Something I have learned playing PFS...


Pathfinder Society

1/5 5/5

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

...ALWAYS skip the 'optional' encounter if possible.

ESPECIALLY if the GM says 'oh, this will be cool!'.

I have yet to see one that isn't a time-sinking, party-killing, fun-dropping exercise that leaves the party ill-prepared for the rest of a given scenario...

The above opinion is based on personal play experience and several scenarios that went from 'okay, but survivable' to 'unlikely to succeed fully' due to said 'optionals'.

The Exchange 4/5 5/5

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Wei Ji the Learner wrote:


...ALWAYS skip the 'optional' encounter if possible.

ESPECIALLY if the GM says 'oh, this will be cool!'.

I have yet to see one that isn't a time-sinking, party-killing, fun-dropping exercise that leaves the party ill-prepared for the rest of a given scenario...

The above opinion is based on personal play experience and several scenarios that went from 'okay, but survivable' to 'unlikely to succeed fully' due to said 'optionals'.

I'll agree with all of this except the bolded part. (And "time-sink" is a somewhat freighted description.) There are quite a few optionals that can really add to the atmosphere of a scenario. Especially from about season 5 onwards. The good ones aren't directly tied to the main storyline but give you a great sense of the environment in which you are adventuring.

Yes, some of the older ones are just "you fight three more guards on your way." And of course they take some time to run. And many optional encounters ARE big resource sinks (which makes the scenario more challenging.) But a lot of them are real fun.

3/5

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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I very rarely run them. High risk and no reward for players. Very little, if any, plot impact. I would love to see special items/boons tied to them on the chronical sheet. But as they stand, I skip. I think just about every gm I know skips them as well.

4/5

Since the store where I play will stay open for the Magic players, I usually ask the players if they want to do any optional encounters, especially if I think "Oh, this will be cool!" I have a great group and they usually say "bring it on!"

The Exchange 4/5 5/5

Robert Reine wrote:
I very rarely run them. High risk and no reward for players. Very little, if any, plot impact.

That's actually a design feature (and I'm using that without "quotes"). If there was much plot impact it wouldn't be optional.

Quote:
I would love to see special items/boons tied to them on the chronical sheet.

That sounds like a nifty idea but I think in practice that would once again make it "not optional" for a lot of players who feel cheated if they don't at least have a chance at everything.

Quote:
But as they stand, I skip. I think just about every gm I know skips them as well.

I never skip an optional unless we are running short of time.

The assumption is that you are running everything. The optional encounters are just a highlighted way of saying "if you're running short of time, here's the best place to cut without impacting the plot." It's not intended that you can just choose to skip the optional and get any rewards present without any risk.

5/5 ** Venture-Agent, Netherlands—Utrecht

Some older scenarios have terrible optional encounters that have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but they're rarely terrible or deadly, IMHO. It's just kind of a shame optional encounters pull in two different directions: they need to pad out the story if the players are rushing through an adventure, yet need to be filler enough that they're not vital to the story. Older scenarios tend to have a "oh wait, here's some random encounter" feel, while newer sceanrios have more in-flavour fights. Newer scenarios also give the option of cutting short some roleplaying, but I have seen some scenarios where the optional encounter was important, if not vital, to the understanding of the scenario, which is a shame.

Scarab Sages 4/5

I will usually skip the optional encounter, but sometimes it's the most interesting encounter. And sometimes it depends on the group. I can't remember specific situations, but I know there are some scenarios that are light on combat and have a combat that's optional. If the group just seems to want to roll dice and fight, I'll throw that encounter at them. I've had scenarios where it was obvious I skipped the optional, and at the end the players have asked if they can go back and fight it, because things were too easy without it.

There are times that the optional encounter is just brutal, though. Magma Elemental sitting in a lava pool? Ouch.

3/5

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Kevin Willis wrote:
Robert Reine wrote:
I very rarely run them. High risk and no reward for players. Very little, if any, plot impact.

That's actually a design feature (and I'm using that without "quotes"). If there was much plot impact it wouldn't be optional.

Quote:
I would love to see special items/boons tied to them on the chronical sheet.

That sounds like a nifty idea but I think in practice that would once again make it "not optional" for a lot of players who feel cheated if they don't at least have a chance at everything.

Quote:
But as they stand, I skip. I think just about every gm I know skips them as well.

I never skip an optional unless we are running short of time.

The assumption is that you are running everything. The optional encounters are just a highlighted way of saying "if you're running short of time, here's the best place to cut without impacting the plot." It's not intended that you can just choose to skip the optional and get any rewards present without any risk.

I wasn't saying they were not designed as intended but rather that as they are currently designed, I normally don't run them. As for whether players feel cheated if they don't have a chance to get everything...run Bonekeep for them and break them of that habit. :)

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

I don't really believe there's a consistent editorial vision across all published seasons on what to do with optional encounters. In some scenarios it's "this is the least bad if you cut it", others it's "throw this in if you need to stall for time", or "this can round out the flavor" or "here's a way to waste some resources", or sometimes "let's make the main antagonist optional and some other thing mandatory" (Twisted Circle).

So since there's no obvious single principle at work behind the optional encounters of all seasons, it's not fair to demand a single guideline on when to run them.

As a GM making the decision, two things to look at are:
- How are the PCs doing resource-wise? Have the previous encounters been hard? Is the optional encounter hard? What shape will they be in for the end boss and is the end boss tough?
- How much time is left? Is the optional encounter time-consuming? Playing hide and seek with an invisible creature that can barely hurt the PCs can waste a LOT of time.

It's possible to have enough time to run an encounter even though it'll probably leave the party in such a sorry shape that they can't handle the endboss. Or for an encounter that doesn't really drain resources to waste so much time that the players don't have time to properly wrap up the adventure. Those are good reasons to not do the optional encounter.

Silver Crusade 4/5 Venture-Captain, Pennsylvania—Pittsburgh

There are definitely some early-season scenarios where I look at the optional encounter and decide ahead of time I'm just not going to run it. With more recent scenarios, they usually add enough for me to try to run them if there's time.

Twisted Circle's optional really aggravated me. We were running long and I still ran it because the plot (as the PCs saw it) barely made sense with it, and I couldn't imagine the players having any idea what was going on without that encounter...

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 ***

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The vast majority of the time I do skip optional encounters.

I've run three of them recently though:

1) The Ronin encounter was one of the few RP options in an otherwise combat-oriented special, and my group had made excellent time, so we did it.

2) Wei, Ji... There was an optional encounter in Haunting of Hinojai that I ran because you had a mostly melee group, and it was going to be one of the few things that you all could punch. I figured you guys needed the ego boost of being able to punch something.

3) I had a hard core melee group that was creaming everything in Kortos Envoy. I ran the optional because it was cool, and they were spoiling for another fight.

___

I run the optional if it adds to the plot. (A few of them do.) I sometimes also run the optional if I have groups for whom I think it could be a fun encounter, so long as time is going well.

Note... I don't do it often. Most of the time I do consider them to be boring time-wasters. But there are a few that have been worthwhile. I would consider "don't run the optional" to be good advice for most PFS games, though. Considering that I have only run 3 in 77 tables as a GM shows that most of the time I either don't care for them or I'm worried about making sure that the table finishes on time.

Two of the optionals that I ran were in Play-by-Post, where time crunches are less of an issue... In face to face, there is always the question of 'Will I annoy my venue if I run too long?' If we run too long at Dreamers, we keep the staff from going home on time. Trying to finish long before closing time is a good thing.

Hmm

Dark Archive 5/5 5/5

oh, c'mon!

The greatest "optional" encounter evah, by far, 100%, upon which I will brook no argument has to be Day of the Demon.

GoodTimes!:
three babau demons that can quickly become six if they all make their summon buddy rolls.

1/5 Venture-Agent, Utah—Provo

First I wish they labeled them better. Sometimes you find out that an encounter was optional a page after it goes over both tiers.

But also, out store only has 4 hours till it closes. And even if we're doing good on time so the optional encounter should happen, whenever it gets played the table usually runs super close cause they rush.

1/5 5/5

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Re: Hmm's Spoiler:
The thing is, though, we didn't know that it was an optional until well after the scenario was done, and it helped *add* to the scenario and our, so it effectively felt like a part of the scenario, not optional.

Far too many of them are "And here you spend a crud-tonne of resources and no reward AND possibly a TPK, too, for fair measure!" in my experience.

As a player, if my team is competent and we're moving swiftly through content and we get done a bit early so we can grab something to eat or unwind to the next slot, I don't feel robbed, I feel gifted with that 'free time'.

A big trap in scenario and module design is 'making sure folks get their money's worth'. This can almost always result in work that runs close to or well over the designated time slot.

Sure, it's good for 'value of time spent/money spent' but that has to be more prep for the GM, and if it's a tedious grind like someone who does 'miss chance defense' for ten rounds even with mitigators on the field then it stops being 'fun' and turns into 'boring, frustrating work'.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Phoenix

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I'm as likely to cut the optional before we even start as anything else. Sometimes the timing is right and the encounter looks fun. More often it is better served as a "oh hai, we would fight you, but there is no time for the optional, have a nice day!"

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 ***

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Wei Ji:
That's great to hear. It meant that I did my job as a GM, and that I made that optional seamless.

:)

Steven... Ha! I've done that too.

"Bye, boys, have fun storming the castle! What? Fight you? No, we're here to watch and eat popcorn!"

1/5 5/5

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Happened recently when we were pushing the envelope at a local convention with one of the new releases.

GM: "So, yeah, there's a whole room of *this* but there's no way your group would get through them given your skills within an hour. So you open the door, peer in, and you see a bunch of [redacted] lounging about, smoking cigarettes, and chatting. 'Sorry, we're on break. Union rules.' "

Scarab Sages 5/5 5/5 * Venture-Captain, Netherlands

Huh. I dont recall ever skipping an optional encounter, except one.

Shadow Lodge 5/5

The best optional encounters are ones that involve swarms when you're on boats.

The Exchange 4/5 5/5 *

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

LOL People who don't want the Option Encounter really shouldn't play at my table... unless the scenario is running long, which happens.

4/5 5/5 ** Venture-Agent, Minnesota—Minneapolis

I also almost always skip the optional encounter.

I can think of one optional encounter that I try to run, because it adds to the story.

Spoiler:
Song of the Sea Witch, where the creatures come out of the book.

Note I don't consider that scenario to have a great story. It is more the case that I think that particular optional encounter adds to the story. It is likely that there are other scenarios with good optional encounters.

I can think of several that in my opinion actually detract from the story.

Since I almost always feel pressed for time, skipping the optional encounter gives me a little more breathing room.

1/5

I can think of one optional encounter (season 7) which would have changed the way our party approached things if it hadn't been skipped.
On the other hand, my gunslinger wouldn't have the amazing body-count he's now got if we'd done it

Spoiler:
The whole village died because of our actions, so I'm counting them

So, sometimes it does make a difference to the plot; but we'd almost certainly have overrun the slot by a *lot* if we'd done the encounter as well.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Phoenix

Most of my tables run too long to run the optional anyway.

5/5 *****

Trevor Burroughs wrote:
LOL People who don't want the Option Encounter really shouldn't play at my table... unless the scenario is running long, which happens.

Same here, it is rare that I don't run the optional and I prefer to see when playing provided there is time. However, as most of my play is online we don't have quite the same time crunch as people playing in stores do.

I also prefer it when games have a higher level of difficulty.

Grand Lodge 3/5

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When I ran Below the Silver Tarn, i had to switch out the optional counter for a scripted battle because-

Spoiler:

The imprisoned Naga told the PC's that if the correct tome was removed from it's pedestal, the spell that bound him would be broken and he would be free to leave.
A PC cast Haste on the party, ran to pedestals and asked "what do i see?"
"Three books; one lustrous yellow (gold), one reddish-brown (brass*), brownish dull (bronze)."
"We're looking for a Brass book, right?"
"Yes."
"Which one is the brass book?"
"Roll Craft (Alchemy)."
"WTF?"
"You can't tell brass from the other metals present."
"Uh, okay- um, I grab the (brass) book!"

...
"Naga turns Invisible, and PC near exit feels something brush past him. Shortly followed by something screaming "I'm free! Finally free! Freedom!"
followed by screaming and crashing."

They circumvented the scripted fight with the Naga [mostly because i didn't know how to handle what the PC did], so as they left the naga's den- they had to fight the optional encounter.

3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie

I learnt that Knowledge(Arcane) and Spellcraft are extremely powerful skills for a support cleric. Passing the Knowledge check to identify a shield spell already in effect on a dragon and being able to dispel it turned a fight from a slow loss to a close win.

Scarab Sages 5/5 5/55/55/5

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"Okay this optional encounter is a bunch of spiders. You ki..

"no! Wait! we need to do this one out..

"Why.....?

Cue 10 minutes later there are a bunch of spiders wearing wayfinders with signs that say "I am a shapeshifted druid. Come with me if you want to live" netting pathfinder expedition squads in their webs and dragging them out of an exploding mine.

Shadow Lodge 4/5

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Or sonic pteranodons serving as taxis.

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