Absolute Power


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

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Mechanically pathfidner 2e mechanics show a world with a fairly absolute hieracy of power where people's levels are everthing.

To fight demi-gods you need to be at the level you are demigods a villager can never persuade a lich of anything.

You can't tip to around Smaug unless your 15th level rogue.

Or are the mechanics of pathfidner 2e not meant to represent the reality of 2e?


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game mechanics are almost never meant to be treated like they're the laws of physics.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

or economics. Or society. Or an exact replica of conditions somewhere on Earth. Or at some historic point in time.


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The game mechanics are designed to simulate situations where characters are faced with appropriate and dangerous challenges / while letting characters grow powerful and get a sense of progression.

You're never supposed to be a villager trying to persuade a lich, so they game's mechanics don't really model it. And if that plays out, it can and should be handled narratively.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

It all depends on what kind of stories you want to tell. Level is mechanically very significant in the playing of PF2, but NPCs can have DCs and bonuses at whatever level they need to conceptually fit the story. The easiest way to conceptually reconcile this with certain game situations might be to think more liberally about what a circumstance bonus is and when they apply, as well as when and whether a roll is necessary in the first place.

A villager doesn't have to succeed on a diplomacy check to make the lich make a choice that might actually be better for the lich than it had originally realized. No roll might be necessary.

Bilbo has an artifact of immense power in his possession when he "tip toes" around Smaug. We have no idea how that affects that scenario mechanically, since that is a fictional story and not a game situation, but circumstance bonuses of +5 for doing the right thing in exactly the right circumstances are well within a GMs right to award.

What PF2 does is make level the very easy and quick way for GMs to understand and plan around power balances. Then the GM has many resources available to them to make it so that the players have the opportunity to face the challenges in front of them in a way that is fun for all.

GMs can do this by awarding Hero points, circumstance bonuses, and having creatures act in interesting and dramatic ways.

Smaug chooses to expose his chest to his enemy because he is arrogant and underestimating his opposition. The same thing happens over and over again in the lord of the rings. The heroes do not ultimately win the day because they are unstoppable juggernauts of destruction. At times it helps some of them, but it also gets some of them killed. Humility and compassion is what eventually defeats Sauron, as even Frodo and Sam eventually fail to make their saves against the rings power.

Level is not absolute power in PF2. It is a reliable measure of power that can still be influenced by both players and GMs, but within predictable increments.


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You can switch to "proficiency without level" for a more "simulationist" experience.

Humbly,
Yawar


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PF2's design treats the entire game world as merely a backdrop for the player characters. Nothing within this world has rules for existing outside of the gaze of your players. Even the APs are written so that the dungeon never really changes with regard to your players coming and going at will. The designers don't think that the dungeon is anything but a theme park ride that the PCs get to enjoy for a few hours per week and, for all the balance issues, they design adventures with the express goal that the players will never walk away with worse than a draw.

If you dislike this design then, like the forum has told me many times, you should play a different game because PF2 isn't for you.


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PF2 is designed to represent the kind of stories that happen in Golarion, and Golarion is a setting where world leaders are universally high level characters who are individually way more powerful than everyone else.


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Verdyn wrote:

... players will never walk away with worse than a draw.

Thats not true, party wiping is way more common in PF2 than 5E, IME.


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The PCs ARE the focus of each table. The rest of the world exists for the stories you tell about those characters. The rules facilitate those stories. There are no ttrpgs where the game mechanics functionally simulate the whole world/setting.


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Planpanther wrote:
Verdyn wrote:

... players will never walk away with worse than a draw.

Thats not true, party wiping is way more common in PF2 than 5E, IME.

Yes, but the AP doesn't usually end there does it? The TPK isn't the desired outcome and Paizo doesn't include asides about what happens if the party fails at any given step.

There are games that don't write their scenarios as if the players will win. They detail what happens if the party needs to run, or if they miss too many side objectives, or otherwise fail. These adventures are designed to make failure interesting and to give a challenge to the second wave of PCs that come in after a failure occurs.


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If your trying to kill off your players, you're likely really bad at running games. If you don't want heroic characters, maybe don't play in heroic fantasy systems.

I like that there is an option for no level to proficiency to mitigate just how much level is the be all end all of power, I just think it swaps things around to feel bad in a different way. I plan to run a half level to proficiency game sometime and see how that feels.


It's mechanics vs character stuff, mechanically to improve someone's opinion of you with conversation you have make an impression and for that to work you need to be in a reasonable level range of the person your trying to impress.

Which means a commoner can't say something a Lich find indeering he can't remind him of a shared hometown or a treasured memory. The concept that a really powerful entity might have issues with pride that you don't or ego that can be exploited.

Basically high level creatures don't have complex psychologies they have absolute personas which admittedly is a lot easier for a gm to run.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

There are a fair chunk of APs that treat dungeons as organic things which change if the players leave and come back. Even the first AP, Rise of the Runelords, has things like a day the whole dungeon goes to church and can be found in one room or troops that are replinished over the course of days, or just alarms that are raised and responded to.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I dunno, I tend to feel that adding level to just about everything is good design. Players want to advance in level every couple of sessions, if only to be able to try out new things, and feel powerful. They want to be able to stand up to stronger and stronger adversaries, and the game lets them do it.

Everything is working as intended.


Wheldrake wrote:

I dunno, I tend to feel that adding level to just about everything is good design. Players want to advance in level every couple of sessions, if only to be able to try out new things, and feel powerful. They want to be able to stand up to stronger and stronger adversaries, and the game lets them do it.

Everything is working as intended.

I disagree. I keep adding level numbers, but they keep giving me the same chances. The only thing making me feel more powerful is additional HP and newly gained abilities. I will say we dont go back and mop the floor with goblins, so I guess yeah if we did that it would feel more powerful; I suppose.

Customer Service Representative

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I have removed a few posts. Please stay on topic and be civil with each other.


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Verdyn wrote:
Paizo doesn't include asides about what happens if the party fails at any given step.

False. Age of Ashes (and every PF1e AP I've GM'd, which is at least 3) has plenty of consequence descriptions for what happens when the players lose. It's not detailed for every encounter, but it's often detailed for final bosses.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

APs are full of suggestions for how creatures will respond to either winning or losing different encounters. I don’t know what any suggestion to the contrary can be based upon.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
Planpanther wrote:
Wheldrake wrote:

I dunno, I tend to feel that adding level to just about everything is good design. Players want to advance in level every couple of sessions, if only to be able to try out new things, and feel powerful. They want to be able to stand up to stronger and stronger adversaries, and the game lets them do it.

Everything is working as intended.

I disagree. I keep adding level numbers, but they keep giving me the same chances. The only thing making me feel more powerful is additional HP and newly gained abilities. I will say we dont go back and mop the floor with goblins, so I guess yeah if we did that it would feel more powerful; I suppose.

A larger, coordinated force of creatures lower level than the party is an encounter setup that works pretty well in 2E, and let's the PCs flex and see there progress, while still actually adding up to a challenge. If you aren't every using that type of encounter, you probably should be.

Dark Archive

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Verdyn wrote:

PF2's design treats the entire game world as merely a backdrop for the player characters. Nothing within this world has rules for existing outside of the gaze of your players. Even the APs are written so that the dungeon never really changes with regard to your players coming and going at will. The designers don't think that the dungeon is anything but a theme park ride that the PCs get to enjoy for a few hours per week and, for all the balance issues, they design adventures with the express goal that the players will never walk away with worse than a draw.

If you dislike this design then, like the forum has told me many times, you should play a different game because PF2 isn't for you.

Umm, this post sounds bit bitter so that makes it bit awkward to reply to? But anyway, I disagree with your assement.

Like one of things I really dislike about 5e campaigns is how many rooms and characters there are without any explanation of why :p Like in Paizo adventures each room tends to have history and purpose and creatures have reason why they are in room right now and what they are doing there. Meanwhile in 5e there are lot of "there is bunch of enemies in room, because" dungeon rooms


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Pathfinder Pawns, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
CorvusMask wrote:
Like one of things I really dislike about 5e campaigns is how many rooms and characters there are without any explanation of why :p Like in Paizo adventures each room tends to have history and purpose and creatures have reason why they are in room right now and what they are doing there. Meanwhile in 5e there are lot of "there is bunch of enemies in room, because" dungeon rooms

Quite right. I recently hosted a 2E Paizo adventure path for several 5E players. They were utterly shocked and surprised when they stumbled upon a lavatory in a dungeon, and then later a kitchen and food storage. "But dungeons never make logical sense!" they said.

Welcome to the Paizo quality experience. :)


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siegfriedliner wrote:

It's mechanics vs character stuff, mechanically to improve someone's opinion of you with conversation you have make an impression and for that to work you need to be in a reasonable level range of the person your trying to impress.

Which means a commoner can't say something a Lich find indeering he can't remind him of a shared hometown or a treasured memory. The concept that a really powerful entity might have issues with pride that you don't or ego that can be exploited.

Basically high level creatures don't have complex psychologies they have absolute personas which admittedly is a lot easier for a gm to run.

In fairness, high level creatures only have "absolute personalities" if the GM wants to run them that way. The big draw of TTRPGs is that the thing adjudicating the game is a person rather than, say, a machine. If the GM wants to give personalities to high-level creatures, and allow the PCs to influence those creatures through discussion, they're totally empowered to do that.

If it is a purely mechanical concern, however, then look to what Unicore said, it's totally possible for that commoner with a lich's treasured possession to gain a massive circumstance bonus to their check, specifically for the purposes of making that check, or even to declare that the check is bumped up a success rung, or succeeds outright if it makes sense for the story.

If you want an example of this style of mechanic in play, look at the various boons deities can grant characters in Gods and Magic. They are also handed out entirely at the discretion of the GM, and also grant automatic successes when they are used. In fact, they are an even more apt comparison because they often call out that they should be employed at times of great importance to the story that intersect with the deity's areas of interest.


Captain Morgan wrote:
There are a fair chunk of APs that treat dungeons as organic things which change if the players leave and come back. Even the first AP, Rise of the Runelords, has things like a day the whole dungeon goes to church and can be found in one room or troops that are replinished over the course of days, or just alarms that are raised and responded to.

That's all very surface level. I wouldn't run an AP that didn't do at least that much.

When I see a dungeon that I paid money for I expect things like schedules and daily routines for each occupant, their reaction in each location, who's going to care if they go missing, etc. If I'm going to pay a premium I want an adventure that's better than what I can make for my party. Not something that expects me to fudge the details and make it work.

Dark Archive

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While those are in some APs, I don't think they should be in EVERY ap to be honest.

Like yeah, well done schedules and routines can make location feel really alive, but it can also be really too much details in dungeon romp. It think those work best in infiltration/heist/stealth missions rather than dungeon crawls.

Also more detailed something is, more easily it gets broken by players, especially things like tactics and routines. Plus more detailed something is, more space and text it requires, meaning there is room less for other content. Like "this group of foes have unique reaction to noticing pcs in every room" vs "this group of foes have this reaction when they notice pcs" is pretty big difference


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It needs to be said that certain posters don't actually read the adventures they criticize, and have admitted as much, so engaging with their commentary on those things is not an effective use of time.

The hyperbolic commentary can only be interpreted as bait. You cannot argue with a foundation of smoke and malice.


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CorvusMask wrote:

While those are in some APs, I don't think they should be in EVERY ap to be honest.

Like yeah, well done schedules and routines can make location feel really alive, but it can also be really too much details in dungeon romp. It think those work best in infiltration/heist/stealth missions rather than dungeon crawls.

Also more detailed something is, more easily it gets broken by players, especially things like tactics and routines. Plus more detailed something is, more space and text it requires, meaning there is room less for other content. Like "this group of foes have unique reaction to noticing pcs in every room" vs "this group of foes have this reaction when they notice pcs" is pretty big difference

I have a response, but it'll be posted in a fresh thread if you care to continue this.


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I'm much more interested in Paizo using their limited page count on things let adventure setup or fleshing out interesting NPCs than laying out how each individual monster reacts to a PC or when they take their lunch breaks, or what happens if the PCs leave after clearing room 2, or room 3, or room 4.

I am the GM, I can figure out how to repopulate my dungeons if/when my PCs leave. I buy the books for the maps and the overarching story, not for why there are two kobolds in room 7 and not 4.


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Verdyn wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
There are a fair chunk of APs that treat dungeons as organic things which change if the players leave and come back. Even the first AP, Rise of the Runelords, has things like a day the whole dungeon goes to church and can be found in one room or troops that are replinished over the course of days, or just alarms that are raised and responded to.

That's all very surface level. I wouldn't run an AP that didn't do at least that much.

When I see a dungeon that I paid money for I expect things like schedules and daily routines for each occupant, their reaction in each location, who's going to care if they go missing, etc. If I'm going to pay a premium I want an adventure that's better than what I can make for my party. Not something that expects me to fudge the details and make it work.

Good luck finding a company that's willing to spend most of their page space on dungeon ecology.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I actually hew toward letting them define the physical laws of reality, not in the OOTS kind of way, but more in the sense that the things that are true due to the game system, are true in the fiction as well.

In other words, adding level to everything does mean that power scales more like it does in an anime than "real life" people really are durable to take multiple hits from fireballs and sword swings and such. They really can just dodge things that aren't skilled/strong enough to hit them, or just have the attacks bounce off.

Spell slots really are a reflection of how casting works, although the in-universe explanation has more to do with training the soul.

This means my worldbuilding actually uses each element as a prompt and then writes the laws of reality accordingly.


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Kelseus wrote:

I'm much more interested in Paizo using their limited page count on things let adventure setup or fleshing out interesting NPCs than laying out how each individual monster reacts to a PC or when they take their lunch breaks, or what happens if the PCs leave after clearing room 2, or room 3, or room 4.

I am the GM, I can figure out how to repopulate my dungeons if/when my PCs leave. I buy the books for the maps and the overarching story, not for why there are two kobolds in room 7 and not 4.

I made a new thread for this topic but I disagree strongly with this. Fluff is the easiest thing in the world to write and a good skeleton of basic motivations and lore with specific mechanical actions make writing that fluff even easier. On the other hand, good mechanics and a well laid out dungeon can take weeks of work. Let me shortcut that and I can handle the rest in my sleep.


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The-Magic-Sword wrote:

I actually hew toward letting them define the physical laws of reality, not in the OOTS kind of way, but more in the sense that the things that are true due to the game system, are true in the fiction as well.

In other words, adding level to everything does mean that power scales more like it does in an anime than "real life" people really are durable to take multiple hits from fireballs and sword swings and such. They really can just dodge things that aren't skilled/strong enough to hit them, or just have the attacks bounce off.

Spell slots really are a reflection of how casting works, although the in-universe explanation has more to do with training the soul.

This means my worldbuilding actually uses each element as a prompt and then writes the laws of reality accordingly.

Just hitting the + wasn't enough for this.

I couldn't agree more with your approach. The world of your game should work exactly as your rules say it does. I appreciate it when the fiction that accompanies the rules accepts this craziness and leans into it.


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The-Magic-Sword wrote:

I actually hew toward letting them define the physical laws of reality, not in the OOTS kind of way, but more in the sense that the things that are true due to the game system, are true in the fiction as well.

In other words, adding level to everything does mean that power scales more like it does in an anime than "real life" people really are durable to take multiple hits from fireballs and sword swings and such. They really can just dodge things that aren't skilled/strong enough to hit them, or just have the attacks bounce off.

Spell slots really are a reflection of how casting works, although the in-universe explanation has more to do with training the soul.

This means my worldbuilding actually uses each element as a prompt and then writes the laws of reality accordingly.

Probably my favorite part of building my worlds is looking at the mechanics of the system I'm using, going "this is canon" and then figuring out just what the hell that means for the world.


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If we follow the mechanic then golarian runs on anime shonen logic where creatures are strictly tiered and trying to strike above you rank is impossible.

Anime tend to try justify their absolute tiers with power up if you don't have nen/stands/chi/gears/super saiyan you can't win against someone who does.

But apart from casters where justify absolute power disparities based on what spells you can cast (or as I call it circle, a 3rd circle sorcerer can cast 3rd level spells). Pathfidner doesn't try to justify its hierarchy when it comes to martials.


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YawarFiesta wrote:

You can switch to "proficiency without level" for a more "simulationist" experience.

Humbly,
Yawar

Hmm, I thought "simulationism" was not just about determining whether the rules were more down to earth in scope, but more about being equally applied to both sides of the GM screen... Am I totally wrong?

The-Magic-Sword wrote:

I actually hew toward letting them define the physical laws of reality, not in the OOTS kind of way, but more in the sense that the things that are true due to the game system, are true in the fiction as well.

In other words, adding level to everything does mean that power scales more like it does in an anime than "real life" people really are durable to take multiple hits from fireballs and sword swings and such. They really can just dodge things that aren't skilled/strong enough to hit them, or just have the attacks bounce off.

Yeah, count me in firmly in that school of "simulationism" too.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
siegfriedliner wrote:

If we follow the mechanic then golarian runs on anime shonen logic where creatures are strictly tiered and trying to strike above you rank is impossible.

Anime tend to try justify their absolute tiers with power up if you don't have nen/stands/chi/gears/super saiyan you can't win against someone who does.

But apart from casters where justify absolute power disparities based on what spells you can cast (or as I call it circle, a 3rd circle sorcerer can cast 3rd level spells). Pathfidner doesn't try to justify its hierarchy when it comes to martials.

I mean, it kind of does? Setting aside that we got legendary feats with barbarians that casually cause earthquakes or leap 40 feet straight up. But even setting that aside, when you look at the size of higher level monsters it is ridiculous to think you can fight them and not be super human.

A 20th level fighter has always been someone capable of murdering a rune giant with a sword. That's some pretty shonen stuff there.


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Yeah I always saw pathfinder as more of a simulationist game. Even if this version has become more gamist with the way things work.

Dark Archive

Captain Morgan wrote:
siegfriedliner wrote:

If we follow the mechanic then golarian runs on anime shonen logic where creatures are strictly tiered and trying to strike above you rank is impossible.

Anime tend to try justify their absolute tiers with power up if you don't have nen/stands/chi/gears/super saiyan you can't win against someone who does.

But apart from casters where justify absolute power disparities based on what spells you can cast (or as I call it circle, a 3rd circle sorcerer can cast 3rd level spells). Pathfidner doesn't try to justify its hierarchy when it comes to martials.

I mean, it kind of does? Setting aside that we got legendary feats with barbarians that casually cause earthquakes or leap 40 feet straight up. But even setting that aside, when you look at the size of higher level monsters it is ridiculous to think you can fight them and not be super human.

A 20th level fighter has always been someone capable of murdering a rune giant with a sword. That's some pretty shonen stuff there.

Yeah, not to mention 1e thing of "you make four sword attacks in 6 seconds without magic"


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CorvusMask wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
siegfriedliner wrote:

If we follow the mechanic then golarian runs on anime shonen logic where creatures are strictly tiered and trying to strike above you rank is impossible.

Anime tend to try justify their absolute tiers with power up if you don't have nen/stands/chi/gears/super saiyan you can't win against someone who does.

But apart from casters where justify absolute power disparities based on what spells you can cast (or as I call it circle, a 3rd circle sorcerer can cast 3rd level spells). Pathfidner doesn't try to justify its hierarchy when it comes to martials.

I mean, it kind of does? Setting aside that we got legendary feats with barbarians that casually cause earthquakes or leap 40 feet straight up. But even setting that aside, when you look at the size of higher level monsters it is ridiculous to think you can fight them and not be super human.

A 20th level fighter has always been someone capable of murdering a rune giant with a sword. That's some pretty shonen stuff there.

Yeah, not to mention 1e thing of "you make four sword attacks in 6 seconds without magic"

That isn't actually that impressive it shouldn't take six seconds to slash a sword.


It is absolutely part of the game that there are tiers of more or less powerful creatures.

It's not super explicit, but you're basically way beyond the realm of reality by about 7th level. And at 15th+ once stuff like cloud jump et al come into it, you're the ridiculous heroes of old myth.

This post by Michael Sayre for example shows how they conceive every 5 levels or so as being a different kind of story, etc.

We've seen other posts from paizo people with different media interests and backgrounds, but it's broadly true that there are tiers of power in a way that is not true in the real world. And I'm sure it makes sense for in universe people to be aware of that, if not codify it into levels. Anything level 1-4 in a combat situation is a very dangerous thing, that would be among the deadliest in our world. 5-9 it's some superhero stuff, and regular people would know that they just can't really play in that. Neatly matched by the game expecting no more than +/- 4 level differences.

It's a world that roughly conforms to the mechanics in a way that enables the kinds of stories a level-based game can tell. Other kinds of stories might not benefit from levels, and should be told with a level-less system probably. One game system doesn't and can't do everything.

I personally think Pathfinder 2e has a great balance of mechanical fun, rich world design which is appropriate to the game genre, and best in genre adventure writing. But I don't think it needs to run every story and genre covered by PbtA games, and so on. I don't need or want to play Pathfinder in Doskvol, or think it goes very far as a deep simulationist game (though I'm not really interested in simulationism these days).

Dark Archive

siegfriedliner wrote:
CorvusMask wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
siegfriedliner wrote:

If we follow the mechanic then golarian runs on anime shonen logic where creatures are strictly tiered and trying to strike above you rank is impossible.

Anime tend to try justify their absolute tiers with power up if you don't have nen/stands/chi/gears/super saiyan you can't win against someone who does.

But apart from casters where justify absolute power disparities based on what spells you can cast (or as I call it circle, a 3rd circle sorcerer can cast 3rd level spells). Pathfidner doesn't try to justify its hierarchy when it comes to martials.

I mean, it kind of does? Setting aside that we got legendary feats with barbarians that casually cause earthquakes or leap 40 feet straight up. But even setting that aside, when you look at the size of higher level monsters it is ridiculous to think you can fight them and not be super human.

A 20th level fighter has always been someone capable of murdering a rune giant with a sword. That's some pretty shonen stuff there.

Yeah, not to mention 1e thing of "you make four sword attacks in 6 seconds without magic"
That isn't actually that impressive it shouldn't take six seconds to slash a sword.

Yeah, but four times in that time, don't you need time to put force in the swing? Like imagine hitting someone with two handed super big sword that fast and you are basically Cloud Strife :p


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You don't need to put force behind a swing just enough to cut. Also that is why you get -5 for every attack, even in PF2. The cloud strife sword is never realistic unless you use magic or unobtanium.

Two handed swords even great swords, are really not that heavy. They are also very maneuverable (with enough space, but that gets ignored cause fun).

Dark Archive

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Ye say that but 1e is game where you can just take penalties to use large sized sword if you want to <_<


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Can't deny that. But then again 2-h weapons needed 3+ hands to even use them. So you had a bastard sword that actually behaved like a weird greatsword.


Temperans wrote:
Can't deny that. But then again 2-h weapons needed 3+ hands to even use them. So you had a bastard sword that actually behaved like a weird greatsword.

That's.... Handy :)


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

GMs have the task of pitting the players against narratively interesting and appropriately challengimg encounters. If they instead just smash the high CR end of the bestiary at the party from day 1, they're failing.

You can *totally* have low level characters negotiate with Liches, but don't expect to beat them in direct confrontations or roll against their will saves hoping to bamboozle them with words alone. The GM, if they want the low level party to interact with a lich, will create a narrative that allows that to happen without requiring hopeless rolls. Telling a lich that they're being manipulated by a higher power doesn't need a roll if it's *true*.

Similarly, if the GM makes an adventure that entails sneaking by a sleeping dragon, they'll likely ensure a reasonable chance of success, potentially by supplying a powerful magic item or modifying the dragon's perception due to circumstances such as deep slumber.


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High fantasy and realism do not co-exist.

If you want gritty realism it's considerably easier to achieve that with a non-'heroic-fantasy' system and setting. Pathfinder is about playing heroes that become (fantasy) super heroes.

A way to try thinking about this is: all games are 'story simulators' not 'reality simulators'. The rules follow the rules of stories, not of 'reality'. What kind of story do you want to tell?

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