Why do the PCs have to do it?


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Last night I was making a settlement stat block for an upcoming game. It's a Large Town meaning 5th level spell-casting is available. This got me to thinking; there's at least a 9th level spell-caster in this town.

Now the plot I'm working on revolves around 4 level 3 PCs working to stop a heretic sect of bad guys who worship a fey creature but still get spells. The fey creature, a bog nixie with levels in sorcerer, is a CR 6 threat and the final "boss" of the adventure.

I downgraded the Large Town to a Small Town, made the spell-caster a chaotic neutral witch who keeps to herself and finished my adventure outline. It got me thinking of that age old question though; why are the PCs handling this threat?

Why does it always fall to the PCs to handle oncoming apocalypses, lich-kings, wannabe demigods and so on? The obvious answer is because this is a game and the player characters are the heroes or anti-heroes of said game. But in the plot what justification is there?

So I'm opening up a discussion. What reasons have other folks used for why the high-level NPCs of your game-world don't just handle the high-level threats that they instead employ the PCs to deal with?


There are all kinds of reasons for not going on an adventure:

a. bystander effect, the NPC don't do anything because they figure someone else will take care of it
b. doing something about a threat means putting yourself in peril, takes time, and effort and not everyone wants to deal with that hassle
c. denial, NPCs don't actually view the threat as a real danger
d. fatalism, they don't believe there is anything that can actually be done about the threat
e. it's not their responsibility, the NPC thinks it's the PCs job to fix it
f. other responsibilities, maybe the NPCs knows there's a threat, wants to do something about it but have other people, jobs, or things that require their immediate attention
g. advanced age, physical, or mental health limitations. Maybe the high level NPC is a wizard suffering from PTSD from her old adventuring days, or a great warrior but is very old. That isn't to say that people with disabilities can't go adventuring they CAN but they also have other considerations that an able bodied PC may not ever consider


Starfinder Superscriber

People are greedy. Maybe no one has approached them figuring it would cost too much. Also, herd mentality is a real thing. Most of the people who would be willing to go and fight such a thing likely have already struck out to become adventurers on their own.


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I remember someone asking in the Forgotten Realms why didn't Elminster or Khelben or the Seven Sisters solve all these problems. The reply was 'because on the other side are Manshoon and Larlock and Szass Tam and a bunch of other baddies who will counter every move we make, so it's up to someone else to deal with that while we stalemate each other'.


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I think this issue has strong thematic potential. Imagine a situation where some unknown and terrifying evil is attacking the city. The ninth level caster surrounds himself, his shop and his family with a wall of stone - better safe than sorry. The PCs realise they are the only ones running towards the danger; everyone else is hiding or running away.


The high level NPC in town doesn't know the actual threat level. He might investigate and find he bit off more than he can chew. He probably has family and friends who could be targeted if he does start interfering. Most adventure seeds make sense for people with little to lose and no big local ties to make them obligated or vulnerable. PCs qualify, local spellcasters and high level guards do not.


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When 5E was in development there was much bemoaning about bounded accuracy. "If a town can defend itself from a dragon, why do they even need PCs?" What folks didn't consider was that a town can fend off a dragon at a cost of 75%+ of its population. Looking at it from a numbers point of view doesn't consider how much that fight costs the town in lives. Essentially, offering the PCs a reward to take care of the problem hedges an NPC/town's risk. A high level caster can stay and protect the town from any danger, while capable adventures deal with the external problem.


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The cultists could have bribed, charmed, intimidated, or recruited the town guards who came to investigate them. The guards reported them as a false rumor, and the rest of the town officials believed them. The cultists will underestimate the adventuring party, so they won't use the same tactics against them.

I found the overconfident villain who underestimates the party to be a great excuse for not throwing full force against the party until too late. The villain might apply effective tactics against more obvious heroes and have defeated them already.


I can't remember who it was on this forum that I got this from so I can't give credit where due, but it is important to consider the following:

The 9th level caster in this town shouldn't just be Wizard Automaton #1408, available for all your magical needs. This guy has his own life, his own schedule, he might only be available Wealdays and Firedays from 2pm-5pm cause he spends the rest of his time lecturing at the school two towns over.

Strange Aeon Thrushmoor Spoilers:
Thrushmoor is a large town with a 9th level cleric as the only resident 5th level spell caster. However she's dead when the PCs get to the town so there's actually no 5th level spells.

Silver Crusade

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The published Adventure Paths actually do a reasonable job of explaining this. The PCs start out dealing with low level threats because they're available, they're present, they're affected. Sometimes the higher levels are just not interested, sometimes they're busy, sometimes it really is just beneath them.

Then, purely coincidentally, as the PCs advance in level they're STILL the ones available, present, etc. They're powerful enough to face the next threat so why WOULD the powers that be intervene? They've got other things going.

By the time that this becomes even less plausible the group of PCs actually IS one of the most powerful groups around.

Another reason that can sort of work : The higher levels are DELIBERATELY grooming the PCs for future things. Its like any large company. Interns, co-ops, new grads are hired at least as much for their potential as for the work they actually achieve. They'll often be a net drain at first as they take more supervision and guidance than it would take to just do the job oneself.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber
Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
But in the plot what justification is there?

Turn it around. Once your PCs are high-level, why aren't they doing everything that needs doing? Why aren't they the only heroes. Why aren't they at the scene of every situation that demands resolution?

Right. Because it's a big world with a lot of things going on. The best chef in town isn't making everyone's breakfast because he's busy cooking for his patron(s).

Just because there is a caster in town who can cast 5th-level spells, possibly even for hire, there's no guarantee that they are available for more than a couple castings. Just like when PCs get high-level... some nights they rest with uncast spells, but don't ask them to come do stuff with you or for you... they're resting because their project has them mostly spent.

Basically, narrative necessity, so work backwards and justify it.


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To continue the workplace metaphor, the minimum wage new hire employee is on the front lines doing all the grunt work, while the managers are barking orders and the business owners are busy pushing paper around and taking all the credit. So yeah, let the noobs handle the cultists, I’ve got to pen this letter to king whatshisface of nowhereland.


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NPCs don't necessarily advance in the same way as PCs.

Just 'cuz you learned to cast some fourth-level spells doesn't mean you learned the fighting ones, or that you trained in weapons and armor, or that you've toughened up to have fifty hit points or have a bunch of combat feats.

You can be a skilled professional without being a combat badass.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:


So I'm opening up a discussion. What reasons have other folks used for why the high-level NPCs of your game-world don't just handle the high-level threats that they instead employ the PCs to deal with?

There aren't any.

In my game world, PC-classed individuals are as rare as hen's teeth. The baddest-ass general on the continent would be an 8th level warrior, tops. Your average seasoned town guard, level 2 warrior.

The PCs handle the big stuff 'cause they're the Avengers or Justice League or whatever your favorite good-guy team is. They're head and shoulders and a few other body parts above anybody in the area, so they're the only people who CAN handle it.

(I run a variant of the E6 rules where I go to 8 instead; literally, levels above 8 do not exist.)


The same reason as a level 9 PC you don't go out killing CR 6 "bosses", it's beneath you.

Shadow Lodge

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Because that kind of game is s!&+.


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I can't remember who coined the saying for Pathfinder specifically but I liked it; "Just let the pathfinders deal with it, they're crazy and suicidal enough to solve the problem. And for cheap too!"


The highest level wizard in town is busy teaching the next generation how to do magic, or doing the necessary magical support work to keep the local lord's manor working. The lord of the town might have several fighter levels, but he's the "indispensable man" - if he gets killed running down every threat to the town the government falls into chaos. The high level cleric may well by a skilled healer, but feels that caring for the poor and the sick in town is a better use of divine power than going out orc hunting. The paladin who trained the PC paladin might be willing if there was no other alternative, but is, in the words of old Ben, "getting too old for this sort of thing."


I thought the same with the giant slayer slayer campaign or any campaign where clerics just stand by. The PCs see high level heroes but at least in giant slayer the npcs were being heroes while the pcs were doing busy work 12th level cavaliers can't be bothered with.

Shad from Shadiversity believes character levels are dumb and limiting, link, and the idea is that levels and classes are redundant or limiting. A character can improve himself without raising an arbitrary number that measures his skill. A system like Mutants and Masterminds doesn't have classes but rather a pool of abilities and more levels means you have more points to buy abilities so in a fantasy rpg you're wizard can be optimized for non combat casting because that's where he put his points rather than he being a god.


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Because the local hero handling everything leads to a dangerous dependency where nobody else grows into the role.

Batman needs Commissioner Gordon who needs honest beat cops. Letting other NPCs handle things that look like street level crime not only keeps you focused on the Joker and the Two Face, but it also ensures that Gotham develops the habit of ordinary heroism and gumption that they'll need for city-wide problems.

The hero can't always be there. Sometimes ordinary folks have to gather together and rush the terrorists taking over the ______ . And it's bad for the entire culture if everyone sits there waiting to be saved.

Heroes don't just save the status quo. They inspire people to stand up and not only save it, but to improve it as well in ways big and small. You can't do that if you're always waiting for Superman.


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pauljathome wrote:
The published Adventure Paths actually do a reasonable job of explaining this. The PCs start out dealing with low level threats because they're available, they're present, they're affected. Sometimes the higher levels are just not interested, sometimes they're busy, sometimes it really is just beneath them.

I wanted to echo this. The PC's shouldn't be dealing with threats above their station. Pathfinder/D&D doesn't do stories about people who start off as powerful heroes who go on great adventures, it does stories about nobodies who become powerful heroes.

Bad Story: Level 1 PCs are going into a dungeon to acquire an artifact that will stop Asmodeus' evil plan.

Good Story: Level 1 PCs are going into a dungeon and happen to find a book about a secret cult that worships Asmodeus, and they seem to think a small hamlet of 50 people is important. Maybe go check out that hamlet?

Acquiring the artifact is something that happens at level 12-15. Until then, it's a slow build up to what is actually going on.


Character actions should be supported by their backstory and the motivations provided to them by the GM. If you have to ask "why" then you're not doing your job as GM.


glittergore wrote:

There are all kinds of reasons for not going on an adventure:

a. bystander effect, the NPC don't do anything because they figure someone else will take care of it
b. doing something about a threat means putting yourself in peril, takes time, and effort and not everyone wants to deal with that hassle
c. denial, NPCs don't actually view the threat as a real danger
d. fatalism, they don't believe there is anything that can actually be done about the threat
e. it's not their responsibility, the NPC thinks it's the PCs job to fix it
f. other responsibilities, maybe the NPCs knows there's a threat, wants to do something about it but have other people, jobs, or things that require their immediate attention
g. advanced age, physical, or mental health limitations. Maybe the high level NPC is a wizard suffering from PTSD from her old adventuring days, or a great warrior but is very old. That isn't to say that people with disabilities can't go adventuring they CAN but they also have other considerations that an able bodied PC may not ever consider

h.(as pointed out earlier in thread) death beforehand

or
I. Alignment... what if the 9th level spellcaster NPC is a necromancer or believes they can co-opt the villains plans for their own ends(making them the true big bad if you want to extend the adventure)


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roguerouge wrote:
Because the local hero handling everything leads to a dangerous dependency where nobody else grows into the role.

That's often hard to square with the actual events of an adventure.

9th level NPC Cleric of Iomedae: "You may come to my temple for healing, but my job is to stay here all day, waiting to see if anyone needs my help. The job of protecting the town from the necromancer is yours."

Later:
1st level PC: "Our Paladin was torn apart by zombies. Any chance of a Raise Dead?"
NPC Cleric: "Have you got 5000gp?"
PC: "No."
NPC Cleric: "Giant diamonds don't grow on trees, you know."
PC: "If you'd come with us, she'd still be alive!"
NPC Cleric: "But that would have slowed down your rate of experience growth. No-one ever got better by having an experienced person around, helping them with things they can't handle on their own."
PC: "That's how pretty much everyone learns everything! It's called apprenticeship!"


I'll second the idea that the high-level NPCs usually have their plates full with other concerns.

The grizzled veteran general doesn't go investigate every little brushfire in his territory--he delegates by sending some of his troops (or disposable mercenary adventurers) to investigate, while he remains in the keep collecting reports, overseeing the upkeep on his defenses, training soldiers, keeping his supply lines protected, corresponding with other leaders, etc.

The powerful mage who lives in the tower outside town retired there to do important research without interruptions. Maybe he's trying to prove an esoteric theory with no practical application, or maybe he's trying to invent a spell or enchant a weapon to fight the monsters that only he knows will be coming in the future.


I look at it this way.

those high level wizards did do something about it. they had YOU deal with it.

no seriously

Arunson, elminseter and their armies......
Khelben and Elminster have NO armies....

unless you are the town leader you have NO watch or guard under you to command
unless you are the regional governor, you have no army under you...

all that said
that high level wizard/spellcaster would be better opted to defend the city from the 700 member elf eater kobold tribe and its 500 member goblin foot clan of Chelish debauchery rather than going off to face off with the snake's head of said monsterous invasion force that may or may not be that big

the bottom line is that sometimes a smaller force stands a better chance where a ;arger strike force will not

Grand Lodge

TOZ wrote:
Because that kind of game is s*%!.

Great non-answer! Must have taken you all day.

Typically the PCs are tied into the events, whether it be their background or the inciting event that you come up with that drags them into the scenario. Usually, you can threaten a PCs family or loved one, or maybe even have the party get the ire of the big bad because reasons.

Or just tell the party how phat the loot is on this lich. That usually gets their blood pumpin'.


To expound on the 'high level characters have better things to do with their time', I can give you examples from my campaign.
One of the PCs has a little valley she rules and while there are always a few minor issues with bandits or maybe some undead here and there she has better things to do than investigate everything herself. Stuff like
- trying to keep a fragile peace between the humans, elves, halflings, dwarves, ogres, goblins, orcs, gnolls and lizardmen that inhabit the valley from reverting to open hostility
- trying to make a lasting domain with equality for all
- stopping a 200-meter tall steammech from rampaging
- playing Diplomacy with neighbors, one of which is actively hostile
- stopping her ex, now a vampire, from ruining her efforts to unify the valley
- stopping her ex from making everyone undead
- going on time-traveling adventures to other dimensions to stop Immortals from messing things up
- liberating the ancient elven homeland from a foul curse and pouring resources in to help rebuild it
- helping prevent two superpowers on the continent from going to all-out war (where one side has already destroyed a world), which involved directly confronting other Immortals
- trying to find time in between all this to become an Immortal herself

If there are a few bandits on the road, she doesn't have time to personally handle it; she has people for that. Those people could easily be PCs in another game.


The main reason is surely that the 9th level NPC is only one person and can’t be everywhere at once. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, or won’t help if given the oppportunity. It just means they can’t take on responsibility for getting every problem fixed.

Use 9th level NPCs as patrons and mentors for PCs with extra rewards or help for dealing with that tricky problem. Give clues to the NPCs own aims and motivations it will expand the verisimilitude of the world and bring the NPc to life. Maybe the wizard is trying to research how to destroy a powerful evil item and is struggling to keep its power contained meaning they darent leave the item unattended.

If the threat is direct and immediate (dragon attack on the town for instance) then have the wizard taken out of the fight (dragons agents steal the wizards spellvook, or poison him etc).

Remember that situation at work where you’re juggling ten tasks and someone comes into you office and starts adding more problems onto your pile... at some point you say can’t you sort it out yourself.


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just to add one more option to the list. Sometimes the NPC might look at the PC's and think Ah I remember when I was that young they need to do this its good for them get them strong like me.


The Sword wrote:
The main reason is surely that the 9th level NPC is only one person and can’t be everywhere at once. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, or won’t help if given the oppportunity. It just means they can’t take on responsibility for getting every problem fixed.

That doesn't work too well if the NPC is available day and night to craft and trade magic items.

I think we need to vary our NPCs to whichever is the most plausible out of:

Unaware of the problem. "Haunted mine? That sounds like a load of nonsense. Go there and bring me proof if you're so convinced."

Too selfish/lazy/cowardly to get involved. "Why would I go to a haunted mine where monsters will try to kill me, when I could stay indoors, not getting stabbed?"

Old / frail / retired. "I have a family to take care of now, plus my leg hasn't been the same since I got an arrow in my knee..."

Busy with other important stuff. "My battle with Grim-Lord Foulbane has persisted for over a century. If I stop scrying on his sinister works, who knows what dark mischief he might accomplish?"

Believes that the PCs need to learn to stand on their own two feet rather than rely on someone else to help them. "If you are truly the chosen ones, you don't need me. And if you are not truly the chosen ones, then I don't need you."

Non-existent. "Well, there's a priest in the local church... Can't say I've ever seen him doing any healing magic, though. If we see anything dangerous, we call for big Tom, and he hits it with a stick. But he's been ill lately..."


Also could be the NPC class caster making items. Might be good at that but be incompetent at combat.

Shadow Lodge

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Jader7777 wrote:
TOZ wrote:
Because that kind of game is s*%!.
Great non-answer! Must have taken you all day.

I thought you’d be smart enough to realize I was talking about games where the high level GMPCs solve everything for the party.


Once the PCs reach a few levels up, it's possibly the best option for them to sponsor a newbie team to take out the kobold leader... all it takes is a few hundred gold. And enough of a stifled conscience to know some of those newbies won't be coming back.


TOZ wrote:
I was talking about games where the high level GMPCs solve everything for the party.

That gameplay reason for not annoying your players by having high level NPCs save the day was acknowledged by the OP:

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
The obvious answer is because this is a game and the player characters are the heroes or anti-heroes of said game. But in the plot what justification is there?


Because their mothers told them to do it, and well, no matter how powerful you become...you still have to deal with mom.

Shadow Lodge

Well, unless your parents are dead.

Matthew Downie wrote:
That gameplay reason for not annoying your players by having high level NPCs save the day was acknowledged by the OP:

Precisely why I had no need to spend more than two seconds replying.


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TOZ wrote:

Well, unless your parents are dead.

Matthew Downie wrote:
That gameplay reason for not annoying your players by having high level NPCs save the day was acknowledged by the OP:
Precisely why I had no need to spend more than two seconds replying.

Since the actual question was about in-world justifications for that meta reason, it might have been helpful to spend more than 2 seconds.


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I appreciate the discussion so far. It's really helped me start to wrap my head around this a bit better. Also I agree with some, especially those adhering to the Batman/Gotham analogy. The 9th level cleric can't stop every minor bandit in the area, even in a sleepy hamlet on the edge of the wilds. The lower-level PCs are handling the "street level" crime while the big stuff is on the docket of the cleric.

I guess I was just sort of wondering about those instances where it IS the big stuff that the NPC is putting the PCs on.

On the one hand, maybe the 9th level cleric doesn't know that there's an evil coven behind all the local evil stuff. But then, after this is uncovered...

PC 1: so... we went into the woods after those bandits. Turns out they were working with a witch...

PC 2: Yeah, a witch that was apprenticed to a coven of hags. From what we could gather, it sounds like they're planning some really big attack, maybe even working on an army of undead!

9th Level Cleric: Hmm, yes... that IS distressing. So, how do you think you'll proceed?

PC 3: Umm... well... we were kind of hoping YOU'D take over from here? I mean, I feel like a coven of hags commanding an army of the dead is a bit above our paygrade so to speak.

9th Level Cleric: Nonsense, I have every confidence in you four! Just slowly and methodically work your way up through their network of spies and lieutenants until your power level rivals or even surpasses my own. Surely the hags won't use said spies, discern who and what is disrupting their organization now while you're still relatively unable to protect yourselves, and then either dominate/impress you into that organization or just kill you outright. I've got to keep these relics dusted, but I'll be here in case you need to buy a healing scroll.

PC 4: ...

Shadow Lodge

thejeff wrote:
Since the actual question was about in-world justifications for that meta reason, it might have been helpful to spend more than 2 seconds.

You ought to know me better than that.


Also ultimately the meta reason is the only reason that makes sense short of all the high tier NPCs being aggressively apathetic about low CR issues. I mean in roughly any given metropolis you can find scrolls of wish for sale. Ergo there is some wizard with 9th level casting lurking around. Now you might say "Surely Merlin is too busy spending his days writing scrolls to bother helping the low level scrubs with the Kobold Warren in ye olde Hamlet McNowhere" but on the other hand Merlin's got 9th level spells. He can spend about 10 minutes summoning some outsider to G Teleport and massacre the kobolds at likely no cost to himself because he can wreck the planar binding charisma check with enough mods. Now you can say he's too aggressively apathetic for even that too, but it gets weird when even the _G clerics spending their time writing miracle scrolls can't put the time of day to be good people and crush some evil.

One of those things you're not meant to look too closely at in Pathfinder lest you fall down the rabbit hole entirely and get lost in how utterly nonsensical the bones of the setting are.


Thanks!

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:


9th Level Cleric: Nonsense, I have every confidence in you four! Just slowly and methodically work your way up through their network of spies and lieutenants until your power level rivals or even surpasses my own. Surely the hags won't use said spies, discern who and what is disrupting their organization now while you're still relatively unable to protect yourselves, and then either dominate/impress you into that organization or just kill you outright. I've got to keep these relics dusted, but I'll be here in case you need to buy a healing scroll.

PC 4: ...

Instead, try to have the cleric offer them items "at cost", free healing, a safe place to rest, counseling, divinations, and connections to local resources that they may not know about.

Batman can be a jerk, so with the powerful NPCs who aren't, try for one of those superheroes who has a team and supports them in their endeavors without running their lives for them.

Silver Crusade

Tarik Blackhands wrote:

Also ultimately the meta reason is the only reason that makes sense short of all the high tier NPCs being aggressively apathetic about low CR issues. I mean in roughly any given metropolis you can find scrolls of wish for sale. Ergo there is some wizard with 9th level casting lurking around. Now you might say "Surely Merlin is too busy spending his days writing scrolls to bother helping the low level scrubs with the Kobold Warren in ye olde Hamlet McNowhere" but on the other hand Merlin's got 9th level spells. He can spend about 10 minutes summoning some outsider to G Teleport and massacre the kobolds at likely no cost to himself because he can wreck the planar binding charisma check with enough mods. Now you can say he's too aggressively apathetic for even that too, but it gets weird when even the _G clerics spending their time writing miracle scrolls can't put the time of day to be good people and crush some evil.

One of those things you're not meant to look too closely at in Pathfinder lest you fall down the rabbit hole entirely and get lost in how utterly nonsensical the bones of the setting are.

Technically I think metropolises cut off at 8th level spells, but that's still a 15th level wizard.

Scrolls could be explained away via traders, so you can still get the scrolls even if there are no casters with high level spells in the city, but purchasing 8th level spell casting services is pretty hard to work around having actual casters.


One way to solve this problem is to make high-level NPCs incredibly rare. In the ordinary course of things, the PCs never encounter anyone over third or maybe fourth level. When higher level NPCs DO show up, they're directly involved with the PCs as either allies or opponents.

In order to account for the availability of comparatively high level magic in comparatively small towns, use rituals. That is, instead of one 9th level cleric taking 10 minutes to cast Raise Dead, it takes 9 1st level clerics chanting for 10 hours. The costs are still the same.

That way, the PCs have access to the for-hire spellcasting they need, and it's quite obvious that the general townsfolk are not going to be up to going out and fight the baddies. Individually they're quite weak, and doing powerful magic takes them much too long to be effective in combat.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:

I appreciate the discussion so far. It's really helped me start to wrap my head around this a bit better. Also I agree with some, especially those adhering to the Batman/Gotham analogy. The 9th level cleric can't stop every minor bandit in the area, even in a sleepy hamlet on the edge of the wilds. The lower-level PCs are handling the "street level" crime while the big stuff is on the docket of the cleric.

I guess I was just sort of wondering about those instances where it IS the big stuff that the NPC is putting the PCs on.

On the one hand, maybe the 9th level cleric doesn't know that there's an evil coven behind all the local evil stuff. But then, after this is uncovered...

PC 1: so... we went into the woods after those bandits. Turns out they were working with a witch...

PC 2: Yeah, a witch that was apprenticed to a coven of hags. From what we could gather, it sounds like they're planning some really big attack, maybe even working on an army of undead!

9th Level Cleric: Hmm, yes... that IS distressing. So, how do you think you'll proceed?

PC 3: Umm... well... we were kind of hoping YOU'D take over from here? I mean, I feel like a coven of hags commanding an army of the dead is a bit above our paygrade so to speak.

9th Level Cleric: Nonsense, I have every confidence in you four! Just slowly and methodically work your way up through their network of spies and lieutenants until your power level rivals or even surpasses my own. Surely the hags won't use said spies, discern who and what is disrupting their organization now while you're still relatively unable to protect yourselves, and then either dominate/impress you into that organization or just kill you outright. I've got to keep these relics dusted, but I'll be here in case you need to buy a healing scroll.

PC 4: ...

I prefer to not acknowledge in-game how fast the PCs level up. As I mentioned above, I like having the PCs surprise the overconfident villain.

In addition, the cleric can be sidelined in a more story-worthy fashion. Replace the cleric's last line with:

9th Level Cleric: Was the leader of the coven a powerful witch named Malidia?

PC 3: Um, we didn't learn any names.

9th Level Cleric: She and I have been having a feud for years. Whenever I caught her, she distracted me with her minions and escaped. This time, you have a chance to distract her minions and I can turn the tables on her. It will take me a day or two of divinations to track her down. In the meanwhile, you keep whittling away at the bandits and coven recruits.

PC 4: Er, sure. What if we run into Malidia?

9th Level Cleric: Run.

Two in-game days and a few level advancements later.

Malidia: You meddling pipsqueaks, how did you find my scry-proof lair? No matter, I used up a few spellss escaping from the blasted cleric, but my other spells will wipe you off the face of Golarion.

PC 4: The cleric said, "Run."

PC 1: She is injured and short on spells. I say we can take her.

PC 2: We destroyed most of her undead already. Let's go for it!


The NPC doesn't know that the big bad guy is a CR6. For all he knows it could be a CR20 boss.

One thing about Pathfinder is that it gives players the impression that they can always handle a threat, because the encounter is tuned to party strength.

I once ran a 3.5 scenario, where the first encounter was a xorn way above the party's capability to kill. I had to approach the encounter carefully so that they wouldn't immediately attack it.

I ran another game where the players were supposed to kill a bandit army, but I never expected them to attack the entire army at once. I planned for the army to split and have them attack parts of the army. Instead, they attacked the entire army and were captured.


lol so this is kind of a significant thing that needs to be addressed also in the context of most superhero comics (in that case, the question is usually phrased, "If there's a world-ending threat, why isn't literally every superhero there is in on the action?) In order to maintain any kind of suspension of disbelief, yeah, there has to be some kind of reason that it falls to the heroes in question.

A few ways this gets explained away are:

1. Turf. A given hero/group operates in a certain geographical area or area of concern, and tend to handle things along those lines

2. Other commitments. This is less a problem (or should be) in most fantasy settings, but the majority of heroes can't deal with every world-ending threat, because there are usually half a dozen or so taking place at any given time, and a character can't be in multiple places at once (okay, Wolverine apparently can, but other than that). This is, of course, a really terrible way to handle things, though, as there's no reasonable way that a world that's constantly under threat to this degree can last for any length of time.

3. Knowledge/acceptance. If, say, Black Widow uncovers a plot by the ruler of some nation to use a sci-fi superweapon on some other nation, she can't necessarily get anybody else to help her out because they don't have the necessary information, and there's some chance that the people she's trying to get to assist her might either not believe her, or might not believe that the evidence is strong enough to justify the invasion of a foreign territory.

4. Time constraints. If some high-powered baddie is nearing the completion of their grand design, heroes simply don't have the time to wait around for other heroes to show up to help and have to deal with the issue now.

Other than 2, most of these are generally pretty easily applicable to your standard issue fantasy setting. That said, the easiest way to get around this is to avoid as often as possible the threats that are so big that this question becomes a major issue in the first place (at least until the party hits, like, 15th level and the new answer is "Because they're the only ones who can handle this sh*t").


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What I have used with some success is the concept of NPC adventurers as an alternate team for the player characters.

Its a way of giving them some choice in which of multiple plots to follow.

Example -

In the PCs' home town there is a small group of NPCs who are another adventuring group of about their level (or a lose group of town residents who do get off their behinds to deal with threats)

The players discover leads on two possible plot lines - someone uniting the local orc and barbarian tribes to invade the civilised lands AND a separate sinister conspiracy assassinating leaders. The NPC party can be persuaded to help - and potentially to go deal with the plot line the players aren't as intrigued by.


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Another option would be to have the high level NPC want to come along, and the PCs have to dissuade him:

PC: "This must be the goblin camp. Let's take a stealthy approach."
NPC: "No need! Empowered Maximized Widened Fireblast!"
He snaps his fingers and instantly kills all the goblins, destroys their huts, melts the loot, kills an innocent prisoner, and sets fire to the diaries containing the important information that the players were supposed to retrieve.
NPC: "That was fun. Shall we go and look for some more monsters?"
PC: "Umm... Let's split up. We can cover more ground that way."


they don't, they can just set down their dice and let you tell them a story of how things unfold. That game is called "story time".

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