Tips for a first-time GM?


Advice

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Apologies if this is the wrong section of the forum, it's been awhile since I posted here outside of PbP games.

I'm a fairly active player myself, but am about to start a game for a group of players who have never played before, while never having run a game myself. I'll be using an adventure path, and feel pretty comfortable with the rules side of GMing, but what things would y'all recommend I keep in mind as I start getting ready for the first session?

Grand Lodge

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As you GM, especially for new players, there are a couple things I've learned to watch for:
1) watch your players to see if they are engaged. It can be easy to get involved in long descriptions or prepared NPC speeches, and not every player will enjoy these, and there are times to be brief.
2) Be on the look-out for the overbearing player who will tell other players what they should do. You may need to stand-up for your meeker players so they don't get overrun.
3) Try to split the spotlight for each PC. Try to have every PC do something that the shine at. Try to avoid too many cases of role overlap, as it reduces the PCs need for each other.
4) Don't be afraid to secretly fudge numbers to make the game more fun. If an encounter is going badly for the PCs, it is ok to hide your die rolls and have monsters barely miss. Having PCs barely survive a combat is generally more fun than having them wiped out due to bad luck
5)It's OK to share knowledge that a character would have, even if the Player doesn't. This is primarily knowledge skills, but I also use wisdom and intelligence checks for things the character should know, but the player may not. Things like: Flanking is tactically sound as it distracts the monster.
6) Try to avoid splitting the party, or if you do keep it in short intervals.
7) Remember the PCs are the star of the adventures. NPC if used to help the party, should not outshine the players.


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James Jacobs just posted a great response to this very question.

"By not stopping game play to look up rules and instead just going with the flow, and by presenting the game with obvious choices for the players rather than making them decide (particularly by coaxing them with phrases like, "You enter a twenty foot square room. Do you want to try to investigate the weird statue of the bug man, look for secret doors? Or check out the blue curtain on the wall?"). Spells are fine, but don't give the player a list of 20 spells and ask them to pick which 3 they want; pick the 3 for them based on what you know will be useful for the adventure. Don't spend time agonizing over character creation. Give them pre-built characters; the Beginner Box is a HUGE help here."


I've never seen the Beginner Box, but the rest is absolutely rock solid advice.


Well, the beginner box was designed to be the "basic" version of Pathfinder. Really, it should have been its own line alongside Pathfinder - and then no need for a second edition, but "if wishes were horses" and all that...


Right, I know what it is (was) but since I had to purchase nearly every one of my PF books online because most of the FLGS in the area barely touched the game. The one store that did was about 40 minutes away and it wasn't always convenient for me to go there. I've never heard anything but good things about the Beginner Box, though.

And yeah, wishes and horses.


from above...
4) Personally, I strongly disagree with this. It bugs me when people do it to me and I won't inflict it on others.
5) I very much agree with this one.

continue on from the previous list.
8) If they are absolutely complete beginners to the system or even gaming in general, I usually have a stack of characters that are reasonably decent with fairly simple mechanics. Usually they are built purely from the PHB. They will have a generic description so they can tell what they are picking from. Things like "This dwarven brute use a big hammer and tries to smash his way through most problems (generic THW fighter)." "This Elf is a sneaky little jerk, but he often seems to have the right tool for the job (rogue with things like a Holy water, wire saw, periscope, caltrops, bag of flour, etc...)" "This Gnome is caster who mostly tries to make allies stronger and help them to recover after the fight (oracle with buff and cure spells)." Etc...
9) I make it very clear to them that these characters are just for starting out. They can switch and try others if they wish. Once they get more comfortable, I will help them make a custom PC if they wish. Many of them actually stick with the first one they picked up for the whole campaign, but not always.
10) I usually start them at 2nd level, just so they aren't quite so fragile.
11) Rather than a huge final battle, that might kill them, use waves of NPC's coming in dribs and drabs, or even small groups. That way if you think the PC's have had enough, there just aren't any more waves arriving.
12) I try to remember to let them try almost anything. Even if I set the DC of the roll pretty high. Then I often try to give them an out to realize it isn't too likely. "Ok, roll a d20. Add your dex modifier. Subtract your armor check penalty. Ok, you got a 4. You try to balance on the pole to cross from roof to roof. But even before you get out over the gap your armored boots slip of the pole and you fall on you butt. It seems as if your heavy armor makes it so you would have to be pretty lucky to make it across."
13) Don't get too focused on how the adventure is "supposed to go" according to what is written or what you had planned. If the players try some other way to accomplish the goal that you weren't expecting, that is a most excellent thing! Encourage that behavior.
14) Don't usually give opponents high crit multiplier weapons. A couple of bad rolls can cause an extreme damage spike that will take even a barbarian from healthy to completely dead in a single round. So, at first, a lot of my orc bad guys will have shields and scimitars rather than the usual battle axe. That will make sure it occurs often enough to introduce the concept of a critical hit without just killing them.
15) Usually new players will be significantly less descriptive than you. So if you want them to describe their action rather than just roll a die, you have to be even more descriptive than you usually would with an experienced group.

Grand Lodge

I generally agree with Gruingar de'Morcaine's suggestions as well. I think #13 is particularly important.

I don't have a set story in place per say. I have NPCs and monsters with motives. If the PCs derail the 'intended' story, the NPCs and monsters adapt their plans.


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1)Never fudge numbers
2)If a player rolls multiple natural 20s in a row consume the dice to gain its power.


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doomman47 wrote:
1)Never fudge numbers

Correction: Fudge numbers freely, but never let the players know that ou're doing so. RPGs, even Pathfinder, are not a competition, the are about the story. However, if they know you're fudging dice to keep their characters alive, their victory will feel hollow, while if they know ou're fudging dice against them, they will feel they have no chance and give up in frustration.

doomman47 wrote:


2)If a player rolls multiple natural 20s in a row consume the dice to gain its power.

Please don't do this. It'll play hell on your digestion.

I think my best advice is to pay a lot of attention to your players, and try to find out what works for them and what don't.
Groups are different, and therefore how to be a good DM for a given group will differ.


I suggest talking to your players beforehand about dice fudging. Some won't care. Some are in favor as long as it helps the story. Some will be ferociously against it, and if you do it anyway without admitting it and they ever find out they will hate you and never let you GM them again. (Lying to players, even passively or indirectly, can easily have that effect.)

Oh, and when consuming dice to gain their power, be sure to grind them to powder first. Plastic powder will pass harmlessly through your digestive system while the essential power is taken up into your body and soul.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Rather than fudging numbers, you might try this trick: have the adversary or adversaries waste some of their standard actions.

Instead of using yet another attack roll to inflict damage and possibly kill your PCs too soon, have a monster stand there and roar, gloating over how powerful it is. Or have it threaten the PCs. Or use its action for a non-optimal combat maneuver like trip, disarm or whatever feels right for this type of creature. This may give your PCs enough breathing room to come up with a viable strategy.


First and foremost, listen to your players. This game is as much theirs as it is yours. If all of them are in full agreement in taking things in a different direction, like they all want to dungeon hack while you had an intrigue-heavy plot ready or vice versa, understand that you likely have to change things.

Secondly, talk to your players. Let me emphasize: talk TO your players, not at them. If they want to fundamentally change the plot or structure of the game but you've worked hard on said game, try to see their side and have a conversation about what they like and don't like. There might be a compromise none of you are seeing right away, but you can't get there if folks aren't willing/able to.

So that's the high level stuff. Here's some more down to earth advice:

- make random tables, or steal them from sources: from NPC names to encounter lists, have stuff around that you can glance at to fill in blanks when you inevitably have to improvise.

- read and re-read: even if you make your own adventures, know what you're running. You don't need to memorize every stat block but you should know the plot and theme of the vast majority of your next game session

- get to know (and love) the Advanced template: you could fudge dice, certainly, but if your PCs are just traipsing through encounters you could always just spontaneously drop Advanced on monsters.

- know your environments: going along with reading, knowing the terrain you're putting your PCs through is pretty critical. No, you don't need all the numbers memorized; like stat blocks you can have cheat sheets for those jotted down, but you need to know where the Difficult Terrain is, which room has an oven-like effect dealing non-lethal if a save gets missed, etc.

- make over, equip, or re-skin your monsters: if you and your pals have been playing a while you all likely know the baseline stats for goblins, worgs, medium skeletons, etc. Feel free to change things up without warning, so long as you're allowing Knowledge checks as normal. A mite is a CR 1/4 fey creature with Vermin Empathy, Doom 1/day and DR 2/cold iron; perhaps you have Mitres in your campaign that have normal Animal Empathy (using it on bats or moles), DR 2/Silver, and use Cause Fear 1/day?

- know what your players and their PCs can handle: this is especially important if you roll stats. If your players are noobs and they've got 15 Pt Buy characters, they likely will only be able to fight through a couple CR 1 encounters at level 1. If however your players are experienced RPG vets and you've rolled stats where the standard array works out to around a 30 Pt Buy... unleash the hounds.

Finally... adapt. Be flexible. Be ready to change and react to the whims of fate and the fickle nature of players. Looking over the character sheets of your PCs at level 5, you might decide that 7 CR-appropriate encounters with a Young Adult Black Dragon boss is appropriate. After you get through the first 3, with bad luck infecting most of your players' rolls, you're under no obligation to stick with your original plan if you know it will likely destroy the entire party.

Flexibility lets you move encounters as needed, spontaneously apply templates, or even erase whole plot points. More broadly, being adaptable to your players' wants and their characters' needs means that through you, the world around them is listening. You're validating their choices, even their mistakes.


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Just keep dice fudging to yourself. If you have to do it, always do so sparingly and do not speak about it.


lol... such a huge topic. The goals are the same for the GM in PbP or table-top, try to be fair and make sure everyone has a good time.


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so - adding to that basic function;
you can go read GM101 on here. It's helpful.
beyond that a book on dog training, textbook on psychology, textbook on (learning through) roleplaying, and a textbook on management are very helpful.

RP is a combo of social event, a game, storytelling, a learning experience, and a management job. So you have 5 things to juggle.
In all honesty, yall are sitting around a table(or computer) having a good time BSing in a structured task environment. Nobody is gonna pay you for that (though some enterprising groups have found advertisers to support their recorded game sessions where it becomes entertainment for the viewers rather than an actual game - so projection into RP? lol).

Remember you're the 'adult' at the table and you are expected to be impartial or at least fair minded.
You are also the dispassionate game world and rules and it's an important role and perspective. A common trap is to engage in a power struggle with the players, not your job or concern. A GM can kill all his players in an instant (world explodes - you die). Your players will probably decry it as unfair and leave but it's perfectly within RAW. So we've hit a obvious social issue. It shows there are limits on what's acceptable to others in your role as a GM.


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● Use Combat Manager (discussion thread here). I'm using that program and I honestly don't know how I would be able to GM without it. A library of not only monsters (with templates addable), including probably all the ones from your AP, but also feats, spells, and rules. I've made characters for my PCs so I can roll stuff like perception without my players noticing. I also use the initiative roller, because while "roll initiative" at the start of combat can be cool, it a) wastes a lot of time, b) distrupts the flow of the game and c) prevents the GM from using initiative for situations that may or may not result in actual fighting (because when they have rolled initiative, the players will presume a combat is absolutely going to happen).

● Use some method to track initiative for the players. I'm using little folded pieces of cardboard with the PCs names (and numbers for monsters that the party knows about) on both sides that I put on the top of my laptop and move around so that the one farthest to my right (the players' left) is the the current character and the players can see who's next and so on.

Don't rolls ability scores or hit dice! Both might feel like important RPG staples, but in reality, they're in reality it's asking for trouble. A melee character that has less HP than the party Wizard is fun for absolutely no one. I'm using "average rounded up" for HD, and point buy for ability scores. I'd also suggest not using too low a point buy (nothing below 20), because a) it increases the inherent disparity, and b) usually leads to less rounded out characters. Higher point buy does not actually mean more powerful characters, because players react to the point buy.

● Always expect the unexpected, and learn to roll with it. Using an AP there are some limits, and it's relaly more an art than a science, but expect the players to always do something else than what you've thought they'd do. When in doubt, invent some NPC or use some quickly selected monsters (Combat Manager helps here) when the PCs really want to invest that run down house that the AP description doesn't expect to be visited. Don't feel bad when you need to call for a short time out when the players catch you flat footed because they did something weird.

● Read ahead, and familiarize yourself with both the plot, and with the monsters the party will face, especially their special abilities (a monster/NPC uses soem ability that fascinates? Read up on it!). Expect NPCs to be interrogated (friend and foe).

● Make the PCs create cheat sheets for their characters, where they have all the important statistics, including attack rolls and damage rolls udner different sircumstances. Here are some examples. Calculating the currently valid attack roll(s) every round is probably the biggest time waste during combat. Likewise, have the players use Spell Cards and the likes for spells, active abilities (bardic performances, hexes, etc.), and printouts for complex on-the-fly choices like Summoned Monsters.

● Check everything your players selects (to see if it's actually legal, and to prevent imbalances, i.e. characters that are too weak or too strong in comparison to the other PCs). Try to familiarize yourself with every ability your PCs have. Asking for the spell/ability card in question can't hurt, you'd be surprised how ofter people overlook something semi-hidden in the description.

● Remember that very few creatures fight to the death. If a combat is too lethal, but the monster/NPC side has also suffered losses, having them retreat/cut their losses or use diplomacy even if they'd likely won the fight is a good and realistic alternative to fudging dice.

● Be honest and forthcoming with descriptions - the players only know what you tell them. Focus on information that is or may be actually important.

● Be willing to always listen to your players, but enforce rulings and decisions when necessary.

● When a rule issue could really go both ways, flip a coin!


This info is all super helpful, thank you all for the advice/resources so far!


You're right. This is all really good stuff. I will only stress that you pay attention to what choices the players are making on their character sheets. Which feats are they choosing? Which skills are they putting ranks in? Where did they put their ability point? These kinds of things are indicators of what the players are expecting in the game and where the players think or intend for the game to go and you can use this to tweak/add to the adventure path to make sure they have opportunities to put their choices into action.

Grand Lodge

I haven't gm'ed an adventure path before, but I've gm'ed some PFS and played the game for a few years, so a couple quick suggestions.

Make suggestions on feats, spells and traits. If you want to mention there is a list, you can do that but it's risky, there's a zillion feats/spells and tons of them are trap options.

For the love of everything, don't let them play vanilla rogues or vanilla monks unless they let you personally build the character. They seem fine at first, but by around level 7 or 8 there's a good chance they are going to struggle to be effective without very specific builds. I'd also be careful about the fighter

Sorcerers, paladins, and bards are solid beginner classes assuming the dm isn't a complete tool about the Paladin code.

Condition cards, spell cards, and notepads are also great to hand out.

You aren't bound by PFS rules so try not to say "you can't do that," especially to players running martials. It's annoying as hell to have a DM say you can't jump through a window and attack two turns after the wizard lightning bolts four dudes from 60 feet away. Make em roll for it sure, but don't forbid them from trying cool stuff.

I'm sure you'll do fine, the fact that you went to the boards to ask advice is a really good sign you will be a solid GM. Remember, if everyone has fun, you did a good job.


3)Never force pointbuy or average hp on your players if they want to roll let them. Also add options for stat arrays as well give them options on how to make their characters.

4)If there is a rules issue rule in favor of the pcs then look up the rules after the game unless some one has the rules already in front of them ready to present.

5)Do not dictate that your players can not take an actual legal option just because it might place them on a slightly higher power curve.

6)Not everything has to be combat overcoming an opponent/avoiding an combat situation threw rollplay/skill checks is just as viable.

7)Feel free to customize your npcs not everything has to be exactly like the bestiary says.


Some general philosophy.

The game is supposed to be fun
If everyone is having fun, you are Doing It Right. If people are not having fun, you are Doing It Wrong. Finding out what people like can take some trial and error, so don't be afraid to ask for opinions and change things that are unpopular. All other advice is for the purpose of achieving this overriding goal.

Rule Zero
The rules, including dice rolls, are meant to enhance fun, not reduce it. If a rule (either from the rulebook or informal table behavior) is making the game less fun over all, alter or eliminate it. If adding new rules would make the game more fun. do so. Of course, determining what is 'fun' is a doctorate in itself, and determining how things work together, and personal preference vs table preference, etc. is a pain in the arse.

Trust
A good GM is trusted by their players. While they may make unpopular decisions in a specific instances or put PCs in unpleasant situations, on the whole the players should feel the GM prioritizes their players' enjoyment of the game and will act honorably for the fun of everyone, not just themself.
Likewise, players should be trusted by their fellow players and GM. Sometimes people make honest mistakes, sometimes they try to cheat. How to handle cheaters is a whole other mess of advice, but the short answer is tackle it head on out of game and see if things can be resolved amicably.


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Take notes. Jot down notes afterward. Events that happen in the game will be a lot easier to remember.

Grand Lodge

Buy a REALLY BIG d20, and roll that only to confirm critical hits.

Encourage the players to build a character with flavor, rather than min/max'ing. an 18/10/16/7/7/7 Barbarian is a fine build for PFS sessions, but not so much with an ongoing campaign where roleplaying can get out of a situation just as easily as a great-axe to the forehead.


A lot of really good advice already. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

1) Start small. Not only will you realize that you likely don't know all the rules as well as you thought, your players, being new, certainly won't. Don't be afraid to slowly add elements to the game as your players get a better feel for the rules.

2) Consider limiting the players to the Core Rulebook (or maybe just one additional splatbook). This keeps the options down, makes it easier for both the players and you to learn the rules, and avoids analysis paralysis.

3) A good way to help the party without actually fudging dice rolls is to look at the ability scores of your monsters. Many, many, monsters are not actually all that bright. That means that they likely will also not use really good tactics. In many cases, you will be much smarter than the monster. An example: In a recent session, my players came across a Giant Advanced Dire Bear. Its attacks were powerful and quickly had the monk (initially the only PC in range) down to near zero hit points. Other PCs arrived to assist though and started to hit the bear as well. Tactically, the best course of action was probably to finish off one character, then move to the next. This reduces the number of attacks/actions of the party against the bear. However, the bear had Int 2. It wouldn't really know that. Instead, it knew that these pesky creatures kept hitting it, so it struck back at anything that attacked it, thereby spreading its attacks out across several characters. Still a challenging encounter, but not, as it turned out, a deadly one.

4) As others have said, take your cue from the players. Every group and every player is different. Some groups just wants to bash skulls into powder. Others can have a grand ole time without ever picking up a die. Most are somewhere in between.

5a) Make your players give you some sort of background for their characters (or give it to them if using pre-gens). The background can be as simple as a series of questions; #1 Why adventure? #2 Who was your mentor/close friend/loved one? #3 Who is your nemesis?

5b) Use those backgrounds in your adventures. Even with an AP, you can seed those backgrounds into the adventures. One of the PCs hates half orcs? Well, that bandit is a half orc instead of human. The Church of Erastil sent the PC out to gain wisdom and experience to better serve her god? Well, that temple of Desna that is in trouble is now a Temple of Erastil. You get the idea. It gets the players involved and invested in their characters without really changing anything on your end.

6) Remember the golden rule: If you and your players are having fun, then you're doing it right!


Gargs454 wrote:


2) Consider limiting the players to the Core Rulebook (or maybe just one additional splatbook). This keeps the options down, makes it easier for both the players and you to learn the rules, and avoids analysis paralysis.

Yep, the classic advice about "not saying no" is about what the characters try to do, not character creation. There is nothing wrong with saying "that character option causes problems and/or is inappropriate for this campaign," and disallowing it. One thing you might do is to spend a little time making up a list of what you are going to allow, what you need players to ask you about, (either for informative purposes¹ or to get permission²), and what is a flat no³.

As a new GM, I would advise you to err a little bit on the side of disallowing things. It's easier to allow something later than to remove something that has become a problem and it's easier to fix something if it was only allowed provisionally in the first place.

It's also worth dropping hints during character creation. Telling your players that their characters "need to be willing to travel," gives them a warning that they shouldn't use builds focused on being really effective when in their home city.

1: For instance, you probably want to tell players that buying firearms and related gear will be inconvenient for their Gunslinger and you want to know about what oddball languages they have taken, (sure, most don't matter but you also probably don't want to specifically call out Tien as mattering to a campaign in Galt).

2: Some things can either work fine or wreck the campaign depending on how they are played. For instance, I require evil PCs to get permission because I need to hear how the player is going to be handling the character, ("your LE character is the sworn protector of another PC and is a 'demonic bodyguard' type? Sure, go ahead").

3: It's still good to avoid flat nos, mostly it should be things that are simply contrary a functional party. (e.g. I ban priests of Rovagug and Father Skinsaw.)


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Tour almost describing my group nobody has any experience with pathfinder. I and the DM have experience with earlier versions of d&d which helps

There has been a couple of major issues so far

1)loot everyone wants every item that drops. Come up with a system, go though threads for ideas

2) No teamwork or planning ahead whatsoever

3)One of the players picked a druid. Massive amount of time was wasted due to deciding what animal to pick for wild shape and picking spells
Make sure they understand the class and you understood the class.

Have players come here,read the class guides and ask questions. I did that and it was worth it


Gargs454 wrote:
Consider limiting the players to the Core Rulebook (or maybe just one additional splatbook).

That might work for a short tutorial game, but for an AP, I strongly disagree. The CRB is ridiculously imbalanced, and with the inevitable lack of system mastery, it's almost guaranteed to produce underpowered martials. You don't need to allow every book, far from it, but I would very, very strongly suggest allowing more than just the CRB. APG, ACG, and Unchained might be a good base, as it provides a fine class selection.

Gargs454 wrote:
This keeps the options down, makes it easier for both the players and you to learn the rules, and avoids analysis paralysis.

That's not guaranteed. Even for true beginners, when you drastically limit the martials they can play, more are likely to pack casters, which very much increases complexity. Also, GMing for a vastly imbalanced group is way harder, so you're making your own job actually more difficult.

Of course, it depends on how closely you want to work together with your players when it comes to character creation and levelup. If you let the players describe the type of character they want and then give class/archetype suggestions, you can use stuff from more books than if they freely choose without your input.

doomman47 wrote:
3)Never force pointbuy or average hp on your players if they want to roll let them.

Hell no!

If they absolutely want to roll when you say ahead that you're using PB and average HD, they aren't beginners, period. I'm pretty sure over 99% of all players who say they want to roll have played previous editions of D&D and are stuck in nostalgia mode - at which point bringing the point across that it's your campaign, and a Pathfinder campaign, is vitally important.
At most, a beginner might ask why you're using those system, at which point a short explanation à la "rolling can lead to unplayable or overpowered characters, both of which hurts the fun", and you're done.


Derklord wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
3)Never force pointbuy or average hp on your players if they want to roll let them.

Hell no!

If they absolutely want to roll when you say ahead that you're using PB and average HD, they aren't beginners, period. I'm pretty sure over 99% of all players who say they want to roll have played previous editions of D&D and are stuck in nostalgia mode - at which point bringing the point across that it's your campaign, and a Pathfinder campaign, is vitally important.
At most, a beginner might ask why you're using those system, at which point a short explanation à la "rolling can lead to unplayable or overpowered characters, both of which hurts the fun", and you're done.

Point buy is the devil and while there is a risk of getting lower hp than normal by rolling it you can also end up with significantly more hp, though personally I would just say give them max hp all the time instead of just at 1st.


doomman47 wrote:
Derklord wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
3)Never force pointbuy or average hp on your players if they want to roll let them.

Hell no!

If they absolutely want to roll when you say ahead that you're using PB and average HD, they aren't beginners, period. I'm pretty sure over 99% of all players who say they want to roll have played previous editions of D&D and are stuck in nostalgia mode - at which point bringing the point across that it's your campaign, and a Pathfinder campaign, is vitally important.
At most, a beginner might ask why you're using those system, at which point a short explanation à la "rolling can lead to unplayable or overpowered characters, both of which hurts the fun", and you're done.
Point buy is the devil and while there is a risk of getting lower hp than normal by rolling it you can also end up with significantly more hp, though personally I would just say give them max hp all the time instead of just at 1st.

By and large, I don't think HP are the issue with rolling for stats, I think its the abilities themselves. Average roll with 4d6, drop the lowest, is 11. So you have a very real chance of a character with straight 11s across the board, or worse. That simply won't cut it. I mean sure, you could then let them trade one stat down to raise another up, just to get them competent in something, but now you are likely making them really weak in other key areas.

I mean, at the end of the day, its your game and as long as you are having fun, then you are doing it right. But the advantage to point buy is that it allows you a better opportunity to carve out the character you want. Doesn't make it necessarily better, since that's a group by group thing, just different.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

There have been many discussions on these boards about ways to get eround the inherently unfair starting advantages and drawbacks of rolled stats. One of my favorite solutions was to let everyone have access to using the best stat array rolled by any one of the players, should they so desire.

But at the end of the day, my group goes with point buy. It just seems intrinsically more balanced.

Whatever method is chosen, the DM's job only begins there. Whatever the stats of the PCs in your first few games, the essential goal is for everyone to have fun, meaning that all players need to have their shot at the spotlight, and working together for a shared goal, overcoming obstacles, slaying evil adversaries (or adversaries of whatever alignment for that matter) and collecting varied rewardsare all parts of a rewarding RPG experience.

Some great advice can be had in this thread. But, at the end of the day, don't sweat it. Do your best, weave clever stories, and have fun.


Gargs454 wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
Derklord wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
3)Never force pointbuy or average hp on your players if they want to roll let them.

Hell no!

If they absolutely want to roll when you say ahead that you're using PB and average HD, they aren't beginners, period. I'm pretty sure over 99% of all players who say they want to roll have played previous editions of D&D and are stuck in nostalgia mode - at which point bringing the point across that it's your campaign, and a Pathfinder campaign, is vitally important.
At most, a beginner might ask why you're using those system, at which point a short explanation à la "rolling can lead to unplayable or overpowered characters, both of which hurts the fun", and you're done.
Point buy is the devil and while there is a risk of getting lower hp than normal by rolling it you can also end up with significantly more hp, though personally I would just say give them max hp all the time instead of just at 1st.

By and large, I don't think HP are the issue with rolling for stats, I think its the abilities themselves. Average roll with 4d6, drop the lowest, is 11. So you have a very real chance of a character with straight 11s across the board, or worse. That simply won't cut it. I mean sure, you could then let them trade one stat down to raise another up, just to get them competent in something, but now you are likely making them really weak in other key areas.

I mean, at the end of the day, its your game and as long as you are having fun, then you are doing it right. But the advantage to point buy is that it allows you a better opportunity to carve out the character you want. Doesn't make it necessarily better, since that's a group by group thing, just different.

That's why you pick a rolling regiment that is better than 4d6 drop the lowest. Doesn't change the fact that point buy is in and of itself the least balanced of the 3 stat generation methods.


Gargs454 wrote:
Average roll with 4d6, drop the lowest, is 11. So you have a very real chance of a character with straight 11s across the board, or worse.

The average roll with 4d6, drop the lowest, is 12.244598765428275.

The chances of getting straight 11s is very low. However, there is something like a 7.2% chance of getting no stat higher than 13.


doomman47 wrote:
Doesn't change the fact that point buy is in and of itself the least balanced of the 3 stat generation methods.

How so? Rolling dice seems like the least balanced method, since it can lead to one player having good stats and another player having bad stats.


Drag your players away from the "DPR calculation zone".

Tell a story, and make your world rich, mysterious, and filled with consequences (note: not necessarily lethal).


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Gargs454 wrote:
Average roll with 4d6, drop the lowest, is 11. So you have a very real chance of a character with straight 11s across the board, or worse. That simply won't cut it.
Matthew Downie wrote:
Rolling dice seems like the least balanced method, since it can lead to one player having good stats and another player having bad stats.

It's not just that, it's also that a roll that would even be great on some characters makes others (usually the ones already the weakest) almost unplayable. For instance, my very first character was a Monk (cMonk, unchained didn't exist back then) with a 4d6 drop lowest roll of 18/17/13/9/8/8. Pretty nice rolls on plenty of characters (and some of the other players envied my rolls), but on a Monk? With racial modifiers, I ended up with 20/11/11/8/17/8. Yeah, a cMonk, i.e. d8 HD, with no dex bonus, and no con bonus. I changed my planned feats to Crane Style line (which obviously didn't help with Flurry of Misses), and when they nerfed Crane Wing during the campaign, I straight up told my GM that if he implements the change, he may as well instantly kill my character because it would be inevitable anyway.

There are other methods to stat generation that work, like a choice of arrays (haven't tried that yet, but I can see it being the best method). But rolling like described in the CRB (all four methods) is just way too likely to lead to inner-party imbalances and frustration.

doomman47 wrote:
while there is a risk of getting lower hp than normal by rolling it you can also end up with significantly more hp

I'm confused, are you agreeing with me? Because you're basically repeating part of my argument.

Let me repost: A melee character that has less HP than the party Wizard is fun for absolutely no one. The chance to end up with a virtually unplayable melee should be enough, but there's also the notable chance for frustration stemming from inner-party imbalances. Meanwhile, there's literally no upside of rolling HD.

doomman47 wrote:
though personally I would just say give them max hp all the time instead of just at 1st.

Better, but it does lead to HP eoutside of the expected, not necessarily something a first time GM wants to have.

­
Both stat rolling and HP rolling can lead to players being able to play the characters they want, because of some randomness. Until someony can satisfactorily explain to my why and how that's a good thing, my original statement of "Don't rolls ability scores or hit dice!" still stands.


Matthew Downie wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
Doesn't change the fact that point buy is in and of itself the least balanced of the 3 stat generation methods.
How so? Rolling dice seems like the least balanced method, since it can lead to one player having good stats and another player having bad stats.

Because at least with rolling everyone gets a shot at having high or low stats with point buy casters get their 20 in their stat and say whatever to the rest and martials have to try and figure out how to micromanage all their stats to not die instantly but also kind of still be useful so unless you are running like a 40-50 point buy its not actually balanced.


Derklord wrote:
doomman47 wrote:
while there is a risk of getting lower hp than normal by rolling it you can also end up with significantly more hp
I'm confused, are you agreeing with me? Because you're basically repeating part of my argument.

What I am saying is some players prefer the gambling aspect of the hp system.


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doomman47 wrote:
Because at least with rolling everyone gets a shot at having high or low stats with point buy casters get their 20 in their stat and say whatever to the rest and martials have to try and figure out how to micromanage all their stats to not die instantly but also kind of still be useful so unless you are running like a 40-50 point buy its not actually balanced.

Ah, I've been so stupid! A chance to have a good character (and a chance to have an unplayable character) is obviously better than a guarantee to have a playable character! Serves them right for trying to play the character they want instead of the (full caster) the dice dictate!!! Also, I don't think the word "micromanage" means what you think it means.

Since martials are way more dependant on ability scores, stat rolling increases the imbalances between martials and casters, that's just how it is.

doomman47 wrote:
What I am saying is some players prefer the gambling aspect of the hp system.

Yeah, I'm not gonna let some guy screw my inner-party balance (and possibly the long term success of my campaign) because rolling a thousand dice every session isn't enough for him and he needs to roll dice between sessions as well. I'd probably send the player towards some professional help regarding pathological gambling.


Derklord wrote:
It's not just that, it's also that a roll that would even be great on some characters makes others (usually the ones already the weakest) almost unplayable. For instance, my very first character was a Monk (cMonk, unchained didn't exist back then) with a 4d6 drop lowest roll of 18/17/13/9/8/8. Pretty nice rolls on plenty of characters (and some of the other players envied my rolls), but on a Monk?

Ah, I see your problem. You did things in the wrong order for using rolled stats.

While with arrays and point buy you want to decide on race/class then determine ability scores, that's not what you do when rolling. With rolled stats you do it the other way around, roll the ability scores first then you decide on race and class.¹

Derklord wrote:
There are other methods to stat generation that work, like a choice of arrays (haven't tried that yet, but I can see it being the best method). But rolling like described in the CRB (all four methods) is just way too likely to lead to inner-party imbalances and frustration.

There are systems that work better for intraparty balance, such as 23-25-27².

1: In the extreme case of 1ed D&D, you didn't even know what races or classes you could choose until after you rolled. (You rolled a 3 for Int: Do you want your fighter to be a half-orc, dwarf or human?)

2: A, B and C are rolled with 3d6 each, D=23-A, E=25-B, F=27-C, reroll any result that generates a number above 18. Add 2 to any one stat of 16 or less and arrange as desired.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Derklord wrote:
Gargs454 wrote:
Consider limiting the players to the Core Rulebook (or maybe just one additional splatbook).

That might work for a short tutorial game, but for an AP, I strongly disagree. The CRB is ridiculously imbalanced, and with the inevitable lack of system mastery, it's almost guaranteed to produce underpowered martials. You don't need to allow every book, far from it, but I would very, very strongly suggest allowing more than just the CRB. APG, ACG, and Unchained might be a good base, as it provides a fine class selection.

It works for APs too.

My advice to a relatively new GM in Pathfinder - don't let players goad you into taking on more than you feel comfortable with. And the proliferation of classes, feats, and spells in PF can certainly be a lot to take on. If you aren't comfortable including more than the Core Rule Book, then stick to the Core Rule Book. Leave out any options you think are too fiddly.

There is one important, mitigating element to the dizzying array that is Pathfinder in a stable, home campaign - you don't have to know the rules to all classes and all feats - you only have to deal with the ones your players pick. If nobody's playing an alchemist, you don't need to know too much about them. If nobody's using anything from the Advanced Class Guide, you don't need to spend time reading it. If your players are playing a barbarian, a sorcerer, a ninja, and a druid - those are the classes to understand the best. Everything else is only necessary as they come up in the GM materials - and you have time to prep and study up for them.
That may encourage you to feel more confident going beyond Core.


It's a game, not an exam.

The best thing for first time GMs to do is become not first time GMs by gaining experience. Understand it won't be your best, just a start to grow from, play with people who understand likewise, and allow time for that growth. Then you can argue about fudging and other issues of taste in entertainment media with an objective tone.


@ Bill Dunn:
The OP is not a new player, he's only a new GM. With almost 800 posts on these boards over almost five years, I think it's reasonable to assume that he is familiar with plenty of material beyond the CRB. I know only reading the thread title and not the starting post seems to be all the rage these days (cf. the "worst archetype" thread), but that's not how I behave. My advise was for this first time GM, not for every (or any) first time GM.

Sure, if a GM is really not comfortable with certain material, he should disallow it. But allowing all classes in the CRB while disallowing later classes will probably not lead to a simpler, less powerful, easier to GM game. Gargs454 (who I originally responded to) said limiting the books "keeps the options down, makes it easier for both the players and you to learn the rules, and avoids analysis paralysis.", but if you keep full casters aviable, that's simply not true. A CRB only full caster is more complicated, more in danger of "option paralysis", and more powerful than a martial with a bunch of books - just for comparison, I count 234 rage powers accross all books, while there are 396 Wizard spells and 236 Cleric spells in the CRB.
See this thread for how limiting books can result in more "fiddly", more complicated to learn and GM for, characters.

­

Chakat Firepaw wrote:

Ah, I see your problem. You did things in the wrong order for using rolled stats.

While with arrays and point buy you want to decide on race/class then determine ability scores, that's not what you do when rolling. With rolled stats you do it the other way around, roll the ability scores first then you decide on race and class.¹

That showcases why it's a bad idea for new players. How would they know what character worked on such stats and which don't? Monk was the most intriguing class for me, so I wanted to play that.

I'm still not seeing the appeal of a system were powergaming is basically mandatory. If I as a GM have declared that my campaign uses 20PB, and someone wants to roll, I'd presume that their goal is to get a character more powerful thant what I've intended. Why should I allow that?


How about talking it out with your players ?
No need to be an expert or a veteran to understand the point and appeal of either generation method : randomness versus choice.
Both have their issues, both have their strengths, you know enough to understand the impact of characteristics and point it out to the newer players.
Have the group talk it out. If the players are split and you only want one method, be the deciding vote. You are the one who knows more or less where you're going to take them, that can inform your decision.

That most classic of debates aside, lots of good suggestions here.

One point I'll come back on : if someone wants to play around with summoning or polymorphy, have them prepare.
They can't start looking things up when their turn comes : waiting for a player to fumble with the rules and flip through half a dozen books for half an hour is a disaster.
Make them understand that for both of those, they need to do some prep work. Have a few forms, a few monsters ready to go. Know how they work, what they can and can't do.
Now, everyone should know, in broad strokes at least, how their character works. But summoning and transformation based PCs take that to another level.


Derklord wrote:
­
Chakat Firepaw wrote:

Ah, I see your problem. You did things in the wrong order for using rolled stats.

While with arrays and point buy you want to decide on race/class then determine ability scores, that's not what you do when rolling. With rolled stats you do it the other way around, roll the ability scores first then you decide on race and class.¹

That showcases why it's a bad idea for new players. How would they know what character worked on such stats and which don't?

Such lack of knowledge is just as, if not more, problematic for things like point buy. If you can't tell if {stat array} is good for a class or not, you don't know what you need to construct an array for that class.

Derklord wrote:
Monk was the most intriguing class for me, so I wanted to play that.

One of the things about rolled stats is that sometimes you don't get to play your first choice for a character. Be glad you weren't playing in the days when wanting to play a paladin meant crossing your fingers that the less than 1/1000 chance of getting the rolls needed panned out.

Derklord wrote:
­I'm still not seeing the appeal of a system were powergaming is basically mandatory.

The core appeal is in its ability to push you out of ruts. Many people develop go-to character builds, rolled ability scores force you to deal with the numbers you got.


Chakat Firepaw wrote:
Such lack of knowledge is just as, if not more, problematic for things like point buy. If you can't tell if {stat array} is good for a class or not, you don't know what you need to construct an array for that class.

That's not true. I knew which stats I needed, and on point buy would have produced a more better character. I knew my rolled stats weren't perfect, what I didn't know was how bad exactly. When using point buy, the GM or an experienced players can at least help with producing a functional character, for rolled stats, if the roll is bad or doesn't fit, there's not much do do but tell the player "sucks to be you". How is that a desirable situation?

Chakat Firepaw wrote:
Be glad you weren't playing in the days when wanting to play a paladin meant crossing your fingers that the less than 1/1000 chance of getting the rolls needed panned out.

And that the game doesn't do that anymore (and hasn't done in decades) shows that even the developer realised that it was an utterly stupid idea. So why do something similar?

Chakat Firepaw wrote:
The core appeal is in its ability to push you out of ruts. Many people develop go-to character builds, rolled ability scores force you to deal with the numbers you got.

What? "push you out of ruts"? We're talking about first time players! Do you really think first time players need rolled stats to produce characters with shortcomings? By the definition of the words, they cannot possibly be "in a rut"! Since you say that the "core appeal" is something that can't apply to the situation in discussion, I guess you're agreeing with me?

Also, a good (experienced) player doesn't need rolls to come up with a character concept involving flaws and shortcomings.

The same goes basically to Nyerkh, a first time player doesn't know how how rolling and point buy affect the game, they cannot make an informed decision (without a bunch of forum/blog reading). Ans seriosuly, when everything is new and you just want to try out the game and play your character, chosing between systems that you don't really understand is only confusing. There's no way that improves the game.


In all fairness, I think the discussion of rolled vs. point buy/array is somewhat off topic for this thread. Personally, I understand the reasoning behind rolled stats (certain classes were supposed to be rare), and I also believe I can fun with pretty much any rules system. I do think though that for a first time group (both first time players and a first time GM), that a standard point buy is probably better. If, for example, the group were to roll really low abilities, it would take a decent amount of adjustment on the GMs part to keep encounters balanced. APs are written with an expectation of at least a minimum amount of power level. Granted, in my experience, they don't anticipate fully optimized characters, but they also don't anticipate really weak characters either.


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I have to agree with those above. For first time GM. Roll stats! It will save you so much work in the long run. It also helps balance the party a bit since you will not have a big difference in starting stats which helps a lot.


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