Rules Index


Chapter 10: Game Mastering / Game Mastering / Planning a Campaign

A Welcoming Environment

Source Core Rulebook pg. 485
The role of Game Master comes with the responsibility of ensuring you and the rest of the players have a rewarding, fun time during the game. Games can deal with difficult subjects and have stressful moments, but fundamentally Pathfinder is a leisure activity. It can remain so only if the players follow the social contract and respect one another.

Players with physical or mental disabilities might find themselves more challenged than abled players. Work with your players to ensure they have the resources and support they need. Additionally, be on the lookout for behavior that’s inappropriate, whether intentional or inadvertent, and pay careful attention to players’ body language during the game. If you notice a player becoming uncomfortable, you are empowered to pause the game, take it in a new direction, privately check in with your players during or after the session, or take any other action you think is appropriate.

If a player tells you they’re uncomfortable with something in the game, whether it’s content you’ve presented as the GM or another player’s or PC’s actions, listen carefully to that player and take steps to ensure they can once again have fun during your game. If you’re preparing prewritten material and you find a character or a situation inappropriate, you are fully empowered to change any details as you see fit. You also have the authority (and responsibility) to ask players to change their behavior—or even leave the table—if what they’re doing is unacceptable or makes others feel uncomfortable. It’s never appropriate to make the person who is uncomfortable responsible for resolving a problem. It’s okay if mistakes happen. What’s important is how you respond and move forward.

Gaming is for everyone. Never let those acting in bad faith undermine your game or exclude other players. Your efforts are part of the long-term process of making games and game culture welcoming to all. Working together, we can build a community where players of all identities and experiences feel safe.

Objectionable Content

Source Core Rulebook pg. 486
Before a campaign begins, check in with your players—as a group or individually—to find out what types of content they want to allow in the game, and which topics they would prefer to avoid. Because the story unfolds in real time, it’s essential that you discuss these topics before the game starts. These discussions are intended to keep players safe, and so it’s not okay to ask why someone wants a type of content banned. If someone wants it banned, ban it—no questions asked.

It can help to start with a rating, like those used for movies or video games. Pathfinder games often include violence and cruelty. What’s the limit on how graphically these concepts should be described? Can players swear at the table? Does anyone have phobias they don’t want to appear in the game, such as spiders or body horror?

After you figure out the limits on objectionable content, you have four important tasks:
  • Clearly convey these limits to the other players.
  • Ensure you and the players abide by the boundaries.
  • Act immediately if someone becomes uncomfortable about content during a session, even if it wasn’t already banned in a prior discussion. Once the issue is resolved, move on.
  • Resolve the issue if any player deliberately pushes these boundaries, tries to find loopholes, tries to renegotiate the limits, or belittles people for having a different tolerance to objectionable content.

The Pathfinder Baseline

Source Core Rulebook pg. 486
You might find that your players don’t have much to say on the topic of objectionable content, and just assume that general societal mores will keep the most uncomfortable topics out of the game. That’s not always enough, as that approach relies on shared assumptions that aren’t always accurate. The following is a set of basic assumptions that works for many groups, which you can modify to fit your preferences and those of the other players.
  • Bloodshed, injuries, and even dismemberment might be described. However, excessive descriptions of gore and cruelty should be avoided.
  • Romantic and sexual relationships can happen in the game, but players should avoid being overly suggestive. Sex always happens “off-screen.” Because attempts at initiating a relationship between player characters can be uncomfortably similar to one player hitting on another, this should generally be avoided (and is entirely inappropriate when playing with strangers).
  • Avoid excessively gross or scatological descriptions.
The following acts should never be performed by player characters:
  • Torture
  • Rape, nonconsensual sexual contact, or sexual threats
  • Harm to children, including sexual abuse
  • Owning slaves or profiting from the slave trade
  • Reprehensible uses of mind-control magic
Villains might engage in such acts, but they won’t happen “on-screen” or won’t be described in detail. Many groups choose to not have villains engage in these activities at all, keeping these reprehensible acts out of mind entirely.

Social Splash Damage

Source Core Rulebook pg. 486
As important as it is to take care of yourself and the other players in your game, be mindful of your group’s impact on the other people around you. If you’re playing in a space that’s not your own, respect your hosts. If you’re playing in public, consider the comfort of the people around you, not just what your group is comfortable with. It’s easy to get caught up in a game, as we get sucked into the microcosm of an imagined world, but don’t ignore the real world around you. Be aware when you’re making too much noise, leaving a mess, alarming passersby with graphic descriptions of violence, or even just giving the cold shoulder to curious spectators witnessing RPG play for the first time.