Extreme / unfair encounters


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Dark Archive

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James Jacobs wrote:
Guntermench wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:
We do hear folks, and I just started a big discussion about how, going forward, we need to be a lot more sparse with severe or extreme encounters in our adventures.
I don't think that's particularly necessary, though the number of one big boss vs many mook encounters might be a good thing to look at.

Thanks for the feedback!

That said... this is why it's so important for folks who think the adventures we publish are good or fun or "well tuned" to let us know. If all we ever hear is negative feedback (and that's fine if that's all that folks have to say overall!), then we can't responsibly assume that there's a "silent majority."

Customer feedback only works if it's given.

yeah I think severe and extreme encounters are usually fine after couple first levels. And even then problem is mostly with solo bosses.

I think its definitely nice to have some encounters that aren't just meant to be mindless "we find monster, we kill it" and some actual encounters which make players be like "...no we will do this later".

(on sidenote, I also strongly agree with milestones not working well in sandbox, but that is because I really really really prefer exp to milestones :P)

Grand Lodge

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For what it’s worth, I don’t find milestone rewards to be a challenge even in sandboxes. The GM just needs to change what they are using as the milestones. I stopped using individual XP rewards over a decade ago and I’ll never go back. YMMV

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YMMV indeed, I really dislike milestones both as player and gm <_<;

Like there is something really unrewarding about not having much of sense of "how long until next level up"


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I prefer milestones. I can control the challenges and narrative more precisely. Xp is too random.


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It also forces a number of easy or hard combats to occur before a lvl up. As a dm I may want the one singular dungeon to take my group from 3 to 4. But if that's my plan I have to insert enough combat or enough HARD combats for the group to reach the XP, regardless of the pacing and narrative I wanted to tell. This wizards tower has a couple traps, 4 combats, and the wizard. The difficulty of all these components must now be tailored by exp guidelines instead of my desires bc I wanted the narrative to be a lvl up at the end. Better to just use milestone. That's just my preference though. In a sandbox or westmarches thing where I'm flying by the seat of my pants session to session, I'd probably use exp.

Sovereign Court

TwilightKnight wrote:
IMHO, the GM would be better served modifying the encounters to be a reasonable challenge than warning you off them, but that’s just my opinion. Seems odd that 50% of the game sessions include a subtle “you’re not good enough” message. YMMV

In a typical AP you're trying to go from one part of the story to the next, and the PCs should be a particular level when they get to that part. You generally don't run into any monster before you're supposed to be ready to fight it. Milestones work great for that.

But from what I understand the idea with Abomination Vaults was that sometimes you spot something, go noooope we're gonna leave this one be until we get a few more levels.

Dark Archive

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Which is pretty megadungeon-y yeah.

That and Rise of the Runelord had example of that as well, though in 1e you could pretty easily take out over powered monster in cr early on x'D


CorvusMask wrote:

YMMV indeed, I really dislike milestones both as player and gm <_<;

Like there is something really unrewarding about not having much of sense of "how long until next level up"

It doesn't need to be either or on that point, though.

Milestones can be announced to players, whether it's "we're going to level up every X sessions that we play" style or "the party now has the goal of X, and will level up once they accomplish it."


WWHsmackdown wrote:
It also forces a number of easy or hard combats to occur before a lvl up. As a dm I may want the one singular dungeon to take my group from 3 to 4. But if that's my plan I have to insert enough combat or enough HARD combats for the group to reach the XP, regardless of the pacing and narrative I wanted to tell. This wizards tower has a couple traps, 4 combats, and the wizard. The difficulty of all these components must now be tailored by exp guidelines instead of my desires bc I wanted the narrative to be a lvl up at the end. Better to just use milestone. That's just my preference though. In a sandbox or westmarches thing where I'm flying by the seat of my pants session to session, I'd probably use exp.

Why not make the level up their story award for defeating the dungeon?

GM: How much experience does everyone have?
Party: We're at 710.
GM: Cool. For defeating the dungeon everyone gets a story award of 290 ExP.

Basically what Thenobledrake said, just use experience until it doesn't fit your story, and then swap to a mile stone in the guise of a narrative arc reward.


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Experience and milestone leveling are both abstract ways to determine advancement. A DM can carefully calculate experience to decide when leveling if he prefers that abstract concept or use milestones if she prefers that concept. Go with whichever way seems to fit how you do things.

I've come to prefer milestone leveling for the following reasons:

1. I know better when they need a level to survive or defeat the next section of challenges. I can level them if needed as I did in Abomination Vaults to take on a challenge I deemed too strong for the level they were at.

2. I know when the players are getting bored of the same level. I like to level them enough to keep them interested.

3. I don't have to worry about calculating encounters that don't use resources due to avoiding them, role-playing to defeat them, or never encountering the encounter because they completed the goal without doing so. I don't have to force the players to play one way to make sure they encounter all necessary encounters to gain experience.

4. I can easily increase or decrease the challenge of their encounters depending on if I think they are too weak or too strong for an encounter without having to worry about the impact of experience.

I find milestone leveling more flexible for running adventures at this point. PF2 has made milestone leveling very easy to manage with challenges being much easier to gauge.


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Perpdepog wrote:
WWHsmackdown wrote:
It also forces a number of easy or hard combats to occur before a lvl up. As a dm I may want the one singular dungeon to take my group from 3 to 4. But if that's my plan I have to insert enough combat or enough HARD combats for the group to reach the XP, regardless of the pacing and narrative I wanted to tell. This wizards tower has a couple traps, 4 combats, and the wizard. The difficulty of all these components must now be tailored by exp guidelines instead of my desires bc I wanted the narrative to be a lvl up at the end. Better to just use milestone. That's just my preference though. In a sandbox or westmarches thing where I'm flying by the seat of my pants session to session, I'd probably use exp.

Why not make the level up their story award for defeating the dungeon?

GM: How much experience does everyone have?
Party: We're at 710.
GM: Cool. For defeating the dungeon everyone gets a story award of 290 ExP.

Basically what Thenobledrake said, just use experience until it doesn't fit your story, and then swap to a mile stone in the guise of a narrative arc reward.

I'm looking at you, Hell's Rebels. Last book has two of those story rewards - one of essentially 300 XP, and one of 250 XP.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Folks, if a post bothers you, flag it and move on. Don't just get in a bickering back and forth. That's not the point of this thread, and if that's all folks have to say anymore here, I guess that means time to move on and we'll lock the thread.

That goes for people posting threads to deliberately bait people, be it by accusing them of something or continuing to post in a thread in ways that are obviously inappropriate.

Flag and move on.

One GREAT flag for when a topic gets distratcted, such as happened here when a discussion of the encounter balance of an adventure turned into "Here's other ways to advance or level up from other systems" is to flag that post with the wrong forum flag.

Dataphiles

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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

In general I’ve found the hardest fights in APs and elsewhere are as follows

- Too high of level+ at low levels. For this reason I’d restrict to level+1 at most at level 1, level+2 at most from 2-4, level+3 from 5-6 and level+4 should be fine from 7+

- Too many level- enemies at high levels, especially if they also have AoE. Some of the toughest encounters in b6 ExC for my players were an encounter with 18 level-5 creatures that each had an AoE spell, and one with 3 level-2, each carrying a 20d6 breath weapon. Were it not for 9th banishment and scare to death, those encounters would have ended in a TPK. It just takes too long to plow through the HP amount of those enemies.

- Monsters with resistance or regen at bad breakpoints (e.g. resist 10 phys when the party only has striking weapons). Especially if it can’t be overcome at the point you fight it (e.g. resist phys except adamantine at level 8, way before you can buy adamantine weapons).

- Monsters with abilities that effectively say “crit fail to die”. In ExC, one monster has an AoE 10th level disintegrate - my wizard player would have immediately died to this because he crit failed. I awarded a hero point to avoid it because dying on the very first action of combat is antifun. Similarly, Mukradi are an exceptionally overtuned monster, the Elder Wyrmwraith with its breath attack that instant kills on a crit fail, a boss with phantasmal killer, cloak of colours and feeblemind at level 8...

The first two should be easy enough to avoid adventure design wise. The third is perhaps a little trickier, but I think there should be a litmus test for monsters whereby if they have an ability that instantly kills (or effectively does) on a critical failure, it should need 2 checks at least.

Dark Archive

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My issue with milestones is that it often feels arbitrary to me "okay so I get to level up when GM feels like it", I find exp to be much easier way to determine "okay players have done enough to level up". And again exp is nice reward where you don't always need to give pcs loot to make encounter feel rewarding. And milestones forbid players from "we did everything so we get to level up in advance from what gm thought"

Like only problem I've had with exp was that it was bit hard to keep track of in 1e, but its really easy to keep track of it in 2e so that removed that problem. Never had problem with whether to give pcs exp for sneaking/diploing encounter through(encounter just needs to be "solved" in way that is permanent. Also again if you don't give exp for sneaking or diplo, that would incentive some players to just kill everyone for loot), but then again I'm also type to count exp in advance when its easy.

(there is also another more sneaky reason I prefer exp as well: It actually incentives players more strongly explore every room than loot does. PCs are really hungry to level up as fast as possible, so even full diplomacy party will go out of their way to search someone to diplomacy ;P

I've never actually subscribed to idea that aps have filler encounters that are boring or should be skipped, I actually enjoy as players seeing as much content as possible XD)

Anyhoo, I do think hero points pretty much make crit fail insta deaths okay for most part. I think there might still be problem if the ability is spammable and aoe but I haven't yet encounter that situation yet.

Grand Lodge

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Everyone has their own comfort levels when it comes to Quantitative XP awards vs milestones. For my campaigns, its not so much "I get to level up when GM feels like it," it is more accurately "I get to level up when the story dictates it."

    *I don't have to spend time tabulating or tracking XP. That time can be applied to other areas. Important for time management
    *I don't have to manufacture additional Xp generating encounters if/when the PCs fall behind the expected rate and need to level up before moving on in the story
    *I don't have to worry about the PCs leveling up before I am ready for them to do so. Sometimes, there might be a few more encounters I want to provide before they level up. Other times, I want them to "speed" through a level of two to be at the right level for upcoming challenges
    *no encounter in my campaigns is "random." Every encounter contributes something to the greater narrative or it is not used. I will make use of the options listed in a random/wandering monster list, but I will never simply roll random dice and toss out an encounter just for the sake of awarding XP

I generally follow the guideline, never allow the dice (or the math) interfere with telling my story. By following a milestone format, I have complete control over when leveling occurs and it can be tailored to fit the ongoing story development without having to tweak encounters so they award just the right amount of reward. And by not having to worry about tracking individual XP awards incrementally, my players can focus on the story. If they want to over-search, they can. If they want to just casually wander through an area they can. If they want to diplomacy an NPC they can, or just bonk him on the head. Sometimes my players are hyper-interested in the story. Other times, they are tired and just want a mindless night of rolling dice. Milestone advancement can accommodate all of those variations without much additional effort on my part. And I can still give them a general idea of when they will next level up if I am so inclined.

Is milestone advancement for everyone? No. Is it for me? Absolutely
YMMV


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Exocist wrote:
- Too many level- enemies at high levels, especially if they also have AoE. Some of the toughest encounters in b6 ExC for my players were an encounter with 18 level-5 creatures that each had an AoE spell, and one with 3 level-2, each carrying a 20d6 breath weapon. Were it not for 9th banishment and scare to death, those encounters would have ended in a TPK. It just takes too long to plow through the HP amount of those enemies.

I've noticed this coming up as well. When I converted Hell's Rebels, the Hound of Old Kintargo was one monster that was especially threatening, especially since it comes with a breath weapon that (since I based it on the Nessian Warhound) was incredibly destructive. I'm not going to comment on their role in the adventure, but they come in groups, and that breath weapon was still incredibly threatening, even when they were coming as level-5 or thereabouts later on.

Liberty's Edge

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I find that quite a few of the tables I run for enjoy non-combat encounters to a significant degree, to the point where we'll sometimes go several sessions without more than a combat or two. While it would technically be possible to give all the skill checks, influence encounters, etc, their own challenge level and assign XP that way, it feels fairly arbitrary. Given that, I'd likely end up just handing out significant sums of Story XP to make level-ups occur at a roughly equal rate to fighting things - at which point I'm not sure why I wouldn't just be using milestone levelling.

For the original topic of encounter difficulty level - I do find it varies somewhat by level. When running low-level PCs (levels 1-3 maybe?), going for level+3 enemies can be very dangerous. By the time you're at mid-levels, they're quite enjoyable, but definitely benefit from heavily emphasising the narrative weight that should be applied to them. A lot of the PF2 I've run is converted from PF1 APs or modules, and I found their structure of larger numbers of weaker encounters worked quite well for me in PF2, so long as I was able to have creatures react and join fights together as appropriate for the situation. The higher-challenge fights felt appropriately spaced out and easy to telegraph, but that might just be because the conversion process makes you pay careful attention to each creature :)

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

<_< In homebrew I pretty much give story awards any time I feel quest is completed or party learns something main story significant or otherwise accomplishes something meaningful.

(I actually 100% agree with you that exp rewards can be used in same way as milestones, and I don't find any problem with that xD Like from my perspective, all exp gains are as arbitrary as another whether its combat or not. Sometimes in 1e ap you get same exp from CR 9 foe and finding a wallet and I'm okay with that even if players will meme about it for rest of the campaign. Heck I'm okay about it BECAUSE players will do that ;D)


Exocist wrote:

- Monsters with resistance or regen at bad breakpoints (e.g. resist 10 phys when the party only has striking weapons). Especially if it can’t be overcome at the point you fight it (e.g. resist phys except adamantine at level 8, way before you can buy adamantine weapons).

Striking rune break-points are something I've noticed. Its' intentional and okay (because it makes striking feel like a BIG deal when you go from longer fights to suddenly lots of damage), but it can make fights you have when you're expected to have striking mathematically, but don't have it, everyone doesn't have it yet. Doubly so for resistances, but even just HP pools you notice the point just before everyone gets striking.


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CorvusMask wrote:

My issue with milestones is that it often feels arbitrary to me "okay so I get to level up when GM feels like it", I find exp to be much easier way to determine "okay players have done enough to level up". And again exp is nice reward where you don't always need to give pcs loot to make encounter feel rewarding. And milestones forbid players from "we did everything so we get to level up in advance from what gm thought"

Like only problem I've had with exp was that it was bit hard to keep track of in 1e, but its really easy to keep track of it in 2e so that removed that problem. Never had problem with whether to give pcs exp for sneaking/diploing encounter through(encounter just needs to be "solved" in way that is permanent. Also again if you don't give exp for sneaking or diplo, that would incentive some players to just kill everyone for loot), but then again I'm also type to count exp in advance when its easy.

(there is also another more sneaky reason I prefer exp as well: It actually incentives players more strongly explore every room than loot does. PCs are really hungry to level up as fast as possible, so even full diplomacy party will go out of their way to search someone to diplomacy ;P

I've never actually subscribed to idea that aps have filler encounters that are boring or should be skipped, I actually enjoy as players seeing as much content as possible XD)

Anyhoo, I do think hero points pretty much make crit fail insta deaths okay for most part. I think there might still be problem if the ability is spammable and aoe but I haven't yet encounter that situation yet.

I disagree. APs have plenty of filler content that is often there solely to meet the arbitrary xp point. You see this in nearly every AP as well as instructions to use wandering monsters if the players have insufficient xp.

It is exactly why I prefer milestone leveling. I don't have to create encounters just to meet the proper xp amount. If the goals are completed regardless of the number of encounters or xp, the players level.

Milestone leveling decreases arbitrariness and allows a DM to use adventure goals to level rather than having to track xp until the players meet this certain number even if they have completed the main goals of a given section of an AP and the remaining encounters are time wasting encounters that are unnecessary and often too easy.

Even when I tracked xp, I handwaved encounters that were there as filler to meet the xp requirement and gave them xp because it was clear the encounter was too easy. I don't have to do that with milestone leveling.

My dming style is very narratively focused. I could care less if the monsters cleared out every slurk or every ghoul as long as they accomplish the goals of the level. Players don't care as long as they feel they are progressing and get to enjoy their new toys to use increasingly challenging encounters.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

(you have only wandering monsters in 1e though and again, all 1e aps have so much extra exp without random encounters that players who search for everything get nice bit of boost in advance which I love :3 )

I think you could probably do "player type" diagram on this. Like I'm getting feeling I'm pretty exploration heavy as player


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There is a metgamey aspect to experience points that affected my table. As in, the players do what they think will net the XP and not what is actually interesting or organic. After ditching xp, the players got more creative and chose more interesting paths forward. It just feels so much better. Leveling a character and advancing the story are their own rewards and we don't need incentive to do it.

On the topic of sandbox gaming, I still dont see how experience point awards help. You still need to know what your challenge is. I mean how can you tell the level 3 bog from the level 5 forest? How does xp awards work as signposting?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Planpanther wrote:

There is a metgamey aspect to experience points that affected my table. As in, the players do what they think will net the XP and not what is actually interesting or organic. After ditching xp, the players got more creative and chose more interesting paths forward. It just feels so much better. Leveling a character and advancing the story are their own rewards and we don't need incentive to do it.

On the topic of sandbox gaming, I still dont see how experience point awards help. You still need to know what your challenge is. I mean how can you tell the level 3 bog from the level 5 forest? How does xp awards work as signposting?

While I think this is true, and I use both do and milestones for different campaigns as a GM, it is important to remember that you can counter the idea that only fighting earns xp by being freely giving with do for story building as well as for accomplishing a goal with an encounter that doesn’t involve fighting. The more freely you give out do to your players for playing the game in the way that is most fun for everyone, the more you encourage that style of play.

With milestone leveling, some players will just want to push on always as quickly as possible and never slow down and have fun with an RP encounter because they don’t think they need it to level up.

For me as a GM I went from XP leveling to milestone leveling, back to XP leveling as my preferred preference, with the caveat that some, very linear adventures are much smoother with milestones.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Never underestimate players' desire of leveling up :'D


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Planpanther wrote:
There is a metgamey aspect to experience points that affected my table. As in, the players do what they think will net the XP and not what is actually interesting or organic.

That's true. If using XP, a GM needs to be sure they are giving XP for the kind of play they actually want to see, rather than creating a situation where there's an opportunity for the player to choose between desired gameplay and small reward or other gameplay and large reward.

Just like if using milestones a GM needs to make sure not to have the level-up trigger be manipulatable, such as "you'll level up when you get to the second floor of the dungeon" granting a level up even if the players decide to head down the stairs as soon as they find them, level up their characters, and then head back upstairs to face easier challenges.

Or if using level up after each X sessions of play style, you'd want to make sure that you're not having big boss fights end up being less challenging if the players deliberately stretch out the lead-up to make it take more sessions than it should to get there.

Planpanther wrote:
On the topic of sandbox gaming, I still dont see how experience point awards help. You still need to know what your challenge is. I mean how can you tell the level 3 bog from the level 5 forest? How does xp awards work as signposting?

XP awards help (or more accurately, fit) with sandbox gaming because a sandbox doesn't have a prescribed path that is the "right way to go" to set milestones up along.

So the path that the players do choose to take adjusts both the difficulty they face and the XP they gain for it, because they could go deal with some goblins and some undead over 3 encounters and get a total of 200 XP for it, or they could go deal with a single bugbear tormenter and a rogue earthen destrier in 2 encounters and get the same 200 XP for it. Setting milestones to provide the same feeling of choice mattering is excessively difficult.

As for telling the "level 3 bog" from the "level 5 forest" that comes down to, well, the level of creatures/encounters. In a sandbox, characters typically know why they are going somewhere before they head in, so rather than "do we want to go into the bog, or into the forest?" the question is more like "should we investigate reports of boggard incursions from the bog, which suggest there are some kind of mages among them (boggard swampseer being a level 3 creature)... or do we want to head into the forest and find that troll with a bounty on it's head (troll being a level 5 creature)?"

And even if the GM has an aversion to using level to communicate to their players what is or isn't something their characters would feel confident in dealing with in an actually accurate way, the concept can still be communicated clearly by saying things like "this task seems within your capabilities" or "the pay is good, but the job sounds particularlly difficult for you right now."

XP is only put into the role of signposting if the players are, unlike most sandbox play, wandering around without a goal ahead of them and judging whether they are going to keep heading one way or change direction by how much difficulty they are having with whatever they are running into - like how in old CRPG games you could go up or left on the map, but going left put you in a different random encounter table with much higher level monsters so you saw a character get one-shot, ran away, and then said "nah, I'll go up instead."


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Unicore wrote:
While I think this is true, and I use both do and milestones for different campaigns as a GM, it is important to remember that you can counter the idea that only fighting earns xp by being freely giving with do for story building as well as for accomplishing a goal with an encounter that doesn’t involve fighting. The more freely you give out do to your players for playing the game in the way that is most fun for everyone, the more you encourage that style of play.

The problem I ran into with this, is once the GM awards some RP XP or whatever, the players just spam that behavior in hopes of netting more XP. It's the same issue with combat for XP, the players often choose the path more likely to net more XP and it wasnt very fun or organic.

Unicore wrote:
With milestone leveling, some players will just want to push on always as quickly as possible and never slow down and have fun with an RP encounter because they don’t think they need it to level up.

That hasnt been my experience, but even if it was, its up to the players to decide how they want to proceed. If getting bogged down in exploration isnt appealing, then by all means bypass it.

Unicore wrote:
For me as a GM I went from XP leveling to milestone leveling, back to XP leveling as my preferred preference, with the caveat that some, very linear adventures are much smoother with milestones.

Each table will be different for sure. I have never experienced a table that was better for having XP awards, but I am sure there are tables out there that work that way.


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Planpanther wrote:
The problem I ran into with this, is once the GM awards some RP XP or whatever, the players just spam that behavior in hopes of netting more XP. It's the same issue with combat for XP, the players often choose the path more likely to net more XP and it wasnt very fun or organic.

As a GM, you can just react to your table.

It's as simple as saying: "Guys, it looks like I've been a bit too nice on RP XP, I'll dial it down from now on."
I don't see why, as a GM, you can't adapt your rules to how the game is going. Sometimes, admiting you made a mistake, or choosing to change a rule for the better is the thing to do.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I have had a lot of milestone GMs essentially push the players into encounters that they have actively avoided just because they didn’t want the players leveling up too quickly by following the story. It can be frustrating as a player to feel like you are being railroaded by the GM instead of getting to see for yourself that a monster is too tough, and, at the very least, you need to run away, go research what it is and how to defeat it, (possibly leveling up along the way) before returning to face it again, rather than just leveling up arbitrarily before facing it.


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SuperBidi wrote:
Planpanther wrote:
The problem I ran into with this, is once the GM awards some RP XP or whatever, the players just spam that behavior in hopes of netting more XP. It's the same issue with combat for XP, the players often choose the path more likely to net more XP and it wasnt very fun or organic.

As a GM, you can just react to your table.

It's as simple as saying: "Guys, it looks like I've been a bit too nice on RP XP, I'll dial it down from now on."
I don't see why, as a GM, you can't adapt your rules to how the game is going. Sometimes, admiting you made a mistake, or choosing to change a rule for the better is the thing to do.

I did react to the table, I got rid of XP and it solved everything. Perhaps a bit extreme for some folks, but constantly adjusting my rewards just seemed like a chore I didnt need to add to my GM duties.


Planpanther wrote:
SuperBidi wrote:
Planpanther wrote:
The problem I ran into with this, is once the GM awards some RP XP or whatever, the players just spam that behavior in hopes of netting more XP. It's the same issue with combat for XP, the players often choose the path more likely to net more XP and it wasnt very fun or organic.

As a GM, you can just react to your table.

It's as simple as saying: "Guys, it looks like I've been a bit too nice on RP XP, I'll dial it down from now on."
I don't see why, as a GM, you can't adapt your rules to how the game is going. Sometimes, admiting you made a mistake, or choosing to change a rule for the better is the thing to do.
I did react to the table, I got rid of XP and it solved everything. Perhaps a bit extreme for some folks, but constantly adjusting my rewards just seemed like a chore I didnt need to add to my GM duties.

Which is perfectly fine, then.

Milestone levelling reduces the burden on the GM, clearly.


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Unicore wrote:
I have had a lot of milestone GMs essentially push the players into encounters that they have actively avoided just because they didn’t want the players leveling up too quickly by following the story. It can be frustrating as a player to feel like you are being railroaded by the GM instead of getting to see for yourself that a monster is too tough, and, at the very least, you need to run away, go research what it is and how to defeat it, (possibly leveling up along the way) before returning to face it again, rather than just leveling up arbitrarily before facing it.

That seems really strange to me. You would assume that milestone allows the PCs to take on as many or as few encounters as they need/want. If I think the PCs are going too fast, I'll just add more exploration and social encounters to balance the pace. Info recovery about the adventure is the driver, not how many things you have killed and in what order. While I haven't had a laser focused party in milestone leveling before, I can imagine what a group like that might look like.

To bring this back to sandboxing, I think adventure writing and pacing is more important than XP awarding. If the players can find a shortcut like in super mario to jump several levels at a time, thats a bug not a feature. In many of the PF1 APs, the players need to uncover clues and story bits to move forward. Combat encounters are definitely part of that process, but they are not the determining factor, the exploration and info discovery is.


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Milestone and XP levelling boils down to the same thing. I've never seen a GM giving immediately a level because the players managed to find the stairs to the next level right away. And when using XP levelling, GMs are calculating the XP amount so players level at some specific moment. So, not much difference between the 2 levelling methods.

The main difference is that XP levelling asks for more work but gives a sense of progression to the players. So, it's better for the players and worse for the GM.


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SuperBidi wrote:

Milestone and XP levelling boils down to the same thing. I've never seen a GM giving immediately a level because the players managed to find the stairs to the next level right away. And when using XP levelling, GMs are calculating the XP amount so players level at some specific moment. So, not much difference between the 2 levelling methods.

The main difference is that XP levelling asks for more work but gives a sense of progression to the players. So, it's better for the players and worse for the GM.

Agreed, which is why I think there are bigger culprits in making a sandbox work in PF2 than XP awarding method.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Leveling up is all about creating a sense of progression for players over the course of a game.

Milestone leveling was a huge benefit for me when I first discovered it for GMing Paizo adventure paths 10 years ago, as the game was on rails anyway, and it relieved a lot of my work as a GM at the time. It worked wonderfully for many years until playing APs essentially became a race to the end. This happened much more frequently in PF1, where magic made it so that by the 3rd or 4th book of an AP, the players where pretty much capable of skipping most of the front end of dungeons and find a way to directly assault end bosses very quickly. They would beat an end boss, and I would award a level up, and the party would spend 5 encounters or less often times at a specific level. Maybe that is not a problem for most groups, but it got annoying to spend hours and hours prepping a dungeon on a VTT that the party was mostly going to bypass, but I stuck with it anyway because I didn't like what I saw happening as the alternative.

A lot of other GMs I would play with would react by essentially forcing those encounters on the PCs instead of letting the players bypass them, thwarting magical information gathering and teleporting in pretty blatant ways and clearly fudging dice on lock picking checks, making it so that you had to have X key to proceed. It was not a lot of fun as a player to be told, there is a fork to the left and the right. The right path glows with the promise of immediate gratification, while the left path is not for you yet.

Since I have gone back to XP leveling in PF2 (for 2 out of the 4 campaigns I GM for), I feel much freer in just letting the players do whatever they want to do and trusting them to decide when it is time to press on with a major story line or investigate a side tangent that might grow into a whole new story line. If anything, I find my players leveling up a little ahead of what I was expecting for them, as they really like feeling like they have the freedom to take some time establishing a fortified base camp at the mouth of some mega dungeon is worth it doing, and that they can ever receive XP awards for some downtime activities that might otherwise feel like sessions spent spinning their wheels without advancing the overall story. XP tracking in PF2 is really quick and you can even get away with rough estimating because XP really is just milestone leveling, it is just dividing the milestones up into smaller chunks. If measuring every xp (or meter in the case of this analogy) feels too accountancy, you can always consider awarding it in blocks of 10 or 100 to measure in hectometers or decameters.

I am not saying every game is better for it, but mine have gotten better after returning to XP after learning the system well enough to understand how and when to use story awards to fill in gaps and reward creative problem solving. The best part about doing this with APs like Abomination vaults, or some of the more difficult modules, is that it can let you, as a GM get more experience with encounter design as you throw in some random encounters to help your PCs get on track with either XP or wealth, and if they end up a level ahead before a major fight, it will still probably prove to be a difficult fight, but XP smooths back out on its own pretty quickly if your party gets ahead, where as milestone leveling often ends up making players feel like they have to beat the really difficult encounter before they level up, and if they beat a really difficult encounter and don't level up, then they are being denied a reward they are supposed to get.


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Unicore wrote:

Leveling up is all about creating a sense of progression for players over the course of a game.

Milestone leveling was a huge benefit for me when I first discovered it for GMing Paizo adventure paths 10 years ago, as the game was on rails anyway, and it relieved a lot of my work as a GM at the time. It worked wonderfully for many years until playing APs essentially became a race to the end. This happened much more frequently in PF1, where magic made it so that by the 3rd or 4th book of an AP, the players where pretty much capable of skipping most of the front end of dungeons and find a way to directly assault end bosses very quickly. They would beat an end boss, and I would award a level up, and the party would spend 5 encounters or less often times at a specific level. Maybe that is not a problem for most groups, but it got annoying to spend hours and hours prepping a dungeon on a VTT that the party was mostly going to bypass, but I stuck with it anyway because I didn't like what I saw happening as the alternative.

A lot of other GMs I would play with would react by essentially forcing those encounters on the PCs instead of letting the players bypass them, thwarting magical information gathering and teleporting in pretty blatant ways and clearly fudging dice on lock picking checks, making it so that you had to have X key to proceed. It was not a lot of fun as a player to be told, there is a fork to the left and the right. The right path glows with the promise of immediate gratification, while the left path is not for you yet.

Since I have gone back to XP leveling in PF2 (for 2 out of the 4 campaigns I GM for), I feel much freer in just letting the players do whatever they want to do and trusting them to decide when it is time to press on with a major story line or investigate a side tangent that might grow into a whole new story line. If anything, I find my players leveling up a little ahead of what I was expecting for them, as they really like feeling like they have the freedom to take some time...

I think some of your AP milestone XP experiences were because of how the APs develop. The earliest books are always the best. They have room to fully develop towns and cities with interesting NPCs and multiple plots. As the PCs level, the AP modules become one or two NPCs with info dumps and 500 room dungeons to challenge the PCs higher level of abilities and resources. The meat is gone and all you are left with are big bones to chew.


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SuperBidi wrote:

Milestone and XP levelling boils down to the same thing. I've never seen a GM giving immediately a level because the players managed to find the stairs to the next level right away. And when using XP levelling, GMs are calculating the XP amount so players level at some specific moment. So, not much difference between the 2 levelling methods.

The main difference is that XP levelling asks for more work but gives a sense of progression to the players. So, it's better for the players and worse for the GM.

I don't see how xp leveling is better for the players. It really depends on the pace you're playing at. If you're playing slow with lots of table talk and very few encounters completed, then the DM hands out xp it can be demotivating to the players who start counting how many sessions to level based on xp per session.

With milestone leveling the DM can control the speed of leveling based not only on set goals, but also player expectations. If players want to lvl or they get bored after 3 sessions, then you can plan for leveling every 3 sessions increasing challenges within the adventure as needed to ensure the players are still challenged that leveling speed.

With xp you're going to sit there forcing them to wait until they get enough xp even if they are bored to tears because xp leveling is so slow? That's not beneficial to players.

If I were an inexperienced DM, then I might start DMing using xp which would give me an idea of when players are supposed to level as well as show me all the problems with xp leveling. As an experienced DM, I don't need to let the number of encounters and xp per encounter dictate the pace of leveling or the game.

Milestone leveling has no hard numbers necessary to make it work. Experienced DMs and adventure designers can use milestone leveling in a manner that makes it invisible to the players. So there will be no dissatisfaction or care by the players as long as they are advancing at a pace that keeps them engaged.

Back when it was harder to gauge challenges in PF1, I would add up all the exp regardless of whether the players faced the encounters just to ensure it was all being properly tracked. Then give it to them just to maintain pacing. There were tons of easy filler encounters I handwaved and gave xp for regardless if it used resources as I wasn't wasting my time running encounters they were going to steamroll. This kept the pace of the adventure without wasting their or my time.

Once I started playing PF2 with challenges well tuned and easy to modify as needed. I tossed out xp leveling. It isn't necessary. The players never worried about xp anyway. It doesn't give them a sense of progress as long as the DM is leveling them at a pace that keeps them interested.

XP and milestone is viewed the same by the players as long as they are leveling at a pace that is keeping them engaged. One is not more player friendly than the other and both can interfere with player fun if leveling at a pace that is too slow.


Unicore wrote:

Leveling up is all about creating a sense of progression for players over the course of a game.

Milestone leveling was a huge benefit for me when I first discovered it for GMing Paizo adventure paths 10 years ago, as the game was on rails anyway, and it relieved a lot of my work as a GM at the time. It worked wonderfully for many years until playing APs essentially became a race to the end. This happened much more frequently in PF1, where magic made it so that by the 3rd or 4th book of an AP, the players where pretty much capable of skipping most of the front end of dungeons and find a way to directly assault end bosses very quickly. They would beat an end boss, and I would award a level up, and the party would spend 5 encounters or less often times at a specific level. Maybe that is not a problem for most groups, but it got annoying to spend hours and hours prepping a dungeon on a VTT that the party was mostly going to bypass, but I stuck with it anyway because I didn't like what I saw happening as the alternative.

A lot of other GMs I would play with would react by essentially forcing those encounters on the PCs instead of letting the players bypass them, thwarting magical information gathering and teleporting in pretty blatant ways and clearly fudging dice on lock picking checks, making it so that you had to have X key to proceed. It was not a lot of fun as a player to be told, there is a fork to the left and the right. The right path glows with the promise of immediate gratification, while the left path is not for you yet.

Since I have gone back to XP leveling in PF2 (for 2 out of the 4 campaigns I GM for), I feel much freer in just letting the players do whatever they want to do and trusting them to decide when it is time to press on with a major story line or investigate a side tangent that might grow into a whole new story line. If anything, I find my players leveling up a little ahead of what I was expecting for them, as they really like feeling like they have the freedom to take some time...

My table xp had the exact same effect as you list above: they felt compelled to get through as many encounters as fast as possible to maximize experience. They didn't want to waste their time engaging with encounters because all they wanted from the encounter was experience and treasure.

With milestone leveling they have no pressure to gain experience and move on to the next encounter, they can instead take the time to engage an encounter including not having to kill or defeat what they face which encourages them to roleplay and interact with the game world with less pressure to push and push and push to gain more experience.

This may be a side effect of playing MMORPGs. But in those games you push as fast as possible to get xp to level without regard for anything else. Xp in the game pushed my players to play a bit like an MMORPG where they pushed as hard and fast as possible to get experience.

I'd even get comments like, "Just give us the experience. Get to the next encounter."

Experience leveling encourages players to pursue experience relentlessly to level without thinking of the world as a real, breathing world but instead turn it into some MMORPG world where each challenge is something to power through just to get the experience number that pushes them closer to leveling.

The players feel freer to engage with the world with milestone leveling. I don't get pressure from them to push forward so they can get the experience.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I think we are having a lot of "I don't see what you are talking about because my players did x or didn't do y". Like I've never seen players "not engage with encounters" because of exp or rush game for it.

(what I have seen is player searching refuse pile in case there was encounter there for sake of exp ;P (it did turn out there was amoeba though) There are basically some player types who are likely to do increasingly silly things for sake of exp, but I haven't really seen players meta "okay we will just sneak them/talk to them because that gives us exp" they usually do that anyway. My experience with exp focused players is that the thing they do is that they avoid ignoring things that might give exp, whether or not it gives exp.)

On sidenote of how much I prefer exp, I once convinced my against the aeon throne gm to give me exp to count instead of just using milestones xD

(I do also feel as exp fan that there is lot of statements here that isn't strictly true, like statement that it isn't better for me ;D And kidding aside, like even with exp, you get level about every 3 sessions so I don't really have seen state of "exp leveling is so slow" out of systems where exp system is broken like 5e.

Like statement about milestones in practice being pretty much same is true, only difference is that you could in theory get level every session with milestones.)


SuperBidi wrote:
The main difference is that XP levelling asks for more work but gives a sense of progression to the players. So, it's better for the players and worse for the GM.

The burden is lessened in PF2E from before, I think. The experience is the same for each level, which makes it easier to track and hand out, or at least it has for my group, and the same-ness in numbers means that we are leveling up pretty consistently, rather than in previous games where we would blow through the first five or six levels, and then our leveling pace would really slow down and slog in the middle game, stretching out more as we went.

I think I'm more in the experience point camp rather than the milestone camp if I had to pick, though personally I like combining the two. I like the fact that players get excited over seeing their numbers go up and can anticipate when they will get some new stuff. It also helps to telegraph to my more improvisational players that it's time to start looking at their next level's goodies and figure out what they want to take. I'm also super up front about communicating to my group that whether they want to solve an encounter through combat or diplomacy I will give them the experience for it, which has cut down a lot on the MMO-style play that can result. It helps that I have a group that enjoys roleplay quite a bit too, though.

Conversely, I do really like milestones' ability to push the characters up to a higher level if the time seems right, and like I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm not above fudging rewards on things like story arcs to level the party, essentially disguising a milestone under a bush of experience points. Funnily enough the inverse is also true, where if the party may be leveling too quickly I can always skip an award for a story beat if necessary and it isn't a problem.

I guess what I'm saying in this ramble is that I like experience points for that progression feel for the players, but liberally plug holes in their experience with milestones whenever the opportunity presents. Then it becomes a gradual increase that gives the player that sense of accomplishment mixed with sudden, surprising bumps in power that are always fun to get.

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