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This is the PF2e version of my similar question on D&D 5e's Starter Set.


For a lot of players, the Pathfinder Beginner Box was their first 2e adventure. The first encounter from the included adventure is rather straightforward, though a lucky crit or two can quickly turn the tide.

Terminally bad luck?

Let's assume you were really unlucky, though. Really, really unlucky. What is the lowest level character that could unfailingly beat the encounter, despite all the dice being against them?

Assume that whatever can go wrong for the PC, will go wrong. In general, this means that they will roll a 1 on all dice rolls (attacks, saving throws, skill checks, damage, etc.) If a low roll is beneficial to them, then that roll may be a higher roll.

Assume that whatever can go right for the enemies, will go right. In general, this means that they will roll the maximum value on all dice rolls. If a high roll is harmful to them, then that roll may be a lower roll.

Encounter specifics

  • The PC will face:

Four giant rats.

  • The enemies start in their normal location. The PC starts 20 feet west of the line of enemies, as shown by the red dot:

PC 20 feet west of the line of three rats

  • Any PC-controlled creatures start as close to the PC as possible. All participants start on the ground.
  • The enemies move in (possibly using Tumble Through) and attempt to flank if practical, but otherwise Strike with all three actions. They may also use sensible basic actions in response to conditions if needed, like Stand or Escape.
  • Spells/abilities you use before combat may only target you or creatures you control. Only spells/abilities whose effects last 10 minutes or longer will still be active when combat starts.
  • Exploration activities may be used, and weapons/shields/etc. may already be drawn.
  • You may use Avoid Notice to roll Stealth for initiative, but your starting position cannot change (despite the usual rules that would permit you to move to a more logical position). You still benefit from features like Surprise Attack, but start Observed, unless some other effect (like invisibility) changes how detected you are.
  • For the sake of this question, nothing can make you Unnoticed. If you become Undetected (by defeating vision and scent, for example), the enemies always choose the correct square when attacking you.
  • The PC has beat the encounter if they are alive when combat ends and all of the enemies are dead.

Character specifics

  • May be any level (1-20), though I'm interested in the lowest level character than can pull this off.
  • Only Common character options from official sources (unless a Common option grants access to an Uncommon one, as with focus spells).
  • No variant/optional rules (like Free Archetype).
  • Starts with the lump sum gold for their level. They can use this to buy any Common, non-Consumable items of their level or lower.

Non-optimized example

A 17th level wizard with 20 Wisdom has a +26 to initiative rolls. Even if the enemies all roll a natural 20 and the wizard rolls a 1, the wizard still goes first. They can then cast fireball at 9th level, rolling all ones for a total of 18 damage. The enemies all roll a natural 20 on their Reflex saves, but a 27 is still a failure (bumped to a success for the natural 20). They all take half damage and die.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is everyone required to use Perception for initiative? If I want to Avoid Notice, can I also assume that my Stealth roll for initiative keeps me from being seen by the rats if my Stealth roll is high enough? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Further, if I start Invisible, am I to assume that I'm Undetected or Unnoticed? Or merely Hidden? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @From I don't see how this works otherwise. Essentially there is no luck in the scenario; you're finding what point it becomes impossible to fail. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2023 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso If the rats can hit once a character might critically fail the save and be sickened 1, which could be important. No onset time for the illness, just a stage 1 carrier which could be skipped. \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Feb 17, 2023 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE The adventure doesn't mention the rubble, so I'll just say it's normal terrain. The pillars are called out in the box text as stone. For companion targeting, I'd say that the rats choose whichever is worse for you. And yeah, companions start in any adjacent square you want (on the ground). \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Feb 17, 2023 at 23:01

5 Answers 5

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A 5th Level Swashbuckler

I originally posited a 9th level Swashbuckler to gain access to the Fly spell to stay out of range without leaving the room. After some iteration, I was able to get it down to 6th level by pursuing a kiting strategy that didn't require flight. Those answers are preserved in the edit history. However, after taking a closer look at the map, I believe we can make this work at level 5. Unlike the level 7 or 9 builds though, this one is a long grind - It's going to take us at least 32 rounds to kill these rats. So, how do we do it?

First off, we need to be an Elf or a Human (Half-Elf Heritage). We're going to need the Nimble Elf ancestry feat, and either the Fleet feat, or the +5 to base speed that elves get.

For Ability Scores, we will need to reach 18 Dexterity and Constitution by level 5, which means starting with a 16 in each. This leaves background selection relatively flexible though.

At level 1, we need to take Nimble Elf as our Ancestry Feat, the Battledancer style for our Swashbuckler's Style, and the Flying Blade feat for our class feat. That last one isn't strictly necessary, but it's a little insurance in case the rats try to outsmart us.We get Acrobatics and Performance Training for free, and you can do whatever you want with the rest of your skill selections, but make sure you grab one of Nature or Society.

At level 2, we'll take the feat After You as our class feat. We can't win initiative, so by voluntarily losing, we'll start the fight with Panache. For our skill feat, we're going to take Assurance with Acrobatics. Once we hit Expert, this will allow us to reliably Tumble Through the rats without making a roll.

At level 3, we grab the Fleet feat if we’re playing a human. Elves will need to take Canny Acumen, selecting Fortitude Saves. For our skill increase, we'll increase Acrobatics to Expert. We also get another skill feat via our Stylish Tricks class feature. Here we want to either grab Assurance for Performance, or Acrobatic Performer. It doesn't matter which, both will allow us to reliably pass Fascinating Performance checks with Assurance against the rats awful Will DC of 13. As a Battledancer, we don't care about landing a crit to actually fascinate our target, or even whether the target is immune. If we beat the DC, we gain panache. With either of these feats, we can always beat the DC.

Next, at level 4, we need to take either the Beastmaster or Cavalier dedication. Either one of these will give us a Young Animal Companion. You can choose whatever companion you like, so long as it is Large. The Beetle, Camel, Horse, Legchair, and Terrorbird are all suitable, though the Beetle will take one more hit than the others before going down. Which is nice.

Finally, at level 5, Humans will need to use the General Training feat to get Canny Acumen in Fortitude. Elves can take whatever feat they like here. We need level 5 for Expert proficiency with our weapon, in order to land our Confident Finishers.

In terms of equipment, we'll need any +1 Agile or Finesse Thrown Weapon, which will cost us 35 GP and a Returning Property Rune which costs 55 GP.

Which leaves 50 GP left over for... whatever.

How it works

Before combat, we'll position our pet in front of us, in a position to body block the four rats, as seen here:

modified map from the original post, illustrating pet positioning in front of the PC.

On Round 1, we use After You to throw our initiative roll, and start the fight with Panache. One of two things happen. Either the front two rats use two actions to circle behind our pet to attack us from behind, landing one critical hit each (28 damage total), and the other two rats either kill our pet, or follow their friends but cannot close to melee range. This is the best case scenario. Alternately, the first two rats move up to our pet, and kill it in 3 or 4 attacks (a total of 5 or 6 actions - if it's five, the fifth closes to melee range with us but cannot attack). The remaining two rats can then close to melee range, and each land two critical hits against us, for a total of 56 damage. As an Elf who started with 16 Constitution, we should have over 60 hit points. So we'll live. We're also going to fail, but not critically fail our saving throw against Filth Fever at this point, so we'll avoid being sickened, but we’re going to die in a few days. But that's okay. Glory awaits.

On our first turn, we attack one of the rats with a Confident Finisher. This attack misses but does not critically miss (we rolled a 1! But we have +14 to hit, and the rats have 15 AC, so our regular hit is downgraded to a regular miss), but still deals half of our Precise Strike damage; at level 5, that's 3d6. We can only ever roll a 1 on each of those die, so we'll deal 1 damage with this attack. This expends our panache. We use our second action to Tumble Through, using Assurance + Acrobatics. The Rats have a reflex DC of 17, but at Expert Acrobatics and level 5, our Assurance check is an 19. We then move 30 feet away from the rats. (The first 5 feet of our movement is as through difficult terrain because of Tumble Through, and our movement speed without Panache is 40). Tumbling through allows us to regain panache, which increases our speed to 45, and so we move another 45 feet away from the rats. We're now 75 feet away from the nearest rat, and they can only move 30 feet per action.

In Round 2, the rats will need to move 3 times to close to melee range with us, and will be unable to attack. We can then repeat our routine, dealing another point of damage, tumbling through to regain panache, and moving a total of 75 feet away once again. If at any point the rats refuse to move into melee range, we can use Assurance + Performance (or Acrobatics with the feat to use Fascinating Performance to get panache, and then throw our dagger, making use of the Flying Blade feat to apply our finisher from range. It might be necessary to alternate rounds between damage and reestablishing panache in this instance. But with 80-90 feet of move speed (depending on panache) from only two actions, you should be able to reliably kite them with an action to spare each round.

Each rat will die after eight attacks, so after about three and a half minutes of in-game time, and approximately half a mile of running around, the rats will all be dead, along with our beloved, belated pet beetle.

A few days later, so will our swashbuckler. A life well lived.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There's plenty of room in the build for Assurance in Acrobatics; if ceiling height is an issue, it should be easy to safely flee to open sky - the Swashbuckler has a significant movement advantage. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2023 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ With After You, we should always be starting with Panache, which means starting with a 40 foot move speed, even before Fleet/Half-Elf nonsense. That means after taking our opening lump, we can run 120 feet (Tumbling through easily if necessary)... Which in turn means we could probably do this on foot just by kiting at level 7, since at that point, we can have a 45 foot move speed with Fleet... \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2023 at 23:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Daggers: that’s why we spend our starting gold on a returning rune. Room to keep kiting: this is why our first course of action is to get out of the building. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2023 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LessPop_MoreFizz - FWIW, three rats can get to you on the first round. You still have enough HP to survive and start kiting, but I discovered that going over your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 19, 2023 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure but that results in fewer hits and less damage to our swashbuckler. It’s not an optimal strategy for the rats, so I dismissed it. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2023 at 12:04
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13th-Level Champion

At this level it's possible to have a consistent AC of 39 with the following:

  • Master proficiency in heavy armor as a level 13 champion's armor mastery; +19 proficiency bonus AC
  • +1 full plate (5th-level item, 160 gp); +7 item bonus AC
  • Raised fortress shield (1st-level item, 10 gp, Treasure Vault); +3 circumstance bonus AC
  • At least 18 Strength to use both without being encumbered (9 Bulk); avoid -1 to AC

This means that even if the rats are able to flank they're unable to successfully hit even on a natural 20 following their strategy.

With a set of +1 gauntlets (2nd-level item, 35 gp) or 20 Strength they're able to punch the rats with a +24 bonus with their champion's weapon mastery, successfully hitting one on their first attack each round even with a natural 1. It will take some time, but with more expensive gauntlets they could take out a single rat each round given the tremendous unluckiness.

Thanks to never getting hit the champion even survives the encounter long-term, not being exposed to Filth Fever.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was my initial impulse when looking at the challenge (get to 39 AC, then figure out how to do any damage); but I stumbled across… another option, as I was building. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2023 at 21:10
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2nd-Level Elf Evocation Wizard

Build requirements:

The Constitution and shield may be unnecessary depending on how much distance it takes to climb our beetle, see considerations below.

We also have two unskilled hirelings we're taking adventuring with us for torch-bearing and carrying loot (4 sp/day). The hirelings should be unnecessary given the established rat tactics, but provide additional body-blocks if they try something clever.

Exploration Activity

We are Repeatedly casting our 1-action shield cantrip to ensure it's up at the start of a battle. As this is fatiguing we would be taking regular rests to recover between making progress.

Your reactions let you respond immediately to what’s happening around you. The GM determines whether you can use reactions before your first turn begins, depending on the situation in which the encounter happens.

To guarantee success in this encounter at level 2 we need the GM to decide this is one such situation where we can use a reaction to shield block before our first turn, or we need our beetle to be a more difficult climb. Otherwise we can more comfortably achieve this at level 3 without shield, see this answer's history for the specifics.

Rats Go First

Battle Map Locations for Party Members. We have several allies and the rats are blocked by the Large beetle

With no easy option to get us based on our party's positioning and Tumbling Through treating occupied spaces as Difficult Terrain bouncing them back to the start if they can't reach an open square, the rats attack our beetle first.

The beginning of our misfortune, the first rat Steps up to our beetle and crits them twice to deal 28 points of damage, taking down our Large companion.

You can share a space with a prone creature if that creature is willing, unconscious, or dead and if it is your size or smaller. The GM might allow you to climb atop the corpse or unconscious body of a larger creature in some situations.

With our luck the GM would allow the Small rats to Climb over the Large creature's body to get us, so the second rat spends one action Stepping then one action to Climb 10 feet using its climb speed. Now adjacent to our familiar in its Master's Form and us, the rat can attack either, dealing 14 damage.

The third rat Strides up to the beetle body and also Climbs up to us, then has that same choice of who to attack.

If both rats decide to attack us, we can use our shield block reaction to reduce the damage of one Strike by 5 and surviving the remaining 23 points of damage at 1 HP. Our familiar falls after a single Strike, but as a Medium-sized creature it's unconscious body is still an obstacle to the rats and doesn't allow the group to make more than 2 Strikes on us in total. We'll assume the rats attack us because they can based on the tactics given, leaving us badly injured and sickened 1 after critically failing our save vs Filth Fever.

Finally the fourth rat sees that there's no space to approach and attack us, so they wrap around the rubble and room to the north and maul our torch-bearer with their last action. There aren't stats for unskilled hirelings, but it's worst for us to assume they drop unconscious on taking 14 damage. Of note, even without hirelings the rat could only reach us by spending all three actions to move 65 feet to flank, and couldn't block us from retreating.

Our Turn

We run. With 35 speed we are just barely able to escape the room and rats, though we'll assume the rats pursue relentlessly to finish the job based on their tactics given. A few turns pass with us gaining 15 feet of distance from the pack with each 3 actions spent Striding.

Now to defeat the rats. Once we're at a comfortable distance away (65 feet or otherwise unable to be reached in 2 actions by any rat), we unleash our arcane might to cast a 3-action magic missile with 120 feet of range. Due to our unluckiness this doesn't even kill one rat, dealing only 6 damage, but fortunately we came prepared.

We continue in this loop, running to create enough distance to cast the 3-action spell and deal 6 damage. Using our default 3 1st-level spell slots, our 1st-level evocation spell slot, and our Drain Familiar ability to cast once without spending a slot, we're able to take down each of the rats except for one (6 x 5 = 30 damage of 32 rat HP), which we finish off by using our force bolt focus spell for the last 2 points of damage. This should take around 6 rounds per spell, totaling about 31 rounds of combat.

The battle is won by the barest of margins casting the last of our non-cantrip magic and using almost every feature of our build, though we likely die in a few days from filth fever unless we can find a powerful caster to remove disease despite our unluckiness. Counteracting would require a +13 bonus to the counteract check to only fail on a natural 1.

Considerations

There is a slight complication, Drain Familiar may require that they be on our person based on the Drain Bonded Item base. We may need to intentionally loop the rats back into the room where our familiar is for the final casting. Nothing says the familiar needs to be alive for this, so we'll assume this works even if the rats decided to take them out earlier instead of attacking us.

Additionally we assume the rats can use their 10-foot climb speed to Climb over the beetle's body in a single action, but if our beetle has some appreciable height this might be too generous for the rats.

Even 5 feet of height at the low-end for a Large creature would make the total distance to climb 15 feet, requiring two actions to reach us from the other side (Climb up to the top of the beetle, Step forward) and meaning that no rat can attack us on the first turn. This changes things substantially:

  • No need for shield or some GM determining to allow reactions before our first turn
  • No need for Constitution increasing our HP
  • We survive the encounter, never being exposed to Filth Fever
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like this answer, but I'm not sure the "climb" in the "moving over corpses" texts literally means the Climb action. If it doesn't, though, I think you can still get by via raising your Con at creation to 16 (via the alternative ability boost/flaw rules) or taking Toughness as your level 3 general feat. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Is climb really climb" seems like the sort of thing that would at least be a matter of GM adjudication... and that deciding that "climb" did in fact mean "climb" wouldn't be an unreasonable choice for a GM to make. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 21, 2023 at 21:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden yeah, hence why I'm not asking a question, I don't think there's an answer beyond GM adjudication. "climb" isn't capitalized, so we can't say for certain it's meant to be the ability (since they capitalize basic actions when used as subordinate actions, e.g. Sand Stride capitalizes "Stride"). It's fine either way. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 22, 2023 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, the only difference between Climb and Stride is whether there's an incline, which seems pretty clear here. Particularly when the rule explicitly mentions climbing. \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Feb 22, 2023 at 1:40
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A 7th level Bard

A 7th level Bard of any ancestry can succeed by tanking one round of attacks (6 crits and 2 hits) then flying out of melee range of the rats and staying aloft.

The Fly spell will let us stay out of range for five minutes. As a baseline, we can then use the Daze cantrip for damage - with an Occult spell DC of 25, it will do 2 damage per cast to our rats, who will succeed, but not critically succeed on their saves.

To speed things up, we can use Phantom Pain. Once at 4th level, to deal 8 damage and kill a rat, and then three times at 3rd level to do 6 damage, which, in conjunction with a single cast of daze for each rat, will kill all 4 rats in 7 turns of damage, and 8 total turns of combat.

To survive the initial burst of 6 crits and 2 hits, our bard will need to take the Tough feat, and start with 16 Con, boosting it at level 5, but can be of any ancestry. 6 HP ancestries will need to purchase a Belt of Good Health to get above the magic number of 99 HP.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the Bard critically fail the Filth Fever check? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 17, 2023 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ They’ll need Canny Acumen: Fortitude or an item bonus to fortitude saves. A 3 GP minor Elixir of Life will do the trick. But it also doesn’t matter; at sickened 1, we have a DC of 24, and the rats will be rolling 23’s for their will saves. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2023 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ wouldn't the daze be doing more damage? 4-5 for your stat modifier, then +2d6 (2) for the boosts?, 6hen halved, to 3? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 18, 2023 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Alan Daze heightens only at +2; casting it as a 4th level spell (as our level 7 Bard would) is identical to casting at 3rd. The base damage of Daze is damage equal to ability mod (which will only ever be 4 at level 7). Heightening it to 3rd adds 1d6; we’re doing 1d6+4, or 5 damage, which, on a save is halved to 2 (round down). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2023 at 2:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LessPop_MoreFizz Doh. Was for some reason thinking character level, not spell slot level \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 18, 2023 at 2:12
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5th-level Dwarf Champion in 3 Rounds

This is only as low a level as @LessPop_MoreFizz's answer, but it takes way less time, and does not involve leaving the room. Nor even moving! This is also a solid and viable build for normal play.

The Plan

Cast Vibrant Thorns, which lets the rats kill themselves after three attacks. We just need to survive long enough to get there! That's not a problem, thanks to being a tough, unflank-able dwarf with a Barkskin Potion and a good shield.

The Build

  1. Ancestry: Dwarf (any heritage)
  2. Background: Any that boosts Con
  3. Class: Champion of Ketephys, or any of the numerous deities that grant the Nature domain.

Many stat arrays will do here, so long as you have 16 Con at the end of character creation. I've gone w/ 18 12 16 10 14 8, which will be bumped to 19 12 18 10 16 10 at level 5. The Con bump is necessary, the rest optional.

Necessary Feats and Features by level:

  1. Deity's Domain - Nature (also, Shield Block which we get freely)
  2. Desperate Prayer
  3. Toughness, as well as the Steed Ally for a Beetle (or any other Large mount; the Beetle is the toughest).
  4. Nothing needed - if you wanted, you could grab Beastmaster or Cavalier here and grab a different Divine Ally.
  5. Sheltering Slab

The Equipment

Purchase:

Important Stats

AC: 23 (but 25 with our shield raised, or 24 with the shield spell) Fortitude save: +13 Health: 85

The Battle

Before Combat

Drink the Barkskin Potion and the Juggernaut Mutagen. This brings our health to 95 (we won't be gaining temp HP any other time) and gives us resistance 2 to piercing. These both last 10 minutes and thus are valid for pre-buffing. Use the Defend exploration activity to start with our shield raised. Position our mount between us and the rats, forcing them to go around or attack it.

Round 1

We lose initiative. Three of the rats will run around with two actions, using the third to attack us. The fourth will attack our mount. If any choose to attack the mount instead, that's even better - we can't be flanked since we are standing next to the stone wall of the pillar, and we just need to hold on one turn to start buffing.

The three attacks will each crit for 12 damage each (resistance!). We'll use Shield Block and take a total of 28 damage. This removes the temp HP and brings us to 67 HP. We can't critically fail the Filth Fever check since our +15 (Mutagen!) makes normal failure impossible, so don't worry about that!

On our turn, we'll use Vibrant Thorns, Lay on Hands, and raise our Sturdy Shield again. This brings us to exactly 85 HP (our max). We got our second focus point from Desperate Prayer.

Round 2

The rats next to us will attack again, critting on their first attack, then doing normal damage on the next two attacks. Each of these rats will do 12 then 5 then 5 damage for a total of 22. That's 66 damage from these rats, each of which will die after their turn (thanks to Vibrant Thorns). The remaining rat can Tumble Through our mount to attack us (using the spot of a dead rat), doing two attacks for 12 then 5. That's 83 total damage - shield block to reduce the total to 75, leaving us at exactly 10 HP. This rat will have taken 6 damage.

Our round consists of us raising our shield again. You could drink healing potions, but we don't need them.

Round 3

One rat left - it attacks us, critting for 12 damage. This attack will kill it - thanks Vibrant Thorns! We shield block, taking only 4 damage, leaving us at 6 HP, which is more than enough to spend our remaining time in celebration. It's probably a good idea to find someone to cast Remove Disease on you with your remaining gold - it only costs 18!

N.B: I believe a similar tactic should work through someone casting False Life and Ooze Form, should you be able to get Vibrant Thorns and an animal companion to stop the first wave (or an Enlarged Familiar). You don't even need to be a dwarf, since Ooze Form prevents crits. I'd recommend a Rune Witch that Enlarges their Familiar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this a lot, but the original question does specify not using our starting gold for consumables. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2023 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for Ooze Form and Vibrant Thorns… the easiest way to do that is a Cleric Dedication + Domain Initiate feat; any character can do that by level 4, but an Ancient Elf can do it without giving up their second level class feat. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2023 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LessPop_MoreFizz gaaaahh I misread that :( \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 20, 2023 at 3:40

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