balance question by a new GM


Advice

Silver Crusade

Howdy folks!
im a relatively new GM in pathfinder and am having some balance issues, some of my encounters that need to be epic (masterpiece of the vile necromancer) are laughingly easy (they tripped the poor bugger and proceeded to slaughter it) and some are the exact oppisite (almost TPK by a group of rando zombies anyone?)
just can't seem to get the hang of it...
so i looked around at some guides and they were some help... but there is one thing i cant seem to find so here i am:

The group are 4-5 players at the 5th lvl mostly basic characters and far from min/maxed i need to create 2 NPCs who act as their commanding officers, they need to be rather badass and the two of them should probably be able to beat the group rathar easilly if they were to go up against them (2 VS 5) what level should i put them at? any other feats you would reccomand?

(bonus: one is supposed to be a stategic mastermind and the other a nimble, rapier wielder both are paladins of the main deity for the world)

(bonus #2 for those familliar with magic the gathering and its lore the two im talking about are innistrad's own thalia and odric, for a "shadows over innistrad" campaign im running)

thanks in advance and sorry for the long-ish post!


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I'd advise against making a group of super NPCs to show the PCs what real heroes look like or whatever. It isn't particular conducive to good fun playing second fiddle to some NPCs.

Also make the strategy one a inquisitor, they're much better at that sort of thing.

It'd be helpful to know the party composition is for balancing things, also point buy and whether you're using correct WBL


So basis of the CR system is:
A level 5 PC with standard wealth and stats is a CR5 encounter. (Replace 5 with any other number and it still applies.)
+2 CR = double power.

So that means if a group fought two level 5 PCs (or NPCs built like PCs), that would be a CR7 encounter.
Four level 5 PCs are a CR9 encounter.
A CR9 encounter is beyond the limit of what you should put a normal level 5 group up against, because it has a 50-50 chance of wiping out the party (meaning your campaign will end after an average of two such encounters).

Two level 7 PCs would also be a CR9 encounter. So if your two paladins are level 7, they'd be roughly a match for your group; if you have 5 competent PCs, the players would probably have a slight edge.

If your two paladins are level 8, the paladins would have an edge over the party. This assumes they're built like PCs. If they're built like NPCs (less optimal stats, half the value of magic equipment), then they count as being 1 CR lower.

Level 9 is probably around the minimum level to beat the PCs easily. (Even this isn't guaranteed if the party have good tactics and synergy.)

Silver Crusade

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

I'd advise against making a group of super NPCs to show the PCs what real heroes look like or whatever. It isn't particular conducive to good fun playing second fiddle to some NPCs.

Also make the strategy one a inquisitor, they're much better at that sort of thing.

It'd be helpful to know the party composition is for balancing things, also point buy and whether you're using correct WBL

-the two are being broken out of prison as part of the PC's long term plans and are only going to be fighting with them for a bit (and unless they go way off characters should have no reason to fight against them)

- inquisitor it is :)

- party is currently: 1 sorcerer (angelic bloodline) 1 ranger (duel wielder) 1 homebrew thing (a bit of a mess but it balances out) 1 invistegator and 1 that is recently joined and thus have yet to make a permenant character (has been using precon bloodrager for the last 2 sessions) all lvl 5


So, lemme tell you the DMs secret: we don't actually need dice. What we say happens happens. Unless you're running PFS, you decide when the PCs hit and miss, how much HP the mob has, when the mobs hit or miss. If an encounter is too much, feel free to tone it down. If the PCs are piledriving an encounter, bring in reinforcements, boost the mobs To Hit, boost their damage, increase their AC. I have quadrupled my bosses HP in the past. The tricks to being a "good" DM are consistency, improvisation, knowing when to pull your punches, and knowing when to hit the party with a semi-truck.

A common trick to facilitating this is a DM screen that hides your rolls.


Was the necromancer's masterpiece by itself and how many zombies? Action economy is the single greatest decider of fights. If you want more even fights focus on keeping the number of enemies roughly equal or greater than party members. Anything less than 1/2 the number of party members and it will be no contest assuming they can actually hurt the enemy. For a party of 5 keeping it between 3-8 enemies is best. More can work but only if they are weak mooks meant to be hacked through

Also be careful of relying on CR. Those are very very very rough estimates of power and actual difficulty depends much more on their abilities and how well your players can work around them. For example, Anything with high DR that they can't overcome is a lot more dangerous as it isn't going to die anytime soon. As in pokemon, both the players and the monsters have strengths and weaknesses. These matchups are much more important than CR for difficulty

Scathach is presenting it a bit extreme but the general idea is right. Adjusting encounters on the fly is good tradecraft. I do recommend doing so however with flavor and/or stealth. Stealth buffs are the minor adjustments that you can do without letting the players know that any buff at all has happened. These include things like HP ups, save increases, and adding a few new abilities. These help keep things interesting by keeping the action going. Flavor buffs are those that the players notice but there is an in game explanation for them. Perhaps the golem is adaptive and upgrades its armor against attackers. Perhaps the kobolds rigged the area early with deadly traps. Perhaps those hobgoblins were simply bait for their squads ambush. The trick here is to never show it was not your plan all along. Makes you look creative while making the fight funner

For your rapier wielder try a swashbuckler


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Scàthach Ulster wrote:

So, lemme tell you the DMs secret: we don't actually need dice. What we say happens happens. Unless you're running PFS, you decide when the PCs hit and miss, how much HP the mob has, when the mobs hit or miss. If an encounter is too much, feel free to tone it down. If the PCs are piledriving an encounter, bring in reinforcements, boost the mobs To Hit, boost their damage, increase their AC. I have quadrupled my bosses HP in the past. The tricks to being a "good" DM are consistency, improvisation, knowing when to pull your punches, and knowing when to hit the party with a semi-truck.

A common trick to facilitating this is a DM screen that hides your rolls.

This is only partially good advice. I do not recommend changing your rolls or stats. Rather have a second wave of creatures ready. GMing by fiat is like just playing let's pretend.


FabKebab wrote:

Howdy folks!

im a relatively new GM in pathfinder and am having some balance issues, some of my encounters that need to be epic (masterpiece of the vile necromancer) are laughingly easy (they tripped the poor bugger and proceeded to slaughter it) and some are the exact oppisite (almost TPK by a group of rando zombies anyone?)
just can't seem to get the hang of it...
so i looked around at some guides and they were some help... but there is one thing i cant seem to find so here i am:

The group are 4-5 players at the 5th lvl mostly basic characters and far from min/maxed i need to create 2 NPCs who act as their commanding officers, they need to be rather badass and the two of them should probably be able to beat the group rathar easilly if they were to go up against them (2 VS 5) what level should i put them at? any other feats you would reccomand?

(bonus: one is supposed to be a stategic mastermind and the other a nimble, rapier wielder both are paladins of the main deity for the world)

(bonus #2 for those familliar with magic the gathering and its lore the two im talking about are innistrad's own thalia and odric, for a "shadows over innistrad" campaign im running)

thanks in advance and sorry for the long-ish post!

What kinds of encounters are you trying to design?

Each encounter should have a purpose, that challenges the players in both a statistical way (rolling dice, using +/- CR values to determine appropriate stats) and in a tactical way. If they are fighting a bunch of dumb mindless zombies, then overwhelming numbers forces players to consider positioning and resource management. If you're throwing a BBEG, you have to make sure simple weaknesses are covered, casters need bodyguards or impenetrable magical defenses, BDF types need moderate AC and huge pools of HP.

When designing encounters you should know beforehand what kinds of resources the players need to expend and accommodate for when it comes to proceeding encounters. Hordes of zombies may not force the paladin to waste his smites, single target enemies may not bait the fireballs, etc.

Consider the purpose of the encounter, if it's there to be XP padding, and not to force the expenditure of resources before the next fight then make it simple and small. If you need the encounter to soften the players up, hit them a little harder with longer lasting debuffs or force them to waste resources that they might want or need later like forcing Dispels to get wasted.

Dynamic encounters challenge the players understanding of their own ability to control their resources.

When it comes to NPCs, why exactly are you making them? Will they be used in combat? (the answer should be no) Are they there to be mentors who offer the retraining or other services in Ultimate Campaign? When it comes to characters like these, it's better to have general ideas than to have full stat blocks, unless you are open to sending them in against your players. Otherwise, NPCs offer better tactical puzzle making by including things like: protect the princess, take out the leader, keep [name] alive for questioning. Interesting challenges often do not come from the linear stat progression but by the lateral decision making.

Remember, the players are playing the game, and the PCs are meant to be the stars. Without them there is no game to play.


Someone on these boards passed me a recommendation that I treasure:
The GM's Guide to Creating Challenging Encounters has a lot of the answers to your questions.

Working with the GM's Guide takes a little math. A level 5 PC is worth 1,600 XP; four amount to 6,400 XP & five 8,000. If we come up with that much XP fighting them, we've got a 50-50 chance someone in the party would die in a face-off. If we go with two 9th-level NPCs with NPC WBL (reducing their CR to CR-8), they've got 9,600 XP on their side. Less action economy, but still a pretty good chance for a TPK. (One level less, and the rescuees are worth 6,400 XP, standing only a 50% chance against the smaller party of 4, and likely going down against the larger one.)

I'm NOT recommending you do create these NPCs, mind you, even to fight alongside the PCs. The advice you've gotten to not let the PCs stand back and watch you play the game all by yourself is sound. (Been there on both sides of the table. Not fun for real.)

Or set the bar this high, and then find a way to weaken the NPCs before play starts. For one thing, they're presumably near-naked (reducing their CR by a further step). Perhaps they've taken negative levels from torture! If they're being held in a professionally-designed dungeon, you could easily hit them with the fatigued condition, fixable only with a day of bed rest. There may be other Conditions you could give them. (Flavor reasons for negative levels, fatigue, or other conditions evident to the PCs in the dungeon.) Certainly, the NPCs should start out seriously wounded, as well, and depending on the party's resources, might well refuse "unnecessary" levels of healing.

If you can get them down to CR-5 with all of these adjustments to CR, and here they are as good as the PCs when this bad off, it will probably impress the players more than if they simply one-shot opponents. And adding two NPCs the same effective-level as the PCs isn't bad.

I'm currently running Jade Regent, and what to do with the AP-provided NPCs, all significantly more competent than the PCs in the first book, is a definite issue. I've taken to getting them out of the way in a blatant fashion if I have to.


A numerical quibble.

bitter lily wrote:
A level 5 PC is worth 1,600 XP; four amount to 6,400 XP & five 8,000. If we come up with that much XP fighting them, we've got a 50-50 chance someone in the party would die in a face-off.

It's not a 50-50 chance of someone in the party. It's a 50/50 chance of the ENTIRE party dying. A CR+4 encounter is equal power on both sides. Equivalent CR to fighting your clones. That's in theory. In practice, players often optimize characters better, get extra stats/gear, have better synergy, have better action economy, etc.


Balkoth wrote:

A numerical quibble.

bitter lily wrote:
A level 5 PC is worth 1,600 XP; four amount to 6,400 XP & five 8,000. If we come up with that much XP fighting them, we've got a 50-50 chance someone in the party would die in a face-off.
It's not a 50-50 chance of someone in the party. It's a 50/50 chance of the ENTIRE party dying. A CR+4 encounter is equal power on both sides. Equivalent CR to fighting your clones. That's in theory. In practice, players often optimize characters better, get extra stats/gear, have better synergy, have better action economy, etc.

Quibble accepted. It's a higher chance that 1+ PC will die, a lower chance of a TPK, in practice, especially given a guaranteed imbalance of action economy (two vs. four or five).


Scàthach Ulster wrote:

So, lemme tell you the DMs secret: we don't actually need dice. What we say happens happens. Unless you're running PFS, you decide when the PCs hit and miss, how much HP the mob has, when the mobs hit or miss. If an encounter is too much, feel free to tone it down. If the PCs are piledriving an encounter, bring in reinforcements, boost the mobs To Hit, boost their damage, increase their AC. I have quadrupled my bosses HP in the past. The tricks to being a "good" DM are consistency, improvisation, knowing when to pull your punches, and knowing when to hit the party with a semi-truck.

A common trick to facilitating this is a DM screen that hides your rolls.

And be prepared that if your "friends" ever find out you're doing this that some or all might be super angry, walk out, and severely damage or ruin your friendship with them for being a lying cheater for telling them they are playing pathfinder when they have actually been playing "Your storytime." game.


TO the GM. Don't expect or plan fights to be EPIC or LONG or whatever else you may want. Have fights and plans for an enemy to be a necromancer or whatever. If player's think a fight might be hard, Especially BBEGs, they will go nova and kill it faster and easier than mooks. For that to not be true it needs to be big enough and strong enough to fairly easily kill the entire party, but then the party is likely to lose not win. The moment it's kill-able it'll die a horrible and uneventful death. Cause if you just arm up the enemies then the players will arm up to kill the next one easier, or say you're being unfair by negating their choices.

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