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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Hey there, forums are finally back, eh?

    A good while back I pitched some ideas for a PF1 based Red Hand of Doom campaign over in the RHoD handbook thread, but I don't want to clutter it with what might turn into a very long discussion. Also, expect spoilers for RHoD. Anyhow, looks like it's gonna happen after all. So I've had a sort of session zero thing with the players already and as part of my goals is to also teach the system to a certain degree (most have had only little contact with the hobby before), I went ahead and presented what it has to offer in terms of classes and such, so most things are indeed available, including DSP material.
    Character creation isn't anywhere near done, which is good, because it gives me more time to convert and bad, as I have a hard time gauging what to expect without something at least resembling a clearer concept if not outright stats. What we've got so far is this:

    Five players including
    - ratfolk Cavalier (which does lend itself to all sorts of puns and tongue twisters in German, by the way)
    - catfolk Shaman (she was attracted to the luck thing, so I'll suggest Serendipity Shaman if it hasn't been seen yet)
    - halfling Ranger (maybe trying to be a thief-type character of sorts, we'll see)
    - aasimar Summoner (mostly done; for the time being I'm going with the original class, if it proves problematic my first idea is to go with the unchained version's spell list instead)
    - kitsune Inquisitor (was supposed to be a Hunter first, but Inquisitor doesn't mean they can't function as a pet class anyway)

    ... or, as we call it, the petting zoo. If you count the Shaman's spirit animal, it'd have been five characters with a pet each, +/- whatever can be summoned, thought it's probably down an animal companion now. RHoD being not too claustrophobically dungeon-crawley means you could actually have many of those acting, without blocking other party members. Except I don't quite know how to balance this. I'm against enforcing character changes, as I don't want the first impression with the system to be "You can do everything, except this". Having a seriously hard time planning for encounters not only because I lack data in terms of what everyone will be able to do, but also in regards of how to handle a couple things, such as exp, though. Let's see what I can think of, in no particular order...

    - A brief note on houserules: not all is decided yet, but at least some basic stuff like Power Attack will be available to everybody (think Elephant in the Room), hit points are maxed for players, Weapon Finesse dex-to-damage and a minimum of 4+Int skills are also in place so far. Mind you, the free feats are also a thing for enemies.
    - If we're going to use exp at all (it'll be put to a vote, even if I'm not a fan myself), I was originally thinking of going with the fast track, but maybe I'll instead use the medium one and/or divide by 6, instead of 4. This would have the benefit of keeping weaker enemies relevant longer, yet also the downside of keeping the more interesting higher level abilities out of play for a longer time, with implicit limitations for myself in how difficult any single encounter can be without becoming ludicrous. Thing is, if I offer up too much and we use exp and I'm completely honest about the exp, they might level up pretty fast, even if I stifle it a bit. Am I fearing a problem where there is none?
    - Though I'm assisting as much as I can with character creation, the players themselves have not too much experience with the system itself, let alone deeper character optimization things, so I'm much more interested in making the concept they wish for work than squeezing out everything possible. Makes it even trickier to balance encounters however, as I got to consider abilities, raw numbers, but also tactics. My experience with inexperienced players, besides choice paralysis, has often been that tactics may not become too obvious, so while I might get something out of lower CR enemies just using good tactics, it might as well wipe the party. Sure, characters die, but I often feel it's difficult to satisfyingly replace them on the go, plus frustration is never good
    - This might as well lead us to the enemies themselves. Not only five players, but lots of pets, too. I'm used to having a single Druid or something like that in parties, but has anyone else got any experience with this kind of setup? I'm trying to balance against swarming with mooks, and either trivializing (due to numbers) or overpowering single enemies. My gut feeling is to include more weaker to medium enemies of all kinds, but shredding mooks is probably going to become extremely boring quickly. Also, this might drag out fights even more.
    - Implicitly, this does beg the question as to how I should design enemies at all. I've touched upon in the other thread that I might include some occult classes and the occasional PoW content, but given that the party might turn out rather powerful, I'm thinking maybe PoW archetypes (or at least some maneuvers via feats) to allow a couple reactions via counters, as well as improved damage to address the sheer numbers of the party.
    - The characters' capabilities. My gut feeling is, the Ranger will be an archer, making me worry a bit about feeling utterly outclassed, yet even a non-houseruled favored enemy being not at all useless in this campaign I imagine my fear over her feeling a bit weak in the face of it all might be misplaced. Similarly, I think the Inquisitor is probably gonna be an archer as well, but I hope it'll balance itself out somehow. Shaman's going to focus on some luck manipulation, so I gotta expect ALL the re-rolls. The Summoner's player has so far thought that it'd be fun to add even more bodies to the equation, but I'm not overly afraid she'll accidentally break the game to be honest. Also, I informed her about the Master Summoner, but also that maybe not this time, due to turns taking forever if you don't know what you're doing, so that one is out window. The Cavalier is supposed to be the "tank", the "guy in heavy armor". The player has played a Cleric in 3.5 before and is rather not too impressed by needing spells for everything, so yeah, looks like a mundane guy. I tried to gently push him towards Warder, Warlord, or even Myrmidon Fighter, but for the time being, Cavalier it is. On the flipside, once he can chain challenges his damage output should be nice and if everybody invests a bit in teamwork feats, there could be interesting results.
    - ... but speaking of him, the Cavalier and the pets. I've already mentioned this to the Summoner's player, but I'm seriously afraid that he'll be completely overshadowed by just about everybody else. Archery is pretty strong and both Ranger and Inquisitor can deal serious damage there, but even a well built animal companion may be able to outdamage him, while offering good defense and if you consider his expectations/wishes ("tank"), this might become troublesome. Even more so, as on a ratfolk character you can't just stack size and big weapons. Add to this that I fully expect him to go sword-and-board, probably without TWF. Maybe mounted combat can rectify a lot here, but that puts me in a position where enemies might become one-hit-kills.
    - Funny sidenote, I was originally going to make Varanthian another dragon (maybe ethereal, actually), but since the eidolon is some serpentine dragon-thing with a bit of grappling I'm now considering to keep her mostly as-is, just to have an evil counterpart of sorts. What do you think?
    - Not sure how to go about treasure and such. It's still up in the air, but I'm thinking it's going to be automatic bonuses, which I've so far handled in a way that animal companions just get them as if they were a character of their HD, but that's, as I said, with a slightly lower number of them around. Do you have any suggestions how to handle this? Having the usual stuff, but only for companions feels inconsistent. As the eidolon has a specific rule concerning sharing item slots, I've so far ruled that she'll have to decide who gets each bonus if the corresponding evolution isn't chosen - it might become a bit harsh with the number of available enhancements for the natural weapons, which are claw/claw/bite/tail at the moment (probably not going to become much more, either), so maybe I'll have to come up with some kind of solution there.
    - Finally, something specific, the feat Eidolon Mount. Is this for the character of the eidolon? I'm under the impression it's for the eidolon, but it's a bit ambiguous. The prereqs and the line "If the eidolon’s base form is not quadruped or serpentine when it gains this feat ..." suggests, it's for the eidolon, but "Your eidolon ..." suggests it's for the Summoner. As feats for the eidolon are still up in the air, it was considered.

    That's what I can think of for now. In short, am I overthinking, or if not is there something I should consider or that I've overlooked?
    Last edited by Arkain; 2020-02-25 at 07:22 PM.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Quote Originally Posted by Arkain View Post
    - Though I'm assisting as much as I can with character creation, the players themselves have not too much experience with the system itself, let alone deeper character optimization things, so I'm much more interested in making the concept they wish for work than squeezing out everything possible. Makes it even trickier to balance encounters however, as I got to consider abilities, raw numbers, but also tactics. My experience with inexperienced players, besides choice paralysis, has often been that tactics may not become too obvious, so while I might get something out of lower CR enemies just using good tactics, it might as well wipe the party. Sure, characters die, but I often feel it's difficult to satisfyingly replace them on the go, plus frustration is never good
    Your test bed is the first encounter when the party gets ambushed on its way to Drellin's Ferry. That's a standard hobgoblin band of warriors plus a slightly stronger martial type and a low-level caster. Whilst it might involve a bit of on-the-fly, that encounter is a pretty decent measure of how to handle a easy to slightly-less-than-easy encounter in Red Hand of Doom. It does not matter in the slightest if these hobgoblins do stupid things tactically and then slowly wise up as word of the party's strengths gets around. The book itself indicates that most of the Red Hand is made up of cannon fodder - the captain of the guard in Drellin's Ferry outright tells the party that the village guard usually has no problem seeing off raiding hobgoblins from the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. What makes the Red Hand such a threat to Elsir Vale is mainly their sheer numbers. They might have figured out how to do a couple of things like focus fire on one target at a time, but the Red Hand is not exactly the Varangian Guard in troop quality anyway. So I wouldn't necessarily pull out optimised tactics for the hobgoblins.

    - This might as well lead us to the enemies themselves. Not only five players, but lots of pets, too. I'm used to having a single Druid or something like that in parties, but has anyone else got any experience with this kind of setup? I'm trying to balance against swarming with mooks, and either trivializing (due to numbers) or overpowering single enemies. My gut feeling is to include more weaker to medium enemies of all kinds, but shredding mooks is probably going to become extremely boring quickly. Also, this might drag out fights even more.
    Action economy matters a lot in this game. My experience with running 8 players through RHOD was the main impetus for the Handbook and upgunning the opposition in most encounters as a result. So don't be afraid to add a couple of weaker enemies at least. The concern with shredding mooks can be alleviated by using or customising variations on the standard hobgoblin warrior - under 3.5, the Monster Manual V was great for this because it had variant hobgoblins, but you can also achieve some interest by just giving the hobgoblins different gear and slightly different tactics. How about having a band of hobgoblins who use spiked chains instead of the default short sword? How about a combination of hobgoblins and a bugbear bruiser? And so on. What you're looking to generate is interest and make the party think about whether they need to handle a given encounter a bit differently. That can be done by altering equipment and tactics to some extent. Even fluff can assist: if you start pointing out that this band of hobgoblins seems to be from a different clan to the ones they fought earlier (and change the equipment to suit) that helps the players to avoid noticing that it's just another bunch of hobgoblins.

    - Funny sidenote, I was originally going to make Varanthian another dragon (maybe ethereal, actually), but since the eidolon is some serpentine dragon-thing with a bit of grappling I'm now considering to keep her mostly as-is, just to have an evil counterpart of sorts. What do you think?
    Up to you. This is mostly a taste thing, a lot of people scratch their heads about why they didn't get a fifth dragon in the campaign, but if it works for you, just go with it.

    - Not sure how to go about treasure and such. It's still up in the air, but I'm thinking it's going to be automatic bonuses, which I've so far handled in a way that animal companions just get them as if they were a character of their HD, but that's, as I said, with a slightly lower number of them around. Do you have any suggestions how to handle this? Having the usual stuff, but only for companions feels inconsistent. As the eidolon has a specific rule concerning sharing item slots, I've so far ruled that she'll have to decide who gets each bonus if the corresponding evolution isn't chosen - it might become a bit harsh with the number of available enhancements for the natural weapons, which are claw/claw/bite/tail at the moment (probably not going to become much more, either), so maybe I'll have to come up with some kind of solution there.?
    If you were running default 3.5 RHOD, you wouldn't have much of a problem: the designers explicitly gave a bunch of decent items at Vraath Keep and then not a hell of a lot until close on the end of the game. I suspect part of the reason for that was to avoid the Magic Mart effect and to make it a bit clearer that this was a bit more desperate than the average game - they definitely wanted to avoid a Monty Haul.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    Your test bed is the first encounter when the party gets ambushed on its way to Drellin's Ferry. That's a standard hobgoblin band of warriors plus a slightly stronger martial type and a low-level caster. Whilst it might involve a bit of on-the-fly, that encounter is a pretty decent measure of how to handle a easy to slightly-less-than-easy encounter in Red Hand of Doom. It does not matter in the slightest if these hobgoblins do stupid things tactically and then slowly wise up as word of the party's strengths gets around. The book itself indicates that most of the Red Hand is made up of cannon fodder - the captain of the guard in Drellin's Ferry outright tells the party that the village guard usually has no problem seeing off raiding hobgoblins from the Wyrmsmoke Mountains. What makes the Red Hand such a threat to Elsir Vale is mainly their sheer numbers. They might have figured out how to do a couple of things like focus fire on one target at a time, but the Red Hand is not exactly the Varangian Guard in troop quality anyway. So I wouldn't necessarily pull out optimised tactics for the hobgoblins.



    Action economy matters a lot in this game. My experience with running 8 players through RHOD was the main impetus for the Handbook and upgunning the opposition in most encounters as a result. So don't be afraid to add a couple of weaker enemies at least. The concern with shredding mooks can be alleviated by using or customising variations on the standard hobgoblin warrior - under 3.5, the Monster Manual V was great for this because it had variant hobgoblins, but you can also achieve some interest by just giving the hobgoblins different gear and slightly different tactics. How about having a band of hobgoblins who use spiked chains instead of the default short sword? How about a combination of hobgoblins and a bugbear bruiser? And so on. What you're looking to generate is interest and make the party think about whether they need to handle a given encounter a bit differently. That can be done by altering equipment and tactics to some extent. Even fluff can assist: if you start pointing out that this band of hobgoblins seems to be from a different clan to the ones they fought earlier (and change the equipment to suit) that helps the players to avoid noticing that it's just another bunch of hobgoblins.



    Up to you. This is mostly a taste thing, a lot of people scratch their heads about why they didn't get a fifth dragon in the campaign, but if it works for you, just go with it.
    Indeed. So far I've been thinking to keep the first couple encounters up until Vraath Keep relatively simple, if only to test things out and have them serve as a tutorial of sorts. From the first wyrmlord onwards, things get more serious. And as you say, action economy matters, hence why I'm a bit concerned, as they will have a lot of actions on their side. What I considered to up the ante was to actually make use of Pathfinder's teamwork feats to improve the odds for the Red Hand. Which does kind of run counter to the quantity over quality part, but it could be gradual or just in specific battles, e.g. not roaming troops, but rather trained ones, such as those with the wyrmlords. In this sense, I might get to add some flavor to various troops via classes and such, evoking a notion of great difference.

    I'm one of those people wondering about Varanthian, actually. It's also a bit odd to have a white dragon in the desert though, so I was thinking maybe ethereal, to go with the ghost theme as well as the whole feel I'll probably add to the campaign where a lot of contact with the transitive planes has been made by the hobgoblins. Yet with the eidolon being not too dissimilar (particularly at that point, due to level ups), it feels interesting enough. On the other hand, evil counterparts can be a complete bore, too. I could of course also try going that way with a sufficiently serpentine dragon.


    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    If you were running default 3.5 RHOD, you wouldn't have much of a problem: the designers explicitly gave a bunch of decent items at Vraath Keep and then not a hell of a lot until close on the end of the game. I suspect part of the reason for that was to avoid the Magic Mart effect and to make it a bit clearer that this was a bit more desperate than the average game - they definitely wanted to avoid a Monty Haul.
    Of course with automatic bonuses you also usually run a reduced gold level, so there's also not going to be a whole lot of valuable loot available, in addition to that. But hey, automatic bonuses. Probably all good enough, but I'm still wondering about the upgrades for pets.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Quote Originally Posted by Arkain View Post
    Hey there, forums are finally back, eh?
    Hullo!

    - If we're going to use exp at all (it'll be put to a vote, even if I'm not a fan myself), I was originally thinking of going with the fast track, but maybe I'll instead use the medium one and/or divide by 6, instead of 4. This would have the benefit of keeping weaker enemies relevant longer, yet also the downside of keeping the more interesting higher level abilities out of play for a longer time, with implicit limitations for myself in how difficult any single encounter can be without becoming ludicrous. Thing is, if I offer up too much and we use exp and I'm completely honest about the exp, they might level up pretty fast, even if I stifle it a bit. Am I fearing a problem where there is none?
    If the players are okay with it, I definitely recommend not using xp and instead use either milestones or - even better IMO - simply level up when you think it would be appropriate for the adventure and your players want to and seem ready for it. It's also very easy to remove xp from PF, since unlike in 3.5 it's thankfully not needed for anything except leveling.

    If your players want to keep xp, simply look at how fast the encounters as written would level up the PCs and adjust the xp rate according to taste. A good idea could be suggesting the PCs start on a faster track and then switch to a slower one in mid levels once the mechanics of PCs are more fleshed out.

    Regardless, I think the most important bit here is that the players get enough time to get comfortable with their PC's current abilities before they get new ones. So talk to them about this every now and then and slow down or speed up the progression accordingly if needed. (As you're probably aware, it's probably worth keeping an extra eye on how the shaman and the summoner players are doing, as these classes have tons of options the players need to familiarize themselves with, and a faster advancement can easily become overwhelming to newer players.)

    - Though I'm assisting as much as I can with character creation, the players themselves have not too much experience with the system itself, let alone deeper character optimization things, so I'm much more interested in making the concept they wish for work than squeezing out everything possible. Makes it even trickier to balance encounters however, as I got to consider abilities, raw numbers, but also tactics.
    As Saintheart mentioned, go easy on the enemy tactics at first to give the players a chance to learn, and you a chance to see how you should adjust future opposition. I think basically the only thing you should be wary of in this regard is suddenly ramping up Team Bad's tactical skills. I don't think you've got anything to worry about as long as you ease the players into it, and try to introduce one or two new tactical challenges at a time at first, not several at once in the same encounter.

    - This might as well lead us to the enemies themselves. Not only five players, but lots of pets, too. I'm used to having a single Druid or something like that in parties, but has anyone else got any experience with this kind of setup? I'm trying to balance against swarming with mooks, and either trivializing (due to numbers) or overpowering single enemies. My gut feeling is to include more weaker to medium enemies of all kinds, but shredding mooks is probably going to become extremely boring quickly. Also, this might drag out fights even more.
    - Implicitly, this does beg the question as to how I should design enemies at all. I've touched upon in the other thread that I might include some occult classes and the occasional PoW content, but given that the party might turn out rather powerful, I'm thinking maybe PoW archetypes (or at least some maneuvers via feats) to allow a couple reactions via counters, as well as improved damage to address the sheer numbers of the party.
    Yes, action economy is the far most important bit to consider when designing encounters.

    But as you touch upon when mentioning PoW counters, keep in mind that the likely effects and timing of the actions can be almost as important as the number, and that changing the number of actions Team Bad has doesn't necessarily have to mean changing the number of creatures it consists of. Instead, tweaking the individual creatures' mechanics to give them more or less numerous and/or effective actions can often work just as well as tweaking the number of foes. This way you can also create more interesting and varied combat scenarios, allowing you to make even facing a single opponent a far more tactically challenging, fun and memorable encounter than one including multiple published foes as written, and simultaneously make it one far less prone to generate fluke PC deaths.

    Spoiler: A few pointers/tips
    Show
    Don't trust CR. As is obvious by the simple fact that the CR system ignores any power differences in options with the same cost (feats, class levels, spells, gear value etc) as well as the specific abilities of the PCs, CR should be regarded as nothing more than a very generalized rough estimate of a creature's combat power. When preparing Team Bad, compare their statistics and abilities to those of the PCs to avoid unpleasant surprises.

    Swap out crit boosts. These are fine for PCs, but in the hands of Team Bad they're just needlessly making it more difficult for the GM to create suitable opposition, increasing the risk of making the game less fun. Unfortunately, especially a lot of published monsters with the "combat", "any" or "no" roles and similar NPCs have abilities, feats and items enhancing crits, and these things tend to be responsible for more fluke PC deaths than anything else in Team Bad's arsenal. It's typically a good idea to swap these for primarily control/debuff stuff, active defenses (like counters) or stuff which spreads damage over multiple targets. If there are no suitable options for such things, provided the foe doesn't already have high passive defenses, boosting those is unlikely to cause serious problems.

    Prioritize control and debuff over hp damage. Having the less spell focused combatants on Team Bad focus more on combat maneuvers, demoralization and similar monster abilities can be made far more interesting and varied than having them focus on damage. Notably, this is because the related actions have an immediate impact when successful, unlike the typical weapon/natural/unarmed attacks which only deal hp damage and thus have no effects unless/until they happen to reduce a PC's hp to 0 or less. Another great advantage is that these things can be tuned to be anything from laughably poor to some of the most powerful combat tools in the game (for PCs as well as NPCs and monsters), and allow you to further adjust the action economy and overall effectiveness of Team Bad in comparison to the party. For example, having a hobgoblin monk 5 NPC with no or few grapple options spending standard actions on attempts to grapple a more martially inclined PC (or a larger/stronger PC pet) of the same level will typically result in a net loss for Team Bad, even if the grapple is successful. This fact may however very well not be as obvious for a less tactically talented Team Bad, especially if the gobbo monk in question haven't faced as powerful foes as the PCs before. Make the same hobgoblin a tetori monk 4/fiendbound marauder warder 1, and suddenly the opposite is highly likely to be true, as this class combo allows the hobgoblin to initiate grapples as a free action on any hit with their fiend's grip with reach, and for doing so even on multiple AoOs without penalties while already grappling another creature. Scale up the same combo for a later level, and you can have a terrifyingly effective BBEG (like this).


    - The characters' capabilities. My gut feeling is, the Ranger will be an archer, making me worry a bit about feeling utterly outclassed, yet even a non-houseruled favored enemy being not at all useless in this campaign I imagine my fear over her feeling a bit weak in the face of it all might be misplaced.
    No need to worry; archery is strong in PF and easy to play even for inexperienced players. Just make sure they take the associated "must-have" feats and they should be fine.

    The Cavalier is supposed to be the "tank", the "guy in heavy armor". The player has played a Cleric in 3.5 before and is rather not too impressed by needing spells for everything, so yeah, looks like a mundane guy. I tried to gently push him towards Warder, Warlord, or even Myrmidon Fighter, but for the time being, Cavalier it is. On the flipside, once he can chain challenges his damage output should be nice and if everybody invests a bit in teamwork feats, there could be interesting results.
    Note that the cavalier can do tons of charge damage with only modest optimization, so keep an eye on him not dominating especially early/mid level combat. And maybe show him the Hussar class template for the warder and warlord. (Shameless advertising: And show him my Hussar guide!)

    Add to this that I fully expect him to go sword-and-board, probably without TWF. Maybe mounted combat can rectify a lot here, but that puts me in a position where enemies might become one-hit-kills.
    Just make sure he grabs Spirited Charge and a lance (for 3 x normal damage on a mounted charge) plus Power Attack, and make sure he prioritizes Str and doesn't ignore his Cha, and he should be fine.

    - Finally, something specific, the feat Eidolon Mount. Is this for the character of the eidolon? I'm under the impression it's for the eidolon, but it's a bit ambiguous. The prereqs and the line "If the eidolon’s base form is not quadruped or serpentine when it gains this feat ..." suggests, it's for the eidolon, but "Your eidolon ..." suggests it's for the Summoner.
    It's for the summoner, not the eidolon. The reason for the prereq is because the unchained summoner's eidolon only has access to one or a few different base forms depending on their type.
    Last edited by upho; 2020-02-26 at 04:33 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Quote Originally Posted by upho View Post
    Hullo!

    If the players are okay with it, I definitely recommend not using xp and instead use either milestones or - even better IMO - simply level up when you think it would be appropriate for the adventure and your players want to and seem ready for it. It's also very easy to remove xp from PF, since unlike in 3.5 it's thankfully not needed for anything except leveling.
    Milestone XP is eminently doable in RHOD. Just level the players up any time they confront and/or kill a dragon (or a creature standing in for a dragon). That gives you rough level up points of Skull Gorge, Rhest, the Ghostlord's Lair, the Battle of Brindol, and at the front door of the Fane.

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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    Quote Originally Posted by Arkain View Post
    - ratfolk Cavalier (which does lend itself to all sorts of puns and tongue twisters in German, by the way)
    You mean like... "Ratter"?

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    Default Re: Balancing a RHoD campaign and party

    By the way, is there any satisfyingly draconic template that I could use to spice up some (dire) wolves, worgs or hellhounds? I'm going less with a specifically hellish theme anyhow, so I may as well refluff the latter as draconic somethings (or just use PF's drakes), but I can't seem to find something nice. 3.5's draconic creature was surprisingly disappointing once I looked at it again and the next step seems to be half-dragon, which is a bit much if you overuse it. Eh, maybe a fiendish template with a breath weapon instead of smite will do.

    Quote Originally Posted by upho View Post
    Hullo!

    If the players are okay with it, I definitely recommend not using xp and instead use either milestones or - even better IMO - simply level up when you think it would be appropriate for the adventure and your players want to and seem ready for it. It's also very easy to remove xp from PF, since unlike in 3.5 it's thankfully not needed for anything except leveling.

    If your players want to keep xp, simply look at how fast the encounters as written would level up the PCs and adjust the xp rate according to taste. A good idea could be suggesting the PCs start on a faster track and then switch to a slower one in mid levels once the mechanics of PCs are more fleshed out.

    Regardless, I think the most important bit here is that the players get enough time to get comfortable with their PC's current abilities before they get new ones. So talk to them about this every now and then and slow down or speed up the progression accordingly if needed. (As you're probably aware, it's probably worth keeping an extra eye on how the shaman and the summoner players are doing, as these classes have tons of options the players need to familiarize themselves with, and a faster advancement can easily become overwhelming to newer players.)

    ...
    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    Milestone XP is eminently doable in RHOD. Just level the players up any time they confront and/or kill a dragon (or a creature standing in for a dragon). That gives you rough level up points of Skull Gorge, Rhest, the Ghostlord's Lair, the Battle of Brindol, and at the front door of the Fane.
    True that. The most concerning aspect is indeed players needing to understand their characters' basic abilities first, before they're flooded with new ones, which is particularly tricky for the casters. Of course, the Shaman in particular will probably not have the greatest of DCs (or bonus slots), what with the wisdom penalty, but still, hexes are a thing and many utility spells do not require any rolls whatsoever. Yet, starting at level 5 in itself can be quite overwhelming, but part of it all is to help each other out and this game will take a while anyhow, so I'm really looking forward to it.
    I've been thinking about using either dragons or wyrmlords as markers to level up, either shortly before or after the respective parts, but as I said, I'll put it up to a vote, as I prefer deciding things with the group.

    Quote Originally Posted by upho View Post
    ...

    As Saintheart mentioned, go easy on the enemy tactics at first to give the players a chance to learn, and you a chance to see how you should adjust future opposition. I think basically the only thing you should be wary of in this regard is suddenly ramping up Team Bad's tactical skills. I don't think you've got anything to worry about as long as you ease the players into it, and try to introduce one or two new tactical challenges at a time at first, not several at once in the same encounter.

    Yes, action economy is the far most important bit to consider when designing encounters.

    But as you touch upon when mentioning PoW counters, keep in mind that the likely effects and timing of the actions can be almost as important as the number, and that changing the number of actions Team Bad has doesn't necessarily have to mean changing the number of creatures it consists of. Instead, tweaking the individual creatures' mechanics to give them more or less numerous and/or effective actions can often work just as well as tweaking the number of foes. This way you can also create more interesting and varied combat scenarios, allowing you to make even facing a single opponent a far more tactically challenging, fun and memorable encounter than one including multiple published foes as written, and simultaneously make it one far less prone to generate fluke PC deaths.

    Spoiler: A few pointers/tips
    Show
    Don't trust CR. As is obvious by the simple fact that the CR system ignores any power differences in options with the same cost (feats, class levels, spells, gear value etc) as well as the specific abilities of the PCs, CR should be regarded as nothing more than a very generalized rough estimate of a creature's combat power. When preparing Team Bad, compare their statistics and abilities to those of the PCs to avoid unpleasant surprises.

    Swap out crit boosts. These are fine for PCs, but in the hands of Team Bad they're just needlessly making it more difficult for the GM to create suitable opposition, increasing the risk of making the game less fun. Unfortunately, especially a lot of published monsters with the "combat", "any" or "no" roles and similar NPCs have abilities, feats and items enhancing crits, and these things tend to be responsible for more fluke PC deaths than anything else in Team Bad's arsenal. It's typically a good idea to swap these for primarily control/debuff stuff, active defenses (like counters) or stuff which spreads damage over multiple targets. If there are no suitable options for such things, provided the foe doesn't already have high passive defenses, boosting those is unlikely to cause serious problems.

    Prioritize control and debuff over hp damage. Having the less spell focused combatants on Team Bad focus more on combat maneuvers, demoralization and similar monster abilities can be made far more interesting and varied than having them focus on damage. Notably, this is because the related actions have an immediate impact when successful, unlike the typical weapon/natural/unarmed attacks which only deal hp damage and thus have no effects unless/until they happen to reduce a PC's hp to 0 or less. Another great advantage is that these things can be tuned to be anything from laughably poor to some of the most powerful combat tools in the game (for PCs as well as NPCs and monsters), and allow you to further adjust the action economy and overall effectiveness of Team Bad in comparison to the party. For example, having a hobgoblin monk 5 NPC with no or few grapple options spending standard actions on attempts to grapple a more martially inclined PC (or a larger/stronger PC pet) of the same level will typically result in a net loss for Team Bad, even if the grapple is successful. This fact may however very well not be as obvious for a less tactically talented Team Bad, especially if the gobbo monk in question haven't faced as powerful foes as the PCs before. Make the same hobgoblin a tetori monk 4/fiendbound marauder warder 1, and suddenly the opposite is highly likely to be true, as this class combo allows the hobgoblin to initiate grapples as a free action on any hit with their fiend's grip with reach, and for doing so even on multiple AoOs without penalties while already grappling another creature. Scale up the same combo for a later level, and you can have a terrifyingly effective BBEG (like this).


    No need to worry; archery is strong in PF and easy to play even for inexperienced players. Just make sure they take the associated "must-have" feats and they should be fine.

    Note that the cavalier can do tons of charge damage with only modest optimization, so keep an eye on him not dominating especially early/mid level combat. And maybe show him the Hussar class template for the warder and warlord. (Shameless advertising: And show him my Hussar guide!)

    Just make sure he grabs Spirited Charge and a lance (for 3 x normal damage on a mounted charge) plus Power Attack, and make sure he prioritizes Str and doesn't ignore his Cha, and he should be fine.

    ...
    Yep, gonna do that. Not like I haven't introduced new stuff one encounter at a time before. For the time being I've gone light on everything and should the gobbos stop being relevant at all, I can just create improved versions, nobody will ever know.

    True, which is why upon revisiting the maneuvers I actually ended up focussing much more on everything that wasn't moarrrr damage. Strictly speaking, my goal isn't to kill the player characters after all, rather than creating something interesting and halfway memorable instead of yet another meatgrinder battle. PoW does offer enough to create a dozen different troops just based on Warlord and Warder alone, too.
    Also true what you say about CR, which is part of the reason I'm not a fan of experience points at all. Oh yes, sure, a caster and a warrior type of the same level must be worth the same amount, because they're totally identical in their abilities, right? Better just eyeball it. Part of the reason I like having at least some rough values is that I tend to make at least some rough calculations if not outright simulations, at least for harder or more complicated encounters. I do have to hold myself back from falling into the habit of overtuning everything, too, though. One of the more frustrating 3.5 experiences I've had was one where every single encounter was basically a boss battle and the DM was kinda paranoid about some TO stuff lurking at every corner of a character sheet. Sometimes an ogre is just an ogre, no levels of whatever needed. Similarly, sometimes gobbos are just weak gobbos. Gives a more epic feel to it all too, if you can just steamroll some things you were afraid of earlier. On that note, it may be a good idea to introduce aspects like combat maneuvers via less dangerous enemies, maybe inspiring some players to try them, too.
    Hmm, the part about criticals is all too true, though. Maybe I gotta rework the razorfiends in that regard.

    Indeed. When he jokingly said he could be a small knight-type, I mentioned how good that is because you're not as constrained as you are with a large mount. Maybe that's part of the reason he stuck with the idea, dunno. But yes, definitely some mounted combat there, though again might result in possibly anticlimactic one hit kills. Does make me wonder though, maybe it's not that at all, depending on the situation. I think he'll manage somehow, if all else fails one can try rebuilding the character.

    Quote Originally Posted by upho View Post
    ...

    It's for the summoner, not the eidolon. The reason for the prereq is because the unchained summoner's eidolon only has access to one or a few different base forms depending on their type.
    Oh. Oooooh, that makes so much sense. Should have remembered that the unchained Summoner is basically the official, supported one. Yeah, well, there's always enough other feats and evolutions to choose from

    Quote Originally Posted by Zombimode View Post
    You mean like... "Ratter"?
    Oh, so many things. Like, is it "Rattenritter", "Ritterratte" or does it depend on the situation? Then you got lovely stuff like "Rattenritter reitet mit ratternder Ritterrüstung auf der Reitratte", maybe substituting "Ratter" if you feel like it. It's marvelous. And let's not forget the kind of helmet these guys need, muzzle and all. "Schnutenhelm" is just the most wonderful word. Then there's the meta-pun where you ask yourself if a properly optimized ratfolk Cavalier should maybe found the Order of the Cheese And that's before we enter meme territory.
    Last edited by Arkain; 2020-02-26 at 08:22 PM.

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