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Escalations - How Do They Work

Escalations, How Do They Work?

The River Kingdoms are home to a variety of monsters and predators, most having few plans beyond their next victim/meal. However, larger threats regularly pop up in the Monster Hexes, filling them with their own forces and expanding to neighboring hexes unless players work together to take them down. These are called Escalations, and when left alone they tend to grow in strength and size, spawning more and more creatures, as well as more powerful ones, to fill the growing number of hexes they control.

Meet the Enemy

There are currently 16 Escalations appearing regularly in the Echo Woods area:

  • Standard Escalations
    • Bonedancers: The Bonedancers, a tribe of goblins with an unhealthy interest in necromancy, are out looking for dead bodies, and creating some new ones. Their Home Hex is two hexes northeast of Blackfeather Keep.
    • Broken Men: The Broken Men, Crusaders returned from the Worldwound broken in both body and spirit, have armed themselves and are attacking the local Riverfolk. Their Home Hex is two hexes northeast of Iron Gauntlet.
    • Goblin Ghouls: The Gutglut Goblins, devoted followers of Venkelvore, found a new way to maintain their sacred hunger after death: ghoul fever.
    • Moloch Cultists: Lord Brevain Talmont is carving out a new river kingdom with the aid of hellounds provided by the arch-devil. Their Home Hex is two hexes east of Stoneroot Glade.
    • Mordant Spire: Theresiel and her army of Mordant Spire “researchers” are seeking a powerful network of sensor artifacts left behind by Nhur Athemon.
    • Nature's Wrath: Wolves and other natural creatures have begun attacking in large, organized groups, some led by hunters and other wilderness folk. Their Home Hex is two hexes southeast of Freevale.
    • Razmiran Cultists: Agents of Razmir invite the Riverfolk to worship their Living God, or to meet their own gods sooner than they’d planned. Their Home Hex is three hexes southwest of Ossian’s Crossing.
    • Ripping Chains: The Ripping Chains, a savage tribe of goblins known for hanging their victims on hooked chains, are raiding the area for supplies and killing anyone they come across.
    • Skeletal Uprising: An unknown force is raising armies of skeletons from the ground. Their Home Hex is two hexes northwest of RiverBank.
    • Skull-Basher Ogres: The Skull-Basher ogres and their goblin allies are seeking victims for their next “Bone Boil.” Their Home Hex is two hexes northwest of Alderwag.
    • Undying Ogg: Ogg the Undying, the only ogre ever brought back by a Pharasma shrine, believes that taking control of all the shrines will grant his entire clan immortality. Their Home Hex is four hexes southeast of Keeper’s Pass.
    • Ustalav Invaders: Tairina Olislova, a landless noblewoman from Ustalav, is sending in troops to claim new lands for herself. Their Home Hex is two hexes north of Rotter’s Hole.
  • Mini-Escalations
    • Bandit Raid: The Black Snake Gang believes strongly in the Six River Freedoms, particularly the part saying You Have What You Hold.
    • Float Any River: The River Shepherds, a misguided cult of Hanspur worshippers, seeks his help against Pharasma’s interference with the natural flow of life and death.
    • Goblin Raid: The Charred Fang goblin tribe is out in force, stealing and eating anything that isn’t nailed down.
    • Mercenary Raid: The Stone Claw Company is doing a little light raiding between mercenary contracts.

It Begins

Escalations start in Monster Hexes, indicated by a lion icon on the map. When an Escalation has taken over the current hex, an Escalation icon appears to the upper-left of the mini-map. Hover the cursor over that icon to see which Escalation is running and what its status is in that hex. This Source Hex for the Escalation generally starts out at a relatively low percentage of its maximum strength, then grows in strength over time if left alone (the Escalation icon transitions from gray to blue to yellow to red as the strength increases). The exceptions are the Mini-Escalations, which start at their maximum strength and lose strength slowly over time. Escalations can increase in difficulty as their strength rises (launching tougher mobs, larger encounters, and more challenging events) and become easier as their strength drops, though many (particularly the Mini-Escalations) remain at a constant difficulty level regardless of strength.

Once an Escalation starts, its forces quickly overtake the hex, spawning random Encounters where its forces have set up camps, attacked locals, or done other generally bad things. The simplest way to weaken the Escalation is to kill the mobs at these encounters, and there are always more mobs to kill. The tougher the mob, the more points of Escalation Strength it’s worth.

The Escalation also begins running Events, offering opportunities to thwart the Escalation’s plans or to exploit a temporary weakness. For example, the Gutglut goblins may have captured some Brambleclaw prisoners that the player can rescue, or the Skull-Basher ogres may have sent some of their worker members out alone and undefended to prove themselves.

Any Events that are running in the current hex are listed in the Tracker at the upper-right of the screen, along with information about how close the Event is to being completed and what to do next to help complete it. Hover over the Event text to see a more descriptive explanation of what to do next. When the instructions call for interacting with a person or object (recover supplies, talk to a priest), this is done by right-clicking on the requested target when you locate it in-game. At that point a message will appear over the target and the Tracker will either update the counter for the current task or move on to the next instruction.

Completing Events is usually the most effective way to weaken Escalations. Events are completed by following the Event instructions in the Tracker until all of the Event counters are met. That could mean recovering 15 bags of supplies from the Ripping Chains goblins, freeing 20 prisoners from the Skull-Basher Ogres, or killing 50 Mordant Spire Stormcallers. In most cases, these tasks must be completed within a certain period of time, or else the Event will end and the Escalation will actually be strengthened a bit (the timer is not currently displayed anywhere, something we hope to get fixed soon). When an Event is completed, a message appears in the Chat window for any players in the hex, and the Event disappears from the Tracker.

While Events are running, any nearby Event encounters are shown on the mini-map with a white circled-cross icon. That’s where specific mobs that need to be killed (arsonists, leaders, scouts) or things that need to be interacted with (supplies to recover, prisoners to free, people to speak with) can be found. Hover over the icon to see what can be found at that encounter. If it’s taking a while to find Event encounters, it’s important to also regularly kill off some random encounters of varying sizes. That makes room for the Event encounters to appear.

Soon, the Escalation begins spreading to neighboring hexes. Every hour, it looks at its unoccupied/unprotected neighbors and sends a small percentage of its strength to a random selection of them. When enough strength builds up in a hex, it too becomes Infected by the Escalation. At that point, the hex fills with the Escalation’s forces and Events start running there. The Infected hex has its own strength value, so killing mobs and completing Events in that hex affects the strength value for that hex only. This also means that Event progress is tracked separately in each hex. It can be confusing to cross a hex border between two hexes running the same Event and see the Event counter suddenly change, but it just means that the Tracker has switched over to showing the Event progress in the hex that was just entered.

The newly Infected hex also begins spreading the Escalation to its own neighbors just like a Source Hex, allowing Escalations to take over large portions of the map if left unchecked. Escalation Hexes (both Infected and Source) also reinforce the strength of any allied neighboring hexes, and attack the strength of any competing ones. Every hour, they look at their neighbors and send a percentage of their own strength to any hex controlled by the same Escalation Source. If neighboring hexes are controlled by an entirely different Escalation, they send the same percentage of their own strength there, lowering the competing Escalation’s strength in that hex. If the neighboring hex is controlled by a different Source hex running the same Escalation, then they ignore each other.

The Thrill of Victory

Booting an Escalation from an Infected Hex is as simple as lowering its strength in that hex to zero. As soon as that happens, Events will stop running and new Escalation mobs will stop appearing in the hex. Any remaining Escalation mobs will sneak out when nobody’s looking. This defeat doesn’t have an immediate effect on the rest of the Escalation, but the defeated hex will no longer reinforce its neighbors. Because of this, steadily removing Infected Hexes from an Escalation is an effective way of whittling down the overall power of an Escalation.

However, truly destroying an Escalation requires defeating the Source hex, which is a tiny bit more complex. The first step is to lower the strength of the Source hex below 500. At that point, a Win Boss Encounter will appear as soon as it finds an open space. If the Boss is killed before the strength rises back above 500, then the Escalation is defeated. As with an Infected Hex, Events and mobs will stop spawning and remaining mobs will soon exit. The eventual plan is for Settlement-level rewards to be given out when Escalations are fully defeated, but for now the rewards are just the good loot the Win Boss drops, and the 12-36 hours that the hex will be free from Escalations before a new one is chosen.

In addition, all of the Escalation’s Infected hexes become Orphaned and stop spreading, running Events or reinforcing each other. These Orphaned Hexes can be claimed by other neighboring hexes of the same Escalation that are controlled by other Source Hexes, so it’s a good idea to clear them out before that happens. However, since they lack any sources of new strength, reducing them to zero strength is only a matter of time.

The Agony of Defeat     

Other than the Mini-Escalations, all the Escalations also have Fail Bosses who appear when the Source hex strength goes above a specified number (usually somewhere between 80% and 99% of the Maximum Strength for the Escalation). If the Fail Boss doesn’t have a timer associated with it, then it’s just an extra-challenging opponent looking to kill players until it is defeated or the strength drops back below its appearance threshold.

However, if the Fail Boss has a timer (again, sadly, not currently displayed in the UI), then failing to defeat the Boss before it runs out results in the Escalation ending, but with the players defeated. There isn’t currently any penalty associated with that defeat, other than losing out on the loot from defeating the Win Boss, but this will eventually become a much bigger deal. Currently, the only Fail Bosses with timers are the Mordant Spire elves (who return to the Mordant Spire once they’ve found the sensors they’re seeking) and the Skull-Basher ogres (who declare victory once their massive cooking pot is full).

Home Is Where You Wear Your Hat

Home Hexes, indicated by a castle icon on the map, are related to Escalations, but are currently much simpler. Eventually we plan to run special, permanent Escalations inside these hexes, but for now they do not spread to neighboring hexes, run Events, have a strength rating, or do any of the complicated processes done by Escalations. They are simply restricted to spawning mobs from the same list of enemies as their related Escalations. As such, they are dependable places to go when players want to kill specific types of monsters, and in fact there are quests available at the NPC settlements offering rewards for doing so.

Put Me In, Coach!

The most efficient way to battle Escalations involves a succession of appropriately-leveled parties operating over the course of hours or days, steadily killing mobs and clearing Events. Send too many people, or too highly powered people, and the mobs aren't regenerating fast enough to fully take advantage of such a powerful attack. Send too few, or underpowered characters, and the natural growth of the escalation counterbalances the damage being done to it. A simple way to judge whether a party is appropriately-leveled is whether the tougher encounters are challenging players to fight well, but not forcing them to use time-consuming tactics like kiting mobs one by one.

One appropriately-leveled party operating for 2-3 hours should always be able to do significant damage to an escalation, but should only expect to completely defeat it if it’s already fairly weak.

It’s So Simple

That’s kind of true. Escalations start in Monster Hexes, they get stronger and spread to more hexes, and players can weaken and destroy them by killing mobs and completing Events. Players should focus on Escalations they’re tough enough to handle and that are tough enough to provide a reasonable challenge. Knowing those things, and where to look for the Escalation info in the UI, is enough for most players to get started tackling escalations.

However, the explanation given so far glosses over a lot of details. Most of those details don’t really affect overall strategies for battling Escalations, but there are edge cases where they become important, or where understanding the details can at least explain some non-obvious results.

Like Clockwork

Every hour on the hour, the servers update the Escalations in the following ways:

  • Launch new Escalations.
  • Apply the hourly strength increase/decrease to Source Hexes.
  • Attempt to take over empty neighboring hexes.
  • Attack competing neighboring hexes.
  • Reinforce neighboring hexes.
  • Claim Orphaned Hexes.

Other updates, such as launching Events, spawning Encounters, and updating strength after mob kills, are handled on a much more dynamic basis, but there are often slight delays before these updates show up in the UI. For example, the strength reduction after completing an Event may not show up on the Escalation icon for 15 or more seconds after the Event is completed.

It’s Just a Phase

As said before, some Escalations change in difficulty as their strength rises and falls. Technically, this is accomplished by having the Escalation move through a series of Phases based on the current strength. Just like strength, the Phase is tracked individually for each hex. For example, a hex could be in Phase 1 if the strength is between zero and 1000, then Phase 2 from 1000 to 2000, and finally Phase 3 if it’s between 2000 and 4000. The top number for the highest Phase is equal to the Escalation’s Maximum Strength.

Each Phase has its own unique name and descriptive text, shown when hovering over the Escalation icon. They also each have unique lists of Encounters to spawn, mobs to populate those Encounters with, and Events to run. In addition, each Event list is split between the Events to run in Source Hexes and the ones to run in Infected Hexes.

Typical Multi-Phase Escalations start out in Phase 2 (think of it as the initial invasion), giving themselves one regrouping/collapsing Phase to fall back to, room for one or more ramping-up Phases, and a final completely-in-control Phase.

Some Escalations, particularly the Mini-Escalations, have only one Phase, so they use the same Encounter, mob and Event lists regardless of their strength.

Can’t Touch This

Most of the hexes can be taken over by Escalations, but certain types are safe from infection. While Monster Hexes are potential Source Hexes, they cannot be infected by an Escalation with a different Source. NPC hexes such as those surrounding Starter Towns or those containing the main roads (which should be thought of as being regularly patrolled by NPC guards, and hopefully eventually will be) are also safe, as are Settlement Sites and Home Hexes.

Miles to Go

As stated above, Escalation Events are tracked per hex, so the overall progress counters can be different between two instances of the same Event that are running in different hexes. Freeing a  prisoner in Hex A increases the counter in Hex A, freeing one in Hex B increases the counter in Hex B. While 15 prisoners may have been freed in Hex A, only 25 prisoners may have been freed in Hex B. Most importantly, every player in Hex A sees a count of 15 prisoners while in Hex A, and a count of 25 prisoners while in Hex B.

This works pretty straight-forwardly for simple events, but there is a slight complication for the more complicated events, such as those where players need to talk to an NPC before or after doing a limited portion of the Event. For example, Shallow Graves requires purifying a total of 30 graves, but players need to talk to a Priestess of Gorum first to get just enough supplies to purify 5 graves, and then need to return to the Priestess each time 5 graves are purified.

Progress on this aspect of the Event is tracked per player. While tackling Events in Hex A, Player X may see the instruction to speak to a Priestess, while player Y may see the instruction to purify graves, with a counter showing 2 of 5. If Player Y crosses from Hex A to Hex B, the instructions will not change. If Player Y then purifies a grave in Hex B, the overall counter for Hex B will go up by 1, ignoring the fact that the purification supplies came from Hex A. Player Y’s personal counter for purified graves will also go up to 3/5. Player Y can cross back and forth, with credit for purifying graves always going to whichever hex the grave is in, ignoring which hex the purification supplies were obtained in.

That’s not so weird, but some Events reverse the order, requiring players to perform multiple actions before speaking to an NPC. For example, Empty Crowns requires that 40 Skull Piles be brought to a Priest of Gorum. However, players can only pick up 4 Skull Piles each before turning them in. Each time 4 Skull Piles are brought to a Priest, the overall counter for the hex goes up by 4. This means that if Player X picks up 2 Skull Piles in Hex A, then 2 more in Hex B, and finally turns them all in to a Priest in Hex C, the counter for Hex C goes up by 4. Hexes A and B receive no credit, because the important thing is where the Skull Piles were turned in.

This personal progress is also tracked long after the Event itself is completed or times out. For example, if Player X picks up 2 Skull Piles, then the Event is completed by other players before those Skull Piles could be turned in, Player X could find herself in another hex months later that’s running the same Event and start out showing that 2 Skull Piles have already been picked up.

This Time You’ve Gone Too Far

Each Escalation has its own Maximum Hexes setting, limiting its ability to spread. This number for each Escalation is based on a mix of story-based reasons (the Skull-Basher ogres just want to take over enough hexes to find victims for their next big meal, while the Ripping Chains goblins are seeking to establish a new kingdom and want lots of land) and game-balance reasons (the Mordant Spire elves are too tough for most of the player base right now, so they’re limited to 3 hexes temporarily).

As soon as a Source Hex controls its maximum number of hexes (including the Source Hex and all Infected Hexes), it will stop doing all of the following until it loses a hex:

  • Attempting to take over neighboring hexes, whether uninfected or infected by a competing Escalation.
  • Reinforcing allied hexes (this is actually a low-priority bug, so it will probably change in the future.
  • Claiming Orphaned Hexes.
  • Taking control of neighboring hexes that are in the process of becoming Infected, even if those hexes have somehow risen above the Infection Threshold. This can happen if two or more hexes rise above the Infection Threshold at the same time, but there’s not enough room to take control of all of them without going over the Maximum Hexes setting.

Its Own Reward

There are some incentives provided for battling Escalations, some explicitly given by the Escalation and others just a natural byproduct of killing mobs:

  • Achievements are granted for participating in Events. There are currently some bugs in cases where multiple Achievements should be granted and for events that involve killing mobs, but tackling Interaction Events will grant Achievements that aren’t available elsewhere.
  • Destroying an Escalation blocks new ones from starting in the same hex for a while, generally making gathering in the resource-rich Monster Hex much easier for that time. New Escalations are blocked for 12 hours when a Mini-Escalation is destroyed and 36 hours for all other Escalations.
  • The tougher Escalations offer better loot drops than can be found in any of the uninfected hexes, since the toughest mobs never appear in any of the default terrain Encounters.
  • Keeping the Escalations near a Settlement under control makes life a lot easier for that Settlement’s gatherers and lower-level members.

Long-run, there are plans to provide more incentives, such as giving out Settlement-level rewards for defeating an Escalation, but many of those can’t go in until the systems they interact with are available.

That’s All, Folks

Okay, that’s probably not everything, but that’s the bulk of what’s going on with Escalations and should cover most of the issues that have been raised in chat and on the forums. Keep the questions coming, I’ll keep trying to answer them.