House rules to make PF2 less deadly for PCs?


Homebrew and House Rules


Hi all. A problem I've been having in my group is that I think the fun of PF2 is being affected by how deadly the system is, especially past the early levels. Basically, PF2 seems to be a high damage/high healing system. But an interrelated problem is that tougher enemies get TOO MANY critical hits (just had a battle in an adventure path where the monster's crit range was something like 13-20). and too quickly put PCs unconscious. And then the wounded/dying rules make it so that a PC is at death's door if they get revived from unconsciousness twice, because one of those critical hits would put them at dying 4 (going unconscious from a crit adds two to the dying value). That limitation on reviving PCs kind of undermines the whole high damage/high healing design. I don't know if I've adequately explained the problem, but here are some possible house rules to make it so that every tough battle isn't just PCs constantly getting knocked unconscious and then revived and then facing death:

(1) Critical hits only add one die to the damage and only do double damage on a 20.  A main source of the bloodiness seems that more powerful monsters have high to hits and just get way too many critical hits. It detracts from the spirit of the critical hit when they are constantly happening. This house rule would restore the magic of the 20. Of course, PCs will be affected as well, but I think the monsters have been getting more crits.

(2) Death is not keyed to the wounded condition, but instead the wounded condition gives -2 to rolls for every 1 wounded (or -1, but that might seem too modest). I would also want to think of some condition where death would actually result -- although I don't think the negative of constitution score from PF1 is a better option...

(3) In theory, hero points should help with dying in PF2 RAW, but in my experience a PC would need to be able to do it more than once in a combat and RAW does not allow it (because they need to use all remaining HP to avoid dying). An alternative to #2 might be to say the PCs start every session with 3 HP and that a critical hit does NOT add two to the dying condition and that only one HP needs to be spent to avoid dying.  But in that event, PCs would basically just save HPs for avoiding dying, and I'm not sure it would be very interesting. (Note that I find it is awkward and artificial to try to make sure I am awarding one HP per hour to each PC, so I don't love reliance on HPs.)

Your thoughts? Other suggestions? Does anyone else perceive a systemic problem here? I love PF2 (the 3 action mechanic, the character versatility) but I do think this aspect is affecting the fun at my table...

Shadow Lodge

Was the encounter in question the

Age of Ashes Spoiler:
Kite Hill fight against the Gelugon (Ice Devil)?
If so, that fight is supposed to be really brutal (it's a Level+3 'Severe- or extreme-threat boss' fight).

Once a PC goes down, getting them back up again is always a risk to them: If nothing else, melee characters are very likely to provoke opportunity attacks by standing, picking up the weapon they dropped, or even drawing a new weapon. Generally speaking, as the PC who often goes down first (halfling thief) I prefer to just stabilize and have the remaining PCs finish the fight.

Grand Lodge

Voomer wrote:
...every tough battle isn't just PCs constantly getting knocked unconscious and then revived and then facing death

Every battle shouldn't be tough, but those that are should probably see PCs getting dropped during the course otherwise they wouldn't be tough.

#1 Get better armor. Armor class should keep up relatively well with attack rolls except for the fact that weapon proficiency increases faster than armor proficiency. Though that should only account for 2 points of difference, in most cases. Generally challenges vs multiple enemies should have roughly equal chances to crit the PCs as vice versa. When fighting vs a solo enemy, their better attacks should make up for the PC's superior action economy.

#2 Don't stand toe-to-toe against superior enemies. Make them move around to attack you to reduce their number of attacks for striking. This takes advantage of the PC's superior action economy.

#3 Use recall knowledge to discover resistances and weaknesses so you can maximize your DPR

#4 Accumulate protective buffs. Potions/elixirs/talismans/etc that boost AC/saves or provide resistance vs damage

#5 Get more healing. Generally speaking 2E is supposed to be built such that you can get by without a dedicated healer, but that is very dependent on the rest of the PC builds and what campaign you are playing in. However, some groups really do need a healer and one that is focused on the task, like a cloistered cleric, can provide massive amounts of healing

#6 Player count. Do you have the number of players the adventure is written for? Most (but not all) Paizo published adventures are designed for four players with a roughly evenly balanced party: martial (barbarian/fighter), magic (wizard/sorcerer), healer (cleric), support (bard/rogue). Of course other builds can fill multiple/substitute roles. If you find something significant is missing, maybe take an archetype or maybe you consider replacing one of the existing PCs with one better suited to bring the group together.

Remember, the rules were extensively playtested before launch. Yes, generally speaking 2E is a bit more deadly than 1E was, but some of that comes from the power-curve of 1E and fewer options available for 2E. There are always exceptions, but generally 2E is not unfairly difficult, though like anything if you find the rules are not quite working for your group, certainly house rules can help with that.

Good luck!


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Are you using hero points?

I haven't played a lot of very high level yet, but I've still never seen a PC die.

A single hero point is enough to take you from dying 4, about to become dead, to not dying at all and without increasing your wounded level. Meaning if you get further healing you can be back in the fight, and still get knocked out yet again without it being instant death.

I've never seen a PC die, though I've seen quite a few PCs need to use their hero point to prevent death.


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Thanks TwilightKnight and Kulgore.

I'm not going to say my PCs are 100% optimized in their tactics, but they are experienced and doing reasonably well. The issue with the crits is that big enemies can have +20 on their first attacks (in the second AP module) and that just adds up to too many critical hits against the PCs. We do use hero points, but that's not enough to address the dynamic I described above in a tough fight.

I think my group finds these repeated near death encounters to detract from the fun rather than adding to it. We all love the roleplaying so player death is a drag and not something I'm gunning for as a GM. I think PF1 had better balance in that respect than PF2. I think PF2 is so enamored with symmetry and modularity in design that some of the balance was left on the wayside.

I do think some house rules would be helpful for my group so we can enjoy the tactical fun of PF2 without the unnecessary deadliness. Any thoughts on what I'm contemplating as described above would be appreciated, because the "homebrews and house rules" subthread has very little activity and is more about folks sharing homebrew classes, etc. than about GMs trying to work through and mitigate the implications of the PF2 rules. In that sense, I think this is the right place for the discussion.

And Taja, the encounter we just had is in the second module of the Ashes AP. There was a similarly deadly one in the first volume and this is the second such encounter in this second AP volume and I foresee more to come. The GM threads for the AP describe a fair amount of PC death.


Definitely belongs in House Rule thread, if it has low traffic then it will stay on top longer, "I want more attention" is not excuse to sabotage forum organization and preferences of people who want to avoid House Rule forum.

Personally, it seems there is plenty of "levers" to make game easier, from increasing HPs, to increasing Dying "Points" or giving bonus to Dying check, to weakening Crits or attack bonuses on big bosses etc. I can't really say much more because they seem straight forward, so if you really feel you need it, then you can make things easier (or less lethal) in that way, OK. I don't really see this problem existing myself, and "Not trying to get up/heal dropped characters" is best advice to avoid get Crit back into Death (i.e. staying Unconscious on the ground makes you not an active target), but if that doesn't work for you, do what you gotta do.


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My players used teamwork to function two levels above their true level in Pathfinder 1st Edition. It took them fewer than 5 months to reach the same level of combat mastery in Pathfinder 2nd Edition. I have been trying to analyze who they manage their successes. My only relevant house rules are that we still use the Pathfinder 1st Edition hero point system and I give more information that the rulebook recommends on successful Recall Knowledge.

PF1 had a powergaming design principle of making each character exceptionally good at their favorite tactic. The tactic could be damage dealing. It could be battlefield control. It could be debuffing. By choosing the right stats, right feats, and right gear the character would always be good at that tactic. PF2 nerfed that design principle. Every tactic is closer to average. Players cannot always rely on their favorite strategy.

Instead, PF2 players have to rely on every available strategy. Their weak tactics are closer to average, too, which means they are better than weak. The enemies don't have the versatility of the PCs. Thus, they have some vulnerabilities that the party can exploit. My players use adaptive tactics that exploit the enemy weaknesses or negate their strength. Those work well in PF2.

For example, TwilightKnight said above,

TwilightKnight wrote:
#2 Don't stand toe-to-toe against superior enemies. Make them move around to attack you to reduce their number of attacks for striking. This takes advantage of the PC's superior action economy.

I was worried when the 4th-level PCs had to fight a 7th-level rogue and his entourage. It was a 184-xp extreme threat challenge (actually 230 xp, but I scale the xp by 4/5 due to the 5-member party), which they could handle, but this was the first time they fought a character 3 levels higher than them. He could deal massive damage.

I shouldn't have been worried. The ranger and liberator champion teamed up against him, while the other three party members dealt with the other enemies. When the enemy rogue hit the ranger with the first Strike of Twin Feint, the champion used Liberating Step to prevent some damage and move the ranger out of range of the second attack. The ranger was getting three attacks to every enemy attack, and some of the damage of the enemy attack was blocked. My players found an effective tactics against the rogue that involved stepping out of his reach, like TwilightKnight suggested. The rogue switched his tactics to plain Strikes, but they dealt less damage than Twin Feint. And in the time he lost, the rest of the party had taken out the minions and joined the battle--at a distance since their AC and HP were not as good as the ranger's and champion's.

I mention this battle in another thread. Claxon pointed out that a proper build with Reactive Pursuit rogue feat would not have been hurt as much by this tactic. The good news for PCs is that NPC creatures don't get PC builds. They gain a higher attack bonus in exchange for receiving fewer feats and skills. They cannot adapt as well as PCs can adapt. In another battle, an enemy took a critical hit from a Biting Snare, laming him. No enemy was trained in Medicine nor had a healing potion, so the enemy side could not fix the lameness nor heal themselves when the enemy retreated to group up with reinforcements (the party did not follow immediately and instead took time for Treat Wounds and Lay on Hands). That lack of trained skills hurt. The lamed (-10 feet to Speed) enemy was at a disadvantage in the rematch and the first to die.

PF2 requires different tactics than PF1 because the builds cannot be the same. Teamwork still works just as well as it does in PF1.

I have been making my own house rules, but they are more about smoothness of play. I don't need to buff the PCs.


PF2 certainly has the potential to be really deadly. One thing for your party to consider though is that in and of itself, being low on hp is not nearly as concerning as in PF1. Outside of 1st level, you are unlikely to straight up die due to massive damage (though death effects are still a thing). Also, this isn't 5e where popping in and out of consciousness is a legit tactic. Preferably you should be trying to heal to keep everyone up, but once somebody does go down, it's probably best to simply stabilize them. It's less fun for the player in the moment, but it does a much better job of keeping the PC alive.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I have found it is really hard to actually kill PCs. Not to knock them out, mind you, but actually killing them is difficult. You practically can't kill a PC who doesn't have the dying or wounded condition already, barring persistent damage or getting caught in AoEs. And then when you push them to the point of dying 4, all it takes is a hero point in the tank for them to lose the dying condition entirely.

I've had some PCs teater on the edge of death pretty often, but I have only seen 4 deaths after a year of play, and one of those was to a vorpal attack.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I'm not sure telling the OP to optimize their party and tactics is really helpful, or even necessarily a counterargument against implementing the kinds of houserules they're talking about. "Optimize or die" isn't as fun for some people as it is for a lot of us here.

Grand Lodge

Voomer wrote:
I do think some house rules would be helpful for my group so we can enjoy the tactical fun of PF2 without the unnecessary deadliness. Any thoughts on what I'm contemplating as described above would be appreciated, because the "homebrews and house rules" subthread has very little activity and is more about folks sharing homebrew classes, etc. than about GMs trying to work through and mitigate the implications of the PF2 rules. In that sense, I think this is the right place for the discussion.

The challenge with evaluating someone else's house rules is that they will generally be either too much or too little change. Most of us are not experiencing the challenges your group is, or at least not to the same extent. So, without actually witnessing your campaign, and using our own as a reference point, I/we cannot give you an accurate measure of their effectiveness. Really only you can implement some/all of them and then see what happens. From my perspective none of your proposed changes are necessary. My campaigns are running just fine with what I would rate as a "reasonable" level of danger. If I were to implement any of your suggestions, our game would become too easy and I would have to up the threat which defeated the purpose. But, that is not your experience so it would be wrong for me to tell you the changes are not warranted, nor could I tell you if they do too much.


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Squiggit wrote:
I'm not sure telling the OP to optimize their party and tactics is really helpful, or even necessarily a counterargument against implementing the kinds of houserules they're talking about. "Optimize or die" isn't as fun for some people as it is for a lot of us here.

Agree strongly here.

Optimization is much harder in PF2. In PF1 optimization was about making the most of your character and their were lots of math enhancers that did that, and whatever you wanted to focus on you could really make your character excel at it.

In PF2 that doesn't exist, it's not an option. You optimize tactics by making sure players are tripping, flanking, buffing, de-buffing, and NOT swinging for a 3rd attack. You have to optimize your party too! Not everyone can just play whatever they want and you're going to be okay.

Overlapping on skills such that you don't have all the skills covered will hurt you. Not having medicine skill especially will hurt you! Having more than two people (and even two might be wasteful) focus on medicine will hurt you (because you might not end up covering all skills).

Parties have to be designed to cover the various roles and skills which means you can't always make your character exactly the way you want.


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Voomer, I think you just had a bad start with the 2e system.

I suggest you not to try needing the system.
Instead, try to understand why the party had issues.

- bad tactics?
- bad positioning?
- wrong setup ( consumables, spells, equipment, etc...) ?

All of this not to say that there's a specific way to deal with this 2e, but to just understand what happened and why.

Ps: getting knocked out is also part of the game.

Pps: as for HP, you can simply give them 1 per session ( so they have to decide whether to reroll it or save it in case they go down). I also find unbalanced to give free reroll every hour because reasons.


Look into the stamina variant system and possibly the automatic bonus progression from the variant rules.

Might help you guys.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Rather than invent new house rules, IMHO the PF2 system requires players to change their mindset. They have to realize that combat is really dangerous, and act accordingly.

Used to be (in PF1/DD3.x days, and doubtless well before that) that adventurers could take on foes listed as well above their level, with no real worries about tactics or preparation. IMHO, those days are gone. In order to successfully face encounters above their level, they either need excellent preparation, very clever battlefield tactics or a lot of luck. And sometimes all three.

PF2 players need to rid themselves of the mindset where they can simply wade into combat heedless of the danger, assured that their heroic abilities will pull their fat out of the fire no matter what.

I think this makes PF2 a more interesting game. YMMV.


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If I might offer an alternate suggestion?

One idea I've heard bandied about (and that I'm a B-I-G fan of) is the concept that... characters don't die. No, don't scroll past, hear me out. Imagine this scenario; you've worked for the last week on this new character idea, and you're really psyched to play them in this new game session. Except, through a combination of bad rolls and perhaps a miscommunication or two, your character was injured to the point that in a traditional game they'd be dead.

All that work, down the drain. No opportunity to reveal backstory, motivation, and quirks. You're often left in this position that if you want to make it so this night isn't a complete wash, you have to shotgun out a new character with very little depth to their nature just to continue to play. You're not as happy, and let's be honest; the game has suffered because this more interesting character is gone and is replaced by a far more shallow one.

BUT! Imagine that instead of treating your sessions as some sort of Gamemasters vs. the Players, where the focus is on hit points and damage like some sort of sports team keeping score, the focus is instead on the S-T-O-R-Y. Players can get knocked out of the fight in a very lasting way to that one combat... but, they are allowed back after some additional wrinkle in the story is thrown in.

Perhaps they have a 'near death experience', and are visited by a being / an agent of the god they worship, and they're given some sort of message or quest? What if they're hurt in a fashion that the story demands they spend extra time recuperating from, and leaves a notable (but cool!) scar to remind them of the experience. TPK? Not any more. Instead, your characters were taken captive by their adversary, and either through their own guile or through the aid of a new ally they escape and learn a bit more that better prepares them for this conflict next time. Maybe at the last second, a mysterious figure stepped in the way of that final magical blast... and when they all awaken, they're left safe and hidden, wondering who that stranger was.

Some players like the finality of the way the game is often played, stating that "without that consequence, the stakes don't feel as high". And that's fine, if that's the sort of game the players present want to have. However, some of us have anxiety and depression and we're looking for a little more sweet than bitter. Some of us have really, R-E-A-L-L-Y bad dice rolls, too.

I'm just saying, it's a game mechanic change that really doesn't change much. And it just might inspire more moments of daring-do, and fewer methodical, grinding moments in your game just to prevent one's character from dying.


Wheldrake wrote:

Rather than invent new house rules, IMHO the PF2 system requires players to change their mindset. They have to realize that combat is really dangerous, and act accordingly.

Used to be (in PF1/DD3.x days, and doubtless well before that) that adventurers could take on foes listed as well above their level, with no real worries about tactics or preparation. IMHO, those days are gone. In order to successfully face encounters above their level, they either need excellent preparation, very clever battlefield tactics or a lot of luck. And sometimes all three.

PF2 players need to rid themselves of the mindset where they can simply wade into combat heedless of the danger, assured that their heroic abilities will pull their fat out of the fire no matter what.

I think this makes PF2 a more interesting game. YMMV.

I agree with everything except your second to last sentence.


The party that i am Gming, they are in the beggining of the book 5 of Age of Ashes.

Not one death so far, the main reason for me is they have a Cleric that is truly dedicated to Healing, and so far they have still that mindset of going toe to toe with the monsters and beating on them.

But the Cleric keeps them healty enough, is rare one of them even hitting the ground.

The others members of the party (all at level 15):

Dwarven Fighter (A Sword and Shield one)

Goblin Rogue (Thief rackett) that loves to use Gang Up

Human Sorcerer that does tons of damage of almost any type.

Yes, PF2 can be deadly if they are not sharp in the combats, specially the hard ones but so far, not one death.

And that is the first time i see a party getting so far without one death.


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Claxon wrote:
Squiggit wrote:
I'm not sure telling the OP to optimize their party and tactics is really helpful, or even necessarily a counterargument against implementing the kinds of houserules they're talking about. "Optimize or die" isn't as fun for some people as it is for a lot of us here.

Agree strongly here.

Parties have to be designed to cover the various roles and skills which means you can't always make your character exactly the way you want.

Very good point. PF2 does seem to really rely upon the party being able to cover a lot of different bases. The monsters definitely hit more frequently and harder than the PCs, but they tend to not have the same set of tactics available to them (though sometimes they have other abilities that PCs wish they had).

Just as an example, in my current party my barbarian was initially conceived as being a somewhat typical "angry" barbarian. Reach, Athletics and Intimidation were going to be the main schtick. The only real outlier was he had Battle Medicine from his background, though still was not particularly great at it (Wis of 12). Then our large party saw a couple of players leave, including the cleric. So, I decided to focus a bit more on the medicine aspect and take Medic Dedication. Obviously not an ideal choice as a barbarian, but it got my medicine skill up high enough at level 2 to not have to worry about crit failing (except on a nat 1) and still be good enough to almost always succeed. This also frees up the alchemist to be able to do a bit more in combat than just run around healing people.

Then some ugly demon decided it didn't like my polearm and completely destroyed it. (stupid demon). Unfortunately, still being level 2 I don't really have enough cash to buy a new polearm, but I do have a long sword I found and can afford to pick up a shield to increase AC. Not ideal, but its rolling with the punches until I get some more coin. Flexibility is king I think in PF2. This will also be handy as I am really the only true frontliner in the party at the moment. So the shield, while not ideal, will at least help me from getting hit as often (or at least fewer crits -- the party has nicknamed me the Crit Magnet).

As for the suggestion of No PC deaths by Puck, certainly different strokes for different folks can apply. I will say though, that a PC death doesn't, in and of itself, have to be the end of the story so to speak. My barbarian I mentioned above? Actually my second character in the campaign because my bard was crit by an acid arrow at level 1 for massive damage (just the start of the crit magnet). So I had my barbarian come from the same community as the bard. The barbarian had received a vision of the bard falling through space and took it as an ill omen. He set out in search of the bard only to arrive just a little late (the vision was several weeks prior). So now the barbarian has reason to suddenly be there and has some connection. There's also an NPC from the same quah in the campaign already, so there's plenty of connection and means to continue the story of sorts. Doesn't always work out that way of course, and certainly I can understand the desire to keep stories going. One thing to keep in mind for the GM of any game is that a failure by the party need not mean a tpk. Some enemies will want hostages, or captives to interrogate, or just to be left alone to continue there evil schemes, etc. Just because you can kill the party, doesn't mean you need to.


Imo... just grant class feats every level and have the PCs be 2 levels above where they should be.

You will end up with the cake walk / easier combat you desire as long as you don't try to adjust the encounters up again.

Another simple change is spontatneous casters ignore signature spells (all spells are) and get two extra spell slots per level and prepared castego arcanist/5e style and get one extra spell slot per level.


I hand out Hero Points for serious setbacks (so long as the players actually encounter hardship due to those setbacks) that arent the fault of the players.

This helps players not feel as bad about series of critical failures (note, i don't reward rolls that the player knew they had a high chance of critically failing - ever) or bad rolls, and helps them roll with setbacks without getting demoralized or frustrated.

It also encourages them to SPEND Hero Points, instead of Hording them for safety...

...but it also means that since I consider "being crit from nearly full health into unconsciousness" a serious setback, they generally have a fallback option to avoid death unless they squander it.

Though honestly, its not really come up a lot. Both my first two parties I ran for had Shield Champions, and were rarely in real danger. I'm honestly nervous about my new campaign I'm running for a party with zero shield users...


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure, Card Game, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

My suggestion would be to simply consider lowering the threat level (Building Encounters) on some of the encounters, before worrying about house rules.

Wheldrake wrote:

Rather than invent new house rules, IMHO the PF2 system requires players to change their mindset. They have to realize that combat is really dangerous, and act accordingly.

Used to be (in PF1/DD3.x days, and doubtless well before that) that adventurers could take on foes listed as well above their level, with no real worries about tactics or preparation. IMHO, those days are gone. In order to successfully face encounters above their level, they either need excellent preparation, very clever battlefield tactics or a lot of luck. And sometimes all three.

PF2 players need to rid themselves of the mindset where they can simply wade into combat heedless of the danger, assured that their heroic abilities will pull their fat out of the fire no matter what.

I think this makes PF2 a more interesting game. YMMV.

As an aside, I tend to agree with Wheldrake.

Sovereign Court

Voomer wrote:
Your thoughts? Other suggestions? Does anyone else perceive a systemic problem here? I love PF2 (the 3 action mechanic, the character versatility) but I do think this aspect is affecting the fun at my table...

I wouldn't say I perceive a systemic problem. But clearly, the difficulty of the out of the box AP is higher than your party is enjoying. And since that's the main reason to play, something should be done.

If I understood correctly, you're running Age of Ashes. I'm playing it (just got started on book 3) and I haven't found it to be as bad as you describe - rough patches yeah, but not quite that bad. Then again, we're a fairly optimized group with reasonable teamwork. Several times we've just crippled monsters by having exactly the right answer to a tactic.

Your main problem seems to be monsters critting very often, so of course I wonder if the PCs are under-AC'd? Are they using the right armor for their Dexterity/is their Dexterity high enough for the low armor they might have? There can easily be a gap where a character's Dex + Armor combination isn't as high as it could be, and that's a gap where crits happen. Also, shields. Shields for AC are popular in my party even among classes who don't iconically use shields, simply because AC is that good to have.

Another problem I see appearing a lot is that a party has one designated tank character, who often gets trashed. In PF2, tanking isn't a one-man job, if there's only one character on the front line then he gets almost all of the pain and that's too much for one character. This is a problem in particular for champions in parties where everyone else is hiding behind the well-armored champion. As a result, the champion is taking all the damage and not getting much use out of their reaction either.

On the other hand, some parties have no persons at all stepping up to tank, and then you just have a group of archers and wizards getting chased around by melee enemies. That also doesn't work well. It seems an ideal party is about half frontline, at least.

---

So what can you do? Well you could downgrade crits as you proposed. Personally I wouldn't because I like crits, as a player too. I like the controlled swinginess in this edition - big upsets happen often, but to both sides.

What you could instead do, is apply the Weak template (Bestiary p. 6) liberally to NPCs and monsters. Basically, dial down their level by 1. If the PCs are supposed to meet a level+3 boss (you know, one of those deeply problematic monsters that crits way too often), make it a level+2 version instead.

Your players don't have to know that you've dialed down the gas from high heat to medium roast. But they'll notice that the difficulty got closer to what to them feels normal.

By not changing any rules at the players' side, you still leave the door open for them to develop in any of the usual ways, go crit fishing and so forth. Monsters will still crit the players spectacularly, but not quite as often. And players are landing crits on monsters just a bit more than before.


KrispyXIV wrote:


Though honestly, its not really come up a lot. Both my first two parties I ran for had Shield Champions, and were rarely in real danger.

I do think that this can have a lot to do with the experiences of different groups. Champions pretty clearly seem to be really good for a party. Not necessarily essential, but they do seem to greatly increase the party's survival rate.

Shields also seem pretty important because that +2 really does make a difference. The real problem that I've seen with some people is that they use the shield block option too much and then complain that their shield is worthless because it always breaks. As I understand it though, you can always just raise it to get the bonus to AC but then still take the hit if its going to break the shield (correct me if I'm wrong).

I do know that at least early on in Extinction Curse for example, that the crit range for monsters can be pretty high (often in the 20-35% range). That's something where there often just isn't a lot that the party can do about it. Shields of course will lower that by 10% though, so is certainly something to consider. But you still run into the problem of being hit by most attacks. A creature doing 3d6 + 4 damage and only needing a 5 to hit the barbarian (or 4 if raging) for instance is going to bring said PC down pretty quick. So I do see where the feeling of it being "overly difficult" comes in. Certainly, trying to stand toe to toe with the enemy and just trade punches won't go over very well. You really do need to work to get every advantage possible. Reach weapons, trips/grapples/shoves, flank, feint, etc. Use your actions wisely, etc. There definitely seems to be much less margin for error. On the flip side, going unconscious usually is not a huge deal as the initial recovery checks are fairly easy (50%) and even so there should be plenty of opportunity for the party to stabilize you if need be.


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Thanks everyone. I appreciate your thoughts and I'm glad PF2 is working for most of you as written. Personally I'm not a huge fan of the play style where the PCs need to be optimized to the hilt with their ability choices and tactics. Maybe it's that we just that my group doesn't have time for that level of rules mastery. Also, I'm philosophically closer to Puck's suggestion of no PC death. Someone else mentioned "I have only seen 4 deaths after a year of play" -- that's a level of death that would be a HUGE BUMMER for me and all of my PCs. All of us value roleplaying and character development above all and I love for my game world to be peopled by retired victorious PCs who are influential interesting focuses of local power (even if I don't do as well as I would like in seeding them in future campaigns).

I tested out my house rules in the last session and it seemed to make a big difference in upping the fun and heroism, and decreasing the excessive deadliness, without making the whole thing feel like a cakewalk for the PCs. It just goes to show that the key is to understand your and your group's play style. But I do think it is VERY interesting that none of the deadliness I identified is actually necessary to PF2 -- I can make all the changes I made without affecting the fundamental game functioning at all. So it does seem PF2 is designed for optimizers as written, but those of us who prefer a different play style don't need to conclude PF 2 isn't for us too!


Voomer wrote:
Thanks everyone. I appreciate your thoughts and I'm glad PF2 is working for most of you as written. Personally I'm not a huge fan of the play style where the PCs need to be optimized to the hilt with their ability choices and tactics.

Honestly, there's no much room to optimize character's in my opinion. Class abilities mostly give you more options to achieve something, but don't make a character stronger overall. So the level of strength a character has doesn't really depend on character choices.

However, because of that teamworks and tactics are 10 times more important in PF2 than PF1. If you group doesn't act and play like a well trained group of adventurers working together they will pay for it.


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Claxon wrote:

Honestly, there's no much room to optimize character's in my opinion. Class abilities mostly give you more options to achieve something, but don't make a character stronger overall. So the level of strength a character has doesn't really depend on character choices.

However, because of that teamworks and tactics are 10 times more important in PF2 than PF1. If you group doesn't act and play like a well trained group of adventurers working together they will pay for it.

It seems to me that there are plenty of meaningful choices to be made in PF2, even if the optimization possibilities aren't like they were in PF1. And my PCs do play as "a well trained group of adventurers working together." They are all experienced gamers and they react thoughtfully and reasonably to the challenges put before them. They just don't act like a group of players who have mastered the tactical aspects of the PF2 system, which seems to be what people are talking about in response to my stated concerns. My preference is to give the players a little leeway, so they can be successful without being masters of the rules. It seems that other groups prefer more of a cutthroat tactical game, which is perfectly fine as well.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Claxon wrote:
Honestly, there's no much room to optimize character's in my opinion

Well, yes and no. There are obvious optimal choices and then worse ones, but the range is definitely more narrow.

I think more than that though, while there's less individual character optimization, there is a pretty strong emphasis on party optimization.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions here about things that groups need to succeed and groups that don't have those will suffer for them, that's definitely an optimization factor that needs to be considered.


Squiggit wrote:
Claxon wrote:
Honestly, there's no much room to optimize character's in my opinion

Well, yes and no. There are obvious optimal choices and then worse ones, but the range is definitely more narrow.

I think more than that though, while there's less individual character optimization, there is a pretty strong emphasis on party optimization.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions here about things that groups need to succeed and groups that don't have those will suffer for them, that's definitely an optimization factor that needs to be considered.

Can confirm. A couple of sessions now into a new Agents of Edgewatch Campaign with my players that cruised through Age of Ashes with an accidently near optimal party (2h Hammer Fighter, Shield Champ, Bard, Alchemist*) which led to them casually taking a more... freeform setup (one hand no shield+sword fighter, forensic medicine investigator, crossbow and animal companion ranger, and enchanter wizard) and the difference in early difficulty is... stark.

The first level was rough, as the lack of any shields meant incoming damage was hitting raw unmodified ACs, the investigator kept failing medicine rolls, and the ranger hit, uh... well, her animal companion hit a couple times. I honestly think the Ranger missed every shot for a level, so let's discount that experience as dice - the wizard on the other hand landed every single spell attempted.

Sad to say, we had multiple party members dropped and multiple near fatalities (lucky fortitude save by the wizard vs poison or there would have been an effective tpk).

This has resulted in some adaptive changes going into level 2.

The Fighter picked up Dueling Parry and Full Plate as a concession that they lacked a decent defensive player, and he still threatens a nasty AOO to anyone trying to bypass him and has resolved to play more defensively. The Investigator took Medic as planned, but took Assurance instead of other Medicine feats to improve reliability.

This already has made a big difference, as the first major fight 2nd level went MUCH better for them. The ranger still hasn't hit anything with her crossbow, but her Animal Companion appears to be bugged or something on roll20 as he rolled nothing but crits for the entire encounter ;)


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Poison is really nasty in PF2, especially as many of the characters in my campaign seem to neglect putting points in CON.

I don't cotton to arguments about the necessity of "optimisation". IMHO players should play whatever characters they feel like playing, and it's up to the DM to adjust encounters to fit.

But players need to keep situational awareness. Like the song says:
"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run"

In our last game (4th level) we had a druid, a rogue, a wizard and a fighter (newbe player). Not much of a front line there, especially since the newbe player didn't know what he was doing.

But as DM, I played the NPCs in "general incompetence" mode. They arrived little by little rather than all at once, for various plausible reasons, and the PCs managed to hold them off and eventually rout them from the field. If you want to see a play-by-play after action report, you can find it here.

Obviously, the more the PCs get their game together, the more I will "optimise" the NPCs' tactics. But players need to know when to run away - and running away is a viable option, many times, in PF2, due to the greater mobility of the 3-action system. If they throw down and stand to the last man, a TPK event is always possible, but even then there are story-linked ways to get around killing everyone.


Wheldrake wrote:

Poison is really nasty in PF2, especially as many of the characters in my campaign seem to neglect putting points in CON.

I can't seem to remember any really harrowing near character deaths that HAVENT involved poison, due to the way Hero Points work. You can reset your dieing count, but then poison ticks again and you're now out of hero points with death fast approaching...


Voomer wrote:
Hi all. A problem I've been having in my group is that I think the fun of PF2 is being affected by how deadly the system is, especially past the early levels.

Easiest solution - use fewer monsters of lower level.


Voomer wrote:
So it does seem PF2 is designed for optimizers as written,

Imo it isn't, otherwise the group I am running for would be dead many times over.

It just requires different tactics and some teamwork/not pure reliance on dice rolls. There is a lot of room. (Not optimal ones either, just different ones)

My party, not even fully geared to wbl (they haven't spent their gold/thanks to settlement limits on what they want and a rush to get somewhere else faster)

- elemental sorcerer with champion dedication who spends most of their time in melee, over half of it transformed. Far from optimized, also groups only healer magical healer.

- rogue goblin, melee

- ranger, treat wounds focused, bow, outwit edge, healers gloves and battle medicine for secondary healer.

- barbarian, spirit, focused on jumping in class and skill feats, zero range weapon usage 90% of the time, scythe main weapon

- alchemist bomber+party buffer

They came close to having two characters die once at level 7 after charging through 5 encounters in a row (no breaks) two of which were severe.

The barbarian frequently charges into combat solo with no possible way to get backup (although is also capable of running when they lose 50-70% of their health in one round after being surrounded because of this).
Last session literally lept over a gap, over a wall (walljump), got hit a bunch and ran back.

It is more exacting than pf1e is imo. But given that I am a hardline RAW gm and have no qualms attacking a downed player when it makes sense to, I want to counter the narrative that the system is hard catering towards optimisers given how consistently successful my group has been despite their far from ideal composition.

I am glad that your houserules adapted it to a degree the group was happy with though. I still think the easiest answer is to just pump some extra levels into players and slow levelling progress if things seem to be getting too easy.
I hope we see some 3rd party efforts with the pf2e srd, the core mechanical workings are fairly flexible.


The degree of optimisation in PF2 is way lower than PF1.

You are at +/-2 for most of the things you are supposed to be doing with optimised and non-optimised builds alike.

The major difference is group mentality/tactics.

Even optimised builds don't get to powerthrough encounters without utilising party tactics.

For level+3 encounters specifically, it becomes a battle of stacking
conditions* while minimising enemy actions. So things like flanking, moving around, buffing and debuffing, giving "bad targets" to enemy, and etc

*by stacking conditions, since by design numerical conditions are pretty much capped, that's mostly getting both status penalty on enemy while keeping status bonus on you team and miscellaneous conditions like "denying reactions, concealment, and etc"


The Gleeful Grognard wrote:
Voomer wrote:
So it does seem PF2 is designed for optimizers as written,
Imo it isn't, otherwise the group I am running for would be dead many times over.

Same opinion, and reason for it, here too.

One of my groups went into a Severe difficulty fight at roughly half total HP and then proceeded to split their efforts across the two enemies present rather than focus-fire one down faster, and I was even unknowingly having the opposition do more damage than they were meant to (because I had misread the stat block and was using an attack not available at the time), and the party emerged victorious - with the worst consequence being that one character had picked up Wounded 2 (but also didn't even make any Recovery checks).

The that group proceeded on through the rest of the adventuring day facing an entire chapter of an AP on a single daily preparation. And my other group similarly went through like 10 or 11 encounters (including some Severe difficulty ones) without a night's rest somewhere in the middle.

And none of the characters are particularly well optimized. If the game were actually designed to be pleasing to optimizers, my group would be constantly dead and hating it.


Voomer wrote:
Hi all. A problem I've been having in my group is that I think the fun of PF2 is being affected by how deadly the system is, especially past the early levels. Basically, PF2 seems to be a high damage/high healing system.

Yep, I just finished playing Fall of Plaguestone and our party of a goblin fighter, a human hellknight, an alchemist, and a sorcerer had a tough time. Either I or the goblin were knocked unconcious in 80% of fights, with the poor alchemist ending up being our healer most of the time. Thankfully, the alchemist and sorcerer were barely able to finish off the enemies. Twice all but one of us was unconcious.

I've read that simply shifting the enemy levels up one more difficulty level would solve some of this (for instance, a level one creature would now be level two).

While it is very challenging and challenge is fun, it isn't fun when it happens nearly every battle. That gets old real fast.


no good scallywag wrote:
Voomer wrote:
Hi all. A problem I've been having in my group is that I think the fun of PF2 is being affected by how deadly the system is, especially past the early levels. Basically, PF2 seems to be a high damage/high healing system.

Yep, I just finished playing Fall of Plaguestone and our party of a goblin fighter, a human hellknight, an alchemist, and a sorcerer had a tough time. Either I or the goblin were knocked unconcious in 80% of fights, with the poor alchemist ending up being our healer most of the time. Thankfully, the alchemist and sorcerer were barely able to finish off the enemies. Twice all but one of us was unconcious.

I've read that simply shifting the enemy levels up one more difficulty level would solve some of this (for instance, a level one creature would now be level two).

While it is very challenging and challenge is fun, it isn't fun when it happens nearly every battle. That gets old real fast.

As a note, Fall of Plaguestone is consistently called out as being particularly brutal, which could also be the reason for you guys being downed so often.


Voomer wrote:
Hi all. A problem I've been having in my group is that I think the fun of PF2 is being affected by how deadly the system is, especially past the early levels. Basically, PF2 seems to be a high damage/high healing system. But an interrelated problem is that tougher enemies get TOO MANY critical hits .. and too quickly put PCs unconscious.

I think the lethality is most prominent the lower level you are. It's really acute at 1st level.

Once off the first six levels or so, the level of threat became much more manageable.

We have a five-man team with a dedicated Cleric.

Tactics is essential in this game.

- Don't rush into battle - let the enemies come to you.
- Everybody must stay close by in order to offer up their warm flesh - "unfocusing" monster attacks over many PCs is essential. Everybody's hit points (and Wounded conditions) must be used.

Having a "tank" flanked by glass cannons don't work in this game, since no character can survive the attention of multiple high level enemies at once, and single target DPS is never greater than what a martial can provide. Besides, the difference in sturdiness is less pronounced in this game, even the party Wizard can take hits for a round to take the heat off of the Fighter (even if that gets him unconscious that's preferred to the Fighter racking up Wounded conditions).

- applying a +1 here or -2 there might sound boring but is actually the path to victory in this game.
- flanking is not optional. That kind of easy bonus is rare and must not be missed. Note that EVERY character flanks (every character is trained in unarmed combat).

You will nearly never "oneshot" a significant foe. You must rack up those bonuses and take him down before you go down yourself. A party Cleric helps. Abandon all the ideas of staying at range - concepts like archers, skulkers and long-ranger spellcasters contribute neither flanking nor targets/hit points and are therefore inferior.

All advice given for the playstyle used by official Adventure Paths, where every other encounter is super hard, combats nearly always start at very short range, and there nearly never is more enemies than heroes.


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A simple way to make the game less lethal is to let the party be 1 or even 2 levels higher than expected and treat them as if they were their original level for encounter-building and equipment purposes. (1 feels like it should help a fair bit, 2 should really take the edge off of overtuned early Adventure Paths.) For special feats to which access is given as AP rewards, offer free retraining if the level they were for has already come and gone. For Lv 21 (and 22 if you go with that), increase all of the numbers as normal and/or give boons, artifacts, and/or bonus feats, in place of new feat levels and spellcasting advancement. It's kinda whatever: the point is to let less tactical or hardcore groups enjoy the game more without being told to "get good" if they just want to kick in doors and save realms stress-free.


Not sure if OP is still in this thread, but I just wanted to comment on their statement they want to avoid danger/death because they value roleplay/character development. OK we all understand that at crude level, but I think danger/death very often can be key part of roleplay and character development in a setting of heroic conflict. Characters who feel their mortality are more interesting than cartoon mary sues. If a PC does happen to actually die, that can be huge roleplay moment for all the survivors, perhaps doubting their motivations, either shifting course or redoubing their efforts despite the pain of losing a comrade. In any good novel or film, difficulties and even defeats are enjoyed as part of the drama, so why not in RPG?

I think a big part of learning curve is figuring out the little things that add up. Even unarmed casters can step up to help provide a flank for at least one round. Even simple weapons can be viable third action. Playing combat for more than just immediate effect, aiming at bigger picture tactics as a team, even if each component action isn't impressive. That doesn't mean exotic or obscure optimized tactics, it's the sort of stuff that would fit right in to action cinema, but it might be overlooked by players focusing only on top tier heroic power mechanical options. P2E cultivates an atmosphere where things aren't just string of top notch blockbusters, but your power includes a good amount of mediocre efforts, which actually democratizes things across characters and keeps the action more 'supple' IMHO. All mechanics are expected to be relevant and used, not like 3.x/P1E where Casters just ignored their weapon proficiency past 3rd level spells.


Alfa/Polaris wrote:
A simple way to make the game less lethal is to let the party be 1 or even 2 levels higher than expected and treat them as if they were their original level for encounter-building and equipment purposes. (1 feels like it should help a fair bit, 2 should really take the edge off of overtuned early Adventure Paths.) For special feats to which access is given as AP rewards, offer free retraining if the level they were for has already come and gone. For Lv 21 (and 22 if you go with that), increase all of the numbers as normal and/or give boons, artifacts, and/or bonus feats, in place of new feat levels and spellcasting advancement. It's kinda whatever: the point is to let less tactical or hardcore groups enjoy the game more without being told to "get good" if they just want to kick in doors and save realms stress-free.

I actually like this better then upping the creatures' challenge by one, it seems easier than having to bump the creatures. I'm making creatures for the Mummy's Mask AP and it's quite the hassle to go through every encounter and do this. However, I also hesitate making such a big change to characters by giving them a level as this is a big game changer. How different is upping the PCs by 1 vs. the creatures?


All the math assumes that a PC of level X and a Monster of level X are equal and each had a 50% chance of winning. That's a hard fight that uses a lot of resources.

If you give the PC am extra level or use a creature a level lower, the result is about the same: a hard fight, but one that the PC will most likely win, using some resources.

The +1 difference means a lot more at level 1-4 (about) mostly due to expected damage and hit points: one crit will likely down a PC.


Draco18s wrote:

All the math assumes that a PC of level X and a Monster of level X are equal and each had a 50% chance of winning. That's a hard fight that uses a lot of resources.

If you give the PC am extra level or use a creature a level lower, the result is about the same: a hard fight, but one that the PC will most likely win, using some resources.

The +1 difference means a lot more at level 1-4 (about) mostly due to expected damage and hit points: one crit will likely down a PC.

I thought about this a bit further and realized if I gave the PCs "an extra level" instead of the enemies, they will be above the challenge for everything else in the game, too, so maybe just doing the monsters is the better idea.

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