Painlord's 'How to be a better PFS Judge'


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Greetings Mortals--

(For a thought on how to be a better player, go here.)

I am not the best judge on the planet. But I do think upon things a bit and I have been doing this silly game for a while. This post is for those who want to aspire to be something capable of the *Amazing* when they judge.

There are a lot of things you just can't control when you judge (the depth of the mod itself, when your mod is played, the mood of the players that come, etc.) so I try to focus on things I can control....things to make the experience the best for my players. I consider each judging experience to be an opportunity to share something amazing with them. I like to give it my all and make it as fun and challenging as I can.

Remember, each player can only experience a mod for the first time once...and that's an awesome responsibility. I feel the need to present the story and make it as memorable as possible.

Sometimes I succeed, and I know it. I rejoice.
Sometimes I fail, and I know it. It hurts.
Either way, I aspire to do it better the next time.

(This is a long post, I make no apologies for it. I'm pretty sure this list is still just a fraction of what good judges could do. Points are noted to give weight to certain concepts and ideas.)

Thoughts are broken down by category:

About the Mental State:

+2: For being awake and alert.
+2: For being in good humor and mentally prepared to run a good mod.
+5: When you're running this mod because you understand that giving back to the community (via judging) is important
+5: For running to learn from your players as you judge. There are always tricks and tips to be shared and learnt.
+3: For hoping your players do something exciting and unexpected so you can rise to the challenge and make it even better.
+5: For embracing "losing", as in, acknowledging that the players are supposed to 'win' the day. You 'win' by making it fun for the players to win, which means your bad guys have to 'lose'. But don't worry, that means that you really win. :)

About Starting:

+0: For arriving at start time to begin setting up.
+2: For arriving 10 minutes early to prep and get set up.
-2: For showing up late.
+1: For introducing yourself to all the players at the table.
+1: For making sure the players introducing themselves to each other in real life (or giving a proper introduction).
+1: For making sure the characters have an opportunity to introduce each other in character to begin the roleplaying.
+1: If you use initiative cards, have a sample filled out for players to follow.
+1: For getting the sign in sheet filled out and going around the table.
+1: For asking and setting the subtier (aka APL) of the mod so that players know what to expect.
+5: For encouraging players to play what the character they want to play in the mod, rather than some misguided notion of balance.

On Preparation:

+15: For reading the mod at least twice: once as a general reading, again for more detailed understanding.
+10: For pre-researching the powers, spells, and abilities of the bad guys as to not interrupt game flow with looking up of stuff. I try to write out such things in the mod when I read the mod for the 2nd time. Sometimes, I print out the monsters directly from the online bestiary so I'll have copies to easily refer to rather than the book (I'll group them by tier or encounter as appropriate).
+5: For pre-thinking (if you know the players in the group that you are running) of ways to customize and personalize the mod in advance. For me, I often run for a Luggish brute and a sour Sage and I make notes on how to screw with, uhm, I mean, "appreciate" them beforehand.
+2: For having maps pre-drawn and ready to go.
+2: For having the chronicles pre-signed and filled out (as appropriate) so you can get them out quickly should you be rushed for time at the end.
+1: For having handouts, faction missions, and what not ready to go.
+1: For having faction sheets for players to keep an take notes upon...for each player.
+2: For having pre-gens and PFS numbers to hand out to new players.

On the Setting:

+0: For reading the box text about the setting in the mod.
+1: For taking the time to show the players where they are and where they go on a map and describing the location with backstory.
+2: For additional color and flavor that you can impart during the mod from external sources. (If I don't have the Paizo book, I'll often do a search on one of the many wikis to get additional info.)

On Pacing:

+1: For finishing a mod within the time allotted.
+3: For stretching with color/flavor/roleplaying a 2 hour mod into a 4 hour mod.
-10: For rushing a 4 hour mod into 2 hours when you're just trying to get it done so you can say you judged.
+2: For politely pushing slower playing characters into action rather than having them drag the game to a halt with their indecision.
+2: For calling a decided combat early so that you can return to the story or next important event.
+3: For being attuned to player reactions and mood to know when to pick things up and move on and when to dally and let roleplaying happen.

Managing Players and the Table:

+100: For acknowledging that you're the one in charge and using that authority appropriately. It is your game to run and it is your party.
+15: For clearly talking about your judging style and quirky rules when you start the mod.
+10: For sharing your attention around the table so that all players have a chance to speak, act, and react.
+10: For seeking opportunities for each player to shine.
+5: For toning down the aggressive or loud player. "Would you mind dialing it back a bit?" usually works.
+5: For encouraging the timid or quiet player, when appropriate. Some people need to be invited to participate.
+5: For shooing away other players and distractions from your table. Feel free to pause and wait for the distraction to pass. I politely stare down anyone who comes and distracts me or my players.
+5: For inviting a sleeping (really...it's happened) or disinterested player to leave your table. I like to ask them if the experience of PFS or the reward is the reason why they are there. If they answer "experience", I invite them to leave and enjoy the full experience at another time when they are rested (or mentally ready). If they answer "reward", I would give them a chronicle and gladly see them on their way (it's never happened, but I'd happily excuse a tired/unhappy player from my table). I would rather not have them drag down my table. I expect most players will perk up and re-engage when such a question and offer is made.

In Combat:

+10: For efficiently managing initiatives, combat actions, and the bad guys in an encounter.
+3: For describing combat effects and the combat beyond just rolling the dice.
+3: For describing the bad guys as they appear when they show up in combat. Example: "You see a pair of medium humanoids. Both are dressed in leather and carry clubs. The second has a few javelins nearby."
+3: For playing the bad guys within the realms of the intelligence/nature that they have.
+2: For using good tactics against the party where appropriate.
+5: For clearly describing terrain and environmental effects before and during a combat.
+2: For having minis and tiles to tactically represent an encounter and allow players to visualize the combat.
-3: For using cheetos or M&Ms to represent bad guys.
+5 (Tier 1-2 only): For teaching and encouraging proper tactics in new players.
+5 (Tier 3-4 and above): Allowing players to make tactical mistakes (or intentional roleplaying 'gaffes') and then helping them learn from those mistakes through experience. "No one is going to engage the caster? Interesting tactic, here's another fireball."
+1: For prompting players when their turn is next so they can be ready to go.
-3: For allowing slow players to overtly slow down the game.
+1: For rolling in the open, for better to let the fates decide.
+1: For helping players adjudicate cover and concealment as they decide their actions. "Okay, so you're firing an arrow from there...your target has cover." Be ready to help with appropriate rulings.
+2: For being ready to provide appropriate information based on Identify Monster rolls.
+2: For cheering for your players when they crit or do cool stuff. Pepper your combats with "Well struck!" and "Nicely done!"

On Difficulty Level:

+5: For assessing (or just asking) how much of a challenge your table would like at the table. Deciding factors may include: # of players, average party level for the tier, your personal knowledge of the player's styles and preferences, understanding with the gameday or Con organizer, etc.
+25: Adjusting the difficulty of the mod, when appropriate to the needs and wants of the party. Of course, it's unclear whether the Paizo Gods understand or approve of this, but I feel it's essential to a fun mod.
-EleventyBillion: Adjusting the difficulty up wherein you kill a character or the party. You fail. Deaths should only happen via outright stupidity or just bad dice rolls: "Yep...I rolled it in front of you, a crit with the Great Axe from the raging Orc Barbarian. Then the '15' on the die to confirm. Sorry..." Don't ever up the difficult to an extent where players die unfairly.
+5: Adjusting down the difficulty when you are playing with new players or a first level party.

On Personalization:

+5: For RetConning your players chronicles (or using personal info) to customize and personalize events and reactions from NPCs into the adventure. A venture captain might make vague allusions to previously played successes (or failures) for the Pathfinder Society. Recurring NPCs (Miss Feathers, anyone) might follow up or react to previous events. The more customization, the more living and real the campaign feels.
+10, each instance: For adding roleplaying notes and text to a character's chronicle at end of mod. The text shouldn't be anything that adds anything other than roleplaying or fun value, but opportunities for such should be sought and cherished. Examples might include: "Commissioned the Painter of Cassomir for a portrait of his Eidolon. Paid in gold." "Burnt down the remaining story of the proposed retirement home of VC Savarre." "Engaged in turpid (but unknown) activities with Miss Feathers behind closed doors. Paid in gold." I give every personalized hook that I can squeeze out of events and reactions from a mod.

With Box Text:

+0: For reading the box text.
+1: For reading the box text clearly and forcefully so players can really hear and feel it.
+1: For repeating important box text and/or including additional flavor as you go.
+2: For allowing appropriate knowledge checks during and after to enhance the players' knowledge.
+1: For customizing and altering the box text as necessary to fit the mood or story you are telling.

With Roleplaying:

+15: For being an active, alive proponent of roleplaying at your table.
+3: For encouraging your players to describe their actions rather than just rolling dice.
+1: For each time you say "yes" to a player's roleplaying idea.
+2: For each time you say "OH HECKS YES" to a player's roleplaying idea.
+5: For each time you demand and insist that the roleplayer enacts his idea or plan and then make it even better.
+2: For giving proper and incidental bonuses to roleplaying within a mod. For instance, I will happily give props to those who use their craft/profession/perform in the mod to enhance the party's goals. For instance, if the party starts the mod sailing from Absalom to Sandpoint, I will give a bonus to profession (sailor) rolls for those PCs what wish to use it as their Day Job roll.
+3: For delivering Faction Missions in a way that is interesting a appropriate. This link is a good resource.
+10: For roleplaying with each player based on the *character* that they present rather than their class. Don't assume that Paladins are brave, Clerics should heal, and Rogues should sneak. React to the character, not what you think they should be doing.

Deception:

+1: For realizing that players, often unintentionally, are metagamers and sometimes will do things out of character.
+3: For keeping your players off balance and in a state of wonderment. This might include: asking to see a character's sheet and asking a random question about something, asking the party to roll d20s and write them down in front of you, taking a player aside and asking them what type of cheese they like best while pointing randomly at other party members.
+3: For not putting down/drawing the combat map until combat is actually initiated or needed. Ask for a marching order, ask the players to describe their actions or their placement, but avoid the map until you really need it. Players are keyed to such things.
+3: For putting down the map in non-combat situations or in situations when combat is not advisable...risky, but I believe in training the players to be honest.
+3: For shushing or discouraging a metagamer at your table appropriately and politely. Do not let them ruin things for others. A reminder that "in-character knowledge and views are appropriate for making decisions" usually works.
+5: For using your powers intelligently and usefully for the fun and spirit of the game to both befuddle and delight.
+10: For making one encounter a mod seem so overwhelming and difficult that the players almost feel that they have no chance to overcome it. This could be just illusion or setting or description(or just the tough fight in the mod)...but give them a challenge and let them amaze you and accomplish the 'impossible' to win the day.

Knowledge of Rules:

+20: For realizing that no one is expecting you to have all the rules mastered and on the tip of one's tongue at a moments notice. Please banish any such thoughts from your mind.
+5: For really, really understanding the above and accepting that your players will not know everything either.
+5: For working with your players and your handy rulebooks to rule correctly on matters.
+10: For knowing when just to make a ruling and move on, for sometimes the wait is not worth the damage to the flow of the game. Remember, you are the guy in charge. You can make decisions and push things forward.
-5: For being too proud to acknowledge a mistake. They *will* happen but sometimes the best response is "I screwed that up. Sorry, but do you mind if we move on? I'll do better next time."
-5: For extended arguing with a player about a rules issue at the table. At the worst, take them aside and have the discussion away from the other players, but do *not* have a prolonged argument in front of other players. If the player persists in bad spirited comments, invite them to leave the table.
+5: For asking your players about spells/powers/feats that they are using. *Absolutely* do this...sometimes they will be using the effect incorrectly or another player may have some insight as well. I sometimes ask players how they total up to their 'to hit' and damage rolls or their AC. Asking about such things promotes honesty, lest they called out and unable to explain the numbers they are using. Also, it's a good way to learn about different classes and abilities. "Oh, so my 26 to hit misses you, eh? I'm curious, what is getting your AC that high? [Player explains while I add it up in my head.] Nicely done...I'm going to have to try the same."

Ending the Mod:

+5: For really tying up any loose ends, including making a full report back to the Venture Captain.
+1: For ending before time so you have time to clean up and handle paperwork.
+2: For filling out chronicles accurately.
+1: For finishing up the sign in sheet and Prestige Awards sections...and turning it in.
+10 again, because it's important: For adding roleplaying and story notes to the chronicle to help build a living, continuous feeling to the campaign.
+5: For making a point to celebrate the key actions in the mod/fights that turned the tide or made a difference. "You, Lugg, did a good job of placing your character in the first fight. I couldn't get around your huge @## to get to the squishes. Nice work." "I would have won the 2nd fight if it wasn't for the Wizard having a scroll of fly!! Nice work, Wizard. I just had nothing to deal with the now flying *Thongar*, the Barbarian Master of Airborne Pain and Suffering." "Hey RogueyMcSneakSneak, way to scout out the bad guys for your team to go into the combat fully aware of what they were facing. Against perfect tactics, my guys were toast. Well done!"

Feedback:

+5: For asking for feedback after the mod (or a few days after the mod when you can, some players like to ponder and stew upon things and you'll get a better response) to help you get better.
+5: For taking notes for yourself on things you work upon or get better at.
+5: For adding your comments and thoughts for me to add into this post. I appreciate it.

So, there you go. One yahoo's thoughts on how to judge.

-Pain

p.s.

My usual judging speech goes like this:
"Hi, I see that many of you are playing with me again, but, as a reminder, I'd like to go over my ground rules. First, please do not talk over me when I'm reading box text or describing the environment. It makes me sad to repeat myself. Second, I tend to talk quickly or slur when I'm really excited...if I'm talking and you're not understanding, please let me know so I can be more clear. Third, since you guys are experienced Pathfinders and since I play my bad guys with absolute and total tactical perfection (pause for laugh), I will not be going back to correct mistakes that I've made during combat unless they egregiously need to be fixed. By the same token, when you end your turn, I won't be going back to add something that you've missed...when you end your turn, be sure to be correct. Don't miss the Bless effect or the extra damage from the Bard Song. When you end your turn, you've ended your turn. Lastly, I'll let you know when your turn is coming up...please be ready to do your thing. Plan in advance. Oh yeah...let's have fun and roleplay. Any questions?"

Shadow Lodge

My mental state says this is too damn long!!!!

Having said that, I did read this in advance, and many parts are absolutely inspired!

Thanks Painlord for the effort. :)


@painlord: Thanks for the great advice both for the player guide(which I have made quite a bit of purchases) and now for the solid GMing advice. Although, I have never played face to face Pathfinder, I play quite a bit online. I will be using all of this advice on both ends of my play.

@powers_that_be: These two guides should be stickied for newer players and GM's.

Shadow Lodge

Regularly playing at Painlord's tables I joking threaten to write an angry letter every time he changes something.
While his guide has a lot of useful bits there's also a lot of needless detail and some misleading priorities.

A much shorter list of steps to being a good GM are:

Step 1: Make sure the table has fun.
Step 2: Run encounters in an efficient fashion.
Step 3: Fill out paperwork correctly.

Personally I have objections to a GM changing the mod in organized play. Among other problems it creates the potential issue where a GM has increased the difficulty due to a better optimized party (or even worse potentially if the GM misjudges the power of a party) and then gets lucky and puts the players in a bad spot but then can't really kill them since raising the difficulty and then killing people seems like poor form.

Without changing the mod there's a lot of flexibility in how the GM plays the creatures or presents the available informatio. In general it's a lot easier to tone down an encounter since you can always play the monsters worse while there's some limit to how much better they get limiting this option somewhat.

Despite my objections to changing the mod whenever I sit down at somebody else's table I am putting my faith in the GM and will play in whatever way they want, and trust that they will make the experience enjoyable. Most of the time they do, occasionally they fail but the variety of the experience is educational and helps me improve on my judging.

On a side note: while judging one of my favorite bits of flavor to add to encounters when possible is to elect one of the bad guys (Preferably the toughest one) as the leader and have them shout orders at the other bad guys, telling them to flank and who to engage etc. Then when the players take down the leader or just stun or silence him the bad guys stop moving up to flank and are generally much less organized.

While the above paragraph is just an example the concept behind it is:
Present a role-playing/flavor opportunity to your players and then reward them for engaging it.

P.S. Props for trying to improve both players and GMs in PFS.

Grand Lodge

Great stuff.
I applaud you for the effort!
It's from Painlord, of course it should be sticky!

(A few ideas that don't march the straight and narrow, but change is on the horizon...)

Bottom line: This inspires players to be better at their craft.

Dark Archive

Now if I can just get him to stop teasing me about my sheathed on my forearm kukris. Still enjoyed that last mod immensely.

I totally agree on the arguing of rules at the table point. Next time someone brings a mod to a screeching halt by arguing black tentacles, I'm going to choke them out.

The Exchange

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Alex Draconis wrote:

Now if I can just get him to stop teasing me about my sheathed on my forearm kukris. Still enjoyed that last mod immensely.

I totally agree on the arguing of rules at the table point. Next time someone brings a mod to a screeching halt by arguing black tentacles, I'm going to choke them out.

I usually tell people at the beginning of the mod that if they have a mechanics issue with the way something is being dealt with I have no problem with them questioning me if they already of the rule book open and can show it to me at the time it's relavant. 5 minutes later is not relavent anymore in my opnion. If they are questioning my decisions because that is their thing the can either can it while on my table or find a new table to play it. They have the option of coming up to me after the mod is over, but I try not to allow nit-picking at my table during the game; it spoils it for me as well as the other players.

So far no complaints .. those that I know are rules lawyers have actually had a change of facial expression and play more relaxed.

Scarab Sages

Thea Peters wrote:
Alex Draconis wrote:

Now if I can just get him to stop teasing me about my sheathed on my forearm kukris. Still enjoyed that last mod immensely.

I totally agree on the arguing of rules at the table point. Next time someone brings a mod to a screeching halt by arguing black tentacles, I'm going to choke them out.

I usually tell people at the beginning of the mod that if they have a mechanics issue with the way something is being dealt with I have no problem with them questioning me if they already of the rule book open and can show it to me at the time it's relavant. 5 minutes later is not relavent anymore in my opnion. If they are questioning my decisions because that is their thing the can either can it while on my table or find a new table to play it. They have the option of coming up to me after the mod is over, but I try not to allow nit-picking at my table during the game; it spoils it for me as well as the other players.

So far no complaints .. those that I know are rules lawyers have actually had a change of facial expression and play more relaxed.

+1. This works for me as well..

The Exchange

I have a couple of addendum as I continue to learn from my recent PFS judging experiences. I judged PFS #45, Delerium's Tangle, last week and wanted to add the following:

Releasing of the Mod Story:

+15: For releasing the 'hidden' module backstory while running the mod. Most mods start with a wonderful history that sets as the setting for the module. However, most of that information does not come out over the course of the mod (nor is it supposed to all come out), however, there is a lot of interesting backstory and details that need to come out for the story to make sense...and some of it is interesting. Try to find a way to get the players the interesting story bits as they go even if it isn't written into the module.

Faction Missions:

+2: For keeping faction missions secret because some players like to keep them secret...or maintain the illusion thereof.
+2: For being skilled in the use of secret notes and odd gestures when players try to complete their missions.
+3: For not giving Prestige Points to those who have not earned them.

As a side note, I judged 2 mods at NeonCon. I believe it is important to remember and document the notable deeds of the PCs as you run them through mods...I like to note the heroic, the fabulous and, well, the stupid or unheroic deeds. I scribed the following notes (not perfectly remembered, but close) on the chronicles for a few players, noted below:

Mod Spoiler: 2-02 Rescue at Azlant Ridge:

Sir_Wulf: Slew 4 charau-ka in single combat. (His barbarian was collecting monkey skulls with cleaving fury.)
Bruce: Honored contracts to both Aspis Consortium and party. (Very well roleplayed character!)
Blakely jr.: Was slapped down by the Azlant wraiths in the tomb. (Ran away from the wraiths with his 26 AC between his legs...his touch AC was like -5.)
Blakely sr.: Became Azlant Champion and slew the Demon Ape Angazhani Champion in single combat.

Mod Spoiler: Shadowlodge Special:

Tallak: Was turned into chicken by the BBEG. Scratched for many delicious worms for all of the final battle.
Tabatha: Blinded the BBEG in the final battle, essentially ending the final combat.
Dragovon: Successfully hid behind party for almost every attack throughout the entire mod. The monsters never knew his face.
John from Monteclair: Earned the title of Goblin Pincushion for his ability to draw every goblin attack.

As much as I like personalizing chronicles, something happened at NeonCon that I've never experienced before and didn't realize could happen: a good, solid, well-roleplayed character didn't get anything added to his sheet and asked me (after hearing and seeing that some players had things added to theirs) "Didn't I roleplay well enough?"

My first reaction was a bit of hurt...but I couldn't remember anything of note that he did during the mod...nothing that I wanted to add. I felt his pain because his character was both strong and well-played, but did nothing extraordinary nor extra fun/silly.

After 3 days of thought, I now accept that this is a risk of trying to be a personalized judge and will try to do better in the future in recognizing all my good players.

-Pain

Grand Lodge

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What I like to do is describe the spell both visually and the physical effect but not by name. If a PC succeeds on a spellcraft is the only time I name the spell. I also do this with readied actions, delay in initiative, and current spell effects. I think describing the visual, in character situation beats technical, meta-game description.

For example, I can say, "(pointing to the BBEG mini) She casts an unholy blight here. (pointing to minis) You need to make a Fort save DC 17." Instead I say, "The priestess of Asmodeus raises her unholy symbol. She shouts an incantation igniting the symbol in a black light. A miasma inky cloud surrounds 'Betty', 'Bob' & 'Jack' (Jack is a paladin and the only good-aligned PC). Jack appears to experience more pain that Betty and Bob. Roll me a Fort save." I then ask their final number and give them their damage. Only if we're pressed for time do I give the DC in advance to speed up play.

For readied or delay I describe their action and not just announce the technical description of the action.

One issue I find with this is players are used to hearing the technical name of the action or spell name. They get confused sometimes and ask follow up questions. At conventions it tends to slow up play until they get used to it. I tell them if the PC doesn't know and the party doesn't have spellcraft they'll need to roleplay. I won't describe the action in meta-game terms unless the entire party is lost, which only happens when the table make up is all meta-gamers. The majority of time it works.


Rene Ayala wrote:

What I like to do is describe the spell both visually and the physical effect but not by name. If a PC succeeds on a spellcraft is the only time I name the spell. I also do this with readied actions, delay in initiative, and current spell effects. I think describing the visual, in character situation beats technical, meta-game description.

For example, I can say, "(pointing to the BBEG mini) She casts an unholy blight here. (pointing to minis) You need to make a Fort save DC 17." Instead I say, "The priestess of Asmodeus raises her unholy symbol. She shouts an incantation igniting the symbol in a black light. A miasma inky cloud surrounds 'Betty', 'Bob' & 'Jack' (Jack is a paladin and the only good-aligned PC). Jack appears to experience more pain that Betty and Bob. Roll me a Fort save." I then ask their final number and give them their damage.

THIS!! Man, do I want to see this from my GMs. No metagame banter ever would suit me just fine - don't tell me the DCs, don't tell me the spell name, don't tell me the monster type...just describe the experience. I aspire to have the skills and forethought to do it myself, as well.

Grand Lodge

I tend to do use descriptive text when characters go down (below zero HP). I never tell them - your character is now at -9 HP - three more rounds before you die.

If you are down and out - you just don't know how many HP you still have (or even if you are dead now or not). If someone uses your current HP to decide to use a potion/spell on you (or not) then this tends to be meta-gaming.

Players will have to use my descriptive text to determine if

He got a blow to the head and went down (he's down but still save for a few rounds)

or

He got a severe blow to his head and goes down heavily bleeding with blood all over (get him healed soon or he will be dead)

or

The mighty swing of the axe hits his head and blood splattering all over the party you see the head rolling away (don't bother - he's dead now and a cure light wound won't help any more)

It might sound cruel - but players don't know until someone stabilized them / did a heal check / got them back to at least zero HP if they are 'save'.

Off course - the spell Death-watch would alter that - but I have never experienced it.

Thod

The Exchange

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[PainlordRagePower=Rant]

A while back I was reminded how important it is for a Judge to remember to put the enjoyment of the mod and the experience of the players *above* their own feelings about the mod.

We had two tables running the same module.
I was playing at one table; the Judge of Sadness was judging the other.
The module itself was nothing but a simplistic dungeon crawl, but nothing awful. It was exactly what it was.

From my table, I could hear that our tables were having very different experiences. Our judge had no preconceived decisions about the mod, took what he had and tried to make the best of it. Our table had a great time. While the mod was dry, we roleplayed the heck out of it.

At the other table, I heard the Judge of Sadness ripping on the mod as he was running for his players. I heard him mention that certain encounters were pointless, some encounters were badly written, questioning the author's choice of monsters, etc. I could see that the other table was struggling to have fun. They rallied nicely (as they were good roleplayers), but their experience could have been so different. I could feel the Judge of Sadness' negativity affecting them.

It made me sad.

I just wanted to rant and highlight that, as a judge, *YOU* have a lot of control and power over how the players think and react to the module and your attitude about the mod can taint the enjoyment of the module for the players. In reality, even if you *hate* the module, you should be able to suck it up and give your players a chance to enjoy things.

If you don't like the story, try to aid your party in roleplaying amongst themselves.
If you don't like the combats, tweak them to fit better.
If you don't like the environment, describe them in a way that works.
You don't need to tell them you're making changes...do what you think is best and don't let on that anything is 'wrong'.

I wanted to stand up and throttle the Judge of Sadness. And the strange thing about this is that the Judge of Sadness is usually a good, solid, fun judge that I'd have run for me, anytime. Usually, he's great.

However, sometimes we all slip up and I can recall making this exact mistake in the past so I know how it can happen.

[/Rant]

On the other side of the coin, a positive attitude can help your players have more fun too. I have begun to talk up the mod or an encounter in the mod as being a 'favorite' in the pre-game banter. I don't tell them which one it is, but only that there are some fun things coming up.

I want my players in the mood for fun and challenge as much as I want myself in a positive mindset to give it to them.

So I guess this goes both ways, eh?

-Pain

Dark Archive

Great list, Painlord. I agree with 95% of it, and only have one specific issue:

Quote:
+2: For giving proper and incidental bonuses to roleplaying within a mod. For instance, I will happily give props to those who use their craft/profession/perform in the mod to enhance the party's goals. For instance, if the party starts the mod sailing from Absalom to Sandpoint, I will give a bonus to profession (sailor) rolls for those PCs what wish to use it as their Day Job roll.

This is a no no! Day Job is straight up rolls without adding anything besides their innate abilities. Modifying this is against PFS Rulings.

Grand Lodge

Painlord wrote:
stuff

This is totally true and I've been guilty of it myself (most recently last Thursday night). We, as GM's and coordinators, definitely need to be aware that our attitude goes a long way and the players feed off of it. If we are lazy/monotone with our boxed text and lack descriptive language with environments, monsters, and actions, the players will do the same and the game devolves into a series of dice rolls and paperwork. Thinking back to my favorite/least favorite experiences, they all had one thing in common, the GM's enthusiasm or lack thereof.

Contributor

As a newcomer to this system and to Pathfinder organized play, I just want to say I really appreciate both this and the "how to be a better player" tips. Thanks so much.

Cheers,

Christopher


Painlord wrote:

In reality, even if you *hate* the module, you should be able to suck it up and give your players a chance to enjoy things.

And if you cannot do that.. simply DON'T RUN THE MODULE!

If it's that bad, simply say you won't run it and offer to run something else. If it's a planned event, tell the coordinator that there are some mods that you won't run.

-James

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16

Painlord wrote:
In reality, even if you *hate* the module, you should be able to suck it up and give your players a chance to enjoy things.

Traditionally, my favorite mods to run are the ones I've been told have problems. I feel liberated to tweak them a bit and make them just right for the party playing.

The Exchange

When are we going to see Painlord's 'How to be a better Painlord' thread?

Grand Lodge

Doug Miles wrote:
When are we going to see Painlord's 'How to be a better Painlord' thread?

Forever a work in progress!

The Exchange

Michael Azzolino wrote:
Doug Miles wrote:
When are we going to see Painlord's 'How to be a better Painlord' thread?
Forever a work in progress!

Ah, piddlespot. Youse guys been talking with Mrs. Painlord? :(

-Pain


Painlord wrote:
Michael Azzolino wrote:
Doug Miles wrote:
When are we going to see Painlord's 'How to be a better Painlord' thread?
Forever a work in progress!

Ah, piddlespot. Youse guys been talking with Mrs. Painlord? :(

-Pain

We could have her make a guest appearance!

Sovereign Court

Painlord wrote:

Greetings Mortals--)

I am not the best judge on the planet....

** spoiler omitted **...

I want to say thanks to Painlord for posting a really specific, helpful read. I hope to start a pathfinder society chapter in my school one of these days, and this article reads like a fun, tongue in cheek, and insightful list of everything to keep in mind to be a good DM, period.

And it looks like the rest of the thread agrees!

The Exchange

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From another thread, Mok posted:

Mok wrote:

Pretty much every session of PFS I've been in there has been someone who asks mid session, "what are we supposed to be doing in this adventure?"

The intro box texts are always too long, and I see everyone's eyes start to glaze over... I know mine do. Listening to someone read a long detailed mission statement, littered with fantasy names, is actually pretty hard to do. I try to take notes of what we need to do.

Add to the fact that every scenario has an elaborate backstory that doesn't get conveyed to the players in any meaningful way and it ends up with a lot of people basically just moving from location to location waiting to be attacked and/or find the widget they need to find with their mission. The story for that particular adventure, much less any meta-plot can easily dissolve into encounter grind.

I've had a major change over the last year in my judging style to accommodate this exact phenomenon. Players definitely have a hard time following all the names, places, people, and the mission itself.

My solutions have been:

1) Write down all important names and facts on my dry erase surface for the party to read and/or copy. Many players will internalize written information differently than just oratory.

Stuff I write down:
a) Locations: where one is starting from and going to
b) VC's name
c) Main NPCs
d) Mission and mission notes

2) I go completely off boxtext and script and frequently repeat myself again and again during the intro. Which is to say that I often repeat myself, the mission, the name of Venture Captain, and all names again and again. I mean, really, repeating myself during introductions with important facts is important.

3) I make a point to interact with the players (being the VC) during boxtext with comments like:

"Pathfinder Byle Kaird, were you listening?"
"You there! What do you remember of XYZ from your training?"
"You look like the smart sort...what do you know of ABC?"

4) I freely reveal more about the backstory, Out of Character, when I feel that it will help and aid understanding of the mission without giving away secrets. For instance, with Ghennet Manor Gauntlet, I went into a lot of detail about the Ruby Phoenix Tournament because, as Pathfinders, it's stuff they would know.

5) As a judge, I consider fun, story, & flow > (more important than) reading boxtext. Do what you need to do to make it work for your players.

-Pain


Wait, what?

Sovereign Court

Painlord, thank you for the great post. I definitely learned some tips here to improve my GMing. I especially like your idea of personalizing the chronicle sheets, though I'm afraid at Cons GMs frequently run out of time or nearly so.

I wanted to add that I believe being flexible as a GM is very important to maximize player enjoyment. I also enjoy running role-playing heavy, "difficult" mods, most notably Throaty Mermaid. When i first ran it, players complained that the goal of the mod was very nebulous and all circumstantial Over the course of running it several times, I have made small modifications to it that allow players to have a more concrete solution to the problem. I encourage GMs to exercise their creativity and problem solving. This is why we are GMs, and not computer programs.

Silver Crusade

I remember giving this thread a good read over a number of month ago when I was still getting my feat under me as a GM for PFS, and found it quite useful as a reference for things I should do. Reading it again I still find it useful. Good job with this.

Grand Lodge

Painlord wrote:

+2: For having the chronicles pre-signed and filled out (as appropriate) so you can get them out quickly should you be rushed for time at the end.

This. I've tried to do this since PFS started. I don't always manage to get to the sheets ahead of time and at some cons you don't get them until the end of the slot anyhow.

But in reviewing version 4.0 of the PFS Guide, I notice this is NOT the official process we are supposed to follow.

Spoiler:
The steps are:
1. Pass out blank sheets to players for them to fill in their Personal, XP and Gold info.
2. Check their previous sheet to verify their advancement track for their current level.
3-4. Circle sub-tier, enter Gold Gained, enter XP
5. Process Day Job roll.
6. Enter Prestige Gained.
7. Line through any unavailable treasure.
8-9. Player completes Sold/Bought boxes and totals all numbers.
10. Review sheet, complete For GM Only section, sign sheet.

Are we really supposed to follow the official process every time? Or is this just written to cover all the bases and to use for new players or those folks you don't know (yet). It seems this process could take at least 30 minutes for a full table if followed to the letter.

The Exchange

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Don Walker wrote:
But in reviewing version 4.0 of the PFS Guide, I notice this is NOT the official process we are supposed to follow.

Lolz. Nope.

I don't do all of that...especially not when time is an issue (and it's usually an issue). I'd rather tack on another 20-30 minutes of more fun roleplaying than add on the minutiae of infinite paperwork.

I have audited people before (and will again), but it's usually on a case by case basis.

With new players, I pull out my own character Chronicles and show them in detail with examples how to fill out chronicles, how tracking and reporting work, and how gold/XP/PA is tracked.

But yeah, I don't do all that.

I also don't always floss. Sometimes I roll through a stop sign. Sometimes I even speed. I take a penny but don't leave one. I've been known to jaywalk. One time, at bandcamp....

I'm a freakin' rebel.

Yet somehow I live with myself.

Judge well. Judge the best you can within the rules. Do the best you can. It's all I (and your fellow players) can ask.

-Pain

The Exchange

From another thread, two ideas that I liked.

Duly posted here for future readers.

#1:

Fromper wrote:
In our local PFS group, we've started handing out the Chronicle sheets face down at the start of the adventure. Players aren't allowed to look at them until the adventure is over, but you can take notes on the back. Usually, this starts with writing down who the players and characters are for that adventure, followed by mission notes as they come up.

#2:

Chris Mortika wrote:

Practices I use as a classroom teacher carry over into Pathfinder Society play.

I have found that having the Venture Captain stop in the middle of his briefing and then spell out the name of the person or place he just mentioned, has been enough of a hint.

The Exchange

Kyle Baird wrote:

This is a long thread to dive into...

Here's what I do:

IF I have time before a slot starts AND I've had enough time to prepare and lay everything out AND the players show up early, I'll often casually ask to see their character sheet. Normally when I do this, I'm just looking at how they've built their character, what feats they've taken or any clues on how to tailor the adventure to make it more enjoyable for the player. (Mental note: this character has greater improved super bull rush, I could "accidentally" position one of the baddies in Act 3 near that ledge...) I don't tell the players what I'm looking for, and leave it up to them to feel nervous that I'm looking for cheating. My favorite example was at Gamicon last year when I asked to see an 11th level fighter's character sheet after he had already been bragging up his "incredible" attack bonus. After looking it over, I let him know that he was actually +1 higher than he had on his character sheet. :-)

Before the scenario starts, I let players know that I'll need their most recent chronicle at the end of the scenario. This chronicle needs to be fully filled out in order to receive their new chronicle. I stole this idea from Douglas Douglason and it works pretty well. Most players will check immediately if they have their chronicles and if they're filled out. If they're missing them, we can address that issue before getting into the story. If they aren't filled out all the way, they can work on them during the slot (perhaps mid-way through the slot when their character has been slain for the second time?). At the end of the scenario, I briefly glance at the chronicle and hand them their new one. IF I've got extra time, I may actually read some of it... ;-)

If I'm late, the players are late, the slot is short or there's another reason we're pressed for time, I don't do any of this crap. Let's get to the killing... er, I mean the story!

From another thread.

Such good advice. Duly stolen and added to this thread.

-Pain


Painlord wrote:
Don Walker wrote:
But in reviewing version 4.0 of the PFS Guide, I notice this is NOT the official process we are supposed to follow.

Lolz. Nope.

I don't do all of that...especially not when time is an issue (and it's usually an issue). I'd rather tack on another 20-30 minutes of more fun roleplaying than add on the minutiae of infinite paperwork.

I have audited people before (and will again), but it's usually on a case by case basis.

With new players, I pull out my own character Chronicles and show them in detail with examples how to fill out chronicles, how tracking and reporting work, and how gold/XP/PA is tracked.

But yeah, I don't do all that.

I also don't always floss. Sometimes I roll through a stop sign. Sometimes I even speed. I take a penny but don't leave one. I've been known to jaywalk. One time, at bandcamp....

I'm a freakin' rebel.

Yet somehow I live with myself.

Judge well. Judge the best you can within the rules. Do the best you can. It's all I (and your fellow players) can ask.

-Pain

How strange... "if Harry Dresden were GMming."

;)

Silver Crusade

Pain lord, I need some help, I don't want to be a judge of sadness but when I have to run a scenario that is poorly written. For instance I just ran encounter at drowning stones the last encounter the mooks had no chance at hitting an of the party except for on a nat 20.
Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players how do you do this when a scenario is just written badly? I loved what one of my players did to the BBG in the last encounter the BBG was a cleric and my player sundered his holy symbol.. I really like when a player out thinks how a scenario is written.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

Lou Diamond wrote:

Pain lord, I need some help, I don't want to be a judge of sadness but when I have to run a scenario that is poorly written. For instance I just ran encounter at drowning stones the last encounter the mooks had no chance at hitting an of the party except for on a nat 20.

Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players how do you do this when a scenario is just written badly? I loved what one of my players did to the BBG in the last encounter the BBG was a cleric and my player sundered his holy symbol.. I really like when a player out thinks how a scenario is written.

Not every scenario will challenge every party. The trick is to find a way to have fun with it regardless. For me and most of my tables, the real fun is found out of combat in the roleplay side of the game. You should remember, though, that heavily min-maxed teams for which combat is irrelevant have made a conscious choice to make combat irrelevant in the game - if they wish a challenge, they can build a crossbow fighter a mystic theurge or a dual-classed ninja/bard.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Lou Diamond wrote:
Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players

No, it's not.

It's really, really not.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lou Diamond wrote:
Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players how do you do this when a scenario is just written badly?

When you run a scenario, one of the things you need to ask yourself is "What is the point of this scenario?" That should inform how you prepare for it and how you run it.

For instance: Encounter at the Drowning Stones

Spoiler:

Yeah, the combats in that one are really easy. However, there are two major themes in the module.
  • Exploring in the Mwangi Expanse
  • Dealing with a cult of Sifkesh, demon lord of heresy and suicide

In fact, the combats should be easy. While the Mwangi rainforest may be a tough place for low-level adventurers to survive, the players are a group of hardened high-level adventurers. They might be miserable, but they can get past the hardships.

Then there is the question of what do you do with the one drowning stone placed in the middle of the forest? How do you go about exploring the temple with it's 400ish ft drop? That suggestion spell really throws off players and really makes the flavor of the scenario come together. After we took out the cleric, the party spent the rest of the time trying to find a way to knock me out without killing me (which is surprisingly hard to do at high level vs. a crane wing/deflect arrows/fight defensively fighter. It's almost like I was designed to be hard to hit or something.)

So sure, the combats are easy, but near the end, the PCs are fighting worshipers of Sifkesh! Have them enjoy dying! Call out to their god
to bless them as they have thrown themselves into the PCs blades! After all, if the PCs were dying by the hands of the monsters, it wouldn't really be pleasing to the Demon Lord of Suicide, now would it?

Some scenarios have combat as a main focus, but for the ones that don't you'll need to identify that focus and figure out how you can play it up in your game.

Silver Crusade

Lou Diamond wrote:

Pain lord, I need some help, I don't want to be a judge of sadness but when I have to run a scenario that is poorly written. For instance I just ran encounter at drowning stones the last encounter the mooks had no chance at hitting an of the party except for on a nat 20.

Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players how do you do this when a scenario is just written badly? I loved what one of my players did to the BBG in the last encounter the BBG was a cleric and my player sundered his holy symbol.. I really like when a player out thinks how a scenario is written.

This is PFS. Some scenarios will be cakewalks. That's just the way it is. You just run them to the best of your ability, but do not include wonky rules interpretation to provide "challenge".


Iammars wrote:
Lou Diamond wrote:
Part being a good gm is offering a challange for your players how do you do this when a scenario is just written badly?

When you run a scenario, one of the things you need to ask yourself is "What is the point of this scenario?" That should inform how you prepare for it and how you run it.

For instance: Encounter at the Drowning Stones
** spoiler omitted **

Some scenarios have combat as a main focus, but for the ones that don't you'll need to identify that focus and figure out how you can play it up in your game.

The party I ran through had some issues elsewhere--

Encounter at the Drowning Stones:
Were mostly atrocious at Will saves. All of the 10-11s failed against the succubus iteratively in Tier 10-11, but somehow the level 7 pregen Kyra saved them all from what would have been a guaranteed TPK using her magic circle. They also would have died if the druid/gunslinger hadn't been the holder of the suicide stone who she explicitly wouldn't attack, hoping to instead engineer a suicide as per the tactics. At one point, the succubus coup de graced the druid/gunslinger's pet and monologued about how all her friends were dying off and the gunslinger could always just end it all and be with them.

The final encounter was never really a question as to whether the PCs would win big time, but they were very loud and very slow about entering one by one, so the bad guys managed to get up a darkened silent area basically by the time most people were in the room. The tiefling rogue could see just fine, but most people could neither see nor hear, so they were scared and alone in the dark as weak attacks kept raining on them (and they lashed out against those attacks, managing to make a good showing for themselves as they tried to move blindly to exit the effect). The rogue managed to shepherd the team to victory, but before they won, the gunslinger proved as usual her magical curse to only roll 20s against fellow party members, as she proceeded to kill herself under the stone's effect, as the cult leader used its power to get her to make a single attack against herself (of course a x4 crit). A breath of life scroll later, and much rejoicing was had by all, and they really had a sense of being creeped out and hating this demon suicide cult!

It all worked even though the mooks and cleric really could have never beaten the team. Probably the tiefling rogue even could have won the fight alone eventually. The key is atmosphere.


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I somehow found myself to this post about 4 years later, but I just wanted to say:

as someone who GM'd 3rd and 3.5 edition D&D for 10 years about 10 years *ago* and is now coming back to it in Pathfinder, this is a great, thoughtful list of reminders. Thanks for posting it!


It is an excellent resource and I would urge anyone who wants to run to give it a thorough read through. I would personally make one change:

- eleventymillion for reading out any form of box text in a dull monotone

Seriously, boxtext went out in the 80's and we can do better than simply narrate some often rather purple prose at the players, half of whom may well not even be paying attention.

Start your game by grabbing the players attention, refer to them by their character name, ask them questions, make eye contact with them, speak directly to them as the NPC. Provide the same information but for gods sake don't just read through the prose and expect to keep anyones attention for more than a few seconds.

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