In my ongoing Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder campaign, the party has just reached level 15. I’ve written about the challenges of designing good encounters before, but high level play seems to have compounded the existing issues. Today, I’ll discuss a couple of combat-specific issues that have come up.
Combat takes forever. Combat in Pathfinder isn’t the fastest to begin with, and it has only gotten slower as the party has leveled up. With everyone having a multitude of abilities to choose from, the decision-making process takes that little bit longer (particularly on my side if I’m running a high-level spellcaster or monster with lots of abilities I’ve not used before). This either leads to players (and the GM as well) resorting to tried and true (but sometimes boring) options like attacking the enemy head-on, or slowing down the game by needing to look up and discuss unfamiliar rules.
Sometimes we’ll come across a weird situation we’ve not encountered before, with no easy-to-find answer in the rules – this, of course, slows things down even more. As the GM, I know I have to make some kind of decision in these cases, but I often feel like I don’t have enough experience or knowledge of similar situations to be able to make a call that I’m happy with. This has improved over time, but occasionally we’ll still get bogged down in discussion.
Slow combat leads to distracted players. The longer a combat round takes, the longer everyone has to wait between turns. This naturally leads to players fiddling on their phones or tablets, or zoning out, and as such not paying attention to what’s happening in the encounter. This means they’ll take longer to react when their character is hit in combat, or their turn comes around again.
Annoying Encounters. In our most recent session, which took place in the sloth wing of Runeforge, there was a maze containing two rather strange enemies, omox demons and chernobue qlippoths. Both had a good set of defenses, having quite a few resistances, immunities, damage reduction and spell resistance, so I reckoned they would prove to be a nice challenge for the party. While I didn’t actually use them as minions, they did serve to delay the heroes and allow the boss time to set up his defences.
Unfortunately, while these monsters had good defences, their attacks were another story. After a series of bad rolls on my side, and good rolls from the players, both sets of monsters ended up doing little or no damage to the PCs at all. Instead of challenging encounters with unusual monsters, we ended up with two drawn out battles that were just irritating: preventing the ninja from using her sneak attack, and reducing the effectiveness of the sorcerer’s fireballs led to a lot of frustration.
I’m not entirely sure how to solve the combat speed issues, but I’ll definitely be considering enemies more closely for future encounters. There’s a fine line between easy, boring encounters, and deadly ones. Finding that perfect balance is an ongoing quest for a game master.
I’d love to hear about your experience, either as player or game master, of high level Pathfinder play.
Featured image by helgecbalzer on DeviantArt.