As Game Master, you run each session of Pathfinder, providing the link between the players and the world of the game. It’s up to you to set the scene as the player characters battle monsters, interact with other people, and explore the world.
As Game Master, you have the final say on how the world and rules function, and how nonplayer characters act. This rule’s purpose is to make the game run smoothly, with one guiding hand ensuring consistency. It’s not intended to make one player into a dictator over the rest of the group. Collaboration is vital to roleplaying games!
How you implement collaboration in a game depends on what your players are interested in. In some groups, players enjoy adding details to the world and to nonplayer characters. In others, players want to feel like the world is outside their control, and the only decisions they get to make are those made by their own characters. Both are fun and acceptable ways to play.
You are encouraged to collect input from your players before you start, asking what storytelling genres they’d like to emphasize, which areas of the world they want to play in, the types of enemies they’d like to face, or which published adventure they want to play. A good campaign includes some back-and-forth at the beginning as the players figure out what characters they want to play and you figure out what sort of adventure to run. The results can range from building an adventure entirely to fit the characters to choosing a specific published adventure, having the players make their characters, and then just adapting the beginning of that adventure so that all the player characters have a reason to be involved.
As you play, opportunities to collaborate will occur again and again. When players throw out suggestions or come up with specific theories about the events of the campaign, they’re telling you what they’d like to see in the game. Try to find ways to incorporate their suggestions, but with enough of a twist that each still includes something unexpected.
When you take on the role of Game Master, you’ll have the rewarding job of crafting fun experiences for a group of your friends. Your responsibilities include...
- Telling the story of the group’s adventures in a compelling and consistent way.
- Fleshing out the world in which the game takes place, emphasizing the fantastical while grounding it enough in the real world to feel believable.
- Entertaining the players and yourself with novel concepts, and rewarding creative ideas with interesting outcomes.
- Preparing for game sessions by building or studying adventures and creating characters and plots.
- Improvising the reactions of nonplayer characters and other forces in the world as the players do unexpected things.
- Making rules decisions to ensure fairness and keep the game moving forward.
- This chapter provides the tools you need to shoulder those responsibilities. The following sections break down the various components of a campaign, discuss the different modes of play and how to set DCs for the tasks the PCs attempt, provide different ways of rewarding player characters, and describe aspects of the environment that might affect an adventuring party.
PLANNING A CAMPAIGN
A Pathfinder game is typically structured as a campaign—a serialized story that focuses on a single party of characters. A campaign is subdivided into multiple adventures, smaller stories that involve exploration and interaction with nonplayer characters. A single adventure represents a complete story that might be connected to the larger arc of a campaign. Playing an adventure spans one or more game sessions—gatherings where the group plays a part of the adventure over the course of several hours.
A campaign provides the overall structure for your Pathfinder game. As you prepare for your campaign, you’ll establish its scope and themes, which you’ll then reinforce in the adventures and scenes that take place within it.
The length of a campaign can range from a few sessions to many years. Two main factors determine campaign length: how much time you need to complete the story, and how much time players want to devote to the game.
A single session, or a “one-shot,” is great if your group is trying out Pathfinder or wants to play a specific short adventure. This requires a smaller time commitment but requires the GM to present the events of the game in a way that is immediately engaging, since there’s less opportunity for the players to become invested in the story or setting.
If you want to play through a longer campaign, you’ll need to add some story elements that speak directly to the characters in your game rather than just to the events of the adventure. In other words, the characters should have individual goals in addition to the group’s overall goals.
You can estimate how long a campaign will take by looking at the amount of time you actually have to play, or the number of character levels you intend the characters to advance. It typically takes three to four sessions for a group to level up. Since you’ll probably cancel sessions on occasion, playing once a week for a year results in roughly a 14-level campaign, playing every 2 weeks for a year gives you an 8-level campaign, and playing monthly allows for a 5-level campaign. If you play only once a month, you might consider holding longer sessions and using fast advancement (page 509).
It’s entirely okay to have a campaign with an indefinite length. Many groups play through one adventure and then decide to take on another. If you run an indefinite campaign, however, avoid ongoing plots that you can’t satisfactorily end if the campaign comes to a close after the next adventure. If you introduce an overwhelmingly powerful villain who’s crucial to the story but can’t be stopped until the player characters are 15th level, ending the campaign at 8th level will feel anticlimactic.
It pays to be conservative when estimating your campaign length and scope. It’s always tempting to run a 20-level epic campaign with complex, interwoven plots, but such games can fall apart long before the end if your group can play only once a month and the players have other responsibilities.
Not every campaign ends at the same point. Some campaigns go all the way to 20th level, ending after the player characters attain the height of power and confront the greatest threats any mortal could face. Others end at a lower level, after the group takes down a major villain or solves a crucial problem. And still other campaigns end when players become unable to attend or decide its a good time to stop playing.
You should have an end point in mind when you start a campaign. Still, you have to be flexible, since you’re telling the story alongside other players, and your initial expectations for the campaign may be proven incorrect. When you think you’re heading toward a satisfying conclusion, it’s useful to check in with the other players. You might say, “I think we have about two sessions left. Does that work for everyone? Is there any unfinished business you want to take care of?” This lets you gauge whether your assumptions match up with the rest of the group—and make any necessary adjustments.
The themes you choose for your campaign are what distinguish it from other campaigns. They include the major dramatic questions of your story and the repeated use of certain environments or creatures, and they can also include embracing a genre beyond traditional high fantasy. The themes you choose for your campaign also suggest storyline elements you might use.
A storyline’s themes usually relate to the backstories, motivations, and flaws of the player characters and villains. For example, if you’ve chosen revenge as one of the themes of your game, you might introduce a villain whose quest for revenge tears his life apart and causes tragic harm to those around him. If one of the player characters is a chaotic good believer in liberty and freedom, you might engage that character by pitting the group against slavers. Or, you might choose a theme of love, leading to nonplayer characters involved in doomed romances, seeking to regain lovers they have lost, or courting the player characters.
Using similar locations and related creatures helps you form connections between disparate adventures. The players feel like their characters are becoming experts negotiating with giants, navigating seaways, battling devils, exploring the planes, or dealing with whatever the recurring elements are. For example, you might have the players explore a frozen tundra early on, then later travel to an icy plane filled with more difficult challenges that can be overcome using knowledge they’ve previously developed. Likewise, hobgoblin soldiers may be tough enemies for your group at low levels, but as the PCs attain higher levels and the hobgoblins become mere minions of another creature, the players feel a sense of progression.
Pathfinder is a fantasy adventure game, but you can shift your campaign to include elements of other fictional genres. You might want to infuse your game a with a sense of horror, reduce the amount of magic and use slow advancement (page 509) to make it a tale of sword and sorcery, or turn magic into technology for a steampunk setting.
Consent and comfort are important topics for roleplaying games, and many designers have created techniques to help facilitate responsible play. Some methods you can use are lines and veils, developed by Ron Edwards, and the X-Card, developed by John Stavropoulos.
Lines and Veils
The terms “line” and “veil” can give your table a common vocabulary for the concepts described in this section. A line is a hard limit to the actions players might take, such as “We’re drawing a line at torture.” The group agrees not to cross a line and omits that content from the game.
A veil indicates something that shouldn’t be described in detail. The scene fades to black for a veil, or the group moves on to discuss a different topic, though whatever the veil is drawn across still happens. For example, you might say, “We’ll draw a veil across the scene as those characters head into the bedroom.”
You might come up with some lines and veils in advance, but then find more as play continues.
Draw an “X” on a card, and you’ve got an X-Card. Place it on the table at the start of the session and describe its use to the players: any player can silently reject content they find upsetting by tapping the X-Card; whoever’s speaking then rewinds a bit and continues on, excising the objectionable content. As with setting the basic guidelines for your campaign, there are no questions asked, no judgment, and no argument when someone invokes the X-Card. You can, however, ask for clarification if you need it, such as “How far back should I rewind this?” Some groups instead make an X with their hands, say “Let’s X that out,” or use some other method. Either way, follow up with the player privately, after the game, to see if the guidelines need to be revised.
A Welcoming Environment
The role of Game Master comes with the responsibility of ensuring you and the rest of the players have a rewarding, fun time during the game. Games can deal with difficult subjects and have stressful moments, but fundamentally Pathfinder is a leisure activity. It can remain so only if the players follow the social contract and respect one another.
Players with physical or mental disabilities might find themselves more challenged than abled players. Work with your players to ensure they have the resources and support they need. Additionally, be on the lookout for behavior that’s inappropriate, whether intentional or inadvertent, and pay careful attention to players’ body language during the game. If you notice a player becoming uncomfortable, you are empowered to pause the game, take it in a new direction, privately check in with your players during or after the session, or take any other action you think is appropriate.
If a player tells you they’re uncomfortable with something in the game, whether it’s content you’ve presented as the GM or another player’s or PC’s actions, listen carefully to that player and take steps to ensure they can once again have fun during your game. If you’re preparing prewritten material and you find a character or a situation inappropriate, you are fully empowered to change any details as you see fit. You also have the authority (and responsibility) to ask players to change their behavior—or even leave the table—if what they’re doing is unacceptable or makes others feel uncomfortable. It’s never appropriate to make the person who is uncomfortable responsible for resolving a problem. It’s okay if mistakes happen. What’s important is how you respond and move forward.
Gaming is for everyone. Never let those acting in bad faith undermine your game or exclude other players. Your efforts are part of the long-term process of making games and game culture welcoming to all. Working together, we can build a community where players of all identities and experiences feel safe.
Before a campaign begins, check in with your players—as a group or individually—to find out what types of content they want to allow in the game, and which topics they would prefer to avoid. Because the story unfolds in real time, it’s essential that you discuss these topics before the game starts. These discussions are intended to keep players safe, and so it’s not okay to ask why someone wants a type of content banned. If someone wants it banned, ban it—no questions asked.
It can help to start with a rating, like those used for movies or video games. Pathfinder games often include violence and cruelty. What’s the limit on how graphically these concepts should be described? Can players swear at the table? Does anyone have phobias they don’t want to appear in the game, such as spiders or body horror?
After you figure out the limits on objectionable content, you have four important tasks:
- Clearly convey these limits to the other players.
- Ensure you and the players abide by the boundaries.
- Act immediately if someone becomes uncomfortable about content during a session, even if it wasn’t already banned in a prior discussion. Once the issue is resolved, move on.
- Resolve the issue if any player deliberately pushes these boundaries, tries to find loopholes, tries to renegotiate the limits, or belittles people for having a different tolerance to objectionable content.
The Pathfinder Baseline
You might find that your players don’t have much to say on the topic of objectionable content, and just assume that general societal mores will keep the most uncomfortable topics out of the game. That’s not always enough, as that approach relies on shared assumptions that aren’t always accurate. The following is a set of basic assumptions that works for many groups, which you can modify to fit your preferences and those of the other players.
- Bloodshed, injuries, and even dismemberment might be described. However, excessive descriptions of gore and cruelty should be avoided.
- Romantic and sexual relationships can happen in the game, but players should avoid being overly suggestive. Sex always happens “off-screen.” Because attempts at initiating a relationship between player characters can be uncomfortably similar to one player hitting on another, this should generally be avoided (and is entirely inappropriate when playing with strangers).
- Avoid excessively gross or scatological descriptions.
The following acts should never be performed by player characters:
- Rape, nonconsensual sexual contact, or sexual threats
- Harm to children, including sexual abuse
- Owning slaves or profiting from the slave trade
- Reprehensible uses of mind-control magic
Villains might engage in such acts, but they won’t happen “on-screen” or won’t be described in detail. Many groups choose to not have villains engage in these activities at all, keeping these reprehensible acts out of mind entirely.
Social Splash Damage
As important as it is to take care of yourself and the other players in your game, be mindful of your group’s impact on the other people around you. If you’re playing in a space that’s not your own, respect your hosts. If you’re playing in public, consider the comfort of the people around you, not just what your group is comfortable with. It’s easy to get caught up in a game, as we get sucked into the microcosm of an imagined world, but don’t ignore the real world around you. Be aware when you’re making too much noise, leaving a mess, alarming passersby with graphic descriptions of violence, or even just giving the cold shoulder to curious spectators witnessing RPG play for the first time.
A player might want to create a character with a disability, or their character might end up with a disability over the course of play. Work with the player to find ways to respectfully represent the disability. Conditions such as blinded and deafened aren’t a good fit for a character who has been living with a disability long-term. Here are suggestions for rules you might use for PCs with disabilities.
Blindness or Impaired Vision
A blind character can’t detect anything using vision, critically fails Perception checks requiring sight, is immune to visual effects, and can’t be blinded or dazzled. You might give this character the Blind-Fight feat for free.
A character with impaired vision might take a –2 to –4 penalty to vision-based Perception checks. Spectacles or other corrective devices might reduce or remove this.
Deafness or Being Hard of Hearing
A deaf character can’t detect anything using hearing, critically fails Perception checks that require hearing, and is immune to auditory effects. They have enough practice to supply verbal components for casting spells and command components for activating magic items, but if they perform an action they’re not accustomed to that involves auditory elements, they must succeed at a DC 5 flat check or the action is lost. It’s best to give them the Sign Language feat for free, and you might give them Read Lips as well (page 266 and 265). You might give one or more other characters in the group Sign Language for free as well.
A hard-of-hearing character might take a –2 to –4 penalty to Perception checks that are hearing-based. Corrective devices for hearing are less common than spectacles are in a typical Pathfinder world.
Some magic items require certain limbs or other body parts. It’s fine to allow an alternative form of the item, turning boots into bracers for a character without legs, for example.
A character with a missing hand or arm might need to spend 2 actions to Interact with an item that requires two hands, or otherwise compensate. Using a two-handed weapon is not possible. A character can acquire a prosthetic hand or arm to compensate.
Someone missing a foot or leg might take a small penalty to Speed, but can typically acquire a prosthetic to compensate. If they have no legs, they might use a wheelchair, a dependable mount, or levitation or flight magic.
Mental Illness and Chronic Illness
Some disabilities, such as mental illness and chronic illnesses, are best left to the player to roleplay. Mental illness is an especially fraught topic, with a history of insensitive portrayal. Be careful about the intentions of the player and the impact the presentation might have on other players.
At the outset of a new campaign, the players will create new player characters. Part of that process involves you introducing what the campaign will be about and what types of characters are most appropriate. Work with the players to determine which rule options are available. The safest options are the common choices from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. If players want to use common options from other books or uncommon or rare options, through play, review those options to see if any of them conflict with the style of campaign you have in mind or might present strange surprises down the road. It’s usually best to allow new options, but there’s no obligation to do so. Be as open as you’re comfortable with.
PREPARING AN ADVENTURE
An adventure is a self-contained collection of story elements, characters, and settings that become the basis for the story you and the other players tell. Think of the adventure as an outline for your own story. You’ll have major beats you want to include, some consistent characters, and themes you want to convey, but all sorts of things can change during the process of turning the outline into a completed story.
You might use a published adventure from Paizo or another company, or you might construct your own adventure as you prepare for your game sessions.
You can purchase the following types of adventures at paizo.com, your local game store, or many book stores. If you want to acquire all the adventures in a given line, you can purchase a subscription at paizo.com.
Pathfinder Adventure Paths
Each monthly volume of a Pathfinder Adventure Path leads into the next as part of a greater story spanning multiple volumes. The first volume of each Adventure Path typically starts at 1st level, and each volume has a self-contained story that eventually leads to a big climax at the end of the final volume. Each volume also typically includes new monsters, rules, and details about the world. Each Adventure Path has a different theme, and their settings range across the Inner Sea region and beyond.
Pathfinder Adventures are standalone adventures that cover several levels of play. They’re self-contained and typically have a unique structure or theme. You can play through a Pathfinder Adventure on its own or as part of your ongoing campaign—some make ideal side adventures for Adventure Paths that have similar themes.
Pathfinder Society Scenarios
Scenarios are the adventures used by the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild; you can play them as part of the Pathfinder Society or on your own. Each takes about 4 to 5 hours to run, so you can tell a whole story in a short amount of time, but they’re also part of a larger continuity and can be combined together to form the basis of a longer campaign.
Prewritten adventures include background information and nonplayer characters needed for the story, plus all the locations, maps, and monster groups necessary for both exploration and encounters. Prewritten adventures can speed up your preparation, since you can simply read the relevant sections of the adventure before a game, and you don’t have to create everything from scratch. A published adventure already includes the expected amount of encounters and treasure, and you can find adventures built for different character levels to match your group. Reading a published adventure or running one as your first game can help you see how adventures are structured, which makes it easier to write one later if you choose.
Though a published adventure is prewritten, it’s not set in stone. Changing the details of an adventure to suit your group isn’t just acceptable, it’s preferred! Use the backstories and predilections of the player characters to inform how you change the adventure. This can mean altering adversaries so they’re linked to the player characters, changing the setting to a place some of the player characters are from, or excising particular scenes if you know they won’t appeal to your players.
The rarity system has two purposes: to convey how common or rare certain spells, creatures, or items are in the game world, and to give you an easy tool to control the complexity of your game. Uncommon and rare options aren’t more powerful than other options of their level, but they introduce complications for certain types of stories, or are less common in the world. For instance, it might be more challenging to run a mystery adventure when a player can cast an uncommon spell such as detect evil.
At the start of the campaign, communicate your preferred expectations on rarity to the players. Unless you decide otherwise, the players can choose from any common options they qualify for, plus any uncommon options granted by their character choices—primarily their ancestry and class. By default, a character who tries hard enough might eventually find an uncommon option, whereas a rare option is always a special reward. Beyond that baseline, you can grant access as freely as you want; some GMs open up all uncommon and rare options universally. If you’re not sure, just look over any uncommon or rare elements before you include them as rewards or otherwise allow a player to acquire them.
You can use uncommon and rare rules elements to reward characters. These still have the same value and approximate power as any other treasure of the same Price, but they’re just a bit more special because they hail from distant lands or have unusual or surprising abilities. Items are the most likely candidates for uncommon or rare rewards, but an NPC might teach an uncommon or rare spell to a PC in gratitude or to help the party prepare for a certain adversary. You can also improvise extra benefits based around uncommon or rare items. For instance, if a PC gains a rare plant with occult uses, you might also decide that the PC should temporarily get more money if they use it while Earning Income using Herbalism Lore, because it enables them to produce novel poultices.
The rarities in this book assume you’re playing in the Inner Sea region of Golarion, where most Pathfinder games are set. These rarities are also suitable for most western medieval fantasy games. However, you might want to alter the rarities for a campaign set in another location on Golarion (detailed in Chapter 8), to emphasize a non-human culture, or to play in a fantasy setting with different roots, like a wuxia game based on Chinese culture. These changes most often affect basic items. If you start your campaign in a dwarven stronghold, for example, you might make all the weapons with the dwarf trait common. You should feel free to adjust rarities to suit your campaign’s theme, but if you do, you should share your changes with your group.
Building your own adventure is much more challenging than using a published one, but it lets you express yourself, be even more creative, and tailor the game directly to the players and their characters. Later sections in this chapter include guidelines for building and running encounters, placing treasure, and setting appropriately difficult challenges, all to help you construct your own adventures.
Adventure plotting can start at many different points. You might begin with a particular antagonist, then construct an adventure that fits that villain’s theme and leads the group to them. Alternatively, you could start with an interesting location for exploration, then populate it with adversaries and challenges appropriate to the setting.
Memorable settings that include mysterious and fantastical locations for players to visit can elicit the players’ curiosity. Exploring each location should be a treat in itself, not just a chore the players must complete to get from one fight to the next. As you create a locale, picture it in your mind’s eye and write down minor details you can include as you narrate the game. Describing decorations, natural landmarks, wildlife, peculiar smells, and even temperature changes make a place feel more real.
Beyond monsters and loot, your locations can include environment-based challenges, from environmental conditions like blizzards to puzzles, traps, or other hazards. These challenges should suit your adventure’s location: walls of brambles in a castle ruin overrun with vegetation, pools of acid in a cursed swamp, or magical traps in the tomb of a paranoid wizard. Rules for environments appear on page 512, and those for hazards start on page 520.
A robust set of encounters forms the backbone of your adventure. Encounters often feature combat with other creatures, but they can also include hazards, or you might create social encounters in which characters duel only with words. The rules for building encounters appropriate to your group’s level begin below.
Some adventures have a clear and direct progression, with encounters occurring at specific times or in a specific order. Others, such as a dungeon filled with interconnected rooms the group can investigate in any order, are nonlinear, and the group can face encounters in any order—or even avoid them entirely. Most adventures are somewhere in between, with some keystone encounters you know the characters will need to contend with, but others that are optional.
Your adventure should give out an amount of treasure that’s appropriate to the characters’ level. The guidelines for assigning treasure are on page 508. You can dole out treasure in all kinds of ways. Treasure could be items carried by an adversary, rewards from a patron for completing a mission, or a classic pile of coins and items inside a wooden chest guarded by a monster. It’s best to spread treasure throughout an adventure rather than stockpiled in a single hoard. This gives the players incremental rewards, letting their characters advance in frequent small steps rather than giant leaps separated by many hours of play.
The most common type of encounter is a combat encounter, where the PCs face other creatures. Combat encounters are strictly governed by rules; the guidelines that follow will help you build combat encounters that pose appropriate challenges for your group. Building hazard encounters works the same way. Social encounters are more free-form, and are up to you as the GM to design.
To build a combat encounter, first decide how the encounter fits in the adventure as a whole. Then, estimate how much of a threat you want the encounter to pose, using one of five categories below.
Trivial-threat encounters are so easy that the characters have essentially no chance of losing; they shouldn’t even need to spend significant resources unless they are particularly wasteful. These encounters work best as warm-ups, palate cleansers, or reminders of how awesome the characters are. A trivial-threat encounter can still be fun to play, so don’t ignore them just because of the lack of threat.
Low-threat encounters present a veneer of difficulty and typically use some of the party’s resources. However, it would be rare or the result of very poor tactics for the entire party to be seriously threatened.
Moderate-threat encounters are a serious challenge to the characters, though unlikely to overpower them completely. Characters usually need to use sound tactics and manage their resources wisely to come out of a moderate-threat encounter ready to continue on and face a harder challenge without resting.
Severe-threat encounters are the hardest encounters most groups of characters can consistently defeat. These encounters are most appropriate for important moments in your story, such as confronting a final boss. Bad luck, poor tactics, or a lack of resources due to prior encounters can easily turn a severe-threat encounter against the characters, and a wise group keeps the option to disengage open.
Extreme-threat encounters are so dangerous that they are likely to be an even match for the characters, particularly if the characters are low on resources. This makes them too challenging for most uses. An extreme-threat encounter might be appropriate for a fully rested group of characters that can go all-out, for the climactic encounter at the end of an entire campaign, or for a group of veteran players using advanced tactics and teamwork.
Once you’ve selected a threat level, it’s time to build the encounter. You have an XP budget based on the threat, and each creature costs some of that budget. Start with the monsters or NPCs that are most important to the encounter, then decide how you want to use the rest of your XP budget. Many encounters won’t match the XP budget exactly, but they should come close. The XP budget is based on a group of four characters. If your group is larger or smaller, see Different Party Sizes below.Table: Encounter Budget
|Threat||XP Budget||Character Adjustment|
|Trivial||40 or less||10 or less|
In all but the most unusual circumstances, you’ll select creatures for your encounter that range from 4 levels lower than the PCs’ level to 4 levels higher (see Table 10–2: Creature XP and Role). Each creature has a part to play in your encounter, from a lowly lackey to a boss so mighty it could defeat the entire party single-handedly.
Each creature costs some of the XP from your XP budget for the encounter, based on its level compared to the levels of the characters in your party. For instance, if the PCs are 5th level, a 2nd-level creature is a “party level – 3” creature, a lackey appropriate for a low- to-moderate-threat encounter, and it costs 15 XP in an encounter’s XP budget. Party level is explained in detail on page 508.Table: Creature XP and Role
|Creature Level||XP||Suggested Role|
|Party Level -4||10||Low-threat lackey|
|Party Level -3||15||Low- or moderate-threat lackey|
|Party Level -2||20||Any lackey or standard creature|
|Party Level -1||30||Any standard creature|
|Party Level||40||Any standard creature or low-threat boss|
|Party Level +1||60||Low- or moderate-threat boss|
|Party Level +2||80||Moderate- or severe-threat boss|
|Party Level +3||120||Severe- or extreme-threat boss|
|Party Level +4||160||Extreme-threat solo boss|
Different Party Sizes
For each additional character in the party beyond the fourth, increase your XP budget by the amount shown in the Character Adjustment value for your encounter in Table 10–1: Encounter Budget. If you have fewer than four characters, use the same process in reverse: for each missing character, remove that amount of XP from your XP budget. Note that if you adjust your XP budget to account for party size, the XP awards for the encounter don’t change—you’ll always award the amount of XP listed for a group of four characters.
It’s best to use the XP increase from more characters to add more enemies or hazards, and the XP decrease from fewer characters to subtract enemies and hazards, rather than making one enemy tougher or weaker. Encounters are typically more satisfying if the number of enemy creatures is fairly close to the number of player characters.
Just because you’re the GM and ostensibly in charge doesn’t mean you have to do all the extra work to make the campaign run. Some of the tasks described here, like scheduling games, taking notes, and giving recaps, can be delegated to other players. You might also have someone track initiative or the Hit Points of the PCs’ foes for you in encounters, or even run those foes if you have a large group and someone would rather do that than control a character of their own. It’s also great when someone else can host a session, provide snacks for the group, or take on other responsibilities that aren’t directly related to the game.
It’s best to figure out a schedule of responsibilities when you’re first setting up a game. Ask the players what they’re willing to take on. If you start to feel overwhelmed partway through a campaign, you can revisit the topic and try out new options until you find a setup that’s comfortable.
RUNNING A GAME SESSION
A campaign happens over a series of sessions. Each session is usually several hours long, with multiple encounters, some exploration, and possibly downtime. Your session can be compared to an episode of a TV show; it should include some twists, turns, and changes, and end leaving people excited about what comes next.
Planning a Session
One of the greatest challenges in gaming is scheduling a time for everyone to get together and play. Often, this responsibility falls on you as the GM, since you’re the one who has to prepare your game between sessions. Many games have a set schedule, such as once per week, once every 2 weeks, or once per month. The less frequently your group meets, the better notes and recaps you’ll need to keep everyone on the same page.
Plan a time for everybody will arrive, and also try to set a time when playing the game will begin. This can make it easier for everyone to finish chatting, catching up, and eating in a timely fashion so you can start playing the game. Having an end time in mind is also fairly important. A typical game session lasts about 4 hours, though some groups hold 2-hour sessions or play marathon games. Less than 2 hours usually isn’t enough time to get much done in most Pathfinder campaigns. If your session will be longer than 2 hours, plan out some 15-minute breaks (in addition to bathroom and beverage breaks, which players can take as needed).
Starting a Session
Once everyone is ready, get everyone’s attention and cover the following topics. These are in a rough order that you can change based on your group’s style or a session’s needs.
Session play with a full group isn’t the only way to play Pathfinder. Finding opportunities to expand on the game outside of its regular schedule can keep your group engaged between sessions.
You can get together with a single player to run a mini-session for their character, covering a mission that’s important to their story but doesn’t concern the rest of the group. You and the players can work out what their characters do during solid stretches of downtime via e-mail or chat messages. You can also give players opportunities to collaborate on details of the story, like having a player design a heraldic symbol for the adventuring group or map out their home base. You might even decide to award a Hero Point at the next session to a player for events that happened outside a session.
Some events aren’t suitable for handling outside of sessions. Any event that strongly affects a character whose player isn’t present should be handled at the table when everyone can attend. It’s also helpful to recap events that took place outside of the session for all characters so no one feels excluded or lost.
Running a Session
During a session, you’re in charge of keeping the game’s action moving, managing the different modes of play, fielding questions, and making rules decisions. You’ll also want to keep a rough eye on the time, so you can end when most convenient for the group.
You’re the interface between the rules and the imagined world you and the other players share. They will ask you questions, and they’ll act based on their own assumptions. It’s up to you to establish what’s true in the world, but you don’t do this unilaterally. You’re informed by the setting’s backstory, your preparations, and the suggestions and assumptions the other players bring to the table. Keep in mind that until you announce something, your own plans are subject to change. For example, if you originally intended the owner of a tavern to be kindly and well-intentioned, but a player misreads her and invents an interesting conspiracy theory regarding her intentions that sounds fun, you might convert the tavern owner into an agent of evil after all.
You’ll also determine when PCs and foes need to attempt checks, as well as the consequences of those rolls. This comes up most often outside of encounters, as encounters are more regimented about when checks happen and how they are resolved. In an encounter, a player can usually determine their own character’s turn, with you chiming in only to say whether an attack hits or if something in the environment requires a character to attempt a check.
As you run the game, keep track of who has the spotlight. It can be easy to keep attention on the most outgoing player or character, but you need to check in with all the players. If a player hasn’t contributed in some time, stop and ask, “What’s your character doing at this point?” If the player’s not sure, add a detail or nonplayer character to the scene that the player might find interesting.
Distractions and Interrupting
Maintaining the players’ attention keeps a game moving and leads to memorable moments when everyone’s in the same zone. Too many interruptions break the flow. This is fine in moderation. Distractions become a problem if they’re too frequent, as they cause people to miss things and make misinformed decisions as the session becomes disconnected. Yet every game includes breaks—sometimes intentional, sometimes not—and digressions. Finding the right balance of diversions for your group is essential.
A game is a social gathering, so there’s definitely a place for conversation that’s not directly related to playing the game. These interruptions become a problem if they’re too frequent, or if people are talking over others. If a player repeatedly interrupts you or other people or undercuts every crucial moment of the game with a joke, talk to them about limiting their comments to appropriate times. Often, all you need to do is hold up your hand or otherwise indicate that the player is talking out of turn to delay them until after you or another speaker finishes talking.
Phones and other mobile devices are another major source of distraction. Banning them entirely is often impractical—many players use apps to roll dice or manage their character sheets, or they need to answer texts from their partner, check in on a work project, or otherwise stay connected with people who rely on them. However, you can set ground rules against using a device for anything that’s not time-sensitive or game-related, such as refreshing social media, checking the score of a hockey game, playing a mobile game, or answering a non-urgent text. You can relax these rules for players when their characters are “offstage.” If a player’s character isn’t in a scene, that might be a good time for the player to use a mobile device.
Adjudicating the Rules
As the GM, you are responsible for solving any rules disputes. Remember that keeping your game moving is more important than being 100% correct. Looking up rules at the table can slow the game down, so in many cases it’s better to make your best guess rather than scour the book for the exact rule. (It can be instructive to look those rules up during a break or after the session, though!)
To make calls on the fly, use the following guidelines, which are the same principles the game rules are based on. You might want to keep printouts of these guidelines and the DC guidelines (page 503) for quick reference.
- If you don’t know how long a quick task takes, go with 1 action, or 2 actions if a character shouldn’t be able to perform it three times per round.
- If you’re not sure what action a task uses, look for the most similar basic action. If you don’t find one, make up an undefined action (page XXX) adding any necessary traits (usually attack, concentrate, manipulate, or move).
- When two sides are opposed, have one roll against the other’s DC. Don’t have both sides roll (initiative is the exception to this rule). The character who rolls is usually the one acting (except in the case of saving throws).
- If an effect raises or lowers chances of success, grant a +1 circumstance bonus or a –1 circumstance penalty.
- If you’re not sure how difficult a significant challenge should be, use the DC for the party’s level.
- If you’re making up an effect, creatures should be incapacitated or killed on only a critical success (or for a saving throw, on a critical failure).
- If you don’t know what check to use, pick the most appropriate skill. If no other skill applies to a check to Recall Knowledge, use an appropriate Lore skill (usually at an untrained proficiency rank).
- Use the characters’ daily preparations as the time to reset anything that lasts roughly a day.
- When a character accomplishes something noteworthy that doesn’t have rules for XP, award them XP for an accomplishment (10 to 30 XP, as described on page 507).
- When the PCs fail at a task, look for a way they might fail forward, meaning the story moves forward with a negative consequence rather than the failure halting progress entirely.
The player characters in your group will at times attempt tasks that should be easier or harder than the rules or adventure would otherwise lead you to expect, such as a PC Gathering Information in their hometown. In these cases, you can just apply a circumstance bonus or penalty. Usually, this is +1 or –1 for a minor but significant circumstance, but you can adjust this bonus or penalty to +2 or –2 for a major circumstance. The maximum bonus or penalty, +4 or –4, should apply only if someone has an overwhelming advantage or is trying something extremely unlikely but not quite impossible.
You can also add traits to actions. Let’s say that during a fight, Seelah dips her sword into a brazier of hot coals before swinging it at an enemy with a weakness to fire. You could add the fire trait to this attack. A PC getting an advantage in this way should usually have to use an action to do so, so Seelah would get the benefit for one attack, but to do it again she’d need to bury her sword in the coals once more.
Incorporating Additional Options
You might grant players access to additional rule or character options. If you feel confident that allowing a character to take a particular option will be a good addition to your game, then go for it! If you’re uncertain or worried about a request, you don’t have to allow it, and it’s your call to make. However, try to meet players halfway or suggest alternatives. If you want to allow an option on a trial basis but are worried it might become a problem later, talk to the player beforehand and explain that you are tentatively allowing the option, but might change your mind later, after you see how the option can be used during play.
Organized play campaigns allow you to play in and run games all over the world with persistent characters. If you want to play Pathfinder this way, you can do so through the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild! Once you go online to PathfinderSociety.club to make an account, you can organize games yourself with your friends or join an existing event.
Pathfinder Society primarily uses 4- to 5-hour adventures called scenarios. At the start of a session when you’re running a scenario, you’ll collect your players’ information. At the end of the adventure, you’ll record the rewards their characters earn for completing the scenario, all of which are detailed in the adventure. Once you report the session’s results online, the rewards become a persistent part of these characters, even if they play in other games with other groups. These scenarios include important choices, and you can report what your group chose—decisions that will guide the future of the campaign!
RUNNING MODES OF PLAY
Pathfinder sessions are divided into three different modes of play: encounters, exploration, and downtime. Each mode represents different kinds of situations, with specific stakes and time scales, and characters can use different sorts of actions and reactions in each.
Encounters take place in real time or slower, and they involve direct engagement between players and enemies, potential allies, or each other. Combat and direct social interaction usually take place in encounter mode.
Exploration is the connective tissue of an adventure, and it is used whenever characters are exploring a place where there’s danger or uncertainty, such as an unfamiliar city or a dungeon. In exploration mode, characters aren’t in immediate peril, but they must still be on their toes. Exploration and encounters are collectively called adventuring.
When the party isn’t adventuring, the characters are in downtime. This mode covers most of a normal person’s life, such as mundane, day-to-day tasks and working toward long-term goals.
Encounter mode is the most structured mode of play, and you’ll mostly be following the rules presented in Chapter 9 to run this mode. Because you usually call for initiative during exploration before transitioning into an encounter, guidelines for initiative order appear on page 498 in the discussion of exploration mode. Rules for building combat encounters appear on page 488.
Stakes: Moderate to high. Encounters always have significant stakes, and they are played in a step-by-step time frame to reflect that.
Time Scale: Encounter mode is highly structured and proceeds in combat rounds for combat encounters, while other sorts of encounters can have rounds of any length. In combat, 1 minute consists of 10 rounds, where each combat round is 6 seconds long, but you might decide a verbal confrontation proceeds in minute-long or longer rounds to give each speaker enough time to make a solid point.
Actions and Reactions: In combat encounters, each participant’s turn is broken into discrete actions, and participants can use reactions when their triggers occur. Reactions can occur in social situations, though their triggers are usually more descriptive and less tactical.
The Pathfinder rules are built to play combat encounters on a 1-inch grid, but you can play without a grid or map. In what’s traditionally called the “theater of the mind,” you and other players imagine the locations of the combatants and the environment. In this style of play, you’ll frequently need to make judgment calls. These are usually simple, like “Can I see the ogre from where I’m standing?” or “Can I get to the ogre with one Stride?” It’s often best to have a player tell you what they want to do, such as “I want to cross the beam to get to the ogre and attack it.” Then, you tell the player how that breaks down into actions, like “You’ll need to spend one action and succeed at an Acrobatics check, then Stride to get close enough, then you’ll have one action left for a Strike.”
When preparing encounters, avoid using lots of difficult terrain, cover, or other battlefield challenges that work better on a grid. Also, be more lenient with combat tactics like flanking. You won’t have a way to measure flanking, but the rules expect melee characters like rogues to often get into a flanking position—often, two characters ganging up in melee is enough to count.
Choosing Adversaries Actions
Players often coordinate and plan to be as efficient as possible, but their adversaries might not. As the GM, you’re roleplaying these foes, and you decide their tactics. Most creatures have a basic grasp of simple tactics like flanking or focusing on a single target. But you should remember that they also react based on emotions and make mistakes—perhaps even more than the player characters do.
When selecting targets or choosing which abilities to use, rely on the adversaries’ knowledge of the situation, not your own. You might know that the cleric has a high Will save modifier, but a monster might still try to use a fear ability on her. That doesn’t mean you should play adversaries as complete fools; they can learn from their mistakes, make sound plans, and even research the player characters in advance.
Adversaries usually don’t attack a character who’s knocked out. Even if a creature knows a fallen character might come back into the fight, only the most vicious creatures focus on helpless foes rather than the more immediate threats around them.
Running adversaries is a mix of being true to the creature and doing what’s best for the drama of the game. Think of your encounter like a fight scene in a movie or novel. If the fighter taunts a fire giant to draw its attention away from the fragile wizard, the tactically sound decision is for the giant to keep pummeling the wizard. But is that the best choice for the scene? Perhaps everyone will have more fun if the giant redirects its ire to the infuriating fighter.
What happens if you’ve planned a fight or challenge and the PCs find a way to avoid it entirely? This could leave them behind in XP or cause them to miss important information or treasure.
In the case of XP, the guidelines are simple: If the player characters avoided the challenge through smart tactical play, a savvy diplomatic exchange, clever use of magic, or another approach that required ingenuity and planning, award them the normal XP for the encounter. If they did something that took only moderate effort or was a lucky break, like finding a secret passage and using it to avoid a fight, award them XP for a minor or moderate accomplishment. In an adventure that’s more free-form, like a sprawling dungeon with multiple paths, there might be no reward for bypassing an encounter, because doing so was trivial.
You’ll have to think on your feet if information or items get skipped when players bypass encounters. First, look for another reasonable place in the adventure to place the information or item. If it makes sense, move the original encounter to another part of the adventure and give the PCs a major advantage for bypassing the encounter in the first place.
A combat encounter typically ends when all the creatures on one side are killed or knocked unconscious. Once this happens, you can stop acting in initiative order. The surviving side then has ample time to ensure that everyone taken out stays down. However, you might need to keep using combat rounds if any player characters are near death, clinging to a cliff, or in some other situation where every moment matters for their survival.
You can decide a fight is over if there’s no challenge left, and the player characters are just cleaning up the last few weak enemies. However, avoid doing this if any of the players still have inventive and interesting things they want to try or spells they’re concentrating on—ending an encounter early is a tool to avoid boredom, not to deny someone their fun. You can end a fight early in several ways: the foes can surrender, an adversary can die before its Hit Points actually run out, or you can simply say the battle’s over and that the PCs easily dispatch their remaining foes. In this last case, you might ask, “Is everyone okay if we call the fight?” to make sure your players are on board.
One side might surrender when almost all its members are defeated or if spells or skills thoroughly demoralize them. Once there’s a surrender, come out of initiative order and enter into a short negotiation. These conversations are really about whether the winners will show mercy to the losers or just kill or otherwise get rid of them. The surrendering side usually doesn’t have much leverage in these cases, so avoid long back-and-forth discussions.
Fleeing enemies can be a problem. Player characters often want to pursue foes that flee because they think an enemy might return as a threat later on. Avoid playing this out move by move, as it can easily bog down the game. If every adversary is fleeing, forgo initiative order and give each PC the option to pursue any one fleeing foe. Each PC can declare one action, spell, or other ability to use to try to keep up. Then, compare the PC’s Speed to that of the target, assess how much the pursuer’s chosen spell or ability would help, and factor in any abilities the quarry has that would aid escape. If you determine that the pursuer catches up, go back into combat with the original initiative order. If not, the quarry escapes for now.
If the PCs decide to flee, it’s usually best to let them do so. Pick a particular location and allow them to escape once they all reach it. However, if they’re encumbered or otherwise slowed down, or if enemies have higher Speeds and a strong motive to pursue, you might impose consequences upon PCs who flee.
Most conversations play best as free-form roleplaying, with maybe one or two checks for social skills involved. Sometimes, though, a tense situation or crucial parlay requires a social encounter that uses initiative, much like a combat encounter. As with any other encounter, the stakes of a social encounter need to be high! A failed social encounter could mean a character is imprisoned or put to death, a major rival becomes a political powerhouse, or a key ally is disgraced and ostracized.
Using the structure of an encounter is helpful because it makes the timing clearer than in free-form play, and each character feels like they’re contributing. When running a social encounter, establish the stakes up front, so the players know the consequences of success or failure and the circumstances that will cause the encounter to end.
You have much more flexibility in how you run a social encounter than in a combat encounter. Extending the length of rounds beyond 6 seconds, allowing more improvisation, and focusing less on special attacks and spells all differentiate a social encounter from a combat one. In most cases, you don’t need to worry about character’s movements, nor do you need a map. Some examples of social encounters include:
- Proving someone’s innocence in front of a judge.
- Convincing a neighboring monarch to help defend against an invasion.
- Besting a rival bard in a battle of wits.
- Exposing a villain’s deception before a noble court.
Initiative and Actions
Initiative in a social encounter typically has characters rolling Society or a Charisma-based skill, such as Diplomacy or Deception. As with other encounters, a character’s approach to the conflict determines which skill they’ll roll. On a character’s turn, they typically get to attempt one roll, usually by using a skill action. Let the player roleplay what their character says and does, then determine what they’ll roll. Allow them to use any abilities or spells that might help them make their case, though keep in mind that when most people see the visual signs of a spell being cast, they think someone is using magic to try to influence or harm them, and they have a negative reaction.
Good social encounters include an opposition. This can be direct, such as a rival who argues against the characters’ case, or passive, such as a mob that automatically becomes more unruly as each round passes. Give the opposition one or more positions in the initiative order so you can convey what it is doing. You can create game statistics for the opposition, especially if it’s an individual, but in situations like that of the unruly mob, you might need nothing more than establish a set of increasingly difficult DCs.
Measuring Success and Progress
You’ll need to decide how to measure the characters’ success in social encounters, because there’s no AC to target or HP to whittle down. Chapter 4 includes guidance on setting DCs for social skill actions, often using a target’s Will DC. If you need a DC for people who don’t have stats, such as a crowd or an NPC for whom you haven’t already generated statistics, use the guidelines on setting DCs, found on page 503. You can either pick a simple DC or use a level-based DC, estimating a level for the subject or how challenging it should be to sway them.
The attitude conditions—hostile, unfriendly, indifferent, friendly, and helpful—provide a useful way to track the progress of a social encounter. Use these to represent the attitude of an authority, a crowd, a jury, or the like. A typical goal for a social encounter is to change the attitude of a person or group to helpful so they assist you, or calming a hostile group or person to defuse a situation. Try to give the players a clear idea of how much they’ve progressed as the encounter proceeds.
Another option is to track the number of successes or failures the characters accrue. For instance, you might need to trick four guards into leaving their posts, and count each successful attempt to Lie or Create a Diversion toward a total of four necessary successes. You can combine these two methods; if the PCs need a group of important nobles to vote their way, the goal of the encounter might be to ensure that a majority of the nobles have a better attitude toward the PCs than they have of a rival—all within a limited time frame.
When you set stakes at the start of a social encounter, give an idea of the consequences. Beyond whatever narrative benefits player characters might gain, a social encounter usually includes an XP award. Because these are encounters along the same lines as combat encounters, they grant a sizable amount of XP, typically that of a moderate accomplishment, or even a major accomplishment if the encounter was the culmination of long-term plans or a significant adversary got their comeuppance.
The outcome of a social encounter should direct the story of the game. Look for repercussions. Which NPCs might view the PCs more favorably now? Which might hold a grudge or formulate a new plan? A social encounter can seal the fate of an NPC and end their story, but this isn’t true for player characters. Even if something looks truly dire for them, such as a death sentence, the social encounter isn’t the end—there’s still time for desperate heroics or a twist in the stor
Exploration mode is intentionally less regimented than encounters. As a result, during exploration you’ll be making judgment calls on just about everything that happens.
Fundamentally, exploration is all about rewarding the PCs for learning about their surroundings. To facilitate this, it’s especially important to have and convey a clear mental picture of the group’s surroundings. You’ll be better able to keep track of where the players are and describe the sights, sounds, and other sensations of their adventuring locales. Encourage the players to have their characters truly explore, and reward their curiosity. The things they try to do in exploration mode show you what they’re interested in and what they consider important. As you play, you’ll get a good feel for the aspects of exploration that intrigue certain players, and you can add more of those things to your adventures or emphasize these points in published adventures.
Stakes: Low to moderate. Exploration mode should be used when there’s some amount of risk, but no immediate danger. The PCs might be in an environment where they’re likely to face monsters or hazards, but they usually stay in exploration mode until they enter a fight or engage in some other direct interaction.
Time Scale: When the PCs are in exploration mode, time in the game world passes much faster than real-world time at the table, so it’s rarely measured out to the second or the minute. You can speed up or slow down how quickly things are happening as needed. If it’s important to know exactly how much time is passing, you can usually estimate time spent in exploration mode to 10-minute increments.
Actions and Reactions: Though exploration isn’t broken into rounds, exploration activities assume the PCs are spending part of their time using actions, such as Seeking or Interacting. If they have specific actions they want to use, they should ask; you can decide whether the actions apply and whether to switch to encounter mode for greater detail. PCs can use any relevant reactions that come up during exploration mode.
In exploration mode, each player who wants to do something beyond just traveling chooses an exploration activity for their character. The most common activities are Avoid Notice, Detect Magic, Hustle, and Search, though there are many options available. While players usually hew close to these default activities, there’s no need for them to memorize the exploration activities and use them exactly. Instead, allow each player to describe what their character is doing. Then, as the GM, you can determine which activity applies. This also means you determine how an activity works if the character’s actions differ from those on the list.
The following sub-headers discuss exploration activities that require adjudication from you beyond the guidelines for players detailed on pages 479–480 of Chapter 9.
The following exploration activities are fully detailed on pages 479–480 of Chapter 9. Many more appear within Chapter 4: Skills.
- Avoid Notice
- Detect Magic
- Follow the Expert
- Repeat a Spell
Improvising New Activities
If a player wants to do something not covered by other rules, here are some guidelines. If the activity is similar to an action someone could use in an encounter, such as Avoid Notice, it usually consists of a single action repeated roughly 10 times per minute (such as using the Sneak action 10 times) or an alternation of actions that works out similarly (such as Search, which alternates Stride and Seek). An activity using a quicker pace, corresponding to roughly 20 actions per minute, might have limited use or cause fatigue, as would one requiring intense concentration.
You might find that a player wants to do something equivalent to spending 3 actions every 6 seconds, just like they would in combat. Characters can exert themselves to this extent in combat only because combat lasts such a short time—such exertion isn’t sustainable over the longer time frame of exploration.
This activity doesn’t enable characters to automatically find every single magical aura or object during travel. Hazards that require a minimum proficiency can’t be found with detect magic, nor can illusions of equal or higher level than the spell.
When characters find something magical using this activity, let them know and give them the option to stop and explore further or continue on. Stopping brings you into a more roleplay-heavy scene in which players can search through an area, assess different items, or otherwise try to figure out the source of the magic and what it does. Continuing on might cause the group to miss out on beneficial magic items or trigger a magic trap.
Follow the Expert
A skilled character can help out less skilled allies who choose to Follow the Expert. This is a good way to help a character with a low Stealth modifier sneak around, get a character with poor Athletics up a steep cliff, and so on. Usually, a character who is Following the Expert can’t perform other exploration activities or follow more than one person at a time.
As with Searching or Detecting Magic, the initial result of Investigating is usually enough to give the investigator a clue that leads into a more thorough examination, but it rarely gives all possible information. For instance, a character might note that the walls of a dungeon are covered with Abyssal writing, but they would need to stop to read the text or determine that it’s written in blood.
With a successful Perception check while Searching, a character notices the presence or absence of something unusual in the area, but it doesn’t provide a comprehensive catalog of everything there. Instead, it gives a jumping-off point for closer inspection or an encounter. For instance, if an area has both a DC 30 secret door and a DC 25 trap, and a Searching character got a 28 on their Perception check, you would tell the player that their character noticed a trap in the area, and you’d give a rough idea of the trap’s location and nature. The party needs to examine the area more to learn specifics about the trap, and someone would need to Search again to get another chance to find the secret door.
If an area contains many objects or something that will take a while to search (such as a cabinet full of papers), Searching would reveal the cabinet, but the PCs would have to examine it more thoroughly to check the papers. This usually requires the party to stop for a complete search.
You roll a secret Perception check for a Searching character to detect any secrets they pass that’s in a place that stands out (such as near a door or a turn in a corridor), but not one that’s in a more inconspicuous place (like a random point in a long hallway) unless they are searching particularly slowly and meticulously.
SETTING A PARTY ORDER
In exploration mode, it often matters which characters are in the front or back of the party formation. Let the players decide among themselves where in the group their characters are while exploring. This order can determine who gets attacked first when enemies or traps threaten from various directions. It’s up to you to determine the specifics of who gets targeted based on the situation.
When you come out of exploration mode, the group usually remains in the same general formation. Decide the PCs’ exact positions, with their input, if you’re moving to a grid (as usually happens at the start of a combat encounter). If they come out of exploration mode on their own terms, they can move around as they see fit. For example, if they detect a trap and the rogue starts attempting to disarm it, the other characters can move to whatever locations they think are safe.
ADVERSE TERRAIN AND WEATHER
Exploration gets slower when the party faces dense jungles, deep snow, sandstorms, extreme heat, or similar difficult conditions. You decide how much these factors impact the characters’ progress. The specific effects of certain types of terrain and weather are described starting on page 512.
Difficult terrain such as thick undergrowth usually slows down progress. Unless it’s important how far the group gets in a particular time frame, this can be covered with a quick description of chopping through the vines or trudging through a bog. If the characters are on a deadline, adjust their progress on Table 9–2: Travel Speed (page 479), typically cutting it in half if almost all of the land is difficult terrain or to one-third for greater difficult terrain.
Hazardous terrain, such as the caldera of an active volcano, might physically harm the player characters. The group might have the option to travel directly through or go around by spending more time. You can transition into a more detailed scene while the characters move through hazardous terrain and attempt to mitigate the damage with spells or skill checks. If they endure hazardous terrain, consider giving the PCs a minor or moderate XP reward at the end of their exploration, with slightly more XP if they took smart precautions to avoid taking damage.
Exploration can get broken up by traps and other hazards (see Hazards on page 520). Simple hazards pose a threat to the PCs only once and can be dealt with in exploration mode. Complex hazards require jumping into encounter mode until the hazard is dealt with. Disabling a trap or overcoming a hazard usually takes place in encounter mode. PCs have a better chance to detect hazards while exploring if they’re using the Search activity (and the Detect Magic activity, in the case of some magic traps).
Transitioning from exploration to an encounter usually involves rolling for initiative. Call for initiative once a trap is triggered, as soon as two opposing groups come into contact, or when a creature on one side decides to take action against the other. For example:
- A group of PCs are exploring a cavern. They enter a narrow passage patrolled by a group of kobold warriors. Now that the two groups are in the same area, it’s time to roll initiative.
- Amiri and a kobold champion agree to have a friendly wrestling match. They square off on a patch of dirt, and you call for initiative using Athletics.
- Merisiel and Kyra are negotiating with the kobold king. Things aren’t going well, so Merisiel decides to launch a surprise attack. As soon as she says this is her plan, you call for initiative.
- Harsk and Ezren are trying to Balance across a narrow beam to reach an isolated kobold treasure trove. When they get halfway across, a red dragon who was hiding behind the mountain flies around to attack! As soon as the dragon makes its appearance, you call for an initiative roll.
Spell durations are approximate values that codify the vagaries and eccentricities of magic into a convenient number. However, that doesn’t mean you can set your watch by a spell with a 1-hour duration. This is one of the reasons the passage of time outside of encounters is in your hands and isn’t as precise as encounter rounds. If a question arises about whether a spell has expired, you make the call. You shouldn’t be punitive, but you also shouldn’t treat characters like they move with clockwork precision and perfect efficiency between encounters.
There are two times these durations matter most: when players try to fit multiple encounters within the duration of a spell, and when they want to use a spell before a fight and keep it in effect during the encounter.
A 1-minute spell should last for multiple encounters only if the encounters happen in very close proximity (usually in two adjoining rooms) and if the PCs go directly from one fight to the next without leaving encounter mode. If they want to stop and heal, or if the party debates whether to go on, the process takes enough time that the spell runs out.
Be more generous with spells lasting 10 minutes or more. A 10-minute spell easily lasts for one encounter and could continue for another if the locations are close. A 1-hour spell usually lasts for several encounters.
Before a Fight
Casting advantageous spells before a fight (sometimes called “pre-buffing”) gives the characters a big advantage, since they can spend more combat rounds on offensive actions instead of preparatory ones. If the players have the drop on their foes, you usually can let each character cast one spell or prepare in some similar way, then roll initiative.
Casting preparatory spells before combat becomes a problem when it feels rote and the players assume it will always work—that sort of planning can’t hold up in every situation! In many cases, the act of casting spells gives away the party’s presence. In cases where the PCs’ preparations could give them away, you might roll for initiative before everyone can complete their preparations.
Initiative After Reactions
In some cases, a trap or a foe has a reaction that tells you to roll initiative. For instance, a complex trap that’s triggered might make an attack with its reaction before the initiative order begins. In these cases, resolve all the results of the reaction before calling for initiative rolls.
Choosing the Type of Roll
When choosing what type of roll to use for initiative, lean toward the most obvious choice. The most common roll is Perception; this is what the kobolds would use in the first example, as would Kyra and the kobold king in the third example. The next most common skills to use are Stealth (for sneaking up, like the dragon in the last example) and Deception (for tricking opponents, like Merisiel in the third example). For social contests, it’s common to use Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, Performance, or Society.
If you’re unsure what roll to call for, use Perception. If a different type of roll could make sense for a character, you should usually offer the choice of that roll or Perception and let the player decide. Don’t do this if it’s absolutely clear another kind of check matters more sense than Perception, such as when the character is sneaking up on enemies and should definitely use Stealth.
You can allow a player to make a case that they should use a different skill than Perception, but only if they base it on something they’ve established beforehand. For example, if in the prelude to the attack, Merisiel’s player had said, “I’m going to dangle down off the chandelier to get the drop on them,” you could let them use Acrobatics for their initiative roll. If they just said, “Hey, I want to attack these guys. Can I use Acrobatics?” without having established a reason beforehand, you probably shouldn’t allow it.
When calling for initiative for a combat encounter, you’ll need to decide where the participants in the encounter go on the battle map. Use the party’s order, described on page 497, as a base. You can move forward characters who are using Stealth to get into position, putting them in a place they could reasonably have moved up to before having a chance to be detected. Consult with each player to make sure their position makes sense to both of you.
Characters require 8 hours of sleep each day. Though resting typically happens at night, a group gains the same benefits for resting during the day. Either way, they can gain the benefits of resting only once every 24 hours. A character who rests for 8 hours recovers in the following ways:
- The character regains Hit Points equal to their Constitution modifier (minimum 1) multiplied by their level. If they rest without any shelter or comfort, you might reduce this healing by half (to a minimum of 1 HP).
- The character loses the fatigued condition.
- The character reduces the severity of the doomed and drained conditions by 1.
- Most spellcasters need to rest before they regain their spells for the day.
A group in exploration mode can attempt to rest, but they aren’t entirely safe from danger, and their rest might be interrupted. The 8 hours of rest do not need to be consecutive, however, and after an interruption, characters can go back to sleep.
Sleeping in armor results in poor rest and causes a character to wake up fatigued. If a character would have recovered from fatigue, sleeping in armor prevents it.
If a character goes more than 16 hours without going to sleep, they become fatigued.
Taking long-term rest for faster recovery is part of downtime and can’t be done during exploration.
Watches and Surprise Attacks
Adventuring parties usually put a few people on guard to watch out for danger while the others rest. Spending time on watch also interrupts sleep, so a night’s schedule needs to account for everyone’s time on guard duty. Table 10–3: Watches and Rest indicates how long the group needs to set aside for rest, assuming everyone gets a rotating watch assignment of equal length.
If a surprise encounter would occur during rest, you can roll a die to randomly determine which character is on watch at the time. All characters roll initiative; sleeping characters typically roll Perception with a –4 status penalty for being unconscious. They don’t automatically wake up when rolling initiative, but they might roll a Perception check to wake up at the start of their turn due to noise. If a savvy enemy waits for a particularly vulnerable character to take watch before attacking, the attack can happen on that character’s watch automatically. However, you might have the ambusher attempt a Stealth check against the Perception DCs of all characters to see if anyone noticed its approach.Table 10-3: Watches and Rest
|Party Size||Total Time||Duration of Each Watch|
|2||16 hours||8 hours|
|3||12 hours||4 hours|
|4||10 hours, 40 minutes||2 hours, 40 minutes|
|5||10 hours||2 hours|
|6||9 hours, 36 minutes||1 hour, 36 minutes|
Just before setting out to explore, or after a night’s rest, the PCs spend time to prepare for the adventuring day. This typically happens over the span of 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, but only after 8 full hours of rest. Daily preparations include the following.
- Spellcasters who prepare spells choose which spells they’ll have available that day.
- Focus Points and other abilities that reset during daily preparations refresh. This includes abilities that can be used only a certain number of times per day.
- Each character equips their gear. This includes donning their armor and strapping on their weapons.
- Characters invest up to 10 worn magic items to gain their benefits for the day.
STARVATION AND THIRST
Typically characters eat and drink enough to survive comfortably. When they can’t, they’re fatigued until they do. After 1 day + a creature’s Constitution modifier without water, it takes 1d4 damage each hour that can’t be healed until it quenches its thirst. After the same amount of time without food, it takes 1 damage each day that can’t be healed until it sates its hunger.
In downtime, you can sum up the important events of a whole day with just one roll. Use this mode when the characters return home or otherwise aren’t adventuring.
Usually, downtime is a few minutes at the start of a session or a break between major chapters of an adventure. As with exploration, you might punctuate downtime with roleplaying or encounters when it’s natural to do so.
This sub-header describes ways to handle downtime and details several activities and considerations specific to downtime, such as cost of living, buying and selling goods, long-term rest, and retraining. Most other downtime activities are skill actions; a number of these common downtime activities and their associated skills are listed below. See the relevant skills in Chapter 4 for details.
- Craft (Crafting)
- Earn Income (Crafting, Lore, Performance)
- Treat Disease (Medicine)
- Create Forgery (Society)
- Subsist (Society, Survival)
Stakes: None to low. Downtime is the counterpart to adventuring and covers low-risk activities.
Time Scale: Downtime can last days, weeks, months, or years in the game world in a few minutes of real time.
Actions and Reactions: If you need to use actions and reactions, switch to exploration or encounter mode. A creature that can’t act is unable to perform most downtime activities, but it can take long-term rest.
PLAYING OUT A DOWNTIME DAY
At the start of a given day of downtime, have all the players declare what their characters are trying to accomplish that day. You can then resolve one character’s efforts at a time (or group some characters together, if they are cooperating on a single project). Some activities, such as Earning Income, require only a simple roll and some embellishment from you and the player. Other activities are more involved, incorporating encounters or exploration. You can call on the players to play out their downtime activities in any order, though it’s often best to do the simplest ones first. Players who aren’t part of a more involved activity might have time to take a break from the table while the more complex activities are played out.
Characters can undertake their daily preparations if they want, just as they would on a day of exploration. Ask players to establish a standard set of preparations, and you can assume the characters go through the same routine every day unless their players say otherwise.
Multiple characters can cooperate on the same downtime task. If it’s a simple task that requires just one check, such as a party Subsisting as they await rescue on a desert island, one character rolls the necessary check while everyone else Aids that character. If it’s a complex task, assume all of them are working on different parts of it at one time, so all their efforts count toward its completion. For example, a party might collaborate to build a theater, with one character drawing up architectural plans, one doing manual labor, and one talking to local politicians and guilds.
Some downtime activities require rolls, typically skill checks. Because these rolls represent the culmination of a series of tasks over a long period, players can’t use most abilities or spells that manipulate die rolls, such as activating a magic item to gain a bonus or casting a fortune spell to roll twice. Constant benefits still apply, though, so someone might invest a magic item that gives them a bonus without requiring activation. You might make specific exceptions to this rule. If something could apply constantly, or so often that it might as well be constant, it’s more likely to be used for downtime checks.
LONGER PERIODS OF DOWNTIME
Running downtime during a long time off—like several weeks, months, or even years—can be more challenging. However, it’s also an opportunity for the characters to progress toward long-term plans rather than worrying about day-to-day activities. Because so much time is involved, characters don’t roll a check for each day. Instead, they deal with a few special events, average out the rest of the downtime, and pay for their cost of living.
After the characters state what they want to achieve in their downtime, select a few standout events for each of them—usually one event for a period of a week or a month, or four events for a year or longer. These events should be tailored to each character and their goals, and they can serve as hooks for adventures or plot development.
Though the following examples of downtime events all involve Earning Income, you can use them to spark ideas for other activities. A character using Perform to Earn Income could produce a commanding performance of a new play for visiting nobility. Someone using Crafting might get a lucrative commission to craft a special item. A character with Lore might have to research a difficult problem that needs a quick response.
PCs who want to do things that don’t correspond to a specific downtime activity should still experience downtime events; you just choose the relevant skill and DC. For example, if a character intends to build their own library to house their books on magic, you might decide setting the foundation and organizing the library once construction is finished are major events. The first could be a Crafting check, and the second an Arcana or Library Lore check.
For long periods of downtime, you might not want to roll for every week, or even every month. Instead, set the level for one task using the lowest level the character can reliably find in the place where they spend their downtime (see Difficulty Classes on page 503 for more on setting task levels). If the character fails this check, you might allow them to try again after a week (or a month, if you’re dealing with years of downtime). Don’t allow them to roll again if they succeeded but want to try for a critical success, unless they do something in the story of the game that you think makes it reasonable to allow a new roll.
The events you include during a long stretch of downtime should typically feature higher-level tasks than the baseline. For instance, a character Earning Income with Sailing Lore for 4 months might work at a port doing 1st-level tasks most of the time, but have 1 week of 3rd-level tasks to account for busy periods. You’ll normally have the player roll once for the time they spent at 1st-level tasks and once for the week of 3rd-level tasks.
COST OF LIVING
For short periods of downtime, characters are usually just passing through a settlement or spending a bit of time there. They can use the prices for inn stays and meals found here. For long stretches of downtime, use the values on Table 6–16: Cost of Living. Deduct these costs from a character’s funds after they gain any money from their other downtime activities.Table 6-16: Cost of Living
|Standard of Living||Week||Month||Year|
|Subsistence*||4 sp||2 gp||24 gp|
|Comfortable||1 gp||4 gp||52 gp|
|Fine||30 gp||130 gp||1,600 gp|
|Extravagant||100 gp||430 gp||5,200 gp|
* You can attempt to Subsist using Society or Survival for free.
A character can live off the land instead, but each day they do, they typically use the Subsist activity to the exclusion of any other downtime activity.
BUYING AND SELLING
After an adventure yields a windfall, the characters might have a number of items they want to sell. Likewise, when they’re flush with currency, they might want to stock up on gear. It usually takes 1 day of downtime to sell off a few goods or shop around to buy a couple items. It can take longer to sell off a large number of goods, expensive items, or items that aren’t in high demand.
This assumes the characters are at a settlement of decent size during their downtime. In some cases, they might spend time traveling for days to reach bigger cities. As always, you have final say over what sort of shops and items are available.
An item can usually be purchased at its full Price and sold for half its Price. Supply and demand adjusts these numbers, but only occasionally.
Each full 24-hour period a character spends resting during downtime allows them to recover double what they would for an 8-hour rest (as listed on page 499). They must spend this time resting in a comfortable and secure location, typically in bed.
If they spend significantly longer in bed rest—usually from a few days to a week of downtime—they recover from all damage and most nonpermanent conditions. Characters affected by diseases, long-lasting poisons, or similar afflictions might need to continue attempting saves during downtime. Some curses, permanent injuries, and other situations that require magic or special care to remove don’t end automatically during long-term rest.
The retraining rules on page 481 allow a player to change some character choices, but they rely on you to decide whether the retraining requires a teacher, how long it takes, if it has any associated costs, and if the ability can be retrained at all. It’s reasonable for a character to retrain most choices, and you should allow them. Only choices that are truly intrinsic to the character, like a sorcerer’s bloodline, should be off limits without extraordinary circumstances.
Try to make retraining into a story. Use NPCs the character already knows as teachers, have a character undertake intense research in a mysterious old library, or ground the retraining in the game’s narrative by making it the consequence of something that happened to the character in a previous session.
Retraining a feat or skill increase typically takes a week. Class features that require a choice can also be retrained but take longer: at least a month, and possibly more. Retraining might take even longer if it would be especially physically demanding or require travel, lengthy experimentation, or in-depth research, but usually you won’t want to require more than a month for a feat or skill, or 4 months for a class feature.
A character might need to retrain several options at once. For instance, retraining a skill increase might mean they have skill feats they can no longer use, and so they’ll need to retrain those as well. You can add all this retraining time together, then reduce the total a bit to represent the cohesive nature of the retraining.
Instruction and Costs
The rules abstract the process of learning new things as you level up—you’re learning on the job—but retraining suggests that the character works with a teacher or undergoes specific practice to retrain. If you want, you can entirely ignore this aspect of retraining, but it does give an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) NPCs and further the game’s story. You can even have one player character mentor another, particularly when it comes to retraining skills.
Any costs to retraining should be pretty minor—about as much as a PC could gain by Earning Income over the same period of time. The costs are mostly there to make the training feel appropriate within the context of the story, not to consume significant amounts of the character’s earnings. A teacher might volunteer to work without pay as a reward for something the character has already done, or simply ask for a favor in return.
While some character options can’t normally be retrained, you can invent ways for a character to retrain even these—special rituals, incredible quests, or the perfect tutor. For example, ability scores can’t normally be retrained, as that can unbalance the game. But not all players necessarily want to exploit the system—maybe a player simply wants to swap an ability boost between two low stats. In situations like this, you could let them spend a few months working out or studying to reassign an ability boost.
As the Game Master, it’s up to you to set the difficulty classes (DCs) for checks that don’t use a predefined DC. The following sections offer advice on how to set appropriate DCs and tweak them as needed to feel natural for your story. Picking a simple DC and using a level-based DC each work well in certain circumstances, and you can adjust both types of DC using the advice on adjusting difficulty.
Sometimes you need to quickly set a Difficulty Class. The easiest method is to select a simple DC from Table 10–4 by estimating which proficiency rank best matches the task (that rank is usually not required to succeed at the task). If it’s something pretty much anyone would have a decent chance at, use the untrained DC. If it would require a degree of training, use the DC listed for trained, expert, master, or legendary proficiency, as appropriate to the complexity of the task. For example, say a PC was trying to uncover the true history behind a fable. You determine this requires a check to Recall Knowledge, and that only someone with master proficiency in Folktale Lore would know the information, so you’d set the DC at 30—the simple master DC.
Simple DCs work well when you need a DC on the fly and there’s no level associated with the task. They’re most useful for skill checks. Because there isn’t much gradation between the simple DCs, they don’t work as well for hazards or combatants, where the PCs’ lives are on the line; you’re better off using level-based DCs for such challenges.Table: Simple DCs
When you’re determining a skill DC based on something that has a level, use Table 10–5 to set the DC. Find the level of the subject, and assign the corresponding DC. Since spells use a 1–10 scale, use the Spell Level column for them.
Use these DCs when a PC needs to Identify a Spell or Recall Knowledge about a creature, attempts to Earn Income by performing a task of a certain level, and so on. You can also use the level-based DCs for obstacles instead of assigning a simple DC. For example, you might determine that a wall in a high-level dungeon was constructed of smooth metal and is hard to climb. You could simply say only someone with master proficiency could climb it, and use the simple DC of 30. Or you might decide that the 15th-level villain who created the dungeon crafted the wall, and use the 15th-level DC of 34. Either approach is reasonable!
Note that PCs who invest in a skill become more likely to succeed at a DC of their level as they increase in level, and the listed DCs eventually become very easy for them.Table: DCs by Level
ADJUSTING DIFFICULTYTable: DC Adjustments
You might decide a DC should differ from the baseline, whether to account for PCs’ areas of expertise or to represent the rarity of spells or items. A DC adjustment represents an essential difference in the difficulty of a task and applies to anyone attempting a specific check for it. Adjustments happen most often with tasks whose DCs are based on their level. Adjustments use a scale of –10 to +10, from incredibly easy checks to incredibly hard ones, and are broken into increments of 2, 5, and 10. You’ll often apply the adjustments for uncommon, rare, or unique subjects.
The adjustments’ names don’t translate to how hard a task actually is for a PC or group of PCs, and adjustments aren’t meant to balance out or replace PCs’ bonuses and penalties. PCs who invest in a skill will become better and better at that skill as they increase in level. For example, even the best 1st-level PC has grim odds against an incredibly hard 1st-level DC, with a huge chance of critical failure, but by 20th level, an optimized character with a modicum of magic or assistance can take down incredibly hard 20th-level DCs over half the time, critically failing only on a 1. At higher levels, many groups will find that the very hard DC is more like standard for them; keep that in mind if you need a check that presents a true challenge to a high level group.
You might use different DCs for a task based on the particular skill or statistic used for the check. Let’s say your PCs encounter a magical tome about aberrant creatures. The tome is 4th-level and has the occult trait, so you set the DC of an Occultism check to Identify the Magic to 19, based on Table 10–5. As noted in Identify Magic, other magic-related skills can typically be used at a higher DC, so you might decide the check is very hard for a character using Arcana and set the DC at 24 for characters using that skill. If a character in your group had Aberration Lore, you might determine that it would be easy or very easy to use that skill and adjust the DC to 17 or 14. These adjustments aren’t taking the place of characters’ bonuses, modifiers, and penalties—they are due to the applicability of the skills being used.
The DCs in this chapter give an individual character a strong and increasing chance of success if they have some proficiency. On occasion, though, you’ll have a task that only one person in the group needs to succeed at, but that everyone can attempt. The number of dice being rolled means that there’s a very high chance at least one of them will succeed. Most of the time, that’s perfectly fine, but sometimes you’ll want the task to be a challenge, with some uncertainty as to whether the party can succeed. In these cases, make the check very hard, or incredibly hard if you want it to be particularly difficult or at high levels. At these DCs, most of the party will probably fail, but someone will probably still succeed, likely a character who has heavily invested in the given skill, as is expected for specialized characters.
Sometimes succeeding at a particular task requires a character to have a specific proficiency rank in addition to a success on the check. Locks and traps often require a certain proficiency rank to successfully use the Pick a Lock or Disable a Device actions of Thievery. A character whose proficiency rank is lower than what’s listed can attempt the check, but they can’t succeed. You can apply similar minimum proficiencies to other tasks. You might decide, for example, that a particular arcane theorem requires training in Arcana to understand. An untrained barbarian can’t succeed at the check, but she can still attempt it if she wants—after all, she needs to have a chance to critically fail and get erroneous information!
For checks that require a minimum proficiency, keep the following guidelines in mind. A 2nd-level or lower task should almost never require expert proficiency, a 6th-level or lower task should almost never require master proficiency, and a 14th-level or lower task should almost never require legendary proficiency. If they did, no character of the appropriate level could succeed.
Several parts of this book, most notably Chapter 4: Skills, state that you as the GM set the DCs for certain checks or determine other parameters. Here are guidelines for the most common tasks. Remember that all of these are guidelines, and you can adjust them as necessary to suit the situation.
When a character Crafts an item, use the item’s level to determine the DC, applying the adjustments from Table 10–6 for the item’s rarity if it’s not common. You might also apply the easy DC adjustment for an item the crafter has made before. Repairing an item usually uses the DC of the item’s level with no adjustments, though you might adjust the DC to be more difficult for an item of a higher level than the character can Craft.
You set the task level when someone tries to Earn Income. The highest-level task available is usually the same as the level of the settlement where the character is located. If you don’t know the settlement’s level, it’s usually 0–1 for a village, 2–4 for a town, or 5–7 for a city. A PC might need to travel to a metropolis or capital to find tasks of levels 8-10, and to the largest cities in the world or another plane to routinely find tasks beyond that. Some locations might have higher-level tasks available based on the nature of the settlement. A major port might have higher-level tasks for Sailing Lore, a city with a vibrant arts scene might have higher-level tasks for Performance, and so on. If someone is trying to use a particularly obscure skill, they might have trouble finding tasks of an ideal level, or any at all—no one in most settlements is clamoring for the expertise of someone with Troll Lore.
Once the PC has decided on a particular level of task from those available, use the DC for that level from Table 10–5. You might adjust the DC to be more difficult if there’s inclement weather during an outdoor job, a rowdy audience for a performance, or the like.
To set the DC to Gather Information, use a simple DC representing the availability of information about the subject. Adjust the DC upward if the PC Gathering Information seeks in-depth information. For example, if a character wants to Gather Information about a visiting caravan, you might decide that a common person wouldn’t know much about it, but any merchant or guard would, so learning basic facts uses the simple DC for trained proficiency. A caravan leader’s name is superficial, so discovering it might be DC 15 (the simple trained DC in Table 10–4). Learning the identity of the leader’s employers, however, might be DC 20 if the employers are more obscure.
Identify Magic or Learn a Spell
The DC to Identify Magic or Learn a Spell is usually the DC listed in Table 10–5 for the spell or item’s level, adjusted for its rarity. A very strange item or phenomenon usually uses a higher DC adjustment. For a cursed item or certain illusory items, use an incredibly hard DC to increase the chance of misidentification.
On most topics, you can use simple DCs for checks to Recall Knowledge. For a check about a specific creature, trap, or other subject with a level, use a level-based DC (adjusting for rarity as needed). You might adjust the difficulty down, maybe even drastically, if the subject is especially notorious or famed. Knowing simple tales about an infamous dragon’s exploits, for example, might be incredibly easy for the dragon’s level, or even just a simple trained DC.
Lore skills are one of the most specialized aspects of Pathfinder, but they require GM oversight, particularly in determining which Lore subcategories are acceptable for characters to select. A Lore subcategory represents a narrow focus, and thus it shouldn’t replace all or even most of an entire skill, nor should it convey vast swaths of information. For example, a single Lore subcategory doesn’t cover all religions—that’s covered by the Religion skill—but a character could have a Lore subcategory that covers a single deity. One Lore subcategory won’t cover an entire country or all of history, but it could cover a city, an ancient civilization, or one aspect of a modern country, like Taldan History Lore. A single Lore subcategory couldn’t cover the entire multiverse, but it could cover a whole plane other than the Material Plane.
As noted in the action’s description, a character might attempt to Recall Knowledge using a different skill than the ones listed as the default options. If the skill is highly applicable, like using Medicine to identify a medicinal tonic, you probably don’t need to adjust the DC. If its relevance is a stretch, adjust the DC upward as described in Adjusting Difficulty.
Sometimes a character might want to follow up on a check to Recall Knowledge, rolling another check to discover more information. After a success, further uses of Recall Knowledge can yield more information, but you should adjust the difficulty to be higher for each attempt. Once a character has attempted an incredibly hard check or failed a check, further attempts are fruitless—the character has recalled everything they know about the subject.
A character who successfully identifies a creature learns one of its best-known attributes—such as a troll’s regeneration (and the fact that it can be stopped by acid or fire) or a manticore’s tail spikes. On a critical success, the character also learns something subtler, like a demon’s weakness or the trigger for one of the creature’s reactions.
The skill used to identify a creature usually depends on that creature’s trait, as shown on Table 10–7, but you have leeway on which skills apply. For instance, hags are humanoids but have a strong connection to occult spells and live outside society, so you might allow a character to use Occultism to identify them without any DC adjustment, while Society is harder. Lore skills can also be used to identify their specific creature. Using the applicable Lore usually has an easy or very easy DC (before adjusting for rarity).Table: Creature Identification Skills
Pick the most appropriate simple DC when someone uses Survival to Sense Direction. This is usually the trained DC in normal wilderness, expert in deep forest or underground, master in featureless or tricky locations, or legendary in weird or surreal environments on other planes.
When a character uses Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, or Performance to influence or impress someone whose level or Will DC you don’t know, estimate the level of the creature and use that DC. A commoner is usually level 0 or 1. Don’t worry about being exact. It often makes sense to adjust the DC based on the target’s attitude for Deception, Diplomacy, or Performance, making the DC easy for a friendly creature, very easy for a helpful one, hard for an unfriendly one, or very hard for a hostile one. You might adjust the DC further or differently based on the PC’s goal; for instance, the DC to Request something an indifferent NPC is fundamentally opposed to might be incredibly hard or impossible, and it might be easy to convince an unfriendly creature to do something it already wants to do.
A simple DC is usually sufficient for the Subsist action, with a trained DC for a typical situation. Use the disposition of the environment or city as a guide; an environment with scarce resources or a city with little tolerance for transience might require an expert or higher DC.
Often when a PC uses Survival to Track, you can pick a simple DC and adjust it based on the circumstances. For example, an army is usually easy to track, so you could use the untrained DC of 10. If the army marched through mud, you could even adjust this down to DC 5. On the other hand, if the party pursues a cunning survivalist using Cover Tracks, you might use their Survival DC as the DC to Track.
Train an Animal
Train Animal (page 268) allows PCs to teach animals tricks. Use the level of the animal as the baseline; you can adjust the DC up if the trick is especially difficult, or down if the animal is especially domesticated, like a dog.
In Pathfinder, player characters can receive three kinds of rewards for their heroic deeds: Hero Points, which they can use to get out of sticky situations; Experience Points, which they’ll use to level up; and treasure, including powerful magic items.
Unlike Experience Points and treasure, which stay with a character, Hero Points are granted and used on a per-session basis. At the start of a game session, you give out 1 Hero Point to each player character. You can also give out more Hero Points during the game, typically after a heroic moment or accomplishment (see below). As noted on page 467, a player can spend 1 Hero Point for a reroll, or they can spend all their Hero Points to recover when near death.
In a typical game, you’ll hand out about 1 Hero Point during each hour of play after the first (for example, 3 extra points in a 4-hour session). If you want a more over-the-top game, or if your group is up against incredible odds and showing immense bravery, you might give them out at a faster rate, like 1 every 30 minutes (6 over a 4-hour session). Try to ensure each PC has opportunities to earn Hero Points, and avoid granting all of the Hero Points to a single character.
Brave last stands, protecting innocents, and using a smart strategy or spell to save the day could all earn a character a Hero Point. Look for those moments when everybody at the table celebrates or sits back in awe of a character’s accomplishments; that’s your cue to issue that character a Hero Point.
The party could also gain Hero Points for their accomplishments throughout the game. For a moderate or major accomplishment, consider giving out a Hero Point as well. This point typically goes to a PC who was instrumental in attaining that accomplishment.
As characters adventure, they earn Experience Points (XP). These awards come from achieving goals, completing social encounters, exploring new places, fighting monsters, overcoming hazards, and other sorts of deeds. You have a great deal of control over when the characters gain XP, though the following guidelines are what you’re expected to give out in a standard campaign.
Normally, when a player character reaches 1,000 XP or more, they level up, reduce their XP by 1,000, and start progressing toward the next level. Other means of advancement are described in the Advancement Speeds sidebar on page 509.
By varying the amount of XP it takes to gain a level, you can change how quickly characters gain power. The game rules assume a group playing with standard advancement. Fast advancement works best when you know you won’t be playing a very long campaign and want to accomplish as much as possible quickly; slow advancement works best for a gritty campaign where all progress is hard won.
You can alter XP from one adventure to the next to get a different feel. During a street-level murder mystery and travel through a haunted wilderness, you might use slow advancement. When the PCs reach the dungeon, you might switch to standard or fast advancement. The values below are just examples. You can use values even higher or lower.Advancement Speeds
|Advancement Speed||XP to Level Up|
If you don’t want to deal with managing and handing out XP, or if you want to have progression based solely on events in the story, you can ignore the XP process entirely and instead simply decide when the characters level up. Generally, the characters should gain a level every three to four game sessions, just after the most appropriate big event that happens during that time, such as defeating a significant villain or achieving a major goal.
Experience Points are awarded for encounters, exploration, and progress in an adventure. When the PCs face direct opposition, such as a fight or a social conflict, the XP earned is based on the level of the challenge the party overcame. Characters can also gain XP from exploration, such as finding secret areas, locating a hideout, enduring a dangerous environment, or mapping an entire dungeon.
Any XP awarded goes to all members of the group. For instance, if the party wins a battle worth 100 XP, they each get 100 XP, even if the party’s rogue was off in a vault stealing treasure during the battle. But if the rogue collected a splendid and famous gemstone, which you’ve decided was a moderate accomplishment worth 30 XP, each member of the party gets 30 XP, too.Table 10-8: XP Awards
|Adversary Level||XP Award|
|Party level -4||10 XP|
|Party level -3||15 XP|
|Party level -2||20 XP|
|Party level -1||30 XP|
|Party level||40 XP|
|Party level +1||60 XP|
|Party level +2||80 XP|
|Party level +3||120 XP|
|Party level +4||160 XP|
|Level||Simple Hazard||Complex Hazard|
|Party level -4||2 XP||10 XP|
|Party level -3||3 XP||15 XP|
|Party level -2||4 XP||20 XP|
|Party level -1||6 XP||30 XP|
|Party level||8 XP||40 XP|
|Party level +1||12 XP||60 XP|
|Party level +2||16 XP||80 XP|
|Party level +3||24 XP||120 XP|
|Party level +4||32 XP||160 XP|
Adversaries and Hazards
Encounters with adversaries and hazards grant a set amount of XP. When the group overcomes an encounter with creatures or hazards, each character gains XP equal to the total XP of the creatures and hazards in the encounter (this excludes XP adjustments for different party sizes; see Party Size on page 508 for details).
Trivial encounters don’t normally grant any XP, but you might decide to award the same XP as for a minor or moderate accomplishment for a trivial encounter that was important to the story, or for an encounter that became trivial because of the order in which the PCs encountered it in a nonlinear adventure.
Characters’ actions that move the story forward—like securing a major alliance, establishing an organization, or causing an NPC to have a change of heart—are considered accomplishments and should be rewarded with XP. Their significance determines the size of the XP award. Determine whether the achievement was a minor, moderate, or major accomplishment, and refer to Table 10–8: XP Awards on page 508 to award an appropriate amount of XP. Minor accomplishments include all sorts of significant, memorable, or surprising moments in the game. A moderate accomplishment typically represents a goal that takes most of a session to complete, and a major accomplishment is usually the culmination of the characters’ efforts across many sessions. Moderate and major accomplishments usually come after heroic effort, so that’s an ideal time to also give a Hero Point to one or more of the characters involved.
As mentioned earlier, it’s up to you how much XP to give out for accomplishments. As a general guideline, in a given game session, you’ll typically give several minor awards, one or two moderate awards, and only one major award, if any.
The rules for advancement assume a group of four PCs. The rules for encounters (page 489) describe how to accommodate groups of a different size, but the XP awards don’t change—always award the amount of XP listed for a group of four characters. You usually won’t need to make many adjustments for a differently sized group outside of encounters. Be careful of providing too many ways to get accomplishment XP when you have a large group, though, since they can pursue multiple accomplishments at once, which can lead to the PCs leveling up too fast.
Group Parity and Party Level
It’s recommended that you keep all the player characters at the same XP total. This makes it much easier to know what challenges are suitable for your players. Having characters at different levels can mean weaker characters die more easily and their players feel less effective, which in turn makes the game less fun for those players.
If you choose not to keep the whole group at the same character level, you’ll need to select a party level to determine your XP budget for encounters. Choose the level you think best represents the party’s ability as a whole. Use the highest level if only one or two characters are behind, or an average if everyone is at a different level. If only one character is two or more levels ahead, use a party level suitable for the lower-level characters, and adjust the encounters as if there were one additional PC for every 2 levels the higher-level character has beyond the rest of the party.
Party members who are behind the party level gain double the XP other characters do until they reach the party’s level. When tracking individually, you’ll need to decide whether party members get XP for missed sessions.
As the GM, it’s your job to distribute treasure to the player characters. Treasure appears throughout an adventure, and the PCs obtain it by raiding treasure hoards, defeating foes who carry valuable items or currency, getting paid for successful quests, and any other way you can imagine.
This section provides guidelines for distributing treasure in a typical Pathfinder campaign, but you always have the freedom to assign extra treasure for a high-powered game, less treasure for a gritty survival horror adventure, or any amount in between.
The treasure you award to the party should be monitored and adjusted as you play. You might need to give out treasure you hadn’t originally planned for, especially if the group bypasses part of an adventure. Keep an eye on the party’s resources. If they’re running out of consumables or money, or if they’re having trouble in combat because their items aren’t up to the task, you can make adjustments.
This is especially common in adventures that have little downtime or that take place far from civilization. If the group goes a long time without being able to purchase or Craft useful items, the PCs will be flush with coins and valuables but behind on useful equipment. In a situation like this, you can either place more useful treasure in the adventure or introduce NPCs who are willing to trade.
Megadungeons and Sandboxes
Some adventures have an expectation that the player characters explore where they want and find only what their skill, luck, and ingenuity afford. Two common examples of this type of adventure are the sprawling dungeon with multiple different sections and paths, often called a megadungeon, and free-form exploration, often called a sandbox and typically occurring in a wilderness. If you want to build a free-form adventure like this where characters are likely to miss at least some of the treasure, increase the amount of treasure you place. Be aware, however, that a meticulous group can end up with more treasure than normal and will have advantages in later adventures.
For a simple guideline to these situations, increase the treasure as though there were one more PC in the party. If the structure is especially loose, especially in sandbox adventures, you can increase this amount even further.
Treasure by Level
Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level on the next page shows how much treasure you should give out over the course of a level for a group of four PCs. The Total Value column gives an approximate total value of all the treasure, in case you want to spend it like a budget. The next several columns provide suggestions for breaking down that total into permanent items, which the PCs keep and use for a long time; consumables, which are destroyed after being used once; and currency, which includes coins, gems, and other valuables primarily spent to acquire items or services. The final column gives the amount of currency to add for each PC beyond four in the group; use this only if you have more than four characters in the game. (Different Party Sizes on page 510 provides more guidance on this.)
For instance, between the time your PCs reach 3rd level and the time they reach 4th level, you should give them the treasure listed in the table for 3rd level, worth approximately 500 gp: two 4th-level permanent items, two 3rd-level permanent items, two 4th-level consumables, two 3rd-level consumables, two 2nd-level consumables, and 120 gp worth of currency.
When assigning 1st-level permanent items, your best options are armor, weapons, and other gear from Chapter 6 worth between 10 and 20 gp. The treasure listed in the row for 20th level represents a full level’s worth of adventures, even though there is no way to reach 21st level.
Some creature entries in the Pathfinder Bestiary list treasure that can be gained by defeating an individual creature; this counts toward the treasure for any given level. Published adventures include a suitable amount of treasure throughout the adventure, though you should still monitor the party’s capabilities as the PCs progress through the adventure to make sure they don’t end up behind.Table 10-9: Party Treasure by Level
|Level||Total Value||Permanent Items (By Item Level)||Consumables (By Item Level)||Party Currency||Currency per Additional PC|
|1||175 gp||2nd: 2, 1st: 2||2nd: 2, 1st: 3||40 gp||10 gp|
|2||300 gp||3rd: 2, 2nd: 2||3rd: 2, 2nd: 2, 1st: 2||70 gp||18 gp|
|3||500 gp||4th: 2, 3rd: 2||4th: 2, 3rd: 2, 2nd: 2||120 gp||30 gp|
|4||860 gp||5th: 2, 4th: 2||5th: 2, 4th: 2, 3rd: 2||200 gp||50 gp|
|5||1,350 gp||6th: 2, 5th: 2||6th: 2, 5th: 2, 4th: 2||320 gp||80 gp|
|6||2,000 gp||7th: 2, 6th: 2||7th: 2, 6th: 2, 5th: 2||500 gp||125 gp|
|7||2,900 gp||8th: 2, 7th: 2||8th: 2, 7th: 2, 6th: 2||720 gp||180 gp|
|8||4,000 gp||9th: 2, 8th: 2||9th: 2, 8th: 2, 7th: 2||1,000 gp||250 gp|
|9||5,700 gp||10th: 2, 9th: 2||10th: 2, 9th: 2, 8th: 2||1,400 gp||350 gp|
|10||8,000 gp||11th: 2, 10th: 2||11th: 2, 10th: 2, 9th: 2||2,000 gp||500 gp|
|11||11,500 gp||12th: 2, 11th: 2||12th: 2, 11th: 2, 10th: 2||2,800 gp||700 gp|
|12||16,500 gp||13th: 2, 12th: 2||13th: 2, 12th: 2, 11th: 2||4,000 gp||1,000 gp|
|13||25,000 gp||14th: 2, 13th: 2||14th: 2, 13th: 2, 12th: 2||6,000 gp||1,500 gp|
|14||36,500 gp||15th: 2, 14th: 2||15th: 2, 14th: 2, 13th: 2||9,000 gp||2,250 gp|
|15||54,500 gp||16th: 2, 15th: 2||16th: 2, 15th: 2, 14th: 2||13,000 gp||3,250 gp|
|16||82,500 gp||17th: 2, 16th: 2||17th: 2, 16th: 2, 15th: 2||20,000 gp||5,000 gp|
|17||128,000 gp||18th: 2, 17th: 2||18th: 2, 17th: 2, 16th: 2||30,000 gp||7,500 gp|
|18||208,000 gp||19th: 2, 18th: 2||19th: 2, 18th: 2, 17th: 2||48,000 gp||12,000 gp|
|19||355,000 gp||20th: 2, 19th: 2||20th: 2, 19th: 2, 18th: 2||80,000 gp||20,000 gp|
|20||490,000 gp||20th: 4||20th: 4, 19th: 2||140,000 gp||35,000 gp|
A party will find money and other treasure that isn’t useful on its own but that can be sold or spent on other things. The gp values in the Party Currency column don’t refer only to coins. Gems, art objects, crafting materials (including precious materials), jewelry, and even items of much lower level than the party’s level can all be more interesting than a pile of gold.
If you include a lower-level permanent item as part of a currency reward, count only half the item’s Price toward the gp amount, assuming the party will sell the item or use it as crafting material. But lower-level consumables might still be useful, particularly scrolls, and if you think your party will use them, count those items at their full Price.
Other Types of Treasure
Not all treasure has to be items or currency. Crafters can use the Crafting skill to turn raw materials directly into items instead of buying those items with coins. Knowledge can expand a character’s abilities, and formulas make good treasure for item-crafting characters. A spellcaster might get access to new spells from an enemy’s spellbook or an ancient scholar, while a monk might retrain techniques with rarer ones learned from a master on a remote mountaintop.
Treasure and Rarity
Giving out uncommon and rare items and formulas can get players more interested in treasure. It’s best to introduce uncommon items as a reward fairly regularly but rare items only occasionally. These rewards are especially compelling when the adventurers get the item by defeating or outsmarting an enemy who carries an item that fits their backstory or theme.
Uncommon and rare formulas make great treasure for a character who Crafts items. Note that if an uncommon or rare formula is broadly disseminated, it eventually becomes more common. This can take months or years, but the item might start showing up in shops all around the world.
Different Item Levels
The levels listed for items on Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level aren’t set in stone. You can provide items of slightly higher or lower level as long as you take into account the value of the items you hand out. For instance, suppose you were considering giving a party of 11th-level PCs a runestone with a fortification rune (with a Price of 2,000 gp) as one of their 12th-level items, but you realize they’ve had trouble finding armor in their recent adventures, so you instead decide to give them a suit of 11th-level +2 resilient armor (1,400 gp) instead. Since the armor has a lower Price than the rune, you might also add a 9th-level shadow rune (650 gp) to make up the difference. The total isn’t exactly the same, but that’s all right.
However, if you wanted to place a 13th-level permanent item in a treasure hoard, you could remove two 11th-level permanent items to make a roughly equivalent exchange. When you make an exchange upward like this, be cautious: not only might you introduce an item with effects that are disruptive at the party’s current level of play, but you also might give an amazing item to one PC while other characters don’t gain any new items at all!
If you’re playing in a long-term campaign, you can spread out the treasure over time. A major milestone can give extra treasure at one level, followed by a tougher dungeon with fewer new items at the next level. Check back occasionally to see whether each PC’s treasure is comparable to the amount they’d get if they created a new character at their current level, as described under Treasure for New Characters below. They should be a bit higher. but if there’s a significant discrepancy, adjust the adventure’s upcoming treasure rewards accordingly.
Different Party Sizes
If a party has more than four characters, add the following for each additional character:
- One permanent item of the party’s level or 1 level higher
- Two consumables, usually one of the party’s level and one of 1 level higher
- Currency equal to the value in the Currency per Additional PC column of Table 10–9
If the party has fewer than four characters, you can subtract the same amount for each missing character, but since the game is inherently more challenging with a smaller group that can’t cover all roles as efficiently, you might consider subtracting less treasure and allowing the extra gear help compensate for the smaller group size.
Treasure for New Characters
When your new campaign starts at a higher level, a new player joins an existing group, or a current player’s character dies and they need a new one, your campaign will have one or more PCs who don’t start at 1st level. In these cases, refer to Table 10–10: Character Wealth on the next page, which shows how many common permanent items of various levels the PC should have, in addition to currency. A single item on this table is always a baseline item. If the player wants armor or a weapon with property runes, they must buy the property runes separately, and for armor or a weapon made of a precious material, they must pay for the precious material separately as well.
These values are for a PC just starting out at the given level. If the PC is joining a party that has already made progress toward the next level, consider giving the new character an additional item of their current level. If your party has kept the treasure of dead or retired PCs and passed it on to new characters, you might need to give the new character less than the values on the table or reduce some of the treasure rewards of the next few adventures.Table 10-10: Character Wealth
|Level||Permanent Items||Currency||Lump Sum|
|1||-||15 gp||15 gp|
|2||1st: 1||20 gp||30 gp|
|3||2nd: 1, 1st: 2||25 gp||75 gp|
|4||3rd: 1, 2nd: 2, 1st: 1||30 gp||140 gp|
|5||4th: 1, 3rd: 2, 2nd: 1, 1st: 2||50 gp||270 gp|
|6||5th: 1, 4th: 2, 3rd: 1, 2nd: 2||80 gp||450 gp|
|7||6th: 1, 5th: 2, 4th: 1, 3rd: 2||125 gp||720 gp|
|8||7th: 1, 6th: 2, 5th: 1, 4th: 2||180 gp||1,100 gp|
|9||8th: 1, 7th: 2, 6th: 1, 5th: 2||250 gp||1,600 gp|
|10||9th: 1, 8th: 2, 7th: 1, 6th: 2||350 gp||2,300 gp|
|11||10th: 1, 9th: 2, 8th: 1, 7th: 2||500 gp||3,200 gp|
|12||11th: 1, 10th: 2, 9th: 1, 8th: 2||700 gp||4,500 gp|
|13||12th: 1, 11th: 2, 10th: 1, 9th: 2||1,000 gp||6,400 gp|
|14||13th: 1, 12th: 2, 11th: 1, 10th: 2||1,500 gp||9,300 gp|
|15||14th: 1, 13th: 2, 12th: 1, 11th: 2||2,250 gp||13,500 gp|
|16||15th: 1, 14th: 2, 13th: 1, 12th: 2||3,250 gp||20,000 gp|
|17||16th: 1, 15th: 2, 14th: 1, 13th: 2||5,000 gp||30,000 gp|
|18||17th: 1, 16th: 2, 15th: 1, 14th: 2||7,500 gp||45,000 gp|
|19||18th: 1, 17th: 2, 16th: 1, 15th: 2||12,000 gp||69,000 gp|
|20||19th: 1, 18th: 2, 17th: 1, 16th: 2||20,000 gp||112,000 gp|
You should work with the new character’s player to decide which items their character has. Allow the player to make suggestions, and if they know what items they want their character to have, respect their choices unless you believe those choices will have a negative impact on your game. At your discretion, you can grant the player character uncommon or rare items that fit their backstory and concept, keeping in mind how many items of those rarities you have introduced into your game. The player can also spend currency on consumables or lower-level permanent items, keeping the rest as coinage. As usual, you determine which items the character can find for purchase.
A PC can voluntarily choose an item that has a lower level than any or all of the listed items, but they don’t gain any more currency by doing so.
If you choose, you can allow the player to instead start with a lump sum of currency and buy whatever common items they want, with a maximum item level of 1 lower than the character’s level. This has a lower total value than the normal allotment of permanent items and currency, since the player can select a higher ratio of high-level items.
Buying and Selling Items
Characters can usually buy and sell items only during downtime. An item can typically be sold for only half its Price, though art objects, gems, and raw materials can be sold for their full Price (page 271).
Primarily used during exploration, environment rules bring the locales your party travels through to life. You’ll often be able to use common sense to adjudicate how environments work, but you’ll need special rules for environments that really stand out.
Each of the environments presented in this section uses the terrain rules (which are summarized on page 514 and appear in full beginning on page 475) in different ways, so be sure to familiarize yourself with those rules before reading this section. Some environments refer to the rules for climate (page 517) and natural disasters (beginning on page 517). Many places have the traits of multiple environments; a snow-covered mountain might use both the arctic and mountain environments, for example. For environmental features with effects based on how tall or deep they are, those effects vary further based on a creature’s size. For instance, a shallow bog for a Medium creature might be a deep bog for smaller creatures, and a deep bog for a Medium creature could be only a shallow bog for a larger creature (and so insignificant for a truly massive creature that it isn’t even difficult terrain).
Table 10–12 lists the features of various environments alphabetically for quick reference. The Proficiency DC Band entry indicates a range of appropriate simple DCs for that environmental feature, while also providing a rough estimate of the danger or complexity of the feature.Table 10-12
|Feature||Proficiency DC Band|
Environments make frequent use of the rules for difficult terrain, greater difficult terrain, and hazardous terrain, so those rules are summarized here.
Difficult terrain is any terrain that impedes movement, ranging from particularly rough or unstable surfaces to thick ground cover and countless other impediments. Moving into a square of difficult terrain (or moving 5 feet into or within an area of difficult terrain, if you’re not using a grid) costs an extra 5 feet of movement. Moving into a square of greater difficult terrain instead costs 10 additional feet of movement. This additional cost is not increased when moving diagonally. Creatures can’t normally Step into difficult terrain.
Any movement creatures make while jumping ignores terrain that the creature is jumping over. Some abilities (such as flight or being incorporeal) allow creatures to avoid the movement reduction from some types of difficult terrain. Certain other abilities let creatures ignore difficult terrain while traveling on foot; such an ability also allows a creature to move through greater difficult terrain using the movement cost for difficult terrain, but unless the ability specifies otherwise, these abilities don’t let creatures ignore greater difficult terrain.
Hazardous terrain damages creatures whenever they move through it. For instance, an acid pool, a pit of burning embers, and a spike-filled passageway all constitute hazardous terrain. The amount and type of damage depend on the specific hazardous terrain.
Dungeon environments, which include both ruins and contemporary buildings constructed in the wilderness, are a fairly common venue for adventures. As an environment, they combine urban features like doors and buildings (page 515) with features from an underground environment, and occasionally components from other environments. While underground dungeons are particularly common, you might also consider setting your adventure in a ruin reclaimed by the forest, with giant trees spreading their roots through the walls, or a ruin deep in a swamp, with bogs covering access to some of the ruin’s hidden secrets.
Some environmental features or natural disasters deal damage. Because the amount of damage can vary based on the specific circumstances, the rules for specific environments and natural disasters use damage categories to describe the damage, rather than exact numbers. Use Table 10–11 below to determine damage from an environment or natural disaster. When deciding the exact damage amount, use your best judgment based on how extreme you deem the danger to be.Table 10-11
Aquatic environments are among the most challenging for PCs short of other worlds and unusual planes. PCs in an aquatic environment need a way to breathe (typically a water breathing spell) and must usually Swim to move, though a PC who sinks to the bottom can walk awkwardly, using the rules for greater difficult terrain. Characters in aquatic environments make frequent use of the aquatic combat (page 478) and drowning and suffocation rules (page 478).
Currents and Flowing Water
Ocean currents, flowing rivers, and similar moving water are difficult terrain or greater difficult terrain (depending on the speed of the water) for a creature Swimming against the current. At the end of a creature’s turn, it moves a certain distance depending on the current’s speed. For instance, a 10-foot current moves a creature 10 feet in the current’s direction at the end of that creature’s turn.
It’s much harder to see things at a distance underwater than it is on land, and it’s particularly difficult if the water is murky or full of particles. In pure water, the maximum visual range is roughly 240 feet to see a small object, and in murky water, visibility can be reduced to only 10 feet or even less.
The main challenge in an arctic environment is the low temperature, but arctic environments also contain ice and snow. The disasters that most often strike in arctic environments are avalanches, blizzards, and floods.
Icy ground is both uneven ground and difficult terrain, as characters slip and slide due to poor traction.
Depending on the depth of snow and its composition, most snowy ground is either difficult terrain or greater difficult terrain. In denser snow, characters can attempt to walk along the surface without breaking through, but some patches might be loose or soft enough that they’re uneven ground.
Desert encompasses sandy and rocky deserts as well as badlands. Though tundra is technically a desert, it’s classified as arctic, as the climate is the primary challenge in such areas. Sandy deserts often have quicksand hazards (page 526) and sandstorms.
Rocky deserts are strewn with rubble, which is difficult terrain. Rubble dense enough to be walked over rather than navigated through is uneven ground.
Packed sand doesn’t usually significantly impede a character’s movement, but loose sand is either difficult terrain (if it’s shallow) or uneven ground (if it’s deep). The wind in a desert often shifts sand into dunes, hills of loose sand with uneven ground facing the wind and steeper inclines away from the wind.
These diverse environments include jungles and other wooded areas. They are sometimes struck by wildfires.
Particularly dense forests, such as rain forests, have a canopy level above the ground. A creature trying to reach the canopy or travel along it must Climb. Swinging on vines and branches usually requires an Acrobatics or Athletics check. A canopy provides cover, and a thicker one can prevent creatures in the canopy from seeing those on the ground, and vice versa.
While trees are omnipresent in a forest, they typically don’t provide cover unless a character uses the Take Cover action. Only larger trees that take up an entire 5-foot square on the map (or more) are big enough to provide cover automatically.
Light undergrowth is difficult terrain that allows a character to Take Cover. Heavy undergrowth is greater difficult terrain that automatically provides cover. Some sorts of undergrowth, such as thorns, might also be hazardous terrain, and areas with plenty of twisting roots might be uneven ground.
Mountain environments also include hills, which share many aspects of mountains, though not their more extreme features. The most common disasters here are avalanches.
Chasms are natural pits, typically at least 20 feet long and clearly visible (barring mundane or magical efforts to conceal them). The main danger posed by a chasm is that characters must Long Jump to get across. Alternatively, characters can take the safer but slower route of Climbing down the near side of the chasm and then ascending the far side to get across.
Cliffs and rock walls require creatures to Climb to ascend or descend. Without extensive safety precautions, a critical failure can result in significant falling damage.
Mountains often have extremely rocky areas or shifting, gravelly scree that makes for difficult terrain. Especially deep or pervasive rubble is uneven ground.
Slopes vary from the gentle rises of normal terrain to difficult terrain and inclines, depending on the angle of elevation. Moving down a slope is typically normal terrain, but characters might need to Climb up particularly steep slopes.
Light undergrowth is common in mountains. It is difficult terrain and allows a character to Take Cover.
The plains environment encompasses grasslands such as savannas and farmland. The most common disasters in plains are tornadoes and wildfires.
Hedges are planted rows of bushes, shrubs, and trees. Their iconic appearance in adventures consists of tall hedges grown into mazes. A typical hedge is 2 to 5 feet tall, takes up a row of squares, and provides cover. A character trying to push through a hedge faces greater difficult terrain; it’s sometimes faster to Climb over.
Light undergrowth is difficult terrain that allows a character to Take Cover. Heavy undergrowth is greater difficult terrain that provides cover automatically. Undergrowth in plains is usually light with a few scattered areas of heavy undergrowth, but fields of certain crops, like corn, are entirely heavy undergrowth.
Wetlands are the most common kind of swamp, but this category also includes drier marshes such as moors. Swamps often contain quicksand hazards (page 526). Despite their soggy nature, swamps aren’t very likely to experience heavy flooding, since they act as natural sponges and absorb a great deal of water before they flood.
Also called mires, bogs are watery areas that accumulate peat, are covered by shrubs and moss, and sometimes feature floating islands of vegetation covering deeper pools. Shallow bogs are difficult terrain for a Medium creature, and deep bogs are greater difficult terrain. If a bog is deep enough that a creature can’t reach the bottom, the creature has to Swim. Bogs are also acidic, so particularly extreme or magical bogs can be hazardous terrain.
Light undergrowth is difficult terrain that allows a character to Take Cover, while heavy undergrowth is greater difficult terrain that provides cover automatically. Some sorts of undergrowth, such as thorns, are also hazardous terrain, and areas with plenty of twisting roots are uneven ground.
Urban environments include open city spaces as well as buildings. The building information in this section also applies to ruins and constructed dungeons. Depending on their construction and location, cities might be vulnerable to many sorts of disasters, especially fires and floods.
Some of the most common obstacles that characters face in urban areas and dungeons are doors, gates, and walls.
The table below gives the typical DC for Athletics checks to Climb a structure, which is usually a simple DC. You might adjust the difficulty based on the specifics of the structure and environment.
A character might want to smash their way through a door, a window, or certain walls. The Hardness, Hit Point, and Broken Threshold values provided in the table below are based on the material the structure is typically made out of, so a portcullis made of iron, for example, has a higher Hardness than one of wood. For more on damaging objects, see page 272. Strong walls, such as well-maintained masonry or hewn stone, can’t be broken without dedicated work and proper tools. Getting through such walls requires downtime.
|Door||Climb DC||Hardness, HP (BT)|
|Wood||20||10, 40 (20)|
|Stone||30||14, 56 (28)|
|Reinforced wood||15||15, 60 (30)|
|Iron||30||18, 72 (36)|
|Wall||Climb DC||Hardness, HP (BT)|
|Crumbling masonry||15||10, 40 (20)|
|Wooden slats||15||10, 40 (20)|
|Masonry||20||14, 56 (28)|
|Hewn stone||30||14, 56 (28)|
|Iron||40||18, 72 (36)|
|Portcullis||Climb DC||Hardness, HP (BT)|
|Wood||10||10, 40 (20)|
|Iron||10||18, 72 (36)|
Forcing OpenStructures that can be opened—such as doors, gates, and windows—can be Forced Open using Athletics. This is usually necessary only if they’re locked or stuck. The DC to Force Open a structure uses the Thievery DC of its lock but adjusts it to be very hard (increasing the DC by 5). If there’s no lock, use the following table; when lifting a portcullis, use the lock DC or the DC from the table, whichever is higher. Forcing Open
|Structure||Force Open DC|
|Stuck door or window||15|
|Lift wooden portcullis||20|
|Lift iron portcullis||30|
|Bend metal bars||30|
Crowded thoroughfares and similar areas are difficult terrain, or greater difficult terrain if an area is truly packed with people. You might allow a character to get a crowd to part using Diplomacy, Intimidation, or Performance.
A crowd exposed to an obvious danger, like a fire or a rampaging monster, attempts to move away from the danger as quickly as possible, but it is slowed by its own mass. A fleeing crowd typically moves at the Speed of an average member each round (usually 25 feet), potentially trampling or leaving behind slower-moving members of the crowd.
Opening an unlocked door requires an Interact action (or more than one for a particularly complicated or large door). Stuck doors must be Forced Open, and locked ones require a character to Pick the Lock or Force them Open.
Wooden floors are easy to walk on, as are flagstone floors made of fitted stones. However, floors of worn flagstone often contain areas of uneven ground.
Walled settlements often have gates that the city can close for defense or open to allow travel. A typical gate consists of one portcullis at each end of a gatehouse, with murder holes in between or other protected spots from which guards can attack foes.
Most settlements of significant size have guards working in shifts to protect the settlement at all hours, patrolling the streets and guarding various posts. The size of this force varies from one guard for every 1,000 residents to a force 10 times this number.
A portcullis is a wooden or iron grate that descends to seal off a gate or corridor. Most are raised on ropes or chains operated by a winch, and they have locking mechanisms that keep them from being lifted easily. The rules on lifting a portcullis or bending its bars appear in the sidebar on this page. If a portcullis falls on a creature, use a slamming door trap.
Rooftops make for memorable ambushes, chase scenes, infiltrations, and running fights. Flat roofs are easy to move across, but they’re rare in any settlement that receives significant snowfall, since heavy buildups of snow can collapse a roof. Angled roofs are uneven ground, or inclines if they’re especially steep. The peak of an angled roof is a narrow surface.
Hurdling from roof to roof often requires a Long Jump, though some buildings are close enough to Leap between. A High Jump might be necessary to reach a higher roof, or a Leap followed by Grabbing an Edge and Climbing up.
Sewers are generally 10 feet or more below street level and are equipped with ladders or other means to ascend and descend. Raised paths along the walls allow sewer workers access, while channels in the center carry the waste itself. Less sophisticated sewers, or sections those workers don’t usually access, might require wading through disease-ridden waste. Sewers can be accessed through sewer grates, which usually require 2 or more Interact actions to open.
Sewer gas often contains pockets of highly flammable gas. A pocket of sewer gas exposed to a source of flame explodes, dealing moderate environmental fire damage to creatures in the area.
Stairs are difficult terrain for characters moving up them, and shoddy stairs might also be uneven ground. Some temples and giant-built structures have enormous stairs that are greater difficult terrain both up and down, or might require Climbing every step.
Most settlements have narrow and twisting streets that were largely established organically as the settlement grew. These roads are rarely more than 20 feet wide, with alleys as narrow as 5 feet. Streets are generally paved with cobblestones. If the cobblestones are in poor repair, they could be difficult terrain or uneven ground.
Particularly lawful or well-planned cities have major thoroughfares that allow wagons and merchants to reach marketplaces and other important areas in town. These need to be at least 25 feet wide to accommodate wagons moving in both directions, and they often have narrow sidewalks that allow pedestrians to avoid wagon traffic.
Well-built structures have exterior walls of brick or stonemasonry. Smaller, lower-quality, or temporary structures might have wooden walls. Interior walls tend to be less sturdy; they could be made of wooden planks, or even simply of thick, opaque paper held in a wooden frame. An underground structure might have thick walls carved out of solid rock to prevent the weight of the ground above from collapsing the structure. Rules for climbing and breaking walls are in the sidebar on page 515.
Underground environments consist of caves and natural underground areas. Artificial dungeons and ruins combine underground features with urban features like stairs and walls. Deep underground vaults have some of the same terrain features as mountains, such as chasms and cliffs. The most common disasters underground are collapses.
Natural underground environments rarely have flat floors, instead featuring abrupt changes in elevation that result in difficult terrain, uneven ground, and inclines.
Ledges are narrow surfaces that overlook a lower area or provide the only means to move along the edge of a chasm. Moving across a narrow ledge requires using Acrobatics to Balance.
Caverns can be covered in rubble, which is difficult terrain. Deep or pervasive rubble is also uneven ground.
Stalagmites and Stalactites
Stalagmites are tapering columns that rise from the floor of a cave. Areas filled with stalagmites are greater difficult terrain, and especially large stalagmites have to be sidestepped or Climbed. Stalagmites can be sharp enough they can be used as hazardous terrain in some circumstances, as can stalactites (icicle-shaped formations that hang from the roof of a cave) if they’re knocked loose from a ceiling or overhang.
Natural cave walls are uneven, with nooks, crannies, and ledges. Since most caves are formed by water, cave walls are often damp, making them even more difficult to Climb.
Weather is more than just set dressing to establish mood—it has mechanical effects you can combine with environmental components to create a more memorable encounter. Weather can impose circumstance penalties on certain checks, from –1 to –4 based on severity.
Fog imposes a circumstance penalty to visual Perception checks, depending on the thickness; it causes creatures viewed through significant amounts of fog to be concealed; and it cuts off all visibility at half a mile or less—possibly much less. Conditions limiting visibility to about a mile are called mist, and those that do so to about 3 miles are called haze.
Precipitation includes rain as well as colder snow, sleet, and hail. Wet precipitation douses flames, and frozen precipitation can create areas of snow or ice on the ground. Drizzle or light snowfall has little mechanical effect beyond limited visibility.
Most forms of precipitation impose circumstance penalties on visual Perception checks. Hail often is sparser but loud, instead penalizing auditory Perception checks. Especially heavy precipitation, such as a downpour of rain or heavy snow, might make creatures concealed if they’re far away.
Precipitation causes discomfort and fatigue. Anything heavier than drizzle or light snowfall reduces the time it takes for characters to become fatigued from overland travel to only 4 hours. Heavy precipitation can be dangerous in cold environments when characters go without protection. Soaked characters treat the temperature as one step colder (mild to severe, severe to extreme; see Temperature below).
High winds and heavy precipitation accompany many thunderstorms. There’s also a very small chance that a character might be struck by lightning during a storm. A lightning strike usually deals moderate electricity damage, or major electricity damage in a severe thunderstorm.
Often, temperature doesn’t impose enough of a mechanical effect to worry about beyond describing the clothing the characters need to wear to be comfortable. Particularly hot and cold weather can make creatures fatigued more quickly during overland travel and can cause damage if harsh enough, as shown in Table 10–13.
Appropriate cold-weather gear (such as the winter clothing) can negate the damage from severe cold or reduce the damage from extreme cold to that of particularly severe cold.Table 10-13: Temperature Effects
|Incredible cold||-80º F or colder (-62º C or colder)||2 hours||Moderate cold every minute|
|Extreme cold||-79º F to -21º F (-61º C to -29º C)||4 hours||Minor cold every 10 minutes|
|Severe cold||-20º F to 12º F (-28º C to -11º C)||4 hours||Minor cold every hour|
|Mild cold||13º F to 32º F (-10º C to 0º C)||4 hours||None|
|Normal||33º F to 94º F (1º C to 34º C)||8 hours||None|
|Mild heat||95º F* to 104º F* (35º C to 40º C)||4 hours||None|
|Severe heat||105º F* to 114º F (41º C to 45º C)||4 hours||Minor fire every hour|
|Extreme heat||115º F to 139º F (46º C to 59º C)||4 hours||Minor fire every 10 minutes|
|Incredible heat||140º F or warmer (60º C or warmer)||2 hours||Moderate fire every minute|
* Adjust temperatures down by 15º F (9º C) in areas of high humidity
Wind imposes a circumstance penalty on auditory Perception checks depending on its strength. It also interferes with physical ranged attacks such as arrows, imposing a circumstance penalty to attack rolls involving such weapons, and potentially making attacks with them impossible in powerful windstorms. Wind snuffs out handheld flames; lanterns protect their flame from the wind, but particularly powerful winds can extinguish these as well.
Moving in Wind
Wind is difficult or greater difficult terrain when Flying. Moving in wind of sufficient strength requires a Maneuver in Flight action, and fliers are blown away on a critical failure or if they don’t succeed at a minimum of one such check each round.
Even on the ground, particularly strong winds might require a creature to succeed at an Athletics check to move, knocking the creature back and prone on a critical failure. On such checks, Small creatures typically take a –1 circumstance penalty, and Tiny creatures typically take a –2 penalty.
Climate and environmental features can be a hindrance or long-term threat, but natural disasters represent acute danger, especially to those directly exposed to their fury. The damage in the following sections uses the categories in Table 10–11: Environmental Damage on page 512.
Though the term avalanche specifically refers to a cascading flow of ice and snow down a mountain’s slope, the same rules work for landslides, mudslides, and other similar disasters. Avalanches of wet snow usually travel up to 200 feet per round, though powdery snow can travel up to 10 times faster. Rockslides and mudslides are slower, sometimes even slow enough that a character might be able to outrun them.
An avalanche deals major or even massive bludgeoning damage to creatures and objects in its path. These victims are also buried under a significant mass. Creatures caught in an avalanche’s path can attempt a Reflex save; if they succeed, they take only half the bludgeoning damage, and if they critically succeed, they also avoid being buried.
Buried creatures take minor bludgeoning damage each minute, and they potentially take minor cold damage if buried under an avalanche of snow. At the GM’s discretion, creatures without a sufficient air pocket could also risk suffocation (page 478). A buried creature is restrained and usually can’t free itself.
Allies or bystanders can attempt to dig out a buried creature. Each creature digging clears roughly a 5-foot-by-5-foot square every 4 minutes with a successful Athletics check (or every 2 minutes on a critical success). Using shovels or other proper tools halves the time
Blizzards combine cold weather, heavy snow, and strong winds. They don’t pose a single direct threat as other disasters do; instead, the combination of these factors all at once poses a substantial impediment to characters.
Collapses and cave-ins occur when caverns or buildings fall, dumping tons of rock or other material on those caught below or inside them. Creatures under the collapse take major or massive bludgeoning damage and become buried, just as with an avalanche. Fortunately, collapses don’t spread unless they weaken the overall integrity of the area and lead to further collapses.
Earthquakes often cause other natural disasters in the form of avalanches, collapses, floods, and tsunamis, but they also present unique threats such as fissures, soil liquefaction, and tremors.
Fissures and other ground ruptures can destabilize structures, but more directly they lead to creatures taking bludgeoning damage from falling into a fissure.
Liquefaction occurs when granular particles shake to the point where they temporarily lose their solid form and act as liquids. When this happens to soil, it can cause creatures and even whole buildings to sink into the ground. You can use the earthquake spell for more specific rules, though that spell represents only one particular kind of localized quake.
Tremors knock creatures prone, causing them to fall or careen into other objects, which can deal bludgeoning damage appropriate to the severity of the quake.
Though more gradual floods can damage structures and drown creatures, flash floods are similar to avalanches, except with a liquid mass instead of a solid one. Instead of burying creatures, a flash flood carries creatures and even massive objects away, buffeting the creatures and potentially drowning them. The drowning rules appear on page 478.
Mild sandstorms and dust storms don’t present much more danger than a windy rainstorm, but they can cause damage to a creature’s lungs and spread diseases across long distances. Heavy sandstorms deal minor slashing damage each round to those exposed to the sand, force creatures to hold their breath to avoid suffocation, or both.
In a tornado’s path, wind conditions impose severe circumstance penalties, but creatures that would normally be blown away are instead picked up in the tornado’s funnel, where they take massive bludgeoning damage from flying debris as they rise through the cone until they are eventually expelled (taking bludgeoning damage from falling).
Tornadoes usually travel around 300 feet per round (roughly 30 miles per hour). They normally travel a few miles before dissipating. Some tornadoes are stationary or travel much faster.
Tsunamis present many of the same dangers as flash floods but are much larger and more destructive. Tsunami waves can reach 100 feet or more in height, wrecking buildings and creatures alike with massive bludgeoning damage from both the wave itself and debris pulled up along its path of destruction.
Volcanic eruptions can contain any combination of ash, lava bombs, lava flows, pyroclastic flows, and vents.
Ash from volcanic eruptions is hot enough to cause minor fire damage each minute. It limits visibility like a thick fog and can make air unbreathable, requiring characters to hold their breath or suffocate (page 478). Ash clouds generate ash lightning strikes, which typically deal moderate electricity damage but are very unlikely to hit an individual creature. Ash buildup on the ground creates areas of uneven ground, difficult terrain, or greater difficult terrain, and ash in the atmosphere can block the sun for weeks or even months, leading to colder temperatures and longer winters.
Pressure can launch lava into the air that falls as lava bombs: masses of lava that solidify as they fly and shatter on impact, dealing at least moderate bludgeoning damage and moderate fire damage.
Lava flows are an iconic volcanic threat; they usually move between 5 and 60 feet per round over normal ground, so characters can often outrun them. However, flows can move up to 300 feet per round in a steep volcanic tube or channel. Lava emanates heat that deals minor fire damage even before it comes into contact with creatures, and immersion in lava deals massive fire damage each round.
Mixes of hot gases and rock debris, pyroclastic flows spread much faster than lava, sometimes more than 4,000 feet per round. While cooler than the hottest lava, pyroclastic flows are capable of overwhelming entire settlements. They work like avalanches but deal half of their damage as fire damage.
Steam vents shoot from the ground, dealing moderate fire damage or more in a wide column. Acidic and poisonous gases released from beneath the surface can create wide areas of hazardous terrain that deals at least minor acid or poison damage.
Wildfires travel mainly along a front moving in a single direction. In a forest, the front can advance up to 70 feet per round (7 miles per hour). They can move up to twice as fast across plains due to a lack of shade and the relatively low humidity. Embers from the fire, carried by winds and rising hot air, can scatter, forming spot fires as far as 10 miles away from the main wildfire. Wildfires present three main threats: flames, heat, and smoke.
Flames are hazardous terrain, usually dealing moderate damage and potentially setting a character on fire, dealing moderate persistent fire damage. The flames from a small fire are often less dangerous than the advancing heat from the front of a large fire.
Wildfires increase the temperature in advance of the front, reaching nearly 1,500° F at the fire’s arrival, as hot as some lava. This begins as minor fire damage every round at a reasonable distance from the front and increases to massive fire damage for someone within the wildfire.
Wind can carry smoke far in front of the wildfire itself. Smoke imposes a circumstance penalty to visual Perception checks, depending on the thickness. It causes creatures viewed through significant amounts of smoke to be concealed, and it cuts off all visibility at half a mile or less. Near or within the wildfire, the combination of smoke and heated air require characters to hold their breath or suffocate (page 478).
Dungeons are rife with devious traps meant to protect the treasures within. These range from mechanical devices that shoot darts or drop heavy blocks to magic runes that explode into bursts of flame. In addition to traps, adventurers may stumble into other types of hazards, including naturally occurring environmental hazards, mysterious hauntings, and more.
The statistics for NPCs and monsters usually don’t list their proficiency ranks. Most of the time, they don’t need to deal with detecting or disabling hazards the way PCs do, so you don’t need this information. However, if a PC resets a trap in a monster’s path or plans to lure a monster into a hazard, you can improvise this information.
For Perception, a monster is usually an expert at 3rd or 4th level, a master at 8th or 9th level, and legendary at 16th or 17th level. If the monster has Thievery listed in its skills, it has the highest proficiency possible for its level (trained at 1st, expert at 3rd, master at 7th, and legendary at 15th); otherwise, it’s untrained. Of course, an individual monster might deviate from these guidelines, especially if it’s mindless or not very perceptive.
DETECTING A HAZARD
Every hazard has a trigger of some kind that sets its dangers in motion. For traps, this could be a mechanism like a trip wire or a pressure plate, while for an environmental hazard or haunt, the trigger may simply be proximity. When characters approach a hazard, they have a chance of finding the trigger area or mechanism before triggering the hazard. They automatically receive a check to detect hazards unless the hazards require a minimum proficiency rank to do so.
During exploration, determine whether the party detects a hazard when the PCs first enter the general area in which it appears. If the hazard doesn’t list a minimum proficiency rank, roll a secret Perception check against the hazard’s Stealth DC for each PC. For hazards with a minimum proficiency rank, roll only if someone is actively searching (using the Search activity while exploring or the Seek action in an encounter), and only if they have the listed proficiency rank or higher. Anyone who succeeds becomes aware of the hazard, and you can describe what they notice.
Magical hazards that don’t have a minimum proficiency rank can be found using detect magic, but this spell doesn’t provide enough information to understand or disable the hazard—it only reveals the hazard’s presence. Determining a magical hazard’s properties thoroughly enough to disable it requires either the use of more powerful magic or a successful skill check, likely using Identify Magic or Recall Knowledge. Magical hazards with a minimum proficiency rank cannot be found with detect magic at all.
TRIGGERING A HAZARD
If the group fails to detect a hazard and the hazard’s trigger is a standard part of traveling (such as stepping on a floor plate or moving through a magical sensor while walking), the hazard’s reaction occurs. Hazards that would be triggered only when someone directly manipulates the environment—by opening a door, for example—use their reactions only if a PC explicitly takes that action.
Reaction or Free Action
Most hazards have reactions that occur when they’re triggered. For simple hazards, the reaction is the entirety of the hazard’s effect. For complex hazards, the reaction may also cause the hazard to roll initiative, either starting a combat encounter or joining one already in progress, and the hazard continues to pose a threat over multiple rounds. Some hazards have a triggered free action instead of a reaction; for instance, quicksand can suck down multiple creatures per round.
A complex hazard usually follows a set of preprogrammed actions called a routine. Once triggered, the hazard first performs its initial reaction; then, if the PCs are not yet in encounter mode, they should roll initiative. (If they’re already in encounter mode, their initiative remains the same.) The hazard might tell you to roll initiative for it—in this case, the hazard rolls initiative using its Stealth modifier.
After this happens, the hazard follows its routine each round on its initiative. The number of actions a hazard can take each round, as well as what they can be used for, depend on the hazard.
Resetting a Hazard
Some hazards can be reset, allowing them to be triggered again. This can occur automatically, as for quicksand, whose surface settles after 24 hours, or manually, like a hidden pit, whose trapdoor must be closed for the pit to become hidden again.
DISABLING A HAZARD
The most versatile method for deactivating traps is the Disable a Device action of the Thievery skill, though most mechanical traps can also simply be smashed, and magical traps can usually be counteracted. Environmental hazards often can be overcome with Nature or Survival, and haunts can often be overcome with Occultism or Religion. The specific skill and DC required to disable a hazard are listed in the hazard’s stat block. As with detecting a hazard, disabling a hazard might require a character to have a certain proficiency rank in the listed skill.
A character must first detect a hazard (or have it pointed out to them) to try to deactivate it. They can attempt to deactivate a hazard whether or not it has already been triggered, though some hazards no longer pose a danger once their reactions have occurred, especially if there is no way for them to be reset.
For most hazards, a successful check for the listed skill against the DC in the stat block disables the hazard without triggering it. Any other means of deactivating the hazard are included in the hazard’s stat block, as are any additional steps required to properly deactivate it. A critical failure on any roll to disable a hazard triggers it, including a critical failure on a roll to counteract a magic hazard.
Some hazards require multiple successful checks to deactivate, typically because they have a particularly complicated component or have several discrete portions. For hazards with a complex component, a critical success on a check to disable the hazard counts as two successes on a single component.
Damaging a Hazard
Rather than trying to carefully disable a hazard, a character might just smash it. Damaging a mechanical trap or another physical hazard works like damaging objects: the hazard reduces the damage it takes by its Hardness. In most cases, hitting the hazard also triggers it, as explained in Attacking a Hazard below. If a hazard’s Hit Points are reduced to its Broken Threshold (BT) or lower, the hazard becomes broken and can’t be activated, though it can still be repaired. If it’s reduced to 0 HP, it’s destroyed and can’t be repaired. (See page 272 in Chapter 6 for more information on damaging objects.)
Hazards’ AC, applicable saving throw modifiers, Hardness, HP, and BT are listed in their stat blocks. A hazard that doesn’t list one of these statistics can’t be affected by anything targeting that statistic. For example, a hazard that has HP but no BT can’t be broken, but can still be destroyed. Hazards are immune to anything an object is immune to unless specifically noted otherwise, and they can’t be targeted by anything that can’t target objects. Some hazards may have additional immunities, as well as resistances or weaknesses.
Attacking a Hazard
If someone hits a hazard—especially if it’s a mechanical trap—they usually trigger it, though you might determine otherwise in some cases. An attack that breaks the hazard might prevent it from triggering, depending on the circumstances. If the hazard has multiple parts, breaking one part might still trigger the trap. For example, if a trap has a trip wire in one location and launches an attack from another location, severing the trip wire could still trigger the attack. Destroying a trap in one blow almost never triggers it. These rules also apply to most damaging spells or other effects in addition to attacks.
Repairing a Hazard
You might allow a character to repair a damaged hazard to restore its functionality. You determine the specifics of this, since it can vary by trap. The Repair action might be insufficient if fixing the trap requires gathering scattered components or the like. If the item has a Reset entry, the character needs to do whatever is listed there, in addition to repairing the damage.
Counteracting a Magical Hazard
Some magical hazards can be counteracted using dispel magic. These hazards’ spell levels and counteract DCs are listed in their stat block. Counteracting a hazard otherwise works like using a skill check to disable the hazard.
Characters gain Experience Points for overcoming a hazard, whether they disable it, avoid it, or simply endure its attacks. If they trigger the same hazard later on, they don’t gain XP for the hazard again. The XP values for hazards of different levels also appear on page 508, but are repeated here for convenience. The XP for a complex hazard is equal to the XP for a monster of the same level, and the XP for a simple hazard is one-fifth of that. Hazards of a lower level than the party’s level – 4 are trivial and award no XP.
Hazards are presented in a stat block format similar to those used for monsters. A few notes regarding the format follow the sample stat block.
Hazard Name Hazard Level
Stealth This entry lists the Stealth modifier for a complex hazard’s initiative or the Stealth DC to detect a simple hazard, followed by the minimum proficiency rank to detect the hazard (if any) in parentheses. If detect magic can be used to detect the hazard, this information is located here as well.
Description This explains what the hazard looks like and might include special rules.
Disable The DC of any skill checks required to disable the hazard are here; if the hazard can be counteracted, its spell level and counteract DC are listed in parentheses.
AC the hazard’s AC;
Saving Throws the hazard’s saves. Usually only haunts are subject to Will saves.
Hardness the hazard’s Hardness;
HP the hazard’s Hit Points, with its Broken Threshold in parentheses;
Immunities the hazard’s immunities;
Weaknesses the hazard’s weaknesses, if any; Resistances the hazard’s resistances, if any
Action Type Reaction or Free Action This is the reaction or free action the hazard uses;
Trigger The trigger that sets off the hazard appears here.
Effect For a simple hazard, this effect is often all the hazard does. For a complex hazard, this might also cause the hazard to roll initiative.
Routine This section describes what a complex hazard does on each of its turns during an encounter; the number in parentheses after the word “Routine” indicates how many actions the hazard can use each turn. Simple hazards don’t have this entry.
Action Any action the hazard can use appears here. Typically, this is a melee or ranged attack.
Reset If the hazard can be reset, that information is here.
The hazard’s level indicates what level of party it’s a good challenge for. If the hazard involves a toxin, curse, or other non-spell feature, that feature’s level is the hazard’s level.
The most notable hazard traits are trap (constructed to harm intruders), (natural hazards), and haunt (spectral phenomena). Traps have a trait to indicate whether they’re magical or mechanical. Hazards that have initiative and a routine have the complex trait.
Stealth or Stealth DC
Complex hazards list their Stealth modifier, which they use for initiative, instead of their Stealth DC. If you need the DC, it’s equal to this modifier + 10.
A simple hazard uses its reaction only once, after which its threat is over unless the hazard is reset.
Complex hazards function similarly to monsters during encounters, as they roll initiative and have actions of their own, though these are usually automated in a routine.