Of Structuring and Encounters: A discussion on APs and how combat encounters in this edition impacts them.


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

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A few weeks — or months — ago, some threads popped up over the PF2E subreddit questioning the quantity of combat encounters on Adventure Paths, and their impact on the final product. Unfortunately, the tone there got a little out of hand, but at the time I hoped that the discussion would maybe start in here as well where it could, hopefully, carry on a little more civilized, and potentially under the watch of more important observers.

Recently some posters in this thread pointed out that the reason behind the potential problem that OP brings up is the effective quantity of combat encounters. I quickly started to type a reply in the hopes of igniting this discussion, but halfway there I realized that it had the potential to derail the thread too much, especially because my concern doesn't have anything to do with how certain creatures are supposed to act or not in dungeons and proto-dungeons. So yeah, here I am, starting this thread. Be warned that there's a lot of text and maybe a tiny little rambling ahead lol

I also contemplated posting this on the APs forum, but this forum is busier and honestly, I think that the discussion ties more into the game itself than it might lead on initially.

Right off the bat let me start saying that I love the adventure paths that Paizo has put out. I've both GMed and played in a bunch of them, since the first edition, and they have given me so many memories! I appreciate them, a lot, for this.

So, on the discussion! There's a lot of things that this game does right. One of my favorite changes are how foes are made, and how they can be ran — As a GM, fighting feels... Well, fun! I have genuine fun having my players face a mere giant bat, or fight against a gelatinous cube, and that's because they feel so different from each other with their abilities and everything, including how "difficult" they can be. One of the problems that I had with the first edition is that there were way too many combat encounters in later books that summarized to players winning initiative and nuking enemies. Fights felt so low-stake when they were supposed to be high-stake that sometimes I really just wanted to say something akin to "You clash your weapons against each other, adjective verb adjective verb, and you emerge victorious, take xdx of damage and let's keep going". Which is big yikes, of course, since it created a big disconnect to the narrative side of the game, potentially: Where players would finally beat the macabre, dangerous and scary big bad in one single round. It felt, hmm, antithetical to what was supposed to happen. I personally remember playing my Arcanist and holding back specifically because I didn't want to cause that.

My skills as a GM aside: Something way more important that impacts how much fun I have, as a GM and as player, is pacing. And pacing is something hard to get.

Ideal pacing is, well, subjective. Some people like a lot of fighting encounters, while other people dislike having an entire chapter of pure rp. I suppose that egotistically, I hoped for this new edition to let go of the things that made so much of the fighting feel, well, _needed_. And that has been done to some extent, yes: There's an entire mode of play now that completely distances itself from fighting.

Yet Adventure Paths in this edition, at least both Age of Ashes and Extinction Curse which are the ones that I have experience with, seemed to have quickly adjusted to the same old pattern, which is having a lot of dungeoneering, and more fighting on top of that dungeoneering, which already includes combat encounters. They don't focus as much in the different modes of play.

Let's talk Extinction Curse, Book 1. For context!:
If you keep your eye on the PF2E subreddit, you might have noticed that from weeks to weeks a new thread pops up, confused or annoyed at the first book of the adventure path, The Show Must Go On. For those unaware but that are okay with some spoilers, the book has the players kind of take over the circus that they are a part of, and then while investigating the death of their leader, be roped in something way above their pay grade. Sounds pretty stereotypical, right? Interesting, too. And personally, expectations aside, it's a fantastic hack'n'slash, I feel.

Now to be honest, I feel like something went wrong in the marketing of this AP. At some point people started to call it "the circus AP", and then people obviously started to expect a focus on circus stuff. But the first book itself is a pure hack'n'slash, with fight after fight, and from there the circus just... Isn't too important again. Well, they do remain relevant for some time but yeah. There's a circus theme for sure, but the story doesn't commit to it at all. And from what I remember the Player's Guide do clarify that the story isn't about the circus? Though I'm not too sure.

Be it as it may, my theory is that people expected circus stuff, and they got a lot of fighting instead. But it was this,uh , [i]misexpectation[i],justified or not, that sparkled the thread that I mentioned in the beginning of my post.

A point that was brought up a lot, though, and I think that there's merit in it, is that there were a lot of irrelevant encounters that didn't really need to be there, and those encounters, and a lot of rooms in these dungeons, effectively occupied a space that could have been used for more lore, sidequests, and etc. Despite the focus on the importance of the Wayward Wonders being the PC's family in the player's guide, there's hardly any text dedicated to them in the first book. Is there really any need to put some random ghouls inside a closed off mausoleum in the Hermitage when there's performers that aren't even individually named?

So, what's the problem? Why the need for debate?

Personally, I'm curious to gauge how the community in here feels about all of this. Are you content with the structure of Adventure Paths concerning the amount of combat? There's this idea that Paizo produces the best pre-made adventures out there that was challenged during that conversation. Now, I'll repeat that I absolutely love how these adventures bring Golarion to life, and maybe differently than some other people I am very satisfied with the difficulty so far. Yet ultimately the inclusion of combat encounters and dungeons that are mostly used for more combat encounters usually means that page count goes up, and space for other stuff goes out.

Even the most considered rp-heavy APs aren't really that exempt of fighting bloat, though before PF2E coming out I would have said that that has to do with the fact that the game needs combat. Now I'm not so sure! As of now downtime has been very little featured, for example, if I'm not mistaken, and that has gotta be an intentional choice! Fighting is cool, and in PF2E, it's super fun. But it gets... Dense. Why not focus more on developing NPCs or reactivity, on twists, or evoking theme? Would it be a bad change? Sell badly?

Personally, I do like dungeons but like, not one after another after a whole chapter dedicated to fighting encounters. My favorite structure ever displayed on a Paizo adventure path is, personally, War for the Crown's second book; Songbird, Scion Saboteur.

War for the Crown's spoiler on Book 2:
Chapter one was dedicated to the intrigue subsystem, which felt fantastic and is sadly never revisited again, with the introduction of the bad guy in a civil setting and a lot of interesting npcs and events, chapter 2 opens the area up in a way that pcs can interact with many of the elements that they were introduced during chapter 1, and chapter 3 is the culmination the book, a dungeon, and it feels really cool.

So, what's your take? Is this whole thing bananas? Are things fine as they are? Would you feel curious if a Book, an entire book of an AP, had say less than, uh... I dunno. 20 or 30 encounters?

Anyhoo, please be kind and nice!


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I don't mind there being "a lot of combats" in an AP. That enables me to pick and choose from time to time when there are sections I want to be longer or shorter. I do feel a bit sorry sometimes for groups that run them entirely by the book, because that seems like it would be an awful lot in places--and occasionally, completely disconnected (if the players never find out that the two birds in this room were brought from the jungle by X people for Y reason, then what is the point of putting weird jungle birds in the room?).

The only points in the APs where I think the combat is too heavy is always the first book of an AP. For one, with the weakness of base medicine and the small pools of spells/alchemy, certain players are running on empty a lot more than others--this softens up a bit as the game goes on and it's less punishing to not be a martial. And for two, it can feel really hard to hook players on a story when they keep having to fight through waves of disparate randos to even get to it.

Currently running Age of Ashes (midway through book 4) and Extinction Curse (midway through book 1). Both have required extensive rewrites and expansions by me, though later books don't require that at all. I think dungeon crawls work best when players want to go in there--when they've got plot motivation and some particular character goals. Feels like in the early books, these crawls exist just because.

That's my concern. I put a lot of work into personalizing these APs and I feel like it works really well at my tables--but I have more time than many, so I don't know how fair it is to expect that for people paying money there should still be an expectation of significant modification as a requirement.


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Now that they've added loot summaries to the start of chapters, the next bug Quality of Life add I'd like to see is "Rest" Summaries for encounter areas / dungeons.

Preferably in the same place they put all the details for walls and ceiling heights and such.

Something like,

"During Exploration in this area, the players should not have issues taking 10 minutes to search rooms or refocus after encounters. However, if they linger in one place for longer consider having one of the more mobile encounters engage in a patrol that might result in the encounter happening in a less flavorful position for the players.

The Players should have an opportunity for a single Long Rest while exploring this area, generally between the first floor and the basement - even if the Villain discovers their attack, they lack the resources and manpower to replace their lost allies and assets on short notice. However, after the first day the villain will begin consolidating their assets and the players should understand that additional long rests might allow them to make a clean escape."

Or "This area is intended to be cleared by the Party quickly - they may have time to refocus once without severe consequences, but they should understand that taking longer than that may allow their opponents to either secure additional allies or escape entirely."


I have never ran an AP but have played in a PF1 (Iron Gods) and 2 5e adventures, currently we are on book 2 of Extinction Curse.

I actually think PF2E is designed the best compared to 5e/PF1 to be challenging on short adventure days. PF1/5e short adventure days are SUPER easy.

PF1 Iron Gods (Book 6 currently) pretty much feels exactly like Extinction Curse for combat pacing/design.

It is some roleplaying at the beginning of each book then combat combat combat until the next book. I 100% do not like this design at all and I am someone who loves combat.

Oddly 5e was balanced horrible around a paradign of 8 encounters a day which never happened yet in Storm King's Thunder / Curse of Strahd I felt there was much less combat then again that I never read the books, so I have no idea if that was just the GMs running them.

I actually have really enjoy Extinction Curse/ Iron Gods but just wish it was more based around 1-4 encounters and then some RP.

Main issue is GMs can definitely cut some combats but then you just will fly through the AP leveling up very quickly. In general I don't think the combat encounter has anything to do with the way APs are set up, I think they just think players love the Roleplay>Lots of Combat. My favorite paradigm of Roleplay>some combat>roleplay>some combat.

This 100% varies from player to player and I realize some people might love the roleplay>lots of combat. I don't think this has to do with 2e but more of just how the first books had been designed. Also I admit PF2E combat has felt better than any other system by far.


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We were just discussing some tangential issues to this over in another thread. I definitely agree with the OP's position. In hindsight, if I was re-doing The Show Must Go On, I'd cut down the dungeons in chapters 3 and 4 by about half, and spend that time and effort on fleshing out the circus and having problems come up that the PCs need to deal with now that they're being thrust into a leadership role. Similarly, in Legacy of the Lost God, I'd spend more time in early parts building up the rival circus and maybe Mistress Dusklight's role in Escadar's underworld, and less on Moonstone Hall.

I will say that when I was being a player in Cult of Cinders, I quite enjoyed the hexcrawl portion of that adventure (a few more RP encounters would have been nice, but overall it was good stuff). I also enjoyed interacting with the Ekujae. So, more stuff like that would be a good thing.


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Thinking about the issue a little more, I think that to some extent it has to do with mandates set up regarding the APs which, if not force, at least nudge things toward dungeoncrawls. Here's how I see this working:

1. Pathfinder 2e supports high-level play much better than PF1 did (at least, so I'm told, I haven't gotten to high-level play yet). So Adventure Paths are now supposed to go all the way to 20, and actually have some play happen at level 20.

2. 20 levels of play over 6 volumes means 3–4 levels per volume.

3. Each AP part is 96 pages, about 55 of which is actual adventure and the rest being articles, new monsters and other stuff, and such. So that's 330 pages of adventure to go 20 levels - or about 17 pages of adventure per level. Some of those pages will be spent on intro stuff, which leaves about 15 pages per level.

4. By the book, each level is supposed to take 1000 XP. That means you need a pace of about 70 XP per page.

5. Combat encounters are generally super-compact when it comes to XP, because they rely a lot on things established elsewhere (e.g. the Bestiary).

For example, take Legacy of the Lost God, chapter 1. I'll put this in spoilers:

Spoiler:
The actual adventuring starts on page 7, with the rest being background info. You then have two pages dedicated to the negotiations with chief constable Paldreen, which might result in 80 XP. That's potentially 40 XP per page.

You then move on to clearing out the valley that's been assigned to your circus. Here, we have a total of approximately 670 XP over a little under 7 pages, for about 100 XP per page.

And finally there's the circus show with a potential 300 XP, about half of which comes from a combat encounter, over another 3 pages, and that includes a hefty finishing bonus of 120 XP for putting on a successful show.


Anyhow, the point is that combat and dungeons gets you a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to XP versus pagecount, which is a big part of why it's so prevalent in APs. Some ways to solve that would be:

1. Not necessarily have APs go all the way to 20.

2. Drastically increase the XP awards from various non-combat stuff.

3. Say "This AP assumes you're using milestone leveling, and you'll level up once between each chapter. If you insist on using XP, there will not be enough presented in the adventure itself, and you'll have to add bonus awards and/or fights."

4. Add more pages of adventure per AP. This can be done in two ways: either adding to the page count, or removing a bunch of the back material.

I'm not sure either of those will particularly fit Paizo's MO.


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Why not just use milestone leveling? Many 5e adventures do this and in my all my homebrew campaigns, my groups have also ditched XP. If you are using milestone leveling, then you don’t need to worry about stuffing in so many encounters to give players enough XP.


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Staffan Johansson wrote:

3. Say "This AP assumes you're using milestone leveling, and you'll level up once between each chapter. If you insist on using XP, there will not be enough presented in the adventure itself, and you'll have to add bonus awards and/or fights."

All of the 2E Adventure Paths tell you precisely when your party should be which level, meaning that Milestone leveling is essentially fully supported. by default. I'd absolutely recommend it to any DM over tracking experience points.


Given the “snapshot” concept mentioned in the other thread (the dungeon/encounter area taken as a snapshot before the party arrives) the information is there to be taken or left. I imagine it might be common for most parties to not encounter absolutely every foe/trap in the place.

I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here - if there were less encounters available those assiduous, battle ready parties would be bereft of encounters.

It’s definitely a fine line, and as has been shown, there could be some wiggle room to remove extraneity in encounters to focus a little more on information/flavor text tacitly involved with/moving the narrative along...


KrispyXIV wrote:

Now that they've added loot summaries to the start of chapters, the next bug Quality of Life add I'd like to see is "Rest" Summaries for encounter areas / dungeons.

Preferably in the same place they put all the details for walls and ceiling heights and such.

Something like,

"During Exploration in this area, the players should not have issues taking 10 minutes to search rooms or refocus after encounters. However, if they linger in one place for longer consider having one of the more mobile encounters engage in a patrol that might result in the encounter happening in a less flavorful position for the players.

The Players should have an opportunity for a single Long Rest while exploring this area, generally between the first floor and the basement - even if the Villain discovers their attack, they lack the resources and manpower to replace their lost allies and assets on short notice. However, after the first day the villain will begin consolidating their assets and the players should understand that additional long rests might allow them to make a clean escape."

Or "This area is intended to be cleared by the Party quickly - they may have time to refocus once without severe consequences, but they should understand that taking longer than that may allow their opponents to either secure additional allies or escape entirely."

Great stuff! You should post it in the other thread!


KrispyXIV wrote:
Staffan Johansson wrote:

3. Say "This AP assumes you're using milestone leveling, and you'll level up once between each chapter. If you insist on using XP, there will not be enough presented in the adventure itself, and you'll have to add bonus awards and/or fights."

All of the 2E Adventure Paths tell you precisely when your party should be which level, meaning that Milestone leveling is essentially fully supported. by default. I'd absolutely recommend it to any DM over tracking experience points.

Yep, milestones would ameliorate any tendency to freak out that “we won’t level if we don’t slay every insect and lichen in the joint!!!” thought train.


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"And thirdly, the pirate's code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner." - Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean.

As Staffan Johansson pointed out, a module has to fit a lot of challenges into it for the party to earn 3 or 4 levels. Most challenges are travel, exploration, mystery, conversation, hazards, or combat. Some challenges, such travel, need little description. Other challenges, such as negotiation with NPCs, require describing the personality and goals of the NPCs. Describing the words of the conversation would be impossible, so the GM has to ad-lib it. Combat needs a careful description to be balanced, not too hard and not too easy. Combat also consumes a lot of tabletop time for a minute of in-game time.

I have not run any of the official Pathfinder 2nd Edition adventure paths. Instead, I am converting Ironfang Invasion to PF2. Let's look at typical entries from Trail of the Hunted from the Ironfang Invasion adventure path. The module starts with the invasion of Phaendar village by a hobgoblin army. The first scene is the party hobnobbing with retired 6th-level ranger Aubrin the Green, possibly at the Taproot Inn, and then the hobgoblins bash in the door and injure Aubrin. However, the GM has the option of starting earlier than the invasion, so it starts by describing places that the PCs might visit.

Trail of the Hunted, Preamble of Section D: Taproot Inn:
D: Taproot Inn
The Taproot—referred to simply as “the Root” by locals—is the only two-story building in town, and serves a wide variety of meals and alcohol gathered from travelers crossing the bridge. It’s also the largest indoor gathering place in town after the temple, and most of locals spend far more time in the Root during any given week than the temple.
Ownership of the Taproot changes often as proprietors struggle or grow bored. It currently belongs to Jet (CG human female aristocrat 2), a recent transplant to Phaendar of mixed Shoanti and Varisian descent with twin black braids, black eyes, and an iconic teal scarf worn around her waist. If the PCs visit the inn last, Jet has been captured and dragged away.

The description of the first room focuses on combat and looting.

Trail of the Hunted, D1. Taproot Bar:
D1. Taproot Bar (CR 1)
A massive fireplace and the horns of two dozen elk make up most of the bar’s decor. The Taproot can accommodate dozens of locals and travelers, but the barroom has been ravaged and destroyed, with tables smashed and a dozen bodies dead on the floor.
Creatures: A pair of Ironfang hobgoblins are still tossing through the inn’s wreckage, and attack when the PCs enter.
IRONFANG RECRUITS (2) CR 1/2
XP 200 each
Hobgoblins (Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 175)
hp 17 each
Treasure: One of the travelers still wears a humble tin ring decorated with rabbits, overlooked by the Ironfangs in their initial grab for valuables. This adornment is actually a ring of jumping.

I began the adventure six in-game days before the invasion and I spent at least two hours of tabletop time letting the player characters talk the villagers. My players had worked out their characters' places in the village during Session Zero, and they wanted to experience life in the village.

The ranger PC was training under Aubrin the Green. The scoundrel rogue PC worked for the blacksmith as a goat herder. The thief rogue PC was delivering a message. The druid PC was visiting a friend, the local cleric of the Green Faith. The alchemist PC had just arrived as one of ten goblin refugees fleeing the Ironfang Legion's conquest of the village Ecru. Phaendar's leaders, Aubrin, the blacksmith, the cleric, and a shopkeeper, were arguing what to do about the goblin refugees. I deliberately changed the emphasis from combat to leadership, because that fit the stories of the PCs.

The elements in the module are merely guidelines and source material. We GMs chose how much combat fills the tabletop time. Some GMs would skip the preamble about the atmosphere in the Taproot Inn. I skipped the part about 2 Ironfang recruits. (The Ironfang Legion in my PF2 conversion was better trained. The weakest invader was Hobgoblin Soldier, creature 1, from PF2 Bestiary 1. And most soldiers grouped together in squads of four.)

I am not the only person in my game who trims away combat. If my players decide that some hostiles are not an obstacle to their mission, then they leave them alone. They are also good at Diplomacy and Deception to reduce hostility. On the other hand, sometimes they seek out additional combat, such as the time they took out a roadblock manned by a 24-hobgoblin garrison. (This would make milestone leveling difficult. My players move the milestones.)

Rise of the Runelords had a reputation as a combat grind. My players turned it into a game of intrigue. The lamia matriarch Xanesha became a double agent working for both them and the bad guys. They entered the Fortress of Stone Giants by the secret tunnel rather than combat. They got past the giants of Xin-Shalast by starting a civil war via false orders.

RPGnoremac wrote:
[In Iron Gods] It is some roleplaying at the beginning of each book then combat combat combat until the next book.

Not in the hands of my players. The 1st module allowed a retreat from the dangerous caves to the adjacent town of Torch for rest and relaxation, including a celebration at the gambling hall. The players derailed the 2nd module, the shantytown Scrapwall composed of fugitives and the descendants of bandits, by moving into town pretending to be archeologists hiding from the Technic League. They held a public concert rather than fighting for a strong reputation. In the 3rd module, they showed up to Iadenveigh by saying, "We heard that you have a toxic water problem in Bitter Lake and we are here to fix it." They did have to fight their way into the Choking Tower. In the 4th module, they skipped half the caves, which meant they finished a level short. However, they took out the Dominion Hive non-stop without a rest and one level too low in order to catch the alien monsters before they could organize. In the 5th module, they entered the city of Starfall peacefully incognito by returning to their Torch identities (they had adventured under the false names they invented for Scrapwall). In the 6th module, they convinced the main villain Unity to hire them as repair crew and befriended some of Unity's minions to join them in stopping Unity's evil plan.


Honestly I guess it is just how we play and how "we feel we are supposed to play". With XP it makes things even worse.

I will try not to give to many spoilers for any aps but in Extinction Curse and Iron Gods there are always times when you find out X things to do.

The main problem is that fron a gaming perspective we know that if we dont "complete every nook and cranny we will be under leveled and under geared which would lead to a team wipe".

From an RP perspective APs are tough since let's just say if we truly played our characters as circus folk the game would be really weird.

In a homebrew campaign it is much easier because you know the GM will balance around "skipping" things.

PF1 Iron Gods is a big example when you find out there are a whole bunch of caves out just kind of feels like you have to search them all. It is hard for us to pass up when you find out about all these points of interests to just skip them.

When an NPC screams something that says "main questline" it is hard to say oh... we arent interested since we are just Circus Folk.

I just have no idea what a GM would do if you just leave everything half completed. Would you just hand wave XP?

In general I love how both Extinction Curse + Iron Gods start most the books. Somehow we always end up with a "to do list". So we complete the list and then we end up going somewhere else. For example there are times when a bad guy says "get out of here or suffer". What if the players just run away... I am genuinely curious how a GM could handle that.

Scarab Sages

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I have three things to say about this all.

1: The need for XP can be a problem, it's why I moved to milestone levelling in my 2nd 2e AP Book. While I have seen rewards for more non-combat stuff, I think it needs to be expanded on even more. I think everything that advances thr plot should award XP.

Save the town council from a fire? XP.
Kill a lich? XP.
Find the lich's lair? XP.
Negotiated payment with town? XP.
Made friends with the Mason who will fix your mansion? XP.

2: Plot matters in an RPG. If it doesn't advance the plot, it shouldn't be an encounter. After the first room of bugs in a keep, you don't need to keep throwing swarms of spiders at me so I hit level 2 and remember the place is infested. I'll probably forget after I spend all session squishing bugs, I know my players forgot why they went to Citadel Alterein a few times.

And dont make a mechanic that's only going to be used once, it bloats the game if it isn't something that will continue to be used. Rough it out in an AP and put it in a hardcover if you need to, just don't waste everyone's time with an in depth mechanic that quickly becomes irrelevant and would have been better served if less developed.

3: Promises/Marketing. The Show Must Go On is a great example here. Despite ample warning in text that the circus isn't the focus, everything related to the AP in the beginning promised us circus adventures - archetypes, spells, art, the title of the book...

You have to fulfill your promises to players or they will come away either dissatisfied, feeling cheated, or just plain confused. If I make a module called "Gupta's Great Big Globetrotting Adventure" you would expect to trot the globe with Gupta, and have adventures along the way. You expect Survival and Nature and other travel type skills to matter. If the whole module is social intrigue to fund Gupta's adventure and crafting to make him a boat, then I would not have delivered on my promise to you as a consumer. Same thing if my promo material showed Gupta in cool places and you have one encounter finding your way back home and then never leaving your manor again. Or if Gupta never shows up, or if he dies in the first scene.


KrispyXIV wrote:
Staffan Johansson wrote:

3. Say "This AP assumes you're using milestone leveling, and you'll level up once between each chapter. If you insist on using XP, there will not be enough presented in the adventure itself, and you'll have to add bonus awards and/or fights."

All of the 2E Adventure Paths tell you precisely when your party should be which level, meaning that Milestone leveling is essentially fully supported. by default. I'd absolutely recommend it to any DM over tracking experience points.

I completely agree. I can see using XP in a sandbox scenario (not just a hexcrawl adventure section like in Cult of Cinders, but where the whole campaign is more sandbox-y), but other than that I'm all for milestone leveling.

But that's not how the APs are written. They are definitely written with XP in mind, and with fairly low tolerances for missing things that might give XP. I know in the Show Must Go On, there was even text at the start of chapters 3 and 4 that said something like "By now the PCs should be 3rd level. If they're not, throw in some random encounters on the way so they can level up."

Sovereign Court

Staffan Johansson wrote:
KrispyXIV wrote:
Staffan Johansson wrote:

3. Say "This AP assumes you're using milestone leveling, and you'll level up once between each chapter. If you insist on using XP, there will not be enough presented in the adventure itself, and you'll have to add bonus awards and/or fights."

All of the 2E Adventure Paths tell you precisely when your party should be which level, meaning that Milestone leveling is essentially fully supported. by default. I'd absolutely recommend it to any DM over tracking experience points.

I completely agree. I can see using XP in a sandbox scenario (not just a hexcrawl adventure section like in Cult of Cinders, but where the whole campaign is more sandbox-y), but other than that I'm all for milestone leveling.

But that's not how the APs are written. They are definitely written with XP in mind, and with fairly low tolerances for missing things that might give XP. I know in the Show Must Go On, there was even text at the start of chapters 3 and 4 that said something like "By now the PCs should be 3rd level. If they're not, throw in some random encounters on the way so they can level up."

Yeah I was thinking the same thing - XP actually doesn't make sense in an adventure path. In an adventure path you should be level X before you get to point Y. Why do it with XP, and all the angst of having to clear out all the spiders in the cupboard?

Adventure Paths by their very name are going somewhere. A more pure sandbox campaign (which IMO the AoA hexcrawl really wasn't) there isn't any such pre-set destination. Call it "Trailblazer Mode" if you will.

In Trailblazer Mode, XP actually makes perfectly good sense. You're moving around in the world with no pre-set destiny to be level X before you do level Y. Rather, Y might be over there and it looks scary right now. Let's go do something else. Maybe if we reach level X, we feel brave enough to go to Y.

Writing a trailblazer style adventure is an entirely different proposition than a typical Paizo AP though. You can't really presume any central plotline that the players will do X, Y and Z in. Groups that aren't self-propelled may flounder a bit. Some groups learn the hard way that they need some tactic for running away from things that are currently too high-level for them.

You can probably sell it, but it's a considerably different product. But that's where the "XP for whatever you happened to do" system makes sense.


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Staffan Johansson wrote:


But that's not how the APs are written. They are definitely written with XP in mind, and with fairly low tolerances for missing things that might give XP. I know in the Show Must Go On, there was even text at the start of chapters 3 and 4 that said something like "By now the PCs should be 3rd level. If they're not, throw in some random encounters on the way so they can level up."

I mean, theyre written for Exp because that is the default.

But they also provide you with the appropriate Milestones, as found on page 3 of the Show Must Go On.

Milestone leveling is fully supported as written ;)


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Ascalaphus wrote:
Call it "Trailblazer Mode" if you will.

I think "Trailblazer Mode", to use your words, asks for a very different way of handling the adventure. Level-based adventures are not good at all for trailblazing, as each encounter have their specific level and can't be played at any other level without being extremely easy/hard. Especially in PF2 where a single level of difference changes so many things.

I could see a virtuosic GM able to handle such an adventure without screwing too much on the challenge and without giving the feeling that the areas difficulty is set to match exactly the PCs level. But it's not something I'll publish in an AP if I want unexperienced GMs to handle it properly.


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I think PF2 could use fewer encounters for a couple reasons:
1) "Throw away" (aka easy) fights are very uncommon. Combats are dangerous, deadly and extremely involved. Having an hour-long combat only to realize there are 25 more before reaching the end of the dungeon just doesn't work when you're busy adults, only able to meet a couple times a month for limited time.
2) Attrition doesn't really exist anymore. With repairing items, regaining focus points, the Medicine skill, having to string together numerous encounters to "wear down" the party to be challenged by a BBEG is a thing of the past. Simply put, let the epic fights be epic - take out the filler.

I really believe that the mentality of designing adventures for a previous edition of the game is one of the things that doomed D&D 4e. Granted, I've only run half of Age of Ashes, but I think cutting out some stuff is a good idea.


RPGnoremac wrote:

Honestly I guess it is just how we play and how "we feel we are supposed to play". With XP it makes things even worse.

I will try not to give to many spoilers for any aps but in Extinction Curse and Iron Gods there are always times when you find out X things to do.

The main problem is that fron a gaming perspective we know that if we dont "complete every nook and cranny we will be under leveled and under geared which would lead to a team wipe".

From an RP perspective APs are tough since let's just say if we truly played our characters as circus folk the game would be really weird.

In a homebrew campaign it is much easier because you know the GM will balance around "skipping" things.

PF1 Iron Gods is a big example when you find out there are a whole bunch of caves out just kind of feels like you have to search them all. It is hard for us to pass up when you find out about all these points of interests to just skip them.

My players mastered teamwork and regularly win fights as if their characters were two levels higher. Thus, they have two levels of flexibility. I do not have to keep their XP carefully balanced.

I increase the difficulty of some encounters to give them a serious challenge. This gives them more XP than the module planned. The party missing out some XP due to skipping boring combats corrects that excess XP.

RPGnoremac wrote:
When an NPC screams something that says "main questline" it is hard to say oh... we arent interested since we are just Circus Folk.

In my Iron Gods campaign, the magus Elric (Lifestealer) was an adventurer, the skald Kirii (Nightingale) was a teenager on a coming-of-age journey, the gunslinger Boffin (Gremlinbane) was a local smith, the fighter Kheld (Cold Iron) was a caravan guard, and the bloodrager Val Baine (Jolt) was an NPC, the teenage daughter of the town wizard Khonnir Baine. They started on the quest because their friend Khonnir was missing, not for a reward or an adventure.

My players like roleplaying the humble person with uncanny abilities thrown into an adventure by necessity. I suspect that if I ran Extinction Curse, they would build professional circus performers, burly roustabouts, and teenagers who just joined the circus, all whose abilities apply peculiarly well in combat.

RPGnoremac wrote:
I just have no idea what a GM would do if you just leave everything half completed. Would you just hand wave XP?

I ran the 1st module of Jade Regent with 8 players, so they ended the module at only 3rd level due to dilution of xp. I took two season's break before running the 2nd module and lost half my players due to a family moving to another state. The 2nd module was supposed to start at 4th level, so with my party back to regular size, I told the players to level up to 4th with no in-game reason.

When my players derailed the 5th module, Tide of Honor, I had to write a lot of conflicts from scratch. I let them spy on an army of 100 oni. I had intended for them to simply spy and leave. Instead, they destroyed the army. (I should have learned my lesson, but another group of players with only one player in common did the same with a 24-strong hobgoblin roadblock in Ironfang Invasion.) The 100 oni gave them enough XP to level up 2 levels. I gave them one level and switched to milestone leveling.

In other campaigns, I have been able to control the flow of XP better. However, the flow of story is in my player's hands. Right now, as they play through the 2nd module, Fangs of War, in Ironfang Invasion, they went over to Radya's Hollow, section I in the 3rd module, Assault on Longshadow, to save the village. They were 6th level in Fangs of War, a little behind schedule on the milestone, but Radya's Hollow was supposed to be 8th level. When they double back to Fangs of War, which milestone should I use?

RPGnoremac wrote:
In general I love how both Extinction Curse + Iron Gods start most the books. Somehow we always end up with a "to do list". So we complete the list and then we end up going somewhere else. For example there are times when a bad guy says "get out of here or suffer". What if the players just run away... I am genuinely curious how a GM could handle that.

Running away is an option. At 7th level at the end of Lords of Rust in Iron Gods, I let them rebuild a small spaceship, the Haunted Wreck, buried in a scrapheap in Scrapwall. Then I sent a Technic League team investigating rumors of the party to Scrapwall. They ran away, the only rational response. More precisely, they flew away in their spaceship. That left the Technic League in a tizzy.

Later, when they were incognito in Starfall during the 5th module, they left Starfall halfway through the module as the Technic League began unravelling their disguises. They ended up in Silver Mount early. They had found an alternative way of entering the place than the module intended: Casandalee talked to Unity over the radio in their spaceship and they landed on top of Silver Mount. That derailed the 6th module. I just asked one of my players and he said, "That's totally us. More fun that way."

Running away from the Ironfang Legion's invasion of Phaendar is scripted into the beginning of Trail of the Hunted.

Sigh, I have been a GM for only 9 years. How did I become an expert at improvisation?


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Harles wrote:

I think PF2 could use fewer encounters for a couple reasons:

1) "Throw away" (aka easy) fights are very uncommon. Combats are dangerous, deadly and extremely involved. Having an hour-long combat only to realize there are 25 more before reaching the end of the dungeon just doesn't work when you're busy adults, only able to meet a couple times a month for limited time.
2) Attrition doesn't really exist anymore. With repairing items, regaining focus points, the Medicine skill, having to string together numerous encounters to "wear down" the party to be challenged by a BBEG is a thing of the past. Simply put, let the epic fights be epic - take out the filler.

I really believe that the mentality of designing adventures for a previous edition of the game is one of the things that doomed D&D 4e. Granted, I've only run half of Age of Ashes, but I think cutting out some stuff is a good idea.

I think the downside to that is that players never really get to feel accomplished or good at what they do. If they always are fighting hard fights, they never feel much like they've improved or have strong skills. Smaller, quicker, easier fights can give them opportunities to feel pretty solid in combat instead of barely hanging on.

Different games for different types, I suppose. I know there are tables where the mood intentionally is that combat will always be hard and the players will constantly be in danger, but I think that's a pretty small subset of modern TTRPG tables.


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Sporkedup wrote:


I think the downside to that is that players never really get to feel accomplished or good at what they do. If they always are fighting hard fights, they never feel much like they've improved or have strong skills. Smaller, quicker, easier fights can give them opportunities to feel pretty solid in combat instead of barely hanging on.

Different games for different types, I suppose. I know there are tables where the mood intentionally is that combat will always be hard and the players will constantly be in danger, but I think that's a pretty small subset of modern TTRPG tables.

To be fair, I don't think I've had a combat (even a "minor" one) that I would consider "easy." Most of them are barely won, and I have averaged a TPK every two sessions.

I'm not saying make every encounter hard - I'm saying make every encounter "important." Build the world, give clues, have stakes. In a system like PF the combats are detailed enough, challenging enough, and time intensive enough that they should never just be random encounters or presented as speed bumps to getting to the main quest.


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Harles wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:


I think the downside to that is that players never really get to feel accomplished or good at what they do. If they always are fighting hard fights, they never feel much like they've improved or have strong skills. Smaller, quicker, easier fights can give them opportunities to feel pretty solid in combat instead of barely hanging on.

Different games for different types, I suppose. I know there are tables where the mood intentionally is that combat will always be hard and the players will constantly be in danger, but I think that's a pretty small subset of modern TTRPG tables.

To be fair, I don't think I've had a combat (even a "minor" one) that I would consider "easy." Most of them are barely won, and I have averaged a TPK every two sessions.

I'm not saying make every encounter hard - I'm saying make every encounter "important." Build the world, give clues, have stakes. In a system like PF the combats are detailed enough, challenging enough, and time intensive enough that they should never just be random encounters or presented as speed bumps to getting to the main quest.

I'm just saying, that's a very specific way to want to play a game, and one that the vast majority of Pathfinder tables aren't that interested in.

A TPK every other session sounds to me to be the pits of frustration, and I have no idea how you can run a campaign if the characters introduced last no more than a week or two. To each their own, but I strongly hope this philosophy never inches any nearer to the design structure from the Paizo folks.


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Angel Hunter D wrote:


2: Plot matters in an RPG. If it doesn't advance the plot, it shouldn't be an encounter.

I feel like is much more true of a novel than an RPG. I often have encounters, locations, details, items and characters who have absolutely nothing to do with the plot so that the world feels much more real and doesn't revolve around the players. In my group, this seems to be appreciated, at least. It adds a lot of roleplay opportunities, a lot of fun fights, allows for some interesting character development, etc. If everything gets focused on the plot I find the above things actually begin to become less common, because the story and world begins to feel fake. The plot (such as "quest to defeat the Lich or what have you") might be narrative miles away at any given time.

In an AP, you can only do this so much- and I would recommend doing it mostly with non-combat encounters so it doesn't become super tedious, but "irrelevant" things (for me, at least) almost have to be there for the world to not feel off somehow.

Repeated encounters with spider swarms probably would be a pointless Hell, though.


Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
KrispyXIV wrote:

Now that they've added loot summaries to the start of chapters, the next bug Quality of Life add I'd like to see is "Rest" Summaries for encounter areas / dungeons.

Preferably in the same place they put all the details for walls and ceiling heights and such.

I'd like this too, preferably in a sidebar so they are easy to locate when flipping back through the book.


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Sporkedup wrote:


I'm just saying, that's a very specific way to want to play a game, and one that the vast majority of Pathfinder tables aren't that interested in.

A TPK every other session sounds to me to be the pits of frustration, and I have no idea how you can run a campaign if the characters introduced last no more than a week or two. To each their own, but I strongly hope this philosophy never inches any nearer to the design structure from the Paizo folks.

You're right. It was incredibly frustrating. But that's how it went running Age of Ashes as written, even with 5 characters. I don't know if the group was running tactically "perfect" or had the ideal "perfect" build of characters - but there was zero wiggle room in those encounters. If someone didn't step into a flanking position, no one could hit reliably, and the party would become overwhelmed. The cleric didn't get to go at the ideal time in the Initiative order, too bad, the party drops.

It seemed that most encounters were one bad turn - or sometimes even one bad roll - away from being TPKs. The alarming frequency of criticals (both hits and failures for saves) exacerbated this. We would have to restart combats just for the players to not give up on the campaign entirely.

PF2 is brutal. It's the deadliest modern edition of a TTRPG I've played. To think about having encounters that are essentially meaningless when I averaged a TPK rate of 25% is out of the question.

Paizo Employee Designer

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RPGnoremac wrote:


The main problem is that fron a gaming perspective we know that if we dont "complete every nook and cranny we will be under leveled and under geared which would lead to a team wipe".

That actually isn't typically the case. APs usually give out more gear and XP than is actually necessary because most groups don't complete every encounter and find every piece of loot. The game expects that to be the case and is already written with that in mind. It's also true of PFS/SFS adventures. There is a small but vocal minority who will get thoroughly pissed if there's a piece of loot hidden behind a skill check their character didn't possess, but those exist specifically to reward people who do have that skill and the game does not expect you to get every treasure bundle from every scenario; that's why scenarios generally give about 20% more wealth than the CRB guidelines suggest.

On a related page, it's worth noting that in PF2, you never get a single point of experience for killing a monster. Not one. What you gain XP for is completing encounters. And while combat is a common resolution for resolving encounters and the majority of encounters are presented in combat encounter format, it's far from the only method of resolution in many/most cases. Players using diplomacy, magic, and other creative solutions that don't involve killing the monsters or chasing the loot is actually very common; for example, in the Doomsday Dawn playtest adventures, there was an encounter that included a group of cyclopes. Diplomacy was presented as a possible, but unlikely, solution. Combat was far more likely to happen and actually easier to accomplish. Despite that, the vast majority of respondents to the playtest survey noted that they completed the encounter without resorting to combat. Similarly, there was a Starfinder Society adventure where the PCs were presented with a moral dilemma- either do the job they were sent to do in the first place and expose a reclusive alien culture to the wider universe, or respect the desires of said culture and pass up the opportunity to complete the initial job and the pay that went with it. Despite the prospect of failure, a missed paycheck, and no stated or immediate reward for respecting the alien society, the vast majority of players still chose to forego their payday and respect the aliens' wishes.

Anecdotally, when I ran Iron Gods for a very diverse group of players (diverse including gender, ethnicity, amount of gaming experience, and general playstyle), they managed to complete huge swaths of the AP without resorting to killing most of the sapient enemies. They'd use bribery, intimidation, diplomacy, deception, and stealth to overcome encounters nonlethally, and then usually come back after the boss was dealt with to recruit all the people they'd left alive. In two otherwise unrelated campaign worlds, most of Numeria is ruled by a coalition of adventurers who started by recruiting or conquering minor guilds, then towns, then major organizations until they'd established their own techno-kingdom.

In an AP, you might have an encounter presented as a combat encounter against an ogre who serves as the lookout and guardian at the secret entrance of a cabal of necromancers. He's presented as a combat encounter because the adventure writer assumed that was either the most likely or the easiest way for that encounter to be resolved, but generally that doesn't mean that it's the only way for that encounter to be resolved, or even the way that most experienced groups will resolve it. Bribing, enchanting, or coercing the ogre and then recruiting them to come help you knock the necromancer's heads together still gives full XP for overcoming that encounter. If you then convince the ogre to come help you rough up the necromancers and you coerce them into joining as your underlings, you get the same XP as if you just murdered your way through everyone, plus a new gang of underlings.

It's the PCs who decide how every encounter is resolved, and very often, small pieces of what seem like helpful guidance such as "The guards in area A8 immediately begin arming themselves at the first sound of a struggle in area A7" actually end up being detrimental to immersion and the player experience. What does the "sound of a struggle" actually mean? Should they react if the party sneaks into A7 and knocks out all the enemies before they can sound an alarm? How loud is a fireball that instantly incinerates everyone in a room? The more of those variations you mention, the more sub-variations people want accounted for, and that spirals out of control very quickly. This is particularly true of an AP, where the possible variations of a given encounter might be spectacularly massive.

I'm reminded of being a player in Rise of the Runelords, when my party fought Xanesha before any of her underlings by scaling the outside of the tower, fighting Xanesha in a field of silence, jumping the faceless stalkers, and then (after fleeing with a few acrobatics and some base chicanery) dropping the bell trap on top of the scarecrow golem. The most difficult part of the dungeon was figuring out how to get down after we'd wrecked the stairwell and expended all our magic getting in.

There's a very specific curve wherein extra advice about the movement of creatures in a dungeon, particularly a non-linear dungeon like most APs have, starts to negatively impact more groups than it positively impacts. In something like organized play where we do smaller adventures with fewer variables, it's a lot easier to include explanations of alternative resolutions, like how Whitefang Wyrm includes instructions for PCs who diplomacize the BBEG. The larger the adventure is, the less value there is in that extra information as increasing numbers of variables make it irrelevant to an ever-widening portion of the player base. In the worst case scenario, those kinds of instructions inadvertently tell the GM to take agency away from the players by enforcing a particular action that might match with the basic description of the PCs' actions but not their actual execution.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Harles wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:


I'm just saying, that's a very specific way to want to play a game, and one that the vast majority of Pathfinder tables aren't that interested in.

A TPK every other session sounds to me to be the pits of frustration, and I have no idea how you can run a campaign if the characters introduced last no more than a week or two. To each their own, but I strongly hope this philosophy never inches any nearer to the design structure from the Paizo folks.

You're right. It was incredibly frustrating. But that's how it went running Age of Ashes as written, even with 5 characters. I don't know if the group was running tactically "perfect" or had the ideal "perfect" build of characters - but there was zero wiggle room in those encounters. If someone didn't step into a flanking position, no one could hit reliably, and the party would become overwhelmed. The cleric didn't get to go at the ideal time in the Initiative order, too bad, the party drops.

It seemed that most encounters were one bad turn - or sometimes even one bad roll - away from being TPKs. The alarming frequency of criticals (both hits and failures for saves) exacerbated this. We would have to restart combats just for the players to not give up on the campaign entirely.

PF2 is brutal. It's the deadliest modern edition of a TTRPG I've played. To think about having encounters that are essentially meaningless when I averaged a TPK rate of 25% is out of the question.

Wait, you're telling me you experienced a TPK one out of every four fights in Age of Ashes, even with a spare person? That is not a complaint I've ever heard before. Certainly not a scenario my table experienced, though we're only 75% of the way through book 4.


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Sporkedup wrote:
Wait, you're telling me you experienced a TPK one out of every four fights in Age of Ashes, even with a spare person? That is not a complaint I've ever heard before. Certainly not a scenario my table experienced, though we're only 75% of the way through book 4.

Yep. Running it as close to RAW as I could do - adding no extra monsters or anything. We finished book 2 before the group fell apart.

We took great care to make sure everyone had their characters put in Pathbuilder correctly and all the automation on Roll20 was good. We had the right amount of magical gear and equipment. We used Hero Points, used separate initiative for all combatants (instead of grouping like monsters together).
We had about half the players who were extremely occupied with reading rules, making sure everything was as advantageous as they could figure out - and they'd pass along their suggestions to the other half of the party who were more casual players.
Though the party configuration changed often due to the TPKs we'd usually have something like the following: arcane caster (wizard/sorcerer), champion, fighter, divine caster (cleric/druid), and a bonus character (typically something agile like a monk or rogue).
I just don't get it. I've seen games where life is cheap (like OSR-type D&D games), but never something where it takes so long to make a character, requiring such an investment, to have your character frequently die after a couple encounters.


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Sporkedup wrote:

I think the downside to that is that players never really get to feel accomplished or good at what they do. If they always are fighting hard fights, they never feel much like they've improved or have strong skills. Smaller, quicker, easier fights can give them opportunities to feel pretty solid in combat instead of barely hanging on.

Different games for different types, I suppose. I know there are tables where the mood intentionally is that combat will always be hard and the players will constantly be in danger, but I think that's a pretty small subset of modern TTRPG tables.

This is really something that 2 of our players have felt and it they have actually even started to thinking about quitting and saying 5e is "more fun". In reality their complaints are 100% because of the AP but they equate it to PF2 = bad.

They feel like they aren't even stronger and really which have caused negative attitudes for them. The way Extinction Curse is built players we are going down left and right, whenever we leveled up all of a sudden we were fighting monsters one level higher.

We thought the logically start to getting into playing 2e should be with an AP by the book but honestly I think it might have been a bad idea and these two player might eventually quit 2e for good. It doesn't help we had no experience with 2e so things had a rocky start.

Of course we had no experience with 2e before so we had no idea what an AP was like or what to even do to make a campaign. After 6 months or so I am realizing it would have been much better off starting with Curse of Strahd converted with lots of "easy" encounters a few moderate and one deadly per 7 sessions or so. Extinction Curse has a few easy fights but mostly they are all challenging.

I really hope the beginner box + add on adventure will be a lot better. IMO PF2E is miles of above 5e and better than PF1 but I really don't think Extinction Curse really is beginner friendly at all and might actually turn off our playgroup.

One player thought combat feels "swingy" but in realty they are just swingy because running into a monster can be a death sentence and tactics really help. Of course battles can be swingy still but PF2 battles are based around crits being a normal occurrence rather than "on 20".

The worse part is the adventure we played before (5e) could have been set in PF2E and it would have pretty much been 100% better.

Overall I love 2e but we thought since we had no experience an AP "as written" would be the best thing. After playing I realize that is not the truth. Players are just trying to learn the systems and fiends are being thrown at them left and right that kill them in 1 round.


KrispyXIV wrote:
Staffan Johansson wrote:


But that's not how the APs are written. They are definitely written with XP in mind, and with fairly low tolerances for missing things that might give XP. I know in the Show Must Go On, there was even text at the start of chapters 3 and 4 that said something like "By now the PCs should be 3rd level. If they're not, throw in some random encounters on the way so they can level up."

I mean, theyre written for Exp because that is the default.

But they also provide you with the appropriate Milestones, as found on page 3 of the Show Must Go On.

Milestone leveling is fully supported as written ;)

Sure, it's fully supported. After all, milestone advancement is just "ignore XP and level when appropriate", so I don't really see how you couldn't not support it. But that's not my point. My point is:

1. APs assume the use of XP.
2. APs are written to get you from level N to level N+X in Y pages.
3. That means you need X*1000/Y XP per page, plus a bit of a buffer because you might not hunt down every XP.
4. Dungeons and dungeon-like constructs are very efficient at giving out XP per page count, because you can off-load a large portion of the description to outside sources ("4 goblin warriors, see Bestiary page 180").

Items 1 through 4 mean that there are strong incentives for adventure designers to lean heavily on dungeons and similar designs, because that minimizes the page count needed for leveling.

Looking at Extinction Curse, for example, the first two parts are very dungeon-heavy, and I believe the main reason for this is that those two get you four levels each. The third part is more openly written, likely because it only needs to provide three levels' worth of XP in roughly the same space parts 1 and 2 needed to provide four.


Harles wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:


I'm just saying, that's a very specific way to want to play a game, and one that the vast majority of Pathfinder tables aren't that interested in.

A TPK every other session sounds to me to be the pits of frustration, and I have no idea how you can run a campaign if the characters introduced last no more than a week or two. To each their own, but I strongly hope this philosophy never inches any nearer to the design structure from the Paizo folks.

You're right. It was incredibly frustrating. But that's how it went running Age of Ashes as written, even with 5 characters. I don't know if the group was running tactically "perfect" or had the ideal "perfect" build of characters - but there was zero wiggle room in those encounters. If someone didn't step into a flanking position, no one could hit reliably, and the party would become overwhelmed. The cleric didn't get to go at the ideal time in the Initiative order, too bad, the party drops.

It seemed that most encounters were one bad turn - or sometimes even one bad roll - away from being TPKs. The alarming frequency of criticals (both hits and failures for saves) exacerbated this. We would have to restart combats just for the players to not give up on the campaign entirely.

PF2 is brutal. It's the deadliest modern edition of a TTRPG I've played. To think about having encounters that are essentially meaningless when I averaged a TPK rate of 25% is out of the question.

I had a pretty similar experience after playing book 1 of Extinction Curse as written. We had 4 players and were honestly a fairly disorganized and suboptimal party (two-handed liberator, leaf druid herbalist, tiger monk, and occult witch), and we struggled through that book. However, from running both a homebrew campaign as well as a heavily modified Age of Ashes book 1, I pretty firmly believe it's how the adventures are written that makes things so deadly, not the system itself (the system IS deadlier than 5e from my experience, but not to an insane degree).


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Harles wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:
Wait, you're telling me you experienced a TPK one out of every four fights in Age of Ashes, even with a spare person? That is not a complaint I've ever heard before. Certainly not a scenario my table experienced, though we're only 75% of the way through book 4.

Yep. Running it as close to RAW as I could do - adding no extra monsters or anything. We finished book 2 before the group fell apart.

We took great care to make sure everyone had their characters put in Pathbuilder correctly and all the automation on Roll20 was good. We had the right amount of magical gear and equipment. We used Hero Points, used separate initiative for all combatants (instead of grouping like monsters together).
We had about half the players who were extremely occupied with reading rules, making sure everything was as advantageous as they could figure out - and they'd pass along their suggestions to the other half of the party who were more casual players.
Though the party configuration changed often due to the TPKs we'd usually have something like the following: arcane caster (wizard/sorcerer), champion, fighter, divine caster (cleric/druid), and a bonus character (typically something agile like a monk or rogue).
I just don't get it. I've seen games where life is cheap (like OSR-type D&D games), but never something where it takes so long to make a character, requiring such an investment, to have your character frequently die after a couple encounters.

I wouldn't even be that surprised. Before choosing Extinction Curse I read Age of Ashes/Plaguestone was built too hard. After playing some Extinction Curse I am pretty sure our team should have wiped multiple times if our GM wasn't overly nice. He just really doesn't want any player to die.

For our "new players" the encounters were such a struggle. The Monk/Ranger just got pummeled every fight. Now our tactics are slightly better but still monsters easily can kill PCs in 1 round if more than one guy attacks the same character.

Just as an example the "Monk" walks up attacks and just gets killed in 1 round... his immediate reaction is that was stupid instead of wait... maybe I should wait for the monster to get to me. This are just advanced tactics that players can't have when the first start at level 1-4.

I never would have imagined such issues would have popped up trying to get our group into 2e. I love the challenge but surprisingly the APs just feel too tough for a "new group". I have played like 8 PFS and they feel so much nicer. You get to have like 2-3 "easy" battles then 1 somewhat hard battle. There is no "Here is 8+ fights" try to get through with resting as little as possible. New players have no idea how to get through these dungeons effectively, even our veteran player kept trying to run into battles half health. I am like wait you can't do that in PF2

PF2 imo is great for people who want to invest into their characters and use obscure tactics. I am finding out for players who want to just attack and pick feats by what looks fun it is a struggle.

If I was the GM I probably would start out by giving players a huge hint at each room. Like this monster looks really strong maybe don't run into it and wait for an opening. I know that is what "recall knowledge" is for but I feel playing fights blindly isn't really fun.

Our current GM doesn't really say anything unless we use recall knowledge, but recall knowledge is just odd to use in combat...

With my knowledge now I 100% will never run an AP as is for a new group. I will also never use XP because even though players say they love XP it is nothing but an annoyance when storytelling imo. Players go out of their ways to get XP rather than just play.


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Oh wow! So many replies. I’ll try to quote the most relevant parts of everyone’s answer, but forgive me if I end up forgetting something. Y’all feel free to bring up anything that I might end up letting slip by.

Sporkedup wrote:
That enables me to pick and choose from time to time when there are sections I want to be longer or shorter. I do feel a bit sorry sometimes for groups that run them entirely by the book(…)

Hmmm… Honestly, I imagine a lot of people appreciate being able to do this. Yet, having this means having less of other stuff, doesn’t it? Now of course what I might want to cut out from a certain book might not be something that you want to cut out, I fully acknowledge that, but still — Isn’t there merit to including more content that will be used instead of being able to be used? Especially[i] if that plays into people’s expectations of that adventure! More bang for your buck, or whatever is the saying.

Sporkedup wrote:
Currently running Age of Ashes (midway through book 4) and Extinction Curse (midway through book 1). Both have required extensive rewrites and expansions by me, though later books don't require that at all. I think dungeon crawls work best when players want to go in there--when they've got plot motivation and some particular character goals. Feels like in the early books, these crawls exist just because.

That’s overall, my experience as well, more or less. The premise and theme of an AP has to be strong enough, and connected enough to the events of the story, to carry it forward through the first book (and possibly the second). Well, I think! I’m not a writer, I’m merely extrapolating. Anyways, from my experience, if it isn’t… Then the coherence [i] and potentially quality falls into the story development of the book itself, or in the hands of the GM and the predispositions of the players. But of course when the book is mostly disconnected or meaningless fighting from the player’s POV…

Sporkedup wrote:
That's my concern. I put a lot of work into personalizing these APs and I feel like it works really well at my tables--but I have more time than many, so I don't know how fair it is to expect that for people paying money there should still be an expectation of significant modification as a requirement.

Aww, well, I appreciate your consideration! Still, I don’t think having a more, hmm, trimmed adventure will take away your power to customize it. I guess that removing encounters is easier than adding them, but it’s still very much doable.

KrispyXIV wrote:
Now that they've added loot summaries to the start of chapters, the next bug Quality of Life add I'd like to see is "Rest" Summaries for encounter areas / dungeons. Preferably in the same place they put all the details for walls and ceiling heights and such. (Examples below)

Oh, that’s an amazing idea! It would allow us GMs to control the pacing better during dungeoneering. I mean, realistically I’ve seen areas like these included here and there without a lot of extrapolation.

RPGnoremac wrote:
I actually think PF2E is designed the best compared to 5e/PF1 to be challenging on short adventure days. PF1/5e short adventure days are SUPER easy.

While I have never played 5e, I agree that short day adventures aren’t difficult at all on PF1E. Because the difficulty of fighting is so easier to control, or at least easier than in PF1E, there’s really no hard need to include a bunch of encounters just to make players spend their resources. There’s still a benefit to it, of course; resource management is still a thing! But if they wanted to lighten the amount of combat encounters then they could, right? There’s not a super lot holding them back. I personally really would like to see more of downtime mode, if only to not have players go from level one to five in less than a week!

RPGnoremac wrote:
Main issue is GMs can definitely cut some combats but then you just will fly through the AP leveling up very quickly. In general I don't think the combat encounter has anything to do with the way APs are set up, I think they just think players love the Roleplay>Lots of Combat. My favorite paradigm of Roleplay>some combat>roleplay>some combat..

Could be, could be! And to be honest, that’s what I assumed too. But then these threads started to pop up on the subreddit, and then people started to talk about the structures of adventure paths and it made me wonder if people really like it that much or that’s just how the, hmm, “winning formula” ended up being cemented, and if it can be explored in different ways. Because I saw a lot of people that thought like me, that liked them a lot but felt that they had too much fighting.

Staffan Johansson wrote:
if I was re-doing The Show Must Go On

I think the adventure would benefit from being designed like that, initially — though of course, that’s just my opinion and I’m hardly qualified as anything more than a regular consumer. But! Irrelevantly to the discussion, I drilled into my player’s heads that the story was more about heroes being born from a circus than about a circus itself, and it worked wonders for the pacing. This still didn’t stop them from forgetting what they were doing on the crypt of the Hermitage fighting the guys in there, though…

Staffan Johansson wrote:
Thinking about the issue a little more, I think that to some extent it has to do with mandates set up regarding the APs which, if not force, at least nudge things toward dungeoncrawls. Here's how I see this working: (…)

Oh wow, what an insightful answer! I think that there’s also a point to be made in favor of so much fighting in the form players breezing way quicker through other stuff in general. My players were done with chapter one of AoA’s 2nd book in like a single session for example. Though eh, I personally would be okay with less game time. Do we really need to play through a single campaign in 1.5 year? Some years ago, I branched out to other RPGs and went from only having completed three campaigns to like nine, all usually taking four to eight months, and all feeling incredibly complete.

But I do concede that that’s a very subjective position and some people might rather have longer campaigns.

OCEANSHIELDWOLFPF 2.0 wrote:
I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here - if there were less encounters available those assiduous, battle ready parties would be bereft of encounters.

I know, I know, and we all know how these worshippers of Gorum get when there’s no fighting going on, but what I’m actually wondering if it is possible that there’s not that many to begin with? Or if it isn’t possible to Paizo to cater to different audiences with a more “focused” product? If it is a dungeoncrawler, then dungeoncrawl away.

A tournament-style wuxia-inspired adventure? Sure, it’s super proper to include a lot of fighting in something like this. But again, marketing is important and Extinction Curse — for example — did end up being perceived as a circus AP, which sparkled this whole discussion. So I imagine that there’s an audience!

OCEANSHIELDWOLFPF 2.0 wrote:
Other challenges, such as negotiation with NPCs, require describing the personality and goals of the NPCs. Describing the words of the conversation would be impossible, so the GM has to ad-lib it.

Of course, of course, but they can include more tools for stuff like this too! A good time ago I ran The Dying of St. Margaret’s Trail of Cthulhu pre-made one-shot, right? And it was pretty fun, made for conventions. One thing that it had was all these little tips on how the GM could roleplay some NPCs, usually only a few words that summed up would barely be three lines, and it really helped me.

Now of course Trail of Cthulhu and the second edition of Pathfinder are two completely different games, but I think that there’s merit in taking a look at different adventures for different games and poaching what’s interesting, or giving it the old Pathfinder twist.

Mathmuse wrote:
whole post

Well! You, sir, sound like a lovely GM. I’m usually all too happy whenever my players invest their time in the scenario, in its NPCs and its places, and I’m super up to giving them wiggle room in how to solve encounters. But like… I firmly believe that the adventure can direct the players to situations like this itself — And I personally find content like this more valuable the third group of ghouls that the players will have to face in a row. But, I concede that this is entirely subjective and that’s content that a lot of people probably adore.

I guess this is a spoiler but it’s just a little silly moment in the first book of RotR:
After the players save the town, I think that the player with the highest charisma gets like some villagers fanning themselves over them, and they are effectively approached by a specific NPC that leads to another specific situation. I love stuff like this, which is what I call reactivity, and to me this makes the world feel more alive. Could otherwise the GM have done something like this? Sure! But I appreciate that it is there.

Angel Hunter D wrote:
whole post

1. Totally agree with your conclusion.

2. I think it’s fine to have some gratuitous sword-swinging here and there, and I do think that the system itself, Pathfinder 2e, lends itself to memorable moments during fights… But I would also rather have more meaningful fights than not, yeah.
3. Well, totally. I even raise you this: While there’s an argument to be made that certain stories were constrained by certain specificities in the first edition, that is way less true in the second, right? Now, I haven’t played 5e, but my understanding is that the most famous pre-made module there is Curse of, uh, Strahd, right? And that even then it has a looooot of problems. But it is also my understanding that there’s waaay less fighting there than in the typical Pathfinder AP. Has that been seen as a problem with their fans? Couldn’t Paizo do something that didn’t demand so many encounters? I dunno, I personally think that they super can deliver on a product like this.

Ascalaphus wrote:
whole post

Completely agree with your first point! As for you second, well, it’s very much valid yeah. Or something akin to a campaign setting for a specific region with pre-made and detailed NPCs and quests and places to explore and etc.

KrispyXIV wrote:
stuff

I’m pretty sure — though not totally — that what they are other people are trying to get at is that being written with the need to include XP rewards in form of encounters, usually combat encounters, can be actively bad for the AP, design-wise.

I don’t have anything to comment on that. To be honest, it sounds sensible to me but I don’t feel like I have enough experience with the structure of the XP system to extrapolate anything useful.

--------------------------------
ALRIGHT PEOPLE, I’m getting a little lazy already so I will probably get to the rest of the replies later or tomorrow. But I think most relevant points have been addressed and are already being discussed… Without a lot of disagreement, I think?


Oh god, there's like ten new posts that showed up after I started to write my reply. I'm terribly sorry that I haven't addressed everyone!


Yeah, I feel like there should've been a starter AP (or at least an adventure) to help teach new players (and GMs new to PF2) how to play, that wasn't an absolute grinder. The Demo adventure is also an absolute grinder for inexperienced groups.

I just hope it's not too late when Paizo finally gets around to making something to capitalize on this opportunity. (I've heard even the Beginner Box adventure isn't particularly good for beginners.)

And I know people will say that PF players tend to be more experienced gamers. I can say as someone who has been DMing since the 1980s, professionally published during the 3.x era, who runs multiple games a week that it's damn hard for me to balance PF2 to not kill every character on the battle map.

And my group wasn't coming from PF1. I brought them from 5e, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu.


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Harles wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:
Wait, you're telling me you experienced a TPK one out of every four fights in Age of Ashes, even with a spare person? That is not a complaint I've ever heard before. Certainly not a scenario my table experienced, though we're only 75% of the way through book 4.

Yep. Running it as close to RAW as I could do - adding no extra monsters or anything. We finished book 2 before the group fell apart.

We took great care to make sure everyone had their characters put in Pathbuilder correctly and all the automation on Roll20 was good. We had the right amount of magical gear and equipment. We used Hero Points, used separate initiative for all combatants (instead of grouping like monsters together).
We had about half the players who were extremely occupied with reading rules, making sure everything was as advantageous as they could figure out - and they'd pass along their suggestions to the other half of the party who were more casual players.
Though the party configuration changed often due to the TPKs we'd usually have something like the following: arcane caster (wizard/sorcerer), champion, fighter, divine caster (cleric/druid), and a bonus character (typically something agile like a monk or rogue).
I just don't get it. I've seen games where life is cheap (like OSR-type D&D games), but never something where it takes so long to make a character, requiring such an investment, to have your character frequently die after a couple encounters.

I'd be seriously interested to see what's actually going on here. I've run most of Age of Ashes twice now with fairly distinctive party comps, and most of the "player characters threatened with death" happened in book one, in one of two encounters at the end of the book.

Theres one encounter in book 4 thats built as a TPK machine, but thats mostly due to the involved monster being badly written and totally OP.

Most other player character deaths/near deaths I've seen have been due to how deadly poison and persistent damage can be.

Champions in both campaigns are seriously effective at mitigating the threat of death for their parties.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
KrispyXIV wrote:
Theres one encounter in book 4 thats built as a TPK machine, but thats mostly due to the involved monster being badly written and totally OP.

Wait, what encounter is that? My players are just now hitting the last chapter and this book has been largely very smooth sailing.


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Sporkedup wrote:
KrispyXIV wrote:
Theres one encounter in book 4 thats built as a TPK machine, but thats mostly due to the involved monster being badly written and totally OP.
Wait, what encounter is that? My players are just now hitting the last chapter and this book has been largely very smooth sailing.

Age of Ashes 4:
The Grikkatog. If you run it with its full capabilities as written in the Bestiary, it can devour the PCs with impunity as soon as they set foot in the Gug Warren.

Its essentially impossible to find if it moves, and with all the walls and buildings it can hang out in safety and just hound the pcs until dead.

I ran it as an arrogant, foolish, maniacal coward in order for my players to have a chance.

See the fairly recent thread in Advice for discussion on this creature.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
KrispyXIV wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:
KrispyXIV wrote:
Theres one encounter in book 4 thats built as a TPK machine, but thats mostly due to the involved monster being badly written and totally OP.
Wait, what encounter is that? My players are just now hitting the last chapter and this book has been largely very smooth sailing.
** spoiler omitted **

Oh! Good catch. I was moving it till later in the adventure anyways, as I thought it would fit better

Spoiler:
in Saggorak the second time rather than as a random thing in the gug lair.

Good to know--I'll carefully review before I set that one up in a way that could wreck my players, haha.


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Sporkedup wrote:
KrispyXIV wrote:
Sporkedup wrote:
KrispyXIV wrote:
Theres one encounter in book 4 thats built as a TPK machine, but thats mostly due to the involved monster being badly written and totally OP.
Wait, what encounter is that? My players are just now hitting the last chapter and this book has been largely very smooth sailing.
** spoiler omitted **

Oh! Good catch. I was moving it till later in the adventure anyways, as I thought it would fit better ** spoiler omitted **

Good to know--I'll carefully review before I set that one up in a way that could wreck my players, haha.

I'll say this - if I were going to run AoA a Third time, I'd just remove it and replace the encounter with one of the suggested "filler" encounters from later in the book.


Michael Sayre:
"The more of those variations you mention, the more sub-variations people want accounted for, and that spirals out of control very quickly."

Aha!
I'd suspected this was part of PF2's design philosophy. And I applaud it as it encourages self-sufficiency, reason, and reflection on what one desires from an RPG when adjudicating rules (et al).

As for APs, I've found they have a lot of flexibility, even with examples above of module-jumping (which blows my mind). The baseline AP kind of has to be based on XP & combat, as that's the core system and fighting (both tactically and strategically) makes up a significant portion of the pastime. Yet for years now Paizo has made a point of saying that non-combat alternatives are viable, perhaps move rewards for those that succeed such tactics to find them, and at point C be level X (and that last was in response to fan requests).
Personally I prefer goalpost leveling since then I can say "do this (or these) however you can" and the players and PCs both get the leeway to experiment with ideas, including less combat-focused builds. (I'd been about to write non-combat, but c'mon, somebody's gonna instigate a tough fight sometime.)

The toughness of fights I find hard to balance in a published work.
One wants them to matter to the story as well as be worth setting up by having some risk to them. Except, as noted above, that latter leads to PC "non-advancement" because they're in a constant state of struggle.
I think PF2 does better than many systems because the number needed on the die does go down if you specialize, yet one's initial investment doesn't go wasted if you don't.
I've put an emphasis on setting up and running combats quickly to address this issue, w/ the intent of opening up more time for RPing. Yet I understand that took investment on my part and my players'.

But maybe...
If the two values to a fight are narrative worth and challenge, that leaves room for easier fights with strong narrative worth (giving the PCs a sense of heroism or advancement, especially if similar to a previous encounter they had when weaker. And it's still worth camera time to set up since it's pivotal, maybe a key NPC is in peril, etc).
"Ha ha, bandit groups got nothin' on us anymore!"
And there could still be fights with less narrative worth, but a severe challenge, though perhaps optional since they aren't part of the main throughline.
"Do we really want to go into THAT room?" "Let's vote."
(And maybe after they've leveled, they HAVE to return.)

Naturally the key fights would hopefully have both narrative worth and challenge, but as mentioned above that could feel like a grinder, and from the designers' POVs, justifications might run a little thin if EVERY monster battle needs to progress the story uniquely.

I also wouldn't mind teaser encounters for flavor, like an average fight vs. spiders to reflect the Spider Forest being aptly named...and serving as foreshadowing for the SPIDER!!! at a key point.
"Those big guys weren't so tough."
"Big? Those were the spiderlings."
"Oh."

-------
This has sparked a notion that maybe as well as difficulty level there could be other metrics assigned to encounters, mainly narrative necessity. That may be key if the PCs might accidentally bypass a room they need to visit, or help a newer (or time-deficient) GM focus or filter.

On the design/invisible side, maybe balance like some novelists do: MICE
Milieu, Idea, Character, Events; though for RPGs may need challenge in there too. It's not my acronym and translates to the more familiar: setting; themes & fun ideas; character (duh); and plot.
The design principle would be that if each encounter presses enough of those buttons, it can relax on one (or more, depending) of the others. But each encounter earns its camera time, as it were.

And as somebody mentioned on the companion thread, I don't mind summarizations or abbreviated descriptions for areas that narratively should exist, yet don't need to be pivotal, i.e. this wing is residential and holds little of interest to adventurers. It would take X amount of time to search or double that to search thoroughly.


You can also show progress while still keeping fights hard by doing things like bringing back previous boss monsters in groups or as minions for the new boss.


You would think low level encounters would be easier overall as you have less ways to effect things and might be new to the system in general. Having a smooth ramp up the first level or so wouldn't hurt anyone.

I didn't get to play early AoA, I joined in at level 12, even with a party of all casters we didn't TPK, it was brutal with a few close calls, one time our rogue (with lots of casting feats) had to upcast invisibility then stabilise and drag people to safety when things went down hill. We got a champion in the group at level 14 and no ones even gone down since. Having 5+ more AC then anyone else is just crazy. Party composition and knowing what your capable of and how to get the most of things is important unless your GM is up for changing things and fudging some rolls.
Going from rogue, warpriest, druid and summoner to alchemist, rogue, druid, summoner and then champion, warpriest, rogue, summoner has been a wild ride. First group was going down all the time as everyone took 1 or 2 rounds just to set up for doing damage, second mix had lots of heals and good weakness targeting but still too squishy, current group breezed through a chain of 3 encounters that included a boss and then went into a fight with many of us at half health and still didn't feel like it was life threatening.
It sounds concerning how much people bring up early levels of APs being brutal, the only early level experience I have is all homebrew, and none of it was difficult. Perhaps there could be more fights that have negative effects on the overall plot early on as a failure instead of death, give people some room to experiment and get a feel for how their character functions and the group as a whole operates.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
OrochiFuror wrote:

You would think low level encounters would be easier overall as you have less ways to effect things and might be new to the system in general. Having a smooth ramp up the first level or so wouldn't hurt anyone.

I didn't get to play early AoA, I joined in at level 12, even with a party of all casters we didn't TPK, it was brutal with a few close calls, one time our rogue (with lots of casting feats) had to upcast invisibility then stabilise and drag people to safety when things went down hill. We got a champion in the group at level 14 and no ones even gone down since. Having 5+ more AC then anyone else is just crazy. Party composition and knowing what your capable of and how to get the most of things is important unless your GM is up for changing things and fudging some rolls.
Going from rogue, warpriest, druid and summoner to alchemist, rogue, druid, summoner and then champion, warpriest, rogue, summoner has been a wild ride. First group was going down all the time as everyone took 1 or 2 rounds just to set up for doing damage, second mix had lots of heals and good weakness targeting but still too squishy, current group breezed through a chain of 3 encounters that included a boss and then went into a fight with many of us at half health and still didn't feel like it was life threatening.
It sounds concerning how much people bring up early levels of APs being brutal, the only early level experience I have is all homebrew, and none of it was difficult. Perhaps there could be more fights that have negative effects on the overall plot early on as a failure instead of death, give people some room to experiment and get a feel for how their character functions and the group as a whole operates.

At early levels, the length of an adventuring day is felt more. Medicine is harder to use on everybody, spell slots run dry quickly, alchemists are just sad glass vials in a shirt. So when these early-book APs feature a lot of sequential combat, players are dragging ragged from one spot to the next and just hoping they can level up soon.

I really wish early books would be much more full of mystery-solving, social encounters, exploration/survival, I dunno. Players seem to want to get to know their characters and their surroundings but it feels like a fight against the AP at that point to allow significant roleplay in early on.

The current pattern of leveling is 4-4-3-3-3-3, right? What if it looked more like 3-4-3-4-3-3 or something? So that book one breathes a bit, and no two books of four full level grinds are back to back?


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Always been a big advocate of Paizo's APs whilst being viciously critical of them, in hope that the x factor that Paizo does so well will continue. I love them as a company and they bring brushes of joy to this unique hobby.

Of course, each person's measure is different and my game is not your game. So this in my take of what works and doesnt, organised by type and with a possible suggestion.

APS AND THE X FACTOR
- Good NPCs
- Themed
- Great locales
- Passable writing (sometimes brilliant, sometimes terrible)
- Great skeleton to build on
- Good enough to pick and play after a read

WHAT I WANT THEM TO INVEST MORE INTO
- Making interesting scenarious, where the meat of the product is towards making parts click, and giving the GM the tools to put the players in the spotlight and bring each player something.
- Less passive backstory. Checkovs gun, I want the APs to present a more tangible access to the information given. Of course much is to inspire the GM, but there is TOO MUCH information the players will NEVER KNOW. Always a hot topic discussion with APs.
- Expanded toolbox. The Gazette is great, the items, all that. Build on it, extra variables to pluck from are great.

A GM does not need help sprinkling the goblins from a list accross a massive dungon. This becomes second nature, and with the basic list, context and short description they'll be fine.
What a GM finds difficult is the ambiance, the scenario, the tools to make players come out of that cocoon and provide interesting, meaningful scenarios. (Combat can achieve that, but interesting combat. Not deadly, interesting.)

COMBAT
- Too many combats.
- Too many irrelevant combats.
- Too many unchallenging, resource-taxing, xp-table-fillng combats.

Why and what is happening
I think the XP track in Pathfinder and their adherence in it throughout the APs is causing an oversaturation of meaningless, filler combats. Whilst it is important to give guidelines both for authors and gms, I do not believe this helps story telling or creating an interesting environment. It is a tax.
There is baggage in the system and we have the dungeon syndrome still. Fine. It has uses, good reference for quick monsters. Some tables also play this style.

Suggestion
Pick and Choose table/short description, of the creatures found, quick why and then suggestion encounters.
Keep the 1 or 2 exotic encounter and highlight that one, making it more interesting. The tables that feel they must have those grindy lower level encounters can just pluck from the pick and choose. We dont need the backstory of every single entity, specially when there are few avenues to interact with said backstory.

summary
Better fewer, higher quality, interesting fights, with some modular addons for flexibility.

AMOUNT OF DUNGEON
- Lot of dungeon. Oh gawds some modules are just dungeon. Then the next module is half RP, 1/4 minigame, 1/4 dungeon.
- Dungeons feel shoehorned in, sometimes with little context
- Dungeons are too long and soon loose context and believability

Why and what is happening
APs are just too long, they stretch the story and need filler episodes. That's fine, but it takes over.
Dungeons are what this hobby came from. There is some sacred cows here. Also how some groups prefer to play.
XP needs to be awarded, and monsters are XP. Needing to show the work to get neat numbers in XP imposes strict rules.

Suggestion
- Cut down dungeons to always 1/2 or less of AP.
- Consider shortening APs or providing more toolbox space in them. (3 volume APs are coming, though I think the sweet number is 4)
- Do like PFS and provide level ranges for encounters, with variantions.
- Do provide maps since those are great, perhaps in a more modular way with only beginning/interesting parts/end in a set way, and not tied to particular encounters

MINIGAMES AND SUBSYSTEMS
- Hit or miss with this, but always interesting to see the implementation and drives the theme.

Suggestion
- Shorter dungeons could allow for better implementation and more relevancy.

INCOHERENT STORY
- Sometimes what happened the last volume is thrown out or forgotten

Why and what is happening
- Multiple authors writing almost simultaneously, or back and forths, in short super difficult to write something relying on the previous volume if that is still in production.
- Writing a massive story for a hobby like this is excruciatingly different, they need standarisation and rigidness.

Suggestion
- 2 volumes per Author (or different communication, I dont know the ins so cant really comment much).
- Less dungeon space gives rise to more story planning or alternative scenario exploration and planning.

FORMATTING
- Clearer formatting, more modular, allows for faster on the fly adjustments by the game.
- The more rigid the story is the easier it is to break the flow, like memorising a speech vs knowing the gist of it well and the subject matter real well.

They have become better at it, presenting items on the side bar. Side bars should get even more use.

EXAMPLE of what I mean with what is useful

I am running a campaign where the party go down a river in the Mwange Expanse. I have Heart of the Jungle, and picked up some volumes of recent APs.
What I use is not "there are 3 goblins here, who are brothers but they left the village bla bla bla they attack on sight" and are terrible the heroes wont really think twice before disposing them.
Give me a tight table and spare me pages of this. I appreciate the crunch, but organise it so I can pull it when I feel like it.
I use the descriptions, the inspiring parts, the "they could meet this type of animal, or have this type of encounter, or there are tales that this is happening but it is actually caused by that other thing", interesting NPCs and stuff that actually interacts both ways with them.
I want the AP to identify what makes this particular part of the river special, give me vocabulary, give me challenges.
Rapids! how do they work, can we have a rapid whilst some tension happens?

"At some point going down the river they might encounter RAPIDS. This might work best if combined with another tension scenario. Look at the Encounter and the Hazard Tables and consider combining (make sure the CR stays at level)
Or Perhaps...
- demon monkeys kidnapped a member of your travelling group and a boat chase occurs
- the guide has betrayed the group
- the watch person didnt notice they went the wrong way /bad food and ill/got poisoned by a dart from the jungle/has sold you out/
- the rapids are the best choice to get somewhere faster
- the rapids are an alternative way, but their scouting revealed a ravenous school of crocodile piranhas feasting on the main flow
- Etc

Rapids, here are the rules. Use the chase rules with the following changes. Roll a 1d12 to select the challenge at each stage, once theyve done it dont repeat it, once they have accumulated 4 successess or 3 failures, they capsive.
Capsizing.
Bla bla"

Vague from my part, imagine this fleshed out.
This stuff I can use. It gives me a lot of possibilities, ideas, the dangers of downrafting a river, the exotic life, the wilderness of a jungle.
Knowing there are 4 goblins in C2 roasting a leg of a rat they hunted yesterday is not going to open opportunities and is too static.

Decouple APs from the drag of XP tax, of mundanely detailed dungeons, give us flexibility (since all games are different) through more options and more writing (and art please more art) away from tedius details, more awe inspiring visages and less monotone- too-synonym-dictionary-laden excerpts, more tools, more mechanims.

I have to say some of the new APs have very good NPCs and situations (the whole Elf camp in Cult of Cinders (AoA2), All or Nothing casino (AoE3). Some volumes are hit, some are miss, and the ones that are just dungeon never do as well as those that are experimental, modular, inspired (Council of Thieves Opera, Shackles 1, Smugglers Shiv 1, etc).

The divide between passive volumes and active volumes is clear. Follow that trail...


Disclaimer.
I havent picked up a whole AP since the Ironfang Invasion. Played Shackles, Carrion Crown, Ironfang, Rise of the Runelords, part of about 5 more, read a lot more. Have an ongoing game, house game.

Ironfang Invasion was a big disappointment for us, a lot of typical Paizo problems but with hints of brilliancy here and there. Since then havent picked up a full one, and none until Age of Ashes have made me consider that perhaps I'd run a full one again. Agents of Edgewatch is shaping up to be promising and I hope the more out of the box continues.

What usually kills an AP for me is when I look ahead and see that after volume 2, the rest are 80% dungeon. Specially volumes 4-5.


I don't use the toolbox stuff at all. Likewise I don't care about lengthy histories, complex backstories. I play in my own campaign world, and stuff that happened centuries ago that has nothing to do what the heroes (the stars of the story) are doing at my table.
What I prefer are meaty adventures, classic archetypes that let my players feel like heroes, not errand runners for powerful NPCs.
Play up exploration mode to augment the battles. Put in skill tests.
I feel like most APs are about 30 pages of usable content and the rest is filler or over-written descriptions.


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Maybe it is experience, but modules are frameworks for an adventure. The GM is expected to bring it to life and manipulate it in a way that is preferable for himself and the players. Module designers make a module with a overarching story, a bunch of encounters with maps, and ideas of how you can play it. But it's the GM who takes that framework and builds into an interesting adventure for his PCs.

PF2 has been a learning experience. I think Age of Ashes was worse for over-powered encounters that threaten TPKs. I figured that was because it was the first AP and the AP designers didn't quite have a grasp of the lethality of PF2. After years of hearing how underpowered AP encounters were, it is probably surprising for AP designers to hear, "We're getting a lot of TPKs. These APs are too tough." APs used to to be faceroll encounters after the first few levels. Rarely were their tough designed encounters. I used to have to beef every encounter up, boost hit points, and ramp everything up.

Now APs start off rough and don't ease up until around 11th level. Age of Ashes was rough on casters as it seemed to have fewer lower level encounters. Whereas Extinction Curse seems to have a nice balance of encounters allowing casters to be more effective. Casters shine much brighter against multiple equal to lower level enemies.

Overall I like the APs. They save me a lot of design time. I can easily modify parts of them to DM and player preference. I figure AP designers will get better at creating balanced series of encounters that a party can defeat without feeling like each encounter is a meatgrinder. I know Extinction Curse has been more manageable than Age of Ashes.

So far I don't think we've seen the best PF2 AP yet. Extinction Curse has been average to good. Age of Ashes was not up to what I expect from Paizo APs. I hope they can produce a few Kingmaker or Rise of the Runelords level of APs for PF2. Sometimes these APs are fun and memorable adventures. Sometimes they're just ok. Experienced DMs who want to save time usually get a quality series of modules to run they can modify as needed.

Sovereign Court

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Sporkedup wrote:

I really wish early books would be much more full of mystery-solving, social encounters, exploration/survival, I dunno. Players seem to want to get to know their characters and their surroundings but it feels like a fight against the AP at that point to allow significant roleplay in early on.

The current pattern of leveling is 4-4-3-3-3-3, right? What if it looked more like 3-4-3-4-3-3 or something? So that book one breathes a bit, and no two books of four full level grinds are back to back?

I like this, it stands out as one of the actually practical changes Paizo can make without having to overturn their entire format.

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