GMming question with Gnoll Camp in Pale Mountain's Shadow


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*mild spoilers ahead*

Our party reached the gnoll camp at dusk (I'd been keeping annoyingly meticulous track of time - down to the hour in this last part of the trek up).

The party saw the gnolls from afar and decided to wait until nightfall to surprise them. They kept hidden across the river until after the gnolls turned it, successfully crossed the river (with me rolling secret sneak v perception rolls), and crept up to the gnolls tent. The alchemist, in particular, was going to open the tent flap and toss acid onto the (presumably) sleeping gnoll.

But something funny (as they say) happened on the way to the tent flap. The alchemist rolled a 3 on his sneak roll, the gnoll countered with a natural 20. Given the disparity in the rolls (the modifiers were effectively the same), I decided that this gnoll in particular wasn't asleep, either heard or smelled the PC, grabbed his weapon and readied an action to attack whatever came through the tent flap.

So when the alchemist opened the tent flap, he got a face full of gnoll.

Now, I've checked the rules, and RAW, I think I got everything at least reasonably right. So at that point I threw everyone into initiative because we couldn't decide which "readied action" should go off first. In the rules I didn't see anything about simultaneous actions (what happens when two people "ready" actions at the same time). Also, please note this was close to 1am local time and we were all tired and trying to wrap things up.

If this were first edition, I would have had the gnoll get one attack in first, then the alchemist throw his bombs, neither being flat footed, with damage happening simultaneously, followed by initiative. But that's tantamount to a surprise round, and PF2 afaik doesn't have surprise round rules. So, I guess what I'm saying is that there's a problem when an attack starts off combat in this ruleset because that circumstance is not explicitly covered. I'm fine with using common sense as I did at the start of the paragraph, but as this is a playtest, I felt it was worth reporting.

Btw in the end, due to initiative, the gnoll got to go first, whacked the alchemist hard, but the alchemist did a bunch of persistent damage (plus other damage) and then tanglefooted the gnoll letting the persistent damage do its work. The party actually had more trouble with the scorpion and we wound up with two party members poisoned and one badly wounded. However, although they lacked a cleric (it was a party of a barbarian, an alchemist, a druid and a ranger) they were able to heal up completely by morning.


In PF1, the gnoll couldn't have readied outside of combat, so it would have begun with a faux surprise round, in that the gnoll & likely the alchemist weren't surprised, but likely everyone else was.

In PF2, this translates to going to initiative, but with other players participating in round one because reasons...
The trouble to me with PF2 is it isn't clear which rolls to use for initiative. Does the 3 & 20 count because that seems to measure who got the upper hand? Or is there a fresh set of rolls because that roll happened before the tent was opened? And if the latter, does the alchemist roll Stealth again, even though the gnoll knows he's there (but he was sneaking) and the alchemist needs to perceive the gnoll now in order to act in time?

I've winged it because I'm not sure the system is meant to be rigorous about this.


Zi Mishkal wrote:
But something funny (as they say) happened on the way to the tent flap. The alchemist rolled a 3 on his sneak roll, the gnoll countered with a natural 20. Given the disparity in the rolls (the modifiers were effectively the same), I decided that this gnoll in particular wasn't asleep, either heard or smelled the PC, grabbed his weapon and readied an action to attack whatever came through the tent flap.

There are very few opposed checks in PF2. If someone is rolling a check, it is almost always against the opponent's skill/Perception DC instead. In this case, the Alchemist was Sneaking, and would roll Sneak against the Gnoll's Perception DC. If the Gnoll spent an action actively searching for the Alchemist, it would roll Perception against the Alchemist's Stealth DC.


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I mentioned it somewhere else already, but I intend from now on to use complex Hazard rules for ambushes.

In your case this would mean the Gnoll had readied a reaction to someone entering the tent.
His reaction goes off, everybody rolls initiative.
Thebazilly already explained how stealth works now. In this specific case, your Alchemist would not have beaten the Perception DC of the Gnoll (even if modified by -4 as suggested in the rules for sleeping characters), therefore he would have triggered the Hazard (the prepared Action). If he had beaten it, the Gnoll would have rolled initiative at -4 for being asleep, making it possible (if not likely) for the Alchemist to act first.
But that is mainly a Problem of overtuned Monster perception, not the System as such.

Note that this way of doing it is possible, but not written in Stone. The Exploration/Encounter Transition is sometimes very vague. For example I could absolutely understand a ruling that if the Alchemist makes the stealth roll, he should get an Action that starts off the Encounter equal to the reaction of a hazard. I try to use as many CRB Tools as possible to make the playtest data interesting.


DerNils wrote:

I mentioned it somewhere else already, but I intend from now on to use complex Hazard rules for ambushes.

OMG. This is the most brilliant idea I've read all day! I am so using this next time.


I had a similar issue. My characters all hid quite easily on the other side of the river and all took aim at the gnolls with ranged weapons. Then they counted to three and all fired. SURELY they shouldn't have rolled initiative before firing in order to give the gnolls a chance to attack them first before firing could commence?!?

I just let them fire once and then everyone rolled initiative, but that is effectively a surprise round, and we're not supposed to get those anymore. I think that there's no choice but to reinstate the surprise round. It just feels absolutely ludicrous without it. What the problem with having one action before combat starts if you get the drop on someone?


Zi Mishkal wrote:

*mild spoilers ahead*

Our party reached the gnoll camp at dusk (I'd been keeping annoyingly meticulous track of time - down to the hour in this last part of the trek up).

The party saw the gnolls from afar and decided to wait until nightfall to surprise them. They kept hidden across the river until after the gnolls turned it, successfully crossed the river (with me rolling secret sneak v perception rolls), and crept up to the gnolls tent. The alchemist, in particular, was going to open the tent flap and toss acid onto the (presumably) sleeping gnoll.

But something funny (as they say) happened on the way to the tent flap. The alchemist rolled a 3 on his sneak roll, the gnoll countered with a natural 20. Given the disparity in the rolls (the modifiers were effectively the same), I decided that this gnoll in particular wasn't asleep, either heard or smelled the PC, grabbed his weapon and readied an action to attack whatever came through the tent flap.

So when the alchemist opened the tent flap, he got a face full of gnoll.

Now, I've checked the rules, and RAW, I think I got everything at least reasonably right. So at that point I threw everyone into initiative because we couldn't decide which "readied action" should go off first. In the rules I didn't see anything about simultaneous actions (what happens when two people "ready" actions at the same time). Also, please note this was close to 1am local time and we were all tired and trying to wrap things up.

If this were first edition, I would have had the gnoll get one attack in first, then the alchemist throw his bombs, neither being flat footed, with damage happening simultaneously, followed by initiative. But that's tantamount to a surprise round, and PF2 afaik doesn't have surprise round rules. So, I guess what I'm saying is that there's a problem when an attack starts off combat in this ruleset because that circumstance is not explicitly covered. I'm fine with using common sense as I did at the start of the paragraph, but as this is a...

A good reason for why maybe that gnoll wasn't considered asleep was because it was actually keeping watch? The Gnoll camp might not be dumb enough to have nobody guard whoever is asleep, even with its reduced numbers. In a party of 4 adventurers, there is still those who keep watch and rotate guard duty shifts for resting periods...

It might have made more sense for it to yip out loud (as his action) to warn the others (giving the PCs an "ambush" of their own), and thereby starting combat that way, as it both gives the PCs their "Oh crap!" moment without having this awkward rules interaction. (Granted, this might not be as corner-case as I think, so having this sort of thing cleared up would make sense, I just think there could have been a better way of handling it.)

As others stated, a "surprise round" between the Alchemist and Gnoll (who were both "readied" while in Exploration Mode, taking one action each) would have made the most sense, followed by standard Initiative after (this way all creatures get involved in the combat as the playtest expects the PCs to do). Even with identical totals, the general rule is that Monsters (AKA the GM's rolls) win ties, meaning the Alchemist would be throwing his bomb after the Gnoll gets in a swing (or a bite) on the Alchemist, regardless of their results in Initiative afterward (though they would be using their respective skill modifiers for the new Initiative), unless it critically one-shots the Alchemist, but that's doubtful at this level with this "weak" of creatures.


@Darksol

Yup, I completely agree with you, which is why i think it needs to be made clear to the devs that surprise rounds need to be reinstated in some way. Solely because we were trying to adhere to the playtest rules, I didn't throw in a surprise round. Which is why there's this thread, to bring attention to the issue.

My only tweak to your excellent answer is that I made use of the gnolls' scent ability. The rushing river nearby did a great job of masking the PC's sounds, but this was their third encounter that day, so they'd worked up quite a sweat. The downside is that the gnolls' quiet movements were also masked by the river's noise, allowing the gnoll to get the drop on the PC.

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