Rules for "wear & tear" adventuring, or how to "skip to the cool part"

Homebrew and House Rules

So, let's say I had a stupid idea a few years back of running a monthly group for a full AP. That group has converted to 2e, and the last several sessions have been abridged and condensed to "get to the good stuff". We're so far along now that we might as well see it through. (after which we will probably shift to running modules and society scenarios)

The next chapter is intended to be mostly just a dungeon crawl (Skeletons of Scarwall in Curse of the Crimson Throne, if you're wondering), which risks being a pretty boring few sessions that are just fighting the various minibosses that populate it in a row, since we've nixed most of the exploration aspects. (Automatic Bonus Progression having effectively replaced loot)

So, my idea is this, simulate the dangerous - if not as memorable - journey between these battles using a simple series of saves, penalizing their resources appropriately as if they had been wading through mooks and traps. This allows things to be a bit more descriptive, and feel more like a proper adventure, and less like a simple series of fights.

Just looking for some general feedback here. I'll report back on how it works out!


Between "scenes" each player makes a Fortitude save, a Reflex save and a Will save. Each of these are against the same, level-appropriate DC for the dangerous area they're exploring. Depending on the result, they lose health and spend spells. The GM may decide that other resources are spent, such as focus points, alchemist reagents, or ammunition (if you're at a weird table that actually tracks mundane ammunition, weirdo). They may also declare that certain spells or abilities would be irrelevant to "spend" on a failure.

Abilities such as juggernaut, evasion and resolve apply as normal.

Critical Success: You navigate the dangers of your journey effortlessly. You take no damage and spend no resources
Success: Your journey requires a bit of effort. Reduce hp by 10%. Spend a spell of any level, if you are capable of casting at least 3rd-level spells.
Failure: You had to exert yourself to make the journey. Reduce hp by 20%. Spend a spell of the 3 highest levels that you can cast. If you can't cast spells, spend a an ability with limited uses (1-3) per day or focus point. If you don't have any of those, become fatigued until you take a 10-minute rest.
Critical Failure: Your journey is arduous indeed. Reduce hp by 30%. Spend two spells of the 3 highest levels you can cast. If you can't cast spells, spend an ability with limited daily uses, OR break a repairable item such as a shield, weapon, or armor. You become fatigued per the normal rules, until you take a full night's rest (or some other effect removes it.)

Note that three of these can't fully kill you, so you should give the party a chance to patch up before a big fight, but maybe not a safe place for a full rest.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Against a level-appropriate DC, most PCs are going to average success on one or two of the checks and failure on the other(s), based on their good/bad saves.

This means that the average result is going to be the entire party losing 40-50% of their HP; that seems a bit stiff.

Also, classes like Fighter or Barbarian that don't have focus points or limited abilities are going to almost always get fatigued.

That's more or less as intended. I would definitely give the party a chance to patch up before pushing onwards. That amount of HP isn't a huge deal to bounce back from, and fatigue isn't all that punishing if they do end up stuck with it.

Should also mention that in the party I'm using this for, everybody is at least a master in one save, so odds are a bit more in their favor of being unscathed.

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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

If that is what you are aiming for then that is fine; it's just much stiffer than I suspect most people would want to use. That's more hp and resources than a typical encounter is going to burn, I'd think, and the fact that you are using all three saves means that some people are going to get hit quite hard and no one is going to escape unscathed.

You also might consider replacing "10%" with something like "HP equal to your level"; that is a lot easier to apply on the fly for most people.

And of course if you have any playtest Summoners or Magi you'll need to tweak the results for them, since losing 75% of their daily spells even if they succeed all three saves is obviously overkill. :)

Yeah, this would probably represent multiple encounters and hazards. This is basically getting to one day's big encounter.

You're right x hp/level would be much better. Thanks!

Ah, I knew there was something weird in playtest! I would probably just have 2-level casters spend a single spell on a crit fail.

Sovereign Court

I can see the appeal of abridging some of the filler-fight-grind, but I'm not entirely sold on how you want to go about it.

I think just using a saving throw is a bit too abstract, and doesn't really give it a flavorful feel. It's just rolling on the random damage table. Also, a success doesn't really feel like a success if you're taking faceless damage "because".

I also find it a bit odd to be taking damage/breaking items outside of combat, because why wouldn't you just stop and Repair/Treat Wounds/Lay on Hands to get it back again? That's what people would normally do if you actually had all the written combats. 2E is very much written with the idea that you go into most fights fresh. It also makes things easier for the GM because estimating how hard a fight is going to be is easier when you know one of the unknowns in that equation (i.e. how healthy the PCs are when they go in).

Now, you could say that an area is lousy with enemies and finding safe resting spots is hard, so coming entirely fresh to a fight shouldn't always be possible. Okay, that makes sense, but then you get questions like "can't we try to be sneaky so we at least have fewer fights on the way to the big fight?", and then what you thought were gonna be saving throws starts to look a lot more like a skill challenge.

Also, you should keep in mind that if you make PCs go into fights damaged, that makes the fights harder than if they go in fresh. Sounds obvious doesn't it? But it does mean that what looks like a tough but okay fight on paper is actually a bit tougher than that because the PCs start with fewer HP, out of focus, unable to use a broken shield and all that. Actually that can make it a lot harder. My personal rule of thumb for planning/estimating back to back encounters is that it makes the second encounter play like a grade harder, so a moderate encounter becomes as hard as a severe, and a severe as hard as an extreme encounter.

You talk about "getting to the good parts". Sure, APs have stronger and weaker parts to them, but if you remove all the easy encounters to focus on the bosses, you run the risk of making the whole thing less fun. One of the things a lot of people experience in 2E is that a good up and down of encounter difficulty is important. If you only have hard encounters, characters never really get a chance to feel powerful, because they're always fighting uphill.

I would say, read through the AP, ignoring all the numbers, just looking at flavor. What are the most interesting places, enemies, obstacles, scenes, allies etc. the players run into? Mark those, and maybe scale their difficulty up and down a bit until you have a good mix. If you have a part with not enough interesting things, invent some bits of your own, or just chop off this uninteresting part altogether. And sprinkle in shorter and longer skill challenges to break up the combats a bit. Some of the skill challenges may cost some resources, but really they don't have to.

That's another thing. 2E doesn't require the GM to run the party ragged to set up a challenging bossfight. 1E needed you to do that. You had to exhaust the PCs so they wouldn't be at alpha strength and steamroll the boss. This problem just doesn't exist in 2E. The difficulty planning system works, if you put a level+2 boss with some lieutenants and mooks there it's going to be a tough fight without any previous attrition. I personally find this really useful in campaigns where the party might travel for days in between combats, and where we might have just one combat on a weekday game night. I don't need four combats to wear them down so that the fourth is difficult-exciting.

I think I'd skip this whole process and go to a 4th style of gameplay where you narrate the party through a series of obstacles.
"It's taking its toll."

Then give them choices! (Very important)
"Do you want to rest and do Medicine or press on?"
"This would normally burn a few spells slots. Do you want to conserve and maybe get a bit more injured? Or spend a few more to lessen the injuries?"

If time's not a factor, the rest would be meaningless anyway. Traveling 18 hours, you have X wounds makes little sense when they'd typically have lots of 10-minute rests in there when they could do Medicine (a low-energy task).

I've used a variant before with non-threats in published work (especially when real world time was tight) except for brief jumps. "These guys can maybe hit you a couple of times before falling without you feeling any sense of accomplishment. You okay with burning a channel to bypass? Yes? Cool."
Not sure how an extended string of that would work unless you put effort into livening up the options.
Note that none of this would involve rolling. I dislike the notion that so much of the narrative arc would be determine by a single die, not when 1s & 20s are possible.
"You got royally screwed."
"How can I mitigate that? I don't I or my teammates would've let it progress so for before making adjustments."
"Well too bad. Your roll says differently."
(Not much better if they succeed because they as the player did little to no playing.)

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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Ascalaphus wrote:
One of the things a lot of people experience in 2E is that a good up and down of encounter difficulty is important. If you only have hard encounters, characters never really get a chance to feel powerful, because they're always fighting uphill.

This bears saying again with emphasis.

2e has a lot - and I mean a lot - of abilities that are very powerful against mobs of weaker enemies and almost totally useless against bosses.

Bosses are designed to shrug off almost everything the party can throw at them, because they are bosses. If you run nothing but boss encounters, the party is going to quite fairly feel like their abilities are not very useful. I can speak to personal experience here, because a good friend of mine is having this exact problem with 2e, with a GM who mostly likes to only run boss encounters and skip the rest.

Sovereign Court

One of the things you should pay attention to is that "lower difficulty" (not even easy - just not maximum difficulty) encounters also tend to get less "shiny" put into them by writers, recycling statblocks and all that.

That's a problem. Obviously, bosses should be interesting. But you need lower difficulty encounters to make the bosses stand out and help players calibrate their idea of whether their characters are powerful. But those encounters should also be good, interesting encounters.

So make sure your easy encounters also have a bit of interesting set dressing, terrain, stakes, banter, tactics etc.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I think lot of thing people want to cut from APs because they are "filler" is actually usually fun stuff for players to want to playthrough :'D

But yeah, hard to give advice here since when I run this in 1e, I run it essentially as series of mass encounters. So essentially at least one session in scarwall was just one really big massive encounter but at least that means castle only took like three sessions or so :D

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Starcatcher wrote:

So, my idea is this, simulate the dangerous - if not as memorable - journey between these battles using a simple series of saves, penalizing their resources appropriately as if they had been wading through mooks and traps. This allows things to be a bit more descriptive, and feel more like a proper adventure, and less like a simple series of fights.

Just looking for some general feedback here. I'll report back on how it works out!

If you don't want the party to explore a dangerous dungeon, just remove the encounters. If time is a concern, cut some of the encounters.

But as a player, I think the idea is ridiculous. Save or suck and you don't even get xp or loot. Its just punishment to make the GM feel better for cutting a bunch of encounters.

Either you don't care about the fights, so don't run them, or you want them to have a dangerous exploration of a ruin.

The major problem is that there is no choice. Players don't choose to avoid this encounter, or try to fight through saving spells, or engage with the world in any meaningful way. And in PF2 any fight that has level appropriate foes in it can hurt and sometimes kill PCs.

Its especially pointless because you rarely start a fight at low HP in PF2 and if you have time to resupply HP you have time to refocus, so all you're doing is punishing casters by removing spell slots.

Appreciate the feedback.

I think perhaps I framed this problem wrong. I ran Scarwall in 1e as is with another weekly group and had a good time.

This group, however, is very casual, and infrequent, and I've noticed they get a little bored when these adventures just become series of fights. We like to get to the story, which becomes sparse for quite a while in Scarwall. We would likely be playing it over a year, at least. In a perfect world, this group would be weekly.

Boiling it down to the most interesting encounters was what we started doing in chapter 3, and it was good, but then we made the 2e shift, and most (not all) encounters require some homebrewing on my part. (Yes, I try to re-skin when I can)

And I will at least reiterate, the party gets a chance to patch up after all of these checks, since a lot of people are mentioning that a party won't normally go into an encounter at low health. I'm not making them do that. The point is that maybe they wouldn't have all their big spells and heals ready.

Obviously, these are rules for if you've already screwed up like I have and try to do an AP for such an infrequent, less mechanically-interested group. This isn't how anybody *should* be playing when they have the option. (And it remains to be seen if I don't do something completely different with this chapter. Could skip major parts altogether if they're not feeling it) I was just trying to solve a very specific combination of issues with my game and thought I might share my quick, abstract solution to keep it from feeling like "arcade mode" while I still figure things out.

And of course the "lesser encounters" of APs are fun too, especially in PF2, they're important to feeling heroic.

In Wrath of the Righteous, PCs quickly become so powerful that its meaningless to present them with anything that isn't at least +4 or +5 APL. Enemies are disintegrated so fast by pseudo pouncing martials and full attacking ranged characters that its a novelty when the wizard uses a maximized fireball that ignores immunities and resistance.

When you spike the difficulty to have a cool monster last more than two rounds, then the battles become slogs. As a personal preference I hate it when a battle stretches into multiple sessions.

So, I gave up on the difficulty. Ran it vanilla so that monsters that got exploded and bosses became speedbumps. It didn't do much for the tone of the game, but the plus side was that those garbage fights were over in one round or less. Rolling initiative became the longest part of combat.

So, I sort of understand your position. But I feel like the solution is to just cut the encounters that you think don't matter. Like they never existed. It speeds up exploration of the ruin because no one is making saves and detracting information on their sheets. What you lose is the feeling of creeping around a haunted castle. You'd probably have to really up the ghostly manifestations and go for mood as the party travels from room to room, expecting monsters and not finding any.

And when they start to get careless, you throw a hard hitting encounter at them to keep the tension high.

Aside from boss encounters, instead of regular encounters you could also have a single powerful monster ala Jason or Nemesis (Resident Evil 3) who follows them around and strikes at them. When they drop the body, it appears a few rooms later, undisturbed or they try to run away from passing through a lot of rooms at once.

Maybe those are more helpful thoughts.

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Why not just use the subsystem rules from the GMG? Seems like what your group needs are some Victory Points to show the progress they're making before getting to the boss.

Here's the thing I use for travel.

I decide on how "off the beaten path" a part of their travel is, get everyone to roll a die dependent on that, including myself.

Basically D12 and under, lower die means the situation is more dangerous.

If anyone rolls the same result as me, the results are something bad, and it's worse when more people roll the same as me. (often a random encounter, but the idea of throwing in something like tripping and hurting yourself etc, might be a good idea)

Now if they roll the same as each other, something good happens.

The best part is of course, that my die is hidden, which keeps the tension up for them.

Anyway, it makes risky territory more rewarding.

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