Massive Damage in 2e: How it disproportionately affects low levels.

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2/5 5/5 **

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Not hypothetical (Bounty spoilers)

Silver Crusade 3/5

Blake's Tiger wrote:
Not hypothetical (Bounty spoilers)


hp 16, AC 18

Full to dead.

Those are not low stats for a 1st-level character.

As a note, many people still roll behind the screen (physical or otherwise) so it's not really far-fetched to suggest being mindful of this particular element of low-level encounter design while playing and fudging accordingly.

Additionally, rolling damage after saves (when running a game) is the way I've always played. I don't know that it's particularly "the right way" or not RAW, but if dropping damage on a breath weapon a point or two is going to mean the difference between massive damage and merely abject terror, I'll always choose abject terror over outright killing a character.

Being VERY NEARLY INSTANTLY KILLED is much more adrenaline-inducing than being actually instantly killed, which just mainly feels both unpleasant and unfair when you're a new adventurer.

Death was always a part of my games in the old days, long before 3.x was a thing. But it wasn't generally something I was trying to inflict, so my encounters were routinely handled with more finesse than "rules say yer dead, so, yer dead" ... of course, back then I didn't play any organized play. No Living Greyhawk or whatever.

I also died 30+ times in one campaign, multiple times within minutes of arriving on the I've fairly low tolerance for anything that feels poorly run or poorly designed. I strongly suspect that Massive Damage wasn't intended to disproportionately affect low level characters. With a game as big as PF2, there's a lot of math there to work out when you're designing and developing the mechanics.

I have no qualms about turning a death into an almost death in an instance where I feel the players have done nothing to bring that death about. (They didn't intentionally trigger a trap or bait a big bad. If you do those things, well, the dice might very well make you pay.)

I also freely tell players that they're not going to want to spend a Hero Point to reroll trivial things and I will encourage them to do so at any time they're facing real, life-threatening danger. (I also tend to award them to newer players and more delicate characters at lower levels.)

Being a GM is about being the arbiter of the situation as a whole. I typically balance the scales by being rougher when the characters are in a good spot. Taking down their front line right before the decisive blow in a different encounter reminds them of how dangerous things are when they might otherwise feel the challenge wasn't there. If I fudged a few points of breath weapon to save a caster, fudging a few extra claw damage a half an hour later and putting the tank on their face is perfectly reasonable. They're forced to expend party resources (potions, spell slots, time, etc.) to deal with the same rough amount of damage but they get a more exciting game out of it.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/5 ***

Lau Bannenberg wrote:
Hero points were meant to be used, not hoarded.

Saving one in case you are on the verge of dying is hardly hording, especially given the frequency at which people are suggesting some encounters are too hard. As the frequency of limited-use ancestral boons increases, I would not be surprised to see an increase in "hording" one Hero Point, just in case.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **** Venture-Captain, Minnesota

Limited-use ancestral boons? Which ones?

Dataphiles 4/5 5/5 ***** Venture-Agent, Colorado—Colorado Springs

Hmm wrote:
Limited-use ancestral boons? Which ones?

Hobgoblin for one:

Build a player character with the hobgoblin ancestry found in the Lost Omens Character Guide. Character must be from Oprak. Purchase limited to one per player.

5/5 *****

Hmm wrote:
Limited-use ancestral boons? Which ones?

Hobgoblin as mentioned. Catfolk is also limited to a single purchase per player.

Scarab Sages 4/5

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EDIT: Ok, numbers should be right.

Out of curiosity, I compared the end boss from Bounty 1 with Ledford, who I think by reputation alone, most people would agree was a very deadly enemy for level 1 characters, with a large kill count.

Ledford vs. Ezren:

For the benefit of the discussion, Ezren will not have Mage Armor active. If he does, the numbers are even lower.
Ledford's Greataxe: +5 (1d10+4/x3)
w/ Power Attack: +4 (1d10+7/x3)

Ezren's Defenses: AC: 12 Flat-Footed: 10 HP: 8 CON: 13 (21 damage to kill)

Ledford attacks w/o Charge:
w/o PA
.05 [Threaten Crit] x .7 [Confirm Crit] x .8 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 2.8%

w/ PA
.05 [Threaten Crit] x 65 [Confirm Crit] x 1 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 3.25%

w/PA vs Flat-Footed
.05 [Threaten Crit] x 75 [Confirm Crit] x 1 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 3.75%

Ledford attacks w/ Charge:
w/o PA
.05 [Threaten Crit] x .8 [Confirm Crit] x .8 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 3.2%

.05 [Threaten Crit] x .75 [Confirm Crit] x 1 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 3.75%

w/PA vs Flat-Footed
.05 [Threaten Crit] x 85 [Confirm Crit] x 1 [Deal 21+ Dmg] = 4.25%

B1 Boss vs. Ezren:

If Ezren casts shield and has a reaction left, then one attack can't cause massive damage, due to shield block. So these numbers are w/o shield.
Creature's Attack: +12 (1d8+4)

Ezren's Defenses: AC 15 HP: 16 (32 Dmg to kill)

.4 [Chance to crit] x .125 [Deal 32+ Dmg] = 5%

So Ledford's best chance to autokill Ezren is 4.25% when he's power attacking, charging, and catches Ezren flat-footed.

The end boss of the Bounty, which I don't consider to even be that difficult of an end boss relative to other tier 1-2 encounters, has a 5% chance to autokill Ezren, or the same chance that Ledford has to threaten a crit, which would still have to be confirmed. If Ezren is prepared for the attack (has cast shield), then shield block can save him.

A fairly average end boss in a bounty designed for level 1 characters has a higher chance to autokill Ezren than the most infamous npc in a tier 1 adventure in all of PFS1. Other pregens fare better. Lem fares worse (17 AC 15 HP no shield 7.5% chance of autokill). EDIT: Seoni is actually the worst off, I think, if no shield cast. 10% chance (misread her HP before. It's 15 AC 15 HP).

So Wizards, cast your shield spells if you want to live.

Last edit. Promise: I’m fairness to Ledford, his real infamy comes from having some chance to autokill most builds, since on the high end he could be doing 51 damage.

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Also, those damage numbers aren't even super impressive:

A regular PC 1st level giant aspect barbarian with 18 STR raging while wielding a (large) Greatpick with magic weapon cast on it (or even using a potency crystal) will deal 2d10+10 damage on a regular hit and a whopping 5d12+20 on a crit. That's a maximum of 80(!) damage, easily enough to kill every possible 1st level and even many 2nd level characters outright through massive damage. And even regular hits have the potential to outright destroy a number of low-hp builds at first level.

That constellation wouldn't even be a super unusual thing even for a party of purely 1st level characters, especially in the boss fight. Heck, even pregen Amiri with her greatsword instead of the fatal d12-pick would do a maximum of 68 damage on a crit and half that on a regular hit (again, assuming magic weapon). No 1st level elf wizard would survive a single max-damage regular hit!

And there's really no reason why enemy NPCs should not be able to do the same, raging barbarians and potency crystals/magic weapon spells are certainly nothing exotic.

In short, while I think that character death is a threat that should not be taken out of the game, it works much better as a threat, not an unavaoidable execution by massive damage where there's nothing the player could reasonably have done, other than not take the character out on the adventure. And that's not really an idea to instill in players...

Honestly, I think the massive damage rule should be restricted to actual "massive damage events", i.e. falling into a lava lake, falling from a very high cliff, having a mountain collapse on you, etc. NOT mere combat damage.

2/5 5/5 **

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Source of "massive damage" (not "Massive Damage"(tm)) in CRB: avalanche, falling into a fissure caused by an earthquake, tornado, tsunami, wild fire... I'm missing one.

Horizon Hunters 2/5 **** Venture-Agent, California—Silicon Valley

Blake's Tiger wrote:
Source of "massive damage" (not "Massive Damage"(tm)) in CRB: avalanche, falling into a fissure caused by an earthquake, tornado, tsunami, wild fire... I'm missing one.

Volcanic eruptions?

2/5 5/5 **

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber


Grand Lodge 5/5 ****

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@Ferioous Thune - thanks for the comparison PF1 vs PF2.

I never experienced Ledford - but I take it from you that he was the most famously deadly NPC in PF1 (edit - googled him - did GM him but didn't remember him).

I generated some data of my own.

I had a look at the bestiary - specifically looking for CR3 monsters. These are 1.5 levels above 1-2. So the typical CR for an end boss.

Most of them can single-hit kill Ezren. Interesting are rather the ones that can't.

a) Swarms (for obvious reasons - they auto-hit - but therefore can't crit).
b) Ooze - it did engulf and paralyze
c) A monster doing persistent fire damage - which doesn't count towards the massive damage rule.
d) A monster which could petrify you.

So out of the first 16 (alphabetically)
10 can single hit kill Ezren - including 2 with Area of Effect
4 will kill him in a different way if he goes unconscious / fails saves - but in these cases hero points can be used for re-rolls.
2 have a max damage of 14 (without crit) and therefore will never single hit kill Ezren.

On a different note. Digging deep into the Maths I noticed that some of the problem is the way we do damage for criticals.

Ezren insta-kill 2x(3d6) => 32 is 4.6%
Ezren insta-kill 6d6 => 32 is 0.45%

I spend well too much time yesterday doing some tables with different dice combinations.

So instead of fudging the dice - just make an individual roll for the critical damage. Page 451 does allow to roll the damage twice. In a way this would work like the confirm a crit.

So either roll 6d6 if you roll separately - or roll a second time for crit damage.

Example Ezren: You Crit him and do 16/17/18 damage. Rolling for the crit damage separately - even if the first 3 dice are already 16+ still yields a stunning 92.9% survival. I would regard this better as a fudge and especially this can be done in a game where the damage has been rolled in the open.

2/5 5/5 **

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

That's helpful, Thod. Thank you.

It's amazing that simply doubling the damage rather than rolling again yields a 10-fold increase in instant death. I believe I will roll my NPC's crits from now on.

Scarab Sages 4/5

Can kill Ezren and are likely to kill Ezren are two different things. A commoner with a greatsword can kill Ezren in one attack. What’s popped up in 2E when massive damage is used is that average creatures become more likely to kill certain classes than you were to even crit in the first place in 1E.

The High Attack for a CR 3 creature is +6. That means unless it’s got an improved crit range, it’s only going to crit Ezren about 3.75% of the time, and not all of those crits will instakill.

The first CR3 creature I see that can instakill Ezren is the Ankheg at +5 (2d6+4 +1d4 acid).

Chance to instakill: .05 (threaten) x .7 (confirm) x .86265 (do 21+dmg) = about a 3% chance to instakill

Compared, again, to a 5% chance for the Bounty 1 end boss, which could be as much as 10% against Seoni. That is significantly more deadly.

Because of grab and constrict, the assassin vine looks like one of the most deadly doing 2d8+14 without needing a crit:

.8(chance to hit) x .95(chance to grab) x .5314(deal 21+ dmg) = about a 40%! chance to instakill. Slightly higher if I factor in the crits from the slam that could autokill on their own that also happen to have the grab crit fail.

1E is all over the place in terms of balance, but I don’t think that’s a reason to excuse the lethality of 2E, which is supposed to be a lot more balanced. It also doesn’t mean that a character being instakilled in a level 1 adventure shouldn’t be discouraged. An assassin vine would make a terrible final enemy in an introduction to pathfinder 1E.

The end boss putting a brand new player’s character to dying 2 is already lethal enough, and it’s going to teach the player more about the game than killing their character off completely.

The numbers on rolling multiple dice for crits vs doubling are very interesting. It felt like a very strange decision to make the standard doubling with 2E to begin with. It’s interesting to see just how much that skews things.

Silver Crusade 3/5

Yeah, the change in probabilities for the two crit methods is easier to see with a single damage die attack. Suppose Ezren is facing off against someone with a bastard sword, wielded two-handed, and a +4 bonus to damage (Str 18).

Using the double-the-damage method for resolving a crit, only a "12" on the damage die will insta-kill Ezren. That is a probability of 1/12.

Using the roll-twice-method, you would now need to roll a "12" on both rolls. That is a probability of 1/144.

A twelvefold reduction.

Horizon Hunters 2/5 **** Venture-Agent, California—Silicon Valley

All rolling does is skew the likely damage to the average. Yes it will make massive damage more unlikely, but will also increase the likelihood of rolling "average" damage.

But this is still beside the point of the thread. The thread was made because this chance is still 0% at higher levels. There is a balance problem where level 1s can die from a single normal level -1 commoner attack, and level 10s can tank level 13 dragon breath and be fine.

Grand Lodge 5/5 ****

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I agree on one part - this is a generic design issue and part of my data gathering was to show this in some convincing graphs. In the end - the designers / PFS leads like Tonya/Alex need to be convinced and more data helps doing so.

The second part - I think it is of a lot of help if we can remove 70%-95% of the problem by just rolling critical damage separate instead of doubling.

I feel much more comfortable doing that - as it is RAW compliant - as just fudge a dice roll - especially as that is difficult online.

So while that is a band aid - better having a band aid as nothing.

3/5 **** Venture-Agent, Massachusetts—Boston Metro

Cordell Kintner wrote:

But this is still beside the point of the thread. The thread was made because this chance is still 0% at higher levels. There is a balance problem where level 1s can die from a single normal level -1 commoner attack, and level 10s can tank level 13 dragon breath and be fine.

Well high high levels. 1-01 as shown can easily kill level 2 and 3s.

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