Session zero advice for players new to Pathfinder

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

Hey, guys.

Just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on specific topics that should be broached in a session zero with 4 players new to PF1.

I'm meeting with 4 players this Sunday, hoping we can start running through Burnt Offerings as a nice intro to the game. 3 players have played 5e before, and one guy is familiar with Second Edition AD&D.

Apart from giving them a brief intro to the campaign and helping them build their characters is there anything else you'd recommend we cover?

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Action economy is a big thing between the three systems you listed. I recently introduced a cousin to the game and they picked it up pretty quickly (they played AD&D before).

Also something that is good to go over in the Session zero is how you approach the alignment system. Less complications later on.

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My suggestions are not specific to Pathfinder but more general, so if you are only looking for PF1-specific guidance skip the rest of what I've written below.

I recommend if you have any house rules / table rules that you go over those. Everything from how food/beverage/clean-up is handled during the game to the leveling-up process (e.g., do you require in-game training time, can folks level-up in the middle of a game). If it is a group that hasn't played with you, some information on the type of game you you focus on the rules-as-written? Rules-as-intended? The "Rule of Fun" that has been discussed on these boards? How willing are you to listen to dissention on a ruling, and for how long?

I think the key item is no surprises...for you or for them. I usually put together a document with the campaign background, character creation/leveling up rules, and house/table rules.

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Archetypes and hybrid classes can be a bit much for new players, they might offer some fun options to players who worry that getting saddled with a set role will suck. Show someone Investigator as an option over Rogue, or Bard with an archetype or trait that lets them disable devices. Phoenix Bloodline so that they can play a sorcerer that heals with fireballs. Even though they have experience with 2nd Ed and 5th Ed, none of these are really options and will get a chance to show what all Pathfinder can REALLY do in comparison.

I'd also tell them that it's not an issue, in these initial games, that if they want to change things about their characters (i.e. "I didn't even know that was an option!") later on, that would be fine so long as it isn't absurd. Normally changing traits is frowned upon after character creation, but when that new I don't see an issue with it so long as they're not trying to change things constantly. There's just so many resources out there for Pathfinder 1st Edition...

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I might run some sessions with pregens to give them an idea about how things work. I'd design the pregens to showcase different aspects of characters.

I'd link them to the websites aon and d20pfsrd, and tell them, on their own time, to take it all in.

I'd tell them to envision the kinds of characters they most want to play both in terms of roleplaying feel and game mechanics. Then I'd have them select their favorite Feats, Spells, and Class Abilities. Next they pick the class(es) to take to get those things. Then I'd have them pick the Class they take their first level in and their race. Then I'd have them roll abilities, allocate Skill points, pick traits, and buy equipment.

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My session zero always includes the following:

- the genre, tone and theme of the game

- approximately how many sessions the game will be, how long each session will be and how many levels each character can expect to gain.

- making information about the setting and system available. I usually just offer them a packet or an emailed document that they can read at their leisure, since there's usually a ton of this in my games.

- any restrictions regarding character creation.

- an open discussion about character concepts; NOT elf rogue/human wizard/halfling druid. Actual, literary character concepts. Grizzled veteran with a haunted past. Idealistic farmland struggling to control their newfound abilities. Knight errant on a sacred quest of redemption. --once we have a cohesive list of concepts in order, the characters pretty much build themselves.

- working out a schedule

- an explanation of my GM'ing/storytelling style. How I handle rules disputes, what I expect from my players, etc.

Really loving all the advice so far.

Thanks so much, it's totally appreciated. Some good points raised already I would've totally overlooked. Any further advice gladly accepted too.

I've never run a session zero before, as I've always played with the same core group of people. However, since moving country in February, that's no longer an option. Really good insight for me here.

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Tsukiyo wrote:
Really loving all the advice so far.

I'll throw this out there in case it helps you or anyone else. I've posted my Session Zero document for my current campaign. (Hopefully it is accessible...I've had issues trying to share stuff before.)

Couple of quick points...before the current campaign we played a 3.5/PFv1 hybrid as we transitioned mid-campaign, hence the rules that may seem obvious to PFv1 players but I had to spell-out as part of our final transition over to Pathfinder. Also, we'd been in Forgotten Realms for decades, and for Rappan Athuk I decided to make the setting a generic setting, hence all the items about Forgotten Realms.

Hopefully this helps at least someone.

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What kind of downtime will the characters get? Will they get plenty of time to craft stuff? Is it worth investing skill points and feats in crafting?

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I’ve found two things that need to be covered off with players new to PF1 is the 5’ step and the AoO. Maybe this is for Session #1, when it first comes up? In any event, it seems to that which catches up players of other systems but who are new to PF1.

My two cents...

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Quixote wrote:
Idealistic farmland struggling to control their newfound abilities.

Can I play some farmland please? - I assume the newfound abilities are sentience and emotions^^ -

Joke aside, not specific to Pathfinder, the tone of the game and what the characters are expected to be and to become in-universe over the length of the game and whether this game is a long scenario in a few acts or a full-fledged campaign.
Specific to Pathfinder, with a group of beginners, with the system, I'd advise not to over-read the breadth of options available for characters to be created but rather to spend time understand the core of the rules, that pertains to everyone. Also, it is easy to get obsessed with number-crunching, which is only fun if everyone does it to somehow the same extent so let players help each other there.

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How you treat sessions where one or more player can’t make it, and how hard you will psh people to prioritise the game over other things. Is ‘I’ve had a shitty week at work and just want to watch a mindless action movie instead of gaming’ an acceptable reason to cancel the session?

How far you expect people to leave real life at the door, and what level of non-gaming gossip feels right for your group.

Any subjects that people don’t want to come up in the game - for example I have one player in one group who is an arachnophobe, and what level of graphic detail they are comfortable with for violence.

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Agénor wrote:
Can I play some farmland please? - I assume the newfound abilities are sentience and emotions...

Man, this new phone's autocorrect is aggressive.

I can't remember the system offhand, but my friend was telling me about a game where you may well be able to play some sentient farmland. I believe the intro line to the system/setting was something like "you are a mighty warrior. A techno-wizard. A macrame owl."

Neriathale wrote:
How you treat sessions where one or more player can’t make it...How far you expect people to leave real life at the door...Any subjects that people don’t want to come up in the game...

All super important stuff, too. I usually run games where, if one player can't make it, no one plays. I put a lot of pressure on my group to respect each other's time and effort.

And my people know not to have phones at the table, but with new groups or can be jarring.
And then the subject content is absolutely vital. Some people are sensitive to certain topics. Some games don't have a PG-13 version. Getting all that out into the open is key.

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I realize that you may have already had your session zero, but I'll chime in anyway. You'll have more sesh zeros in the future.

I believe that having a Session Zero is super important. This is where you can lay down your expectations as a GM to the players, go over any house rules, and finalize any last minute character adjustments and correct any math errors on their character sheets. In the last 30-ish mins of Sesh Zero, I'll go over the overarching theme of the campaign and important backstory elements, as well as go through any relevant maps, etc.

Example Sesh Zero of Mine:

Personally, I only have 3 expectations that will never be at my table:

- No rape, sexual violence, or sexual harassment of any kind, IRL or in game.

- No extended torture scenes. IE no 8-month long Ramsey/Theon Greyjoy scenes. If you're performing a violent interrogation, you get 3 chances to beat the info out of him, and then the interrogation is over. So you can smack the dwarf in the face and perform an intimidate check, you can smash his toe and perform another intimidate check, and then you can cut off his beard and perform a last intimidate check, and then the interrogation is over and that's all the info you're going to get.

- In the event of PvP, there will be no mutilation or other mishandling of a PC's corpse. Players get attached to their characters, and having their corpse dragged through town behind a horse or pinned up on a wall to throw axes and knives at it is demoralizing and doesn't provide for a good gaming experience.

Anything other than that is pretty much fair game, but any PC or myself reserves the right to end anything that is making them uncomfortable on a case-by-case basis.

House Rules:

- All nat 20's auto confirm. Non-20 critical threats are still confirmed normally.
- Everyone has the Quick Draw feat, including NPC's and monsters/creatures.
- Skills can critical success on nat 20.
- <Insert random Player> has to do 1 push-up anytime he/she says the words "chance, purple, or tumultuous".
- If any die rolls a 1 three times in a row, you must burn that die in front of all the other die to teach them a lesson.

For long/high-powered campaigns, sometimes I'll do Ability Scores increase by 2 at lvls 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20.

Character Adjustments & Sheet Eval:

Here's where I'd take each player outside and have a 1 on 1 with them, and finalize anything with their backstory. I'll also take a look at their sheets to make sure there aren't any math errors. This shouldn't take more than about 10-15 mins per player. If this is taking longer than that for whatever reason, you can finalize any of this in the week before Sesh 1 via Facetime, Zoom, or meet up for coffee.

Campaign Backstory & Theme:

This is where I bring out the map and start going over all the places they have visited in their backstories as well as anything that all of them should know about the region. "The Archduke of McSleepyTown is Frederick Von Hornyoldman, and it's common knowledge that he's bad at gambling, drinks too much at parties, and is eager to jump into high-born women's beds when their husbands are away traveling."

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