Balancing APs for mix of play styles / power levels?


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


Hi everyone. I am currently running and adventure path for a group of 4 and we are near the end of Book 2.

The problem that seems to be arising is that 2 players have made characters heavily on the themes of the AP and the other two are far more focused on highly optimizing their characters.

Now most APs seem to be written to challenge the former but not the latter.

My concern is:

- If I raise the power level the first two will struggle and probably lose their characters

- If I keep it mostly as written the latter two will dominate to such an extent that the first two will feel obsolete and risk getting bored

Is there a solution here?
And lets just say that trying to talk the more optimization focused character out of that approach is a complete non starter

Has anyone else had this come up?


GenericFighter wrote:


Is there a solution here?
And lets just say that trying to talk the more optimization focused character out of that approach is a complete non starter

Has anyone else had this come up?

Which AP is it ?

The solution that would first occur to me is that any enemy with an Int above 5 is going to focus heavily on the more dangerous characters to the exclusion of the others, but not all player groups are good with that. Likewise, depending on the AP, tweaking so that thematic fit is necessary for success where mechanical optimisation less useful cou;d be possible. Lean into places where whatever rules the optimiser is taking advantage of are less effective; if the player has built a combat monster, lean into social interactions, for example.

(Fair warning; this is old advice, I have banned too much mechanical optimisation focus from my table entirely for some time because it does not fit with the shape of stories I want to DM and most of my groups have wanted to play.)


If the two optimizers won't take it down a notch is there a way to bring the other two up to a similar level?
But before you worry about that too much, talk to the two players that are more story focused and see if they feel useless and aren't enjoying the game. Some players enjoy the story and don't care about the combat so being in a mixed group of power levels might not matter to them.
Also, if possible, make sure that the two story-driven players are able to do things out of combat that the two optimizers can't in order to progress the story.

the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
(Fair warning; this is old advice, I have banned too much mechanical optimisation focus from my table entirely for some time because it does not fit with the shape of stories I want to DM and most of my groups have wanted to play.)

What have you done to make it so it doesn't happen?


I'd first see if the optimizers are actually all that optimized. A lot of novice GMs have a tendency to assume anyone simply making basic, competent choices is a dirty rotten rollplayer with no interest in the story and the builds aren't that powerful. That or the builds aren't even legal and the players don't know the rules.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The solution is to switch to 5E or wait until PF2 shapes up and see if it solves the problem. There's not really much that you can do in 3.5/PF1 if your party has people who optimise together with folks who don't short of awkward stuff like asking people nicely to abandon their preferred play style for sake of the group or heavy-handed banning of player options.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

I've been running Rise of the Runelords and we're up to the end of Book 3 now, for a similar group. Two are optimizers, two don't really care about their builds and are just there as a social experience, one is somewhere in the middle.

I'm going to second Warped Savant's advice that you should talk to the story focused players and see if they *are* even feeling left out -- some players are just along for the ride and don't care about being combat monsters.

The next most helpful advice I can offer (definitely more helpful than "switch to a different system and convert 4 AP books") is: if the less optimizing players *are* feeling left out, then offer more optimized character builds to them. Waive retraining costs and let them switch out things and help them select things that are more optimized. Work with them to bring them higher up.

Also, as a DM I try to keep up with how much screen time each character has gotten and I try to balance those out, so that each character has things to do and I'm talking to each player roughly the same amount of time, regardless of combat results. When you have plenty of soap opera and character interaction and subplots going on with each player/character, the combats don't seem to matter as much.

Scarab Sages

GenericFighter wrote:


And lets just say that trying to talk the more optimization focused character out of that approach is a complete non starter

If "talk to your players like adults" isn't possible, than game rules aren't going to fix anything at the end of the day.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Samy wrote:

if the less optimizing players *are* feeling left out, then offer more optimized character builds to them. Waive retraining costs and let them switch out things and help them select things that are more optimized. Work with them to bring them higher up.

That's all great and fine if the GM is as good optimizer as her players are, which is not always the case and has enough spare time to add optimizing PCs to the already long list of GM chores.

Honestly, if your advice is "just spend x hours helping people twinking out their builds so that they match the more optimizied PCs", I'd rather just run the AP under 5e. Less hassle. There are conversions out there, and honestly taking PF1 statblocks and approximating them to 5E monsters/NPCs isn't a big deal.

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