How to "Ease Up" on Challenge Level in Published Encounters?


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


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I'm preparing to run Extinction Curse (voted on by my group), but I thought my question was general enough to post here than in that specific AP forum.
With other groups, I was running Age of Ashes and Abomination Vaults, and both of those had "by the skin of our teeth" encounters - mostly those labelled Severe (but even a few moderate ones).
This group is mostly casual gamers, new to PF2, and mostly new to TTRPGs in general.
Is there a good rule of thumb to make encounters easier? I've heard the suggestion to start the characters a level higher than the adventure assumes, but I don't want to start new players with 2nd level characters.
Do you think putting the Weak template on enemies in Severe encounters would be appropriate? Would that be enough/too much?
Any other ideas?

Sczarni

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Depending on how much time you have, you could recalculate the encounter budgets beforehand, and adjust them down accordingly. That might involve removing a Mook, or applying Weak to the Boss, but it'll vary from fight to fight.

A blanket Weakening might be too much.

And record what works and what doesn't during the first few encounters so you can adjust future fights with their capabilities in mind. They won't know what you've adjusted, so if a Weak Boss proved to be a tough fight, keep doing that for a while. Or if they have AoEs and enjoy nuking hordes of minions, throw more of those their way.

That way you can still keep the theme of the AP and its enemies but give your players a tailored experience.


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A good goodline I use that makes for much less swingy low level encounters:

No L+2 enemies before level 3, no L+3 enemies before level 7 and no L+4 enemies before level 11.

At lower levels you have much lower health compared to enemy damage and also have less ways to deal with high AC numbers.


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That's a complex question, especially when you add the fact that they are new, both to PF2 and TTRPGs.

One crucial point in PF2 is time. If the party doesn't take enough time between encounters to heal to full, the game will be played in (very) hard mode. Beginners rarely know that, as it may seem counterintuitive, especially at low level when Medicine takes hours. So, I'd first add some kind of medic, around the party, who can help them at low level with out of combat healing. When the party will have their own medic it will be easier for them.

I quite like the weak template. Your players will hit more often, their spell will land easily as will their skill checks, and monsters won't hit them often and their spells will be easy to resist. It's really a "hero" mode.
I think it's really important to use it on bosses, as these are the dangerous foes at low level. Reducing the number of enemies isn't as important as weakening bosses.

I'll also be careful about poison and persistent damage, as they are killers at low level. You can reduce the check to get rid of persistent damage to 10 and reduce poison's number of stages.

On last thing is Hero Points: Give a lot of them. It feels good using them and it really makes the game easier.


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Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

Some options:
some people say giving free archetype increases the characters power, and it certainly would have the capability if you granted the entry into the free archetype at 1st rather than 2nd. However, I get the impression, with your mention of more casual players, and not wanting to start out at second level, I'm going to imagine giving the players more choices isn't ideal idea for you. (greater complexity they may not be interested in)

Another option, give the players an NPC, increasing their number without bothering to scale the opponents higher. The NPC would take recommendations for action from any of the party members. I'd probably either make them a fighter, or a healer/support member. I have done this before to fill out a party that didn't have enough members, and it has worked. Alternately, you could provide a party (not tied to a particular player) pet/mascot that any one member of the party can use an action to give it two actions on its turn that they could direct. The creature could simply be an animal of party level or maybe even one higher depending on how much you want to blunt the encounter's danger.

Or simply, work out a plan to advance them to 2nd level earlier in the story (about half way to normal leveling milestone point), and then keep them at approximately one level above normal milestone leveling. During the time that they are 1st level, give them an Untyped 'Adrenaline' bonus to all their rolls and DCs until they finally make second level. This will make them compete very similarly to a second level party in the things that a 1st level party can do. You could limit the bonus to only when dealing with encounters that are a certain challenge rating or higher, or only if at least one party member is down to half hit points. But if you are looking for simplicity, simply applying it until they reach 2nd level should give them a useful boost without forcing extra choices on them from the start.

Something interesting you might do it hand out tokens at the start of an encounter that would help the party and explain their use and any party member can use them (but limit once per round per person) until they are used up. Tokens might be convert a hit against a Mook/minion to a critical hit. Add a +1 (Circumstance | Status player chooses) bonus to a roll against the 'Boss' after the roll is made.

Such tokens might help the party wipe out the smaller opponents quicker and land some debuffs to help take the Boss down, in whichever order they choose to try.


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There are many factors to consider!

If running a standard sized group in casual play, adding the Weak template to ALL encounters might be a good start, as well as subtracting opponents from larger groups of course. Extinction Curse (EC) begins with a grueling gauntlet, so you might even want to run a demo combat before the stakes matter so the players learn the basics. Though there is some appeal for newbie PCs being run by newbie players (!), PF2 PCs come as if already having gained some martial or magical skill so that might conflict with how their players envisage their PCs (or themselves for that matter). I'm against out-of-character advice and discussion during combats (often making up over half the time spent at some tables!) so a mock combat's a good method to freely discuss things like flanking and what the heck's best to do with one's third action without making it the norm for actual combat later (where you can step in if anything's particularly egregious). Then one can discuss things like who makes a good tank or who only kinda does despite high Str or h.p. Or who should skirmish (and how to) and who's the one being protected because they're one round from dying even when at full health. (Given the theme of EC, there's a reasonable chance nobody builds an actual tank (!) and the party will need to have a more fluid dynamic, which isn't simple. This could lead a Barbarian or Ranger into thinking they must be the tank, being the toughest, which has been a frequent indicator on these boards of a party who'll struggle!)

I agree adding levels is a lesser option, especially since it sometimes gives access to abilities you don't want unlocked for the obstacles they'll face (and as you mention, they'll be juggling enough already). Another method would be to add the Elite template to the PCs, which eases your job immensely and also aids outside of combat. It may make the players realize they'll be playing on easy mode, which they would be, but how they'll feel about that will vary! In this mode, veterans can perhaps run standard builds.

So yeah, Weak template's the simplest default tool, though not the only one. And check in with player expectations, mainly do they want to remain casual players? Would they mind "casual, low stress mode" where they get the Elite template? Maybe only until they've found their footing? Or maybe only the 10 extra h.p.? (Which would also be easier to wean them off of.)

As for EC/actual play, check that the party features somebody who can do Medicine or another similar out-of-combat unlimited healing ability like Lay on Hands. Then makes sure they use it even in situations where it feels awkward for the story because the encounters assume full health. And check that each PC has something offensive to contribute in battle, mainly the healer so they don't start blowing Heal spells (or other limited resources) simply to participate.


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The group was so intimidated about the archetypes that it swayed the campaign vote from Strength of Thousands to Extinction Curse, so I guess I'll avoid that solution.
We're doing our session zero tomorrow night, so I still have some time to plan what to do when we actually get around to playing the adventure - I'm sure I can base that around what the party's abilities are and what the players tell me their style is.
(Though if I know them, they'll say, "we want to do it at regular difficulty mode - and then get frustrated when their characters die.)
Do you think that it would be in bad form to have an NPC coming along who can do some fighting and healing (like a Champion) that can also demonstrate good tactics (like I'm going to trip, demoralize, etc. instead of taking a 3rd attack)? Or do you think that would look like a GM trying to take center stage?


Loreguard wrote:
some people say giving free archetype increases the characters power, and it certainly would have the capability if you granted the entry into the free archetype at 1st rather than 2nd. However, I get the impression, with your mention of more casual players, and not wanting to start out at second level, I'm going to imagine giving the players more choices isn't ideal idea for you. (greater complexity they may not be interested in)

FA will not help a party of new players. Complexity aside, it is hard the get actually stronger, to grow tall with FA as that requires a certain degree of system mastery. They will be more versatile, sure, but that won't make PL +3 encounters easier.


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GMPCs are pretty risky. They can sometimes work but can often come off feeling like the GM insert.

Really, the game provides ways for you to tweak the difficulty as described above. Weak template, similar-but-weaker creatures, cut filler encounters so people have more resources for important encounters. Just be willing to flex. I've found it helpful to be like "hey. we're all on this boat together. if something isn't singing for you, we can swap things around or rebuild characters." Make the focus on the fun and not on being mechanically strict.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Probably the easiest solution would be to just give the party a bonus level and award exp as though they were one level lower. This comes with the benefit that it doesn't require your effort of re-balancing every encounter as you go.

Harles wrote:
Do you think that it would be in bad form to have an NPC coming along who can do some fighting and healing (like a Champion) that can also demonstrate good tactics (like I'm going to trip, demoralize, etc. instead of taking a 3rd attack)? Or do you think that would look like a GM trying to take center stage?

You'd probably be alright to more directly suggest such actions to players rather than making it something in-universe, pointing out that grabbing/tripping a character makes them flat-footed to everyone or that the frightened from demoralized gives a penalty to just about everything they can do.

This could also be something from the enemy tactics—having less intelligent NPCs go for the -10 Multiple Attack Penalty checks and emphasize that they miss by a bunch, while more intelligent enemies spend their third action repositioning or taking a more likely successful action.

Another option might be to just play the NPCs less optimally, focusing on narrative events rather than tactical ones. Things like charging the champion that taunted them rather than focusing on the wizard they're in melee with.


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Harles wrote:

The group was so intimidated about the archetypes that it swayed the campaign vote from Strength of Thousands to Extinction Curse, so I guess I'll avoid that solution.

We're doing our session zero tomorrow night, so I still have some time to plan what to do when we actually get around to playing the adventure - I'm sure I can base that around what the party's abilities are and what the players tell me their style is.
(Though if I know them, they'll say, "we want to do it at regular difficulty mode - and then get frustrated when their characters die.)
Do you think that it would be in bad form to have an NPC coming along who can do some fighting and healing (like a Champion) that can also demonstrate good tactics (like I'm going to trip, demoralize, etc. instead of taking a 3rd attack)? Or do you think that would look like a GM trying to take center stage?

Use a Session Zero mock combat to show them those good tactics, perhaps even by using them against their PCs. You can also point out where they've made themselves vulnerable, what other options exist, etc. This could be done as a simple bar brawl between generic mooks sharing the same stats (but having things like Intimidate and Athletics).

I'd balked at suggesting a GM-NPC because yes, they tend to overshadow, if only due to superior tactics (and if players start looking to that NPC as some kind of leader/proxy-GM-voice, all the worse). That doesn't mean a GM-peon wouldn't be helpful, a basic schmuck who can take a few blows for the team (and doesn't tax their resources by needing rescue!), but doesn't shine at tactics except when a PC shouts out advice!
An archer/crossbowman works too, contributing consistently without interfering with positioning, hogging the spotlight, or requiring the PCs to be concerned (and maybe w/ some Medicine to speed up noncombat healing). Depends on party composition of course.

ETA: And remind them that their PCs will likely want a heroic drive. The later narrative shift kind of requires they do. And for beginning players "being able to work well with others" should be normal for their PCs too! Don't want a party of lone wolves, each too edgy to function.

Silver Crusade

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I'd urge you to reconsider your decision to not just have the characters be a level higher

1) A great many characters only really come on line at level 2 (eg, a character planning on getting heavy armor proficiency via an archetype, a martial/caster hybrid, etc) anyway so starting at level 2 greatly expands the range of decent characters. And for a casual player creating a level 2 character isn't much harder than creating a level 1 character

2) it is just such a simple and elegant solution to the problem. You don't have to do lots of work. you don't have to carefully calibrate things. It just works.

And yes, that is the voice of experience. I did exactly that with Edgewatch for a group new to PF2 and it worked very, very well with very little work on my part

Liberty's Edge

I'm preparing for a new game that hopefully gets off the ground for Outlaws of Alkenstar.

Previous games had the players feeling overwhelmed and underpowered if even only by a minor amount.

To fix this I plan on just starting the party off at level 2 to start and do not anticipate I will be tweaking any of the published encounters unless they end up steamrolling through all of acts 1 and 2.


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I guess I could write my own encounters for 1st level before starting the AP. I don't want to start them at 2nd level. They are barely confident in character creation, much less starting with two levels, a magic item shopping spree, presenting more decisions.
As the GM, the burden of presenting fair challenges is 100% on me.


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Harles wrote:

I guess I could write my own encounters for 1st level before starting the AP. I don't want to start them at 2nd level. They are barely confident in character creation, much less starting with two levels, a magic item shopping spree, presenting more decisions.

As the GM, the burden of presenting fair challenges is 100% on me.

That is exactly what I did with my group. We had a custom level 1 adventure that was mostly role-play and some skill challenges. They had a mock/training combat with some NPC friends. Did some traveling. Did some interacting with townsfolk and shopkeepers. Explored an abandoned (and monsterless) ruin. Solved some skill challenges. Found an interesting magical item that they were looking for. Returned back to their home base.

Then leveled up to level 2 and started Abomination Vaults.

Silver Crusade

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Harles wrote:

I guess I could write my own encounters for 1st level before starting the AP. I don't want to start them at 2nd level. They are barely confident in character creation, much less starting with two levels, a magic item shopping spree, presenting more decisions.

As the GM, the burden of presenting fair challenges is 100% on me.

Lots of 1st level adventures to steal as well. Just grab one or two introductory PFS things or some quests or the like.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

Honestly, if starting at level 2 is too intimidating, and it was when I ran the beginner box for my friends completely new to TTRPG, just add +2, or even just +1, to all player numbers. That would shift the odds considerably in your players favor while they learn the ropes.

Make expert and master only +1 if you want to compensate for it later, but I’d just roll with it.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Honestly the beginner's box is really, really good for this situation. It is much more forgiving and will let the players learn their characters and organically level up. It segues into Abomination Vaults more gracefully than Extinction Curse, but you can always call it the Abberton fishery instead of Otari. Or just acknowledge what it is to your players: the tutorial level.

The extra level will also help them with our combat skill DCs in a way that simply throwing weak templates around will not. (Newbies are more likely to focus on skills not aligned with their good ability scores.)

I'd probably advise milestone leveling instead of XP, and consider cutting a few of the less memorable encounters or weakening some enemies despite the extra level. Book 1 is such a combat slog and that isn't great if your players are building circus performers instead of fighters.


pauljathome wrote:

I'd urge you to reconsider your decision to not just have the characters be a level higher

1) A great many characters only really come on line at level 2 (eg, a character planning on getting heavy armor proficiency via an archetype, a martial/caster hybrid, etc) anyway so starting at level 2 greatly expands the range of decent characters. And for a casual player creating a level 2 character isn't much harder than creating a level 1 character

2) it is just such a simple and elegant solution to the problem. You don't have to do lots of work. you don't have to carefully calibrate things. It just works.

And yes, that is the voice of experience. I did exactly that with Edgewatch for a group new to PF2 and it worked very, very well with very little work on my part

How did this Campaign end, truly curious.

Level 21?


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We've already played through the Beginner Box as a trial run. To their credit, they did defeat the notoriously challenging end boss (albeit barely). They are now eager to do an Adventure Path - but the Abomination Vaults held no interest for them.
Even though they made it to Level 2 in the Beginner Box, they were using the pre-gens and want the opportunity to design their own characters mechanically and thematically. I can understand that.
I do think that making a new character, trying to learn a relatively new system, and jumping in with that character at 2nd level is a bit much for the players.
I will throw out the suggestion to them that starting at Level 2 might be easier. Or I can write my own sample encounters for them to "test drive" the characters to get them to Level 2 before Extinction Curse. I did warn them that it has a reputation of being more challenging than later APs (specifically Strength of Thousands), but they were turned off from that AP due to the archetypes (and I think there's a strong favoritism in the group's style for martials over casters.)


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber
rainzax wrote:
pauljathome wrote:

I'd urge you to reconsider your decision to not just have the characters be a level higher

1) A great many characters only really come on line at level 2 (eg, a character planning on getting heavy armor proficiency via an archetype, a martial/caster hybrid, etc) anyway so starting at level 2 greatly expands the range of decent characters. And for a casual player creating a level 2 character isn't much harder than creating a level 1 character

2) it is just such a simple and elegant solution to the problem. You don't have to do lots of work. you don't have to carefully calibrate things. It just works.

And yes, that is the voice of experience. I did exactly that with Edgewatch for a group new to PF2 and it worked very, very well with very little work on my part

How did this Campaign end, truly curious.

Level 21?

Based on my experience running Beginner Box into Abomination Vault, the game eventually catches up if you’re properly reducing XP according to the guidelines.


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My recommendation is using milestone leveling and just starting the party at +1 level. The game feels a lot better with that extra edge.


Harles wrote:

We've already played through the Beginner Box as a trial run. To their credit, they did defeat the notoriously challenging end boss (albeit barely). They are now eager to do an Adventure Path - but the Abomination Vaults held no interest for them.

Even though they made it to Level 2 in the Beginner Box, they were using the pre-gens and want the opportunity to design their own characters mechanically and thematically. I can understand that.
I do think that making a new character, trying to learn a relatively new system, and jumping in with that character at 2nd level is a bit much for the players.
I will throw out the suggestion to them that starting at Level 2 might be easier. Or I can write my own sample encounters for them to "test drive" the characters to get them to Level 2 before Extinction Curse. I did warn them that it has a reputation of being more challenging than later APs (specifically Strength of Thousands), but they were turned off from that AP due to the archetypes (and I think there's a strong favoritism in the group's style for martials over casters.)
The changes that happen from starting with a level 1 character and starting with a level 2 character are:
    Proficiencies are +1
  • You have more HP
  • You get an extra skill feat
  • You get an extra class feat
  • You have a little extra starting gold (but not enough to actually buy anything meaningful)
That's it. That's all the extra work, bonuses, and featurettes. It takes maybe 40 seconds to write it all down and you're done, ready to jump. I guided a completely new player through making an initially lvl 2 PC and it was a cake walk. I think you or your players are over-thinking how hard leveling up is in this edition, it's insanely rudimentary and not demanding at all.

Silver Crusade

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rainzax wrote:
pauljathome wrote:

I'd urge you to reconsider your decision to not just have the characters be a level higher

1) A great many characters only really come on line at level 2 (eg, a character planning on getting heavy armor proficiency via an archetype, a martial/caster hybrid, etc) anyway so starting at level 2 greatly expands the range of decent characters. And for a casual player creating a level 2 character isn't much harder than creating a level 1 character

2) it is just such a simple and elegant solution to the problem. You don't have to do lots of work. you don't have to carefully calibrate things. It just works.

And yes, that is the voice of experience. I did exactly that with Edgewatch for a group new to PF2 and it worked very, very well with very little work on my part

How did this Campaign end, truly curious.

Level 21?

No. The group ultimately decided (in Book 4 IIRC) that PF2 just wasn't the game for them (mostly. Part of the problem was also some structural issues with this particular AP). But the decision to have them be a level higher than expected made getting through book 4 practical and possible. All of their issues with PF2 were significantly reduced by that decision.


Use milestone leveling. You're welcome.

Silver Crusade

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nick1wasd wrote:
The changes that happen from starting with a level 1 character and starting with a level 2 character are:

That is only true if the players/GM want it to be true.

One of the huge advantages to starting at level 2 is that it opens up all the archetypes. Suddenly the breadth of characters that one can create increases by a massive amount

One of the huge disadvantages to starting at level 2 is that it opens up all the archetypes. Suddenly the breadth of characters that one can create increases by a massive amount. Option paralysis becomes a very, very, very real problem, especially for new players.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

While picking a second level class feat is easy enough (if you don't consider archetypes) I do think skill feats are tricky. There's a lot more of them, they are more prerequisite heavy, and their benefits aren't always obvious. That said, they tend to be low impact so if your players skipped them they would also be fine.

But if your players rejected continuing the beginners box because they wanted to build their own characters, shying away from letting them make a few more choices seems strange.


Pathfinder Pawns, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I'd advise leaving it as is. Extinction Curse is not as hard as Age of Ashes.

I've run three new players through the first three modules without adjustment and they've only had a couple harrowing encounters and 1 PC death. If you've got a group of four or more, I can't imagine them doing poorly.


My rule of thumb, if I would want todo that:

Against many monsters I would remove one creature or more. Against a single or a couple of monsters I would apply the weak template to one creature. In the case of a duo, one of them would be weaker, this can even open up some visual queue descriptors to nudge the party into attacking the weakest and make the fight easier.


Bummer to hear about your AoA game.

pauljathome wrote:
One of the huge disadvantages to starting at level 2 is that it opens up all the archetypes. Suddenly the breadth of characters that one can create increases by a massive amount. Option paralysis becomes a very, very, very real problem, especially for new players.

Do you think this particular problem could be mitigated somewhat with liberal usage of Downtime Retraining?

Silver Crusade

rainzax wrote:

Bummer to hear about your AoA game.

pauljathome wrote:
One of the huge disadvantages to starting at level 2 is that it opens up all the archetypes. Suddenly the breadth of characters that one can create increases by a massive amount. Option paralysis becomes a very, very, very real problem, especially for new players.
Do you think this particular problem could be mitigated somewhat with liberal usage of Downtime Retraining?

Not really (maybe a touch). The problem is that there are just SO many archetype options and evaluating them takes time and expertise (for example, for a novice Champion Archetype probably looks better than Sentinel Archetype since it gives you more at lower levels. But Sentinel scales far better to higher levels)


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Ravingdork wrote:

I'd advise leaving it as is. Extinction Curse is not as hard as Age of Ashes.

I've run three new players through the first three modules without adjustment and they've only had a couple harrowing encounters and 1 PC death. If you've got a group of four or more, I can't imagine them doing poorly.

Were they people you found on the internet or existing friends? I feel like even for newbies there is a big difference between people who play PF2 because their GM friend will run it and people who specifically seek out PF2. The former doesn't really care what the system is, and the latter is more likely to engage in optimization and tactics.


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Captain Morgan wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:

I'd advise leaving it as is. Extinction Curse is not as hard as Age of Ashes.

I've run three new players through the first three modules without adjustment and they've only had a couple harrowing encounters and 1 PC death. If you've got a group of four or more, I can't imagine them doing poorly.

Were they people you found on the internet or existing friends? I feel like even for newbies there is a big difference between people who play PF2 because their GM friend will run it and people who specifically seek out PF2. The former doesn't really care what the system is, and the latter is more likely to engage in optimization and tactics.

Well, in my case it's a group of people I know from in-person (though we're now playing online for convenience). I've been encouraging them to try new systems (much to the chagrin of a few of the players - who just want to stay with what they know).

We started with 5e, went to an OSR system, back to 5e, to Warhammer 4e, and now to Pathfinder 2.
Their comfort level is 5e, but we've sort of exhausted what they want to play in official content (and it's not well supported on Foundry). Warhammer 4e proved to be too deadly and complicated to run for my liking. Pathfinder 2 seems to be better supported on Foundry than 5e while having a lot of options for character creation and better tactical play. (I guess I don't need to sell any of you on these boards for why I recommended PF2. Haha.)
As far as how they'll engage with it, I think I'll get one player who will be very tactically optimized, another focused more on character and setting, the other two are mostly along for the ride.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Harles wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:

I'd advise leaving it as is. Extinction Curse is not as hard as Age of Ashes.

I've run three new players through the first three modules without adjustment and they've only had a couple harrowing encounters and 1 PC death. If you've got a group of four or more, I can't imagine them doing poorly.

Were they people you found on the internet or existing friends? I feel like even for newbies there is a big difference between people who play PF2 because their GM friend will run it and people who specifically seek out PF2. The former doesn't really care what the system is, and the latter is more likely to engage in optimization and tactics.

Well, in my case it's a group of people I know from in-person (though we're now playing online for convenience). I've been encouraging them to try new systems (much to the chagrin of a few of the players - who just want to stay with what they know).

We started with 5e, went to an OSR system, back to 5e, to Warhammer 4e, and now to Pathfinder 2.
Their comfort level is 5e, but we've sort of exhausted what they want to play in official content (and it's not well supported on Foundry). Warhammer 4e proved to be too deadly and complicated to run for my liking. Pathfinder 2 seems to be better supported on Foundry than 5e while having a lot of options for character creation and better tactical play. (I guess I don't need to sell any of you on these boards for why I recommended PF2. Haha.)
As far as how they'll engage with it, I think I'll get one player who will be very tactically optimized, another focused more on character and setting, the other two are mostly along for the ride.

Yeah, I've run groups like that. I've only run book 1 of Extinction Curse, but it was brutal for such a group. I'd definitely ratchet the difficulty back using some combination of what has been suggested in this thread.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

One other thing worth noting is that patching up between fights with medicine or other free healing options like a champion's lay on hands and refocusing for spellcasters with focus spells should be the standard.

Going into fights while wounded can really amp up the difficulty, though it'll depend on the circumstance as to whether it makes sense to take a rest between encounters.


Are the encounters in question boss fights? Or just a bunch of normal monsters? If it's the latter, you could probably just remove as many monsters from the encounter as you see fit. If it's the former, you would probably have to make a weaker version of the boss.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

Hilariously, my wife plays a Dhampir in Abomination Vaults so at least 15% of the encounters are "Oh, he only does negative energy damage? Well I guess lock your Redeemer of Pharasma in a closet with them and take 20"

Jason Tondro wrote Book 1 of Extinction Curse and after playing through several of his works I have come to the conclusion he pulls no punches. Admirable, but not everybody's cup of tea.


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Well, reading the Extinction Curse obituaries on the AP section of this forum, I am very worried about the lethality of the first adventure. Seems like a lot of deaths occur there - a good number of TPKs as well.
And I know many will paraphrase Ivan Drago "if they die - they die" but I have to consider that my group spent over two hours making 1st level characters at our Session 0 last night - and two players didn't even finish. If we take that kind of time every few sessions, it will seem like we're playing "Character Building: The RPG" instead of an actual game.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Harles wrote:

Well, reading the Extinction Curse obituaries on the AP section of this forum, I am very worried about the lethality of the first adventure. Seems like a lot of deaths occur there - a good number of TPKs as well.

And I know many will paraphrase Ivan Drago "if they die - they die" but I have to consider that my group spent over two hours making 1st level characters at our Session 0 last night - and two players didn't even finish. If we take that kind of time every few sessions, it will seem like we're playing "Character Building: The RPG" instead of an actual game.

Well, the first time making any character in most games, in my experence, tends to take a lot longer than the subsequent times. I know a fair number of people who only need to take 5-10 minutes to build out a character nowadays. It's like riding a bike at that point.


One way to avoid the problems of GMPCs while still having them is to kill them off or having them leave as the players advance in level. You still run the risk of creating problems, but that avoids the biggest one: GMPCs taking over the game as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Killing them also serves to show the player some other aspect of the campaign, and a bit of stakes to the campaign without actually killing a PC.

Ex: You can have a healer NPC that gets killed at level 2 or 3 when the players have gotten the ropes.


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Ezekieru wrote:
Harles wrote:

Well, reading the Extinction Curse obituaries on the AP section of this forum, I am very worried about the lethality of the first adventure. Seems like a lot of deaths occur there - a good number of TPKs as well.

And I know many will paraphrase Ivan Drago "if they die - they die" but I have to consider that my group spent over two hours making 1st level characters at our Session 0 last night - and two players didn't even finish. If we take that kind of time every few sessions, it will seem like we're playing "Character Building: The RPG" instead of an actual game.
Well, the first time making any character in most games, in my experence, tends to take a lot longer than the subsequent times. I know a fair number of people who only need to take 5-10 minutes to build out a character nowadays. It's like riding a bike at that point.

Memorizing content and learning good search techniques help a lot. Although I would say the 5-10 minute thing is mostly if you are using an app. Cross referencing takes time.

Sovereign Court

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* Beware of single high level monsters. These are "allowed" according to encounter design guidelines, but can feel too strong. The same XP budget spent on multiple weaker creatures is on paper the same difficulty, but in practice usually easier for the players.

* Beware of big level differences between players and monsters. In the beginning, level+2 is a boss. At least until level 4/when players start getting Striking weapons.

* Bosses are more fun if they're foreshadowed. Otherwise it's just a random really strong monster that's suddenly in your face. I think it works best if the players find out at least several hours of real time play that the boss exists and a bit about what it is, why it matters that they're going to end up fighting it, maybe what kind of attacks and defenses the boss has. Ideally, early enough that they can actually prepare something helpful like a detour to get a more suitable weapon.

* Be super liberal with character rebuilds. The retraining rules are fairly liberal already but I personally also allow tweaks to ancestry, ability scores, just about anything. I'd much rather have someone switch their class and abilities while keeping the same backstory, than having to start a new character because they don't like the mechanics of this one. This way you can tell the players they don't have to sweat getting it right from the start.

* Be careful in how you present the pacing of the adventure. Sometimes the adventure is presented as quite urgent ("our friend has been captured by cultists and they're going to do the sacrifice Soon™") even though the AP doesn't really give the GM any kind of deadline. But then the party has to go through a dungeon with a dozen fights. And no party can actually do all of that in a single day. Especially when it can take several hours of Medicine to patch everyone up after a fight. And when spells run out. When challenged on this, Paizo folks have said the GM should always just take the adventure as a starting point and adapt it to fit their group.So it's really important you do that. Otherwise the clash between the expectation set by the story and the mechanical challenge level will just grind up the characters.

* When you start changing the pace of these things, switching to milestone leveling instead of XP is useful, because then you don't have to worry about the PCs missing XP they needed to level up because you cut an encounter or lowered its level.

* You can cut encounters that feel like filler. Some encounters seem to be there just to make sure the overall adventure had enough XP to level up the characters. However be careful not to cut too many of the easier encounters, even those tend to be the most filler-like. Because if only harder encounters remain, the adventure starts to feel more punishing, and that was what you were trying to avoid.

* You can give the PCs some more resources. Our GM did this in lower levels of Edgewatch. Since we were part of the city watch, they provided us with lots of alchemical healing items that would spoil after 24 hours. But those allowed us to push through a dungeon faster, giving you a proper police raid vibe. Much better than a police raid that takes five hours to move through eight rooms to arrest people that patiently wait for you to come to their room :P

* You can keep the urgency of multiple encounters, but just make each of those encounters easier. So if you have to go through four rooms with enemies, just slap a Weak template on all of them. They'll all be easier, but going through so many enemies so fast will still be challenging and it'll be like a hero in a martial arts movie.

* Don't play enemies smarter or better informed than they really are. Dumb bandits shouldn't use genius tactics. In particular, don't let them act with knowledge about what each PC is capable of. They can't see that this guy with a sword (fighter) has AoO and this one (barbarian) doesn't. So either they move very slowly and carefully around everyone, or nobody. If they do know it for some reason, make sure to insert some dialogue so that the players also know that they know and set up the drama!

* Make it doable to learn useful information about enemies. Whether that's taking prisoners and questioning them about what's further down in the dungeon, or using Recall Knowledge.

* Make it possible to act on the information. Players like using enemy weaknesses, so use enemies that have them, and make sure the players can find out what they are, and find the things they need to use those weaknesses. So put some alchemist's fire somewhere close to where they fight the highly flammable plant monsters, some leftover holy water in the altar they search soon before confronting the demon and so on.


Ezekieru wrote:
I know a fair number of people who only need to take 5-10 minutes to build out a character nowadays.

Build a character and make a character are different things. I too can build a character in 20 minutes, but making a character still takes several hours. Even though I'm not a hardcore roleplayer at all.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Errenor wrote:
Ezekieru wrote:
I know a fair number of people who only need to take 5-10 minutes to build out a character nowadays.
Build a character and make a character are different things. I too can build a character in 20 minutes, but making a character still takes several hours. Even though I'm not a hardcore roleplayer at all.

It definitely depends on which direction you take when "making" a character. If you're the type that creates a story from various builds, the actual building will still take a lot less time to agonize over, and you can spend the rest of the time finalizing details for the actual characterization, personalities, and roleplaying hooks of those builds.

If you're instead the type to start from those characterizations first and foremost, THEN use that as a reference when building your character, that can certainly take a lot longer. The story-rich character concept can pull you in several different directions build-wise, and can take a lot of time to cross-reference and compare/contrast the pros and cons of each decision. Which is certainly not a bad thing at all! I just tend to go build-first, then create my character from that build.


Errenor wrote:
Ezekieru wrote:
I know a fair number of people who only need to take 5-10 minutes to build out a character nowadays.
Build a character and make a character are different things. I too can build a character in 20 minutes, but making a character still takes several hours. Even though I'm not a hardcore roleplayer at all.

My standard process is basically:

If I have a good idea I make a build for it and add in bits of information that can help me create the character later. Basically, I build the framework of the character and have it ready, so when I need to use it I create a fitting backstory and add some layers. A build with a fully realized concept is roughly only 50% of my characters.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
Ascalaphus wrote:
-snip-

Not to retread everything Ascalaphus has already said but they're all good points. To summarize my input:

- Humanoid enemies can and will retreat if they're going to be massacred. They will not fight "to the death" just to inflict maximum HP damage before they inevitably die. Similarly unless they're psychopaths they're unlikely to just simply cut your throats if you're defeated. They might just take your gold and tell you to consider yourselves lucky.

- Players don't miss content that is "cut for time" or cut because it's too much.

- Encounter design does not stop when initiative is rolled. Feel free to reduce an AC by 1 or 2 if things are going poorly.

- Nobody likes to get wiped by a random encounter or a speedbump. Make their deaths have meaning unless you enjoy playing that kind of nihilistic 2e/OSR style where life is cheap.

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