What's your workflow for preparing a PFS 2 scenario?

GM Discussion

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 ** Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden

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We've had these discussions in the past for PFS 1 of course, but I'm curious if things have changed. I'm grooming some new people as GMs so I'd like to present them with a good recipe, and I figured I'd see what other people do too.


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I have run a whopping one PFS2 scenario, but I'll go through my process for what it is worth.
0. Print the scenario at the library, because free printing with a library card is good and I don't like to rely on powered devices. (Seen to many cases of the GM losing laptop/tablet power at inopportune times.)
1. Read through the scenario. At this point I'm just picking up the story and the dialogue. If I don't understand the mechanics yet, I can figure them out later.
2. Check out all the stat blocks. What do the creatures in each encounter do? Do they have spells? Special abilities? Resistances? What are their tactics? How might they respond to typical PC tactics?
3. Are there special scenario specific mechanics? Do I need a seperate sheet to track them? (Escaping the Grave for example)
4. What is changing with different amounts of challenge points? Are monsters getting stronger, are there more of them, or both?
5. Go back through the scenario, but this time looking for details. What are the skill check DCs? Where are the treasure bundles? If there are talking NPCs, what are they interested in talking about and what do they know if the PCs make them friendly and start asking questions?
6. Maps. See if I can obtain or borrow the maps which are Paizo products, and sit down with a blank flipmat and a set of multicolored wet-erase pens for the ones I have to draw myself.

5/55/55/55/5 ***** Venture-Captain, Washington—Seattle

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I don't really think a lot of this stuff is specific to PFS2, but here's my routine.

Print the scenario and 8 copies of the chronicle. Print the GM-only parts in black-and-white to save ink. Print player handouts in color, then trim to size and laminate them for durability and protection against spills. If multiple copies are needed for convenience and smoothness in-game (e.g. the goblin play in #1-06), make sure that there are enough copies and mark them up appropriately for each player. If the font of the player handouts is hard to read, make a more readable copy in larger, clearer font. (This matters because I mostly run in a relatively low-light venue and some of the players don't have great eyesight.) Print the scenario art in color, then place each in clear plastic file pockets for protection.

Read the scenario thoroughly, highlight all the skill checks, treasure and important lore. Scribble arrows and notes in the margin for instructions to myself, e.g. "Mention THIS part first!!"

Print a map to show the region of the world where the scenario is happening, and another, zoomed-in map on the specific city/area. Print a picture of the VC and accompanying NPCs (or reuse existing pics). These also go into clear plastic file pockets.

Write a custom script for the opening sequence that sets the scene, delivers world or campaign info for those players who might not be familiar with the general setting, and effectively characterizes the VC and the mission, incorporating the colored text from the scenario and using the maps/VC pics as props. Similarly, prepare separate scripts for any parts of the scenario that call for significant GM injection of RP or creativity (e.g. the village interactions in #1-07).

If there are any significant "secret info" or RP things that need to be customized for individual players to read, compose those things, print them out and laminate them for durability.

Prepare a sheet to track any scenario-specific 'points' that need to be tracked e.g. list all the various skill rolls that need to add up to some number in order to obtain some success condition. Make a note of the DCs for each check at each subtier. Put this in a clear plastic file pocket which can be written on with erasable marker, for reuse.

Check all the monster stats to make sure there are no obvious errors. Check the GM Discussion thread on the Paizo forums, if there is one, to see if there have been corrections posted. (Check this thread again right before the time of the game. Check the scenario's product page too, because things might show up there.)

Pick out miniatures (and/or pawns) for all the encounters. Make sure I have picked out enough minis for all possible subtiers and challenge point scaling situations. If there are multiples of the same monster, label the minis with numbers (I use tiny pieces of sticky notes) so I can tell them apart. If I'm using pawns, make sure I pack enough pawn bases of the right sizes in different colors.

Pre-roll initiative for all possible monsters in each subtier, for all challenge point situations. Put their final initiative numbers on a sticky note on each page of the corresponding monster stats in the printout. Write a note to myself for monsters that will use a specific attack routine e.g. bite first then claw because claws are agile, or cast X spell to debuff first then move into melee, etc. Highlight any prescribed monster tactics. Look up all spells, special attacks and abilities to make sure I know exactly what they do.

Based on what I may know of the potential players and their potential PCs, try to anticipate any unusual situations that might come up and how to handle them, e.g. what if a mounted character's mount is killed or tripped while the character himself is grabbed. Also think of ways of drawing all the players into the RP so each has opportunities to participate, not just the most outgoing or the ones whose characters happen to have the best skills for the scenario. Make notes about these ideas at the appropriate parts of the text.

Make a note of any skill modifiers I need to ask the players for in advance - e.g. their perception for traps. Write this note on the first page of the scenario so I remember to get the info before we start.

If there are weapons or items that PCs find/are given, put down their stats on cards to hand to the players.

Figure out what are all the possible conditions that could be applied to PCs in the course of the scenario and pick out the corresponding Condition Cards to hand out. Dying and Wounded should always be in the set. Grabbed requires Immobilized so those two go together.

If flip-tiles are being used, pick those out and prepare them in the right order and orientation, marking them up if necessary. If flip-maps are being used, make sure I get them off the shelf. If custom maps are being used, extract the image from the PDF, scale it to tabletop size, print it out in slices and piece them together. (I don't draw maps, as a rule.) In all cases, mark the squares where the PCs are supposed to start with small translucent sticky tabs. (This allows me to simply say "please place yourselves on the marked squares", instead of having to vaguely gesture at the right location which may be on the other side of the table from me.)

If there are things other than characters that will appear on the map (e.g. wagons that characters could be on top of), cut out shapes to represent them from sticky notes or combine 1-inch plastic tiles to make the shapes.

Read the scenario carefully again, walking through it as if I'm running it. Rehearse my scripts, make sure I know how the NPCs are going to sound, how I'm going to deliver the important plot points, and how I'm going to transition between scenes. Also note down the good stopping points for calling a break so people can get food or drinks. Based on historical data thus far, I generally run a PFS2 scenario in about 3 hours, so there should be one break at around the 1.5 hour mark, or perhaps two breaks if the scenario is really intense.

Pre-fill all the GM and event stuff on the chronicles. Also pre-fill the GM, event and scenario fields on a reporting sheet. I use the improved version from PFSPrep that has space for 7 players and more room for the org play ID.

Clean the scribbling off my initiative tracker from the last time I ran.

The night before, pack the GM bag full of All The Things. Don't forget to pack the Hero Point tokens, the PFS2 retail incentive program sheet (laminated), the faction descriptions (laminated), the Pathfinder Training schools items (laminated), and the pregens (you get the idea).

5/55/55/55/5 ***** Venture-Captain, Washington—Seattle

(And yes, I realize I swapped the scenario numbers for 1-06 and 1-07, probably because I ran them in that order. Stupid brain.)

Dark Archive 4/5 *

logsig wrote:
(And yes, I realize I swapped the scenario numbers for 1-06 and 1-07, probably because I ran them in that order. Stupid brain.)

The actual detail of your "checklist" is perfect. Breaking down each point helps highlight all of the variables that could show in each scenario.

Even with as many events that I have run, there is always something to learn.

Thank you.

Scarab Sages 5/5 5/5 * Venture-Captain, Netherlands

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Print the scenario. I find it easier to run from paper.

Leaf trough it, checking maps and artwork.

Read trough it casually so I get a feel for the story.

Make maps and statblocks.

Read trough it again, highlighting DCs, other important bits.

Make special things if the scenario calls for it (trackers for points for example)

Read it again.

The night before, pack maps, minis, chronicle sheets, other misc items, maps that Lau wants to borrow ;)

Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 ** Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden

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If possible, prefer to play the scenario before I run it. Mostly because I don't enjoy playing a scenario I've already run, because I have a good memory.

After that, I do a high-level readthrough, focusing in particular on the introduction. First I want to understand what the story is about, before I get down to details.

After that I go to the forum and read the GM thread, so see if anyone else has run into issues. Reading the reviews as well - sometimes you see lots of negative reviews from players who thought the scenario was mean, while the GM thread is full of glee.

At this point I evaluate if I need to prepare any handouts or trackers beyond what the scenario already offers. Especially if the scenario has some kind of minigame in it.

Other candidates for extra printing include statblocks forgotten in the scenario, such as summoned creatures. PFS2 tends to put whole encounters in the appendix, but in PFS1 and SFS you sometimes get encounters with statblocks spread between main scenario and the back. Or a statblock interrupted by a full-page flipmat. Then I'll extract that statblock for separate printing. I hate flipping back and forth at the table.

I prepare to print. I don't own a printer so I need to upload stuff to the university printer and then stop by the library to print it. I have a tablet and I can run paperless, but I've noticed my preparation from paper is just better. I tend to print the following:
- Scenario, stapled together
- Low-tier appendix
- High-tier appendix
- 7 Chronicles (in the extremely unlikely event of a 7P table I can give out the chronicle I'd intended for myself and print another one later)
- Handouts including anything extra I've made. I prefer 2-3 copies of each handout so that all sides of the table can read for themselves.

I don't always staple together my appendices. If I'm using a GM screen I can hang the statblocks from that. I do really like being able to sit down to GM, figure out the table tier, and put the appendix I don't need back in my bag. No more PFS1 mistakes where you have to keep track of which statblock is for the tier you're running.

I make a packing list, listing maps and minis needed. I mostly use pawn boxes, so I can usually just do stuff like "2 Wolves B1" if they're in the Bestiary 1 pawn box. For NPCs I look through the NPC Codex and Villain Codex for something suitable.

I take my printed scenario and monster appendixes and go through them with a highlighter. I especially highlight stuff that's not in box text but they can find out with a bit of searching, or that they may have to roll for if they run into it.

When going through appendices, I'm looking for monster abilities that aren't fully explained but that I need to look up in the Bestiary/Spells chapter. Writing down page numbers is a good idea.

I make a list of all the treasure bundles in the scenario and where they're found (scene/location numbers). I've had multiple scenarios where at the end as a GM I went "I'm fairly sure they must have found all of them, right?"

Things I really should do, trying to teach myself:
- Look up all the magic items, note down page number and identification DC; also read what it looks like and what it does. I don't have to remember precise numbers but I should know at a high level what it is and how to describe it.
- If there's a minigame and the players need to accumulate successes, figure out where they can score points and how many, so that I have a good idea how how many they could have in total vs. how many they need to succeed at the scenario.
- If there are any environmental effects in the scenario, read up on them AND note the page number.
- Same for any other rarely used mechanics.
- Make a note in my scenario when I should give out mid-scenario hero points (or set a timer on my phone when running).

Finally, sit back and relax, and imagine the scenario in my mind's eye.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Here's the thread on GM Prep that I did a few years ago as a beginner GM.

What amazes me is how much faster I have gotten with that prep. I don't print off scenarios. I don't work from paper. I usually have 2 copies of the scenario open on Goodreader App. One is the annotated version in which I have underlined every skill check and highlighted important snippets of story information. But I've done close to 250 society games now as a GM. It is easier to process them because I understand how adventures are written and organized.

I now usually make 2 passes reading through a scenario. The first time, I read through, underlining every single skill check. The second pass is where I deepen my understanding of the story, and try to figure out what are the 'aha' moments, the special abilities of the monsters, and the special abilities of any of the loot given out. Weapon traits are always something I am double-checking in PF2.


Sovereign Court 4/5 5/5 ** Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden

Maybe I should learn how to annotate PDFs and save on paper.

The process of highlighting and making notes makes a HUGE difference for how well I run a scenario. It's pretty classic educational methods, active reading vs. passive reading. But it works.

But I end up with a lot of printing, and B/W printing is not attractive for showing people the artwork. Also flipmats tend to come out as entirely black pages on the university printers. So if annotating the PDF works that would be sweet.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Goodreader makes it easy to do this. I just hold my finger down on some text and decide if I am underlining in red or highlighting in yellow. (Other colors are possible for both, but it's more work to change the default colors, and generally two colors is all I need.)

Alas, Goodreader is only available on Apple products. I already had an iPad when I discovered it. I know people who have purchased iPads on Black Friday sales just for that app. It is amazing for organizing your files, and for annotating them. I run paperless except for chronicles and handouts everywhere.


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