Optional Encounters (an opinion and signal to scenario designers)


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2/5

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Full disclosure, I have never been a fan of optional encounters as a GM and not because they have been particularly poorly written.

However, there is no reward to compensate the risk.

This makes it seem punitive when the GM pulls out the extra set of minis. Either you are on your way to the final encounter but are interrupted by the optional encounter (The Confirmation, Wounded Wisp, sometimes The Absalom Initiation), draining you of resources right before the "big show down" or you have successfully completed the mission, defeated the final encounter, and are low on resources when you are ambushed by an optional encounter (Escaping the Grave). So you have forced players to use consumable equipment, risk character death or conditions requiring expensive fixes but rewarded them 'nothing' (they did get an adventure out of it). I find this particularly concerning in PFS(2) when more encounters and their swing-y critical damages increase the amount of Dying events and subsequently raise the Wounded condition. The other problem that I see is that, at least recently, the optional encounters are time based. However, the speed at which a scenario is completed is not a good measure of PC vitality or resources. Sometimes, you just have good players with good table etiquette who are ready with their actions when their time comes.

As a player, my very efficient/decisive table completed all of the encounters and, unbeknownst to us, completed every success condition, primary and secondary in excess when the GM looks at the clock, has the NPC remark on an item we missed (and did not need) to send us back to face the optional encounter. We were already near depleted on consumables, three of us were carrying Wounded 1, and then we proceed to face the toughest (to hit and to damage) foes in the entire scenario. We walked out with Wounded 3, Wounded 2, and Wounded 1 by the skin of our teeth. Fun? Yes, but largely because we all survived. Had any of us lost our characters to this optional encounter, we would probably feel bitter. And what did we gain from this additional risk? Spent consumables, in a game where consumables aren't especially cheap.

As a GM, I have had an optional encounter based on 'time left' in a scenario where the players pick the order of location. So that can be frustrating as a GM because you might have a slow table, but because they went there first, the encounter fires and you're rushing to catch up in the later parts. But also, I have been faced with unleashing a combat on a level 1 party that just took 4d6 damage plus 2d6 persistent bleed and two of them crit failed their save and went down to Dying 2, now Wounded 1 and most still injured because there wasn't enough healing to go around. What was their reward? Nothing. Not even loot to help them later in the scenario. Just more chances at their character dying.

My opinion is that additional combats as optional encounters--especially in PFS(2)--provide significant risks with no benefit to the players/PCs and, because of that, should be reevaluated as a design feature, particularly when using 'time remaining' as a trigger. I do understand that in PFS1 there has been power creep and it will eventually happen in PFS(2), but I don't see this as a solution. I feel it would be better to add skill encounters or social encounters to flesh out the scenario's scene/setting or, at the very least provide useful treasure to help either recover or assist with subsequent encounters (and/or count as a 'bonus' point toward meeting Secondary Successes).

3/5 Venture-Agent, Tennessee—Maryville aka Phredd

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I REALLY like the idea of additional encounters being social/skill-based instead of combat. Give a little insight to the history, the surroundings, etc. IF the players have time for it.

I would also echo the thought that it would help contribute to at least the secondary success condition.

As it is, it almost seems like punishment to try to finish combats quickly, and that's something I'd like to encourage, not punish.

Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

Robert Wiesehuegel wrote:

I REALLY like the idea of additional encounters being social/skill-based instead of combat. Give a little insight to the history, the surroundings, etc. IF the players have time for it.

I would also echo the thought that it would help contribute to at least the secondary success condition.

As it is, it almost seems like punishment to try to finish combats quickly, and that's something I'd like to encourage, not punish.

I think you need to be extremely careful with putting story depth into the optional encounter. You do not want to end up with a scenario where a slow table ends up missing a key part and the story doesn't make sense.

I can see that if the secondary success condition is like "do 3/5 things" then the optional encounter could be a 6th thing you could do. It should not be too hard to get a proper secondary success without it. But it's okay if you get something out of it, as a fallback for something else you didn't.

Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

@Blake: Your story sounds rather.. strange. I'm not sure how much of it to attribute to problems with optional encounters, and how much with your GM's handling of it, and how much could be due to beginner mistakes getting to grips with the new rules.

You say that you got sent in to do the optional after you'd already gotten everything you needed, which was a weird call of the GM to make.

Also, going in there with multiple people Wounded before the encounter seems strange - if you heal using Medicine > Treat Wounds, that removes the Wounded condition. So does healing to full health with magic and then waiting 10 minutes.

2/5

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Lau Bannenberg wrote:
You say that you got sent in to do the optional after you'd already gotten everything you needed, which was a weird call of the GM to make.

It's not a call I'd make, but I'm biased toward optional encounters, but I assume the scenario reads like the others I saw. "If there are more than 120 minutes remaining, run the following encounter" (also irksome, we had 60 minutes of a regular session left but 120 minutes until absolute table close) so the GM more-or-less tricked us into running into it.

Lau Bannenberg wrote:
Also, going in there with multiple people Wounded before the encounter seems strange - if you heal using Medicine > Treat Wounds, that removes the Wounded condition. So does healing to full health with magic and then waiting 10 minutes.

Two things:

We were in that state because we had fought through everything in the encounter, and...

[spoiler=Scenario Specifics]It was made clear at the beginning that every minute counted. According to our GM, we made it out just in time, if we had "spent ten more minutes, the giant undead would have arrived and carried you all away to become Tar-Baphon's minions." I assume that means a TPK.

I'll running that scenario later this month so I'll see if that's how it works.

However, I find the Gelatinous Cube in Confirmation and the Fire Elemental in the Wounded Wisp just as punitive.

2/5

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Lau Bannenberg wrote:
Robert Wiesehuegel wrote:

I REALLY like the idea of additional encounters being social/skill-based instead of combat. Give a little insight to the history, the surroundings, etc. IF the players have time for it.

I would also echo the thought that it would help contribute to at least the secondary success condition.

As it is, it almost seems like punishment to try to finish combats quickly, and that's something I'd like to encourage, not punish.

I think you need to be extremely careful with putting story depth into the optional encounter. You do not want to end up with a scenario where a slow table ends up missing a key part and the story doesn't make sense.

I can see that if the secondary success condition is like "do 3/5 things" then the optional encounter could be a 6th thing you could do. It should not be too hard to get a proper secondary success without it. But it's okay if you get something out of it, as a fallback for something else you didn't.

I wouldn't put key story points in optional encounters, but you can add Easter eggs or just add a little flavor to an NPC as a reward for being efficient and succeeding a social or skill encounter. A locked chest with a coded journal that explains some of the motivation that's usually hidden in the scenario front matter. An NPC to interact with and win some minor assistance moving forward.

Whatever the design team does for an optional encounter should be fun and not feel like "hard mode" or "punishment." If they do want to add a hard mode option, it ought to be opt-in, not GM judgement otherwise it's going to create animosity ("He TPKed us with that optional encounter because he doesn't like goblin PCs! And he didn't run the optional encounter that time his significant other played!").

Silver Crusade 5/5 ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Germany—Bavaria

Blake's Tiger wrote:
Lau Bannenberg wrote:
You say that you got sent in to do the optional after you'd already gotten everything you needed, which was a weird call of the GM to make.

It's not a call I'd make, but I'm biased toward optional encounters, but I assume the scenario reads like the others I saw. "If there are more than 120 minutes remaining, run the following encounter" (also irksome, we had 60 minutes of a regular session left but 120 minutes until absolute table close) so the GM more-or-less tricked us into running into it.

Lau Bannenberg wrote:
Also, going in there with multiple people Wounded before the encounter seems strange - if you heal using Medicine > Treat Wounds, that removes the Wounded condition. So does healing to full health with magic and then waiting 10 minutes.

Two things:

We were in that state because we had fought through everything in the encounter, and...

[spoiler=Scenario Specifics]It was made clear at the beginning that every minute counted. According to our GM, we made it out just in time, if we had "spent ten more minutes, the giant undead would have arrived and carried you all away to become Tar-Baphon's minions." I assume that means a TPK.

I'll running that scenario later this month so I'll see if that's how it works.

However, I find the Gelatinous Cube in Confirmation and the Fire Elemental in the Wounded Wisp just as punitive.

From your description of the scenario and some details, Medicine is always important in this system particularly to clear the wounded conditions.

Regarding any time constraints, there are none, hopefully, that was just a misunderstanding rather than an intentional deviation from the scenarios.

2/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Oh, dear... I didn't notice that I didn't close the spoiler.

1/5

The other thing that's more pertinent to a given scenario is *word count*.

Every word spent on an 'optional' encounter that doesn't provide any sort of 'reward' is one less word that could be spent clarifying the oft-times confusing other sections of a scenario that have been truncated for the same thing.

Having only a brief note of 'Optional' at the start of a given encounter is not helpful to the overall flow of a scenario, particularly in one of the early PFS2 scenarios.

Better to not have it at all and have a few more sentences somewhere more important, imo.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

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There are a lot of GMs who simply skip optional encounters for many of the reasons listed above. Persoanlly, I dislike encounters, combat or otherwise, that do not contribute to the story. I do not use random encounters in my home games for this very reason. Everything that occurs during a game should have a purpose. Since these are optional, you cannot tie rewards to it, unless you either (1) allow them to grant more than the maximum reward, or (2) "punish" groups who are not able to complete them. I don't think most would agree with either of those options (IMO #2 would be fine) so it would be better to simply eliminate optional encounters. Now that we will be seeing one-shot quests be a thing, if a group completes their scenario quickly, the GM could either release them early or offer to run a quick one-hour quest. Many GMs at Gen Con did this with The Sandstone Secret to great success and most of the players really appreciated it.

2/5

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That illuminates part of the problem with optional encounters.

GM A never runs the optional encounters for any of the reasons above.

GM B always runs the optional encounters.

Players will have opinions about GM B, and you no longer have the even experience organized play is supposed to strive to provide.

Also, if my table is organized and tightly run and we finish early, then I am *happy*. Either I can get home to my family and relieve my wife from watching our kids sooner and score some karma or, at a con, do more than rush to get food before the next thing, which is usually me running a game.

When we're on target to finish early and a GM whips out the optional encounter, I groan internally because I know I just lost an hour that I thought I was about to score. And that was before PF2 and the ramifications its combat brings.

2/5

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By "rewards" I meant in scenario assistance like an extra consumable or three or a circumstance bonus against something or a clue to the final fight's weakness, not Chronicle rewards.

Although the suggestion of granting a bonus +1 to the total tasks completed when calculating the Secondary Success is, I guess, a Chronicle reward.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

I don't think most people would agree, but I would be okay with a system such that optional encounters did account for 1-2 treasure bundles. If you are an experienced or efficient group of players and have time to complete the optional encounter, you should be rewarded. OTOH, if you are neither of those things, its reasonable to think you wouldn't earn as much. But, since most players are extremely sensitive to getting ALL the rewards even when circumstances are such they shouldn't, I expect I'm in the minority. So, its probably better to simply eliminate the optional encounter design to increase consistency of experience.

3/5 ⦵⦵ Contributor

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Heya! I am both an adventure writer and an Org Play GM, and maybe I can add some insight here! (switches back and forth between hats rapidly)

One of my scenarios has an optional encounter and the other doesn't. I can say that from the author's perspective, we are certainly not intending them to be punitive. Rather, we want every encounter to be run, but the optional gives you some guidance for what to cut out if you're short on time. We have a lot of stores with strict four-hour time limits in my region, so I know that sometimes it can be hard to get through all the bits. I was concerned that my scenario that includes an optional encounter had too many combats and might be tough to run in a tight time slot, so the developer and I agreed on one to be the optional. It's relevant to the plot, but also doesn't hurt things if the encounter is removed. (As it happens, that particular adventure seems to run pretty fast, so it probably wasn't necessary to make an encounter optional. I've certainly run it each of the dozen or so times I've run the scenario.)

Dark Archive 4/5 Venture-Agent, Finland—Turku aka Tomppa

What I personally dislike is that the optional encounter very often seems to be a fun and interesting/challenging combat. I like to run and play those because I like challenging encounters both as a GM and as a player.
Not running the optional encounter often means missing one of the more memorable and exicing parts of the scenario, and I thus often end up running it even if we're tight on time.

Even worse when optional encounter directly affects the scenario rewards: As an example, a season 6 scenario has an encounter that's optional. If it's skipped, players automatically get a boon. If you run it in low tier, players are likely to lose a boon because the encounter's tactics directly tell you to target that boon - except for in higher tier, where the boon is again safe because tactics change. Running this for two level 1-2 tables, with one going for the optional combat and other skipping it, will probably leave a bad taste for the first table.

On the other hand, season 10 optional encounters so far have seemed to be pretty nice, skipping stuff that otherwise feels like a filler encounter.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

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I don't see how getting to play more is punishment.

2/5

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BigNorseWolf wrote:
I don't see how getting to play more is punishment.

Table A runs without the optional encounter.

Table B runs with the optional encounter. They face increased opportunities to be critically hit (in PF2) or potentially be outright killed (higher level encounters with petrify or other one-hit kills). They use costly consumables to recover from that fight and/or face the final encounter with fewer spells/HP/resources. In the end, it cost Table B more in gold and/or Fame because they faced the optional encounter.

Now imagine you were at Table B and Table A ran right next to you so you know there was a difference in the risk of death and the expenditure of character gold but both tables received the same Chronicles.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Blake's Tiger wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:
I don't see how getting to play more is punishment.

Table A runs without the optional encounter.

Table B runs with the optional encounter. They face increased opportunities to be critically hit (in PF2) or potentially be outright killed (higher level encounters with petrify or other one-hit kills). They use costly consumables to recover from that fight and/or face the final encounter with fewer spells/HP/resources. In the end, it cost Table B more in gold and/or Fame because they faced the optional encounter.

Ok...aaaaannd?

Table A runs with 5 ubermaxed vesk soldiers and a healer mystic . Table B is an envoy steward , space harsk, a medic envoy, and Biscoti the level 1 everything. Table A plays up with all level 10s, table B plays up from being apl 8.6

Table variation is a thing. Eliminating it not only isn't possible, it would be incredibly boring if you did.

The point of playing the game is to play the game, someone running more encounters gets to play more of them.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

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Playing the game for the sake of playing the game is a philosophical assessment that goes to motivation and style. What you are essentially saying is they are doing it wrong. For many players, tangible rewards are as much their reason to play as just playing. So there is at least some justification for changing the way optional encounters are designed.

Silver Crusade 4/5 Venture-Agent, Ohio—Cincinnati

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Worth noting that it's possible in PFS2 to decouple loot drops from treasure points, so the optional could hand out useful-for-boss-fight items without mucking up the chronicle rewards.

Dark Archive 4/5 Venture-Agent, Finland—Turku aka Tomppa

There's also the difference that table A runs without optional combat, table B runs with optional combat. Table B needs to squeeze it tight to fit into the timeslot, more easily resulting a hurried game session with less RP, while table A has more time to spend on interacting with the NPC's and RPing.

Of course, that's a personal preference - some people enjoy the RP, some people enjoy the combats, but in any case, when faced with time constraints, table A probably has a more enjoyable experience, all other things being equal.

3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

Dotting to come back and comment after running a few PF2 games.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Bob Jonquet wrote:
Playing the game for the sake of playing the game is a philosophical assessment that goes to motivation and style. What you are essentially saying is they are doing it wrong.

[awarewolf ohm]Looking at it wrong. Because there's no doing. Only how you see the doing[/awarewolf ohm]

Quote:
For many players, tangible rewards are as much their reason to play as just playing. So there is at least some justification for changing the way optional encounters are designed.

Ok, so lets look at the alternatives

-Not doing the extra encounter dings people on stuff

People try to fit the encounter in into a timeslot where it doesn't fit and get mad when the dm doesn't.

-Doing the optional encounter gives people something extra

People try to fit the encounter in into a timeslot where it doesn't fit and get mad when the dm doesn't.

-no optional encounters for anyone

Faster groups wind up with too much down time in between con slots

2/5

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BigNorseWolf wrote:
Faster groups wind up with too much down time in between con slots

No such thing.

But you're missing my point: optional encounters increase the chance of dead characters.

I accept the risk that my character may perish in a scenario. However, I don't expect that risk to vary depending on whether I got a GM who feels it is their duty to run everything in the scenario versus a GM who hates to run optional encounters and so doesn't.

I could give two cents whether an optional encounter rewards my character with something outside the scenario. However, if optional encounters are going to exist, they should reward my character during the scenario rather than just be a resource sink.

Let's just use a level 1 example as that's what I'm familiar with in PF2.

Up to the end of the standard scenario: used my 2 scrolls of heal from training and 1 lesser anti-plague (3 gp). We finished with 3 characters with wounded 1.

After the optional ambush encounter *after* completing *all* tasks for the scenario: used 1 scroll of heal (4 gp) and managed to scrape by with characters at Wounded 3 (would be dead if had gone down again), Wounded 2, and Wounded 1.

We got 14 gp on our chronicle (plus 4 sp for Downtime).

Why did my efficient table that finished in 3 hours deserve to amp up the risk of death and me lose 50% of my character's income compared to a table full of people struggling to deal with learning a new rules system?

It was like being kicked when we were down.

2/5 ⦵⦵

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BigNorseWolf wrote:

-no optional encounters for anyone

Faster groups wind up with too much down time in between con slots

In my experience at cons, it's a blessing when a slot finishes early enough to go out and eat something other than con food.

Scarab Sages 4/5

Blake’s Tiger wrote:
It's not a call I'd make, but I'm biased toward optional encounters, but I assume the scenario reads like the others I saw. "If there are more than 120 minutes remaining, run the following encounter" (also irksome, we had 60 minutes of a regular session left but 120 minutes until absolute table close) so the GM more-or-less tricked us into running into it.

I don’t know if something changed with PF2 or the particular scenario, but it’s always been my understanding that when a scenario says something like “if there are more than 120 minutes remaining” that it means if that’s the case when you get to the encounter. If you didn’t pass through where the encounter is, and it’s not necessary to complete the scenario, then I don’t think the GM should be making you do the fight just because you finished with extra time.

If you did pass through where the encounter was, and the GM chose not to run the encounter, then they made their decision. Ending with extra time doesn’t mean they should go back and run an encounter they already skipped.

Basically, I can think of very few situations where the scenario is already finished (final encounter completed) where the GM should require you to complete an optional encounter. Only maybe something like being explicitly told to clear a dungeon of all creatures and the dungeon having multiple paths to get to the final encounter.

I have run tables that were ending earlier than expected and the players requested going back and doing the optional fight. But that’s at the player’s request, not pushing them into an encounter that they’ve either avoided or that you’ve already decided to skip.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

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The fundamental question is, what are we trying to accomplish by adding an option encounter? I would like to hear the developer's perspective on that. Clearly, rewards are not at issue since optional encounters do have any. They also are not required to advance the story otherwise they wouldn't be optional. The only reason that makes any sense is that they are simply trying to provide a way to fill time if your group is unusually fast getting through the material. If that assessment is true, aren't there better ways to handle it?

Let the session end early. This might be a great option if/when conventions provide no break between game slots, or if someone wants/needs a bit extra time. You have to be careful though. Some players are upset that they paid $X for the slot and didn't "get their money's worth" because the slot ended early.

Or fill the time with something else. At Gen Con a number of GMs were consistently finishing their 2E scenario early so they pulled out The Sandstone Secret (the newest quest) and ran that to fill time.

tl;dr there are ways to fill time that are better solutions than optional encounters.

Dark Archive 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵⦵

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Clarification: There are no Optional Encounters in Escaping the Grave.

What about the optional ambush encounter?:
The ambush is the intended Boss fight for this scenario. The boss arrives with a number of allies depending on how long the player's exploration took (hence the description that exploration time matters). The boss encounter provides 2 Treasure Bundles (or 20% of the scenario's treasure).

What about the giant undead?:
That is a cinematic device to force the PCs to leave the area of Goldenflame quickly after finishing the Boss fight. There is no risk unless PCs insist on sticking around to fight something that should be described as unbeatable for low-level PCs.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

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Bob Jonquet wrote:
The only reason that makes any sense is that they are simply trying to provide a way to fill time if your group is unusually fast getting through the material.

Or the encounter being optional instead of mandatory is a way for groups that are running unusually slowly to still have the big boss fight.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Blakes Tiger wrote:
But you're missing my point: optional encounters increase the chance of dead characters.

I'm not missing it, i just don't think its particularly important. The increased risk is small and vanishes into the dozens of other variables that increase the chance of dead characters. If PF2 routinely sucks half your rewards in one encounter that may be a problem with pf2.

2/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Bob Jonquet wrote:
The only reason that makes any sense is that they are simply trying to provide a way to fill time if your group is unusually fast getting through the material.

Or the encounter being optional instead of mandatory is a way for groups that are running unusually slowly to still have the big boss fight.

OK... so the lesson is to play as slowly as possible to minimize risk/resource drain?

2/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Gary D Norton wrote:
Clarification: There are no Optional Encounters in Escaping the Grave.

That saves 1-03 from my criticism, but the general concern remains.

One table gets one level of risk while another table gets a different level of risk.

The Origin of the 1-03 Confusion:
Now, for 1-03, it appears the GM forgot the boss encounter. This is why it looked optional: Our party left the mansion, loaded the cart, and was about to hurry back away from the approaching giant undead. The GM looks at his watch and says, "Let's see, how much time do we have?" The NPC says, "Hey, did you get the painting in the main hall?" No. "Do you want to?" OK, sure as long as that isn't a 10 minute deduction. "As you are looking at the painting a wizard and his undead minions arrive. Then, after barely surviving that, the GM says, "You sure you don't want to spend 10 more minutes searching?" We say, "No way! Even if it costs us our reputation." He says, "Good. If you did the giant undead would have arrived and carried you off to become Tar-Baphon's minions."

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Blake's Tiger wrote:


OK... so the lesson is to play as slowly as possible to minimize risk/resource drain?

If you want to play accountants and actuaries yes.

But I don't see why you keep insisting that thats the one way to look at encounters.

4/5 Venture-Agent, Massachusetts—Southcoast aka JDDyslexia

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Everyone seems to be misrepresenting these "optional encounters" as a penalty that evil, wicked GMs can force onto the PCs, in another wild-haired attempt to kill a character.

I've never seen optional encounters as detrimental. They don't shift the power of a scenario in any way. When an optional encounter gets cut, it's a clear advantage to the PCs, making the scenario easier than it's designed to be. As a GM, I feel ripping out an optional encounter to fit some time constraint is unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable. As a player, I feel like I'm missing out on a bit of the flavor.

If you want to be mad that one table skipped an encounter but you didn't and you might have died or something, my only suggestion to you is to maybe just pay attention to the table you're at and enjoy yourself.

2/5

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Joe Bouchard wrote:
They don't shift the power of a scenario in any way.

An APL+2 encounter rounds before a modified APL+3 encounter vs. straight to the APL+3 encounter doesn't shift the power?

4/5 Venture-Agent, Massachusetts—Southcoast aka JDDyslexia

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Blake's Tiger wrote:
An APL+2 encounter rounds before a modified APL+3 encounter vs. straight to the APL+3 encounter doesn't shift the power?

No, since that's the way the scenario was designed. Power isn't "shifting" if that's the intention.

1/5

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I have been at a couple of tables in PFS1 where the 'optional' encounter was thrown at the party *after* the conclusion of the scenario and the general conclusion from the players as well as the GM was that it would have destroyed the party either in that fight or the final encounter after all was said and done.

As a player, I would prefer to NOT have some gung-ho GM throw something that's going to cause the party to fail outright when it's 'optional'. So the best way to fix the situation is to remove the option *entirely*.

Save the word count for the important stuff.

As a GM, I would prefer to not have a GM playing at my table going "So, ya gonna do the optional, huh, huh, huh?" as if it's some sort of dare to stroke their ego. Has happened once, the GM in question is no longer involved in OrgPlay, details omitted to protect identities.

Also as a GM, having to prep one less encounter per scenario starts to really add up when you factor in say, four scenarios one has to prep for a given convention.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Agent, Australia—NSW—Newcastle aka Tim Schneider 908

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As a GM who runs in tight timeslots I actually love when I see an optional encounter, as it means I don't have to be as stressed about pushing the party to reach the end.

Most my players are actually disappointed they missed an optional encounter, and we normally end up talking about what it would've been and anything cool in it out in the parking lot after the store has closed... so I don't have the same view as some but I can see the argument that they're a net negative to the party if you do them.

Perhaps an optional encounter could throw a few consumables to the party, or an adjustment later. Don't make them part of the treasure for the scenario, cause that punishes slower & more time constrained groups and makes them try to cram it in... but something to compensate the party for the resources they've likely had consumed by the fight. Doesn't have to be huge but a token gesture could be enough to make them feel less punitive to some.

5/5 ⦵⦵⦵

Blake's Tiger wrote:
Joe Bouchard wrote:
They don't shift the power of a scenario in any way.
An APL+2 encounter rounds before a modified APL+3 encounter vs. straight to the APL+3 encounter doesn't shift the power?

No, because its the default. The scenarios encounters difficulty and treasure are written with the idea that you'll be doing it. Skipping it isn't supposed to be the normal or default that you're making it out to be.

Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

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It looks like the GM who ran for Blake messed some things up. Blame it on the added mental load of running a scenario probably somewhat cold in a new set of rules they'd had only a short time to digest.

---

But it's a good time to bring up the subject of optional encounters because:
* PFS2 has some new mechanics that allow us a fresh take on how to design them.
* There's a change in scenario developers (hi Linda!) so it's also a good time to do a fresh take on how to set up scenarios.

Let's consider what optional encounters are good for:
* Build some slack into scenarios so that slower groups don't run into time problems. The encounter should be truly optional, not something you feel pressed to run anyway. The scenario should still be good if you leave it out.
* Make sure the scenario doesn't end too early. Give something to do to fast parties who might otherwise feel that "finishing in 2 hours in a 4 hour slot was a bit disappointing". Sure, some people might like the chance to browse a bit at a convention. But if I'm playing this scenario at a game day and the scenario is what I came for, I'm going to be a bit disappointed if it's over so fast. I'm not playing the scenario just to efficiently collect rewards at the time, I'm there to have a good time playing it. So I don't want it to be over too quickly. If the optional encounter is truly optional, then it's okay for the GM to skip it if the table agrees they'd like to finish the slot early.

What are optional encounters NOT for:
* Getting full rewards. If you have to do the optional encounter to get a full score then it's not optional. It would be okay however if the optional encounter can be a "remedial" reward: you can score a point that you missed somewhere else, make up for an earlier mistake, but not end up better than a group who did the main content right.
* Tire out the PCs a bit. We sometimes assume that a group that's going fast is a group that is too powerful and needs some more tiring out before the bossfight. But it could also be that it's a group that panicked at a scary looking enemy and went full nova at it, and now they're tired already. To be a really good optional encounter, you'd want it to be somewhat resource neutral. You spend some stuff but maybe you loot some consumables that can help you in the boss fight.

Optional vs. Random encounters
These get compared to each other quite often. They serve some of the same goals. Pure random encounters have no place in PFS (they go hard against the level playing field idea) but somewhat-less-essential-to-the-plot encounters make for good optional encounters. The shared traits of successful random-ish and optional encounters are:
* A cool encounter. Really, this can't be said loud enough. If your optional encounter isn't an interesting fight (or social encounter or whatever), just leave it out.
* Not necessary. The scenario also works without. Players won't be cheated out of a cool item or boon if they don't do it. The plot still makes sense without it.
* Adds flavor. Random encounters (and also optional encounters) are a good way of reinforcing the theme of the area you're adventuring in. Trekking across the frozen wastes? Maybe ye classic wolf encounter, optionally with a gregarious warg. Spooky swamp? Run into soggy stenchy swamp zombies.
* Add some unpredictability. Spellcasters in particular need to figure out how much of their oomph to use during each encounter. If it's very predictable how many encounters you'll have in a day, this makes that a bit stale. One of the things that can make PFS1 feel a bit easy is when you can tell "oh I'm pretty sure this is the second to last encoounter". Although optional encounters shouldn't be resource drains, they should be a bit disruptive to your resources. Maybe you end up using some spells but find some scrolls of different spells that you can use instead further on in the adventure. (This doesn't have to hold for non-PFS random encounters. Those can be resource drains.)

Opportunities in the new edition:
* Consumables, not bundles. PFS2 uses treasure bundles to abstractly represent loot and distribute rewards proportionally according to character levels. Now that we're no longer shackled to the PFS1 idea that chronicle gold and loot found in the scenario have to match exactly, we can go a step further. You can give people rewards for an optional encounter that don't lead to treasure bundles, but that can come in handy later in the scenario. This helps make encounters resource neutral. For example, after the optional encounter you find some healing potions (helping you recover from it) and some bombs with an energy type that the end boss in is vulnerable to. A party that doesn't do the optional encounter doesn't get these helpful things but also didn't spend any resources fighting for them. Both parties end up with the same chronicle afterwards.
* Monster vulnerabilities PF2 leans more on monsters having vulnerabilities. Fiends take extra damage from Good sources. Undead are hurt a lot more by positive energy. So the loot from an optional encounter could be slanted to be quite useful to later encounters in the scenario, more so than the PCs average gear.

Some closing thoughts on optional encounters and chronicle results
* To be really optional, the encounter shouldn't have much if any impact. If you only get a cool boon or item if you do the optional encounter, there'll be pressure to do it anyway and it's not optional anymore.
* It would not really be fair to give less gold to people who don't do the optional encounter. If a group has somewhat weak builds made by new players, they might need more time for the core encounters and not do the optional. Would you punish them with less gold? That creates a death spiral or lower rewards -> weaker characters -> no optional in the next adventure -> lower rewards.
* Optional encounters that diminish chronicle rewards (like targeting an NPC you're supposed to escort to earn a boon) are really ugly. For a group that has time to do it, they should never feel that they don't want to do the optional encounter because it would screw them.

Scarab Sages 5/5 Venture-Captain, Netherlands aka Woran

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I am no developer. But my assumption would be that the developers would want more optional encounters in the early scenarios. That way, with everyone being new and generally needing more time, scenarios will fit in their slot.
And in a few seasons, when everyone is up to speed, the optional will help flesh out the scenario so that it wont feel short for the now experienced players.

2/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
BigNorseWolf wrote:
Blake's Tiger wrote:
Joe Bouchard wrote:
They don't shift the power of a scenario in any way.
An APL+2 encounter rounds before a modified APL+3 encounter vs. straight to the APL+3 encounter doesn't shift the power?
No, because its the default. The scenarios encounters difficulty and treasure are written with the idea that you'll be doing it. Skipping it isn't supposed to be the normal or default that you're making it out to be.

Except the one in the quote I’m referencing from PFS1 *is* skippable and fully explained as optional *for* parties needing an extra challenge.

Some may be written as “omit to save time” but others *are* written as explicitly skippable (no good reason to go in that room or worded as an “extra challenge”).

@JDD: Removing it doesn’t shift the power? You blow it off as “it was meant to be there” (in this example, it wasn’t) but the question is, “Is the power different between the scenario with it vs. without it?” I believe so, and that’s why I see a problem.

5/5 ⦵⦵

3 people marked this as a favorite.

I know this is already covered but I just want to re-enforce this.

When running in a 4 hour hard stop situation without optional encounters the last encounter is the encounter that usually gets dropped. I hate it as a player when time runs out and we did not get to or we rushed the final encounter.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

Location of the optional encounter has a lot to do with knowing if you will have time to complete it. If it is near the end, just before the boss fight, you have a good idea of how time has progressed and can make a good decision if there is time. If it’s much earlier, towards the beginning of the scenario, you don’t yet know how the party will fare against the other encounters in the scenario.

All the speculation about what optional encounters are used for is great, but at the end of the day, none of that matters if GMs aren’t running them anyway. I tend to encourage a lot of role-play which makes scenarios run long. I also tend to be fairly ruthless with tactics. Not enough to kill PCs, but usually enough that players feel relieved that their characters survived. As such, combats last a bit longer. Together, it means my sessions run long. I NEVER run the optional encounter. I just don’t. I don’t know how many GMs skip optional encounters, but if it’s enough, the developers could save themselves some effort by simply leaving them out. In the rare case of a session completing an hour or more early, I’m happy to run a quest to fill the time so the players feel satisfied or cut them loose so they can do something else. For me, it doesn’t matter what optional encounters are good for, I just don’t run them.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

Lau Bannenberg wrote:
Would you punish them with less gold?

Yes. If a party is suboptimal or the players are slow, then I’m perfectly happy with them not getting the same rewards as a more efficient party. If you have the time to do the optional encounter which is akin to searching every room, uncovering every option, then you should earn more for your efforts. If your group is disorganized, slow, suboptimal, etc and has to skip the optional encounter, then they should not earn the max reward. However, I know that is a minority opinion in the community, so I’m happy not to pursue it. Just don’t expect me to waste precious time running an encounter that neither rewards the players for their efforts, nor advances the story being told. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

Grand Lodge 5/5

Another author as well as GM and event coordinator chiming in... I want to echo Kate that they're not designed to be punitive at all, but to provide for a wide range of play styles and speeds of play in the campaign.

As an event coordinator and GM, I recognize that some groups will have to cut something to finish on time, either because of external factors (like the slot is ending) or internal factors (like you have new players, complex classes, or whatever). Not every group can match the event slot deadlines.

As an author, I'd rather be able to influence the choice of what gets cut, rather than leave it up to the GM. With no guidance, it's the ending that is most often left untold, and that's usually the best (or at least most important) part.

I think optional encounters are a necessary evil for the PFS format. As an author I could consider different ways to address them, to deal with some of the concerns expressed above.

5/5

A question for the OP - what's the difference between an optional encounter that grants no treasure, and a non-optional encounter that grants no treasure? Is it only because you know it's optional that it's a problem?

Grand Lodge 5/5 Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

A non-optional encounter that grants no reward is still likely to advance the story otherwise it would be optional too. When assessing encounters, most GMs seem to agree that it has to lack both of those features. I’d bet there is a portion of the GM community that does or would skip an encounter regardless if it’s officially labeled as option if it neither provided rewards nor advanced the story. As the designers like to say in 2E, decisions matter. If your decision to run a particular encounter has no impact on the game other than to possibly expend resources and essentially punish the players for having done it, better to leave it out and expand the rest of the scenario. Otherwise, i’ll skip it and focus on the story.

1/5

This may sound compltely out of the box and silly, but going forward would it be possible to give a numeric priority (say, 1-5) on which encounters are crucial to a given scenario versus 'adds nice background flavor'?

That way the beginning scene is kind of important for setting the tone, it'd get a Priority 1. The last scene with the resolution is kind of important with also a Priority 1. And then the stuff in-between can be weighted 2-5, with 5 being the former 'optional' encounter?

I realize there's a reason to want to 'pad' things to prevent 'speed runs', but at the same time trying to cram things into a shorter time slot (that will also include things like mustering, essential break, etc) won't be fun for either GMs or players.

3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

Chiming in to say the I enjoy having the optional encounters when I'm in a 5 hour time slot and they fit in. I'm there to roll dice, I'm excited for more gameplay.

I also enjoy having that flexibility in the scenario so that when the encounter gets cut so that we can finish up in a 4 hour time slot, the players don't notice a disruption in the flow and plot of the scenario.

The only optional encounter that has ever felt punitive to me was a high level swarm.

Ran the first PFS2 game last night, we cut the optional so that we could wrap up in time for the players to catch their buses.

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