Back to the drawing board: sliding scale of difficulty?


Pathfinder Adventure Card Game General Discussion


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In Vic's What would you change thread, Irgy suggested the following:

Irgy wrote:

... the one other, completely unrelated thing I'd like to see is an officially sanctioned method of increasing the difficulty for more experienced players (and, I suppose, the converse for beginners). I know of lots of ways of making it harder, but what's good about an officially sanctioned approach is that:

* It's thought through, and for future sets maybe even designed-around.
* It doesn't feel arbitrary, you can achieve something that you didn't just make up yourself.
* You can compare your experiences with other people.

Personally, I think difficulty is the single most elusive aspect of designing a PACG set, while also being critical to the enjoyment of the game. If the game is too easy, it's boring. If you're banging your head against the wall, it's joyless.

In my groups, we've altered the difficulty in every set to make the game harder (although not in every scenario, particularly S&S and Wrath). This made the game more of a challenge, and much more satisfying than it would have been otherwise. Typical methods we used were: adding 2 locations to a four-player game (which I realize has a nerfing aspects as well, such as increased boon exposure, but which I'd argue is still a difficulty increase); linear movement, similar to that later presented in the Obsidian app; and removing 5 blessings from the blessings deck for a 6-player RotR campaign (this was my teen-aged nephews' favorite method, and yes, we made it work).

I've heard arguments that everyone should play the exact same ruleset, and also that having adjustable difficulty is pointless, because everyone would view the "real" game as the one with the hardest difficulty settings. I think the Obsidian app refutes that. In my experience with other games, many people *won't* play a variant unless it is in the rulebook, but, when presented with options, will gladly chose the ones that fit the desires of their gaming group.

What do people think of this?


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I've enjoyed some of the obsidian wildcards. Though, sometimes in certain combinations, they can make the game nearly impossible. I think a suggested list of universal wildcards would maybe be interesting. Perhaps a chart where you roll a d12 to choose one. Perhaps with the caveat that if the wildcard directly impacts an alternate win condition, you reroll. For example, if a wildcard was "The difficulty of checks to acquire boons is increased by 5" and the win condition was to acquire boons, then you reroll. I wouldn't want to see wildcards that declare a bane undefeated based on an unalterable die roll, since they turn henchmen and villains into random luck (it's one thing when the designers so that and balance a scenario accordingly, it's another when it just gets thrown on randomly).

I hate the movement restriction, because I love the movement powers and it really messed with those. It also basically makes the Harpy the most dreaded monster in the game.

I could even maybe see offering some increased difficulty challenges in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Guild, but I think they should be more like added accomplishments. Like, have X number of upgrades in the available pool gives a bonus upgrade, or defeat a villain by X amount to choose a promo card to add to your class deck. (Those aren't well thought out, just things I'm throwing out while typing.) I wouldn't tie them to a particular scenario, so no one felt forced to replay to get it. Rather, tie them to a season or calendar year. So: If at any time your table has 5x the number of players in upgrades in the pool, each player earns a bonus upgrade. This can only be earned once per character.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I play Many games and one somewhat similar that Pathfinder adventures is Arkham Horror Lcg. It has four difficulty levels and what I have read From forums, all of those difficulty levels Are used by different play goups. Most seems to play with normal difficulty, but some players use easy, guite Many play on hard and small monitaituri enjoy the pubishment that extreme difficulty gives.

So I am sure that Pathfinder would Also benefit From dissiculty levels of somekind.
Some min max people need harder level to make the game more enjoyable. Some groups needs something more easier. And then there Are the folk in between.

There is not even need to extra rewards. Just some variation to the difficulty.
One neat thing in arkham is one card that give every player extra reward after the scenario, but Also give every player extra bane during the scenario as well, and it Also eats valauble cards slot in the deck. So there is Also ways to give extra rewards and make game harder if needed.


I would also like to see some of the difficulty options from the app made into a half page (or so) of options in the card game.

One way to adjust the difficulty ourselves, without a house rule, is just to check our character choices too.

A group of 3 grognards who take a completely balanced party with a fighter, healer and arcade magic user with perfectly tuned skills for each other and the adventure path are going to feel the game is too easy. But the game has to appeal to a single mom and her 2 young teenage boys too, so that's not really a fair complaint to me.

A group of grognards (myself included...) could try a group of 3 arcade characters through Skull and Shackles with no Craft or Survival skills. That should be a challenge without any need for house rules, if people don't like to "cheat" with them (again, myself included...). I'm taking Class Deck Ezren and S&S Feiya alone through S&S. That is a good enough challenge for me and I don't need to house rule to make it harder...


I suppose this is a question that should be asked ... what's the proper win/loss ratio to hit that level between 'this is too easy' and 'this is too hard'?

The random nature of the game also makes setting its difficulty tricky, since you have to account for the fickleness of dice along with the randomization of cards in both player and location decks. In my experiences, it's pretty easy to lose a scenario just 'cause you wind up having to burn through most of the locations the hard way 'cause the henchmen wound up in the bottom third of the decks and the villain was in the last one you explored.


As I have no respect for the proper way of doing things, I always break games whenever I can.

I haven't tried the Obsidian app yet; I adopted the Linear movement system from its original creator (I believe, please correct me if I'm wrong), Alex Fiedler on Boardgamegeek. To me there is no other way to play this game now. However, class decks break boxes they aren't really meant to be in, the promise of blending box sets is far easier said than done.

During a redo of RotR, we had a party of four, using all 8 locations and linear movement, and Alhazra was just oracling through everything.I think we failed a scenario once. It has been a cakewalk until A6, when I threw in more barriers from Mummy and Wrath, as well as some of the Runelords favorite demon pets, but only those that complement their deadly sins motif.

Late in the game, I stepped in as quasi-GM and said that the Runelords were wary of Alhazra's Osirionite gifts, and brought forth trigger cards from the depths of ancient and forbidden tombs. The problem is that without patches like Trigger, all our old stuff can't really be re-used very easily without getting very creative on the fly. I introduced Linear ranged attack penalties at the beginning; limited movement cards like Haste to one space/card, unless they involved the word "teleport" in them. and similar changes. I'm working on a complete renovation of Skull & Shackles as I absorb some of the newest material I've missed out on; it could really use a proper hug. This is on the side of a couple other game projects I've been designing for some time.

I think more than just a guide for advanced players is needed, there should be a real handbook for getting all the content to work together and what sorts of things to think about when blending boxes. I didn't buy this game for organized play, I bought it for its creative potential, as a new way to RP and use cards to make modular worlds. I see it as a creative tool, as much as the DM's guide is. Tabletop Simulator has been my favorite way of exploring these concepts. (I patched Fiedler's linear movement system as a tileset in the workshop, if you are a TTS user: PACG Linear on Steam Workshop, other things in the works)

Why don't we just do this? Just write a guide.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Zhayne wrote:

I suppose this is a question that should be asked ... what's the proper win/loss ratio to hit that level between 'this is too easy' and 'this is too hard'?

The random nature of the game also makes setting its difficulty tricky, since you have to account for the fickleness of dice along with the randomization of cards in both player and location decks. In my experiences, it's pretty easy to lose a scenario just 'cause you wind up having to burn through most of the locations the hard way 'cause the henchmen wound up in the bottom third of the decks and the villain was in the last one you explored.

(Note in advance: I've not played Mummy's Mask)

Just sharing my opinion - After I'd gotten a couple of adventure paths under my belt, I found every adventure path too easy with my group, with the exception of Wrath of the Righteous, which probably felt like the most agreeable level of difficulty.. albeit, the spikes in difficulty felt like they were for the wrong reasons consistently. Notably, Audience with the Inheritor is both my favourite and most despised scenario in my experience with the game as a whole. Flavorful, creative, strategic... and utterly, completely impossible if you don't have multiple characters (or at least an overwhelming majority of your party) with at least ONE of the appropriate, non-combat, skills which are mandatory for the 'villain' and henchmen. But, it was something that didn't, per se, directly expect the combat-oriented characters to shine, and that was at least one thing I greatly appreciated, even if it opened a whole new can of worms and issues.

A big factor in the difficulty is also to consider the party size. The ACG doesn't 'scale' its difficulty in a linear manner. Instead, some parts of the game become easier, some parts become harder as the party size changes, and as a result any rebalance to a single element is likely to be nullified (or unintentionally exaggerated) in very large or very small party sizes.

FWIW, in my opinion I'd like to have a high likelihood of losing a scenario (or a high likelihood of losing a character permanently to character death if I do not take a given chance to retreat previous to a critical point) once per adventure/5 scenarios, such that an 'perfect adventure' without any failures becomes a rarity after, say, Adventure Deck 1. However, my win/loss ratio in my groups, after becoming familiar with the game, is immeasurably higher than that, having beaten both RotR and Skulls and Shackles (albeit barely) without a single scenario loss at all, with a 6 person group that included 3 people completely new to the game.


That's another thing ... a close win is also, IMHO, very exciting and satisfying. For our group, S&S seemed to be the right difficulty level; we lost every now and again, and won a *lot* of scenarios with 1 or zero blessings left in the timer deck ("Are we SURE we can't move the Holy Candle from RotR to here?"). There's a big difference in terms of enjoyment between 'an easy win' and 'a hard win'. I'd be satisfied with a 100% completion of a path if there were a decent number of close calls.

There's also 'losing a scenario' vs 'losing a character', and whether or not one considers the latter to be a loss. I, personally, don't; I'm happy to sacrifice my character if it means the rest of the group wins.

S&S was about the right level of difficulty for us; I think we averaged out to about an 80% win rate (there was one scenario we had to do like 5 times before we pulled it off). WotR was a bit too much; so far, Mummy's Mask has been about right once I figured out what to do with Mavaro (load him up with spells with both Arcane and Divine descriptors and go to town).


Zhayne wrote:

I suppose this is a question that should be asked ... what's the proper win/loss ratio to hit that level between 'this is too easy' and 'this is too hard'?

For me, I prefer to fail a scenario about 50% of the time. That difficulty seems right to me. Of course, some scenarios can be harder and take some extra tries, and some are easier and only need one pass, depending on a bit of luck and how the scenario compares to my assembled team.

To keep it a challenge and have other options, I solo 2 groups of 2 through the Adventure Path. One group is optimized, the other is my "special" team which I see as a challenge through the entire AP (Right now: class deck Ezren and Feiya through S&S).

Silver Crusade

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I was not going to weigh in on this thread, because it seemed to be for people who wanted to discuss options to make the game more difficult. But it seems to be drifting into "The game should be more difficult," so I thought I'd add a voice of "I like the game at its current difficulty." I'm not opposed to adding optional difficulty wildcards in the rulebook if people wanted them, but I would personally not play with them. I like winning most of the time, and I really like that I'm able to play with more casual players and still win. I don't mind the occasional loss, but I think that having to replay the same scenario multiple times would discourage my group away from the game.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Yep. That is why having Also easier option is important!


It really depends how you play I think.
A certain combination of classes that the designers have not tested on a box (the older the path, the more this is so) is so unbelievably easy as to render the entire path Candyland.

I think the game is easy enough as it is, and if you would like it to be easy, just play it the way it is designed. If you want to be creative, combining rules and classes, making new scenarios, integrating game innovations from other legacy/persistent games, than that's something else entirely. I read some of the licensing info again. Some things I want to do feel like they might be pushing license agreement a little. I haven't decided if I'm just going to do them anyway, but rest assured nothing I ever do will be out of the desire to make money or harm anyone's business.

The community use policy makes it difficult to completely spread one's wings, as generous as it is in many ways. I have questions about why Drivethrucards appears to be a twilight zone in this department, I don't think everyone is reporting their DT card purchases to the Community Use project database. Can I turn DT cards into a module? Can I port that module to Tabletop Simulator, where it can be played by thousands of people and then grown into something else? (See the Endless World Mod as an example of a collectively grown, persistent sandbox made out of chained mods).

All I want is for people to have fun, if I have spent a bunch of money on something that limits my creativity or my fun, the inner hacker in me gets angry. And then I get all muscley, and then I have to buy new clothes. It's a waste of clothes.


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IronGiant wrote:
For me, I prefer to fail a scenario about 50% of the time. That difficulty seems right to me.

That ratio would be way too much failure for me. I have one group that meets only once a month at best. It takes us close to 2 years to complete an adventure path, with only failing maybe 3 or 4 scenarios. If we failed 50% of the time, I think we'd just give up.

I like the difficulty about where it is. I like the idea of increased difficulty mostly for replaying and adding something different or for gaining some additional bonus.


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Eliandra Giltessan wrote:
I really like that I'm able to play with more casual players and still win. I don't mind the occasional loss, but I think that having to replay the same scenario multiple times would discourage my group away from the game.

^That's what I meant in the other thread when I said some scenarios in later sets(WotR/MM/honorable mention to Best Served Cold...) felt too much like "No room for error". The more casual players won't like being instructed all the time that "maybe you should do THIS instead of THAT", and more experienced players don't like (potentially) losing the game because the casual ones didn't see/think of a situation/interaction the "old salts" are mentally aware of.

It never gets to the point of an 'argument' on my tables, but there's a palpable tension that just wasn't there in RotR and most of SS. In the end, *in mixed groups* no one benefits from the 'increased difficulty' - the casual players feel like they're not pulling their weight, the experienced ones feel like they have to be on their toes and cover for others' mistakes, instead of concentrate on their own increased challenges.


Hawkmoon269 wrote:
IronGiant wrote:
For me, I prefer to fail a scenario about 50% of the time. That difficulty seems right to me.
That ratio would be way too much failure for me. I have one group that meets only once a month at best.

This is my main group as well, though occasionally a buddy and I will play at home. Having fun and failing only once in a while is right for us. Adding official options for making the game harder or interested players coming up with a guide for making it harder are both fine with me, but keep the baseline similar to what it's been.


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I like the idea of difficulty settings. I too have fiddled with increasing difficulty in some of the base sets. I have enjoyed playing games like the entire dark souls series where it is brutal/agonizing at parts, but it felt so good to beat those. Losing all the time isn't fun, but beating every scenario on the first go isn't really fun either. Finding a way to incorporate difficulty settings at a design level would let us self-select our preference.

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Most of the time I end up playing with groups where there are one or more players with very little experience of PACG. For groups like that I feel that the difficulty is mostly just about right - while we don't often end up losing a scenario, there have been many occasions where we have eked out a win by the skin of our teeth with at most one card left in the blessings deck. That, in my opinion - eventual victory, but with the ever-present possibility of defeat - is the best possible experience.

For a more seasoned group of players (especially with characters well suited to the expected challenges of the adventure) I can see that something would need to be done to prevent a walkover.


IronGiant wrote:
For me, I prefer to fail a scenario about 50% of the time. That difficulty seems right to me. Of course, some scenarios can be harder and take some extra tries, and some are easier and only need one pass, depending on a bit of luck and how the scenario compares to my assembled team.

Psychologically, a lot of people don't agree with you. I remember reading something about the way people adjust AIs in single player games, and the rate of winning most people were comfortable with in terms of thinking they were evenly matched was much higher than 50%.

Each player is different. My current playgroup's cooperation rate is so high that we can take on very hard challenges and pull through.

The other thing is play length. I've seen this being split into 2 camps - groups that have very little playtime so they don't want to play through a scenario more than once or twice, and playgroups that play so much they burn through the content and ask why there isn't more.

There's also different reasons people play. Some people play games to win them, and some other people use games as social time. They'll also react differently to these.

I think difficulty settings are fine. They are not good for a public campaign like PFS, as often you don't have a good idea of who you're playing with. Negotiation of difficulty is also poor for pickup groups.

A higher difficulty setting is probably better suited for a shorter campaign or one-shot scenarios; Sentinels of the Multiverse is a good example of the latter.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

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50% win rate would be fine for a 10 minute game meant to be played repeatedly in quick succession - for a game that can take 1.5 hours that's no good. 90% is more my target. Really, you want a high objective win rate but you want the game to feel close, even if it really wasn't.

In the Obsidian app, there are some combinations of wildcards on Legendary that are nearly auto-forfeit for me, simply because they won't be any actual fun. "All checks are 3 harder" added to "failing to acquire a boon costs a blessing?" No frakin thanks. Currently I'm not super happy with "all hand sizes are reduced by 3." That one's been coming up a lot for me recently.


Eeesh, 90% here, 50% there.

Quote:

Each player is different. My current playgroup's cooperation rate is so high that we can take on very hard challenges and pull through.

The other thing is play length. I've seen this being split into 2 camps - groups that have very little playtime so they don't want to play through a scenario more than once or twice, and playgroups that play so much they burn through the content and ask why there isn't more.

There's also different reasons people play. Some people play games to win them, and some other people use games as social time. They'll also react differently to these.

I agree with this completely. I've been missing from the community for so long I had no idea how much this game had changed, some of the changes have been great, others have gone the opposite way I would have liked. WotR pushed me away, Mummy beckoned me back. PACG is a game of contradictions for me. I was on Tabletop Simulator the other night with a friend, going over some of my ideas for reimplimenting Skull and Shackles from the ground up, the game mechanics themselves are going to go through quite a change. This has been on the side of other things I'm working on, but I think for the kind of gamer I am, I've reached a wall with the current confines of the game system, and that includes the digital strategy for PACG which I think is a little too closed off and "appy."

I like a hard, mean challenge. I like sitting with my friends and making a serious game plan, all the metagaming that arises from cooperation and sacrifice. Pandemic at full volume, Robinson Crusoe, Mage Knight co-op with the fortresses turned to 11. Only then is the mettle of the team truly tested. I've had a couple years to think about why I stare at S&S at the back of my game closet, and why I stopped buying merch, it has to do with the Final Fantasy-ish/Diablo bent that the game has clung to. I know Diablo was actually an inspiration to it, so my fault there. But that doesn't mean I can't take Diablo and turn it into Dark Souls... That's kinda what I'm doing. :)


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Don't see why it's even an issue: it's your game ans scaling difficulty is very easy and can be done by many ways without needing any additional equipment (card, dice...).

You can play with blessing deck, number and choice of locations, movement restriction, level of banes vs boons, yadayadayada....

For OP it's just a matter of writing the scenarios carefully.


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ryric wrote:
50% win rate would be fine for a 10 minute game meant to be played repeatedly in quick succession - for a game that can take 1.5 hours that's no good. 90% is more my target. Really, you want a high objective win rate but you want the game to feel close, even if it really wasn't.

Couldn't agree more.

When I was writing Revenge of the Wicked and was in doubt of the difficulty, I often decided to make it easier rather than harder; if it feels too easy, it's easy to make things harder yourself (and you can be proud at being good at the game), but if it's too difficult, it feels like cheating to make it easier, which can spoil the fun.

I also recognized that party composition goes a long way to difficulty:
When I playtested the AP, I used fairly old CD characters and was having a challenging time, but playing through it again with newer characters now, we have a much easier time as a group.

Changing party composition is the easiest way to increase the difficulty:
- play multiple characters that want the same boons
- select a few skills that no one is able to cover
- play characters whose abilities clash with the APs theme

You'll automatically develop your characters in different and new ways and the improvising you have to do can make the game much more rewarding when it pays off.

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