Advice for n00b combat balancing?


General Discussion


My group tapped me to run Starfinder so they could get the feel of it. And I'm not getting the hang of the important aspects of the gamemastering quite fast enough. Worldbuilding is fine; I could do that all day (and like to, in fact; would you like to know more?).

The issue is making the combats properly challenging for the group. Because I'm working with a small group, they're effectively fighting at APL-1 unless a few of the maybe-players show up. One and two 3rd level characters get the exact same encounter budget, and adding in a third character at lower level decreases the APL (not enough to affect the final score through rounding, though).

I'm also looking at future leveling up, which involves getting them enough experience to, you know, level up, and with the numbers looking the way they are now, that doesn't look easy. I'll have to throw a lot of cheese at them to sharpen their swords.

I'm sure I'm missing a whole lot of detail and nuance on the topic. The math doesn't scare me, but I'm apparently not crunching the numbers in the right way for this all to make sense.

I'm also sure this topic has been talked to death on the boards already, but I am a very new poster here, much as I haven't been running Starfinder very long, and I don't know where that content is.

Can anyone point this snarfhocker in the right direction, please?


How about *not* focusing on the numbers quite so much?


Ditch experience points. Just level people up every 3 or 4 sessions.


Remember that all encounters don't need to be challenging.
Also, remember that an APL appropriate encounter isn't a challenging one. Those encounters are supposed to be manageable for the party - If you want to challenge them: AMP IT UP!


Territan wrote:
The issue is making the combats properly challenging for the group. Because I'm working with a small group, they're effectively fighting at APL-1 unless a few of the maybe-players show up. One and two 3rd level characters get the exact same encounter budget, and adding in a third character at lower level decreases the APL (not enough to affect the final score through rounding, though).

At early levels use the array tables on Alien Archive to tone down the enemies; you can spread big mobs into two combats, giving the players time to recover stamina points.

If you give them the same wealth a 4 PCs groups should have, they can afford gear to somewhat make up for the lack of manpower.

Dividing the xp between fewer people actually makes the group level up faster - this becomes very obvious if you are running an Adventure Path with a small group.

Let them hire or befriend an envoy NPC (created with PC rules though) completely focused on medicine, to save up on healing and getting some buffs. Also a nice way to introduce the weirdest freaking aliens available to the party.


I think it makes a big difference on what type of gamers you are playing with.

If you have a group of power gamers where the players are playing a competitive rules-analysis game where the measurement of success is how much damage the character can do and combats tend to be like the Gimli vs Legolas competition on who can kill the most stuff before the battle is over, then you are going to need to tune your combat scenarios more carefully than if you are running for a group of role playing actors.

Sovereign Court

Experience points are a bit of an old-fashioned way to do leveling. If you look at any adventure path you see a sidebar somewhere saying "by the time the PCs reach area X, they should be level Y". Quite a lot of GMs now just say "you've worked hard to get to area X and learned a lot on the way, go up a level just before you go in".

It's a good system. You don't have to worry about XP budgets, about grinding encounters because you're at too little XP for level or anything like that. You just let people go up a level when you think it's about time now.

Anywhere between 3 and 8 sessions seems to be the sweet spot. I want people to have enough time to give the powers they got this level a try, before they go up a level again. But I also want them to feel like they're making progress.

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As for combat difficulty, start easy and experiment with slightly harder encounters until you get a good feeling for what works for you.

Typical encounter patterns are:

2 monsters of the same kind, roughly the PCs' level each; this tends to be a challenging but doable fight.

1 boss monster of a level a bit above the PCs: this only works well with small parties, otherwise the amount of actions the PCs have over the boss becomes a problem. Unless you make the boss really powerful, but then he can become too deadly and too hard to hit.

1 boss with minions/bodyguards: a good pattern for 4+ player groups. You don't have to give the boss over the top abilities because the minions help prevent the PCs from focus-firing on him.

3+ monsters of lower level than the PCs, but together with challenging CR. This often doesn't work, because they're individually too weak to really hit the PCs. Against small parties though they can compete for having the most actions available.

1 "director" with minions: here the boss isn't personally all that strong but makes his minions stronger or hinders the PCs.


Pathfinder Maps, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

You guys must not be getting much combat each session. We level up nearly every other game.


That really depends on the speed of your playgroup. I'm in several Paizo APs and we usually level once per session, and complete a book once per 3-4 sessions (granted, this is Pathfinder. Starfinder APs might be different). But I've also been in campaigns were we fart around so much, we basically get one combat and a bit of roleplay done each session. Leveling took ages.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

So far, my campaign averages about a level every 2-3 sessions. This is deliberate, I try to avoid having too many easy encounters ( or rather, I don't require them to be rolled out ), while also making sure the PCs get credit for the challenges they overcome via skills and interaction.

My own rule of thumb: determine the kind of opposition the party will face if they try to solve everything by shooting. Set non-combat skill checks and social obstacles based roughly on that net CR of opposition ( even if they aren't literally negotiating with or sneaking by the same people ). If they end up fighting it out, they get XP for combat. If they avoid fighting it out, they get the same XP for having circumvented combat. That way, I don't unduly incentivize killing things for no real reason.

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