Even though I work here at Paizo and have close access to the designers, playtest materials, and the first of the Pathfinder 2nd edition material, there’s no substitute for actual table play. I have a group that’s been going through the Doomsday Dawn playtest adventure, in all 7 of its parts. Like many people playing this adventure, our group is behind the formal “one part per two weeks” schedule. We rotate through GMs and play every other week, but life happens to get in the way sometimes, as with any gaming group. The formal Paizo schedule would have us playing the 7th part now, but we’re just starting the 5th part. And oh, boy, it’s a grinder.

The overall plot is simple. In a non-spoiler summary (for those groups who are playing it and are even slower getting through the parts than we are), the heroes are defending a ruined cathedral in the Worldwound from hordes of demons. My character is Kel, half-orc paladin of Iomedae and stalwart yet simple-minded foe of evil. He’s already been sternly reprimanded by his party for deciding to attack a fiend that’s RIGHT THERE AND OBVIOUSLY EVIL THAT NEEDS VANQUISHING rather than pausing to heal himself. And, yes, I just pulled a “Let Me Tell You About My Character.”

Along with our Gray Maiden fighter, Kel has the highest AC in the party (35 with his shield up, I believe). The demons we’re facing are missing me a lot. But the demons that are just about as hard to hit, which means they’re missing a lot, too. And that makes for a long, slow combat that feels quite a bit like a grind. It feels less like vanquishing a demon and more like chopping down a tree—lengthy and uninteresting progress.

We all reflected that the GM might normally shortcut or compress combats like this, but he feels for the sake of the playtest that we should play them out round-by-round. I think that’s true, but it’s disheartening to think that a GM having to intentionally shortcut encounters in violation of the game’s design is part of the game. I saw this in 4th edition D&D—widely considered to have an awful lot of grind—and my default there was to halve monster hit points and double their damage output. The fact that the game doesn’t account for the grind was a detriment, and I want to be sure to get my feedback in because I don’t want 2nd Edition Pathfinder to go the same way.

This is, in fact, a good thing to keep in mind whether designing an entire game system or even a single encounter: grind makes the game dull. On an encounter level, one of my most grinder-like combats I've designed (unintentionally!) was against incorporeal creatures coupled with an environmental effect that healed them. The PCs already had some resistance to their attacks, and incorporeal creatures take half damage from most attacks the PCs bring to bear, and heal on top of that. Feedback about that adventure zeroed in on that combat as being too much of a grinder. It soured the rest of the adventure for at least some players, so now it's something I try to keep in mind: a long fight must not be a boring fight, and PCs need to feel like they're making significant continual progress to remain engaged.

Anyhow, we’re not done with Part 5 of Doomsday Dawn; I’m not sure how many waves there are (8, maybe?) and we’re through only 2 after our first night of play. I suspect that our subsequent parts are going to be pushed back even later. Good thing playtest results are accepted until December 31st, as we’ll probably need the time!