I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder Society. Maybe too much.
Scratch that – definitely too much.
Although the hours I’ve dedicated to navigating miniature plastic warriors across grid paper could have arguable been better spent on personal hygiene and flirtations with the opposite gender, my time in the world of Golarion has given me a keen insight into the conventions and tropes of organized play.
I’ve begun to see patterns. Specific types of encounters that repeat themselves scenario after scenario in perpetuity. Foul encounters. Malign encounters. Encounters that make your skin crawl and your dice fly across the room in frustration.
Today I would like to share with you a list of five common Pathfinder Society encounters that must die.
Five-foot Wide Hallways
There is nothing strategic about forcing players down a five-foot wide hallway. Quite the contrary – it forces a complete abandonment of any type of strategy asides from marching order.
And once you’ve dropped your meatiest character in the front, you’ve pretty much mastered that tactic.
What five-foot wide hallways actually do is force a complex circumlocution of initiative order. Players must take turns delaying and holding actions in hopes that, square by square, they can gradually shimmy their conga line of party members into the open before an enemy spellcaster thinks to use a lightning bolt or grease spell.
It’s specifically frustrating because, more often or not, scenarios funnel players into these narrow corridors without their consent. I’m looking at you, First Steps, Part 1: In Service of Lore.
Mook with a Greataxe
You’re facing a barbarian. A halfling barbarian. He has a strength of 14 and an AC of 9. He is the least optimized NPC you’ve ever encountered, but he just one-shot your character.
How? He’s wielding a greataxe.
The greataxe is the noob tube of Pathfinder weapons. Touting a meaty 1d12 damage and a devastating x3 critical modifier, a greataxe can turn a worthless mook into a mean murder machine. Granted, the critical range is flimsy at 20, but a confirmed critical is more or less a death sentence for a first or second level character.
God help you if the fight stretches on for more than a few rounds or the mook lands a few lucky die rolls.
This issue hits close to home for me. I lost my treant sapling companion in the God’s Market Gamble thanks to an errant greataxe swing by a devious ranger. He was reduced to scrap lumber before I even had a chance to yell “timber.”
Paizo has been over-saturating their scenarios with sorcerers. If Pathfinder Society were a jug of Kool-Aid, sorcerers would be the eight cups of sugar that the water can barely accommodate dissolving. Wizards, bards, and witches would be the 10 milligrams of fluorescent crimson residue that inevitably sinks to the bottom of the jug, murky and forgotten.
I understand that sorcerers add great flavour to a scenario, but their inclusion can lead to monotonous encounters due to their limited spell repertoire. At early levels, sorcerers are more or less fire hoses that spew colour sprays or magic missile miniguns.
It’s also a horrid state of affairs for wizards, who rely on recovered spellbooks for learning new spells. There have been times where I’ve been tempted to revive a defeated sorcerer and intimidate him until he agrees to commit his spells to paper.
The Scooby Doo
Look out, it’s an owlbear! Except that it’s not an owlbear, it’s actually an undead monstrosity. And that thing that looks like an undead monstrosity? That’s a construct.
Every time I fight one of these wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing, I imagine Michael Brock sitting in a darkened office at the Paizo headquarters in Redmond, Washington, cackling madly to himself.
With the rampant metagaming that occurs in Pathfinder Society, I recognize that it’s important to throw players a curveball every once and a while. Still, this switcheroo tactic has been used and abused to gratuity. I think I’ve fought more fought more counterfeit owlbears than real ones in organized play.
Swarms Swarms Swarms Swarms Swarms
Nothing incites collective eye-rolling around the game table as much as a swarm.
I have no idea why Paizo makes these damn things so difficult to deal with. Creative solutions are strictly off the table: you can’t crush the bugs with a large object, throwing flaming objects at them yields only modest results, and you can’t even enlarge yourself and stomp on the damn things.
Unless you have an alchemist in your party or your wizard was prudent enough to memorize his token anti-swarm spell, you’re in for a long and irritating fight.
Ultimate Equipment offers some relief by introducing the Swarmbane Clasp, a cheap amulet that allows a martial character to attack a swarm normally. But the need for such a niche item to exist demonstrates just how infuriating an encounter with a swarm can be.