So I'll be GMing for the first time ever. All of us except for the previous GM (who will now be playing) are very inexperienced.

We just got done with first major campaign, and me being new, decided to run a the Carrion Crown campaign. All of the newer players are bummed that they're going to have to start over at level 1.

To compromise I told them I was runt he game at fast character level advancement per this chart. Carrion Crown is supposed to be run at the medium level advancement pace.

What are some general tips for increasing the challenge as the campaign goes on and my PC's out level the suggested challenge rating. Add more NPC's? Swap out some NPC's for more difficult creatures?

Any tips would be appreciated. At some point I'd also like to take some of the other official adventure paths and tweak them to start at higher levels, like starting at level 10 instead of level 1.


4 Answers 4


The CRs in 3.PF are wildly variable in their accuracy (which makes sense, considering that the power level of parties of a given level are also wildly variable), so don’t put too much faith in CR. No matter what the numbers say you’ll have to tailor the encounters for the party based on their power, even if their level says it should match the encounter’s CR. They can easily be much, much more or less powerful than those opponents, and that’s not even getting into the possibility that they’re more (or less) powerful in general but those specific opponents are particularly well (or poorly) suited to fighting them.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is especially true of creatures with multiple limbs, improved grab, poison, petrifying rays or other special abilities and creatures of large or larger sizes. CR is generally an OK starting point as the tables tend to under estimate the party's capacity and are designed to at 1/5th their damage capacity. In the end, having a second entrance for enemies to come in is handy when you've under estimated.:) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 17:28

Adding more and swapping out works. If you want to keep the same encounter type, look at the creature type and subtype and swap out accordingly, like hobgoblin or bugbear for goblin, or hill giant for ogre, and using the total xp to keep your encounters at the level you want (see step 2 here).


So, you agreed to something you knew would unbalance your game? Hmm. And you want to come at the solution in the most complex way that puts the most work on yourself possible? Hmm.

You could instead:

Cheat - they don't know what CRs they're facing. Sandbag the XP awards to keep them in scope despite being "on fast advancement." Players are sheep that don't know what's good for them (apparently in this case), so do what needs to be done regardless. If they have fun in happy ignorance it's a win-win. No, seriously.

Accelerate the pace - cut out the silly encounters that are there for XP grinding anyway (plenty of these in dungeons in Carrion Crown - oh look a yellow mold, or a swarm, or some other animal or something that's basically padding around the main encounters for XP reasons) and move them faster through the AP overall. No discretionary or questionable XP.

And of course my favorite option:

Eliminate XP - XP is for noobs. No really. We are playing Carrion Crown right now (in Chapter 4) with "the GM levels us all when it's appropriate for the AP," just like we've done the last 3 APs. The challenge is right, and less boring accounting-work for everyone. Not a single one of us has missed XP since we eliminated them. They made sense in more freeform 1e games, but when following an AP, you're basically trying to do various gyrations of work and math to come out to the "right answer" anyway. Be smart, and skip to the end.


What are some general tips for increasing the challenge as the campaign goes on and my PC's out level the suggested challenge rating.

So there are 3 mains types of encounters in the game. How you level these will vary.

Type 1: Dealing with NPCs

Most of these are "skill" interactions that involve doing things like rolling Diplomacy checks or fasting-talking NPCs into working with you. If you want to "scale this up", you just give the NPCs higher checks on things like Sense Motive

Type 2: Problem solving

This involves things like "hey we need to cross that rickety bridge" or "how can we sneak into the room without the guards seeing?".

The key balancing point for these types of problems is generally the access to magic. Hiding from guards is easy with Invisibility, crossing rickety bridges is easy with Fly.

These are always really difficult to "scale", because you are one DM and they are 4+ players. Regardless of level the players will often find ways to surprise you. The best you can do with these is just to make them fun and not "too easy" given the magic / skills the PCs have available.

Type 3: Combat

The simplest strategy is just "extension".

  • Simple enemies are generally pretty easy to upgrade. Honestly, if you want to upgrade a "boss" quickly, just add 2 to everything. Give them +2 HD, +2 AC, +2 to hit, +2 on DCs etc.
  • The other common tactic is to add more "minions" to a fight. Fighting a boss and 10 orcs is easier than a boss + 15 orcs.
  • You can also extend a day by having more combats within a day. They don't need to "lethal", they simply need to be enough to cause the PCs to spend a couple of spells / resources.

If the players are 2+ levels ahead of "expected", you may need to resort to "substitution". In some cases, this is easy as you replace "goblins" with "hobgoblins" or "small elemental" with "medium elemental". However, some creatures that are appropriate for 3rd level characters are simply inappropriate for 5th level characters.

This runs the risk of needing to change the story, so try the "extensions" method first.


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