Gamemasters



The Game Master’s role is the hardest, but also the most rewarding. A Game Master is host, mastermind, mediator, actor, and patron for the players—like a writer, director, and producer on a TV show or movie.

GUIDE TO GAMEMASTERING

Every game of Pathfinder needs a Game Master (or GM for short). If you’re reading this book, you’re probably interested in being the GM. The GM is the person who controls every creature, character, and event in the game, while helping determine the outcome of the actions of the player characters (PCs for short). The GM runs the game, working with the players to create a fun and exciting fantasy world. Being the GM is a big responsibility, and a GM has to be fair and play by the rules, challenging the characters while providing a thrilling adventure.

Being a GM is like organizing a party for your friends. You want to make sure they arrive on time, that they have plenty to do, and that they have a good time while they’re there. Just as people remember a good party, they’ll remember a good adventure, whether it’s because the fighter scored a critical hit or the wizard was turned to stone by a medusa!

While the players are responsible for maintaining their characters, as the GM you have a number of different duties.

HOST

You help to organize the game by finding players and organizing a time and place to play. The players frequently help in these duties, but you make sure they get done.

MASTERMIND

You have to keep the game moving, deciding what lies behind the next door or over the faraway mountains. This duty includes planning out adventures, determining the plots of villains, and deciding what sort of challenges the heroes will face. 

MEDIATOR

You are responsible for solving any rules disputes or questions the players might have. The rules try to cover the most common situations, but sometimes the situation calls for a ruling on something that isn’t so clear. You must make these decisions in a way that is fair to everyone.

ACTOR

From the peasant farmer to the noble king, you must portray every person and creature in the game that is not a player character. You decide what they look and sound like, how they behave—and most importantly, how they interact with the PCs. 

PATRON

Finally, you reward the PCs when they complete adventures by giving them experience points (XP) and telling them about any treasure they found. It’s important for the player characters to feel rewarded for overcoming the challenges that you put before them. It keeps them coming back for more.

COMMON TERMS

The following terms are used to describe certain common game elements.

ENCOUNTER

An encounter is one short scene that the PCs experience. This could be anything from fighting a monster to chasing a thief or getting past a deadly trap. Most encounters take place during adventures, but some happen between adventures, creating a continuous story. 

SESSION

A session is a single period of gaming, ranging from about 2 hours up to an entire weekend. Adventures sometimes take more than one session to complete.

ADVENTURE

An adventure is one story that the PCs experience. It is made up of a series of encounters, and might take one or more sessions to complete. 

CAMPAIGN

Campaign is a term used to describe all of the adventures that the PCs experience. The adventures might be related to one another, but not all of the adventures have to be tied into the same overarching plot.

RUNNING THE GAME

Being a great Game Master is a skill that takes some time to perfect, but you can learn the basics relatively quickly. If you have never been a GM before, start by running a group through the small adventure. That adventure covers most of the basic concepts of being a Game Master. This section of the book gives you ideas, tips, and tricks that will make you a better GM. You do not have to read this entire section to play, but you should read this section before you begin making your own adventures and campaigns.

SETTING THE STAGE

Before the first character is made and the dice start rolling, you should put together a good group of players. Ideally, a group should have four players; this number allows you to easily plan your encounters, and it’s not so many players that things become crowded. You can play with up to six, but more than that can make things difficult. On the other hand, a group could be as small as one player and one GM, though two players is a much more reasonable number (because if one character is knocked unconscious, the other character can defend and revive the fallen one).

Once you have the group assembled, you should set a time for your first session. Pick a time when everyone can attend and find a place where everyone can sit down, like a dining room or kitchen table. Avoid playing near distractions like televisions or other things that might interfere with the game. You may want to encourage the players to bring snacks and drinks to the game; not only does this add to the social aspect of the game, but it means players won’t have to leave in the middle of the game to make or pick up food.

   Before this session begins, you should be familiar with the adventure you’re going to run. Players should create their characters at the first session, or use the pregenerated characters from the Beginner Box (if you have experienced players, they can create characters before getting together for the first session, allowing you to jump right into the action).

PREPARING FOR THE GAME

The most important thing you can do before the game is familiarize yourself with the adventure you’re about to run. Ideally, you’ve had time to read through the entire adventure, but if time is short you can just read the encounters the PCs are going to experience this session. It’s also a good idea to look at the maps to understand how all of the encounters fit together. Reading in advance also gives you a chance to look up any rules that might be a bit unclear and read up on the monsters that the PCs are sure to face. For more information on reading the adventure, see Using a Published Adventure.

Before the game you should assemble all of the tools needed to run the game. These typically include:

RULEBOOKS

You’ll need the Hero’s Handbook and the Game Master’s Guide (this book). It’s all right if the players bring their own copies of the Hero’s Handbook, because that means nobody has to take turns using the book. 

DICE

There should be at least one set of dice for everyone to share. Many gamers like having their own dice and create fun superstitions about them.

WRITING MATERIALS

This includes pencils, scratch paper or a notepad, and character sheets (either the pregenerated characters or custom PCs). 

PAWNS OR CHARACTER MARKERS

Make sure you have one cardboard pawn for each of the PCs and each monster that the PCs are going to face this session. If you don’t have any appropriate pawns, you can use plastic or metal miniatures, toys, or even coins or extra dice, just as long as you can represent each character and monster on the map.

MAP

You can use the large gridded Flip-Mat included in this box to draw out the encounters (both wet-erase and dry-erase pens work on it). You could also use a large gridded pad of paper, aquarium decorations, toys, or cardboard walls and floors instead of the mat—just as long as it’s clear to you and the players what’s happening.

   Finally, you should note anywhere the adventure might go off course and do a basic bit of preparation for that. For example, if the PCs might get lost in the forest and wander into an area with no detail, you might want to invent a new encounter to put there. There may be several places where you could use that encounter. For example, if the PCs are supposed to go north in the forest, but they end up going east or west, you could place this encounter in their path. The point is to have it ready so you don’t have to make up something on the spot. If the PCs have the option of going to town, you should make note of the town’s name, the name of an inn where they might stay, a few shops and temples they might visit, and the names and basic details of any non-player characters (NPCs) they might meet. If the adventure or the setting material does not provide this information, you should invent it as you need it. The amount of preparation needed for a session really depends on the adventure and the PCs playing it, but should not take more than an hour or two.

If the players are making characters at the first session, tell them a little bit about the beginning of the adventure so that they can plan accordingly. For example, if the adventure takes place in a desert, the players may decide to not put any ranks into their characters’ Swim skills, and spend some of their starting gold on extra waterskins. If there are any special rules for the game you are planning to run (such as “all PCs are dwarves”), you should tell the characters about them now.

RUNNING A SESSION

Once everyone has gathered and created their characters (or reviewed the pregenerated characters), it’s time to begin the game. During the game, you control the pace and flow of the action, describing the scene, asking the players what their characters attempt to do, and helping to decide how those actions play out. You take all the elements of the game and weave them together into a story as the session unfolds, flowing from one encounter to the next. The players make the choices about where to go and what to do, but you set the scene and decide the outcome of those choices, always keeping the game moving and the encounters challenging.

   There are several tasks that every GM must perform while running the game. Keep these in mind as you plan your adventures.

ACTING

While the players take on the roles of their characters, you must assume the roles of all of the monsters and other characters in the game. A good GM might talk in a different voice for each character, growling for monsters, talking with a wheeze for the old wizard in town, and cracking jokes as the local dwarf bartender. It’s your job to bring these characters to life. You may want to use props to help the players visualize certain characters. Handwritten messages, wands, and old books are great for this purpose.

INITIATIVE

Whenever combat begins, have everyone roll for initiative. The players roll for their characters, you roll for the monsters (or groups of similar monsters, to keep things simple). Write all of these initiatives in order on a piece of scratch paper. As the combat progresses, you announce whose turn it is and help resolve their actions or, in the case of monsters, decide their actions and resolve them. 

ROLLING DICE

Normally, the p layers roll the d ice for any actions their characters take. However, if something happens that their characters wouldn’t know about, you should roll for them. For example, if a PC is looking for a trap in a room, you should roll his or her Perception check in secret. This is because if the PC doesn’t find a trap, the player shouldn’t know if there actually is no trap in the room, or if he or she just rolled too poorly to notice a trap (which is why telling the players “you don’t find any traps” is more clever than saying “there aren’t any traps”).

You roll the dice for all of the monsters, non-player characters (NPCs), and traps—any creature or thing other than the PCs. Some GMs like rolling behind a GM screen so the players don’t see the actual results, while others roll openly. 

TRACKING

You have to keep track of several important pieces of information throughout the game. You track the time of day in the game (and in real life so the session doesn’t go longer than it should), how much time passes as the PCs explore, the location of the PCs in relation to the encounters, the hit points and condition of the monsters, and the rewards that PCs have earned (in terms of experience points and treasure). Having extra scratch paper or a markerboard at your disposal can make tracking a lot easier.

PACING

Keeping the game moving at a good pace is very important. If you go too fast, mistakes may happen and you may overlook vital details. If you go too slow, the game can get boring. Preparing before the game is important, but during play, you have to make sure that you are ready for whatever comes next, and you should be able to help the players make decisions in a timely fashion. 

THE MOST IMPORTANT GM DUTY

It’s important to note that your job is not to “win” by beating the player characters. Your job is to provide a fun, challenging story for the players to enjoy. That’s not to say that the PCs should succeed at everything they do—they might even die on rare occasions—but if they never succeed and they die all the time, you’ll soon find you have no one to play with. Any GM can create a deadly encounter that is way too hard; a skilled GM creates challenging encounters that the PCs have a chance of defeating, providing a rewarding experience. The goal is for everyone to have fun playing the game. It’s not a competition.

Part of this duty involves being fair. You should know the rules of the game quite well and should enforce those rules fairly and evenly for PCs and monsters alike. When you roll dice, even in secret, you should abide by the result. If there is a dispute over the rules, you make the final call, but you should listen to the views of the players. If there is no clear answer, you should probably side with the ruling that makes the game more fun for everyone.

WRAPPING UP A SESSION

As the session draws to a close, you should find a good dramatic point to pause the action until the next session. This might be after the dramatic conclusion to an adventure, or it might be right before a fight is about to begin, ending the session on a “cliffhanger.” Once the PCs reach that point, tell them that the game is paused until the next session. You should calculate the total amount of experience points earned by the PCs and divide it up evenly among them. If the PCs were in a safe place, and you were keeping track of the treasure as they found it, this is a good time to give them the list of what they found (most players will want to track such treasure as it is discovered). Likewise, if they need to divide up any treasure or magic items, this is a good time for them to do so. Finally, you should schedule the next session with the group within a few weeks so that no one forgets what was happening in the game.

Between games, you should prepare for the next session, reviewing what happened in the previous session and looking for any loose ends that need to be tied up. This process continues until the PCs reach their goals and complete the campaign. From there, it’s up to you and the players to decide what to do. Together, you can start a new campaign, create new characters, or even give another player a chance to be GM.

USING A PUBLISHED ADVENTURE

If you don’t have time to write your own adventures, or need inspiration for your campaign, there are dozens of published adventures for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that you can buy in game stores or from paizo.com. These adventures include multiple encounters (usually about 20 for a 32- page adventure) for you to use during a session. You can play the adventure all the way through, or borrow cool encounters to fit into your campaign. The adventure’s encounters are usually tied together with a single plotline. If you’re not ready to run or convert a published adventure, you can download a free adventure for the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box by going to paizo.com/beginnerbox.

When reading an adventure, keep these points in mind. 

LEVEL

Published adventures are designed to challenge characters of a specific level or small range of levels (such as levels 2–3). You should make sure that the characters are of an appropriate level to take on the challenges in the adventure.

BACKGROUND

Most adventures include a background at the very beginning that describes what is going on in the adventure. At first, the background is only for you to know, and the PCs discover the events as they go through the adventure. You should make sure to read the background so that you can properly reveal information to the players as the adventure progresses.

OVERVIEW

Most adventures include an overview meant to give you an idea of how the adventure is supposed to play out. Things might change due to decisions made by the players, but this at least gives you an understanding of what needs to happen for the story to progress as written.

ENCOUNTERS

All adventures are designed around encounters. From a talk with the town guards to a fight to the death against vicious goblins, encounters form the backbone of every adventure. Most encounters start with text that you can read to the players in order to set the scene, followed by rules to help you run the encounter. If there are monsters, traps, or other obstacles, their abilities and statistics can be found there.

ADJUSTING THE ADVENTURE

Sometimes the adventure needs a bit of adjustment to run smoothly or to provide an appropriate challenge. The most common example of this is adjusting an adventure to provide more challenging encounters because your game’s PCs are of a higher level than is recommended for the adventure.

Adjusting an adventure is simple, but you should pay careful attention to the ramifications of these changes. You can make an adventure more challenging by adding more monsters to each encounter. For example, if an encounter involves three goblins, you can make it quite a bit more challenging by adding another three goblins. However, if the adventure later says there are only 20 goblins in the tribe, you should adjust this total according to how many goblins you added elsewhere in the adventure. For more information, see encounter types.

One of the most common alterations happens when the  players change something in the adventure that makes later parts no longer work. For example, if the PCs burn down the local inn, but the adventure has another encounter scheduled to occur in the inn later, you should move that encounter to another location that keeps the basic storyline intact.

USING AN ADVANCED ADVENTURE

Many adventures exist for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but these adventures are written using the full version of the game, not the Beginner Box rules. You can use the Beginner Box rules to run one of these adventures, but you’ll need to make many adjustments. The full version of the game has races, character classes, skills, feats, combat options, spells, and magic items that aren’t available in the Beginner Box, which means you’ll need to replace these things with appropriate rules from the Beginner Box, or (if you are an experienced GM and familiar with the full Pathfinder Roleplaying Game) convert the material to work with the Beginner Box.

EXPANDING THE ADVENTURE

Adventurers don’t always go where you want or do what you expect. Sometimes the adventure assumes that the group goes into the forest, but instead the PCs decide to take the road that goes the long way around, skipping the encounters set to take place in the forest. This is not a bad thing, but it does force you to think on your feet and alter the adventure to fit. Resist the urge to force the characters to follow the assumed course of the adventure unless you have no other choice. Forcing them to take specific actions just to fit a story ruins the fun of exploring the world and the adventure.

When the adventure does not cover the actions of the characters, you need to add or alter encounters to keep things moving. This might be as simple as adjusting encounters that the PCs would miss so that they still take place, but more often than not, you have to design new encounters to fill the gap. For example, you can move a forest encounter with goblins to a nearby road, but if the PCs bypass an encounter with a fortune-teller, you may have to design an encounter with a wise talking tree that gives the PCs the same information the fortune-teller would have.

Expanding the adventure follows the same general guidelines for designing an adventure.