Advice on pacing: specific example (Spoilers for Extinction Curse part 1, chapter 3)


Extinction Curse


1 person marked this as a favorite.

This is a separate thread so people interested in the general discussion but perhaps playing the AP can keep discussing: https://paizo.com/threads/rzs42yrl&page=3?-Official-pacing#129

Final SPOILER alert. Final SPOILER alert. Final SPOILER alert. Final SPOILER alert. Final SPOILER alert.

Okay, so here's the situation: a Hermitage has been corrupted by demonic influences, and the heroes are here to rescue its uncorrupted leader. The adventure provides no advice on pacing. There is no comments such as "One day after the heroes first arrive, the evil priest slays Harlock".

Basically, what we have is a static dungeon with zero advice. The dungeon encompasses an entire level's worth of experience (it is its own chapter in the AP), so there's half a dozen Moderate encounters, two Severe ones, and a couple of Low ones.

Now then, what am I the GM to do. I don't have the slightest clue if the adventure authors intend the heroes to liberate (read kill off) the Hermitage in a single afternoon... or if they're supposed to be able to rest for multiple days.

Since the loot (in the form of xp and treasure) is intimately connected to encounter difficulty level I want to know:

1) am I to assume 10 minute breaks after each combat is meant to be totally free (as in with no risk or consequence)?
2) how about multiple 10 minute breaks (resting for 20, 30... minutes up to 1 hour 10 minutes)? Should that also be free? If not, what should the consequence be?
3) it feels utterly implausible the Hermitage residents would just statically do nothing for days on end, even after half their number having been slaughtered. But the adventure doesn't say, and as discussed in the other thread, the CRB and the GMG is utterly silent on giving out a baseline.

On the other hand,

If I add a small risk of extra encounters (wandering monsters - perhaps the surviving Corrupted Priests bring in more demons?) this risks overwhelming a struggling party. And more generally: adding a random chance feels entirely unconnected with the overall system.

If I have the uncorrupted Harlock be slain (or even worse corrupted) after X days, despite having no official advice, that makes me feel like a dick GM.

---

We started this AP, our first ever, with the express goal of living the "default Paizo experience". That is, keeping encounters unmodified, except to follow the guidelines on adding monster XP (and loot) to account for five players instead of four.

But the total lack of guideline makes it impossible for me to know what the baseline is.

After all, a Moderate encounter followed by another three Moderate encounters is one thing. A Moderate encounter followed by 9 hours of rest is a completely different thing.

If you're supposed to overcome a certain degree of difficulty in order to be awarded 80 XP and gain one permanent item, that difficulty is EITHER represented by "Moderate" as in several encounters back to back OR the single encounter viewed in isolation.

If it is the former, you "cheat" by giving your players free rest.
If it is the latter, players are stupid for not resting as much as possible.

I need your help in making sense out of this.
Zapp

PS. Chapter 1 was clearly meant to be completed in a single night. Chapter 2 was less defined, but still, it felt very reasonable to let the events unfold over several days, at the pace of what the heroes were capable of. The farmers you rescue at the end were described to be without water since Chapter 1, which sets a real-life limit on the number of days. (Despite the text never even hinting at this as a countdown).


The current situation for my group is this:

Party Composition: Barbarian Half-Orc, Cleric Half-Elf, Fighter Human, Ranger Goblin, Wizard Gnome

Current situation:
They arrived, fought the Skum, and the Corrupted Retainers holding the Mayor. The Barbarian took a crit close to the maximum (50 ish damage). After fighting more Retainers and the Corrupted Priest in the Grand Hall they were low on hit points with no immediate healing remaining. They decided to retreat to heal up.

Three hours later they made their second foray. The pair of Smoldering Leopards completely shredded them, with multiple heroes failing to escape the grabbed condition, multiple attacks wasted on Concealment, and finally three heroes going down. But in the end, the animals were dead.

Nine hours later they made their third foray, this time detouring to the Catacombs. Their strategy of fighting in a narrow corridor (to minimize the number of ghouls that could attack at the same time) backfired spectacularly when the Barbarian got Paralyzed. The Fighter came to the rescue and was promptly cut down. The party did prevail but were again utterly spent.

Now then, what am I to do?

Just letting them rest freely (for such a long time) with no consequence feels entirely wrong. I hate the notion of stupid-static dungeons that just wait to be killed, bit by bit.

But if I add more than trivial opposition (extra Quasits?) I'm getting the idea they will not be able to make it to the end for yet another day.

On one hand, I need there to be a tangible cost to retreating for hours and days on end.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how much extra XP to bolster the "monster budget" with.

I turn to the adventure and the CRB and the GMG.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Complete and utter silence.

In baffling contrast to nearly every other aspect of the game, where you get ultra-detailed rules and guidelines, down to the minute and six-second round, to the individual hit point and to the smallest +1 bonus.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

As already mentioned in the other thread I would not penalize a party that is obviously already struggeling especially as per your description it does not look like they are resting to abuse the system, but because they fared terrible in the encounters bested so far.

As such I would recommend not to use additional "harassment" encounters, but to "soft tune" the existing ones. Give the players a feeling that the enemy is prepared for them after all the fighting rather than give them actual or considerable advantage for being prepared, like adding monsters or chaining encounters. Examples would be intital superior positioning (spread out vs AoE, use cover, start hidden etc), use of terrain like makeshift barrikades or flat initiative bonusses (change of spell selection or even allowing the enemy to pre-buff are both additional options but would be more drastic and could easily lead to a TPK if the party is already struggeling with the as-is encounters).

Regarding the overall plot, if the objective is to rescue the harlot, then I would definitely have the heroes have a shot at rescuing him, however long it may take, as long as they continue to try to rescue him in good faith. It is the effort that counts, not their ability to power through.

Depending on the general mood of the setting the harlot could even contact them via spells or a familiar and encourage them that they are on the right track and without putting too much pressure on their back: "I don't know who you are and what you are doing my friends but it seems to work! Already I can feel the corruption vaning and by the hour less and less enemies are roaming these halls. Knowing that salvation may be close will help me endure and I will thus stand fast for as long as I can..."

Knowing that their actions do have an effect and that not all is lost yet should really boost their morale.

Liberty's Edge

4 people marked this as a favorite.

As others noted in the other thread, there is no default.

That said, if you want to make the environment more 'living', I'd argue that the logical consequence of that is probably not to add more enemies, I mean, there's no real logical people to add, really. I'd instead be inclined to have the foes that remain group together at choke points with an eye to defense (since by this point they'd know they were under attack, and should behave logically).

To stay within the guidelines you'd make sure that no group is more than an Extreme encounter, a fact thankfully aided by the lack of choke points in the Hermitage.

I mean, the ghouls wouldn't go anywhere, but I'd be shocked if the priests in room F14 hadn't united with the one in F16 (plus Quasits) by the time three hours elapsed after people were killed next door (in F13). Where they'd unite is a slightly different matter, and the demons would probably still be rampaging somewhere, but it seems likely to happen.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

What would your group like best? That's all you have to work out. Have they grumbled about combat being too hard? Ease up a bit. Have they excitedly talked after the session (or during tea break) about how close and tense the fights were? You are on the right track. Complaints about steam rolling the AP? Toughen things up.

Not receiving any feed back? Ask for it.

There is no default paizo pacing, there is no being a dick gm if you are working things out for the enjoyment of your group. I hear Gloomhaven is amazing.

Sovereign Court

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Okay, let's get down to this specific case. Now, I haven't read the AP, so that's a bit limiting but I think I have an idea what I would do. But let me first try to summarize your issues/goals to make sure I'm on the same page as you.

* You want to have "the true Paizo experience".
* You don't like static dungeons where monsters sit waiting in their room. Especially if there's a lot of screaming coming from the next room, followed by 10-30m of silence, and then heroes burst into this monster's room.
* Your players are having a pretty rough time, they get beat up pretty hard by encounters.
* You feel like there should be some kind of price to pay for resting too long in between encounters.

So far you've had some indirect official advice; from Michael Sayre about how they're dealing with it in PFS2, as well as PF1 era advice James Jacobs that seems to still be the current view at Paizo HQ when heading into second edition. This boils down to:
* It's not easy balancing a PFS2 scenario to work for every group. They're getting better at it by listening a lot to the feedback and reviews.
* For non-PFS play, it's absolutely intended that the GM tunes the difficulty and pacing to the group. The default Paizo experience is to adjust the adventure to the players.

So the question is, how do you actually do that? I think the solution needs to come from a couple of things:

* Maintaining the sense of urgency.
* Identifying break points.
* Co-managing your party's resources.

The sense of urgency
From what I gather, the premise of the adventure is that you have to rescue someone before he gets sacrificed. The encounter where you do that is probably written with him on the altar, with a cultist about to plunge a dagger into his chest, and the heroes burst in just in time to save him. But what if the heroes are a day late or early? The conclusion here is that you can't decide an objective number of days that they have to do this in.

However, if you take the PCs "off the clock", then will the players just sit back and do one encounter per day? For this you need a bit of buy-in from the players. If the premise of the adventure is an urgent rescue, then your players need to play as if it really is urgent. That doesn't mean they go on until they TPK, but it does mean trying to do as many encounters in a day as they can. If you're really having trouble with this, have the explicit OOC discussion with your players.

So with a bit of OOC buy-in from the players and a story premise, you already have some urgency. But it helps if there are occasional IC signs too. Little clues that "it's going to be soon now". You could have the cleric feel a shiver running his spine as he walks through a hallway, as if there's something really bad below him (where the next dungeon basement is). Better hurry through this level today! Or you find a shopping list with ritual ingredients with most of them already crossed off. Clearly, the cultists are almost ready and we'd better make speed! These clues work best if you place them in the first 30% of the zone that they're attempting that day. That way it's not quite as obvious as a post-it note on the front door, but also doesn't push them to go down into the next zone when they're running on fumes. Which brings us to...

Identifying break points
Most big dungeons aren't intended to be cleared in one day, but they'll be subdivided into more self-contained zones. Like the ground floor, basement, and the crypts behind the secret door for example. Monsters inside a zone have more contact with each other than with things happening outside the zone. If you hang around in an uncleared zone, some of the remaining monsters might come knocking. But when you clear a zone, then you probably don't get interference from the next one.

Usually you can spot the main zones easily - identified by capital letters. Area A1-A10 is a major zone, B1-5 is a zone, C1-18 is a zone. Somewhere in the beginning of the AP is also a page saying "the PCs should be level X when they reach area Y". But some main zones are still to big to clear all at once. So you have to look inside those zones - which areas are heavily travelled, who would go from where to where? Are there doors that tend to remain shut? Try to identify smaller zones.

Identifying zones and break points inside but especially between them helps you make the dungeon feel less static. If you rest for a long time in a zone that hasn't been cleared yet, you might get company from another monster elsewhere in the zone that's going to check things out. I wouldn't really add new extra monsters, but rather have the existing ones come and investigate. If the characters need to rest a lot, clearly you don't need to add even more problems. But if they're being a bit too carefree then getting the next encounter "early" might shake them out of that.

So if you want to turn that into a more numerically defined rule of thumb, I'd say that you should usually allow 10m rest in uncleared zones, and often a bit more. You could roll 1d6-1 x 10m twice and use the highest to determine how long the heroes can rest safely. So only on a (1,1) roll do you get interrupted in less than 10m. If the roll was (2, 4) then that would mean 30 minutes of safe rest. You make the roll in secret and when time is up, one of the nearby encounters comes wandering by. If none of the nearby monsters would be willing to leave their room, then the PCs have in fact stumbled across a truly safe place to rest.

It can also happen that a monster in its own room is in a favorable tactical situation, but that if it goes wandering into the PCs room it isn't as favorable to the monster. Especially if the PCs picked a defensible spot to rest! That's okay though, the extra psychological pressure on the players from being interrupted while trying to heal will still make the encounter feel hard.

Note that 1d6-1 x 10m means that you never get a whole hour of rest. This means that without Continual Recovery, Treat Wounds can only be used once between interruptions. Lay On Hands could be used a couple more times. And it's just not long enough to reset the cooldown on Godless Healing.

So what does the party do when they can't rest too long, because the area is still dangerous? They have to dip into consumables. Which brings us to...

Co-managing your party's resources
Players don't really like using healing potions. I'm from the Netherlands, we're notorious for being thrifty and we really don't like using consumables. Because it's basically pouring money down the drain. Except sometimes you had better do that or you'll die :)

With how good Heal, Divine Font and Treat Wounds are, healing potions are not plan A. But if you have difficult encounters you're going to run low on Heal spells, and with the rule of thumb I proposed above you won't always have enough time to Treat Wounds. So then you have to use plan B. Potions and elixirs give the party a source of healing that they can dip into when they need to go the extra mile.

You want a dungeoneering style where the heroes push on until a break point that makes sense, but they need resources for that. I suggest you increase the amount of consumables they find a bit. That will allow them to push on a bit further. Don't be too worried about how much you're giving out, just give out on/around level consumables. Even if you give a bit much right now, in two or three levels those consumables have become relatively less powerful compared to the PCs, so they're not a permanent power-up. And don't worry that it's not the "default Paizo experience"; as we've identified before, the default is that you adjust the adventure to the party. If your party gets hurt too much, give them a bit more potions. You're covered by the "Adjusting Treasure" sidebar on page 510 which says the GM should adjust the treasure piles if the party really needs it.

If the players have trouble remembering that they have these potions, you can make them more easy to keep in mind by making physical tokens or handouts. You could just print a stack of cards with "healing potion: interact (A) to drink, 1d8 healing" and give them to your players when they find them, then get them back when they use them. That also gives you an idea of how fast they're going through.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

piggy-backing off of Deadmanwalking, In my experience, the key to making a dungeon feel alive is all about having its inhabitants react to the realization they are under attack. If having all the remaining enemies bunch up in one room is going to over power your party, find or make up a couple of small groups specific story-based reasons not to work together. This is usually pretty easy to do with evil enemies, Lawful ones often have secret aims to let a rival fail and chaotic ones probably see chaos as a latter and opportunity.

But, (and I maybe alone on this), I have no problem having enemies bunch up into groups that make extreme or worse single encounters as long as the party is given ample opportunity to see that this is what is happening as the enemy grows more desperate, and that a full on assault, without investing resources in an exit strategy and way to be protected from a possible counter attack, is likely a suicide run. I almost never add enemies, I just rarely leave things in their assigned rooms for very long unless there are specific story reasons to do so. But I use a digital dungeon map that I usually populate in full before the party begins running through the dungeon so the book keeping on moving things around is relatively minimal for me. I will sometimes use masses of reinforcements where it makes a lot of sense to the plot to create a real gauntlet run, but again, only with plenty of build up and fore knowledge that "this may well be a suicide mission."

I did that for the final dungeon of the first book of the wrath of the righteous and it was the most epic and fun series of encounters I, or my players, had ever had. 2 out of four died, but they had a slew of lower level NPCs that fallen characters could jump into and they really enjoyed the intensity. Then the party became mythic and everything fell apart by the beginning of the third book, but that first book has become a legend in our gaming group and Amber E. Scott a legendary adventure writer.

PS: in PF2 it really is the critical hits that are the destroyers, but I think having enemies probe defenses lightly ( with a trivial amount of their forces), and then regroup into severe or even extreme encounters is a perfectly legitimate way to run things "by the book" as long as your table have signed up for being challenged.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

1 person marked this as a favorite.

You will probably never get a general guideline, but for SPECIFIC portions of adventures, it would be great for a sentence or 2 from the author on how they envisioned the players interacting with the dungeon, and how many rests they assumed when they created the dungeon, and some general thoughts on how the denizens react when their dungeon is invaded.
If it is too much additional word count for the printed product, perhaps a few lines in the GM-thread for specific books by the author would be great.


Grumpus wrote:

for SPECIFIC portions of adventures, it would be great for a sentence or 2 from the author on how they envisioned the players interacting with the dungeon, and how many rests they assumed when they created the dungeon, and some general thoughts on how the denizens react when their dungeon is invaded.

If it is too much additional word count for the printed product, perhaps a few lines in the GM-thread for specific books by the author would be great.

Exactly.

Having a general guideline in the CRB would help, mainly because it would force authors to confront the issue:

"Do I really want to use the default pacing in my story?

No, I don't.

That means I can't stay silent - I need to write up a sentence or two"

The absence of any official advice only means it's easier to hide from your responsibility as a scenario designer, and say nothing.


Deadmanwalking wrote:

As others noted in the other thread, there is no default.

That said, if you want to make the environment more 'living', I'd argue that the logical consequence of that is probably not to add more enemies, I mean, there's no real logical people to add, really. I'd instead be inclined to have the foes that remain group together at choke points with an eye to defense (since by this point they'd know they were under attack, and should behave logically).

To stay within the guidelines you'd make sure that no group is more than an Extreme encounter, a fact thankfully aided by the lack of choke points in the Hermitage.

I mean, the ghouls wouldn't go anywhere, but I'd be shocked if the priests in room F14 hadn't united with the one in F16 (plus Quasits) by the time three hours elapsed after people were killed next door (in F13). Where they'd unite is a slightly different matter, and the demons would probably still be rampaging somewhere, but it seems likely to happen.

Thank you for your reply.

The problem is that even two moderate groups of monsters can't join forces under the scheme of PF2 without becoming an Extreme encounter. (There aren't any Extreme encounters during the first two books of the AP)

They have killed the two bickering Priests, but Carlissa the animal trainer could join forces with Horba the cook.

Problem is, that kind of ruins both encounters (seeing that "the cook" is one trope, and that Carlissa wouldn't be in the middle of corrupting ther animal if she travels to another room).

I wouldn't characterize it as illogical to add monsters. After all, where did the demons come from? Having to face additional demons feels like a natural consequence from the plot of this adventure.

The Library demons are already a Severe encounter. I can describe the library as thoroughly trashed, and have them appear elsewhere, but I can't easily add them to another encounter (or add others to them).

I guess I'll have to have Threndel finally succeed in corrupting Harlock. (The party have found his notes in his quarters, which the text states is sufficient to point to CHapter 4).

Or I guess not corrupt as much as defeat. I'm thinking a Vermlek bursts out of him once the heroes have killed off two other creatures, hoping that a "prolonged" Severe encounter still is more lenient than an Extreme one.

---

As for the corrupted hermits reorganising, that's just logic. After more than a day, and half their numbers killed off, they wouldn't keep cooking and training as if nothing happened.

But when it comes to actually punishing the players for being slow I would have appreciated the writers telling me what they consider slow.

Sovereign Court

Zapp wrote:
Ascalaphus wrote:
Okay, let's get down to this specific case. Now, I haven't read the AP

Sorry, but you're really not getting down to this specific case.

A lot of your advice might be well-intentioned, but simply isn't applicable to this case.

Feel free to post again after reading up on The Hermitage of Blessed Lightning :-)

I haven't read it because I might play it sometime, and I don't want (serious) spoilers.

But from what I can make out it's really not that different than say, the first book of Iron Gods, in which the beloved local wizard has gone down into some caves and hasn't come out, and the heroes must "race" to save him.

Iron Gods book 1:
He's strapped to a table and being experimented on by a demented robot, and has a nanite infestation turning his brain to pulp. So it's also a kind of time pressure. But it will probably take the PCs several days to fight their way through the dungeon to get to him.

The Iron Gods setup and the Extinction Curse setup aren't structurally all that different. There's someone at the heart of a dungeon that needs to be saved, but it's going to take several days of adventuring to get there.

The advice I've given you is based on how I dealt with it in Iron Gods / would deal with next time if I reran it.


Ascalaphus wrote:
There's someone at the heart of a dungeon that needs to be saved, but it's going to take several days of adventuring to get there.

Can I ask how you can be so sure?

After all, chapter 1 was clearly intended to be completed in a single night (since that chapter's bad guy wouldn't just stay put for very long).

It would really have helped if the writers had said they expected heroes to have to take at least one full 9 hour rest.

Of course, that would have meant them having to face the question "what will the corrupted hermits do"...

Again, complete silence might be convenient for adventure authors and for Paizo, but it sure ain't for gamemasters...

Sovereign Court

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Zapp wrote:
Grumpus wrote:

for SPECIFIC portions of adventures, it would be great for a sentence or 2 from the author on how they envisioned the players interacting with the dungeon, and how many rests they assumed when they created the dungeon, and some general thoughts on how the denizens react when their dungeon is invaded.

If it is too much additional word count for the printed product, perhaps a few lines in the GM-thread for specific books by the author would be great.

Exactly.

Having a general guideline in the CRB would help, mainly because it would force authors to confront the issue:

"Do I really want to use the default pacing in my story?

No, I don't.

That means I can't stay silent - I need to write up a sentence or two"

The absence of any official advice only means it's easier to hide from your responsibility as a scenario designer, and say nothing.

There's a couple of assumptions in here that I plain disagree with.

1) That scenario designers are trying to hide from responsibility. This is nonsense. Paizo's writing philosophy is that picking the pace should be up to individual groups. So it's not "hiding from responsibility", it's choosing not to do something that would contradict that philosophy.

2) You can't have a default pacing unless you also have a default adventure. But Paizo doesn't want to say that "dungeoncrawling is the default adventure". Exploring the wilderness, whodunnits in town, intrigue at court, escorting a VIP, and being a special ops team for the army are just as typical adventure types as dungeoncrawling. And they all have different pacing.

Looking at the PFS2 scenarios I've played so far, not counting quests (because they only have one encounter so they're not useful for pacing);

PFS2 season 1 spoilers:

Origin of the Open Road: takes 1 or 2 days. Has some extra difficulty if the players rest for the night. Second part can be considered a dungeoncrawl.
Absalom Initiation: silent on how long you have, most GMs assume 1-2 days. Too all over the place to be a dungeon crawl.
Escaping the Grave: time pressure is very much an issue, feels more like a heist than a dungeon crawl.
Trailblazer's Bounty: multi-day wilderness exploration.
Flooded King's Court: dungeon crawl but with several encounters that can be solved without combat, so resource expenditure can be really varied. Plenty of time in between encounters.
Revolution on the Riverside: several encounters that might not lead to violence, easy to rest up in between.
Star-Crossed Voyages: some outdoors encounters followed by a dungeon crawl, if you play not-dumb you can rest up between encounters.
Flames of Rebellion: fairly static dungeon crawl, you can rest up in between encounters.
Burden of Envy: urban intrigue, few encounters, lots of rest in between.

Out of 9 scenarios, only one has really strong time pressure. The others have some pressure (do it within a day or two). Even in the one with time pressure you can take some breaks. So if you're looking for an "official" default, that seems to be, that you can take your sweet time in between encounters, as long as you get stuff done in that day. But that's based on 2-5 encounters per adventure, because PFS has to fit inside a 4 hour game slot.


Well in some cases being silent on a topic can be as bad as being overly vocal about it. In addition there is a difference (at least as far as I am concerned) in between the question on how many back-to-back encounter of which type can be managed on a mechanical level and how a chapter of an adventure is supposed to be played out.

In another RPG that I play and GM in parallel to PF2 there always is a synopsis in front of each chapter that tell you about the setting and what kind of progress awaits the players within the chapter if they somehow follow the main storyline. In some cases there even are very brief recommendations on how the story might progress if the players fail a milestone, on time and events progressing in the outside world in case of a lengthy dungeon or while on a voyage or simple some options on what happens if a major villain escapes.

"If Count von Doomstein escapes in chapter 3 and he has notice of what the players are planning he may be sending a couple of henchmen (see apendix) to aid his superior during the final fight in chapter 4. This can be used to add extra difficulty if needed. Make sure that the players know who send the henchmen, especially if you want to use the Count as an adversary in future adventures. Mind that this will probably make the final confrontation a lot more difficult, so use this option only with caution."

And yes, any GM could come up with this kind of ideas on his own, however I really enjoy this bits of extra information respecively preparation and I think many fellow GM's also will, especially the more inexperienced ones.

Liberty's Edge

6 people marked this as a favorite.
Zapp wrote:

Thank you for your reply.

The problem is that even two moderate groups of monsters can't join forces under the scheme of PF2 without becoming an Extreme encounter. (There aren't any Extreme encounters during the first two books of the AP)

And? That's the price they pay for taking time off in an enemy heavy area. They should expect the enemy to regroup and make plans of their own. Or at least, I'd make it clear they should expect that in my game.

Zapp wrote:

They have killed the two bickering Priests, but Carlissa the animal trainer could join forces with Horba the cook.

Problem is, that kind of ruins both encounters (seeing that "the cook" is one trope, and that Carlissa wouldn't be in the middle of corrupting ther animal if she travels to another room).

The cook could come join her, maybe bringing a meal with her if you wish to emphasize that she's a cook.

But more importantly, you need to make a choice here: Do you want to keep set piece encounters thematically perfect, or do you want the denizens to respond believably to invaders? Because sometimes you can do both...but sometimes you can't and you need to pick which takes priority.

Zapp wrote:
I wouldn't characterize it as illogical to add monsters. After all, where did the demons come from? Having to face additional demons feels like a natural consequence from the plot of this adventure.

Maybe one or two. The demon in F13 was summoned to deal with the ghouls in the catacombs, who've been there for days. It would be weirdly inconsistent if summoning such a thing didn't take at least a day's work.

Zapp wrote:
The Library demons are already a Severe encounter. I can describe the library as thoroughly trashed, and have them appear elsewhere, but I can't easily add them to another encounter (or add others to them).

And you shouldn't, for that reason. That said, they are clearly not well controlled in-universe so them refusing to play nicely with others and thus being on their own makes sense.

Zapp wrote:

I guess I'll have to have Threndel finally succeed in corrupting Harlock. (The party have found his notes in his quarters, which the text states is sufficient to point to CHapter 4).

Or I guess not corrupt as much as defeat. I'm thinking a Vermlek bursts out of him once the heroes have killed off two other creatures, hoping that a "prolonged" Severe encounter still is more lenient than an Extreme one.

I wouldn't do this, because this is, in fact, punishing the players. Evidence suggests they've been holding him a long time without corrupting him or killing him, and rescuing him is the whole point in some ways. It's a bit harsh to penalize the PCs by having him corrupted or killed when they've taken less than a day to get to him. That makes them feel like they've lost, which is never a good thing for a GM to impose arbitrarily.

I mean, if they took a week or something I could see it, but less than a day? Nah. That feels unfair. And what feels unfair is very important.

Zapp wrote:

As for the corrupted hermits reorganising, that's just logic. After more than a day, and half their numbers killed off, they wouldn't keep cooking and training as if nothing happened.

But when it comes to actually punishing the players for being slow I would have appreciated the writers telling me what they consider slow.

I wouldn't consider the NPCs reacting intelligently to things PCs do to be punishing them. That's just the enemiess actually using tactics, which should be part of every game of PF2, IMO. It's on a slightly different time scale than in-combat tactics, but it feels perfectly fair and I've never met a player who objected to it.

Having them succeed at something they've been trying for weeks because the PCs took less than a day extra? That's punishing them, and I wouldn't do it.


So, I have read and will probably be running this part of the Adventure this weekend. Here is what I think was intended to happen.

They designed every encounter as a staged encounter. In other words, each encounter is meant to be run as is. The pacing is left up to the GM. They do however give you the Retainers stat block and make reference to it for each fight that you use them in. You get two staged encounters with them at the beginning of the Hermitage. After that though, they become a tool for you to use any where in the dungeon. This isn't specifically stated so I understand why some one wouldn't necessarily use them as such but this part of the adventure does say multiple retainers live in the hermitage. I would use these as a wandering monster encounter if you feel like your group is going too slow. You would do this by slowly increasing either how many Retainers run into the group or how often they run into the group. Everything else is staged and should be run as written.

That being said, I would not have the druids appear as wandering monsters. Each of them is kind of specific to their encounter, most likely do to balance. Same thing with the corrupted animals and the demons in the library.

If you want to get into more specifics I'd be happy to chat about it.


3 people marked this as a favorite.
Zapp wrote:
The problem is that even two moderate groups of monsters can't join forces under the scheme of PF2 without becoming an Extreme encounter. (There aren't any Extreme encounters during the first two books of the AP)

The math of encounter design has some oddities. A single creature of the same level as the party is a 40-xp trivial encounter. A pair of the same creature is an 80-xp moderate encounter, earning twice as much xp but delivering three times as much damage. If the party efficiently takes down one creature as fast as possible, as they would against a single creature, then the second creature as twice as long to damage the party, so 1+2 = 3. Three of the same creature is a 120-xp severe encounter, earning three times as much xp but delivering six times as much damage. Four of the same creature is a 160-xp extreme encounter, earning four times as much xp but delivering ten times as much damage.

That is ignoring battlefield control. Superb battlefield control could let four creatures deal only as much damage as they would as individually, but that requires one party member devoted to battlefield control, so the four each last 33% longer and so together they deal as much damage as 5.33 creatures.

And encountering the four creatures one by one (4 trivial encounters) or in pairs (2 moderate encounters), or all together (1 extreme encounter) earns 160 xp in every case. The xp reward system is inexact.

But we GMs have more options than group size. Imagine that the party defeats one creature of a pair and then two more creature runs into the room. That deals 8 times as much damage as one creature, less than the 10 times as much damage from facing all four from the beginning. The GM can use that difference to give some battlefield control to the party for free due to terrain. When the two creatures fight the party in one room, the other two creatures in the next room could hear the combat and rush over, but those reinforcements take two or three rounds to arrive. That is more like a severe encounter than an extreme encounter. And if the party had a few bad dice rolls, the reinforcements can take four rounds to arrive.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I asked my wife, a grandmaster player, about pacing. She said that playing smart should be rewarded. And that knowing when to rest was part of playing smart.

If a GM punishes the players for using smart tactics, then they won't use smart tactics. And the GM will wonder why they fight like idiots.

I don't own The Show Must Go On so I understand the hermitage only from the comments here. I wonder how the party knows that Harlock Hamdeel is uncorrupted. I imagine that he locked himself up on the rooftop aviary and is sending messages out by carrier pigeon. No, don't bother telling me, since that isn't an encounter.

Zapp wrote:

Party Composition: Barbarian Half-Orc, Cleric Half-Elf, Fighter Human, Ranger Goblin, Wizard Gnome

They arrived, fought the Skum, and the Corrupted Retainers holding the Mayor. The Barbarian took a crit close to the maximum (50 ish damage). After fighting more Retainers and the Corrupted Priest in the Grand Hall they were low on hit points with no immediate healing remaining. They decided to retreat to heal up.

Wow, that barbarian has an enormous amount of hit points for a 3rd-level character (third part of the first module implies third level). Well, hit points are the barbarian's specialty.

The barbarian must barely be on his feet. I see the Skum (ulat-kini) on page 12 of the PF2 Bestiary is creature 2 and assuming the Corrupted Retainers are also creature 2, that makes this a 90- or 120-xp excounter. Plus a critical hit for an incredible 50 damage is the dice hating the party. So we treat it as severe and a rest to heal is the smart tactic. The party should try to conserve the cleric's daily heals, which makes Treat Wounds the best method. Resting in the middle of the dead bodies is a vulnerable place resting. Retreating to rest is smarter. Retreating to rest and setting up a watch of the uninjured characters against trouble is the best tactic.

Wait, Zapp said, "no immediate healing remaining." That suggests that they should end the adventuring day. To me, a party going into battle without emergency magical healing or Battle Medicine justifies a TPK. One more day increases the risk to Harlock Hamdeel, but since hermitages are often isolated, I presume they took three or four days to reach the place in the first place. If they traveled fast, then this is the time to reward them by giving Harlock extra time. Or if the Mayor's town is nearby, then a good Diplomacy check inspires the Mayor to ask the town priest to heal them up and send a couple of veteran town guards (fighter 2) along with them. And the party can buy Healing Potions to return that day.

Zapp wrote:
Three hours later they made their second foray. The pair of Smoldering Leopards completely shredded them, with multiple heroes failing to escape the grabbed condition, multiple attacks wasted on Concealment, and finally three heroes going down. But in the end, the animals were dead.

Three hours later. That means a few successful Treat Wounds and no emergency magical healing rather than restoring themselves to full readiness. A leopard is creature 2 and I assume "Smoldering" is a fiendish feature that raises them to creature 3 and grants them concealment. The grabbed condition is not ordinarily bad against martial characters, but it messes up spellcaster's Material and Somatic components and a leopard has maul and sneak attack that punish grabbed creatures. This calls for a good front line or battlefield control to stop the leopards from controlling the battle themselves. And the barbarian is probably still too injured to be part of a good front line. I am not surprised that three PCs when down even though two Smoldering Leopards would be listed as a moderate encounter. Sometimes the xp budget does not represent the true challenge.

Zapp wrote:

Nine hours later they made their third foray, this time detouring to the Catacombs. Their strategy of fighting in a narrow corridor (to minimize the number of ghouls that could attack at the same time) backfired spectacularly when the Barbarian got Paralyzed. The Fighter came to the rescue and was promptly cut down. The party did prevail but were again utterly spent.

Now then, what am I to do?

Pray for them. They are not recovering enough, which cripples their tactics.

Zapp wrote:
Just letting them rest freely (for such a long time) with no consequence feels entirely wrong. I hate the notion of stupid-static dungeons that just wait to be killed, bit by bit.

I hate the room-by-room dungeons, too. Resting freely in the dungeon was the wrong tactic for this situation. They should have left the dungeon, properly healed and restocked, and returned the next day.

My response would be that the following day the bad guys would have arranged themselves in a more defensive position, but it does not sound like they have a way of gaining more resources. And they should lock or barricade the front door. Break down the front door, be met by a charge of corrupted recruits and minor demons scrapped up from other rooms, a super-extreme encounter that the party should flee. But if they flee far enough, some of the bad guys will return to the hermitage, so that the party fights only a severe encounter. But a retreat and regoup is advanced tactics, which sounds beyond your party (my own players fall in the category of "a group of veteran players using advanced tactics and teamwork").

Maybe the party could search for another entrance and rescue Harlock from an unexpected direction. I get the impression that the ghouls were not allied with the corrupted hermits. Maybe alter the floor plan so that the ghouls had dug a hidden tunnel.

Zapp wrote:

But if I add more than trivial opposition (extra Quasits?) I'm getting the idea they will not be able to make it to the end for yet another day.

On one hand, I need there to be a tangible cost to retreating for hours and days on end.

Um, this party is not resting and retreating enough and you want to punish them for resting? They will never learn if you do that.

Zapp wrote:
On the other hand, I'm not sure how much extra XP to bolster the "monster budget" with.

Between bad rolls and bad tactics, this hermitage was already harder on the party than it was supposed to be. The bad guys ought to respond to the party with existing resources. Do not make them even tougher!

Zapp wrote:

I turn to the adventure and the CRB and the GMG.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Complete and utter silence.

In baffling contrast to nearly every other aspect of the game, where you get ultra-detailed rules and guidelines, down to the minute and six-second round, to the individual hit point and to the smallest +1 bonus.

I have only begun reading the Gamemastery Guide, but yes, such advice to the GM ought to have been in there. For example, how should the enemy react when they are given a day to prepare? How does a GM soften an encounter on the fly when bad dice rolls make it too hard?


Mathmuse wrote:
How does a GM soften an encounter on the fly when bad dice rolls make it too hard?

That is answered in the CRB. Use the weak adjustment. Same thing in reverse. If the fight is to easy, add the elite adjustment. I will of course add that some fights are supposed to be easy to give the heroes a sense of how far they have come.


Zioalca wrote:
Mathmuse wrote:
How does a GM soften an encounter on the fly when bad dice rolls make it too hard?
That is answered in the CRB. Use the weak adjustment. Same thing in reverse. If the fight is to easy, add the elite adjustment. I will of course add that some fights are supposed to be easy to give the heroes a sense of how far they have come.

I searched the CRB for "weak adjustment" and found it instead in the PF2 Bestiary on page 6.

PF2 Bestiary, Introduction, page 6 wrote:

Adjusting Creatures

Sometimes you might need to customize a creature based on the needs of your story or the narrative circumstances as your story unfolds. This section guides you through some basic strategies you can use to adjust creatures. It includes quick adjustments you can make to a creature to alter its level. You might also need to adjust a creature’s languages or gear, or know its proficiency ranks in skills or Perception.

Combat Power
The creatures presented in this book have appropriate statistics for their levels. In many cases, you can make relatively minor adjustments, called elite and weak adjustments, to their statistics to make them function 1 level higher or lower than presented.

Elite and weak adjustments work best with creatures that focus on physical combat. These adjustments overstate the normal numerical gains the creature would make from increasing its level to make up for the lack of new special abilities. ...

To me, this guidance sounds like a method of designing an encounter in advance before dice are rolled, rather than a method for softening the encounter in the middle of combat. "You face 3 wolves and one of them looks tougher than the other two."

I had in mind more the opponents running away because the party members are still standing (barely at only single-digit hit points) after their most vicious attacks, or a gigantic animal deciding to drag away the corpse of a horse rather than finish off the warriors that tried to stop it, or the enemy commander deciding to capture the party members alive for ransom, or the cavalry charging over the hill to save the party.

Having the Smoldering Leopards suddenly get -2 to its attacks and AC and damage and lose 15 hit points right after one grabbed the goblin ranger and was about to maul the little fellow seems like an insulting fudge. "Oh, Smoldering Leopards are not as strong as the last two rounds made them seem. No, they are really weaker than regular leopards."


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Mathmuse wrote:
How does a GM soften an encounter on the fly when bad dice rolls make it too hard?

Two major schools of thought here.

1) Don't. The dice are the arbiters of fate and its the PCs responsibility as heroes to call the retreat or die. If the encounter was 'fair' then its entirely up to the PCs to survive it. Hands off. As a GM, this can both feel awful and end campaigns, but it upholds the sanctity of PC decisions lead to consequences. Stepping in to save them when it goes poorly for them only coddles players.

2) This is a story about these heroes and they don't die this way. Monsters start 'rolling poorly' or start making strange targeting decisions. Add an NPC to the PC's side, another enemy calls for a retreat off screen, it turns out the villain and the PC's mothers share a name. This one feels weird to me as a player when I see a monster that has me dead to rights and it decides not to full attack? You don't want to be protected, but you also don't want your PC to die.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Thanks Mathmuse. I knew I had read it some where. You are right that it is more of a tool for prepping and encounter but it is easy enough to make the adjustments on the fly.

I fully agree with Kasoh on the schools of thought. I tend to lean towards the first one myself and my players know it before we even start a game. I have been running Pathfinder Society for Pathfinder 2 since it started in August and my group has stuck by that rule. I also roll in front of my players. On top of all that we also play with the critical hit and critical fumble decks. Makes things very interesting and potentially very deadly.

Unfortunately, I don't think this helps Zapp with his original question though.


Deadmanwalking wrote:
And? That's the price they pay for taking time off in an enemy heavy area. They should expect the enemy to regroup and make plans of their own. Or at least, I'd make it clear they should expect that in my game.

You must be using logic from another game, because that simply does not work in PF2.

You would easily create encounters the heroes simply cannot overcome.

This isn't PF1 or D&D5 where a party can overcome odds the adventure never intended them to overcome. Once you're past an Extreme encounter, you're pretty much looking at an assured TPK.

Yes, the math of this game is that tight.


Reading ahead Chapter 4 is much the same.

That is, I've realized I resent the idea of a "static dungeon" the PCs can just eat piece by piece.

Ch 4 even provides a secret room for the heroes to rest in.

On one hand that's great since at least it tells me the GM the writers doesn't intend or require the heroes to take out the entire Chapter in one day.

On the other, however... :-(

Am I really supposed to just have the Xulgath stay put or go about their daily routine blithely even though comrade after comrade falls dead or just disappears?

There are zero instructions on how the compound reacts, except later on when the alarm gong is sounded and any Xulgath not currently fighting pretty much flees.

A big reason is that the design of PF2 prevents the natural action - survivors huddling together for safety.

Two encounters that individually are hard but manageable becomes outright impossible of combined.

So my dawning realization is that I really am meant to do nothing, and just have my monsters sit there to be cut down room by room :(


Mathmuse wrote:
I hate the room-by-room dungeons, too. Resting freely in the dungeon was the wrong tactic for this situation. They should have left the dungeon, properly healed and restocked, and returned the next day.

The biggest problem is that the obvious action taken by enemies is to combine forces.

That simply does not work given how PF2 works. You just can't. The only way you can fight dozens of mooks is by them being four or five levels lower than yourself.

Even though the heroes have taken out more than half of the enemies, the remaining corrupted hermits would still easily form an encounter that's way more than Extreme. In other games that's cool. In PF2, it's mathematical suicide.

Note how exceedingly rare it is for an AP to feature a fight with more than twice the number of heroes.

(You really deserve a longer reply than this)

Liberty's Edge

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Zapp wrote:
You must be using logic from another game, because that simply does not work in PF2.

Not if taken to extremes, but I wasn't suggesting that.

Zapp wrote:
You would easily create encounters the heroes simply cannot overcome.

Sure. You can always do that in any game.

Zapp wrote:

This isn't PF1 or D&D5 where a party can overcome odds the adventure never intended them to overcome. Once you're past an Extreme encounter, you're pretty much looking at an assured TPK.

Yes, the math of this game is that tight.

Which is why I specifically recommended not going over Extreme in terms of encounters. But combining a couple of Moderate ones into an Extreme one seems very possible. And was very precisely what I was suggesting.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
"Zapp” wrote:
So my dawning realization is that I really am meant to do nothing, and just have my monsters sit there to be cut down room by room :(

No, you are meant to do whatever you feel appropriate and fun for your table if you feel like letting them have access to the hidden room to rest - do so. If you feel like never letting up and making it an ongoing endurance trial that will surely kill them if they’re not careful - do so. If you feel the best answers lies somewhere in between and you want to play it by ear depending on how each encounter shakes out - do so.

Roleplaying games are not static narratives that must be played as written nor are they video games where there are only a few branching logic moments. They’re a collaborative game about making choices. The DM/GM/Storyteller has to make choices too. Pacing is one of those choices that you have to make.

Adventure design across 8 iterations of this game have consistently provided the kind of dungeon that you “resent” so much and have never provided the kind of guidance you seem to believe is required to run them. 50 years worth of players have played in those kinds of adventures and 50 years worth of GM’s have run those kinds of adventures.

James Jacobs explained his view on this years ago and the quote has already been presented to you. Michael Sayre explained his view on this directly in your previous thread.

Read your room, learn your players, figure out what will work for them and what they’ll have fun with and do that. Make the choice that works for you and them. If it turns out badly, make a different choice next time.


To go with what dirtypool is saying, there is a book out called
The Monsters Know What They're Doing that may help you with figuring out how to handle something like this as opposed letting your poor xulgaths sit around doing nothing.


I view the dungeon written up in a module as a snapshot of the moment when the party enters the dungeon. Sometimes a few paragraphs describe how the dungeon changes in response to the actions of the PCs. Most of the time, the module does not say and the changes are left to the GM.

I talked to my wife and a housemate, both players in my campaigns, and they do expect the dungeon to react to their PCs' actions. My wife said that if the party leaves, then she expects the enemy to prepare for their return. Therefore, when the party returns, the players need to change their tactics to catch the enemy off-guard. That is why I speculated on adding a hidden tunnel to the hermitage. My party would totally search for a second entrance because they would expect the front entrance to be heavily guarded (extreme threat or worse) against their return. They would stealthily rescue Harlock while most of their enemies patiently waited at the front door for an attack that never came.

On the other hand, sometimes dungeons do remain static. Undead and constructs and some elementals don't have enough free will to prepare for a return. In other times, social matters interfere. I recall an unusual case in Night of Frozen Shadows.

Night of Frozen Shadows:
Kimandatsu, leader of the Frozen Shadows ninjas, has branched out and recruited Ulfen raiders to raid caravans. The module opens with raiders attacking the caravan with which the party is traveling.
Night of Frozen Shadows, The Fury of the Northmen (CR 6) scene, page 10 wrote:
Development: If the PCs defeat the raiders, any survivors flee into the night hoping to escape into the wilderness. If the PCs take any of the raiders captive and attempt to question them, the prisoners initially refuse to talk, having sworn an oath to Kimandatsu and the Frozen Shadows. If forced to speak, a prisoner suddenly dies 1 round before he can divulge any information, a result of the blood geas placed upon him by Kimandatsu ...

That blood geas is mentioned several times. Some enemies, if defeated yet captured alive, die from the blood geas merely for failing.

At the end of the module, the party raided Ravenscraeg, the fortress of the Frozen Shadows, with Kimandatsu comfortably sitting in her underground apartment. I decided that no ninja in Ravenscraeg rushed to the back and lower levels of the fortress to warn the others and bring up reinforcements because they were scared of the blood geas. Retreating would be a sign of cowardice, leading to death by blood geas. Would retreating to warn others be treated that way? No-one wanted to test it. The party encountered room after room of people surprised that Ravenscraeg had been invaded.

And my players had fun with this. The kitsune shapeshifter Nuriko in the party disguised herself as Omoyani, one of Kimandatsu's lieutenants who had actually hired the party's ninja Ebony Blossom. (A running gag was that Ebony Blossom was a better ninja than any of the Frozen Shadows and repeatedly critiqued the Frozen Shadows to fellow party members as an embarrassment to the profession.) Nuriko as Omoyani and Ebony Blossom as herself entered Kimandatsu's apartment with Nuriko explaining, "Here is the new recruit I told you about." They caught Kimandatsu by surprise for a sneak attack with a poisoned dagger.

Also, while looking up how to spell "Kimandatsu," I spotted the following:

Night of Frozen Shadows, Ravenscraeg, page 32 wrote:
The PCs’ raid upon Ravenscraeg may take several attempts and could involve trips back to Kalsgard. Each time the PCs leave Ravenscraeg with any of the Frozen Shadows’ leaders (Kimandatsu, Goti Runecaster, Jorgan the Axe, Omoyani, or Wodes) alive, they gain 4 Notoriety Points. In addition, each day that the PCs are absent from Ravenscraeg, the surviving leaders are able to call in reinforcements from Kalsgard and the surrounding area with messenger ravens. The table below gives the rate at which reinforcements arrive. The results are cumulative (i.e., daily reinforcements continue to occur even on days when weekly reinforcements arrive, etc.) until their maximum has been reached. Once all of the leaders have been killed, these reinforcements no longer arrive.

My party took out Ravenscraeg in a single attempt.

Zapp wrote:
Mathmuse wrote:
I hate the room-by-room dungeons, too. Resting freely in the dungeon was the wrong tactic for this situation. They should have left the dungeon, properly healed and restocked, and returned the next day.

The biggest problem is that the obvious action taken by enemies is to combine forces.

That simply does not work given how PF2 works. You just can't. The only way you can fight dozens of mooks is by them being four or five levels lower than yourself.

My players can defeat dozens of worthwhile opponents, not just mooks. That party from Night of Frozen Shadows later killed 100 oni in one glorious ambush. (Amaya of Westcrown, Tide of Honor, down in the Off the Rails! section)

But I don't expect less experienced players to do so.

Zapp wrote:
Even though the heroes have taken out more than half of the enemies, the remaining corrupted hermits would still easily form an encounter that's way more than Extreme. In other games that's cool. In PF2, it's mathematical suicide.

Running away is an option. The Ironfang Invasion campaign begins with the party running away and rescuing fellow villagers from an overwhelming army of hobgoblin soldiers.

Zapp wrote:
Note how exceedingly rare it is for an AP to feature a fight with more than twice the number of heroes.

That is why I have to add them myself.

My Iron Gods party absolutely derailed The Divinity Drive and I had to write most of their encounters myself. They once were sneaking around an abandoned science lab, peeked into the next room, and saw 50 zombie androids. They whispered among themselves and decided to quietly back away so that the zombies did not notice them. Yet when the fighter's turn came, he rushed into the room and threw an EMP grenade. The zombies were armed with laser pistols, which had just been rendered inert by the grenade. I had carelessly given them a vulnerability that the fighter could exploit. The fight was an easy cleanup after that.

I have other examples. It requires skilled battlefield control, or enemies vulnerable to the damage of an area-of-effect spell and a wizard smart enough to have an AoE ready. Since I know my players, I can give them such challenges. The writer of an adventure path module does not know the players and has to avoid some scenarios.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Another thing to note is even if an encounter or Extreme or whatever due to the multiple enemies combined, that doesn’t make all enemies therein completely untouchable. You can very much whittle then down in various ways such as hit and runs tactics and the like.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / Extinction Curse / Advice on pacing: specific example (Spoilers for Extinction Curse part 1, chapter 3) All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Extinction Curse