Thoughts on High Level Pathfinder: Part II

I’ve read before that the maths behind the Pathfinder (and similar) system starts to get a bit crazy around 15th level. Now that the party has reached level 15, some of those things I read way back when are coming to mind, particularly what I read about the way the maths starts to get out of control.

This is not true for every situation, but for characters like the monk and ninja, some skill checks and saves become totally pointless. Since critical hits and fumbles are only supposed to apply to attack rolls, this means that in many cases, several characters in the party are actually incapable of failing skill check and saving throw rolls.

It’s not a case of a particular player attempting to break the system, it’s just that the numbers accumulated over 15 levels have combined into rather insane totals. Our ninja is basically incapable of being hit by anything requiring a reflex save, and let’s face it, the ranger could probably track an invisible flying creature without so much as picking up a die. I rarely bother asking for Perception checks anymore, as there’s no way all 4 PCs would miss spotting or hearing the important thing in the room.

Acrobatics is another example of maths gone crazy. Except for vertical jumps, which do have significant DCs, most other Acrobatics checks are trivial to 15th level characters with high Dexterity. To give a specific example, our monk had just been blinded by an enemy. He wanted to get to the other side of the room to attack said enemy. The fight happened to be on a high walkway, so the most direct route would be a jump across the gap. The floor was slippery, increasing the Acrobatics DC a little bit. Being blinded added a few penalties, but even with all of those, rolling was really just a formality.

Although the description of the blinded condition suggests that the character should only be able to move at half speed without an Acrobatics check, the DC of that check is 10, which is laughable to a 15th-level character who has put a lot of skill points and other bonuses into that skill. While this sort of thing would make sense if the character was Daredevil, it certainly tested my suspension of disbelief in this particular instance. Yes, I could (or should) have ruled that he simply couldn’t make the jump while blinded, but when a character has been built to be really good at something, taking that away is not always the wisest course of action.

I’d love to hear about your experience, either as player or game master, of high level Pathfinder play.

Featured image by caiomm on DeviantArt.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on High Level Pathfinder: Part II

  • April 23, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Well, no. I think those are very fair issues. A monk (with High Jump no less) can easily have a base jump check of +60 after level 12 or so. But at the same time – we’re talking about very high level individuals. Maybe 1 in 100 000 people is the equivalent of a level 15 character on Golarion, within the context of the setting these guys are superheroes. I don’t think it is a problem that they can ignore a DC 10 check to balance themselves.

    On the other hand – there are a lot of skills and only a limited number of skill points. So the monk can jump, climb, swim, sense motive and perceive. But does he have survival, ride, handle animal, and sleight of hand? The same across the rest of the party – there are certain skills that only see focus on a select few characters; but those skills can be super useful for making visual and visceral non-combat encounters. Imagine an extended carriage chase featuring wyverns pulling the carriage across the sky and the party it on top of it all and need to achieve a couple of things – and perhaps also get the entire thing under control before it crashes into the Tranquil Garden of Exclusivity. This can be woven into a skill-based encounter that would be a challenge for most parties – both low and high levels (at high levels you just have more leeway about how dangerous it all is to the immediate health of the participants).

  • June 17, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    “Since critical hits and fumbles are only supposed to apply to attack rolls, this means that in many cases, several characters in the party are actually incapable of failing skill check and saving throw rolls.”

    not true. ( )

    I believe that a “1” or “20” always fails or succeeds on saves (like attack rolls). It is only skill checks that a 1 can still mean success and 20 still mean failure.

    Even a save or die with only needing a 2 can still create tension for the player. One’s …they happen.

    • June 18, 2015 at 7:30 am

      I can’t believe I missed that! Perhaps it’s because people in forums are always saying how crits and fumbles only apply to attack rolls. This certainly makes saves a lot more interesting 🙂


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