Pathfinder Society 2: Pregenerated Characters

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Welcome to the next installment in our series of blogs about the future of Pathfinder Society in the second edition of Pathfinder! Setting the course for Pathfinder Society in second edition is lot of work, but it's an exciting time too. After all, we get to pull together your feedback and ideas with the lessons we've learned to make a better campaign. In addition to considering the suggestions we've often heard over the years on the forums, in game stores, and at conventions, we launched a series of sticky threads on the forums about specific topics. Now, we're revising our biggest topics, starting with a blog that Tonya and I wrote at the end of September on tiers, level gain, and the structure of the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Guide. Last week, John and Mike wrote a blog about boons and chronicle sheets. If you missed either of those, I recommend checking them out. This week, we're tackling pregenerated characters.

Pregenerated characters (aka "pregens") wear quite a few hats in the Pathfinder Society campaign: they serve as the first characters for many new players, let people jump into games when they don't have a character of their own, and give people the chance to try out new character classes. Over the years, we've received a lot of feedback on the design of our pregenerated characters for Pathfinder Society. Those ideas shaped the design of the pregenerated characters for the Pathfinder Playtest.

Now that folks have had a chance to try out the new pregens, we'd like to hear from you about your experiences with them. Are they easy to understand? Are they effective? Are they fun to play? Do you have suggestions for improvement? To that end, we have a new pregenerated character survey, linked at the bottom of the blog.

The survey's last page is about the layout and organization of pregenerated characters. For that, we have 5 proposals, linked below. We chose 5th-level Seoni for these comparisons, not only because spellcasters have an extra section on their character sheets that any design will need to accommodate, but also because a higher-level character requires more space for rules. You can view all of the designs below:

Proposal A (Portrait): This is a vertically aligned pregenerated character. It is similar to the pregenerated character released at the beginning of August. The largest change is that more information has been moved to the first page—most notably, Seoni's spells and equipment.

Proposal B (Landscape): This is a horizontally aligned version of Proposal A. It has less open space, but the art fits more naturally on the page.

Proposal C (Character Sheet): Some people have suggested that pregenerated characters use exactly the same character sheets as players will be using for their own characters. This version includes a scan of hand-filled copy of the latest Chronicle sheet to give a general sense of what that might look like, followed by the reference sheets from the landscape layout.

Proposal D (Original Playtest): This is the Playtest pregenerated character for Seoni that we released in the beginning of August.

Proposal E (First Edition Style): This is the 4th-level pregenerated Seoni from the first edition of Pathfinder. We're including it as a baseline to see how well the new designs are improving on what we used before.

I'd like to give a big shout out to Emily Crowell on the art team, who has done all of the layout work for the pregens for the Pathfinder Playtest, as well over 100 pregens for current version of Pathfinder Society. She does the vast majority of layout and art design for Pathfinder Society as a whole, and she's really awesome to work with. Thanks, Emily!

Finally, I want to talk a bit about surveys as a whole. This is now the third blog to ask for your feedback in surveys. This is because we are starting with the most important pieces of the campaign, the ones that we are planning to lock in place by the end of the year. With that in mind, giving us your results by November 30th will give you the best chance of having your voice heard as we push forward. While there may be more survey blogs in the future about critical topics (such as when we revisit the topic of factions), we do not plan to establish an ongoing model where we are asking you to fill in detailed surveys every week.

Pregenerated Character Survey

Linda Zayas-Palmer
Developer

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Tags: Organized Play Pathfinder Playtest Pathfinder Society
Sczarni **** RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

Any chance we could get these surveys added to the main playtest page? It looks like the PFS section there still only has the surveys about the four adventures, not any of the general PFS surveys. I think that would help people find them, rather than having to look through the blog history.

Sczarni **** RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

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My biggest comment:

Regardless of the layout, I really think we need to have one-line spell descriptions (and for that matter, feat and ability descriptions as well)! For a new player, reading the entire description for each spell gives you information overload and makes it very difficult to decide what to do on your turn. Being able to read something like, "Lightning bolt: Deals 4d12 damage in a 60-foot line", is a lot easier for someone to hold in their head at the table while deciding what to do than reading the whole six-line spell description.

For the record, I think this is a problem in the main rulebook, too. Selecting feats and spells during character creation is a huge pain because there's no easy way to skim the available options and decide which ones look interesting. You have to slog through the entire text before knowing if something fits your character concept or not.

Dark Archive

I definitely prefer Proposal B for the front page compared to the other options, but I feel like Proposal A is easier to follow once you get to Pages 2-3. If there was an option to combine the two - have the first page be horizontal and the others vertical - that would be ideal IMO.

Dark Archive *

Plan B is my favorite
I like the layout and it is very structured.
My only request is for everything to fit on to 2 pages.
I understand not all can fit on one page but three can be over whelming for new players, but the explaining of each character can do (especially for spellcasters) is very much needed to help new players.

Dark Archive *

LuniasM wrote:
I definitely prefer Proposal B for the front page compared to the other options, but I feel like Proposal A is easier to follow once you get to Pages 2-3. If there was an option to combine the two - have the first page be horizontal and the others vertical - that would be ideal IMO.

It's like a "choose your adventure book" just to make a character

True to that second part.
That's why I wish the playtest just did combat feats and had one spot to get that information.

* RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

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I always prefer portrait.

Horizontal space is always at a premium at a table crammed with 7 people.


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Portrait is kind of infinitely better than landscape. Proposal A seems great!

Dark Archive ***

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Slightly off the main discussion but please include all available skills... the old ones made it tough for new players and the first draft of playtest had a similar issue...

leaning over a new player to get their charisma bonus to be able to participate is not awesome fun for either side!

**

My initial thought is that option C makes a lot of sense as it will facilitate the transition from pregens to one's own characters for new players.

Grand Lodge ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

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Landscape just “feels” better to the eye, so version B is the way to go. I would agree with the desire to keep to no more than two pages to facilitate front-back printing, but it’s not imperative just preferred.

Scarab Sages ***** Venture-Captain, Netherlands aka Woran

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Anything with more then 2 pages is going to be a major pain. 2 pages still works fine, as with doublesided printing you can keep everything together. But a third page or more is going to end up lost. Keeping the pregen folder at my location up to date works because we can sort it by level and not worry, as its a single laminated pregen per class (anything that is already 3 pages like some of the occult pregens are not used).

It impractical, and while some might not like flipping back and forth between the front and the back of the pregen, its better then endless sheets getting lost, misplaced, packed with other stuff.

**** Venture-Agent, Massachusetts—Southcoast aka JDDyslexia

I agree with the desired two-page format, though I understand with some complicated classes or higher-level pregens, a third page may be required.

I am torn between B and C. While C does ease into players creating their own characters, B seems like the better choice overall in what people are used to.


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Could we eliminate the third page from pregens if we moved some common item or spell descriptions to a separate reference sheet?

Sovereign Court **** Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

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Proposal A (portrait)
First impressions set view size to 100%, look at the font. I can't read this. It's too small. I need my glasses to read this.

Some other things jump out at me:
* The logo on the right column disrupts the layout. Two parallel columns should start at the same height. This looks clumsy to anyone who's ever read a newspaper. It's made especially blatant by all the horizontal rules.

* three pages!? In 1E, only the Occultist and Summoner 7 had 3 pages of stuff. Not even the optimized-to-the-gills Arcanist 7 needed three pages. And given how complicated those two pregens were, it made a lot of sense not to have them in your standard pregen folder. You're not going to drop them on a new player. Anyone who really wants to give them a spin can print and bring them themselves.

Well, I can see that 2E is a more verbose system that needs more text. I'm not too happy about it, but if that's how it is, fine. Keep in mind, carrying capacity for pregens is limited. I don't have a handy haversack. If I have to carry two two-sided sheets per pregen, I can carry only half the number of pregens. And because I don't have a handy haversack, I also have to keep the right pages together. Which brings me to one rule that I have to insist on: each page of a 3+ page pregen needs to list the pregen's name and level. Otherwise it's just not possible to keep the pregen's pages together. Note that "Seoni" doesn't even appear in the text of page 3 of this example! Nor does any level! If I find just that page, I have no idea what pregen it belongs with. So let me repeat again:

Each page of a 3+ page pregen needs to list the pregen's name and level!

Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, let's continue.

* Page three starts out as follows:

Proposal A, page 3 wrote:
but aren’t deceptive in appearance (such as an invisibility potion) typically get detected normally.

Wait, what? What is this? I think this must be some kind of divination spell. From another page. Let me flip around a bit and eventually discover that the end of (not numbered!) page 2 seems to line up with it. Now, look at the bottom of page 3. Look at all that white space. Why was this paragraph cut off halfway? Why isn't Detect Magic entirely on page 3? Ragged columns are preferable to disrupted paragraphs.

* Artwork: I'm not sure how much I like this drawing style. I suppose it's more BW-printer friendly. But the colorful artwork in 1E was eye-catching.

* Artwork again: it's sticking out into the margin. That's going to be a problem with printers. It's going to be more of a problem with printers set to a different paper size like A4, which is narrower. It'll print, but either shrink the whole page (remember me saying the font was painfully small?) or cut off part of the picture (not pretty).

* Section headers: "sorcerer" at the top of the page is smaller than "What is a sorcerer" at the bottom. Sometimes we're sorting iconics by name, but half of the time we're telling people "get me the cleric please". Why is the class printed so small? Don't bury the lead.

* Section header again: the rest of them are really useful.

* Abilities block: the "modifier" bit will be very useful when we need to ask newbies their ability modifier. This is an improvement on 1E sheets.

* Strikes I think the strikes could be formatted better, as for example:

Quote:
lesser staff of fire +6 to hit (1d4 bludgeoning damage); two-hand 1d8 damage

I've quite often had to explain to new players that the one unlabeled number is a to-hit modifier and the other is damage. We can do better this time.

* Skills block: listing all skills is a godsend. Putting them in columns also helps. In 1E you get problems like "Seoni, you can use Diplomacy or Knowledge Local to get some information." "I don't see those anywhere on my sheet?" "Okay, you have a Charisma of 19, so that's a +4 bonus to Charisma-linked skills like Diplomacy..."

It got even worse with other skills: "Oloch, roll Acrobatics to jump and keep up in the chase scene." "I don't have Acrobatics" "You can use it untrained. What's your Dexterity? What's your Armor Check Penalty? What's your movement speed, because a low speed gives a penalty." By the time you've figured out the (unlisted) ACP of whatever armor (breastplate) he's wearing, you've lost all momentum in your scene.

Segue: please list Armor Check Penalty on the front page.

* d20 icons: if I hold a looking glass to them I can make out these are probably d20s. But they could be footballs or Stars of David too. Why are they here? Everything on this page that starts with a + is added to a d20 roll. Why do these numbers need a calling out? It's just visual clutter.

* Proficiency dots: skills get proficiency dots, saves don't, and Perception has a tag saying "trained". That's not consistent.

* Defenses: I think we need a line of whitespace separating saving throw titles from the AC boxes above them. I think it's good to write them out in full like is done here. In 1E you often had things like "roll Fortitude against the poison" "what?" "Look here, where it says Fort, that's short for Fortitude. Yeah, I know, there's room enough on that line."

* Overall impression: the first page does a decent "executive summary", and the later pages give you the details you need. It'll require vigilant design to prevent overcrowding on the front page. I don't think there'll be a one size fits all layout for all classes; some of them have more of one or another kind of ability that takes up space on the front page.

* Quote: the 1E pregens all had an in-character quote. I found quite a few new players taking those as a starting point for getting into character. Please bring those back.

Proposal B (landscape)
I find myself rather indifferent about the difference between portrait and landscape. Every problem I had with proposal A, I also have with proposal B.

I think the picture comes out slightly smaller on the three-column landscape sheet but it doesn't seem to result in useful extra page real estate.

With a couple of tweaks (see A) I think I like landscape better somehow. Maybe it's because I'm used to 1E pregens that way. But I think the scaling on the artwork is also part of it.

Proposal C (character sheet)
Five pages? Are you kidding me?

Also, what happened to artwork? The artwork on 1E pregens was definitely relevant to walk-ins trying to pick a character. I would want the artwork to give a good first impression of what the pregen can do. (I remember an awkward session when someone wanted to play an archer and zeroed in on Seelah because she was drawn with a bow. Sure, she can shoot a bow, but the whole session was about explaining that in this encounter, going sword and shield was much more effective.) I've also had girls looking through a stack of pregens and being pleasantly surprised about all the female adventurers looking awesome (and sensibly dressed for the most part; the swashbuckler for example).

There's something appealing and old-school about this "real" character sheet. Could do perhaps with slightly better handwriting. Of course, I don't like that the default character sheet is 3 pages, because how do you print that onto a single page? And I keep thinking this probably belongs in an extended character creation example in the CRB, but not necessarily as a pregen.

Proposal D (original playtest pregen)
Most of the beef I have with proposal A also applies here. I like that the page is a little less busy, on the other hand I do think labeling Strikes, Spells and Equipment as separate things is helpful.

Grand Lodge ***

Can I just say that these long surveys (while long) are offering a plethora of information to Paizo and will serve wonders to make this game better.

In my career we utilize these types of deep-delve surveys and they are invaluable. It's my hope more playtest surveys will come out that will focus on every aspect of the playtest, even followup questions if necessary.

The surveys have got to be a great way for paizo to take concise data on literally individual topics whereas the forums may not be used by many.

Liberty's Edge **** Venture-Agent, Indiana—Hammond

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I lean towards choice A.

However, I must concur that many of the choices present too much information to a new player. You could save space and avoid confusion by having spell descriptions limited to one line with a listing of range and key effects and a reference to a page number in the new core rulebook. (In the future, maybe have the equivalent of the APG as APG, 52=Advance Player's Guide, page 52.)

As a local venture agent who has recruited regular players from a few local conventions, I feel that we need the art and have to remember that pregens are often useful in recruiting new players. Goal one of Pathfinder and Pathfinder Society (and any other game or organized play system) must be to foster a sense of fun. If something starts looking like a city budget, it is too complex. Perhaps it might be good to run some of these designs past some people who have no experience with gaming and check their understanding of each design.

Scarab Sages ****

I prefer portrait, so A would be my choice. B is ok. I just find landscape unnatural and awkward at the table.

I want to add my voice to those asking that the pregens be kept to two pages so they can be printed front and back. We try to keep multiples (at least for common pregens) in each sleeve in the pregen book. It’s easy to pull a single sheet out and hand it to a player. When you have to start pulling multiple sheets it gets to be annoying, and stapling sheets together is less than ideal (staples snag/tear pages/become separated).

Dark Archive ***** Venture-Captain, Minnesota—Minneapolis aka Silbeg

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I like B a lot.
Unfortunately, A seems forced, and a lot of stuff like the defenses that I would expect at the top are mid-column. Doesn't really work well with the portrait image.

While I understand the concern about multiple pages, I cannot stress enough how a pregen character sheet MUST HAVE everything needed to run the character on the sheet. We cannot assume that the player has any books (they may be trying out PFS for the first time at a Con, on a whim, or whatever). Also, it wastes a lot of time in game referencing things all over the CRB, etc.

Perhaps making use of page breaks... where some of the stuff is on a seconded printed sheet, where that is more optional for printing? I dunno.

I personally think you need more information on the pregens... not less. This is made more critical by the number of options you have in character creation.

Shadow Lodge ***** Venture-Lieutenant, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka thistledown

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Table space is at a premium, so it's important to be landscape and keep the sheet with the player instead of extending into the center of the table and running into the maps.

The problem with both A & B is that it doesn't give the attack bonus for touch spells, and doesn't have range increments on anything. The one good thing about C is that these are clear. D does an ok job too. E includes it in the spell description at least.

Putting the spell DC down at the bottom in A&B is poor - it should be with the spells, like D.

Putting the defenses at the top in B&D is good. Down at the bottom in A is bad.

Having a big callout for the class & level like in A&B is good for sorting, though it'd be better in a corner of the page instead of in the center.

Merisiel's art shows 9 knives, but the stat block only has 6. Give her 3 more knives.

***

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Ooof. Three to five pages of pure rules is an ugly thing to hand a new player who may be sitting down for their first ever game of Pathfinder.

The first edition character sheet has a big story/background column, a big full color picture, and still manages to get the necessary rules onto one side of one sheet. Those are vital (and achievable) design goals.

**

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Proposal D is probably the best, but the survey is not asking the right questions.

Pregens should be easy for a new player to read and digest. Only the essentials should be on the 1st page.

1) Stats: Your stats don't actually help players play the game. Skills do. Stats should be a the bottom of the 1st page, hidden away somewhere.

Defenses should actually be at the top of the page, under the basic information.

2) "Strikes": You should include 2 spells (ray of frost and lightning bolt for example) for ranged instead of the crossbow. Show the players what they can do. Proposal D had ray of frost as a strike, which is good.

3) Feats: Feats on the 1st page are just confusing to a new player. Feats are more advanced and are mostly used to build a character, they should be on the second page.

4) Organization: I don't think spell casters should necessarily have the pregens organized exactly like martials. Don't be beholden to "the formula".

5) Spells: Put the spells section together with the spell rolls, at the top of the 1st page in the 2nd column.

6) Equipment: This doesn't need to be on the 1st page either. If you needed to include it, it shouldn't be at the top, it should be last. Better yet it would be better on the 2nd page where equipment is explained.

7) Spell Choice: Why did you pick lightning instead of fireball? Fireball in general is more effective, would work with the staff of fire, and allow new players to have some fun and be effective. Fireball in general is more useful than lightning bolt.

The rest is in the survey.

Dark Archive ***** Venture-Agent, Ohio—Columbus aka Cirithiel

Why not just go with “statblock” format like the old sheets? It saves so much space on the sheet that there was room for things like character background stories.

Scarab Sages ****

James Anderson wrote:
Table space is at a premium, so it's important to be landscape and keep the sheet with the player instead of extending into the center of the table and running into the maps.

It’s funny how people see the same problem in different setups. I feel like landscape takes up too much table space, as it crowds the space of other players. It’s also more awkward to use on a clipboard or in a notebook. With a portrait page, it’s fairly easy to place it on top of a folder or other book and hold it instead of placing it on the table at all, for situations where the map is large. You can do that with landscape, but it feels awkward to me.

Similarly, flipping through a binder in landscape means it will stretch much farther across the table. We run into that now with the pregens, where we have to move to a different table for pregen selection, because there just isn’t enough room on the table with other players there. And I double up two pregens in a sleeve, so you need to be able to read the front and the back of the sleeve. With landcape that’s more difficult (you rotate the pages on the back to make it easier). As opposed to holding the binder like a book and quickly flipping through. You can pass the book across the table and nobody needs to get up and move to a different one.

And then there are situations where you need to look at two pages at once, which look like they are going to be more common with pregens taking up more than 2 pages. Placing them side by side for landscape you’re taking up far more space than side by side portrait. Placing one above the other silimarly goes deeper into the table than side by side portrait. Placing portrait one above the other isn’t something I would do, so landscape does at least work better if that’s the situation you’re left with.

When everything else is oriented portrait (books, binders, etc.) you can stack them all on top of each other and have one footprint on the table. When you suddenly need to rotate the sheet, it throws everything else off.

Scarab Sages ****

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One other thing I’d like to point out around having pregens be more than 2 pages... That may not seem like a big deal when there are 10 classes. The difference between 20 pages and 30 pages isn’t that big. There at 30 classes now? 31? Somewhere around there. PF2 will eventually get to that point. 10 classes 3 pages each at 3 levels is 60 pages assuming you front and back pages 1 and 2. 30 classes is 180 pages. So 180 pages to print a book of pregens. And now if you want multiples? Extending to a third page doubles the amount of paper that you need.

Grand Lodge **** Venture-Agent, Australia—NSW—Newcastle aka Tim Schneider 908

I've frequently had problems with the old pregen sheets where relatively experienced players who don't GM were unable to work out how to help a new player cause they weren't used to reading that format & have had many ask why their sheet wasn't like everyone else. I seriously considered rewriting all my pregens onto character sheets but the effort was too high. Instead I printed multiple copies of every pregen so when I GM with a pregen I have it in front of me to tell the player what a value is if they can't find it.

I'd really like to see them given a real character sheet. At least for the front page. Page 2 & 3 I'd be happy to see compressed down into a single landscape page - everything in them is covered in the detailed rules breakdown suffix pages anyway. The front page though they have to frequently reference in the game & will turn to the player next to them and go "Where do I find X?" and that player knows the character sheet not the funky pregen format.

Page 1 is essentially just over 1 column of the landscape page, if you just move the other stuff across so it starts at equipment & you'll even have a little space for some backstory/fluff on there.

Personally when I run them I find the 1E pregens with monster stats great as a GM, but they're not beginner-friendly and they also make the transition to their own character harder.

Shadow Lodge ***** Venture-Lieutenant, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka thistledown

You make some good arguments on how portrait matches up with other infrastructure better.

The places I frequent each do tables differently. One store I always get two costco tables side by side, and generally don't have problems with spacing. Another store though, has small wooden tables that are about 4'x5'. Sometimes we get 4 of them to put together, but often we only get two that we put end-to-end. This makes for plenty of seating and space along the table, but not much depth into it.

The third case, and where pregens are most needed, is conventions, with their Round Tables. This is where the landscape orientation shines, because you've got more room at the circumference than the interior of the table.


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GM OfAnything wrote:
Could we eliminate the third page from pregens if we moved some common item or spell descriptions to a separate reference sheet?

I've thought a bit more about this, and having a rules reference page for common starting items and basic spells sounds pretty handy. You can print multiples and give new players a copy they can keep with their first characters after playing the pregen.


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Ferious Thune wrote:
One other thing I’d like to point out around having pregens be more than 2 pages... That may not seem like a big deal when there are 10 classes. The difference between 20 pages and 30 pages isn’t that big. There at 30 classes now? 31? Somewhere around there. PF2 will eventually get to that point. 10 classes 3 pages each at 3 levels is 60 pages assuming you front and back pages 1 and 2. 30 classes is 180 pages. So 180 pages to print a book of pregens. And now if you want multiples? Extending to a third page doubles the amount of paper that you need.

IIRC I recently counted 44 base classes and 115 prestige classes. Probably not all are approved for PFS. :-)

*** Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

Character background: There wasn't a question about it on the survey but I think it is very important to new players. I've seen many new players find roleplaying inspiration from their character's history.

I would like a format that includes this description of the character (not the class). Even Alain's level 1 write up inspired role playing.

Cavalier Level 1 wrote:
All Alain cares about is his reputation and his horse, Donahan.

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