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I've never played pen and paper RPGs before, so I don't know pretty much anything and the amount of detail is a bit overwhelming. Our DM is inexperienced as well, so I can't really be sure if they know the mechanics that well either.

Anyway, in the starter campaign a lot of simple enemies have AC of 16-18, with a boss being at AC 21. Most people on our team do not have a combat bonus, so even for a garden variety goblin they have to roll pretty high to even hit it, and for the boss only 2 out of 4 people can even try to hit him, for others even a natural 20 is too low.

Intuitively this feels a bit off to me, but having never played such games I have no idea if this is normal, or if we screwed up character creation and didn't take some important skills or such (we used PCGen to create characters)

So is this normal balancing or is something actually wrong?

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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, in pathfinder a natural 20 guarantees a hit, regardless of AC. (It also should provide a critical threat on almost any weapon) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeutnarg
    Mar 23 '17 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ An average fighter at level 1 should have at least around +5 or +6 to hit in total (+3 or +4 from stat, +1 BAB, maybe an extra +1 from feats). A non-melee type is likely to have only 0 to +2 to hit at level 1. It does tend to increase geometrically, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Mar 24 '17 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this a published adventure of some sort? \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Mar 24 '17 at 2:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ As YogoZuno implies, it sounds like the problem is with either how you are calculating To Hit bonuses or generating characters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quentin
    Mar 24 '17 at 20:05
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AC varies widely by the type of enemy you're attacking, but low level (CR 1) creatures tend to have around 12-17. 21 does seem high, even for a boss type, unless they are useless offensively (and therefore designed to be a long fight).

AC calculation says that you even basic armor puts you a few above 10, the base. Add in their Dexterity bonus and you're looking at about 5, depending on the creature. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder definitely have a scale that favored defense early and not as much later; it becomes progressively easier to hit things as you level because the rate of skill with weapons far outweighs the rate of increase in Armor.

As an aside, it sounds like you may be forgetting to add your STR (general melee) or DEX (ranged and Weapon Finesse melee) modifier to your attacks. Even at a low level, this should give you +3 to +5 with your Base Attack Bonus if you're a weapon-oriented class. There are also tactics such as Flanking (+2 for being on opposite sides of a creature) and attempting to Trip your opponent (attacking a Prone creature with melee is +4) that would make them easier to hit.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding tactics - even if a character can't hit AC 21, he can still use the Aid Another option - if he passes AC 10 he provides +2 to an ally. That, along with casting buffs and hindering/distracting the boss etc. can allow a group to defeat an enemy even if none of them could hit him on their own... \$\endgroup\$
    – G0BLiN
    Mar 23 '17 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, don't forget magic - your magic PC's should have cantrips that can't miss and that do decent (for lvl 1) damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeutnarg
    Mar 23 '17 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jeutnarg You are thinking of systems other than Pathfinder. There are very few damaging cantrips (none for cleric or druid), and all I can find require a ranged touch attack. Also they only do 1d3 damage, which is ok against goblins, but not against a boss. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Mar 23 '17 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I forgot about the ranged touch element. Should still bypass a lot of the AC, and if you don't have a wizard or sorceror in Pathfinder... \$\endgroup\$
    – Jeutnarg
    Mar 23 '17 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I didn't want to dive too deep into 'this is how you can kill creatures you can't hit' since that wasn't the question. I put in about the Ability bonus to hit for OP's benefit, since it seemed like a reasonable extension (in line with challenging the Frame of a question) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24 '17 at 12:39
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AC is only one particular defense form. While it's unusual for characters at low levels to have an AC of 21+, it isn't unreasonable. Even a creature with effectively infinite AC could be CR 1-2, as demonstrated by e.g. the bat swarm, which is immune to weapon damage (generally the stuff you have at low levels that targets AC).

It's expected that your party will switch to a different offensive format when fighting such foes, which, if the party members were each roughly equally useful but with different specializations, would allow each player to shine at different moments. Unfortunately, many players make characters that can only target AC, rendering themselves impotent whenever a character resistant or immune to such an attack form rises as the premier opponent. This problem becomes increasingly pronounced as levels increase.

With respect to your specific case, the following offensive measures available to level one characters would probably work on your high-AC boss monster:

  • Save-or-Die spells like:
  • Colour Spray
  • Stumble Gap
  • Grease
  • Save-or-Take-Some-Damage spells like:
  • Burning Hands
  • Touch attack weapons
  • CMB v.s. CMD based attacks, like tripping or disarming
  • Fall damage
  • Drowning
  • Starvation
  • Exposure
  • Oil+Fire
  • Running Away
  • Not Being In Melee
  • Traps

And there are lots more.

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The Monster Creation Rules show expected averages for various stats for opponents at various challenge levels. At level 1, you should face opponents up to about CR2 at most. Humanoid opponents can have equipment that gives them better ACs than this, but that should also increase their CR.

First level haracters should have attack bonuses ranging from about 0 to about +6 or so. With an AC of 15, you should hit about 50% of the time if you have a decent first level attack bonus.

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