Friday, February 3, 2012

Game Balance is Unbalanced


So I investigated the CR, and decided to run a nice and balanced CR 3 encounter for my PF group. As you may recall I've been having my PCs die like flies lately and I began to wonder whether my encounters are simply too difficult. Past groups I have run have simply not had this many problems. So I began to reassess my encounter CR. And according to the PF rules I have been at about 5 to 7. For my group the rules say a 5 is considered Epic, 4 is hard and 3 is challenging. My campaigns have been more like Super-Epic in difficulty level. Previous group years have stepped up, but we've always had a few older High School kids coming in to game with us. But the group is so big at the Junior High this year that the HS kids haven't been coming. So I've got lots of young 8th graders trying to learn the game. I just don't think they are up to the challenge.

When I measured a CR 3 encounter it was about 5 or 6 goblins for 11 players and that just seemed kind of lite. So I asked for guidance from other PF GMs around the net. To be honest I'm an old school gamer that really runs an old school game no matter what system I use. But lately I have been adding in more and more PF specific rules. Hence I went to the book because I knew they have encounter building info in the Core rules. It just seemed a little wrong to me that a group of 11 would only face 5 or 6 goblins and consider it challenging. I had been sort of winging it, and figuring a man for man enemy count. I'm a 1st edition man at heart and still just go with the "number appearing" philosophy in the old Monster Manual. Balance wasn't so important back then. The monsters simply existed--they lived out there in the wilds, and they likely weren't going to attack you if _they_ were outnumbered. They were out to kill you as quickly and nastily as possible. It was a dangerous world, and you better be prepared to run away if things got ugly. Otherwise you died ... period.

PF and later gen games sort of have a different approach. It's a design oriented approach. The thinking goes: if you add monsters to the adventure they are meant to be there for a purpose, usually for the PCs to fight--not for PCs to run away from, or just because there were monsters out there in the wilds. So they worked in balance rules to keep PC from dropping like flies, just in case you happened to step into a kobold hive and faced 120 of the little scaly buggers. PF didn't plan for that kind of stuff--it wasn't _supposed_ to happen.

I am an old school gamer in a new school world. I've been old schooling these kiddos in PF for some time now. But this group is really struggling. So I began to wonder if I was making things too hard on them. Being unfair. Not cheating on die rolls or story coddling them or anything, I won't do that. But just giving them too much to handle. Maybe. According to the PF rulebook I was. And now PF's reasoning makes sense; they run into 4 or 5 CR 3 encounters per day. That's about perfectly engineered to wear them down--by the end of the day. Admittedly it's kind of a contrived system. For instance the encounter yesterday was 2 wolves and 1 young worg. If you ask me no two wolves are going to attack a party 11 strong unless they are starved--and these weren't as they had just fed on a few villagers the day before. But if they don't attack there's no encounter at all. I mean maybe the worg goads them into attacking, or maybe they feel braver with the worg there--worgs are fairly intelligent after all. But it would seem to make more sense to me to have a pack of 8 to 12 wolves pick off a weak one or two and drag him off. Perhaps surrounding their kill and protecting it from the other adventurers who try and retrieve the body. But I just ran it as a normal encounter. I did have the wolves attack the rear and choose to bring down the party's one mount instead of attacking them head on. And while they dealt with the wolves hitting them from behind, the worg attacked the weak looking magic user at the other end.

The battle was a decent one. And I was surprised that they did struggle a bit inspite of the low numbers of their enemies. But they triumphed and with the Cleric's help managed to save the mount as well. But while it left me happy for them, I was a little dissatisfied with the nature of the encounter. Not that I'm out to win or beat them or defeat them. But I want my encounters to make sense. The wolves simply wouldn't have gone at it that way imo. Granted this is a commercial module and not one of my own design. I could fix it perhaps given the time. But it seemed that a CR 3 encounter worked well for them technically, but I feel like I've violated the spirit of the law or something.

The strange thing is that going through this little exercise has confirmed for me all the reasons why I don't like these over designed next gen systems. I have been giving myself over to Pathfinder for several months now, and telling myself that I just needed to give up my little sniggling doubts, and the distaste and lack of fire I had for the system. But it's what everyone else has wanted to play, so I pushed my preferences aside and attempted to embrace the system. Only now it's more clear than ever that the way these games are designed just isn't the way I'm interested in playing.

Moreover it's made me realize that my previous realizations were a bit shortsighted. Actually getting into a game takes time. It takes effort to dig into the game as you play and begin to catch it's spririt in greater and greater measure. I did that with 1e to a point. At first we played very simply, and it was only later that we began to add options that were deeper in the system. True we never really played with all these options, but we might have had we played for a longer time. My system delving has been fairly shallow lately, and of course I am playing them all pretty much the same. It's only as I've begun to dig into Pathfinder that I find I like it less rather than more.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pathfinder Encounter Design Help

Okay, so I decided to really give my encounters a look see. Maybe I am throwing things too hard at my players as I mentioned in my last post. For those of you who missed it; I've been having lots of PCs die lately and was wondering if my challenge ratings are a bit off--maybe my encounters are too imbalanced. So I looked up Encounter Design in the Gamemastering section of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and did some number crunching.

Only, now I'm more than a little puzzled. Maybe some of you Pathfinder gurus could help me out.
I have 11 1st level players and I want a challenging campaign. So PF says that comes out to a CR of 3.

APL = 1
+1 for above 6 PCs
+1 for challenging
CR = 3

Which means that a challenging encounter would amount to like 5 or 6 Goblins.

Really!? For 11 PCs? That somehow seems off to me. But it is definitely less than what I've been throwing at them.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Gaming Learning Curve

So I almost forced the students at my gaming club to play a rules lite game. And not even for the right reasons necessarily. I've been contemplating making the switch based on the fact that I play rules lite regardless of the version/edition I play. And truthfully I feel that a quick and flexible game is probably best for younger players. Not to mention it would be easier to learn. But none of these reasons were the motivation for almost forcing them to change games.
No--it was due to their sheer stupidity. OK, maybe that's a bit too strong, they are really young players (most are 14 to 15 years old). But I am so fed up with their dilly dallying over feats, skills, racial abilities, class features and the like that I almost can't stand it anymore. And truthfully it isn't because I think these things are bad; but rather because they think these things are the key to playing a really good character. And this of course extends to cheating on ability scores, hit points and any other randomly generated number contained in the game. I literally had a 1 guy with a 1st level PF Druid with four 18's and 15 HP! I mean even if he maxed his HP roll and added 4 for Con he was above max. Even with the toughness feat--which he didn't have.

The problem is that they can't see that basic smart playing is what is going to help them survive, not munchkinizing their play. And yes, I can see that they probably think they have to do this because so many of them have died. But no matter how simple I make the challenge they can't quite get it through their heads that they have to be careful, play smart and think a little bit. Things like checking for traps, not pissing off the town guard one too many times, not trying to cast charm person spells on the every passing acquaintance, not insulting the massively muscled scar laden guy with the axe at the bar, not rushing in when you are overwhelmingly outnumbered, not throwing molotov cocktails in the middle of the party, not gulping down every strange looking flask with bubbly liquid that you pick up, and the list goes on and on and on.
So yeah, I thought, you guys are just not getting it. You need to focus on good roleplay and problem solving skills. Not skills, feats, or maxed out ability scores. In short you need a good introduction to the game that will allow you to focus on actually playing well, instead of playing rules, tricks, doo dads and add ons. So I got out my photocopies of Swords and Wizardry and was ready to baptize them into the true order of old school gaming.

I've forced my young players before. Mandated by GM fiat from on high. Bent their will to mine gamewise--and it usually never went well. So at the last minute I couldn't go through it. I gave them the speech (once again) about teamwork, thinking things through, roleplaying etc. etc. I told them my thoughts, gave them my recommendations and asked what they wanted to do. I of course knew what to expect. Pathfinder all the way. They knew it, they loved it, and they weren't ready to give up their doo dads. But what one player said helped me to see a bit what their perspective might be.

This young lad who had lost only one player in his gaming career looked at me and said,

"You could go easier on us. Not be so tough. Lighten things up and help us survive."

There was a pregnant pause around the table, and I think everyone could see me thinking about what he had said. He actually had caught me a bit off guard. I do run tough campaigns. What I mean by that is I'm a Fourthcore style GM. I challenge my players. I often have save or die situations in my games. And there are always encounters where running away allows you to live to fight another day. My monsters are mean and crafty. Even my goblins, especially my goblins. Traps are commonplace and the environment is as much of a challenge as the monsters you may meet. This is the way I've always run things. But do I set out to kill the players in my games?

I certainly don't think so. My response was leveled and measured.

"Look, I know my adventures are tough. When you get through my adventures alive you know you've accomplished something worth celebrating. I don't hand out treasure, gold or easy wins. You have work for these things, and for the experience and levels you attain. My job is not to kill you, my job is to challenge you. If you end up dead alot of the fault lies in your own laps. As to "lightening things up"; You're not likely to fight a group of 6 goblins, when you guys are a party a dozen strong. Those 6 goblins aren't gonna chance it. They are going to run home and get their big brothers. That's why the monster groups almost always match you man for man or slightly outnumber you. As to helping you, I give plenty of hints--too many really. But you have to hear and heed them. And one thing I'm not gonna do is cheat. If my monsters roll a 20 I'm not gonna fudge it. I also won't fudge it if they roll a 1. The dice fall where they may, and the world is not going to open a path to greatness and victory for you. You are gonna have to search for it and fight for it. This is the life of an adventurer, the path of a hero. If you don't want it, maybe you should reconsider what you are doing."
Harsh? Maybe. But it's how I roll, and how I always have rolled. When I have crossed the line--and I do occasionally--I have no problem rolling back a bad ruling or fiasco on my part. But those don;t really happen too often.

So what happened? Well, I let them decide and they wanted to charge ahead with Pathfinder, vowing to do better and work together more. So I started Barrow of the Forgotten King, a 3.5 1st level adventure. They made it inside the town, to the inn, and promptly started a fight with the captain of the guard, intimidated the mayor, and after a short battle with a quickly growing number of town guards were subdued and run out of town on the chain gang. There were a few--about four players--who were actively trying to get everyone else to calm down and play more sensibly, but they still can't seem to hold sway over those who just can't seem to learn.

What happens next? Who knows. There's a path that's leads into the woods where the town guard dropped them off--about 3 miles outside of Kingsholm. So they may still find the ccemetery and barrow. But without the benefit of the inside information the mayor and Captain of the Guard could have provided. Maybe the two smart players who slipped out of the fight and hid to remain unnoticed can glean that info. Who knows? One thing I can tell you is that if they keep it up like this, they aren't gonna get very far, once again.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pathfinder --- find the Path!

Dork Tower
Just a little humor share--poking fun at Pathfinder. Pretty weak pun actually but dang funny nonetheless. I love Dork Tower by the way, and have added it to my inspiration list. Be sure and make regualr visits there yourselves.

Btw more coming later today : )