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Hand of the Inheritor

Fergie's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 1,911 posts (1,933 including aliases). No reviews. 1 list. No wishlists. 4 aliases.

About Fergie

Optimizing Pathfinder for Fun

There are many great guides for building optimal characters for damage dealing, being invulnerable, battlefield control, and being Batman! While it is fun to play a character that excels at what they do, many players find that playing these builds results in a severe game often dictated by the first person to win initiative and go nova. The requirement to keep up with the Best Caster Build or Highest Melee Machine narrows the options down considerably. Likewise such characters require APL+3 (Epic!) or more encounters that bend the CR system in ways that make encounter design and management a more difficult task for the GM. The rules, the adventures, and almost everything else published is not intended for optimized play.

So what are these rules designed for, if not optimization? Like most other games, the intent is that these rules facilitate a GM and players to have fun. Sounds easy, but what is fun?

As a player, I have fun:

  • Controlling the actions of my PC.
    Customizing my PC with skills, feats, equipment, and other features.
  • Knowing that if I generally play well, and have a little luck, I will do well most of the time.
  • Having my characters decisions and actions affect the environment and story.
  • Getting experience and treasure that allows me to increase the power of my character.
  • Feeling that I can, and occasionally must do my best to defeat encounters.
  • Knowing that my fellow PCs are supporting me, and that we act in each others best interests.
  • Knowing that my PC is on par with the rest of the party and that we affect the game in fairly equal amounts.
  • Not knowing exactly what to expect, and trying to be ready for anything.
  • Even if bad things happen to my character, or the dice go against me, I still have fun if I am engaged in the game.
  • Feeling that in most opposed circumstances, it is the dice that decide the outcome.*

GMs enjoy the game for different reasons then players.
As a GM I have fun:

  • Presenting a campaign world with locations, encounters, mythos, timeline and NPCs.
  • Presenting a wide variety of encounters that engage the players, and encourage them to have fun playing their characters.
  • Knowing I have general control of the storyline and timeline, with occasional (sometimes unexpected) exceptions.
  • Knowing that players will use wits and creativity to solve encounters, and vary their tactics to fit the situation.
  • When everyone at the table participates in the game to the amount they are comfortable with.
  • When players are friendly, kind, and enjoy themselves.
  • While I decided if a roll is needed and add the modifiers, the dice decide the outcome.*

* GM, and even player "Cheating" (i.e. ignoring dice rolls) is a highly debatable topic. Like all issues, discuss it beforehand, and come to a consensus on how your group views it.

So how do we use the rules to make that kind of fun happen?
We start at the beginning - Creation!

Ability scores and character creation
First off, skip the dice. I know many people love rolling, but a few low rolls can result in less fun for the life of the PC. This can also result in dramatic party imbalances, and players unable to play the character they want. Let the dice decide what happens that round, not for life.

The point buy or stat array system used usually doesn't really matter much, in the sense that it slightly affects everyone in the group fairly equally (Low point buys actually benefit full caster types a little). The goal at this stage is to set the game up to work with the CR system, and encourage parity among classes throughout the game.

  • 10 Points - I generally avoid 10 point buy simply because players are unable to perceive how little it increases difficulty, and even expert players secretly don't want the added difficulty. The balancing effect isn't worth the whining, unless you have a large group of experienced players.
  • 15 Points - This is the "Standard" the game was balanced around, and should be the default for most groups of 4-5 players.
  • 20 Points - This is the PFS standard, and has become a default for many games. I recommend this for 3 person parties, inexperienced players, or players looking to try lower powered builds such as small martial characters, monks, or builds that fall outside the default role of the class.
  • 25 and up Points - While not much stronger then 20 points, this starts to bend the CR system in most games, and should be avoided except for unusual circumstances.

    This is normally where the players take over and deliberately or unintentionally exacerbate some of the worst balance issues of the game. The key to evening out those power imbalances is to start characters off by evening out their ability scores. For example, it is much more difficult to become a game shattering god wizard with a starting intelligence score of 16. I recommend limiting the max starting ability scores (AFTER racial adjustments) to 16 or 17! For the same evening-out reasons, I also recommend limiting minimum stats to 10 or 8 (AFTER racial adjustments). These limits will encourage PCs more capable of dealing with a variety of situations, and less able to damage game balance.

    Next is Hit Points. This is another area where many people have a wide variety of different methods that frequently bend game balance. Again, skip the dice, as no one wants to play a character that rolls a 1 every level, or be the sidekick to the guy who always rolls max. Follow the default max hit die (plus con modifier) for level one characters. After that, just give the PC happy side of average (plus con modifier) every level. PFS really got this one right. Generally, you should not modify this formula, as it can alter many factors such as the relevance of healing, AC, direct damage, etc.

    How does everyone have fun?
    So far we have significantly rebalanced the game, without really altering the rules, so much as providing guidelines for character creation. But perhaps I jumped the gun a little. Before we even get to character creation, it is probably a good idea for the GM to sit down with the players, and discuss what the expectations for the game are.

    I would start by going over the different ways the players and GM have fun and discussing them as a group. This is NOT the time to argue, it is a time to be HONEST with yourself and the group, and express and LISTEN to everyone's opinions. Do you like Rollplaying more then Roleplaying? Be open about it! Your not doing yourself or anyone else a favor by pretending to like things you don't really like. Be open to new experiences and playstyles, but express your desires and expectations honestly. Come to some kind of consensus with the GM and players about how you will all enjoy the game.

    In addition to how YOU have fun, this is a great time to discuss other aspects of play, such as:
    House rules.
    Use of computers and/or phones and access to reference material at the table. In general characters should have access to information about their own characters, but most GMs frown on players looking at information about enemies. Reading the adventure path or module is usually very strictly forbidden.
    What books and material are allowed in the game and what restrictions are there. Do these restrictions apply equally on both sides of the screen?
    Dice handling and GM and/or players ignoring dice. This usually take one of three forms:

    • -GM roles in the open, results are not altered by the GM
    • -GM rolls in secret, and may or may not follow the dice. Requires the players to trust the GM will fudge, but they will not know when, for fun to be maintained.
    • -GM dictates action in some opposed circumstances without dice rolls. Requires players to trust the GM will dictate the action for the benefit of the game (without the 'illusion' of dice rolls) for fun to be maintained.

    Amount of table time dedicated to combat, NPC interactions, and exploration.
    Amount of expected wealth, mundane and magic item availability.
    How downtime and/or crafting will be handled.
    Tracking of encumbrance, minor items, ammunition, rations, water, mounts, living expenses, etc.
    Tracking of important information such as HP, spells cast, limited abilities used, harmful conditions, etc.
    If tracking discrepancies occur, will there be punitive action?
    Level advancement - will the game use an XP advancement track or will leveling be handled a different way?
    How will PC death be handled and how will bringing new PCs into the game be handled. Note: I recommend bringing in new PCs at the same level as the rest of the party, but with the starting wealth of a character one level lower. I also disagree with the designers about allowing characters to exceed WBL if they have crafting feats. I feel this unbalances the game in favor of the classes that generally need the least help (especially wizards) and breaks the assumptions that a PC used all his powers to get his starting wealth.
    Expectations about what general types of encounters the PCs can expect. Players should be able to make informed decisions about character aspects such as favored enemy, deity and domains, schools, etc.
    How alignment will be handled. Is it polar (the rules/setting default) or more of a subjective "realistic" situation.
    Level of gore and sexuality in the game as well as any topics that players would have issues with encountering in game.
    Out of game issues like food, drugs/alcohol/smoking, money, attendance, guest etiquette, etc.

    Again, BE HONEST with yourself and the people you play with.

    The more you spread your ability scores out, the more you can contribute in a variety of situations. Always pay attention to weaknesses your character might have, and don't neglect the scores associated with that weakness. For example, clerics and druids have weak reflex saves, and can greatly benefit from a little dex. This can be especially true for will saves, as failing them can often result in loss of actions, or wost, your characters actions being dictated by the enemy. Failing saves and being consistently hit in combat is generally not fun for most players, so plan for strong defenses (adequate Dex,Con,Wis)

    To participate effectively in social situations it helps to have a little Cha, although Wis for sense motive is good in a pinch. Being able to put ranks into a variety of social and other types of skills (especially knowledge and languages) is easier when you have more Int. I don't want to leave out Str, especially for characters who wear armor, and want to deal weapon damage.

    Save the super raging power attacking crazy high damage stuff for when it is required. Put a little effort into ranged attacking, and consider what you can do when you can't be effective by doing melee damage. Put resources into AC (perhaps ude a shield sometimes) and will saves. Invest in being effective without raging and/or taking excessive damage. Other then intimidate, the class doesn't give many social options, but put some points into sense motive or diplomacy, keep your Wis high, and don't dump Cha or Int.
    Other then being aware that you can disrupt combat encounters with massive damage, barbarians are also more then capable of losing massive amounts of hit points as well. As the player of the Barbarian, YOU are responsible for dealing with this, and you should not expect any other player to give up their actions, spell slots, or resources without talking about it first.
    Bard is one of the funnest classes to play! You are great in social and skill situations, and with a little effort, you can be an archer, melee, or specialize in enchantment or illusion. You also have great skills, and inspire courage and many other buffs makes you welcome in any party. Huzzah!
    Clerics are a very powerful and very versatile class. By selecting domains, you gain access to all kinds of different spells and abilities. Channeling positive energy will make you an exceptional healer, and there are many great buff spells clerics can cast. You can melee, summon, blast, de/buff and more. Keep a supply of scrolls and potions around so you don't have to fill your memorized spells with delay poison and remove paralysis. Clerics are one of the most skill starved classes, so you will need to spread your ranks carefully.
    Similar to clerics, druids are versatile, and can be built to fulfill many different roles. Druids can be very powerful summoners, but this can really suck the fun out of the game if used excessively or if the player is not prepared and knowledgeable of the creatures abilities. It is generally best to only have one summon spell at a time, and be aware of affecting other PCs with you summons. A similar idea applies to some of the druids battlefield control spells like entangle and spike stones. Be careful not to slow the game down or interfere with other players.
    Fighters are the most consistently powerful martial characters, often the only one in the group who doesn't need time to get up to full power when suddenly facing an enemy. While fighters have many options for specializing in defense, archery, 2HD, 2WP, focus/specialization, maneuvers, they also have enough feats to do a few other things well in addition to their specialties. Fighters should mix up their tactics to best fit the situation and avoid over using action-denial tactics like tripping and grappling. Like Barbarians, fighters struggle to succeed in social situations, and have even less skill points to spend... dig deep.
    Monks are one of the most difficult classes to play and have fun with. Monks often feel overshadowed by the full BAB classes in combat, and lack decent options for ranged attacking. While monks have some great defensive abilities, AC is not among them, and they struggle with hit points as well. If you are going to play a monk, work with the other party members and get buff spells like mage armor and displacement cast on you. Monks also tend to do better in groups that play a more lawful style rather then chaotic kick-in-the-door-play.
    Paladins can be a very fun and powerful class to play, however, this class is more dependent on alignment then any other class. Be sure that the ENTIRE group is willing to compromise with a paragon of lawfulness and goodness. Create a code of conduct that your character will follow, and agree with the GM about what constitutes Lawful and Good.
    Rangers are a slightly odd class, with a little of everything, and a few amazing feats and options here and there. Like fighters, rangers class features/ feats focus them in a particular style, but with a little effort into diversity, they can participate in any situation. I highly recommend checking out the switch hitting ranger in Treantmonks excellent guide. Rangers do best in campaigns where their favored enemies and terrains come up frequently.
    The rogues problems are largely not the fault of the class, but rather the parts of the game that he specializes in. The rogue is generally consider to be the "skill monkey" however most skills do not ramp up throughout the game as well as other class features. The "skill monkey" is also the character who is expected to sneak ahead, scout, and find/disable/trigger traps, however, none of the other characters can generally be more then a liability for the rogue in these situations. This results in the situation of one player acting alone while the rest of the players wait, and the GM attempts to minimize the rogues spotlight time in order to get the other players back in the game. Finally, rogues generally require a fairly high level of game skill to do well in combat. If possible, work with the other players to maximize your assets and minimize your liabilities.
    Sorcerers can be very versatile, however it requires careful spell selection. Try to select spells that can be used in a variety of situations. Remember that you will be casting the same spells over and over (often round after round) so you don't want to select spells that will bog down the game, or focus too much on action denial. Spells that you can cast on other characters will always be appreciated. Sorcerers are one of the most skill starved classes, but have a great Cha for social situations.
    Wizards are generally considered the most powerful and easiest to optimize of the core classes. A high Int and focus on save-or-suck magic can upset game balance from the beginning, and full casters progressively get more and more spells that bypass common adventure plots. They also have access to crafting bonus feats that allow them to be masters of magic equipment far beyond their suggested wealth by level. The best way to play a wizard is to focus on teamwork and save your most powerful spells for when things are going badly for the party. If you use your magic to make the whole party succeed, everyone gets to participate, and the GM has a much easier time maintaining parity among party members. Be wary of using powerful spells with long duration such as command undead, dominate person, and planar binding. These spells can be used to drastically upset game balance and story development. Wizards (and other full casters) can eventually do things to break the game - so don't do those things.

    NEXT UP: GMing the Game

    Do your best to understand the rules and what aspects of the game you enjoy and why. I personally don't enjoy action denial and save-or-suck effects. I won't allow characters that are incapable of functioning with the group or as a part of the campaign setting. Every character is expected to be "special-forces" material, and be capable at what they do. You are part of an elite group that relies on each other for survival every day. Playing a "lone-wolf", psychopath, spoiled brat, revolting deviant, moron, jerk, or other non-team player will not be tolerated. Characters are generally not allowed to attack, target with hostile spells, or use adversarial skills on another PC. PCs are also expected to not steal from each other, or withhold information. All treasure discovered is considered group property until divided up. While I don't explicitly ban Evil characters, I don't really want to spend hundreds of hours of real time facilitating your character committing evil acts. It usually gets depressing fast. I won't allow player characters to make opposed rolls against each other (baring magical control)

    I also have policy of no rules exploiting. Bringing a character to the table who is going to disrupt play, destroy verisimilitude, or otherwise squelch the fun of others is unacceptable, regardless of optimization level.

    I expect the party to be able to handle the challenges of an adventure. They need to be able to participate in combats, heal injuries and conditions, talk to people, and a variety of other tasks. They don't have to do these things well, but they do have to be able to function in an adventuring environment.

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