge my players with- the last batch were basically laughed off.

I finally stopped after reviewing the 50th monster, 4 above their CR. So few monsters even seem to meet the bars presented in monster creation, and I don't know why. Something that's supposedly "big and evil and heinous" (the CR 9 Nuckelavee) has a +11 to hit. What?

Oh sure, it has a mean breath weapon, but it'd get used once and then it would curl up and die. Am I missing something?

One thing that I've found most useful in my campaigns is to not just have one bad mean foe, but an assembly of foes. I've taken the group CRs from various sources and use them as guidelines for CR-appropriate encounters and it works. Even when the most terrifying bad guy is the same or even a level less than the group, the combat plays out much differently when that bad guy is surrounded by four, six or even eight minions.

Sovereign Court

There's a real difference between a wizard who's using that staff of power as a crutch, and enemies that spend their last 500gp on a few good potions and scrolls in case they run into terrifyingly lethal opponents (the PCs).

I.e. a difference between an enemy chewing up 100K loot in front of you or 500gp.


Have to agree that the example Lyncaeus gave isn't quite an example of not respecting player agency. That would be more like (To cite an example I ran into once) "A friendly NPC teleports you all away right before you can get the McGuffin. No, you can't refuse the teleport spell, or attempt to resist it in any way, because the NPC is friendly. No, you can't attempt to grab the McGuffin at the last second before the spell kicks in. It just happens, okay?"

That said, just because an action is totally legitimate and would make sense for an NPC to do doesn't mean it'll be fun for the party. To bring up another example, I once had to deal with the DM hitting us with a spellcaster who could burrow and use blasting spells. The DM had him basically unburrow over 400 feet away in cover, fireball the party, then reburrow. The perception modifiers for being 400 feet away made it impossible for anyone in the party to spot the guy even if we rolled a natural 20 on perception and he flubbed his stealth roll. Yeah, the bad guy was just using smart hit and run tactics, but for the party the end result was increasing frustration at how we couldn't do anything but sit there taking damage since we could never see him to counterattack and any efforts at finding some way to protect ourselves or lure him closer failed.


What I mean by player agency is that there was no action we could take (this was AD&D, so rules for disarming or wrestling away a magic item were ad hoc or completely optional) to prevent the incident.

It was completely taken out of our hands. Maybe that's perfectly acceptable to many, I'm more than willing to admit that I sometimes have an odd perspective on things.

Really, the bottom line is, I don't really blame my players for being frustrated about things they couldn't realistically prevent. Now some may say well, that's how real life is, and I'd agree.

But I don't think we play games like Pathfinder to be reminded of how unfair real life is. So I try to mitigate this sort of thing when I can. Not eliminate, please, no posts about how I'm trying to turn Pathfinder into some kind of happy fun land, lol.

Ultimately, my problem, if it is a problem, is that I want to be the kind of GM whose game I'd like to play in.

And that I'm stubborn. That is a problem, and I acknowledge it. Some of you are very bewildered by what it is I want to do as a GM. I can understand that, and I'm not offended by your criticism at all.

To me, player agency includes the ability not just to affect the game world, but to be given the opportunity to make real choices. Informed decisions about what's going on. One of my friends who also GM's for the group is fond of giving us "choices"- that aren't really choices at all, because we never have any real idea of what the consequences could be.

These decision gates really come down to "do you turn left, or do you turn right?". That's no choice at all, but even that's light years better than the incident with the Wizard so long ago, where it was literally a lose-lose situation, as it was presented to us.

Of course, after the fact, the DM was like "what, there was all kinds of stuff you could do", and listed examples- but they were all things we weren't sure we could do, because he never informed us that we could try them. I've played in a lot of games where attempting an action that wasn't already in the rules, or using an ability on your character sheet, either fail, are deemed impossible, or hidden behind several difficult rolls for very little gain. I don't think I'm alone in that.

This does generate a mindset that trying to step outside the rules is bad, and it's easy to get stuck thinking that way. The only way I can think of to counter that, is to get your players to trust you, as a GM. And the best way I can earn that trust, is to show, time and again, that I'm striving to be as fair as I can be. Give the players as much information as I can to let them make real decisions, as opposed to picking a random direction and hoping for the best.

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