Thoughts on APL for 5 person parties


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


So the description under APL says CR calculations are based on 4 or 5 players

I find this a bit difficult to comprehend in a game where action economy is king

Rightly or wrongly I did some calculations of APL dividing by the "base" of 4. What it seems to imply is despite always being a 25% increase it would appear that the actual gulf seems quite large:

Party Level Based Revised APL Difference
5 x 1 / 4 = 1.25 0.25
5 x 2 / 4 = 2.5 0.5
5 x 3 / 4 = 3.75 0.75
5 x 4 / 4 = 5 1
5 x 5 / 4 = 6.25 1.25
5 x 6 / 4 = 7.5 1.5
5 x 7 / 4 = 8.75 1.75
5 x 8 / 4 = 10 2
5 x 9 / 4 = 11.25 2.25
5 x 10 / 4 = 12.5 2.5
5 x 11 / 4 = 13.75 2.75
5 x 12 / 4 = 15 3

Am I completely off base here? Or would a 5 person level 12 party have a much easier time with a CR15 encounter that a 4 person one (as in significantly so)

I would be interested to hear people's thoughts and opinions as I am finding scaling for 5 people a little tricky


I use the XP value method: Every PC is worth a certain amount of XP, which you add together. Normally, a PC's CR is equal to their character level.

Let's say you have 5 lvl4 PCs, i.e. 5 * 1,200XP = 6,000XP. The way the CR system works, monsters worth 6,000XP would be a CR+4 encounter for that party. Use this table to determine for other encounters. For a CR+2 encounter, that would be 5 * 600XP = 3,000XP, which might be a CR4 baddie (1,200XP) plus 3 CR2 mooks (3x600XP).

That method doesn't include action economy issues, but than the CR system itself doesn't either.

Blogposts for the table: [1], [2]


This is kind of what I try to do. I take what is written in the AP for the encounter and multiply it by 5/4. That gives me the new experience I need to get to

No idea how fool proof that actually is because the CR system is quite wonky

Also I don't think it assumes using a cure light wounds wand to heal to full after every encounter (although perhaps it does)


Well, 2 monsters of CR X are considered the equivalent of CR X+2.
Take a party of 5 at level X: APL=(X+X+X+X+X)/5. Since CRs are based on a party of 4, combine two into one and you get APL=(X+X+X+[X+2])/4=X+0.5. Doing the same with a party of 6 gets APL=X+1. So by APL calculations, a party of 5 has the same APL as a party of 4, since you round down.

As a GM, I would round up, and make the APL=X+1 for a 5 or 6 player party.

/cevah


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I freehand it and build/adjust encounters until they feel right for my groups capabilities.

APL does not account for player skill, party composition or character optimization.


As a player:

I’ve found that 5 players will breeze through encounters meant to be challenging for 4, particularly if they’re optimized. In our current campaign, the party split, and two of us at level 10 managed to crush a CR13 encounter. Other player went unconscious, but I still had half health, could only be hit with crits, and dealt about 25% of the enemies’ max hp per round. If we’d had the other three members of our party, I doubt the encounter would have damaged us enough to warrant more than one use of channel positive energy. I’d consider at least throwing one extra enemy in per encounter; it will balance the action economy a bit and should be pretty straight forward for any encounter with 1 “leader” and 3ish flunkies.


Volkard Abendroth wrote:

I freehand it and build/adjust encounters until they feel right for my groups capabilities.

APL does not account for player skill, party composition or character optimization.

This. APL cannot predict what your players will do. Unless you have a bunch of mindless drones they will pull something out of their hats that you did not account for. You have to be able to think on your feet, so to speak. A fixed APL isn't always the best way to do things, IMO.


I've been wondering about this also. I have a group that is upwards of eight players, and have yet to find a fight that was a challenge for them. I killed a PC once, in the main boss fight of the arc; I expected to kill three...

Action economy is a new concept for me, something I never had to consider with small or normal sized groups.


Jhaosmire wrote:

I've been wondering about this also. I have a group that is upwards of eight players, and have yet to find a fight that was a challenge for them. I killed a PC once, in the main boss fight of the arc; I expected to kill three...

Action economy is a new concept for me, something I never had to consider with small or normal sized groups.

With 8 players, you pretty much have to either limit action the parties action economy or significantly increase the actions available to boss encounters; usually by adding minions.

Supplementing major encounters with minions capable of battlefield control will make things much more challenging without devolving into rocket tag.


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I actually use the method of encounter design that figures what each PC can handle XP wise, then work up from there.

The CR system assumes a party of 4 PCs. A CR 1 encounter is worth 400 XP. Thus each PC in a standard party of APL 1 should be able to handle 100 XP worth of a CR 1 fight.

Following this a 5 person party at level 1 can still handle only 100 XP per person, but overall their party can handle a total of 500 XP worth of foes in a CR 1 fight.

Translating that to a CR 12 per the OP's question, the standard 4 person party at APL 12 facing off against a CR 12 monster can handle 4800 XP each. This means a 5 person party can handle an XP budget for a CR 12 fight of 24,000 XP. This is, incidentally, very close to the 25,600 budge of a CR 13 fight; depending on how optimized the PCs are and the gear they have, as a GM I might just say that their "average" fight at APL 12 is a CR 13 fight.

Long story boring... don't worry so much about APL. Find a budget of XP to spend on your encounters, then "buy" your monsters/traps/hazards/templates etc. accordingly.


You could try changing the point buy for character creation?

4 players with a 15 point buy is 60 points for the party. For 5 players if you give them 12 points you still end up with a 60 point buy. Then for a 3 player party they get a 20 point buy. For a 6 player party they get a 10 point buy.

I don't know if this would completely make up for it, but maybe combining it with 80% experience would balance the encounters?

(Also if you use something other than a point buy it gets harder)


MrCharisma wrote:

You could try changing the point buy for character creation?

4 players with a 15 point buy is 60 points for the party. For 5 players if you give them 12 points you still end up with a 60 point buy. Then for a 3 player party they get a 20 point buy. For a 6 player party they get a 10 point buy.

I don't know if this would completely make up for it, but maybe combining it with 80% experience would balance the encounters?

(Also if you use something other than a point buy it gets harder)

To-hit, Spell DCs, damage, and HP all become issues for the party at this point.

Good chance of impacting party fun.


MrCharisma wrote:

You could try changing the point buy for character creation?

4 players with a 15 point buy is 60 points for the party. For 5 players if you give them 12 points you still end up with a 60 point buy. Then for a 3 player party they get a 20 point buy. For a 6 player party they get a 10 point buy.

I very strongly advise against this, for multiple reasons:

1) Point Buy doesn't affect character strength that much, at least not for the stronger (ie. higher tier) characters.

2) Low point buy hurts weaker/lower tier characters (martials especially) way more than stronger/higher tier characters, which can easily damage inter-party balance.

3) If you make the less powerful, more MAD classes weaker, the result is often that more player pick stronger, more SAD classes. The way the game (and especially vancian magic) works, spellcasting is significantly less ability dependent than attacking is. There are some exceptions, but the classes that are already stronger have more ways to compensate for low point buy. It starts with abilities like Lore Oracle's Sidestep Secret, and ends with the simple fact that for casting spells like Haste or Summon Monster, an ability score of 13 is just as effective as a 30, but for attacking and combat maneuvers (i.e. just about every action a martial makes in combat), there's a world of difference between a 13 and a 30.
That means trying to reduce the power level can actually make the party stronger - a 10-point-buy party consisting of Wizard, Cleric, Summoner, and Druid is hugely more powerful than a 20-point-buy party consisting of Swashbuckler, Cavalier, Rogue, and Brawler.

Basically, everything you do that entices players to compensate is doomed to fail to make the party weaker. Low point buy, low magic items (martials need them more), lack of rest (hello Rope Trick et al.), lots of enemies (where AoE spells shine), lack of healing (you need power to survive)... all those only work if your players help you make them work, at which point you could've just asked the players to tone it down in the first place, and don't need such crude methods.

Things thay I can advise doing:
- Limit or ban companions. The last thing you want in a bigger party is having a bunch of Eidolons, Mauler Familiars and Animal Companions.
- Ban spells that significantly buff the party. Haste or Good Hope are already among the strongest combat spells of those levels for normal party size, when they affect more characters, that only worsens. Instead of outright banning, you could limit the number of affected characters.
- Pay heed to minutae and rules segments that are often overlooked. Partial cover, hurts a larger party more, for instance.

Keeping the party a level behind expectations can work, but may require a minimum level of optimization on the player's side, and you might need to adjust a few enemies. A 5th level party may be able to remove a curse, a 4th level party can never do that.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Volkard Abendroth wrote:
APL does not account for player skill, party composition or character optimization.

I agree. Equally CR of creatures isn't very precise either.

CR calculations for an encounter are at best loose estimates. They are loose enough that the difference between 4 and 5 players is less than other factors, which is why just treating them the same is good enough.

Good enough isn't very good of course, and if you wish to make encounters actually be the right level of challenge (easy, average, challenging etc.) for your party you will doubtless have to customize in all sorts of ways.

Basically, the Encounter design section is useful if you don't know much about the game or as a place for a more experienced GM to start, but if you treat it as gospel and the final answer on building encounters you probably will find that your encounters don't turn out to be the difficulty you expected them to be.


Volkard Abendroth wrote:

I freehand it and build/adjust encounters until they feel right for my groups capabilities.

APL does not account for player skill, party composition or character optimization.

Came in here to say exactly this. The gulf between parties of four and parties of 5 may seem huge, but it's not as huge as the gulf between tiers or the gulf between casual and optimized PC builds.

Four PC's whose players read the Forge of Combat and collaboratively built a party that's tuned like a MTG netdeck will steamroll an encounter that would overwhelm the group of five who made selections without regard to synergies and optimal performance.

There's no way to account for this variance so CR and APL are just loose tools.

edit: Not intending to invoke Stormwind Fallacy or cast aspersions on any play-style.


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Grimmy wrote:
edit: Not intending to invoke Stormwind Fallacy or cast aspersions on any play-style.

I am currently GMing three groups with vastly differing play styles and levels of optimization.

All of them are fun, which is the only thing that matters.

Tailoring encounters means very different things for each group. One of them includes adding additional spoons.


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Exactly. There's no badwrongfun.


Even further off topic, but I have ask about the spoons.

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