Game Master Basics

Pathfinder Society (Second Edition) Guide to Organized Play -> Game Master

Running Pathfinder Society games is similar to running a home campaign with a few house rules established by campaign leadership. In addition to GM Basics, be sure to familiarize yourself with the contents of the Welcome to Pathfinder Society, Community Standards and Expectations, and Player Basics. You need to know what players know, what their expectations are, and how their characters are created, played, and advanced.

What Is A GM?

A Game Master (GM) is the person who presents the story, adjudicates the rules, and establishes the parameters of the player’s exploration. A GM’s duty is to provide a fair and fun game for all involved, including themselves. In the Pathfinder Society, a GM has a few other duties, listed in Your Duties as a Game Master below.

Who Can Be A Game Master?

Anyone with a valid Organized Play ID can run Pathfinder Society adventures. As local Pathfinder Society groups and the campaign as a whole benefit as the pool of Game Masters increases, the venture-officer network provides support and guidance for any who want to GM. 

Your Duties As Game Master

As a Pathfinder Society GM, you have the following duties:

  • Communicate with your local event coordinator. 
  • Prepare an adventure to offer to players, including gathering the necessary supplies such as maps, miniatures, and reference materials.
  • Provide a welcoming environment for players.
  • Deliver session results to the player via established recording mechanisms.
  • Report the results of the game.

Where Can I Buy Adventures?

Paizo produces two categories of adventures, available for purchase at paizo.com

Pathfinder Society adventures, including quests, scenarios, and bounties, generally release during the last week of each month. Current production rates include two new scenarios and one bounty monthly, with additional Society content released periodically throughout the year. These adventures are written expressly for use in the Pathfinder Society campaign.

Pathfinder Adventures, including Adventure Paths, Modules, and Stand-alone adventures, are produced monthly. These adventures are oftentimes sanctioned for use in the Pathfinder Society campaign. Information on how to incorporate them into your Society experience is found on each product’s description page at paizo.com. (See Types of Adventures for more about these products.)

Before the Adventure

Reviewing Chronicles

If time permits, GMs and Event Coordinators should spend a few minutes reviewing players’ Chronicles at the start of an event slot. These reviews can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, GMs might need to check to the Adventure Summary section to learn what a character did in a previous adventure, and GMs and Coordinators can review Chronicles to ensure that they are filled out correctly. These reviews can help ensure that players understand the rules of Pathfinder and the Pathfinder Society Campaign, as well as catch the errors that naturally crop up in the course of play.  (See “Dealing with Chronicle Errors” for more on this.)

Challenge Points

In a typical home game, the PCs would all be the same level and face challenges tailored to their level. In an organized play environment, though, there needs to be more flexibility to make it easier for players whose characters are of different levels to participate in the same adventure.

Each scenario or quest will list the levels of characters able to play in it, as well one or more level ranges within the adventure.  If an adventure has more than 2 level ranges each table must choose 2 adjacent level ranges for that adventure.  Only Characters of a level that falls within those two level ranges can play in that adventure at that table.

GMs should adjust the scenario before play begins, following the steps below.

1.  Calculating Challenge Points

To calculate the number of Challenge Points the party represents, take the following steps.

  • Record the PCs’ levels. The number of Challenge Points that each PC contributes is based only on their character levels.  
  • Determine the Adventures “Base Level”.  The base level is the lowest level allowed to play at that table.
  • Convert the PCs’ levels to Challenge Points.   Table 1 below notes how many Challenge Points each PC of a given level represents.

Table 9-1: Challenge points

Character LevelChallenge Points
Base Level2
Base Level +13
Base Level +24
Base Level +36

For example, an adventure for levels 1-4  would have a Base Level of 1.  So a 2nd-level PC in such an adventure has a level of Base Level + 1, and by the chart, contributes 3 Challenge Points. A party of five PCs levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and 4 would contribute 2, 3, 4, 6, and 6 points respectively.

  • Total the PCs’ Challenge Points. 
  • If playing a table with fewer than 4 PCs, use the following chart to determine what level of Pregens to add, and how many additional challenge points.

Table 9-2: Adding Pregens

Base
Level
PCsCPPregensCP adj.
12<82 lvl 1 pregens+4
28+2 lvl 3 pregens+8
3<121 lvl 1 pregen+2
312+1 lvl 3 pregen+4
32<82 lvl 3 pregens+4
28+2 lvl 5 pregens+8
3<121 lvl 3 pregen+2
312+1 lvl 5 pregen+4
52Any2 lvl 5 pregens+4
3Any1 lvl 5 pregen+2
7+3<12none*+2
3>12none*+4
*This table is only legal if all players at the table agree.  While we expect this “hard mode” playthrough experience to be satisfying, we want to caution you that, as the adventures are designed for a minimum of four players, they will be more difficult than normal. 

2.  Determine the Level Range

Parties with challenge points of 15 or less always play in the lower level range.  Parties with 19 or more always play in the higher level range.

Parties with 16-18 play in the higher level range only if they have 4 or fewer PCs. If they have 5 or more PCs, they play in the lower level range.  This allows small parties of high level adventurers to play in the higher level range, while large parties of low level adventurers play in the lower level range.

Mentorship and PC Level Bumps

To provide low level players a more fun and fair experience, PCs whose level equals the adventure’s base level (such as a 3rd-level PC playing in a Level 3–6 scenario) gain a temporary boost when playing in the higher level range called a level bump to represent the higher-level PCs’ mentorship and support. 

  • Increase every DC the PC has by 1.
  • Increase the attack modifiers, attack damage, spell damage, saving throw modifiers, skill modifiers, Perception modifiers, and AC of the PC by 1.
  • Increase the Hit Point totals of the PC by 10 or by 10%, whichever is higher.

These adjustments are less beneficial than gaining a level, yet they provide the PC more survivability and opportunity to contribute to the adventure experience, reducing the degree to which higher-level PCs might overshadow these less experienced Pathfinders.

You should also remind higher level PCs to apply any mentor boons they might have purchased.

3.  Adjusting the Adventure

Once you’ve determined the level range and Challenge Point total, apply the proper modifications to the adventure to provide a fair challenge. 

Level Range: Nearly all encounters list two different sets of creature statistics, one for each of the two level ranges the adventure is designed for. The adventure often also refers to important skill checks and saving throws in room descriptions or during events, listing one DC for the lower level range and one for the higher level range. In each of these cases, use the numbers, creatures, and other information listed for the selected level range.

Scaling: Within a level range, the scenario will also contain instructions for adjusting the difficulty of the scenario based on the PC’s Challenge Points.  These scaling instructions are generally found in “scaling sidebars” but might also be in the text of the room description or encounter.

Early Scenarios:

Some early scenarios were written before the CP system was fully developed.  If you are GMing  scenario 1-00 through 1-11 or quests 1, 2, or 5 consult the “Converting Early Scenarios Appendix

Example

Tonya is setting up a Level 1–4 adventure. Her group consists of six players whose PCs are levels 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, and 4. Tonya determines that the base level of the scenario is 1, and then compares each pc’s level to the chart 1. This gives her 2+3+4+4+6+6 for a Challenge Point total of 25.

Step 2 tells Tonya to run the 3–4 level range since her table is 19 CP or more.  It also tells her to apply a level bump and any mentor boons to the level 1 character, increasing that PCs ability to contribute to the adventure.

Step 3 says that for each DC and encounter, Tonya uses the 3–4 level range statistics, modified by any scaling instructions that apply to a CP of 25.  This will probably include adding more opponents and/or more dangerous opponents to fights.

During the Adventure

Hero Points: At the beginning of an adventure, each PC receives 1 Hero Point. GMs should then hand out additional Hero Points at a rate of approximately 1 Hero Point per hour of play, following the Guide lines on page 507 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. 

Secret Checks: Unless a scenario says otherwise, GMs are free to choose how to handle secret checks (Core Rulebook 450) on a check-by-check basis and should adapt based on the mood and pacing of the table. 

If players rolling their own secret checks use information that their characters would not have to determine their actions—then inform them that their characters would not have that information and try to steer them away from using it.  

Table Variation 

A goal of the Pathfinder Society program is to provide a fun, engaging, consistent experience at all tables. GMs should run Pathfinder Society adventures as written, which means:

  • No change to major plot points and interactions
  • No addition or subtraction to the number of monsters other than scaling directed by the scenario
  • No changes to armor, feats, items, skills, spells, statistics, traits, or weapons.
  • No alteration of mechanics of player characters, 
  • Nor banning of  legal character options 

Beyond the above, GMs are encouraged to make choices which would result in the most enjoyable play experience for everyone at the table and that emphasize PCs are the heroes of the story. Some examples of GM discretion include the following.  

  • Creatures tactics that have been invalidated by the player actions.
  • Unclear rules, or situations or player actions not covered by the rules.
  • Terrain or environmental conditions described by the scenario, but not given mechanics.  (If the mechanics are included, however, they cannot be altered.)
  • Reactions of NPCs to good roleplaying, and the effect that has on the outcome of the encounter.
  • Alternate or creative skills used to bypass or overcome traps, haunts, and skill checks.  (Although the DCs and results of the check are part of the mechanics and should not be changed.)
  • Aspects of the scenario’s description and story as appropriate for the players at the table as described in the section A Welcoming Environment on pages 485–486 of the Core Rulebook. 
  • Changes required to comply with the Acceptable Content provision of Community Standards.
  • Creative solutions presented by players in overcoming obstacles.
  • Moving plot points missed by players to encounterable areas (this does not include moving missed treasure bundles).

More details on each of these can be found in the Table Variation Appendix.

If a particular issue comes up repeatedly or causes a significant problem in one of your games, please raise any questions or concerns on the Pathfinder Society forums where Venture-Officers, members of Paizo’s organized play team, or fellow GMs can help you resolve it.

Ethical Infractions and Infamy

Players are responsible for their characters’ choices and are subject to consequences resulting from those choices actions. In game actions earn characters Infamy, while code of conduct violations earn players table sanctions.

Below we list some common issues, which are covered more in the Table Variation Appendix:

  • A player’s perception of what their character would do versus the experience of other players at the table.
  • Deity or class anathemas and edicts as they interact with Pathfinder Society missions.
  • Class opposition such as a paladin and a necromancer on the same mission team.
  • Characters perform evil or criminal acts.

After the Adventure.

Advancement Speed

Before the adventure, each player will have chosen one of two different advancement speeds.

Standard Advancement: the player gains full rewards (XP, Gold/Treasure Bundles, Downtime units,and Reputation) earned in the adventure, rounding down, as well as access to any other items on the Chronicle.

Slow Advancement: the player gains half the rewards( XP, Gold (from Treasure Bundles or Adventure rewards), Downtime days, and Reputation)earned in the adventure, rounding down, as well as access to any other items on the Chronicle. 

Fame

Adventures in Year 1 granted Fame as a spendable and trackable currency. As of Year 2, adventures no longer reward Fame and the boons purchased by Fame are being transferred to online rewards such as Achievement Points and Game Rewards. More information is available on the Boons tab of your My Organized Play page.

Reputation

Each adventure lists how much reputation to award.  Typically Scenarios will award 2 Reputation for accomplishing the mission you were sent on and 2 more for going above and beyond expectations (for a total of 4 Reputation gained.)  Scenarios with the Faction tag will often reward an additional 2 Reputation with the highlighted Faction for completing the factions goals. 

A quest typically grants 1 Reputation.  Sanctioned Adventures have variable Reputation rewards called out in the sanctioning documentation.

Treasure

Treasure Access: Items that the PCs did not encounter must be crossed off the treasure access list by the GM.

Treasure Bundles

At the end of a scenario, the GM should tally the number of Treasure Bundles found. On each Chronicle, multiply the number of Treasure Bundles by the appropriate value for that character’s level.  (see Table 9-3 below). 

Quests, Bounties, and sanctioned adventures  grant standardized gold rewards instead of  Treasure Bundles. In the case of Quests, this is 1/4 a scenarios Max Rewards.

Table 9-3: Treasure Bundles and Earned Income

Lvl 1-4
Lvl 3-6
Lvl 5-8
Lvl 7-10
Lvl 1-4 Treasure Bundle Value
LevelTreasure BundleMax Scenario RewardMax Slow Track RewardQuest Reward
11.4 gp14 gp7 gp3.5 gp
22.2 gp22 gp11 gp5.5 gp
33.8 gp38 gp19 gp9.5 gp
46.4 gp64 gp32 gp16 gp
Lvl 1-4 Earn Income (for 8 days)
Task
Level
DCFailedTrainedExpert
0 (PC lvl 1, 2)148 cp4 sp4sp
1 (PC lvl 3)1516 cp16 sp16 sp
2 (PC lvl 4)1632 cp24 sp24 sp
31864 sp40 sp40 sp
4198 sp56 sp64 sp
572 sp8 gp
Default Task Level is PC level −2
Crit Fail earns 0 gp
Crit Success earns 1 level higher.

Lvl 3-6 Treasure Bundle Value
LevelTreasure BundleMax Scenario RewardMax Slow Track RewardQuest Reward
33.8 gp38 gp19 gp9.5 gp
46.4 gp64 gp32 gp16 gp
510 gp100 gp50 gp25 gp
615 gp150 gp75 gp37.5 gp
Lvl 3-6 EARN INCOME (for 8 days)
Task
Level
DCFailedTrainedExpert
1 (PC lvl 3)1516 cp16 sp16 sp
2 (PC lvl 4)1632 cp24 sp24 sp
3 (PC lvl 5)1864 sp40 sp40 sp
4 (PC lvl 6)198 sp56 sp64 sp
52016 sp72 sp8 gp
62224 sp12 gp16 gp
716 gp20 gp
Default Task Level is PC level 2
Crit Fail earns 0 gp
Crit Success earns 1 level higher.
Lvl 5-8 Treasure Bundle Value
LevelTreasure BundleMax Scenario RewardMax Slow Track RewardQuest Reward
510 gp100 gp50 gp25 gp
615 gp150 gp75 gp37.5 gp
722 gp220 gp110 gp55 gp
830 gp300 gp150 gp75 gp
Lvl 5-8 EARN INCOME (for 8 days)
Task
Level
DCFailedTrainedExpert+
3 (PC lvl 5)1864 sp40 sp40 sp
4 (PC lvl 6)198 sp56 sp64 sp
5 (PC lvl 72016 sp72 sp8 gp
6 (PC lvl 8)2224 sp12 gp16 gp
72332 sp16 gp20 gp
82448 sp20 gp24 gp
924 gp32 gp
Default Task Level is PC level −2
Crit Fail earns 0 gp
Crit Success earns 1 level higher.

Lvl 7-10 Treasure Bundle Value
LevelTreasure BundleMax Scenario RewardMax Slow Track RewardQuest Reward
722 gp220 gp110 gp55 gp
830 gp300 gp150 gp75 gp
944 gp440 gp220 gp110 gp
1060 gp600 gp300 gp150 gp
Lvl 7-10 EARN INCOME (for 8 days)
Task
Level
DCFailedTrainedExpertMaster
5 (PV lvl 7)2016 sp72 sp8 gp8 gp
6 (PV lvl 8)2224 sp12 gp16 gp16 gp
7 (PV lvl 9)2332 sp16 gp20 gp20 gp
8 (PV lvl 10)2440 sp20 gp24 gp24 gp
92648 sp24 gp32 gp32 gp
102756 sp32 gp40 gp40 gp
1140 gp48 gp64 gp

Default Task Level is PC level – 2
Crit Fail earns 0 gp
Crit Success earns 1 level higher.

Downtime

Downtime is spent in Downtime Units of up to 8 days at a time.  If a character earns 8 days or fewer of downtime, it is spent in a single unit.  If they earn more than 8 days, the character spends units of 8 days, one at a time, until 8 or fewer days remain, then spends the remaining days as a single unit.  Multiple different activities can occur in a single downtime unit, but you can only ever roll once for a given activity in any given unit. 

If a chronicle is assigned but not immediately applied, (see applying chronicles) then wait to calculate downtime until the chronicle is applied.  If this happens, the Player can fill out the Downtime themselves.  

Earn Income: Earning Income is the most common Downtime activity, though it is the last option to resolve. Complete any Crafting or Retraining before beginning Earn Income checks. GMs should check Table 10–5: DCs by Level (Core Rulebook 503) to calculate the Earned Income DC.

Make one check using either the Crafting, Lore, or Performance Skill for each Earn Income Downtime Unit (including units where you complete multiple activities, such as spending 7 days retraining and then 1 day Earning Income). Task Levels for Earn Income checks equal character level – 2 (minimum 0) though some boons allow checks against higher-level tasks. Compare check result to task level on Table 4-2: Income Earned (Core Rulebook 236) for the daily earning rate, then multiply that rate by the number of Downtime days used for Earn Income  in the Downtime Unit. Checks to Earn Income do not carry beyond the Downtime Unit In which the check was made. 

Chart 9-3 (above) contains the DC and 8 day earn income values for all possible levels in a given level range.

Crafting:  Rules for crafting equipment appear on pages 244-245 of the Core Rulebook.  Use DCs from Table 10–5 (Core Rulebook 504) with the following adjustments:

  • Common: None 
  • Uncommon: Apply the hard modifier from Table 10-6 (Core Rulebook 504)
  • Rare: Apply the very hard modifier from table 10-6 (Core Rulebook 504) 

  A few other limitations on crafting:

  • Characters can Craft uncommon or rare items only if  they have access to the applicable formulas. 
  • Crafting requires that you spend 4 days in preparation before making Crafting checks. 
  • Crafting tasks can be continued across as many Downtime days/units as necessary to complete the item.
  • Characters may stop crafting and pay the remainder of the Price required to finish the item at any time.
  • Only one crafting project may be started during a Downtime Unit. 

Retraining: Using Downtime to retrain character options(Core Rulebook 481) works as written with a few clarifications. 

  • Some items are changeable for free, such as name, gender, appearance, or other cosmetic designators. 
  • Pathfinder training may be changed and costs 14 days. 
  • Changing a selectable class feature, takes 28 days. 

If characters earn enough XP to level while still in the process of retraining they can choose options legal for their new build, though the ability is unusable until the retraining is complete. An option being retrained is lost at the time the new option becomes usable.

Filling Out a Chronicle

Season 2 Chronicles
Season 1 Chronicles

The sections of a Chronicle are detailed below. Sections marked with an asterisk (*) include some element that GMs must address before players leave the table, either by filling it in themselves or asking the players to fill in the appropriate information. Players can fill out other sections between sessions. 

  • (A.) Adventure Name/Number: Preprinted on the form.
  • (B.) Character Name: Name of the hero who took part in this adventure.
  • (C.) Character Number:* Unique Identifier for the character who took part in the adventure, including players Organized Play ID and the Character number.
  • (D.) Partner Code: A unique code that identifies the Chronicle. May be used by third-parties to reference the Chronicle.
  • (E.) Adv Summary:  This might contain checkboxes to help remind you which choices you made during the adventure.
  • (F.) Pointer to AcP: Pointer to where to find AcP totals on the Paizo Web Page. 
  • (G.) Treasure Access: Uncommon or high level items found during the adventure.
  • (H.) Variable quantities:* Quantities that depend on character’s level or successes during the adventure, such as treasure earned, reputation, earned income, etc.
  • (I.) Event Number*: Unique Identifier provided by the event organizer indicating what event the game occurred at.
  • (J.) Date*:  Date the adventure completed
  • (K.) GM Number*: The GMs Organized Play ID