Optimization and Tactics are Substitutes For Each Other In Pathfinder 2E


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

"Hot Take": Optimization and Tactics are substitutes for each other in Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

That is a shift from Pathfinder 1st Edition. P1E had more "trap" options while also sporting more "best in class" feats and a multiclass system very conducive to maximizing pure power levels. On the other side, the fluidity of movement as well as the streamlined set of bonuses and penalties make tactical combat a considerably stronger option in Pathfinder 2nd than in Pathfinder 1st; simply put, it is easy for any character to assist an ally in attacks, heal an ally, debuff an enemy for an ally, etc., depending on what you do. Optimization was easy in Pathfinder 1st, while using tactics was hard.

The Adventure Paths appear designed to assume a certain level of tactics. It can be expected that a monster will have "bigger numbers" than a PC; tactics drag these "bigger numbers" down to a manageable size. Optimization, on the other hand, reduce this discrepancy by making the PC numbers bigger rather than making the monster numbers smaller. This leads to the "substitution" theory; both are means to get to the same point.

Some often deride optimization; I'm "old school" enough to think of "characters" and not "builds", as an example. Moreover, the design of Pathfinder 2nd makes attempts at optimization rather obvious; you know it when you see the flick mace, shadow signet or any other item in which you can tell someone dug through the crates to find the things that gives the biggest numbers. It is easier to see this as the latest iteration of "ROLEplaying vs ROLLplaying".

With that said, I am personally grappling with whether or not this is a genuinely fair comparison. While I feel a sense of loving nostalgia at the idea of "Stranger Things", TTRPGs have been around for a minute now, and the audience for the games has thankfully changed. If I were still the target audience, as a nearly 50 year old man, this hobby that I love would have long ago gone out of business. We have new people in the hobby, many of whom came from playing video games. If I'm playing a video game, I'm making a character designed to beat the game. To rephrase, the second a controller enters your hand, you stop creating a "character" and start creating a "build". Is it really that unfair to be surprised people come up with "builds" rather than "characters"? Don't get me wrong... I will continue to clown any graduate of Jeziver's School For Gifted Humans, that incredible gnome orphanage that finds parentless humans and trains them to be Fighters with a free archetype of Champion... some level of grace could stand to be given in anything less obvious than that, no?

Moreover, and these are the quiet parts we don't want to admit... tactics involve working with OTHER PEOPLE. Some gamers don't really want to do that, and many gamers don't know HOW to. Interpersonal dynamics can be hard, particularly given the frequency with which we may find ourselves gaming with someone who is not a "friend" per se. Moreover, you have to know HOW to use tactics. As I mentioned above, traditionally tactics aren't a big thing; you ran up to the other team and start swinging. It's hard to admit that you don't know how to "play the game well", but until you learn the nuances of Recalling Knowledge, Athletics, Aid, Flanking, Concealment, Intimidation, etc.. you actually /DON'T/ know how to play well. For many of us, we can learn to ask our fellow players to flank for us or to withdraw from combat if they are getting surrounded... or we can get a weapon with the Fatal trait and try to deal with our problems ourselves. I know I have to be careful to not deride those that chose the latter option, because , even if it is not one I would espouse, it is a very understandable one.

On the other side, it should not be surprising to someone that is focused on a "build" that their cries of "OMG! The game is a MEET GRINDR!!!" may get a response of "Well, how are you playing it?" The game, in my opinion, is really NOT designed to focus on optimization; it's designed for you to work together. You can focus on creating a "character", because, unlike Pathfinder 1st Edition, it is a LOT easier to create something that fits your vision that Doesn't Suck, because the number of trap options are less. The /MINIMUM/ optimization needed in Pathfinder 2e is basically "put the most resources into the thing you do the most"; you should typically be good from there. As such, it is VERY reasonable, when one complains about the difficulty of the game, to not have a conversation about the character creation choices made and to instead have a conversation about the actions used at a given time. Yes, this is a more complicated and difficult conversation, but it is a part of learning how to play the game /WELL/. Before declaring the game bad/wrong/overpowered, we've got to be able to ask about the decisions that led one down that path. You may actually NOT know how to play the game well yet.

Most fights in Pathfinder 1E/5e/3.5 are won during character creation. Fights in Pathfinder 2nd Edition are won during gameplay. However, you can still win a lot during character creation in 2E, and we end up with a constant push and pull to balance these things.


8 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

You're correct on pretty much everything except for this being a hot take. This is pretty much the consensus on the game.

I'll note PF2 still expects a baseline of build optimization, but that is basically just putting 16/18 in your attack stat and buy the right armor for your dexterity bonus.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Captain Morgan wrote:
You're correct on pretty much everything except for this being a hot take.

Well... Also having a character AND a build is very possible in PF2e.

Liberty's Edge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

The true optimization in PF2 is building to max the synergies with your fellow PCs so that they amplify the efficiency of the party's tactics.

So, not one or the other. Both combined.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Errenor wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
You're correct on pretty much everything except for this being a hot take.
Well... Also having a character AND a build is very possible in PF2e.

That's also true, yeah. PF2 has also leaned further into making those choices one and the same. Mechanics pack more flavor, and because mechanics are better balanced you can usually afford to take the flavorful choice.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Tbh, optimization is 90% tactics in pf 2e. The characters in my group that mechanically do the best are the ones that actually play smart. The ones that are more focused on whiteroom theorycrafting usually do worse, especially when they cant get their optimal routine off (which is often in actual practice)


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Captain Morgan wrote:
You're correct on pretty much everything except for this being a hot take. This is pretty much the consensus on the game.

In the background as I read JAMRenaissance's post I heard the voice of an Elder Scrolls Online discord-group member called Hops over the speakers of my wife's computer. Headsets make my wife's head hurt, so she uses speakers. Hops was complaining how a DPS in a pick-up-group for a four-person dungeon had just rushed ahead to battle the boss alone, ignoring tactics. Maybe that DPS was highly optimized and could battle a boss alone. Otherwise, the character was going to die and make winning harder for the rest of the party.

Both tactics and optimization win battles. Only the toughest battles require both, so in a less-tough battle the players could rely on either tactics or optimization and skip the other. You may call this a "substitution" if you want, but I see it as just two distinct sources of combat advantage. My Pathfinder players have an odd twist on it. They learned to optimize not as individuals, but as a team by choosing options that aid tactic teamwork. If I want to seriously challenge them in combat, I have to go to Extreme-Threat enemies. They still win those.

JAMRenaissance wrote:
While I feel a sense of loving nostalgia at the idea of "Stranger Things", TTRPGs have been around for a minute now, and the audience for the games has thankfully changed. If I were still the target audience, as a nearly 50 year old man, this hobby that I love would have long ago gone out of business.

Hello, young one. My age is 60. My adorable wife is one year and two days younger than me, but she has played Tabletop Roleplaying Games ever since her older brothers brought is Dungeons & Dragons home from college in 1978. And she teaches teamwork to fellow players by example. The other players in my current campaign consist of four other players with decades of experience (two are our daughters, who started roleplaying 30 years agp at ages 5 and 6), a high school student in her first campaign, and an experienced Elder Scrolls Online player who never played a TTRPG before. The two newbies learned teamwork quickly.

JAMRenaissance wrote:
On the other side, it should not be surprising to someone that is focused on a "build" that their cries of "OMG! The game is a MEET GRINDR!!!" may get a response of "Well, how are you playing it?" The game, in my opinion, is really NOT designed to focus on optimization; it's designed for you to work together.

Doesn't saying that the game is not designed for optimization undermine your hot take that optimization can be a substitute for teamwork? Nevertheless, I agree with your main point. Trying to win through individual optimization is not greatly effective in Pathfinder 2nd Edition. PF2 players who want victory over tough combat need to learn teamwork.

But I have not figured out how to teach teamwork in one short lesson. Teaching by example is the only effective teaching method I have seen.

Alchemic_Genius wrote:
Tbh, optimization is 90% tactics in pf 2e. The characters in my group that mechanically do the best are the ones that actually play smart. The ones that are more focused on whiteroom theorycrafting usually do worse, especially when they cant get their optimal routine off (which is often in actual practice)

As an applied research mathematician, I learned that algorithms created in the whiteroom of abstraction had to be tested against real data before being implemented as an operational tool. That is part of the reason I love Paizo's public playtests of new character classes.

The tactics in my party seldom rely on optimization, Their favorite combat style is versatility. They analyze the opponent's strengths and switch to a combat style that nullifies those strengths. If the enemy is great at melee, then they attack at range. If the enemy is great a range, then the melee PCs jump among them and the ranged PCs attack from cover. If they face one strong enemy, then they disrupt its actions. If they face an army of weak enemies, then they blanket with area-of-effect spells. If the enemy lacks attack of opportunity, they hit and run. If the enemy has attack of opportunity, they stand their ground.

The simple designs of the monsters in the Pathfinder Bestiaries mean that the enemies cannot switch their own tactics to adapt to the party.

Of course, given any one party tactic, some party members will be bad at it. Those party members find ways to aid. More precisely they deliberately built for ways to aid. My players use the Aid action only for skill checks, because they gave up on Aid for attacks at low levels due to the recommended DC 20. Instead, they aid with Intimidation, Make a Diversion, Recall Knowledge, flanking, tripping, guarding the spellcasters, rogue debilitations, ranger snares, etc.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Errenor wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
You're correct on pretty much everything except for this being a hot take.
Well... Also having a character AND a build is very possible in PF2e.

This has pretty much been the foundation of my character building since my very first one. I never let my builds overpower my character-creation, but I have always tried to make the best character possible within my concept, which is what makes PF2e so attractive to me. Not only I can pick what I find interesting, but it will also be something that adds to my character rather than something that will ruin it or, more likely, gimp it because I'm not picking the same old choices like before (power attack variants, weapon proficiency, etc).


2 people marked this as a favorite.

This article has also been posted in Facebook at the Pathfinder 2nd Edition group. I posted a comment similar to mine here. A response by Chris Eaton is interesting enough to copy here.

Chris Eaton wrote:

Tactics definitely matter in PF2, way more than PF1. It's huge.

That said, Optimization definitely still exists. I find it's shifted from "how do I get my numbers the biggest" to "how does the group build so that we play off each others strengths?" That might sound similar to tactics, but its happening at character creation/level up.

I DM 3 groups right now. The one that has the easiest time as a Paladin, Fighter, Investigator, and two Bards. The Champion soaks hits and mitigates damage. The Fighter obliterates things. The Investigator is their Medic and the one who "knows things". The Bards make everyone else better at everything while also contributing their own (one is spell focused and the other is Warrior muse and "Casts Fighter" most rounds). The pieces all fit together well and they don't need particularly advanced tactics to benefit because a lot of the heavy lifting was done upfront.

Another group I run is doing Ruby Phoenix. They lost their Barbarbian big melee guy after a couple of sessions, and they were a ranged heavy party (Gunslinger, Summoner, Animal Druid, Maestro Bard) that didn't really have the same kind of build synergy: they all kind of just did their own thing. One of my players wasn't super happy with their character so I let them do a rebuild, and they changed into a Wild Shape Druid with Champion Dedication & Liberating Step.

They just played with that last session and it was night and day. Having a second solid melee for the Eidolon, and one that can use a reaction to mitigate damage, made a HUGE difference. Everything was easier.

So yeah, their tactics got better, but that's because they did a round of optimizing to get character builds that enabled better tactics.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Well, optimization and tactics are a must on a dungeon crawler board game like.

Being a board game like, pushes towards balance despite of flavor ( something an old 1e player might not enjoy), enhancing all the tactical situation.

Given a standard party, dealing with encounters is something which can be affordable regardless the build and class feats, unless having "the whole team" deliberately going against the system ( strong wizard, deep social rogue, low armor frontlines, etc.. )*

Having players that don't want to play along with others is something I don't really understand when it comes down to an rpg ( mind to provide any example? How was it different in 1e?).

*note that a veteran group would obviously increase their odds of success because of their experience, even in nastier situations or with not min maxed characters.


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Alchemic_Genius wrote:
Tbh, optimization is 90% tactics in pf 2e. The characters in my group that mechanically do the best are the ones that actually play smart. The ones that are more focused on whiteroom theorycrafting usually do worse, especially when they cant get their optimal routine off (which is often in actual practice)

Its a pretty common flaw that when people talk about tactics or builds they get distracted by optimal, once per day, using all their actions, level 20 options which just don't show up in actual game play.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I wouldn't sat PF2 is more gamey than PF1, just different types of gamey.

PF1 is Warhammer 40k, most of the game is decided in the build and deployment phases with limited option once the clash begins (most unit differences are stat or passive based.)

Pf2 is Warmavhine or Malifaux, stats tend to fall in a tighter band with units having more on screen abilities to differentiate them.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Optimization on the traditional sense does still exist in the game. For instance, you can have an Aid build that human [adopted halfling] that gets +4 on aid checks, grants a +4 on crit Aid checks and can't roll under a success plus roll a Diplomacy check to Aid. Or a Forensic Medicine Investigator taking Medic to optimize Battle Medicine.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
graystone wrote:
Optimization on the traditional sense does still exist in the game. For instance, you can have an Aid build that human [adopted halfling] that gets +4 on aid checks, grants a +4 on crit Aid checks and can't roll under a success plus roll a Diplomacy check to Aid. Or a Forensic Medicine Investigator taking Medic to optimize Battle Medicine.

Indeed.

But even simply playing with or without a bard in the team would make a huge difference.

Or playing with or without FA.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
HumbleGamer wrote:
graystone wrote:
Optimization on the traditional sense does still exist in the game. For instance, you can have an Aid build that human [adopted halfling] that gets +4 on aid checks, grants a +4 on crit Aid checks and can't roll under a success plus roll a Diplomacy check to Aid. Or a Forensic Medicine Investigator taking Medic to optimize Battle Medicine.

Indeed.

But even simply playing with or without a bard in the team would make a huge difference.

LOL Funny enough if you take that aid build on a bard, you can use Perform for all your Aid checks and you can auto-succeed on every one. Taking bard IS optimization! ;)


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Taking the Bard class is deeply exploiting the system :D

Shame on 2e bards!

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Second Edition / General Discussion / Optimization and Tactics are Substitutes For Each Other In Pathfinder 2E All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.