Why are published monsters not working?


Advice

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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?

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

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Remember:

A monster of a given CR is meant to be a speed bump for a party of 4 non-optimized CR level characters using 15 PB, using up 20% of their daily resources.

The further you deviate from those expectations the less that CR is helpful for encounter design.


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If stuff like its hitting or AC is low, just boost them yourself. Keep the cool abilities and stuff and just boost the basic stats.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The DC 20 Will save or frightened for 5d6 rounds if you're within 30' comes to mind as a thing you're missing. Also, it can trample as a full round action to walk over party members and automatically do damage. The players get to either make an AoO with a penalty or reflex for half, DC 21.

Silver Crusade

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

That and being a Fey with 50ft of normal and swim speed it's better off using hit and run tactics, not being a straight up fighter.


Lynceus wrote:
I spent a good two hours last night looking for new monsters to challenge my players with- the last batch were basically laughed off.

Ryric has a point - can you tell us more about the player characters? How many and how optimized are they?

Further, a monster is supposed to battle in terrain which is favorable for it and probably limiting for the players. So a nuckelavee might attack them while they are in a boat...

Finally, it's a fey creature. In general they have the most HD, but still the lowest BAB (because 1/2 HD) for a given CR. Their usual strength is magic - control water and obscuring mist can be devastating. The breath weapon won't suffer from obscuring mist, for example...


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Further advice-

one of the most immediate things you can do is switch out their equipment. Better weapons and armor are often a big difference just by themselves, even if they aren't magical loot.

You should NEVER just throw one big enemy of given CR. You should always use multiple enemies, since action economy is a major element of this game. If you have one monster, and the players get their 4 turns before it does, then they can focus fire their attacks and crippling spells so it is basically nothing by the time its turn comes around. Having multiple enemies (based upon however you determine CR for groups) divides attention and also gives you more turns to hassle the party.

Also, did you take advantage of the nucklelavee's breath weapon? That is a -1 to AC and attack for pretty much everyone, as well as CON damage. That and some hit and run tactics should generally make things easier.

Actually...heck...if you are throwing C+4 around, how the hell did the party avoid getting straight up panicked by the frightful presence? They should have at least 4 HD less than this creature (since the party should be around CR 5, and this creature has 11 HD). The will save should be killer for their level, and the party should be ruined because they are all running around screaming for their lives.


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:

Last session I only had 3 of my 4 players, so I had to recalculate a few encounters on the fly to make sure I didn't murder them for the crime of being undermanned.

The first encounter consisted of some Juju Zombies. I'm away from notes atm, so I can't recall the exact base creature, but they came out to approximately CR 4, along with a 5th-level evil cleric.

I re-equipped the zombies with masterwork weapons, so their attack bonus came out to +12 base. The cleric used desecrate, and there was an altar of his dark god, so that brought them to +14 to hit with their primary attack.

Since they out-numbered the players, flanking was easy, bringing them to approximately +16.

My party consists of:

Halfling Swashbuckler 7.
Elf Warpriest 7
Elf Champion of Irori Paladin 7

The Warpriest opened by spending 1 fervor for a swift casted Shield of Faith (+3 deflection, I believe). This brought her AC to about 27, I think? Very expensive enchanted Hellknight Plate, an enchanted Heavy Shield...maybe the AC is 28. Either way, that would have been fine, the scrubs still hit on a 12, probably too high.

The Paladin has a crazy build that's mostly Dex and Cha, he gets bonus AC from his Charisma and he can spend a ki point for +4 dodge for 1 round. He bought a few scrolls of ironskin, a spell that grants +4 natural armor. They only cost 150 gp, and he'd earned a discount from the temple for consumables for completing a mission- I've been trying to get them to buy consumables for awhile, so I figured bonuses like that would help, it's only a 10% discount. Anyways, if he really wants to, an AC above 30 isn't hard or very resource intensive.

The Swashbuckler has an insane to-hit, something like +20, so she's taken to fighting defensively and it really doesn't hurt. She gets improved critical for free from her class, so it feels like every other hit is a critical (statistically, it's more like every other round), and even though her base damage die is a d4, she gets a lot of static, so a crit can easily be around 30 damage. Again, away from notes, so I don't have her actual sheet to consult.

The Cleric's offensive spells aren't worth using, for the most part, I actually cheated a little and gave him a custom version of archon's aura (normally a good spell, so baddies can't use), but the only person to fail the save was the swashbuckler, and she didn't really notice the -2 to hit.

Now that was just the easy fight, but by the time the session ended 7 hours later, they'd pretty much dismantled everything I used, even the fight with the CR 9 Bone Devil (whose Feats I changed to give him Greater Disarm) and even though I was supposed to "play down" since they were missing the Fighter, I didn't, and let him keep his CR 6 Cleric 7 and a re-skinned Brass Man (a 3rd party CR 7 construct). That fight did end with the party roughed up, but the Bone Devil had to teleport out, and they Cleric and the construct bit it.

Now, I can always use stronger monsters if the party shows their tactics means they're functioning above-par. That isn't the problem. The problem is, I'm seeing even CR 11 monsters that I think they'd murder. And yes, I can customize the numbers, but it would be nice if more than a handful of CR 10's came with the +18 to hit they were supposed to have. Not to mention, the AC's on these monsters are a joke.

Sure, your high attack is meant to hit, AC is really about mitigating secondary attacks. I get that. But when I see a monster and say "what the heck, his HIGH attack only has a 15% chance to hit my melee", I'm really confused as to why.

And sure, I can, and do equip monsters, but that means I'm constantly having to keep an eye on party wealth.

I'm not asking for "how to balance my game" advice here, though it's always appreciated- I was just frustrated at how it appears I have to custom-build almost all enemies from here on out, because the existing ones don't (at first glance, at least) to have anything like the combat numbers the guidelines for monster creation indicate they should have.


I think it's partially about party composition. If everyone is solid to excellent in melee, the party as a whole can kill melee encounters much better than usually.

On the other hand, this focus can backfire. Add difficult terrain, traps, flying enemies and foes with ranged weapons - and things should change drastically.


I also find that CRs mean nothing at all. I will look at a spread of CRs and see what those things can do then sort of by feel put X amount of Y. It would be nice to have something a little more solid.

Building monsters does require point expenditure systems, it would be interesting for the GM if the monster was marked as to where most of the points went..like abilities, physical, spellcaster, without having to inspect every single stat.

I have also miscalculated what some monsters can do, and also monster+environment can mean a useless monster vs a killer one.

For example, jelly fish or anemones...nothing special.

And then this (Skull and Shackles spoiler):
The anemone under Harrigans fortress almost cause a TPK cause no one saw it, while the rest of the fortress was an absolute cakewalk. The anenome is in a little cavern where it can reach everything, in a difficult to fight place as a tight lightless cavern and in a pc unfriendly territory like flowing water


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It sounds like your PCs have built themselves for survival to a degree that many monsters won't effectively challenge them due to the standard construction rules. While you have players that have APL+20 AC or higher, many tables have frontliners with APL+15 or lower AC, which means they're getting hit far more consistently.

What I would recommend is to look at enemies that don't necessarily focus on melee attacks as their baseline. Titan Centipedes, for example, have a NASTY trample (I would recommend no more than once every other round). Zelekhut inevitables can be challenging foes because of their regeneration and decent attacks - because they're implacable, it's possible to harass your party when they're not ready for it. Fastachees can be terrifying opponents without necessarily focusing on attacking. [url=http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/bestiary2/tick.html#tick-swarm]Tick Swarms can also be brutal against a party like the one you've brought up.

While each of those would be appropriate as a single monster encounter for your APL 7 party, they each bring something to the table that could be difficult for them to deal with.


Gotta chime in and add that the room or terrain you are in makes a huge difference as well. I see many people complain about small rooms or not enough space when talking about adventure paths - but I've found that narrow hallways or small rooms that create chokepoints and don't allow for flanking make the encounters much more lethal than wide open rooms.

Use the terrain to your advantage - put furniture in the way and make players use actions if they want to climb them, there are many ways to make a fight more interesting and challenging than pure damage output.


Good points. Terrain is a big deal. I draw my own battle maps on Chessex gaming paper, and I recall one time I drew the layout of an abandoned mine the night before.

Come game time, and I realized the room I'd put 3 Stone Guardians in was a bit too snug- the party failed to realize the statues were constructs at first, and this resulted in combat starting with everyone in reach of at least one of the enemies. That was a mess, because even fleeing the room proved to be as hard as just standing still to slug it out (they leveled up after that fight, and the next session, three of them had Escape Route- but that's a whole 'nother rant, lol).

One of my problems is, with larger encounters, I don't diversify enemy types as much as I'd like to. I only have so much time to prep for game, and if I have 6 or more enemies, juggling what each one does always means I forget something. I don't rewind when this happens, even if I failed to remember that a creature does +1 damage to the player with Fey Foundling due to a cold iron weapon.

There have been a few times where I over-estimated my group's capabilities and some annoying special ability nearly led to their demise. Like the time I had undead miners with "mining picks" (actually Heavy Picks), AND decided to give them a teamwork Feat...one lucky crit later, and the Fighter nearly died from a sucking chest wound- and he was at full hit points (and the next time the party had some cash, he was rewarded with a Jingasa. I haven't had the heart to enforce the nerf, it was a touching moment when the group presented him with his "birthday present").

Some special abilities I do need to brush up on, I vaguely recall the last time I used Trample it led to a very heated rules debate. But maybe that was Overrun...


Swarms are always good. The party seems like it would have major trouble with a sixth-level lightning Aerokineticist (combination of flight, range, and targeting touch), and seventh level expanded element deals with resistances. Swashbuckler can only boost fort saves so many times (and only once per round), while Warpriest's reflex is probably terrible. Paladin is solid defensively, but neutral enemies don't have to deal with smite. Lots of minions with on-death effects are good. (Kobold Skald passing out linnorm death curses, anything with an on-death blast radius, etc.)

You might want to use automatic bonus progression rules for enemies to trim the basic big 6 loot.


Ugh, swarms, I hate them. The last time I used one (two army ant swarms), the party ran away- and I didn't blame them!

Auto progression is one of those things that I like the idea of, but I have a few issues with the execution. But definitely my next campaign will have some variation of it. "+2 sword" and "+3 armor" are so lame...

My favorite shoulder item, the Pauldrons of the Serpent is constantly ignored "because it doesn't increase saves". There has to be a better way...but again, that's a whole 'nother rant!


lemeres wrote:
Actually...heck...if you are throwing C+4 around, how the hell did the party avoid getting straight up panicked by the frightful presence? They should have at least 4 HD less than this creature (since the party should be around CR 5, and this creature has 11 HD). The will save should be killer for their level, and the party should be ruined because they are all running around screaming for their lives.

I thought so too, but I read the frightful presence descriptor and it is stated differently - "On a failed save, the opponent is shaken, or panicked if it has 4 Hit Dice or fewer. "

4 or fewer HD, not 4 fewer than what frightens them.They can only get shaken from this. Which, you know, is still a -2 to attacks, saves etc.

That said, the Nuckelavee isn´t all that in a straight fight - most fey aren´t - but is a nasty skirmisher. Its disease comes with a high enough save that it is a death sentence to most low-level characters hit - and every failed save is likely to mean that your next fort save will be at -1 or -2. Heck, with this DC it is hard to cure even with the cure disease spell at this level - and how many cure diseases did your cleric prepare, again?

It´s a dirty fighter. That is not the kind of creature you put this for the PCs to kill in a dungeon room. The PCs will have to hunt it down as it attacks and retreats, trying to ensure that its filth and bile kill them one by one. Or,even better, it will terrorize a town and the PCs will have to drive it off before trying to kill it for good in its lair.

My idea of how it would fight, presuming it can surprise them (you know, hiding underwater, using obscuring mist, etc).

Round 1: get close enough for breath + presence. Breathe all over them.
Round 2: if breath is available, breathe. If not and the party has closed in (no full attacks unless the party has pounce etc), full attack for as many disease hits as possible, possibly using trample instead to get to squishies. If the party relies on ranged damage, use obscuring mist to reposition. If the party has done a lot of damage, withdraw (note that lightning stance gives it concealment in this case).

If it is seriously hurt or just thinks it is in a bad situation, it tries to get away, relying on an okayish HP pool and damage reduction to be able to do that. It is very hard to catch and every non-sword attack it has landed has a good chance of causing an extremely lethal and hard to cure infection. After it heals, it can come after you again.


The question really came down to whether or not it can hit with it's non-sword attacks. If it surprises a party, breathes, and gets away with minimal damage, then yeah, it's nasty...but a dragon can already do that, easier, and is much stronger at a lower CR.

Though honestly, I never felt very proud of myself for having a dragon strafe the party and run away. It's bad enough Arrowhawks are a thing.

That's all my personal viewpoint, however, I'm more than willing to accept I'm looking at it from the wrong perspective.


I'm gonna tell you some things:

- Fly. No one in your party can fly. If they have Bows they damage will be highly limited. Fly at around level 7 should be ubiquitous for many monters
- Terrain. None of them can avoid it. Entangle is a level 1 spell and can basically shut down any melee. No 5 ft step, no charge, half movement.
-Obscuring mist is level 1, you've got free concealment and probably many creatures can bypass it.
-Corridors. Party can't flank, if someone past through the enemy to flank, have other enemies so they can chop down the lonely PC.
-Fake floors. Illusions that trap the PC into falling inside a pit because their weak Will save made them.
-3 level 5 Wizards hurling Fireballs just because they can.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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?

Well, the first thing to remember is that the game is balanced in the party's favor. CR = Party Level challenges are intended to only reduce the party's resources by a marginal amount, not even be an actual challenge. A group of 4 identical "anti-adventurers" with the exact same level and number of members as the party but half the wealth is CR = APL +3 - that's right, the most difficult recommended challenge includes a group who is exactly as strong as the party but has half as much gear.

Part of the reason for this is that the game is built to challenge an optimized party- look at the Pathfinder iconics sometime. That crossbow wielding dwarven ranger with the badger companion? That guy who looks like possibly the least optimized character you could possibly put together? The game assumes the party will consist of 4-5 of those.

So the game is already tilted in the party's favor, and then optimization skews that even further. If you really want to challenge the party, you either need to largely ignore the CR ratings and hand-pick foes with abilities that the party doesn't have as man tools to deal with, or you need to look outside 1pp for some more challenging threats. Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary is an awesome resource for boosting monsters to make them more challenging or add potent effects and options to them, and there are quite a few other great 3pp monster resources. There's also always the little things you can do to tweak the effectiveness of your monsters- maximize their die rolls for hit points, apply the Advanced monster template, etc.


Thanks, but actually, as strange as it might seem, I actually know all of that. The problem is...it takes a lot of investment to make, say, archery a reasonable option. So I don't usually press the flight advantage, because it's basically saying "ha, you were dumb for choosing to play the character you have".

I had a bad experience when I used a pack of the previously mentioned Arrowhawks. The party ran away and afterwards the players asked if I was trying to TPK them.

When I play, I spend a lot of effort to make my characters able to perform in different situations. I'll buy consumables, make sure I have ranged options, and so on. But by not specializing, I'm usually lackluster at everything. Eventually I'll realize I'm having a hard time doing my basic job in combat because my attack bonus is 4 less than everyone else's.

The game puts you in a lot of untenable situations, but penalizes both for not having a strong point AND for having weak points. So many battles have been decided not by the guy (me) who tried to be a switch hitter with utility and skill options, but by the greatsword wielding barbarian.

OTOH, a ranged build, which is fairly strong in practice, can be foiled completely with ease. Now it's intended that each party member have a specialty, and a moment to shine, for those moments when their compatriots aren't effective, but most encounters aren't balanced by "this is the fight where one archer saves the day while his friends dig into their backpacks looking for smokesticks and fly potions".

I don't like punishing my players because they thought a class with a bad save or a lack of mobility, or that urges you to focus on one combat style was cool or fun. Because it's not fun when it happens to me.

Others have told me I need to be tougher on my players, it's just hard for me, because I'm the GM. I have a lot of latitude in making encounters for them, and it's trivial to say "oh here's this enemy who makes you look like chumps". I try not to negate their choices because to me, I just feel like a kid using a magnifying glass to murder ants.


Lynceus wrote:

Though honestly, I never felt very proud of myself for having a dragon strafe the party and run away. It's bad enough Arrowhawks are a thing.

That's all my personal viewpoint, however, I'm more than willing to accept I'm looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Hrm. Keep in mind that if you deliberately do not make use of all the capabilities that a creature has at its disposal, you are unwittingly making it weaker, so the CR in the book becomes irrelevant.

If your CR 11 Dragon lands and fights in melee against the party making no use of flight and limited use of breath weapons and spells, it might as well be CR 7 or lower.

Conversely, if it flies by and strafes with it's breath weapon and maximal range, then flies away until the breath weapon has recharged, that dragon becomes a much more challenging fight. Yes, it's frustrating for the players, but they'll eventually figure out they need to develop contingencies to deal with such threats (such as Wands of Fly, for example).


First, thanks Ssalarn, I'll definitely look into the Green Ronin stuff. And you're right, yes, CR is balanced around some less than great character ideas. But not all of the iconics are bad...

Saldiven, your advice is accepted and you're coming from the right place, but a 60' fly speed would be pretty useless against a dragon. They have a fly speed of 200. Fly helps with Arrowhawks, especially since their electric ray is only 50', but there are situations and tactics that are basically impossible to overcome without specifically building your character to deal with them (I believe) which just opens up other, different weak points.

I try to avoid those. 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! ^-^


Remember, in skyrim, the best shout was the one that brings the dragon down (dragonrend).

It's not "unfair" if the PCs forgot to buy bows and arrows, or made builds that shine on melee combat but suck at range. That's a weakness that they should deal with.

I remember when i ran reign of winter (SPOILERS) and the party was nearly wipped out because NONE of them had ranged weapons. The terrain was snowy and thus difficult, they had no option to run out really, and 3/4 of them went down, attacked by 1 cold damage ice arrows from little fey creatures. The last man standing actually chased them off with Intimidate checks.

Quote:
They have a fly speed of 200.

But are usually poor or average, which means they hardly will be able to hover and must make U turns to fly back to the party. This changes a bit when they become adult and get their fly bonus to 10+. Still, an adult red dragon will fail to hover or turn back on a 1-3 result.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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Saldiven wrote:
Lynceus wrote:

Though honestly, I never felt very proud of myself for having a dragon strafe the party and run away. It's bad enough Arrowhawks are a thing.

That's all my personal viewpoint, however, I'm more than willing to accept I'm looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Hrm. Keep in mind that if you deliberately do not make use of all the capabilities that a creature has at its disposal, you are unwittingly making it weaker, so the CR in the book becomes irrelevant.

If your CR 11 Dragon lands and fights in melee against the party making no use of flight and limited use of breath weapons and spells, it might as well be CR 7 or lower.

Conversely, if it flies by and strafes with it's breath weapon and maximal range, then flies away until the breath weapon has recharged, that dragon becomes a much more challenging fight. Yes, it's frustrating for the players, but they'll eventually figure out they need to develop contingencies to deal with such threats (such as Wands of Fly, for example).

Truth. Creature tactics and environments make and break their CRs. One of my earliest sessions GMing was with a group I'd been a player in for about 6 months. The party had torn up a young red dragon in a fight under the previous GM and was feeling like maybe the group was a little too optimized. Turns out, our GM just wasn't really playing the monsters up to their potential. My first major boss fight for the group was against a young adult black dragon in a swamp with several small ponds connected by underwater tunnels the dragon had dug out to form a kind of lair. During the fight, the dragon would pop out, nail the party with its breath weapon, maybe hang around for a round to lay in a melee attack, then it would pop back into the water and zip over to a new location. At one point, the party paladin tried to leap in after it and nearly drowned. The thing is, all of those tactics are the things that those monsters are expected to do, and by not using them, you're drastically lowering the functional CR of the creature, because that CR is built around the assumption that the monster has been given those abilities and they will be used.


But is having a bow enough? My experience is that it isn't. You need at the very least enchanted, and possibly special material arrows. You need to have enough Dex and BAB to hit the enemy.

I mean, if your party is trading a bow shot at full BAB and one at -5 even if they do have magic arrows (for dragon DR) and composite bows with a STR rating, are you going to do enough damage compared to what your opponent can do to you?

Basically, I'm curious what level of investment is actually required to do more than annoy the monster, let alone drive them off. I don't know, but again, my totally non-data, anecdotal experience is that if you're being strafed by a flying monster with over 100 hit points, "archery as a hobby" isn't enough. Especially since they can cast spells and Wind Wall exists...


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Lynceus wrote:

But is having a bow enough? My experience is that it isn't. You need at the very least enchanted, and possibly special material arrows. You need to have enough Dex and BAB to hit the enemy.

Once we had to face several enemies. We were scared as hell. We knew they were behind a door, so we set up some sort of barricades. Enemies could only came through a corridor 5ft wide. We set up caltrops and force them to walk on them.

We were able to kill all of them. Rogue hiding behind barricades using stealth, hitting every round or so.

If the party can't fight a flying opponent, it's not really your fault.
From what you've told, it seems you only send enemies that they can fight at full potential and using all of their class features.

Of course a barbarian is gonna destroy a Wizard if said Wizard just stands in melee trying to cast spells.
If the party can't work outside of their comfort zone, then you're gonna get bored running the same type of monsters.


Well, I wouldn't say always let them fight at full potential and use all class features, I just try to be careful about it. Like, on occasion I'll use an elemental, fully knowing that the Swashbuckler doesn't get her precision damage, or I'll have the occasional monster with crazy DR.

But if I feel that a tactic or ability a monster has is nothing you can't be expected to have a counter for without knowing about it in advance, or that would require a significant investment of resources, I'm not keen on doing that unless I have a good reason for it.

For example, a high level caster isn't going to be used often, because a lot of times, the only solution for magic is more magic. And punishing my players because nobody wanted to play a full caster class (and by extension, playing classes that are easier to plan around) seems a bit strange.

It's just my philosophy, and maybe it's not a good fit for Pathfinder monster design. I can accept that. Still think it's weird when I see an ooze and wonder why they can't hit anything.


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It seems to me that part of your issue is your party is really good at 1 thing, and awful at the other 3 parts of combat.
And you/the party feel bad when the other 3 are thrown at them, and you feel they smash things too well when you throw the 1 they are good against.

Personally I'd design encounters for an average party, then let the players pick the classes they want, and let the dice fall. If they fail it shows their glaring weakness. If they succeed then cool.

But having the party never fight a wizard because they don't have a wizard because you feel it's punishing them for fighting a typical boss enemy class is partly why you have the issue you do.


That's likely very true, and it's advice I've been given before (on these forums, in fact). Though I wonder what issues I'd have if my party consisted of two Clerics and two Wizards...

I am hearing two things from this thread so far, however.

1) you're not using monsters the right way, monsters are fine.

2) monsters aren't built right and need adjusting.

I'm coming away with the notion that both of these statements are true.

Paizo Employee Designer

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To parallel what some others were saying but throw in a possible solution: It seems like the party only throws rock and gets upset if you throw paper, preferring you to always throw scissors. If you're in a situation where you're going to throw scissors against the party's rock, if you want it to not be easily defeated like scissors to rock, you need some really hardcore scissors; in other words, you can create a game with exciting fights even with encounters that play to your party's strengths, but if you do, you'll need them to be higher CR than normal (consider throwing the advanced template on the foes for free as a possible start).

The higher level you get, the more this becomes pronounced. For instance, in 3.5, I had a 20th level group that I was challenging with opposition from the Epic Level Handbook, and they defeated a supposedly CR 40 encounter with relative ease but nearly TPKed to a CR 22. Know your group's numbers and throw opposition that makes sense (I wouldn't have thrown the "CR 40" encounter if I didn't think my players would be fine fighting it).

So basically, the short version is that CR isn't a be all end all; knowing your party's strengths and weaknesses is more important.


I'd also talk to the players about the issues. It's generally a good idea, after all.


Chess Pwn wrote:

It seems to me that part of your issue is your party is really good at 1 thing, and awful at the other 3 parts of combat.

And you/the party feel bad when the other 3 are thrown at them, and you feel they smash things too well when you throw the 1 they are good against.

Personally I'd design encounters for an average party, then let the players pick the classes they want, and let the dice fall. If they fail it shows their glaring weakness. If they succeed then cool.

But having the party never fight a wizard because they don't have a wizard because you feel it's punishing them for fighting a typical boss enemy class is partly why you have the issue you do.

I will definitely agree with this.

You shouldn't pull punches and not use wizards just because the party doesn't have their own wizard. If you have a 4 man party, there are enough that one could have reasonably chosen it, but all your players didn't. That's their fault.


That's very important to consider as well, thanks for that. I just wish I had more time to spend preparing my game. I chose to do things my way, and that means I can't just grab monsters "off the rack". It's unfortunate, but there really can't be a "universal monster every group can face with a certain expectation of success".


yeah, your party of lv5 characters is like ROCK lv10 and paper and scissors lv 1. Like mark says, if you use a scissors fight, it needs to be CR 13 to be APL+3. But a cr4 is APL+3 if you are throwing paper.


Lynceus wrote:
The question really came down to whether or not it can hit with it's non-sword attacks. If it surprises a party, breathes, and gets away with minimal damage, then yeah, it's nasty...but a dragon can already do that, easier, and is much stronger at a lower CR.

The nasty bit about the Nuckelavee is the breath weapon doesn´t just do hp damage, but at low levels it comes with a pretty bad constitution damage effect. As far as I am aware a PC is not aware they have a disease until the first damage comes, though someone with enough knowledge might point out that they BETTER take precautions. But yes, ultimately it is not that good at being a direct bruiser.

Paizo Employee Designer

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Lynceus wrote:

That's very important to consider as well, thanks for that. I just wish I had more time to spend preparing my game. I chose to do things my way, and that means I can't just grab monsters "off the rack". It's unfortunate, but there really can't be a "universal monster every group can face with a certain expectation of success".

Honestly from your responses in the thread, it seems like you have a pretty strong and solid understanding of the group's strengths and weaknesses, and which monsters exploit them, already; that's the hard part, honestly: identifying which are which. Since you're solid on that, you can do things in a manner similar to what Chess Pwn said (the exact numbers he gave probably aren't right for your group, but the idea is). Essentially, use monsters of higher CR when you pick ones for your group that you know play to their strengths (advanced template is one way to do it, but you can also pick them out of the book at higher CR); the only real danger of that method is picking something by accident that is actually not a "scissors" but is still extra high CR, since that's going to wreck the party, but that seems like something you have a handle on.


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That brings another paradigm shift to consider. Maybe I should consider CR to be the level at which this monster isn't a problem to anyone?

About the "well they could have chosen to be Wizards" comment; that's very true, but are we saying that every party needs a Wizard? I'm inclined to think what's being said here is that "if you don't have a Wizard, figure out how to adjust for that"...kind of like what happens when you don't have a Cleric in the party.

How does one adjust for not having a Wizard? Use Magic Device and a healthy collection of scrolls and wands? That sounds like a fairly hefty investment.

I mean, I don't expect my Fighter to be Batman, with a gadget for everything...but I suppose it's fair to use encounters that would be challenging for a party with a mediocre Wizard. Whatever that is.

EDIT: I just realized how petty the thread title was. I apologize, I should have known better, even if I was frustrated. And thank you, everyone, for giving me better assistance than I deserved.


I will suggest that you take a look at the Advanced Bestiary, it's a book full of templates, tons of them are CR+1 and will drastically change some monsters.


I was going to post something more substantial, but it would largely mirror what Chess Pwn and Mark Seifter have written.

I'll otherwise just note how nice it to see such a respectful and helpful tone in this thread (despite what I think Lynceus would concede was a potentially incendiary title).

Best of luck with your gaming, Lynceus! I think striking the right balance with encounters is probably one the hardest things for a DM to achieve, but you've obviously got a good handle on how you want to approach things for your group, and while the extra investment of time it requires is probably painful for you, I sense you'll be happier with the outcome than if you switched to a more 'hardball' approach.


Lynceus wrote:


About the "well they could have chosen to be Wizards" comment; that's very true, but are we saying that every party needs a Wizard? I'm inclined to think what's being said here is that "if you don't have a Wizard, figure out how to adjust for that"...kind of like what happens when you don't have a Cleric in the party.

How does one adjust for not having a Wizard? Use Magic Device and a healthy collection of scrolls and wands? That sounds like a fairly hefty investment.

The game is balanced having a 4 person party. 1 Full Arcane, 2 utility, 1 Melee. Can non-standard groups work? Yup - many times better than the above group. Can non-standard groups have problems? Yup - and so they should also have a plan for how to deal with their weakness.

Some parties just don't work out - not enough synergy. I had that happen in our Wrath of Thrune game - almost TPK and 3 of us had to make new characters.


Lynceus wrote:


How does one adjust for not having a Wizard? Use Magic Device and a healthy collection of scrolls and wands? That sounds like a fairly hefty investment.

I think at a certain level the game itself expects you to have several +X Items and +Y Saves. If the game expects this from a WBL perspective, it isn't so far fetched to think that players should be able to deal with flying creatures.

Scrolls aren't that expensive, and having UMD is a necessity for healing, unless you pretend the paladin to do all the jobs and if she falls, well, you're kinda screwed.

High level characters should carry anything they might need regarding movement, healing and helping the party.
No adventurer would venture outside of a City without a Tent and a Torch, minimum. Why should this be different regarding Magic?

I mean, you don't even need a flying enemy to screw that party, just putting a high speed monster and they're done, they can never reach it and have no way to counter it, because I really doubt any of them is carrying a Tanglefoot bag.


Lynceus wrote:

About the "well they could have chosen to be Wizards" comment; that's very true, but are we saying that every party needs a Wizard? I'm inclined to think what's being said here is that "if you don't have a Wizard, figure out how to adjust for that"...kind of like what happens when you don't have a Cleric in the party.

How does one adjust for not having a Wizard? Use Magic Device and a healthy collection of scrolls and wands? That sounds like a fairly hefty investment.

I mean, I don't expect my Fighter to be Batman, with a gadget for everything...but I suppose it's fair to use encounters that would be challenging for a party with a mediocre Wizard. Whatever that is.

So think of it like this, the party has a lot of options and tools at their disposal. If they choose not to invest to take care of their deficiencies, it's as much a choice as a fighter choosing to increase the enhancement bonus of his weapon (instead of buying something to improve his saves). My point is you shouldn't feel guilt for throwing something that the party isn't ideally suited to handle, though you should start with gentle nudging. Give them something that isn't in their wheelhouse, but that something they might be able to cobble together has a chance at winning. But eventually they should encounter the flying invisible wizard conjuration/summoning specialist. Why? Because it's a valid kind of enemy, and if the party doesn't have the tools to handle that you're babying them by not challenging them with it. Maybe afterwards they'll learn to spread out their investments.

One thing I will encourage is, give out lots of consumables as loot. They can help overcome these problems. Personally I count consumables against WBL, but only for while they have them item. So as they use items up, I either make sure they are replaced with the same item or give them other non-consumable wealth to keep things going. But basically the party WBL shouldn't ever permanently decrease by using consumables instead of selling them.

Letric brings up a good point. Magic isn't even needed to challenge your party. A mounted archer in an open field can just kite your party all day long. They can't move fast enough to reach him with his mounts movement speed (horses move at 50ft). They might have ranged back up weapons, but if none of them are specialized in ranged they're going to have a hard time. It just sounds like your players haven't prepared at all, and you're afraid to attack them were they're undefended. Do it. It will teach them a lesson. They don't need to have a wizard, but they do need a way to do things that a wizard normally would to help the party. Like a simple casting of wind wall against the mount archer.


I liberally change opponent stats.

Weak opponents, generally intended to die in one hit or AoE will have 15 hp, but offensive stats that make them a minor threat (ie, high enough attack bonus to always hit the wizard meaning he needs to be covered).

Medium strength opponents I often just use as is, bumping up their attack value by a couple points.

Hard opponents, I'll actually use CR 15 monsters some times, bring down their AC slightly, but mostly putting their damage and save DC's within reach of the PC's. Sometimes I'll even raise the HP some, I'm not shy about tossing something with 400 HP at the party, since 3-4 of them can easily do 50 damage per round each (and we can have as many as 8 players show up).

The other part that helps me throw out the CR and monster build system is we use a custom XP system that works for us and has been in use for over 25 years. It's evolved over time, but it focuses a little less on combat (probably 1/2 of the XP earned in a session).


Good points, and I agree with easing them into realizing that there are things they haven't considered dealing with yet.

As for consumables, I always assumed that's how consumables and WBL work- otherwise you get players like mine, who rarely buy any, "because if I drink the potion, I'm 50 gp farther away from a REAL item".


Lynceus wrote:
As for consumables, I always assumed that's how consumables and WBL work- otherwise you get players like mine, who rarely buy any, "because if I drink the potion, I'm 50 gp farther away from a REAL item".

That's the problem though, most people do believe that it works exactly how you're saying your players do. Explain to them plainly, consumables wont count against your WBL permanently, only while you have them. If your players are smart they should start buying lots of consumables to make up for what they can't normally do.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Another thing to consider is, rather than just the Advanced Simple template, use some of the variant simple templates from Monster Summoner's Handbook (pg 18-19). The rebuilds are super easy to do on the fly compared to Advanced Simple and they come with some interesting options, like Dark Creatures getting concealment improvements in normal or lower light.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

So it sounds like on the one hand you're having trouble providing engaging fights for them on their "home turf", but on the other hand you don't want to overtax them for being too specialized or provide a situation where "only magic solves everything". That leaves you with a few options.

One is to do is to encourage/enable unorthodox tactics that might be seen more in older school editions. Example: rope and grappling hook a flying enemy and pulling them down to be beaten upon. You've got a swashbuckler, so hopefully that character might use Bluff to convince a villain to hover down and gloat for a little bit enough to get a swipe or a jumping tackle. To coincide with this encouragement/enabling, you might throw in terrain from time to time that can be used by players. (Rocky slopes or trees to climb, for example.)

Another thing you might do is mix things up a little bit. Mix melee fodder with a flying enemy or two. The flying enemy need not be the damage dealer, but might be a more annoying buffer or ground control type that enables the melee fodder to become actual threats. However, if the melee fodder is killed, then the flyer is forced to flee to find some other mooks to power up. So the party has the choice of whether they want to deal with the much harder to get to enabler or the numerous low-hanging fruit that is the melee fodder.

Finally, since they are defensive power houses, sometimes you might give them mission objectives other than simply killing all the enemies. Guarding a caravan or other target for the bad guys might require your players to go on the offensive and stick their necks out a little bit more. A mission time limit or countdown might work similarly. The enemy may also dwell in in a normal hazardous terrain that damages or causes a potential status on PCs within the area. Like salamanders walking on hot ember coals, undead near brown or yellow mold, etc.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Claxon wrote:
Chess Pwn wrote:

It seems to me that part of your issue is your party is really good at 1 thing, and awful at the other 3 parts of combat.

And you/the party feel bad when the other 3 are thrown at them, and you feel they smash things too well when you throw the 1 they are good against.

Personally I'd design encounters for an average party, then let the players pick the classes they want, and let the dice fall. If they fail it shows their glaring weakness. If they succeed then cool.

But having the party never fight a wizard because they don't have a wizard because you feel it's punishing them for fighting a typical boss enemy class is partly why you have the issue you do.

I will definitely agree with this.

You shouldn't pull punches and not use wizards just because the party doesn't have their own wizard. If you have a 4 man party, there are enough that one could have reasonably chosen it, but all your players didn't. That's their fault.

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.


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.


Sorry I got about half way through reading and the conversation seemed to devolve into
I don't want to run monsters in a way that TPKs every combat to which people replied, well then monsters are going to be boringly weak. Which seems circular to me.

Anyway I saw that your players are using Ironskin for a +4 to Ac, that only effects people who already have natural armor which si something to look out for.

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