What CR Budget would be appropriate for parties that only have one big fight a day?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Hey folks, my group meets about once a week for 2-3 hours and so we kinda scrunch the game into those 2-3 hours. A lot of times, to save on game time, this means that the only fights and puzzles that show up are BIG fights and BIG puzzles. However, as I understand it a standard CR = encounter is meant to use up about 1/3rd of the party's resources for the day and not be terribly threatening.

As a result, I end up just sorta guessing my way through encounter design. I've gotten pretty good at it, but every now and then I realize that I've put the PCs into too much danger if I play things perfectly and need to scale the enemy tactics back to prevent untimely PC deaths. I don't mind PCs dying if it makes a good plot point, but dying to the monster of the week isn't ideal.

Anyway, how would you folks go about designing 1 big encounter per adventuring "day" with the current CR system? Just start throwing CR+3 encounters at them, use that as the XP budget and throw a ton of smaller CR= or CR-1 enemies?


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I don't see why a session should be hooked to an adventuring day. If you only have a couple of hours a session to play, it might very well take several sessions to complete a single 'day' for the characters. The only downside to this is that you and your players need to keep track of what resources have been consumed between sessions, but that shouldn't be an issue.


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How well that works depends on how many of the players are unreliable in terms of attendance. If enough of them are unreliable, you would have an incentive to make each session self-contained.


If you should have encounters e ery adventure day than I agree simply have them rest every 3 sessions. Your problem is solved.


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CR+3 is about right, but you need to be careful with single over-CR monsters which are likely to be more swingy, especially if the PCs can nova them with single-target SOS/SOD. OTOH, lots of opponents can take a while and are vulnerable to AOE spells. Your players might start to game the system and use only the sort of spells matching the number of opponents, so mix and match.


Sometimes a single day does stretch across multiple sessions, but I try not to have too many small encounters regardless. My group fights slowly, lots of in house discussion between the players on what would be the best thing to do. They're all fairly new to Pathfinder, and so I try my best to encourage this kind of discussion and cooperation. Still, it does slow the combat down even against multiple fights against "easy" opponents.

With only 2.5-3 hours of game time each week I prefer to keep the story advancing, Avoid bogging down the game with excess combats, and make sure the fights they do have are memorable. Hence, asking about singular large fights.

CR+3 has been my goalpost, but I've had mixed experiences (partially due to the small variance in a given CR's foes strength) and nearly killed my player's dog with a Scythe Crit the other day. Trying to get some advice on these big fights to avoid the kind of looks I got from that >_>, you'd have thought I'd stabbed their actual dog for 64 damage.


Ironically I'm in the exact same boat, just with more experienced players. At low levels and veteran players, I could cram several small fights into an adventure and make that adventure last several play sessions. Unfortunately the PCs are now 8th level, the players have been at this home campaign for nearly 2 years and gameplay moves at a glacial pace.

I think in my case gameplay is so slow because of several reasons. The players spend a lot of time researching their foes; sometimes an entire game session is the PCs investigating. Then there's the fact that they now have a magically-enhanced sailing ship, powerful mounts and short-distance mobility spells that make travel a snap. Between these factors, I tend to skip a lot of random encounters and get the PCs right to their intended adventure sites.

Because of the time constraints of the sessions I usually use the "5-room dungeon" formula for the adventure sites. Room 1 is an intro to the theme and most times some kind of combat; room 2 is the opposite type of encounter from room 1, so if 1 was a combat, 2 is an RP encounter; room 3 is a setback where they're near the goal of the adventure site but have to overcome some obstacle or another combat in their path; room 4 is usually the big boss; room 5 is either their reward or some kind of plot twist.

This usually results in 2-3 combats for my players in an adventuring "day." If I set any of these to CR=APL, the PCs sleepwalk through it unless dice luck is extremely lopsided against them.

To answer the OP's question, if I boiled all of this down to one encounter/session I'd likely go CR+3 to CR+4. This is based on my players' gaming experience and the strength of their builds. Also 2 of the 4 PCs have been crafting items since level 1 so between heaps of consumables and the Wondrous Items they're wearing these characters rarely go into battle with the standard strength level of an 8th level party.

To the OP, I'd suggest sticking with CR+3. Yes, you nearly scythe-critted a PC's dog but then that's what scythes are. If the weapon had been in the hands of a PC and a crit had been rolled, how would 64 damage have changed the outcome in the party's favor? Would it have made the combat a cake-walk for them?

CR is as much art as it is science. The starting point for CR was back in 3e D&D and in Pathfinder it's based on a party of 4 PCs who started at level 1 with a 15 point buy, maintain standard Wealth by Level and with that wealth hit certain obvious benchmarks in terms of stat advancement, AC and weapon enhancers, etc.

So if your PCs started with a 15 point buy and are exactly where they need to be wealth-wise, CR+3 should be a tough but winnable fight. If however your players are like mine who rolled stats that resulted in the equivalent of a 27 - 33 point buy at level 1, have slightly over WBL not counting consumables, and 3 of the four have meticulously researched builds of impressive effectiveness, not to mention having decades of tabletop RPG experience and strategy... CR+3 can even sometimes be little more than an appetizer!


There is going to be a huge difficulty differences within a CR depending on how the party is built.

For example, my party encountered some kind of golem/construct and nobody had adamantine to overcome DR. Only one person could do enough damage on a regular hit to knock off 2 HP on max damage, and my alchemist's bombs did half damage - everyone else needed to crit to damage the enemy. I ended up using all but two of my daily bombs and we used up all of our daily healing on a 2-hour CR-1 or CR+0 encounter.

Enemies that can immobilize a party member can cause problems with lucky rolls - the front line fighter goes down with a natural 1 on a fort save, and suddenly the minions that the fighter was going to one-shot become a horde of CR+1 creatures.

If you want to challenge your party, you can just choose CR+0 or CR+1 monsters that poke at a weakness in the party.

Also consider the possibility your party doesn't want to be challenged. If killing an animal companion is going to cause so much stress, maybe it's a sign that they really, really, really don't want their characters threatened.


ShroudedInLight wrote:

Sometimes a single day does stretch across multiple sessions, but I try not to have too many small encounters regardless. My group fights slowly, lots of in house discussion between the players on what would be the best thing to do. They're all fairly new to Pathfinder, and so I try my best to encourage this kind of discussion and cooperation. Still, it does slow the combat down even against multiple fights against "easy" opponents.

With only 2.5-3 hours of game time each week I prefer to keep the story advancing, Avoid bogging down the game with excess combats, and make sure the fights they do have are memorable. Hence, asking about singular large fights.

CR+3 has been my goalpost, but I've had mixed experiences (partially due to the small variance in a given CR's foes strength) and nearly killed my player's dog with a Scythe Crit the other day. Trying to get some advice on these big fights to avoid the kind of looks I got from that >_>, you'd have thought I'd stabbed their actual dog for 64 damage.

The vanilla expectation of the game is that a party of 4 PCs goes through 4 CR-equal encounters in a day (CR-equal meaning "CR equal to the level of the characters in the party"). The quote I've seen is that each of these would use up around 1/4th of the party's resources, not 1/3rd, but similar principle. 4 CR-equal encounters usually comprises a "normal" adventuring day, including a high likelihood of living to see an adventuring tomorrow.

The crude answer to packing this all into 1 encounter is to literally mash the contents of 4 CR-equal encounters together. I'd advise against this, as too much at once can overwhelm the party, kind of like trying to eat a day's 3 meals in 1 sitting, which you appear to have awareness of. If you're running for new players, I would suggest beginning with a daily encounter at CR+2, then as players learn about their own abilities and the enemy's build up to CR+3. If you introduce new enemies that work in a novel way, drop back to CR+2 so there's more leeway for learning.

I also suggest avoiding lumping all the CR-budget into a single powerful enemy, as that risks them running over 1 character before the combined might of the rest of the party takes them down. This could be okay in a video game, where one player controls the whole party, but in tabletop where the unlucky character represents a player's entire involvement, it can be less enjoyable even if they get healed back up fully right after.

Here are a few simple formats for CR+2 encounters:
>Tough Monsters: 1/2 as many enemies as the party members, each enemy is the same CR as the party's level
>Mixed Fight: 1x as many enemies as the party members, each enemy is 2 CR lower than the party's level
>Large Numbers: 1.5x as many enemies as the party members, each enemy is 3 CR lower than the party's level

To go to CR+3, simply increment the CR in any of the above formats by 1.

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