Enemy optimization


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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So... this is either going to go absolutely nowhere or this might just be a really long thread. Recently I went diving through the forum for general tips to build enemies and a GM contributor said something to the effect that they don't bother optimizing their NPCs since there is an expectation they won't be around that long.

There are hundreds of advice threads about building PCs. Not just specific build advice, like how to build a melee druid that won't be using Wildshape, but some general stuff like good spell combos, how to maximize DPR, etc.

Some of this would work for enemies too I guess, but is the prevailing thought that we don't/shouldn't do this as GMs?

A while ago, back when we had in-person games, I optimized a corrupted wood giant enemy leader, picking the best feats for archery, maximizing his offensive gear, etc. 2 of my players lost their minds, getting so upset that this wood giant wasn't using the standard gear for their entry. Later, when I explained he was the big boss of that group of monsters and a sub-boss in the adventure they relented a little but there still seemed to be some animosity to the idea that I'd optimized him so hard.

Personally, between you and me, I'm starting to optimize all my monsters. I don't care if you're level 1 and everything is lethal at this level, if you've got a 20 point buy, I let you use the 150 GP starting gold from PFS, and because of your level of optimization you all start out with an average of 16 AC, max HPs, and combined, 4-person DPR to almost take down a CR 3 monster/round WITHOUT using any abilities/spells/resources... I don't think it's a big deal to give 4 Mites crossbows instead of darts as their ranged weapons.

Am I in the minority or do other GMs troll through PC build ideas to steal optimization tips for their monsters/encounters? If so, do you have any particularly useful upgrades you want to note?


Boss fights may get optimized a little, but I don't want to bog the game down with difficult fights. A lot of fights are just about using up resources. A little healing here or a few abilities used up there. An actual life or death fight should be fairly rare or else they stop seeming as special.

It may depend from table to table too. If you keep upping the difficulty of the enemies, then the PCs will feel forced to up their optimization too. Some people over optimize on their own, but some enjoy making characters based on a fun concept as long as they can get away with that.


Sounds like you have players like I once did. They just wanted to streamroll every encounter without any resistance or challenge. Devoted minmaxers who met every setback with optimizing harder, even if most of their failures were either bad luck or poor decisions. One of the players literally said that he wanted a game "without any consequences" even though that's not how he GM'd his own game.

It's a mismatch of their expectations with yours. Generally, you should optimize to the level of your party and no further.

Ultimately, the GM "wins" the optimization war but everyone loses in regards to fun.

Also, in trying to place CR use the monster guidelines that have been published. I love creating custom monsters, but you can potentially create something that doesn't reflect its CR.

Personally, I don't create encounters specifically to focus on PC weaknesses, but what fits the setting and story. That said, there's a lot of things the PCs assume will go in their favor that shouldn't necessarily. Hostile terrain, complicating factors, and intelligent enemies.

I try to mix the difficulty level of encounters, but I don't think that will fly with your players.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Don't build monsters the same way you would build PCs, for that way lies madness.

It is trivial for a GM to build a creature far more potent than its CR would indicate simply by applying the right templates, the right class levels and the right feats. Heck, you can do that simply by fiddling with a spellcaster's feat selection and spell selection. But there is straight up no point to doing so unless your players WANT to fight something like that.

Go back and think about what makes the game fun for your players and make that instead. Talk to them. Ask them if they want the game to be more challenging. If they do, choose more interesting and higher CR threats, rather than burying the party in an overwhelming mathematical advantage that you've concocted by optimizing your NPCs.


Resources. This is what my optimization of encounters comes down to. The average fight, where APL = CR of the monster going purely by the Bestiary listings, should use up, I don't know, 10% - 25% of the party's resources? Four CR 7 characters, encountering a corrupt wood giant (just a wood giant, but CE)/CR 6 with her trained grizzly bear/CR 4 (this is technically somewhere between a CR 7 and a CR 8 fight); my players approached and used good tactics with the Ratfolk Investigator 7 scouting ahead and (having optimized Perception on this character) spots the wood giant and bear trying to hide near the entry to the dungeon.

This fight, from what I figured, would eat up about 10% of the party's resources. The Investigator might use one of his Extracts and the druid might cast one of her spells as well as the expenditure of some healing. Here's what happened:

Round 1: having been alerted to the general area where the bear and giant were hiding the druid sent her warcat, the one she'd blown the majority of her own WBL on to give an Amulet of Mighty Fists +1 Acid, to charge and pounce the giant. The half-orc barbarian 7 also charged.

The Fighter 5/Bloodrager 1/Brawler 1 moved 30' and flung chakrams at the wood giant. The Investigator 7, who hadn't had to have left his hiding spot thanks to a Message cantrip, used his Move action to mark the giant and (having been built for ranged Studied Combat) popped up to fire a shot with his shortbow… at the giant.

Finally, while all of this was going on, the druid moved up to 40' from the bear and used Calm Animals. This ended up being the only resource used in the entire fight.

Now, based on initiatives, the giant DID get to fire her bow before the chakrams hit her, but she missed her shots against the barbarian and warcat she'd taken a 5' step away from. By the end of round 1 the giant had sustained massive damage, the grizzly bear was calmed and the PCs had used 1 spell.

Round 2: fight ends. The barbarian and Investigator finish off the giant, the druid uses Animal Empathy to urge the bear to move away from the area, into the nearby woods, and the fighter/bloodrager/brawler uses a Run action to get to the dungeon entrance, to ensure that no other sentries were alerted.

All totaled the druid used 1 level 1 spell. As a level 7 Druid with high Wis, she has 5 of these, but overall she's got another 4 2nd level, 3 3rd and 1 4th level spell as well, so looking just at her character that's only 1/13th or roughly around 9% of her spell resources. Considering no one else in the party used ANY resources, I figured this expenditure (plus one use of a Wand of Message) as approximately 3% resource expense.

Three percent. This fight should've eaten up 10. They could've fought that same fight 2 more times and STILL not used up a full 10%.

So resource use is important, it is the reason I design fights. Between optimized characters, experienced players, good group tactics, and fairly average rolls on both sides of the screens, generic monsters as written in the Bestiaries just don't drain the kinds of resources I'm expecting. I put the characters against one big brute; they hang back from it's full attacks until they absolutely can't anymore. I put them against multiple small monsters; they divide and conquer unless I dump overwhelming numbers.

THIS is why I have begun optimizing. 2 of my 3 groups play this kind of way. They are almost never without the resources to "nova" on a boss fight because the smaller skirmishes leading up to it don't drain enough off. I don't think it's unreasonable in this instance to let the wood giants USE some of the consumable treasure they're guarding, or have monsters use better armor/weapons than they're written with, or swap out Iron Will for Improved Initiative. At some point fights have got to start being as impactful as they're meant to be, not just road bumps with treasure.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

An APL=CR fight doesn't necessarily eat resources in my experience. Especially for parties that aren't heavy on resource expenditure to start with (ie, ones with lots of martials). Nor does it have to. Plus, I wouldn't sweat the precise amounts of resource expenditure. Expending more resources doesn't make the adventure more fun for anyone.

To me, that fight sounds like a great average engagement for your party. They used tactics to get an upper hand. Everyone got to do their cool thing (Scout got to scout, Druid got to show their animal mastery, Fighter got to show off their combat style, and Barb got their big and meaty blows in). They beat a low CR guard with aplomb. Cool!


It really depends on how much effort you want to spend on which aspects of your game. An optimized character should count as a higher challenge than a non-optimized one. This works in both directions, if everyone is super optimized the easiest way to balance encounters is to just treat the party as being a higher level. They should be capable of handling the increased difficulty.

Alternatively, if a monster has been optimized it is no longer a CR equivalent to its non-optimized brethren and should be treated as such.

In the end the resulting encounter should be set at a level that is an appropriate challenge for the group. CR isn't something for the DM to beat by optimizing the monsters. It should be a guideline and something the DM is free to play with. Also, you should respect both your players and yourself. If optimizing a CR 3 monster makes it the equivalent of a CR 6 be cognizant of that. If you would never throw a CR 6 monster at the group then the optimized CR 3 should similarly be off limits.

As for players complaining. To start with, did the characters make knowledge checks to know what they were fighting?

If not then the players have no room to complain. If they did then they have a valid point as you gave them wrong information based on their checks. If players make appropriate knowledge checks against something you've altered it's fair to allow that check to give a heads up that "this one is different from normal" and to give some clues as to how they are different.

Personally, I spend time making a handful of custom monsters for each campaign I run. Often as re-occurring creatures that are tied to the main plot of the campaign. For everything else for the most part I use monsters straight out of whatever book I'm using. The only change I'll make is I have a tendency to max out their HP if they seem to be dropping too quickly. If I need a creature to fill a role of a particular CR I will grab something from the book that is already that CR. Instead buffing the snot out of something that is a lower CR. It's less effort for me during prep and as long as I pick something that's appropriate it yields much the same result.

I think why you don't see optimization guides for DMs is because it's often a pointless exercise. A PC has limited resources and so optimizing what you have makes sense. A DM however has unlimited resources. It doesn't matter if something is inefficient because you can always just throw more of whatever is needed to compensate. Are the monsters having trouble hitting? Then just give them a static bonus to hit. Dying too fast? give them resistances, DR, SR, more HP or even all of the above. For most players what matters is that things "feel" right. If they complain that the goblins you're using have 20 strengths and are 15 feet tall then make them yellow and call them Nil'bogs. It's amazing how unrecognizable some creatures become with an alias and a makeover. Especially if you've made them non-standard in some way.


This is more related to your question than answering it.

In my experience, unless the GM has lots of time or practically knows the game by heart, their time is better put into reading what the monsters can do and thinking about it a bit before the encounter.

Even unintelligent creatures will know how to make proper use of their natural attacks and capabilities. A crocodile is an ambush predator, have it act like one rather than waddle up to the party.

I have often run more powerful and complex enemies poorly, realising later that I had not made proper use of their capabilities, resulting in an encounter easier than it should have been. Others do it too.


For enemy optimization, I turn to the wonderful world of gestalt.

Yeah sure, it's just an enemy NPC and it will most likely die in a few rounds anyway. But, honestly, I enjoy creating characters and making gestalt combinations opens up almost endless possibilities for what they can do. Hopefully I can make something strong enough to survive a few rounds, and interesting enough to be remembered.

I like combining racial archetypes to create the "quintessential" version of that race. I don't even care what classes get put together, and I will figure out what the character is supposed to do once I start combining it all on paper. Now if I want a specific enemy to be a specific race, I have builds ready and waiting.

I gestalt monsters, too, if the need arises... I combined a Lesser Jabberwock with a Wyrm Black Dragon, just as an example.

I also like to gestalt 5-10 levels and then drop into prestige classes for enemy NPC's. Prestige classes are weak-sauce, so it makes the gestalt weaker, and I don't feel bad throwing them at the party.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
Some of this would work for enemies too I guess, but is the prevailing thought that we don't/shouldn't do this as GMs?

I custom-make 9 out of 10 monsters for my games, but the result is always geared towards making a challenging, interesting encounter that is also easy for me to run. I've got a world to keep track of; I don't need combats with umpteen different special rules in play. A (small) handful each time is enough.

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
...A while ago, back when we had in-person games...2 of my players lost their minds, getting so upset...they relented a little but there still seemed to be some animosity to the idea that I'd optimized him so hard.

I am sorry you had to put up with that. An encounter that ended in round 2 with next to no challenge, and they still whinge about it? Lame. So lame.

Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
...Am I in the minority or do other GMs troll through PC build ideas to steal optimization tips for their monsters/encounters? If so, do you have any particularly useful upgrades you want to note?

The Angry GM's articles on encounter building are invaluable. A few brief points he made and that I've drawn after reading them:

-one big monster is basically always boring. Make it multiples whenever possible.

-terrain and other features are vital. The forest underbrush, fog, peat bogs, dungeon sentinels and more  could have boosted the difficulty of your encounter substantially, as well as given it layers and made it more dynamic.

-figure out a typical party's ideal performance--like, front-liner engages, skirmisher flanks, archer and mage fire from the back--and defeat that plan. Make the typical party fall back on Plan B. It'll make for a real struggle and interesting encounter.
Just don't foil Plan B, and don't foil your specific party, just the metaphorical "typical" one's.
-this is probably the single most important piece of the "What Makes A Good Encounter" puzzle.

-CR is a load of trash. It was shaky in 3rd and absolute garbage in Pathfinder. Some of those numbers are distressingly inaccurate.
I look at hit points and AC on both sides and figure out how much hurt they can lay down on each other in one round and the DC's for special abilities or CMB/D and stuff like that.
   -with that in mind, I throw most xp stuff out the window. I'll figure out how fast I want them to level, how difficult the encounter ACTUALLY is and award xp from there. If I think two grizzly bears is a "normal" encounter for my four lvl3 characters and I want 7 such normal encounters to net a level gain, then that's what it is, and bullocks to CR.

Melkiador wrote:
An actual life or death fight should be fairly rare or else they stop seeming as special...

It's a fight. Every fight is pretty much life or death.

Now, not every single encounter needs to result in combat, and not every combat needs to be against some horribly dangerous foe, but if my player's aren't sweating and scared at least most of the time, I'm not doing my job.
Cellion wrote:
Go back and think about what makes the game fun for your players and make that instead. Talk to them. Ask them if they want the game to be more challenging...

I would say, go back and think about what makes the game fun for YOU. It's your game. Your work that goes into it. It has to be fun for you. HAS to. If it's not, tell your players what you need. If they don't want that, then game over.


Quixote wrote:
It's a fight. Every fight is pretty much life or death.

In the real world, sure. But Pathfinder is built as heroic fantasy. The system assumes that most fights end with the PCs alive. Death is usually the result of extreme bad luck or the rare boss fight, like a dragon.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
VoodistMonk wrote:
For enemy optimization, I turn to the wonderful world of gestalt.

Meh. Information denial is the greatest factor in challenge. Make the party waste actions and resources on the wrong thing. The monsters will still die when the party finally zeroes in, but you won't have to worry about trying to overcome the PCs defenses to get things to stick.


I find optimizing NPCs not worth it, for two reasons: They are still likely to die fast and you could just pick average NPCs with a higher CR. Of course, higher CR means faster leveling. I see two options here: You accept less encounters per level ("they earned it") or you openly announce using the slow XP track. The latter isn't that slow actually: It's only 50% more XP needed, which roughly equals +1 CR for every encounter.


Wait. People still seriously use CR/XP and the slow/medium/fast progression nonsense?

Wow. I thought everyone ditched using that entire system as soon as they left the beginner's box.

@TriOmegaZero, what do you mean by "information denial"? If they make the Knowledge checks/ask the right questions, I tend to tell/answer. I don't lie or hide information from the players if they have the means to get said information. That being said, I don't say what class(es) or archetype(s) an enemy is even with a Knowledge check. I may say that they have a class ability that adds to accuracy or damage or whatever, but the class itself seldom gets mentioned... not that saying the class is going to give anything away, it's just irrelevant compared to what the exact ability in question is or does.


I used to optimize all my baddies, but then I also gave my PCs a bunch of extra stuff so that it all kind of balanced out.

I don't optimize nearly as much as I used to, I still toss Toughness and Alertness for more relevant feat choices, but I'm no longer scouring the books for that one perfect feat. I've been playing 3rd thru Pathfinder since it's inception, so I've got a pretty good handle on the systems, so now I rarely even build NPCs by the rules, instead focusing on what they need to be an interesting and fun challenge for the players. If that means that the meat head barbarian needs to also cast fireballs, so be it, that's what Krog the Burning Blood will do.


VoodistMonk wrote:

Wait. People still seriously use CR/XP and the slow/medium/fast progression nonsense?

Wow. I thought everyone ditched using that entire system as soon as they left the beginner's box.

nah, sometimes its fun to "old school" it. I also like to occasionally like to pull out the graph paper for a dungeon crawl straight out of some 1st edition shish.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
VoodistMonk wrote:
@TriOmegaZero, what do you mean by "information denial"? If they make the Knowledge checks/ask the right questions, I tend to tell/answer.

But you have absolute freedom over what the answer is. Answer truthfully with the most commonly known things, but the things they don't learn will still make it difficult. Add in that there are things they can't know that will trip them up and force them to waste resources.

The classic example being the kobold taunting the barbarian into charging into the pit trap right in front of him.

Massive damage is the answer to a lot of problems, but there are plenty of problems that make that less tenable. If you fail to learn what to do, you spend a lot of time guessing and wasting resources.


Melkiador wrote:
In the real world, sure. But Pathfinder is built as heroic fantasy.

Did Paizo ever openly declare a specific sub-genre, theme or tone for Pathfinder? I didn't think so. There's a lot of variation and flexibility there.

In every quality work of fiction I've ever consumer, there are no "easy" conflicts.
I guess, I can see that certain stories might include a few "three lvl5 characters fight a dozen goblins", but I'm more in the "three lvl5 characters fight a dozen dire wolves" camp.
VoodistMonk wrote:

Wait. People still seriously use CR/XP and the slow/medium/fast progression nonsense?

Wow. I thought everyone ditched using that entire system as soon as they left the beginner's box.

You know, I ditched it, and then I brought it back. XP is a reward for overcoming challenges. Players who make better, smarter decisions will be able to more effectively overcome challenges. To disregard that and just hand out levels when it "feels right" is to devalue the relationship between player choice and consequence, which is the whole deal of ttrpg's.

Granted, the whole xp system in Pathfinder is just...bonkers. I still hand it out, based on how quickly I want characters to advance and how difficult the challenge was, but yes. I still hand it out. It's a reward they've earned like treasure and magic and information. I wouldn't withhold any of those other things, so I won't do so with this one.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

Make sure to award XP for overcoming challenges and not just killing enemies. A combat avoided is even more effective than killing everything in the first round.

Sovereign Court

Players complaining about the monsters not being standard rulebook entries are players that are 'cheating' by meta-gaming. Especially if they didn't roll any knowledge checks, since knowledge checks will get you the 'new' info anyway.

When I was GMing(and playing) PFS a bit more often with a regular crew, at high levels we often agreed to increase the difficulty. By which we would add more monsters, add (advanced) templates, combine encounters, etc. This also led to one of my favorite moments when a (projected image) of a Graveknight Marilith almost oneshot the barbarian/rogue with a Telekinesis on a rack of Large sized Longswords. Probably because I decided that Channel Destruction applied to each of the swords in the rack since they were 'wielded' with TK. All because the barb/rogue was dismissing the Marilith as 'just an illusion'. After that volley I made a very obvious 'crossing off' of one of the 4 racks of longswords in the room. Needless to say, that got their attention.

Shadow Lodge

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TOZ wrote:
...

I couldn't have said it more eloquently myself.


I just skimmed this, but there are 2 things I think that shouod make you think before optimising a lot.

1. It makes a lot more work for the GM ... a LOT.

2. Optimising NPCs/Monsters changes their CR. I don't think Crossbows instead of Darts would do much, but more gear and/or more optimised feats/etc could raise the CR by 1 or 2.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Putting any work into creatures that exist for 2 rounds is pointless.


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VoodistMonk wrote:
Wait. People still seriously use CR/XP and the slow/medium/fast progression nonsense?

Sure, it worked fine for 19 levels and is still stable. It:

a) gives the players a steady flow of levels, at reasonable speed (every 4, 5 sessions)
b) rewards everything they do, even if it's a spontaneous side quest or two extra minions
c) compensates higher difficulty with more rewards

I see how it could break apart when players optimize too much, but that's rather an issue with the ceiling of PC power, not with the CR system.


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MrCharisma wrote:


2. Optimising NPCs/Monsters changes their CR. I don't think Crossbows instead of Darts would do much, but more gear and/or more optimised feats/etc could raise the CR by 1 or 2.

This. Tinkering around and optimizing the monster by tweaking it's gear or changing it's feats around will usually bork the monster creation guideline(Which is a solid rule of thumb).

Better ways to challenge your players would be adding more variety to the encounter like TOZ mentioned with the Pit Trap. Advantageous terrain, summons, magic, or an actual battle plan aside from "Attack the good guys!" A couple extra minions who ready an action to interrupt spellcasting can really throw a wrench in a party's plan. Using the wealth the creature's have to pick up tactical magic consumables like Beads of Force(My favorite).


I agree that some optimization will indeed change the CR of the monsters. That being said, CR, which I agree with several posters is not a perfect system already, was loosely based on a "standard" party of 4 PCs back when 3.5 and Pathfinder were still young. For PF, this means a 15 point buy, CRB Feats, no Traits, and strict adherence to WBL.

Do the PCs in current games follow this "standard" template? If the optimization of the PCs and their enhanced starting stat arrays elevate them from the "standard" party to begin with, and further optimization by level in terms of Feats, Traits, gear, etc. continues this trend can you honestly say that stock standard monsters are still the "challenge rating" they were meant to be.

I do get though that optimizing a monster is likely an act in futility. I've run games and been the default GM, DM, Judge etc in nearly every game system I've played for the past 30 years. I understand the basic maxim: the heroes are SUPPOSED to beat the bad guys.

The fun for me, in running games, is presenting clever moments that make my players think and grapple with their decisions in the social, roleplaying aspects of games, and then also to put combats in play that are a genuine struggle for the characters to overcome. I also really like when the players are having fun. To that point I'm not above adding stuff from their PCs' backstories to the RP parts of the game, pulling in elements of the players' own likes (referencing their fave TV or Movies, comics etc), and so on.

When it comes to making fights and making them fun, every once in a while (I'd say about 1 in every 6-8 combats) I purposely throw out a softball encounter. If the PCs are level 1, I put 2 lone kobolds with no traps in front of a door; if the PCs are level 8 I send a quartet of non-optimized gnolls charging at them from the tree line to the beach. Every once in a while its fun to remind the players how far their characters have come, the kind of superheroes they've turned into.

But when EVERY fight that isn't a "set piece" or a "boss fight" becomes such a throwaway/"gimmie" type of encounter...

Also, many in this thread and others have advised: use terrain and environment. Two things - an environment that hinders the PCs but not their foes adds to CR, and these effects are only as useful as the actual thread they pose.

At low levels certainly, I do this often. Dungeons with no ambient light and craggy walls or debris for cover; dark, tangled forests; thick fog rolling across the moors by night. This also works excellently with my less-experienced players in one of my games since they have worked out how to optimize DPR and defenses, but not movement and action types.

With a group of veteran players who begin every new adventure like a military mission with detailed recon and intelligence gathering, following this up with sweeping "room" by "room", clearing threats, and managing resources well throughout, these kinds of environmental threats are not much of a threat at all.

Take Difficult Terrain and shutting down charging lanes. My players will see this ahead of time during recon, and yes, I will end up forcing them to spend some of their precious resources using either one of the Brawler's Martial Flexibility uses or a Druid spell, but more often than not these PCs have a Feat, Spell, Class Ability, or permanent Magic Item that gets them a Climb or Fly speed, delivers enhanced movement to the Barbarian, teleports a couple people across the area, etc.

While I do want to grind resources, environmental effects are easily mitigated.

Then there's the enhancement to CR. Just by throwing specific squares of Difficult Terrain to try and force the PCs to move a certain way, Difficult Terrain that is spotted and mitigated by some resource use, I've just added +1 to the CR of the fight. And yeah V to the M, I still use CR (as a baseline) and XP for advancement.

Now Tri Tips upthread made the point: add a trap hidden in the battlefield that the monsters lure the PCs into. This is a tactic I'm still figuring out how to use well and has mixed results, but I'll stand by this one. Yes, this ALSO adds to the CR but if the recon of the PCs before entering the encounter area didn't reveal the trap ahead of time it can be helpful to have an "Acid Spitter" (CR 1/2 Acid Splash trap) go off and weaken the charging paladin 2 before he collides with the gnoll on the far side of the hall.

TL/DR; some things add to the CR of the fight but have mixed results or are easily mitigated.

This brings me back to monster optimization. If I'm going to go through the trouble of making an area foggy, picking monsters unaffected by the fog, and re-reading all the environmental rules around Fog... why not just pick monsters that I optimize with 3 levels of Sorcerer so that they can cast Pyrotechnics... which is a difficult fog effect?

I mean, adding traps, environmental effects, Haunts, etc increase the threat and give me additional things to remember to manage mid-combat. Its the same with optimized monsters no?

Over the years I've reskinned, geared up, optimized and templated monsters. From the reactions of some of my players, it was like I'd poured salt in their cereal. Regardless, I wanted to see if others do the same with their monsters and what tips, if any, folks had in that regard.

Thanks for all your comments so far. If anyone has more to say, let me know.


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Gorbacz wrote:
Putting any work into creatures that exist for 2 rounds is pointless.

Challenge accepted!


I spent the last two days piecing together an Oracle/UnRogue combination to make a "quintessential Tengu" that will probably never see the table. I don't consider it to be time wasted, nor do I consider work to have been pointless. If I ever want or need a Tengu NPC, or an Oracle with Sneak Attack and Ki, I have one ready.

Chances are that I am going to dream up, and write down, random combinations and characters anyways. Might as well use them as enemy NPC's, because literally why not? As mentioned, the original Challenge Rating system is barely a challenge to today's players, so I don't feel bad pumping up the difficulty.

Did the AP give the enemy its own name? Gestalt.

Is it the boss at the end of the dungeon? Gestalt.

Do I want this random Magus to have Opportune Parry and Riposte? Gestalt.

Does it increase the difficulty with total disregard for the estimated Challenge Rating system? Absolutely, yes. And for good reason. Enemy NPC's will always be under-equipped, because you can't give the party that much loot... class abilities aren't laying around after the fight. So you make the enemies rich in abilities even if they are stuck with crappy gear. And don't feel bad about it.


I'm honestly surprised that most people in this thread say that modified monsters and enemies are frowned upon at their tables.

I mean, don't people want to have interesting fights? Even if your players want a pure power-gaming experience, then if anything that should mean they would appreciate it more?

If you really enjoy the mechanics of the system and handcrafting your builds, then isn't it something that just adds to the fun?

There's so many gimmick builds in this system that are fun in theory, but not exactly something you'd want to spend an entire campaign doing.

Using weird gimmick builds for enemies is perfect for this sort of thing. It's one of my favourite parts of being a DM, although it can get labor intensive if it's really weird NPC that can't created from an existing bestiary entry.


There's a reason my gm makes basically everything we fight PC raced and with enough consumeables used to have PC level benchmarks when they engage us.


CopperWyrm wrote:

I'm honestly surprised that most people in this thread say that modified monsters and enemies are frowned upon at their tables.

I mean, don't people want to have interesting fights? Even if your players want a pure power-gaming experience, then if anything that should mean they would appreciate it more?

If you really enjoy the mechanics of the system and handcrafting your builds, then isn't it something that just adds to the fun?

There's so many gimmick builds in this system that are fun in theory, but not exactly something you'd want to spend an entire campaign doing.

Using weird gimmick builds for enemies is perfect for this sort of thing. It's one of my favourite parts of being a DM, although it can get labor intensive if it's really weird NPC that can't created from an existing bestiary entry.

I agree

Main villains are always optimized for us, and we gain knowledge of them by the tales of their fights and what they are and are not doing. Monsters in general well we have different versions in different areas. You might have knowledge of the jungle orcs you have been fighting but the snow orcs are completely different in armor, weapon choices, and skills.

Resources, people are either good at controlling them or they are not. They are also to a point very controllable to the GM, you are the one providing them.

XP well mostly it is based formula to keep it low if you don't want to play a reward system. I personally like to base it on how hard was the encounter, and how much did they improvise and come up with a solution. If they can just run up to the enemy with no plan and wipe them out in a round or two there is not allot of XP in that.

GMs can also kill a game pretty quickly too. We had one where the GM had created a room at the base of a stair well full of monsters we did not want to fight. The scout noticed that the door behind them was cell type door, and he could see the hall way extend beyond that. Comparing it to the mappers records we found the hall went under another hall. We back tracked to the hall and removed the floor stones to go into the lower hall and by pass the room trap. Pissing off the GM he decided that the floor now had a barrier over the hole and we could not do that. Mostly because he had spent vasts amount of time designing a trap room that we found a way to bypass. we all quit making plans and just walked forward without caring after that. If a member died we did not try to bring him back, basically it was the party decided to commit suicide. Still pissed at the next session the GM asked us why we decided to do that. We told him what was the point if we get cleaver and beat a trap it is denied us so we quit caring the soon this is over the better.

So it more about keeping it fun for all, and if optimization is the only way for you to do then do it. Knowledge checks are just general knowledge anyways, otherwise the villains can knowledge check the characters and know all their weaknesses.


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Villains CAN do Knowledge checks about the characters...


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Challenge Rating gets a bad rap. It's very good at what it does. Setting a baseline for your average party's ability to fight certain monsters at certain levels. It's mostly predicated on the 15 pb/standard(Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard) party/normal WBL. If Mark's group is blowing through encounters, then they likely are performing above in some of these. The "standard" party is highly inefficient and not many people play on 15 pb(Which mostly means your martials suck).

Even so, if your party isn't great at optimizing(Either tactically or in character creation) chances are normal APL is fine. If they are, then just up the APL until they are challenged. It shouldn't take more than 4-5 encounters to get a feel for how strong your party is and it's better to start soft rather than hard.

Quixote wrote:


In every quality work of fiction I've ever consumer, there are no "easy" conflicts.
I guess, I can see that certain stories might include a few "three lvl5 characters fight a dozen goblins", but I'm more in the "three lvl5 characters fight a dozen dire wolves" camp.

Strange, I've seen a LOT of fiction where there are easy conflicts. Typically, they're used to show how far they have come since the start of their journey or a well executed plan. I'm a big fan of high fantasy books rather than gritty fantasy but I don't mind the latter either. Also my goblin bias is showing, but goblins are 100x deadlier than wolves.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

I absolutely use the NPC's skill checks to determine what they can do. That includes Spellcraft to identify what is being cast, Knowledge Arcana to recognize spells in place, and racial traits.

Shadow Lodge

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I no longer use player classes to build npcs. Classes are designed for players. They are designed to be complex and interesting enough for one person to control one character. Monsters are designed differently, they are simpler so to be manageable for the GM. Also class builds don't line up anywhere close to monster CRs. They will have way too high AC, but too low hp, save DCs all over, etc. Instead I build npcs as monsters, using the monster creation guidelines from the bestiary. I also keep notes of my players' stats (attack modifiers, damage, AC, saves, DCs, etc) and use those numbers to help balance encounters around as well. And yeah, it's as much work as it sounds.

That said, I am one of those GMs who is lucky enough to have plenty of free time, knows the game by heart, and I write and run all my own content.

In my experience most people have trouble with game balance and making pf1 challenging. The base game was designed around 15 point buy and 4 players. So if you deviate from that, you should not be surprised when the CR system breaks down and challenges are all too easy. The thing is I don't know anyone who plays it this way. Everyone uses 20 or even 25 point buy, and there's usually more than 4 players at a table. I assume most people adjust the encounters when they run published scenarios.

Side note, I use xp for my home games. I don't recommend using it for any published campaigns however. In a pre-written game, it only makes sense to level at the time the module assumes you level, because that's what it's written for. For my style of home game however, everything is in flux. Player choices shape what happens. I have no pre-written benchmarks for when levels should occur. In this case, I find tracking experience to be the best way to handle leveling.


VoodistMonk wrote:
Villains CAN do Knowledge checks about the characters...

No they can't

I am not talking about in combat and casting spells as that is a mechanic that works both ways.

When you knowledge check a troll you get base AC, a range in HP, they are fast, they have these types of attacks and defenses. You basically get a large amount of information.

You knowledge check a character you get he is dressed in plate armor carrying a metal shield and long sword. If the items glow, and not all do, you can guess magic. Not much information there.

Now they can research their enemies and find family, hear the stories to get an Idea of your tactics, protections, weapons and magic. Can send minions to attack you in various ways to test what spell and protections you use and favor. They do not get direct knowledge from a roll. On the flip side we get the same limitations on the villeins except we don't send the minions to test them. Followers should not be used for this task either, but we have hired mercenaries once to test a group.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
GotAFarmYet? wrote:
VoodistMonk wrote:
Villains CAN do Knowledge checks about the characters...
No they can't

Yes they can. I always check if the enemy has knowledge planes to know charm/dominate person won't work on aasimar PCs.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
GotAFarmYet? wrote:
VoodistMonk wrote:
Villains CAN do Knowledge checks about the characters...
No they can't
Yes they can. I always check if the enemy has knowledge planes to know charm/dominate person won't work on aasimar PCs.

Sigh...

If he is covered in metal how can do determine the race, except by size and guess, you would not get any information. Once again if you researched the enemies or tested them you would already know that.

Any villain that waits to until they are entering combat with your group to discover information about them is a stupid villain. He should have stayed in school until he finish villainy 101.

Sovereign Court

GotAFarmYet? wrote:

Sigh...

If he is covered in metal how can do determine the race, except by size and guess, you would not get any information.

Mannerisms, posture, balance, shoulder width, how they breathe, scent, how comfortable are they in the armor, just to name a few...

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
GotAFarmYet? wrote:

Sigh...

If he is covered in metal how can do determine the race, except by size and guess, you would not get any information. Once again if you researched the enemies or tested them you would already know that.

If they are elemental races like ifrit or sylphs, the air currents or fire glow would be give away.

Do you give the party this much guff in identifying graveknights?


GotAFarmYet? wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
GotAFarmYet? wrote:
VoodistMonk wrote:
Villains CAN do Knowledge checks about the characters...
No they can't
Yes they can. I always check if the enemy has knowledge planes to know charm/dominate person won't work on aasimar PCs.

Sigh...

If he is covered in metal how can do determine the race, except by size and guess, you would not get any information. Once again if you researched the enemies or tested them you would already know that.

Any villain that waits to until they are entering combat with your group to discover information about them is a stupid villain. He should have stayed in school until he finish villainy 101.

Knowledge Local works for gathering rumors of the PC party or the bad guy could always Gather Information about them.


Speaking of general optimization for NPC's, and their ability to gather information about the party...

I generally trade out Trapfinding for Follow Up on my NPC Rogues, SPECIFICALLY so they are better at gathering information. It's the only thing that the Investigator archetype trades away, so it stacks with a surprising amount of other archetypes. Anyways, I don't have to do that at all... I can just GIVE the information to the NPC's. And I do, to an extent. I don't go through all the behind the scenes rolls for the rogues gathering information. But I did purposefully give them the tools to believably acquire the information.

Providing the enemies with fun and/or useful abilities makes the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. It isn't always the same old Orc... now some of the Orcs are terrifying and magical because I combined their racial Fighter archetype with their racial Witch archetype to make full BAB witches that fight with dirty tricks. It's not all of them, but a large enough percentage to change the entire outlook on Orcs for the party.


Once again you guys are arguing research ahead of time, as I stated is where the info came from. Once combat starts the amount of information is very limited.

The party is passing through the area, they always keep information control about themselves to a minimum, and we do. We stumble across the culprits minions and kill them. All the leader knows is they died at first but a new party is in town. Now he can ignore us but that will not do with a villain. He will send out his goons and use his contacts to get information basically research the new party. It takes time and is not a quick roll and I know all about you now. He then uses minions to test the information that they are getting, bar fights what ever it takes. Seeing us in a bar actually will give him information about race, a bribe to the inn keeper, he he pays more than us, to get more about race etc.

You guys have left the realm of RP and just went to lets roll and get instant gratification.

As for the grave knight well lets see we heard the local rumors, talked to the locals and anyone who had information. Discuss the information and determine that what we are going to be fighting is a grave knight or a list of other things make sure we can identify this things and go for it. with a plan to retreat if needed. Sure it will take a roll once we start, but once again it was about prepping in advance. Walking right right up and making a roll and going oh grave knight do this, just is bad game playing.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
GotAFarmYet? wrote:
Once again you guys are arguing research ahead of time, as I stated is where the info came from. Once combat starts the amount of information is very limited.

Does that apply to the PCs as well? They can't make knowledge checks to recognize enemy abilities when combat starts?


VoodistMonk wrote:

Speaking of general optimization for NPC's, and their ability to gather information about the party...

I generally trade out Trapfinding for Follow Up on my NPC Rogues, SPECIFICALLY so they are better at gathering information. It's the only thing that the Investigator archetype trades away, so it stacks with a surprising amount of other archetypes. Anyways, I don't have to do that at all... I can just GIVE the information to the NPC's. And I do, to an extent. I don't go through all the behind the scenes rolls for the rogues gathering information. But I did purposefully give them the tools to believably acquire the information.

Providing the enemies with fun and/or useful abilities makes the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. It isn't always the same old Orc... now some of the Orcs are terrifying and magical because I combined their racial Fighter archetype with their racial Witch archetype to make full BAB witches that fight with dirty tricks. It's not all of them, but a large enough percentage to change the entire outlook on Orcs for the party.

And I agree with you there

If the party is moving quickly the locals will not have the time to be prepared. That is why the whole roll and we have the info doesn't work for either side. General knowledge of monsters and creatures once recognized is one thing, but remembering all the details while it is attacking is quite different.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
GotAFarmYet? wrote:
Once again you guys are arguing research ahead of time, as I stated is where the info came from. Once combat starts the amount of information is very limited.
Does that apply to the PCs as well? They can't make knowledge checks to recognize enemy abilities when combat starts?

Yes,

But it takes time depending on how much you beat the roll by will also provide more info. If you have battled its type before you get a bonus.

So basically if you have never seen it before and barged right in and made a roll you would get some knowledge unless the creature is very unique. As you fight and gain more info the what it could be narrows until you know what it is. At that point you know how to handle it or if you can handle it. Always have a path of retreat.

Liberty's Edge

I have found, if the group optimizes and you want slightly harder encounters. the best idea is to add +1 the APL for every two Optimized players.

As for Boss fights, The BBEG should be optimized. Life Or Death final battles are awesome. But as said before, Mini-bosses shouldn't be. They should be scary but not optimized.

Learned that lesson when I did a Evil Wererat Cleric[Champion] of Calistria/Oracle of Bones with the trickery Domain and her AOE Negative Energy Bleed Burst. The group honestly thought with how powerful she was, that she was the BBEG, once they found out she wasn't and that she was answering to someone else, the entire group wanted to go work for the BBEG out of fear to an Unknown.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

I give the creature name and type on the first success. Information for beating the DC comes from most common to less common as successes pile up. None of this has anything to do with research ahead of time.


Giving the enemy, any enemy, ALL the enemies their Knowledge checks is pretty easy. If they have an applicable Knowledge skill, why wouldn't they use it before a fight?

Does the enemy have the right skill to identify the Aasimar? Yes? Cool, maybe they use fire instead of acid.

Can the enemy identify the high level Alchemist in the party? Yes? Cool, maybe avoid attacking that character with Sneak Attack on the high probability that the Alchemist has Preserve Organs.

Is that an Elf? Don't try use your Slumber Hex on that one.

Did that fighter just use Cleave? Don't stand next to each other everyone.

All of this is useful information that can be obtained on the spot with the proper Knowledge check by the enemy. The real question is, why would you NOT do this for the enemies if they have the applicable skills?

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