Power Level Feedback and Play Experiences


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


I was one of the people that during the play test voiced anti-"+level" sentiments because I prefer grittier games where lower level monsters stay challenge (en masse) for much longer.

What has been people's experiences in terms of power level of play? Do characters feel like 1-in-a-million heroic types? Or do they feel like 1-in-a-billion super heroic types?

Even though I was against "+level" I am not at all excited to implement that variant rule since it's so time consuming and possibly unbalancing. Even if characters are more powerful than I'd like, I was hoping that their height of power is less than that of PF1 or 3.x.


With the nerf overall to magic, I think the height of power in 2e is definitely lower than PF1 or 3.x, or even 5e for casters. Just compare the use of 2e Simulacrum to 5e Simulacrum for example. This isn't a dig agains 2e, as I enjoy martials/casters being balanced for once outside of 4e.

I am a big fan of bounded accuracy for what you described as low level threats can always stay relevant. However, it does make it harder to plan encounters. After experimenting with the 2e encounter builder, its so much simpler than something like 5e's bad CR system.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

One thing I like about the power scale is that system manages to keep combat at about the same pace because damage scales so high and bonuses to hit don’t make it a miss-fest. Even at high levels combat can be quick, deadly - and well gritty.

One problem I have with bounded accuracy systems is that high levels just pile on a ton of hit points. Even if ability to hit is consistent, you have to hit much much more. And while casters can get potentially combat ending one save and done spells, martials get stuck in a quagmire of having to hit more and more.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

At high levels, to me, PCs feel extremely capable - but also feel like there are real risks in their adventures. The bounded math means that high level spellcasters (I've only played spellcasters to high level so far) feel like they have plenty of options available to them, but also feel like they really need to pay attention to teamwork and team strategy to accomplish their goals.

Fanatic66 is right, the balance between martials and spellcasters is much better.

Some of the Legendary-prereq skill powers I've seen in use can feel a bit super-heroic (Cloud Jump, Scare to Death). Or maybe it would be better to say they feel a bit mythic-heroic (not as in the Pathfinder 1 mythic rules, but the actual heroes of mythology - or something you might see on the old Hercules and Xena TV shows.) And those skill feats don't come in until so late, you can just not play to those levels if that's not the feel you like.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, PF Special Edition, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Filthy Lucre wrote:

I was one of the people that during the play test voiced anti-"+level" sentiments because I prefer grittier games where lower level monsters stay challenge (en masse) for much longer.

What has been people's experiences in terms of power level of play? Do characters feel like 1-in-a-million heroic types? Or do they feel like 1-in-a-billion super heroic types?

Even though I was against "+level" I am not at all excited to implement that variant rule since it's so time consuming and possibly unbalancing. Even if characters are more powerful than I'd like, I was hoping that their height of power is less than that of PF1 or 3.x.

I've played / run four campaigns in 3.5 / PF1e from levels 1 - 20.

PF2e we are only up to level 14 in our current campaign so I can't compare levels 15-20... So far it seems much more balanced overall. The characters don't feel overly powerful and a lot of my gripes of high level play are gone. One of the great things about the new system is we were able to have three combats in our last session of 4.5 hours whereas in 3.5 at the same level it was much more of a slog. The monster levels vary anywhere between 9-15 over levels 13-14 and the weirdly the lower level battle was still a challenge with the unique abilities they had.

We've talked about using the variant rule that takes out the level since it's not too much work next campaign. If we do we'll probably test it in a one - two off first to see how it feels.


Filthy Lucre wrote:
Even though I was against "+level" I am not at all excited to implement that variant rule since it's so time consuming and possibly unbalancing. Even if characters are more powerful than I'd like, I was hoping that their height of power is less than that of PF1 or 3.x.

We’ve been using the Proficiency Without Level variant since the GMG was released. It mostly amounts to subtracting the level when using monsters out of the book. If you’re using a tool (I’m using HLO) to track things, you can just update them in the tool and not even worry about the numbers. In terms of balance, the GMG provides a replacement experience table that you use for building encounters, and it seems to be spot-on. I ran a party level + 5 encounter recently that was solidly a moderate threat.

The only issues it has is the simplified DC chart is too harsh. My 5th level PCs routinely failed checks that were ostensibly just normal for experts (DC 20). I’m experimenting now with a smaller scale (10/14/17/20/23) that tries to better mirror the progression on DC-by-level table. There was a discussion here a while back about the affect on summoning. It could be a slight boost. There are also feats that let you add level when Untrained, but those can be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, I don’t think it’s very time-consuming to use, and it doesn’t seem unbalanced. It’s given me some nice benefits like access to ~90% of the bestiaries when the PCs are in the traditional sweet spot levels.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

The game is level-based. There really aren't low level monsters any more. If you make an orc army to take on lvl 16 characters, then the orcs warriors will be a level 14 challenge.

In both APs the xulgaths (troglydytes) and human enemies have been of a challenge appropriate to make things hard on the players. There is no real thinking of an enemy as a low level enemy that lasts longer.

The math is balanced so that each level is challenging, but you can do more to shift the math in your favor or more aggregate damage so that it feels like you're slightly more powerful than you were before.

As far as the 5E conceit that a huge number of lvl 1 or 2 orcs are a challenge for a lvl 15 character, that does not exist. A bunch of lvl 1 orcs would have nearly no chance of taking on a lvl 20 character. It would be a pointless design exercise. Even rolling 20s they would miss based on the math.

PF2 is a game with a specific balance model in mind that you follow if you want it to be challenging and work. If you had a party fighting orc warriors in the 1st module of the AP that were lvl 1, you would either rename the orc warriors something else more fearsome or keep the name by make them lvl 18 orc warriors at lvl 20.

As far as power level, it's like anime or superheroes at higher level. But so is 5E, not sure that is a good comparison. When I played 5E running Out of the Abyss, lvl 9 characters were able to easily kill a demon lord with ranged attacks that it couldn't do much against. They kited the demon lord around killing it with no real damage taken. And healing word pop up healing is anything but gritty. Death in PF2 is a very real possibility once you get low on hit points, far more than death in 5E.

As far as I see it Bounded Accuracy and PF2 level-based system are both just different ways to create the illusion of a challenge in a game world.


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Filthy Lucre wrote:

I was one of the people that during the play test voiced anti-"+level" sentiments because I prefer grittier games where lower level monsters stay challenge (en masse) for much longer.

What has been people's experiences in terms of power level of play? Do characters feel like 1-in-a-million heroic types? Or do they feel like 1-in-a-billion super heroic types?

Even though I was against "+level" I am not at all excited to implement that variant rule since it's so time consuming and possibly unbalancing. Even if characters are more powerful than I'd like, I was hoping that their height of power is less than that of PF1 or 3.x.

First of all, what exactly do you mean by "gritty"? Do you mean that the PCs, even at Level 15, will still be challenged by Level 1 monsters? Or do you mean that combat is lethal and the party will need to think smart to survive?

Other editions of D&D/PF mean that we often conflate the two notions. In PF1, becoming high level often correlated with it becoming easier to survive, so now it's common to conflate the two notions. In PF1, being high level also equated to survivability, for you could circumvent obstacles, cast heal to bring party members back to full health, raise a dead a party member when they were killed, etc. And if you prevented a high-level monster from doing a full attack, you knew you could survive a single hit.

PF2 is not gritty in the first sense: Level 1 orcs are useless against high-level characters. But in the 2nd sense it is VERY "gritty": high-level characters are much more likely to face a stiff challenge in PF2. A Level 20 dragon is just as likely to knock a Level 18 character unconscious who was at full health, as a Level 3 ogre is likely to knock a Level 1 character unconscious who was at full health.

I was initially against "+level" but came around to it when the final version dropped. By adding level to proficiency and making Level have a predictable and significant effect on battle, it's now easy for the GM to make balanced, challenging encounters all the way up into the high levels. 5e's Bounded Accuracy has the downside of muddling the relative power level of different-leveled monsters, making higher level equal More Hit Points, and making it much harder to build an encounter at high levels gives a satisfying amount of tension without being too easy or too hard.


If you want an easy halfway point, use half level. For most levels that amounts to a very easy subtraction, and it will roughly double the encounter range.

Super low level will still be bad at fighting you. But creatures of 2 levels higher wont stomp you to death when they are alone.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

PF2 is a game where it is pretty easy to design an encounter that a party will stomp all over, or an encounter where they will be hanging on by their finger tips the whole time.

If you want gritty combat... party level or party level + monsters, and trend towards Severe encounters. Moderate would be your lower level, and maybe throw in a few more Extreme encounters than you otherwise would.

My only point of caution - continuous damage can be a real PC killer. Use caution there. Likewise, monsters with lots of AOE damage can be killer. So when using monsters with those abilities, consider whether "gritty" means "knock 'em around and make them work for their victories" or "any of you could die tonight, the gloves are off."

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Second Edition / General Discussion / Power Level Feedback and Play Experiences All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.