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Chapter 4: Subsystems

Source GM Core pg. 183
When your game goes into uncharted territory or you want to emphasize an element of gameplay that usually gets overlooked or condensed into a single check, you can use a subsystem. As the name implies, subsystems are extensions of the main rules system that allow you to explore a particular topic or style of play at your table.

Subsystems are a great way to add depth to aspects of your game that don't occur in combat but still have high stakes. This chapter begins with Victory Points, a structure that underlies much of the chapter, to help you build your own subsystems. Next are some of the most common subsystems you might need in your game, with advice on how to use and modify them. This chapter is organized into the following sections.
  • Victory Points (page 184) provides a framework with which to build your own subsystems, detailing the fundamental structure that Pathfinder uses for its subsystems.
  • Influence (page 187) gives rules for more in-depth social encounters involving influencing NPCs.
  • Research (page 190) shows you how to build an interesting structure for scenes where PCs research topics and seek information.
  • Chases (page 192) are designed to represent the fast-paced feel of movie chase scenes.
  • Infiltration (page 196) allows you to build infiltrations and heists where careful planning helps the PCs maintain an edge against their adversaries and pull off incredible capers.
  • Reputation (page 200) breathes life into the world around the PCs, as various groups of NPCs react favorably or unfavorably to the PCs' actions, and the PCs' status with those groups changes.
  • Duels (page 202) provides a simple architecture for one-on-one showdowns between adversaries.
  • Leadership (page 204) allows PCs to attract people to a cause, giving them cohorts and organizations to look after.
  • Hexploration (page 206) teaches you how to build exploration maps on a hexagonal grid to give your PCs the thrill of discovering secrets within uncharted or unfamiliar territory.
  • Vehicles (page 210) allows you to run encounters involving vehicles and capitalize on their potential to help PCs explore on a larger scale and at a faster pace.

Deciding to Use a Subsystem

Source GM Core pg. 183
When you have an exciting subsystem available, it can be tempting to use it anytime it can possibly come up (for instance, replacing every social scene with the influence subsystem). However, subsystems are most effective when used with intention. They're best when used for a component of the game that's meant to be at least a significant portion of a single session, when you want a different style of play than normal. You should avoid using a particular subsystem if many members of your group don't like it, or if use of a subsystem during play devolves into the PCs making a series of rolls that don't contribute to telling an interesting story. You should also be careful to ensure that whatever subsystem you use doesn't predominantly favor a specific player character or class, since this can result in one person dominating the scene while the other players have nothing useful to do.

It's important to leave enough time and mental energy to make the subsystem feel special and to bring all the components and elements of the subsystem to life in the game world. Subsystems often require strategic thinking for players to succeed, but also require roleplaying to glue together in a satisfying way. When presented with a specific structure on how to complete a challenge or obstacle, it can be natural for players to focus on that structure rather than the story that the mechanics are trying to tell. A subsystem stripped of all its life and narrative depth can become nothing more than a large number of die rolls, however, and the last thing you want is to lose the magic, especially with a subsystem the PCs enjoy. Sometimes, a simple check is the right way to handle the scene, and that's okay! The subsystems will be there when you need them to spice up an adventure or really dive deep into a particular element or scene.

Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
You'll often find that your games could use a way to track progress toward a goal so that you don't have to just keep everything in your head. This section explains how to build your own subsystems for tracking success via Victory Points. Many other subsystems throughout the chapter use these as well, though often by a different name.

Victory Points (or VP) are a powerful tool in your GM arsenal, as they allow you to track the PCs' progress using a subsystem to go beyond the results of a single check. Victory Points are versatile; you could track and resolve them within a single encounter, or you could collect them over the course of an entire campaign to determine the ending of the story.

Naming Your Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
It can be fun to rename your Victory Points, to better reflect the subsystem they track. The term “Victory Points” is unspecific, so you can create a name for your Victory Points that fits the theme of your adventure and helps the players feel more like they are taking part in the type of activity your subsystem represents. Examples of renamed VPs include Influence Points (page 187), Infiltration Points (page 196), Research Points (page 190), and Reputation Points (page 200). The name should be representative, and the PCs should understand what it refers to. You can leave off the word “Points” if you prefer, though this section often retains it while describing how Victory Points can be used.

Victory Point Subsystem Structures

Source GM Core pg. 184
There are a few common structures for tracking Victory Points that you might use for your new subsystem. You could come up with a structure based off one of the subsystems below, or you could create your own completely different structure if none of them match the way you’re running your game. The most important thing is to consider how the PCs or their opposition gain or lose various forms of Victory Points.

Accumulating Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
The most common structure is to accumulate Victory Points toward a total, either stopping after reaching a success threshold or collecting as many Victory Points as possible in a given time frame and then measuring the results against various thresholds. The influence subsystem on page 187 is a great example of this structure in action: each PC has a certain number of chances to influence various NPCs, and after reaching a particular threshold of Victory Points with an NPC, the PCs have convinced that NPC.

In a variation of this structure, the PCs' adversaries can also accumulate Victory Points, giving the PCs a moving target—either to reach the goal before the adversary or to have more Victory Points than the adversary at the end of a given time frame. This is a great structure for you to use in a situation where the PCs face opposition rather than having the PCs accumulate Victory Points while adversaries decrease the total, since it's dynamic and less at risk of resulting in a stalemate.

You can track a subsystem at a larger scale, like over the course of an adventure or campaign, by granting the PCs Victory Points for achieving difficult goals or making particular decisions. Such subsystems usually ask the PCs to compare their accumulated Victory Points against several ranked tiers that each having varying results on the story. Typically these results become more positive for the PCs as they acquire more Victory Points, but sometimes succeeding too fully could have unintended consequences, like convincing the workers to support a rebellion so thoroughly that it riles up a mob. If you're making your own subsystem, you might not define these ranks in full, but just use your best guess at the end.

Accumulating Rolls

Source GM Core pg. 184
In cases where the PCs need to make checks to gain Victory Points, the amount they get for the degrees of success is up to you. The default scale detailed below works in most cases.
Critical Success The PCs gain 2 Victory Points.
Success The PCs gain 1 Victory Point.
Critical Failure The PCs lose 1 Victory Point.

This means that the result of a PC's check usually results in the party gaining either 1 or no Victory Points. However, specialized PCs have a solid chance of earning the party 2 Victory Points, and hare-brained schemes have a fair chance of losing the PCs 1 Victory Point.

Diminishing Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 185
Using this method, the PCs start with a certain number of Victory Points, and rather than accumulating them, they attempt to avoid losing them. Perhaps the PCs are trying to keep dragon eggs from cracking, or are otherwise attempting to minimize damage, loss, or danger. This variant is less common, but it’s great at conveying the urgency of a situation as the PCs lose points. Sometimes it’s necessary to add that sense of tension with this subsystem! Typically, when the PCs lose all their Victory Points, a negative event occurs. If they’re on a timer, the final results might be better the more points they manage to keep before the time runs out.

Diminishing Rolls

Source GM Core pg. 185
Using this structure, the PCs typically lose Victory Points as a result of failed checks, though they can still lose them for making particularly poor decisions or behaving recklessly. Once again, you can use any scaling consequences that make sense, but the default degrees of success are as follows.
Critical Success If regaining ground is possible, the PCs gain 1 Victory Point. Otherwise, as success.
Success The PCs avoid losing any Victory Points.
Failure The PCs lose 1 Victory Point.
Critical Failure The PCs lose 2 Victory Points.

Multiple Point Subsystems

Source GM Core pg. 185
In a multiple point subsystem, you have more than one point system, each measuring something different. For example, in a long-distance race, the PCs and their opponents both try to gain their own Marathon Points, and whoever gets to 10 points first wins!

Infiltration on page 196 offers a different example of a Victory Point subsystem with multiple types of points. PCs try to get a certain number of Infiltration Points to successfully infiltrate a location while avoiding giving Awareness Points to their enemies through failure.

Consider combining the multiple points with a time factor, like in infiltrations, where the PCs automatically accrue Awareness Points over time at a slow rate.

Obstacles and DCs

Source GM Core pg. 185
When preparing your subsystem, think of the obstacles PCs might face or avenues they can exploit when engaging in your subsystem. Set some DCs for them in advance, using the normal system for setting DCs. Everything else, you can improvise on the spot. If you think your DCs will be higher overall, when you set the number of points needed, choose a value on the lower end (see Setting your Scale below).

Think of some possibilities that are much easier and some that are harder. Who are your PCs opposing, and what weak points might that opposition have that the PCs could exploit? Set those DCs lower or make overcoming them grant more VP. PCs who do their research or come up with clever strategies should find it easier to overcome the challenge.

Setting Your Scale

Source GM Core pg. 185
The number of points it takes to reach a goal will greatly affect how your subsystem feels during play. If you want the subsystem to be used for a single scene, such as one negotiation with a powerful NPC, set the number lower than if it's meant to take up most or all of a game session. The Victory Point Scales table (page 186) suggests possible values for your Victory Point scale. The “adventure-wide” scale is for subsystems that are part of a larger narrative, granting Victory Points when the PCs overcome entire encounters or dungeons, rather than as an encounter unfolds.

This larger scale is intended for subsystems that take a lot of the party's focus. A subsystem that runs in the background during an adventure should use a smaller scale. This is usually the “adventure-wide, sideline” value. It could be even lower, such as if you have a dungeon-based adventure including several opportunities to interact with a kobold tribe to get some small benefits. Though they appear throughout the adventure, you would use a lower value because attaining the VP is a minor part of the story. In fact, you might choose not to use a VP subsystem at all.

The table also lists numbers for one or more thresholds. These are the point values at which the PCs get a partial benefit (or, for a diminishing subsystem, take a drawback). You should grant partial benefits when the PCs reach a certain threshold or introduce twists to the subsystem to ensure they continue to feel engaged and rewarded over time.

Table 3-1: Victory Point Scales

Duration of ChallengeVP End PointVP Thresholds
Quick encounter3–5
Long encounter7–104
Most of a session15–255, 10, 15
Adventure-wide, sideline15–205, 10, 15
Adventure-wide, forefront25–5010, 20, 30, 40

The values also depend on various factors. These might include the DCs, the number of chances the PCs get to gain Victory Points, and the flexibility of how the PCs can deploy themselves (for example, if PCs are all forced to try something they might not be trained in, it could cause critical failures). They might also include the amount of effort the PCs need to spend on tasks that don't directly earn Victory Points—such as checks to Discover information about NPCs using the Influence subsystem. Keep all these in mind when deciding what end point you want to use.

Running your Subsystem

Source GM Core pg. 186
When running your new subsystem, be sure to keep the challenges fresh by using a variety of different skills and options to encourage creativity and cooperation, rather than just using the same check over and over again, where PCs can expect diminishing returns. You can also use timers to encourage each PC to participate or even create mechanics that directly encourage each PC to participate, like setting penalties for the same PC attempting checks repeatedly, or for two PCs attempting the same check.

You can even have challenges that require all the PCs to participate. For instance, if the party's host is welcoming every guest individually, each PC might have to make an impression in their own way, or during infiltration, each PC might have to test their ability to Impersonate or Sneak. You'll likely find that some approaches should be automatic successes if they're well-suited to the task, or automatic failures for ideas that are likely impossible.


Source GM Core pg. 186
How you structure rewards for your subsystem depends greatly on its scope. A subsystem resolved in a single sitting usually gives accomplishment XP unless it is particularly demanding, in which case it could be considered a full-scale encounter. Meanwhile, subsystems that span over the course of multiple sessions or the entire campaign might generate accomplishment XP at meaningful milestones along the way. If you have a long-spanning subsystem that’s fairly low profile and behind the scenes or is not success-oriented, such as a subsystem to track what type of ruler the PCs’ patron will become based on the PCs’ decisions, you might not give XP directly from the subsystem, since in that case “success” is undefined.


Source GM Core pg. 187
When the PCs need to gain favor with or sway over an NPC to achieve their goals, sometimes a Deception, Diplomacy, or Intimidation check isn't enough to get the job done. In these cases, you can implement the influence subsystem in a social encounter.

Influence is a short-term subsystem wherein the PCs accumulate Influence Points during a social encounter with an NPC to represent their increasing influence. These encounters are a race against the clock to reach Influence Point thresholds in order to sway the NPC. It's perfect for a single social gathering—whether it's a party, a treaty negotiation, or even an attempt to persuade various members of a panel of judges.

Because of the variety of Influence skill options and the ability to use Perception to uncover more information, every character has something important to contribute in the influence subsystem, as opposed to situations where only one character has Diplomacy.

The influence subsystem divides a social encounter into rounds, with the number of rounds representing the length of the social event. Rounds last any amount of time that you determine, depending on the needs of the narrative, though somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour is typical.

During each round of an influence encounter, each PC can act once to either Influence or Discover.

Influence Stat Blocks

Source GM Core pg. 188
NPCs in the influence subsystem have little need for many of the statistics you'll find in an ordinary creature stat block. However, it might help you to prepare for the social encounter by creating an influence stat block for each prominent NPC. These are optional; if you can keep most information straight in your head, you might skip this step or just write down the first three categories to keep the numbers straight.

Influence stat blocks are flexible and contain only the stats that you are essential to running the NPC during a social encounter, leaving the rest out. The main stats that matter are the NPC's Perception and Will modifiers.

Npc Name

A succinct description of the NPC, such as “Famous musician” or “Popular baron.”
Perception The NPC's Perception modifier, plus potentially relevant abilities such as scent or truesight.
Will The NPC's Will modifier, plus any special adjustments.
Discovery The Perception DC to Discover information about the NPC, as well as any skill checks to Discover their DCs.
Influence Skills The skills the PCs can use to Influence the NPC are listed here with their DCs, in order from the lowest DC (the skill that works best) to the highest DC. If a skill isn't listed but a player gives a strong narrative explanation for using it, you can add it as an appropriate DC (usually the highest listed DC). Diplomacy should usually be on this list, but should rarely be the best skill to Influence an NPC, in order to encourage and reward using Discover to learn and cater to an NPC's interests.
Influence Thresholds The number of Influence Points required to Influence the PC, and the benefits for meeting them. Some NPCs might have multiple influence thresholds, granting the PCs additional benefits or favors as they cross more thresholds.
Resistances Some NPCs are resistant to certain tactics, biased against certain types of people, or may get defensive when a certain topic comes up. Any of these makes it harder for a PC to convince them. For instance, an NPC might find flattery inane, dislike wizards, or bristle at any mention of their ex-spouse. Typically, an NPC's resistance increases the DC of the associated check to Influence by 2 (or 5 for stronger resistances), but it could have farther-ranging consequences, such as losing Influence Points or angering the NPC enough that attempting to Influence them again is impossible.
Weaknesses Most NPCs have at least one weakness that clever and observant PCs can use to their advantage, whether it's a deep-seated insecurity, a desire for power, a favorite hobby, a bias toward a certain group, or a hidden secret the PCs could threaten to expose. When a PC incorporates an NPC's weakness, it typically decreases the associated Influence check's DC by 2 (or 5 for stronger weaknesses), but it could have farther-ranging effects, such as gaining automatic Influence Points or even automatically influencing the NPC regardless of how many Influence Points the PCs have achieved so far.

After the influence stat block, you might want to list important information to help you roleplay the NPC and incorporate the NPC into your influence encounter. You can list any of the following details that are relevant to your NPC: their background (a brief bio focusing on information relevant to the encounter), appearance, personality (this can just be a list of adjectives), affiliations, public goals, hidden agendas, or the penalty for antagonizing the NPC (or possibly for failing to Influence the NPC, depending on the way you structure the encounter).

Setting DCs

Source GM Core pg. 189
When setting DCs, it's often good to start with a noncombat level or “social level” for the NPC and set their DCs accordingly. Use the DC adjustments from page 53 just like you normally would. A good starting place is setting the NPC's Will modifier, then taking that DC and adjusting it for skills that are more or less likely to work.

For instance, for a 3rd-level challenge, you might give an NPC a +12 Will modifier and use 22 as the base DC. You might say that's the DC for Diplomacy but then determine that the NPC is difficult to intimidate, and so you apply the hard DC adjustment to make the Intimidation DC 24. Maybe you also determine that she loves different varieties of wine, resulting in an incredibly easy DC adjustment to get DC 12 for Alcohol Lore.

Running an Influence Encounter

Source GM Core pg. 189
When running an influence encounter, let the PCs be creative and use a diverse set of skills whenever possible. Be open to improvisation, and change the structure of the encounter if something interesting presents itself. The PCs set the pace and choose with whom they interact. It's up to you to make sure every NPC is distinct, react to the PCs' interactions with the NPCs, and lend overall structure to the encounter by making sure it feels like a living, breathing event rather than just a series of skill checks.

Think about how the number of rounds of a social encounter relate to the overall event. For instance, if you have a four-course banquet and 6 rounds, you could have 1 round for introductions before the food arrives, 1 round for each of the courses, and 1 last round of conversations after the final course. NPCs might filter in and out or become unavailable for conversations as they are occupied by various tasks, or become particularly eager to engage a PC. That sort of change help makes the NPC feel a bit more real and helps break up any repetition in your encounter.

Experience Points

Source GM Core pg. 189
An influence encounter is typically worth the same amount of XP as a moderate combat encounter of its level would be.


Source GM Core pg. 190
When the PCs are trying to discover important information while challenged by a time limit or other interesting twist, the research subsystem is just the thing to lend their efforts more urgency and weight.

In the research subsystem, PCs accumulate Research Points and learn new information or gain other benefits upon reaching specific thresholds. This subsystem is great for granting PCs more in-depth pieces of information as they continue to explore an area at large. Here, time passes in rounds spanning anywhere from 10 or so minutes to a full day. Each round, the characters use the Research exploration activity to gain Research Points (RP). As time passes and the party earns more RP, they gain knowledge and rewards, but also might face consequences or events. Some of these events might interrupt the round with a different kind of encounter (disrupting the Research activity), such as a social encounter with an intelligent book or a combat encounter with a guardian.

Research challenges work best when the PCs face a time constraint, rival research group, or other form of external condition that presents additional pressures—if the PCs have all the time in the world to safely peruse a library or ruin, you can usually simplify things to a simple skill check, since the PCs are free to keep rolling until they uncover everything there is to find.

Building a Research Challenge

Source GM Core pg. 190
A research challenge has two components: the library, which is an area containing the various research checks PCs need to attempt to learn about the topic (as well as obstacles that the PCs face while doing so); and a research stat block, which details the topic being researched and contains the information, rewards, and additional complications that happen when the PCs reach certain thresholds of RP.

Designing the Library

Source GM Core pg. 190
“Library” is the general term to designate the setting of the PCs' research. Despite the name, it doesn't necessarily consist of a quiet hall full of books. It could be an Astral memory palace, a gallery of iconographic artwork, or even a mansion where the party is questioning the guests. In many ways, designing a library is similar to designing any other dungeon, castle, or adventure locale, with various rooms or other areas, each with its own complications for the PCs to overcome. If your library is closer to a dungeon crawl on a tactical map, these are likely hazards or encounters with hostile creatures; if your library is meant to be meandered through more narratively, these might instead be skill-based or social encounters with NPCs.

Throughout the library, you'll place research checks. These describe the task that the party is doing to Research—perusing books, alchemically testing samples, or talking to a stubborn librarian—and a number of skills and DCs the party can use with the Research activity, in order from the lowest DC (the skill that works best) to the highest DC.


Concentration Exploration
You comb through information to learn more about the topic at hand. Choose your research topic, section of the library, or other division depending on the form of research, and attempt a skill check. The skills to use and the DC for the check depend on the specific research task, and the Research activity gains any traits appropriate to the type of research (such as linguistic when perusing books).
Critical Success You gain 2 RP.
Success You gain 1 RP.
Critical Failure You make a false discovery and lose 1 RP.

If a skill isn't listed but a player provides a strong explanation for using it, you can add it at an appropriate DC (usually the highest listed DC). Academia Lore and Library Lore will often be listed in these entries, but also try to engage the whole party by varying the skills listed in each check; perhaps the books on aeromancy are all flying high overhead, requiring a round of Athletics checks to represent climbing up ladders to retrieve them. A variety of skills and decisions, along with vivid descriptions, are the key to an engaging and memorable research challenge, rather than just a string of die rolls by the investigator or wizard.

Each research check also has a maximum RP value. After reaching this value, the PCs can't gain any more RP from that research check (they don't gain more information by reading the same book over and over!) so they'll need to continue exploring to find more locations for further research. You can use this to guide your PCs through your library by placing research checks in various sections you know you want them to explore—an easy check near the entrance to introduce them to the topic is usually helpful as well! Be sure that your library provides enough RP for players to meet all the research thresholds in the stat block.

Designing the Stat Block

Source GM Core pg. 191
Once you've decided what your library looks like and how the areas and research options are structured, it's time to build the stat block and set research thresholds for each topic. Thresholds are your opportunity to reward your PCs with intriguing new information (like the history of the town they're in), tactical intel (such as a legendary monster's only weakness), uncommon or rare options (like a lost spell in the library's depths), or anything else. A mix of rewards is best! Backstory can be interesting, but isn't much of a reward on its own. Research that uncovers only backstory should appear only at the lowest thresholds.

Reaching thresholds can also change the state of the library, in the PCs' favor or otherwise. In a dusty room, the first threshold might simply be cleaning and organizing the library to lower subsequent checks, but in a haunted library, ghosts might start appearing as their resting place is increasingly disturbed. Reaching a research threshold can do just about anything, but it should always do something.

Think about the constraints preventing the PCs from researching freely, and use those constraints to determine how many Research Points they must earn to reach each threshold. You don't need to evenly space thresholds—you could require very few Research Points for crucial clues you want to ensure the PCs receive and a much larger number to reach the final threshold that grants a special reward.

In a published adventure, you'll find stat blocks presented in the format below. In some cases, this information appears in a single stat block instead, but the rules function the same.

Research Topic's Name Research (Level)

Research Checks The checks PCs can attempt to conduct research listed alongside their locations, tagged with area codes or page references when appropriate.
Research Thresholds Each threshold lists the number of RP required to reach it, followed by the effects for meeting that threshold. Thresholds are listed in order from first (requiring the fewest RP) to last (the highest threshold).

Beneath the stat block, you can list any events that occur based on timing rather than the PCs' RP total (such as a threatening message arriving on the third day), as well as any other important details.


Source GM Core pg. 192
When the PCs pursue a fleeing adversary or quarry—or someone chases them instead—adding twists and turns to the pursuit builds suspense and makes the outcome more uncertain than if it were based on Speed alone. The chases subsystem helps you create cinematic scenes where the PCs must quickly overcome obstacles, from following someone through a crowded market to carrying a desperately urgent message over a dangerous mountain pass.

The Speed rules in Player Core work well for short sprints through fairly clear terrain. Over longer distances and through more complex environments, though, the path is rarely so straightforward. The chase subsystem shifts the emphasis from raw Speed to facing down the kinds of unpredictable obstacles that characters might encounter in a longer pursuit, so you can create a thrilling chase scene.

Chases are a special type of encounter. Each round, the pursued character or characters act first, then the pursuing characters act. Typically, to reduce variance, the PCs roll checks to progress while their opponents proceed at a steady pace, but if you want to emphasize the back-and-forth nature of a particular chase, you could have both sides roll instead. Characters in the same group can act in whatever order they prefer, each taking a turn. A character must act on their turn. If they pass their turn or are unable to act, they're unable to help the group and automatically cause the group to lose 1 Chase Point.

Depending on the scale of your chase, establish at the beginning how long each round lasts so the PCs understand how much they can accomplish in that time. Is it essentially a 3-action turn, or does it take minutes, hours, or days?


Source GM Core pg. 192
During a chase, all the characters must overcome a series of obstacles that represent challenges—from locked doors to deceptive bogs—during the different legs of the pursuit. These obstacles aren't separated by specific distances; rather, the distance is narrative and can vary between obstacles as needed for the story you're telling. Travel times between obstacles can vary, too. The time scale you choose determines how PCs can act when dealing with an obstacle.

Each obstacle requires a certain number of Chase Points to overcome. Typically, half the obstacles require 1 point fewer than the number of party members, and half require 2 points fewer (with a minimum of 1 Chase Point per obstacle). Particularly challenging obstacles might require more. Typically, there are multiple ways to overcome an obstacle; for example, characters could evade a guard or bribe them to look away. Each approach usually requires a skill check or Perception check, but sometimes a saving throw, an attack roll, or something even more unusual, like casting a certain spell.

On a character's turn, they describe what they do to help the group get past the obstacle. They then attempt any required roll, or perform the required action for a choice without a check. If they attempt a roll, the result determines how many Chase Points the character gains.
Critical Success The PCs gain 2 Chase Points.
Success The PCs gain 1 Chase Point.
Critical Failure The PCs lose 1 Chase Point.

If the means of bypassing the obstacle helps automatically without requiring a check—such as using a certain spell to assist—the PCs typically get 1 Chase Point. You can increase that to 2 if you feel the action is extremely helpful.

Chase Points represent the ability of the whole group to bypass the obstacle. A character who critically succeeds is able to help the other characters continue onward, while one who critically fails needs extra assistance. Players often have ideas for ways to overcome the obstacle beyond the choices you created for the obstacle. If their idea is applicable, you'll need to determine the DC and skill, or other statistic being used for that approach. This is great as long as it's creative, but be wary of a situation where a character who is legendary at a skill tries to justify how they can bypass every obstacle with that skill, such as using Acrobatics to tumble around them all, or the like. You can determine that some tactics just won't work against certain obstacles, or would help only one character without benefiting the rest and therefore aren't all that useful.

Once the PCs accumulate enough Chase Points to overcome the obstacle, they move on to the next. Extra Chase Points don't carry over to the next obstacle. However, anyone who hasn't already taken their turn that round can still take it against the new obstacle. Consequently, the characters best suited to overcoming the current obstacle might act first, since the remaining characters might be better suited against the next one. The number of Chase Points the PCs have can never fall below 0.

It might help to put your obstacles in a stat block for easy reference. Inside published adventures, chase obstacles are likely to be presented in stat block form, as follows.

Building a Chase

Source GM Core pg. 193
When building a chase, first build your obstacles, and then decide how far ahead the pursued character or characters begin and at what pace the NPCs will move. Having the NPCs clear one obstacle per round is a good rule of thumb, but it could vary depending on the situation, and should especially be slower against obstacles that require more than the typical number of Chase Points to overcome.

Select or build obstacles highlighting a variety of different skills and other options so everyone in the party has a moment to shine. When choosing what skills can bypass a given obstacle, ensure a variety of approaches can work. If you've already decided that an obstacle uses Stealth, selecting Thievery as the other option doesn't really offer opportunities for different types of characters, since those who are good at Thievery are very likely the same ones who are good at Stealth. On the other hand, offering Athletics as an alternative gives a champion who's terrible at Stealth a way to help. The group can help cover for a character who is less capable at a particular obstacle, but it's more fun for players when you present substantially different options for each obstacle.

Use the following guidelines to determine how many obstacles you need for your chase. These numbers assume that the pursued party can reach a certain location to end the chase (as described in Ending Chases). If there's no such escape, you might need more obstacles.

Short: 6 obstacles, about 10–20 minutes of game time
Medium: 8 obstacles, about 15–25 minutes of game time
Long: 10 obstacles, about 20–30 minutes of game time

Setting Obstacle DCs

Source GM Core pg. 193
When you set the DCs for an obstacle, you'll typically be using simple DCs. Use a proficiency rank that's generally appropriate for the PCs' level if you want the obstacle to be a significant obstacle. As noted earlier, you'll typically want to select a couple different ways the group can get past an obstacle. At least one check should have an easy or very easy adjustment, while the other check should have a standard or hard DC. In some cases, you might use something other than a simple DC; for example, if a specific NPC has put up a magical barrier, you would use their spell DC. This might result in some pretty tough DCs or even impassable obstacles, so use this carefully!

If a PC improvises a different way to get around an obstacle from what you planned, set the DC just like you would normally when picking a DC on the fly. Don't worry about adjusting the DC to be easy or very easy, because the PC is likely to be good at the skill they've chosen.

Shortcuts and Split Paths

Source GM Core pg. 193
You might want to build a chase with multiple paths that split and rejoin so you can have a shortcut (with easier DCs or fewer obstacles) or paths that appeal to different types of characters. For instance, one obstacle might allow a PC who critically succeeds at a Perception check to find a faster path along a canal, without the obstacles of a busy street. This can be fun, but it can also split up the group. Familiarize yourself with the Solo Chases sidebar above to make similar adjustments for a divided group.

Ending Chases

Source GM Core pg. 193
Once you have the obstacles, decide the end conditions. Chases often end when the pursuer reaches the same obstacle as the pursued, leading to a combat encounter or other scene. However, it’s less clear when to end a chase otherwise. It’s typically best to have an obstacle that ends the chase with the pursued character getting away, as long as they overcome the obstacle before being captured. This is usually better than ending the chase after a certain number of rounds, because reaching a hideaway makes more narrative sense and because you might not be able to predict how far the pursued characters move in those rounds, making you run out of obstacles. You can also end the chase in favor of the pursued characters if they ever get a certain number of obstacles ahead of the pursuers (typically three), as the pursuers simply lose the trail. You should still have an end point to the chase, though, in case that never happens.

Types of Chases

Source GM Core pg. 193
  • Chase Down: The PCs pursue adversaries. The PCs go second in initiative since they're the pursuers. Start the enemies one obstacle ahead of the PCs (or at the same location for a short chase), and end the chase if the PCs catch up to the enemies, or if the enemies reach a certain location that represents their safety or escape.
  • Run Away: The PCs attempt to escape. They'll go first in initiative since they're being pursued. It's usually best to start them one obstacle ahead of their foes and end the chase if they reach a certain location or are three obstacles ahead of the foes at the end of a round.
  • Beat the Clock: The PCs try to get through all the obstacles before a certain number of rounds pass, such as if the PCs are trying to outrun a natural disaster or race in a timed challenge. The number of obstacles should usually equal the number of rounds.
  • Competitive Chase: The PCs and their adversaries are both chasing the same thing or trying to reach the same location, and whoever gets there first wins. This works like chase down, except that either party could win. Because there is more than one set of pursuers, you might have the PCs and their competitors roll initiative to see who goes first each round (while still moving all NPCs at a steady rate).

Running a Chase

Source GM Core pg. 194
When running a chase, narrate the scene and give vivid descriptions of the obstacles the PCs face, rather than just reading off a list of skills and immediately having the players start rolling dice and making checks. A chase is a framework for roleplaying, not just a dice game. Encourage the PCs to describe what they're doing, and how they're helping their comrades overcome each obstacle.

Typically, it's best to tell the players the DCs of the default options, so they can make informed decisions. At the very least, you should indicate the relative difficulty of the clear paths.

Try to make it feel like the PCs are really part of a chase scene, like in a movie. As each side makes progress, describe how they pull ahead or close the gap. PCs far from their foes might hear shouts in the distance. As they get closer, they catch glimpses, and then finally see their quarry in full view once they're on the enemies' heels. Think about how the events of the chase affect the environment as well. For instance, if a kaiju is chasing after the PCs, after the PCs overcome an obstacle consisting of a thick copse of trees, you could describe how the kaiju flattens the trees beneath its feet as it stomps after them.

Visual Aids

Source GM Core pg. 194
It can help your players visualize the chase to use a series of cards or a rough map (such as a large-scale city map rather than a 5-foot grid) to show locations. Use one miniature or token to represent each side of the chase. You might place cards with obstacle names on them face down, revealing them as PCs reach them, and letting a PC peek at an upcoming card if they scout it from a distance.

If the PCs Get Stuck

Source GM Core pg. 194
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, an obstacle will stymie the PCs over and over again. In most cases, after 3 rounds of the PCs struggling with an obstacle that requires the standard number of Chase Points, it’s a good idea to just say they found another way around it. If presenting another way around the obstacle just doesn’t make sense, such as if a spherical barrier completely blocks the PCs, you might introduce an NPC or other outside force that can help them bypass it, but at a high cost.

Underground Obstacles

Crumbling Corridor (1st)DC 13 Acrobatics to avoid disturbing the walls, DC 15 Crafting to shore up the walls; Quaking Corridor (11th) DC 25 Acrobatics, DC 30 Crafting
Fungus Grotto (1st)DC 15 Fortitude to endure poisonous spore, DC 13 Survival to avoid the mushrooms; Virulent Fungi (5th) DC 20 Fortitude, DC 18 Survival
Pit Trap (1st)DC 13 Athletics to quickly climb out, DC 15 Perception to spot the trap before it’s triggered; Exceptional Pit Trap (5th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 18 Perception
Wandering Gelatinous Cube (1st)DC 18 Occultism to identify its deficiencies, DC 15 Stealth to sneak past; Wandering Black Pudding (7th) DC 24 Occultism, DC 19 Stealth
Collapsed Tunnel (5th)DC 20 Athletics to dig through, DC 18 Perception to find a secret door around; Ancient Collapse (12th) DC 30 Athletics, DC 28 Perception
Pendulum Trap (5th)DC 20 Reflex to dodge the blades, DC 15 Thievery to disable the tap; Panoply of Pendulums (12th) DC 30 Reflex, DC 28 Thievery
Wooden Portcullis (8th)DC 25 Acrobatics to squeeze through, DC 20 Athletics to lift the gate; Iron Portcullis (11th) DC 25 Acrobatics, DC 30 Athletics

Urban Obstacles

Crowd (1st)DC 15 Acrobatics or Athletics to weave or push through, DC 13 Society to follow the flow; Festival Crowd (4th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 18 Society
Fruit Cart (1st)DC 13 Athletics to vault over or smash through, DC 15 Intimidation to make the merchant move it; Merchant Pavilion (5th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 22 Intimidation
Guard Dog (1st)DC 14 Nature to calm, DC 16 Stealth to sneak past; Guard Roc (9th) DC 26 Nature, DC 28 Stealth
Rickety Rooftops (1st)DC 15 Acrobatics to cross clotheslines, DC 13 Athletics to jump from roof to roof; Crumbling, Steep Rooftops (5th) DC 18 Acrobatics, DC 20 Athletics
Wooden Fence (1st)DC 13 Athletics to climb over, DC 15 Thievery to unlock a gate; High Iron Fence (8th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 25 Thievery
Gang of Hooligans (2nd)DC 13 Deception to trick, DC 15 Stealth to sneak past; Elite Criminals (12th) DC 28 Deception, DC 30 Stealth
Twisting Alleyways (2nd)DC 17 Perception to find a path, DC 13 Society to recall a map; Multi-Story Maze (7th) DC 22 Perception, DC 20 Society

Wilderness Obstacles

Deep Mud (1st)DC 15 Athletics to slog through, DC 13 Perception to find a path; Horrid Bog (5th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 18 Perception
Downpour (1st)DC 13 Fortitude to push through, DC 15 Nature to predict the weather; Magical Thunderstorm (5th) DC 30 Fortitude, DC 25 Nature
Rope Bridge (1st)DC 15 Acrobatics to cross carefully, DC 13 Crafting to make repairs; Solitary Frayed Rope (11th) DC 25 Acrobatics, DC 30 Crafting
Rushing River (1st)DC 15 Athletics to swim or hop across stones, DC 13 Survival to find a ford nearby; Flash Flood (5th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 18 Survival
Steep Hills (1st)DC 13 Athletics to climb across, DC 15 Perception to find easier path; Rugged Mountain (5th) DC 20 Athletics, DC 18 Perception
Swarm of Wasps (1st)DC 15 Fortitude to endure stings, DC 13 Survival to smoke them out; Those Aren’t Wasps! (5th) DC 20 Fortitude, DC 18 Survival
Tangled Forest (2nd)DC 17 Perception to find the way, DC 13 Survival to plot a path; Enchanted Forest (5th) DC 20 Perception, DC 18 Survival


Source GM Core pg. 196
Not all elements of an adventure can be resolved with force of arms and the sizzle of deadly magic. Sometimes subtlety is required to circumvent foes or accomplish a goal. When the characters need to rely on improvisation and fast thinking to infiltrate a stronghold or organization to save the day, the infiltration subsystem provides a framework for those adventures.

An infiltration requires the heroes to employ guile and subtlety to achieve one or more objectives without directly confronting their enemies. The PCs' goal might be sneaking into a den of thieves to relieve them of ill-gotten gains, navigating the winding passages of the city watch headquarters to break a friend out of prison, or putting themselves in just the right spot to snatch up the right person or the correct item at just the right time. Whatever the case, the heroes are working to avoid drawing the attention of an opposing party, such as the members of a thieves' guild, the prison guards, or the invited guests at an upscale gala. Should the heroes draw too much attention, they might be attacked, arrested, or thrown out—in any case, blocked from accomplishing their goal.

An infiltration is fundamentally a roleplaying activity. The players narrate their characters' actions in response to the situations around them, and the infiltration subsystem provides a framework to measure incremental success within the overall endeavor. An infiltration takes place over the course of multiple rounds, though it's up to you to determine how long a round is. One round might encompass 10 minutes or 1 hour of in-world time, or something completely different, depending on the story and your group's preferences.

Building an Infiltration

Source GM Core pg. 196
When creating an infiltration, you’ll want to start with the party’s broad goals and an idea of how much time you and your players want to spend. The more complex an infiltration, the longer it will take to play out at the table.


Source GM Core pg. 196
The first thing you'll need to determine is the party's objective, or broad goal. Maybe the PCs need to find their way into some hidden sanctum, find a particular person within an organization, locate and get away with a bit of treasure, or plant a piece of evidence. An infiltration can consist of a single objective, but a more complex one might include two or more objectives in sequence—the PCs might first need to find a way to enter the cult's sanctum, then open the vault, and then escape with the relic.

To achieve an objective, the PCs must overcome a certain number of obstacles—specific challenges the PCs face, such as getting across a moat or past a nosy butler. For a simple objective, they might need to overcome only one or two obstacles, while a more complex one might require several.

It's a good idea to offer more obstacles as options than the characters need to overcome, and the PCs don't all have to choose the same ones. This represents the fact that there's more than one way into a castle, and allows PCs to choose obstacles that play to their strengths. It also means you have more options you can adapt if the PCs decide on a truly novel way to tackle their objective.

Once a character has overcome the required number of obstacles to reach the objective, they move on to the next objective. This might mean that some characters move on to a second objective and start making progress toward it while other characters are still completing obstacles from the first objective. When all characters have completed the final objective, the infiltration is a success!

While the characters are pursuing their objectives, however, they need to avoid notice. Awareness Points (AP) measure the extent to which an opposing party is aware of the PCs' actions, and apply to the party as a whole. As the PCs' Awareness Points increase, the infiltration becomes more difficult as the opposition shores up its defenses. If the PCs generate too many Awareness Points, they are found out, and their infiltration fails altogether!


Source GM Core pg. 196
Each obstacle has certain statistics that define how it works in play. Infiltration Points (IP) represent a character's progress toward overcoming an obstacle. Each obstacle requires gaining a certain number of Infiltration Points to overcome—typically 1 or 2, but some challenging obstacles might require more. PCs can gain Infiltration Points in multiple ways—usually through a skill or Perception check, but sometimes another roll or even the use of a spell or item. These methods are listed in the obstacle's Overcome entry. Unlike obstacles for chases, these use a difficulty range for the PCs' level instead of set DCs.

The Overcome entry also lists whether the PCs need to overcome an object individually or as a group. For individual obstacles, each PC needs to earn the required number of Infiltration Points themself, while for group obstacles, all PCs working toward that obstacle pool their Infiltration Points toward it together. For example, each PC trying to scale a wall needs to earn points on their own, but the PCs could work together to search a guildhall for clues, and once one PC has picked a lock, everyone can enter.

A particular PC can overcome an individual obstacle only once during an objective; likewise, the party can overcome a group obstacle only once.

Obstacles in Play

Source GM Core pg. 197
On a character's turn, the character describes what they do to get past the obstacle. They then attempt any required check (or perform the required action, if their choice doesn't require a check). The result of the check determines how many Infiltration Points the character gains toward overcoming that obstacle—or whether they instead raise suspicions and accrue Awareness Points!
Critical Success The PC gains 2 Infiltration Points.
Success The PC gains 1 Infiltration Point.
Failure The PCs accrue 1 Awareness Point.
Critical Failure The PCs accrue 2 Awareness Points.

If the character's actions automatically help without requiring a check, like using a spell, they usually gain 1 IP, but you can award 2 for particularly helpful actions.

Sometimes a PC might become stuck on an individual obstacle. Some opportunities (page 198) allow PCs to spend their turn helping others overcome a tricky obstacle.


Source GM Core pg. 197
The number of obstacles you require the PCs to overcome for an objective depends partly on the complexity of the infiltration. For shorter infiltrations, use fewer and lower-IP obstacles; for a longer, more complex heist, you can add more obstacles with greater complexity. Also, bear in mind how many checks the PCs will need to attempt to complete their obstacles. An objective with mostly low-IP group obstacles will move quickly because only a few rolls are required, compared to one with mostly individual obstacles that each PC needs to roll separately for.

Sample Obstacles

Source GM Core pg. 197
While you'll want to create custom obstacles to suit the details of your infiltration, the following examples can be used directly in many infiltrations, or as inspiration for your own creations. You can also use the sample chase obstacles on page 195 as starting points.

Guard Post Obstacle

Infiltration Points 2 (individual); Overcome standard, hard, or very hard Deception, Diplomacy, or Stealth
Guards cluster at a checkpoint, alert for unusual activity.

Locked Door Obstacle

Infiltration Points 1 (group); Overcome hard or very hard Athletics or Thievery
A locked door separates the heroes from their target.

Trap Obstacle

Infiltration Points 3 (group); Overcome hard or very hard Thievery A trap bars the characters' passage. This obstacle follows the normal degrees of success for an obstacle, with the following modification for critical failure.
Critical Failure The PCs accrue 2 AP as normal, and the PC who critically fails the Thievery check also triggers the trap.

Awareness Points

Source GM Core pg. 197
The trick to any infiltration is to get it done before anyone notices. Awareness Points measure the opposition's awareness of the PCs' efforts, helping you keep the pressure on and ramp up the urgency. While Infiltration Points are specific to a given obstacle, Awareness Points are a single pool spanning the entire infiltration and all participants.

Awareness Points increase in three different ways. When a PC fails a check to overcome an obstacle, they incur 1 Awareness Point (or 2 on a critical failure). Other failed checks during the infiltration typically don't increase the Awareness Point total unless the failure would reasonably cause a disruption. Awareness Points also increase by 1 at the end of each round of the infiltration, as the passage of time makes it more likely that the PCs will be discovered. Finally, the PCs earn Awareness Points whenever their activities are disruptive enough to draw attention to the infiltration, subject to GM discretion.

The effects of Awareness Points occur when the PCs reach certain thresholds. The specific effects and thresholds are up to you and your story, but typically for every 5 AP the PCs accrue, the challenges become harder, and if the PCs accrue enough Awareness Points (usually equal to twice the number of Infiltration Points necessary for the party as a whole to overcome all necessary obstacles), the infiltration fails.

Each threshold should have an effect. It might increase the DCs for obstacles, introduce a complication, spark a combat encounter, or have other effects. Reaching the highest tier of Awareness Points means that the PCs fail, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story! Failed infiltrations are an opportunity to introduce new challenges and move the story forward in a different way.

This basic Awareness Point scheme for an infiltration requiring the PCs to earn 10 IP can be used as is or tailored to your game.

5 Awareness Points: Suspicions are raised. Increase the DCs for obstacles by 1. The first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.
10 Awareness Points: The first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.
15 Awareness Points: Increase the DCs for obstacles by a total of 2, and the first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.
20 Awareness Points: The infiltration fails.


Source GM Core pg. 198
Sometimes, when a plan goes sour and seems like it can't get worse, it does. Complications are unexpected problems that compound the difficulty of a challenge. The party might trigger a complication by critically failing a check to overcome a challenge, by reaching a certain threshold of Awareness Points, if you need to spice up the infiltration, or through their own decisions—maybe the wizard's castle has various wards, each triggered when a PC attempts to use a different kind of magic.

Many complications increase Awareness Points or otherwise make infiltration more difficult. A common form of complication is attracting the attention of guards who try to stop, capture, or even kill the PCs. When this happens, the infiltration may briefly shift into encounter mode as the PCs attempt to defeat their assailants. The sounds of battle are loud, so unless combat occurs in an isolated area or the PCs take precautions, each round of unmitigated combat noise causes them to gain Awareness Points, at the very least.

When you create a complication, decide on the details of how it will play out. Each complication has a trigger that determines when it occurs. It might affect only a single character, or it might affect everyone in a certain area, and you'll need to determine whether multiple PCs can work together to overcome it or whether only one can. Complications must be overcome before the characters involved can overcome other obstacles, and attempting to overcome a complication takes a character's turn just like trying to overcome an obstacle. Many complications are one-off events and are overcome automatically, even on a failure, though not without a cost. If a complication requires PCs to gain Infiltration Points to clear it, it has an Infiltration Points entry, just like an obstacle.

Don't overwhelm the characters with complications. Typically, you'll want to aim for two complications per AP threshold. Otherwise, the PCs may end up spending more time on the complications than on the heist itself, and the chance of failure may be too high. The following example is a common complication that could occur in almost any infiltration.

Do I Know You? Complication

Trigger The PCs reach 5 Awareness Points for the first time.
Overcome standard, hard, or very hard Deception, Diplomacy, Performance, or Stealth
Someone thinks they recognize you, and you must either convince them otherwise before slipping away or find a way to dodge the person entirely.
Success You convince or otherwise dodge the person.
Failure You are recognized, and the party accrues 1 AP.
Critical Failure As failure, but the party accrues 2 AP.


Source GM Core pg. 198
Not everything that happens during an infiltration is a challenge that must be solved—sometimes PCs can use their turns to aid the group in some way. Opportunities are very similar to obstacles, but they don't provide Infiltration Points or count toward the objective. They instead provide some kind of benefit, such as a magical password to disable security features further along, reducing the party's Awareness Points, or lowering the DC for a later challenge. But opportunities sometimes come with risks—failing can increase the PCs' Awareness Points or trigger complications. You'll need to decide what opportunities are available and when, and whether they can be completed multiple times or only once. For example, the PCs can steal the guard's keys only once, but can cause a distraction several times.

Some opportunities might be available at almost any time in any infiltration, like this example.

Smooth The Path Opportunity

Requirements The PC has successfully completed an individual objective and some other PCs have not.
Having completed your objective, you help an ally who is still trying to reach that goal. Describe how you are helping. This gives the ally the benefits of Following the Expert (Player Core 438). In unusual cases, the GM might allow you to attempt a relevant skill check to overcome the obstacle on behalf of the other PC instead.

PC Preparations

Source GM Core pg. 198
Sometimes the party has a chance to prepare before conducting their infiltration, by scouting a location, bribing officials, and so on. This takes the form of special downtime activities that can give the PCs Edge Points (EP): resources and advantages they can bring to bear during their infiltration, such as stolen uniforms, forged documents, and the like. As with infiltration opportunities, careless work runs the risk of increasing Awareness Points—but in this case, before the infiltration even begins!

Typically, you'll limit the preparation phase in some way, such as by setting a number of days the PCs have to prepare and by constraining how many preparation activities are available to make sure the PCs aren't entering the infiltration with so many Edge Points that the infiltration is no longer suspenseful. The more opportunities for Edge Points you give, the lower you should set the Awareness Point thresholds for complications and failure. Also decide how many times the characters can benefit from each preparation activity—most activities should grant their benefits only once.

You can use the activities below for your infiltration by adjusting the details, but you should also create custom activities that link directly to your story.

Edge Points

Source GM Core pg. 199
Edge Points (EP) represent advantages the party gains by proper planning, quick thinking, the intervention of an ally, or some other benefit. They are typically gained by pursuing opportunities in previous infiltrations or through preparation before the infiltration. When a PC fails or critically fails a check to overcome an obstacle or a complication, they can spend an Edge Point to succeed instead. Some Edge Points can be spent only during particular circumstances—for instance, no matter how well you forge documents, it won’t help you unlock a door—so consider using unique tokens to represent such Edge Points.

Preparation Activities

Source GM Core pg. 199

Bribe Contact

Downtime Secret 
Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
Cost A bribe worth at least one-tenth of the Currency per Additional PC listed on Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level. Doubling this amount grants a +2 circumstance bonus to the check.
Requirements You’ve successfully Gained a Contact (see below).
You offer a bribe to your contact to help the heist in some way. Attempt a hard or very hard Deception or Diplomacy check.
Success The contact accepts the bribe and you gain 1 EP.
Failure You believe you successfully Bribed your Contact and gained 1 EP, but in fact the contact informs the opposition of the attempted bribery, adding 1 AP to the infiltration. The GM can reveal that this Edge Point grants no benefit at any point during the infiltration, as befits the story.
Critical Failure As failure, but adding 2 AP to the infiltration.

Forge Documents

Downtime Secret 
Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You prepare forgeries that might serve as convincing props. Attempt a hard or very hard Society check.
Success You create convincing forgeries and gain 1 EP you can use only when presenting some form of paperwork.
Failure You create unconvincing documents. You gain 1 EP that (unknown to you) grants no benefit when used.
Critical Failure As a failure, but a PC who tries to use the Edge Point gets a critical failure, even if they use the Edge Point after rolling a failure.

Gain Contact

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You try to make contact with an individual who can aid you in the infiltration. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard DC Diplomacy or Society check, or a check using a Lore skill appropriate to your prospective contact.
Success You make contact and gain 1 EP.
Failure You fail to make contact.
Critical Failure You insult or spook the contact in some way. Future attempts take a –2 circumstance penalty. Special Multiple critical failures might cause the contact to work against the PCs in some way, likely increasing the party’s Awareness Points.


Downtime Secret 
Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You seek out rumors about the infiltration’s target. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard Diplomacy check.
Critical Success You gain inside information about the location or group you’re trying to infiltrate. This grants you a +2 circumstance bonus to future checks you attempt for preparation activities for this infiltration. If you share this information, those you share it with also gain this bonus.
Success You gain inside information about the place or group you’re attempting to infiltrate that aids your planning.
Failure You learn nothing.
Critical Failure You hear a few mistaken rumors and take a –2 circumstance penalty to your next check for a preparation activity. Word spreads around that you’re asking after that group or individual, increasing your Awareness Points by 1.

Scout Location

Downtime Secret 
Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You spend time observing the place or group you wish to infiltrate. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard DC Perception, Society or Stealth check.
Success You make observations that provide 1 EP.
Failure You learn nothing particularly noteworthy.
Critical Failure You misjudge some aspect of what you observed, gaining 1 EP that results in a critical failure instead of a success when used, even if a PC uses the Edge Point after rolling a failure.

Secure Disguises

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You seek to procure or create disguises. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard Crafting, Deception, Performance, or Society check.
Success You procure or creates disguises, gaining 1 EP that can be used only to maintain a cover identity.
Failure Your efforts result in an unusable disguise.


Source GM Core pg. 200
Sometimes it's crucial to know how groups of people feel about the PCs. That's where reputation comes into play. The reputation subsystem is a simple way to use Victory Points to determine how the PCs stand with such groups.

Reputation is a mid- to long-term subsystem wherein the PCs accumulate or lose Reputation Points with a particular group of people, such as a guild, a government, a church, or a village. The PCs gain Reputation Points by performing favors for the organization, to a maximum of 50 Reputation Points, and lose Reputation Points by doing disservices, to a minimum of –50 Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 200
Each favor the PCs perform for a group normally grants the PCs Reputation Points with that group.
  • Minor favors are simple, basic tasks that don't take too much effort for a PC to perform or much time at the table. Minor favors grant 1 Reputation Point.
  • Moderate favors require a significant amount of effort and often take up a session or a noticeable chunk of a single session to complete. Moderate favors grant 2 Reputation Points.
  • Major favors are a sizable endeavor, typically an entire quest involving several sessions. Major favors grant 5 Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 200
On the flip side, disservices are a catchall for ways the PCs might make a group angry, whether it's through actual malice and planning on the PCs' part or simply by accident. Unlike favors, disservices don't have as easy a correspondence with in-game time; a quick but particularly egregious action could easily still be a major disservice. Disservices normally lose the PCs Reputation Points.
  • Minor disservices could be small but significant missteps, or accumulated slights and inconveniences. Minor disservices take away 1 Reputation Point.
  • Moderate disservices are more than just a nuisance or annoyance, generally significantly hindering the group's efforts or violating a fundamental tenet of the group's beliefs in a significant but not egregious way. Moderate disservices take away 2 Reputation Points.
  • Major disservices are incredibly antagonistic to a group, usually a single brazen act, such as thwarting a cult's apocalyptic doomsday plan. Major disservices take away at least 5 Reputation Points, or more if they are particularly egregious. They might be so terrible that the PCs immediately lose all their Reputation Points and then lose 5 more Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 200
PCs generally start with a reputation of “ignored” with most groups, as most groups have never heard of them. If they are particularly famous or infamous among related groups, the PCs might start with a different reputation of your choice. The reputation is generalized to the whole group—an individual NPC can hold a different opinion.

Table 3–2: Reputations

ReputationReputation PointsRaised ByLowered By
Revered30 to 50Major favorModerate or major disservice
Admired15 to 29Major favorAny disservice
Liked5 to 14Moderate or major favorAny disservice
Ignored–4 to 4Any favorAny disservice
Disliked–5 to –14Any favorModerate or major disservice
Hated–15 to –29Any favorMajor disservice
Hunted–30 to –50Moderate or major favorMajor disservice


Source GM Core pg. 200
The PCs either aren’t on this group’s radar or the group knows about the PCs but is generally ambivalent toward them. This carries no special benefits or detriments.


Source GM Core pg. 200
The PCs have gained this group’s favor. Many members of the group know about the PCs, and those who do are usually friendly to them. At this reputation, only moderate and major favors accrue Reputation Points; it takes more to impress the group further.


Source GM Core pg. 200
The PCs have earned this group’s admiration. The majority of the group knows about the PCs and have an extremely favorable opinion toward them. Many members of the group are helpful toward the PCs, and those who aren’t are friendly. Only major favors accrue Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 200
The group reveres the PCs as heroes and celebrities. Every member has heard of the PCs, is helpful toward them, and would take major risks to assist them. Only major favors accrue Reputation Points, and only moderate or major disservices can reduce them.


Source GM Core pg. 201
The PCs have a poor reputation among members of this group. Many members of the group know about the PCs, and are usually unfriendly to them. At this reputation, only moderate and major disservices reduce Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 201
The PCs have earned this group’s ire. The vast majority of the group knows about the PCs and have an extremely unfavorable opinion toward them. Many members of the group are hostile toward the PCs, and those who aren’t are unfriendly. When presented an easy opportunity to hurt the PCs, the group will jump at the chance. Only major disservices can still reduce Reputation Points.


Source GM Core pg. 201
The group actively hunts the PCs as scapegoats or nemeses, even at significant cost to itself. Every member has heard of the PCs, is hostile toward them, and would take major risks to thwart or destroy them. Only major disservices can still reduce Reputation Points, and only moderate or major favors can increase them.

Running Reputation

Source GM Core pg. 201
Using Reputation Points in the background allows you to track the PCs’ status with a variety of groups or factions based on the PCs’ actions and choices. This is especially useful for a sandbox campaign or other structure with numerous possibilities, helping you build a reactive structure and track how PCs are doing with groups they interact with only occasionally. When the point totals don’t fit the story, use common sense. For instance, if the PCs are hunted by the town guard due to a corrupt mayor, but then perform a major quest revealing the mayor’s wrongdoing and saving the town, that might jump them from the worst negative reputation to a much more positive reputation. Similarly, the PCs’ foes could frame them, harming the PCs’ reputation even though they’ve done no disservice.


Source GM Core pg. 202
Sometimes conflicts become personal. It’s not the entire group against a challenge, but one character struggling against the skills of a single adversary. In many societies, duels are considered a reasonable way to resolve individual differences, though others consider such practices—especially the more deadly varieties—to be an affront to law and order. Duels can come in several forms, and this section gives you rules to run them.

Setting Up a Duel

Source GM Core pg. 202
Participants must willingly agree to the duel and to abide by its rules. If one of the duelists breaks the duel’s rules (and, more importantly, is caught doing so), that duelist loses, taking any penalties agreed upon when the challenge was accepted. Here are some sample dueling rules.

Compete Alone

Source GM Core pg. 202
It’s customary that each participant must compete alone and may receive no help from outside sources. However, some duels pit pairs of combatants against one another (either all together or as tag teams).

Limited Tools

Source GM Core pg. 202
The participants agree to the tools, including weapons and magic items, before the duel starts. Most combat duels that don’t involve magic limit participants to melee weapons and prohibit the use of poison. Some duels forbid the use of polearms and other reach weapons. A spellcasting duel might agree upon a roughly equal number of magic items, and a cap on the power (in game terms, the level) of the items. Some spellcasting duels might prohibit certain types of spells, such as summoning or healing.


Source GM Core pg. 202
Combat duels typically last either until first blood (hitting and dealing damage) or until one of the duelists is knocked out. Most duels allow a participant to yield, which means they concede victory to their opponent, though sometimes this could diminish their social standing. Duels of talent usually involve several equal turns in which the duelists display their ability.


Source GM Core pg. 202
Most duels are overseen by a third party who ensures the duelists don’t break the duel’s rules—inadvertently or by cheating. Where duels are legal, this is typically a constable or magistrate. In other places, a cleric or other respected figure serves as judge. Typically the GM plays the judge.

Combat Duels

Source GM Core pg. 202
Unlike the other subsystems in this chapter, a combat duel works almost the same as a normal combat encounter, with a few exceptions. These rules require exceptional focus between two duelists and a third-party arbiter, and thus are not available in a normal combat.

Initiative and Dueling Actions

Source GM Core pg. 202
Unlike in typical combat, the duelists roll initiative checks at the beginning of each round of combat. Each round the combatant can choose to use Deception, Intimidation, or Perception when they roll initiative. Because a duelist might act twice in a row, durations that last until the beginning of a duelist's next turn might function oddly. A duelist acting second can choose to avoid such abilities that turn, or can choose to act second if they win initiative on the next round.

If the duelist is at least trained in whichever initiative choice they pick, they gain the corresponding dueling reaction that round: Bullying Press for Intimidation, Deceptive Sidestep for Deception, or Sense Weakness for Perception. Neither duelist is aware of what type of roll the other used for initiative—surprise and the use of dueling actions are a part of dueling strategies. Familiars and companions, even when allowed in the duel, can't use these actions, nor can bystanders.

Bullying Press [reaction]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 167
Trigger You attempt a melee Strike against your opponent, but haven’t rolled yet.
Requirements You’re in a duel, you’re trained in Intimidation, and you rolled an Intimidation check for initiative this round.
If you hit, your opponent becomes frightened 1. If your opponent is using Perception for initiative when this ability is used, they become frightened 2 instead.

Deceptive Sidestep [reaction]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 167
Trigger An opponent hits, but does not critically hit you, with a melee Strike.
Requirements You’re in a duel, you’re trained in Deception, and you rolled a Deception check for initiative this round.
You draw your enemy in and pull away at the last moment. The triggering opponent must roll again and take the second result. If your opponent is using Intimidation for initiative when this ability is used, they also take a –2 circumstance penalty to the second attack roll.

Sense Weakness [reaction]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 167
Trigger You attempt a melee Strike against your opponent, but haven’t rolled yet.
Requirements You’re in a duel, you’re trained in Perception, and you rolled a Perception check for initiative this round.
You pick a precise moment to attack, giving you an edge. Your opponent is flat-footed against the attack. If your opponent is using Deception for initiative when this ability is used, they are instead flat-footed until the start of their next turn.

Ending the Duel

Source GM Core pg. 203
The duel ends when the duel’s judge confirms the victory condition, when the judge determines one of the duelists has cheated, or when one of the duelists yields. Note that if either of the combatants attempts to continue the duel after its end, the combatants should roll initiative and proceed with normal combat.

Spellcasting Duels

Source GM Core pg. 203
Like combat duels, spellcasting duels take place in encounter mode, but their rules are not available during normal combat. They are typically more organized affairs than combat duels. Many spellcasting duels prohibit any sort of combat but spellcasting. They typically have the duelists take turns casting a turn’s worth of spells, giving their rivals a chance to counter the spells if they can.

Initiative and Dueling Actions

Source GM Core pg. 203
In most cases, each duelist rolls initiative normally and proceeds in that initiative order throughout the duel, unlike in a combat duel. Each duelist can roll an Arcana, Nature, Occultism, or Religion check instead of Perception. If they are trained at that skill, they gain the tradition focus of that skill, which allows them to hone in on a magical tradition corresponding to the check they made for their initiative roll. They also gain the Dueling Counter reaction, which enables a duelist to counter their opponent's spell if their tradition focus matches the tradition of that spell. They also gain the Change Tradition Focus action, which changes the duelist's tradition focus to a different tradition. Familiars and companions, even when allowed in the duel, can't use these actions, nor can bystanders.

When mixing a spellcasting duel and a combat duel, use the initiative rules for combat dueling, but allow the duelist to roll Arcana, Nature, Occultism, or Religion for their initiative checks. They still gain the Dueling Counter reaction and Change Tradition Focus action, though Change Tradition Focus is less useful in combat duels.

Dueling Counter [reaction]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 167
Trigger Your opponent Casts a Spell from the same tradition as your tradition focus.
Requirements You are in a duel and have a tradition focus.
Expend a prepared spell or spell slot. You then attempt to counteract the triggering spell with the expended spell.

Change Tradition Focus [one-action]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 167
Requirements You are in a duel and are trained in the skill for the tradition you’re changing your focus to (Arcana for arcane, Occultism for occult, Nature for primal, or Religion for divine).
You change your tradition focus to another magical tradition.

Ending the Duel

Source GM Core pg. 203
Just like a combat duel, a spellcasting duel ends when the duel’s judge confirms the victory condition, when the judge determines one of the duelists has cheated, or when one of the duelists yields. As with a combat duel, if either of the combatants attempts to continue the duel after its end, the combatants should roll initiative and proceed with normal combat.


Source GM Core pg. 204
While many groups of PCs are isolated heroes who get the job done on their own, other groups enjoy gathering allies and building new organizations of their own. The leadership subsystem allows your PCs to do just that!

Leadership is a long-term subsystem wherein one or more PCs establish a fledgling organization and accumulate followers over time. This subsystem provides a flexible way to reflect the party's growing influence in and connection to the world around them through downtime events and periodic benefits similar to those gained from joining an existing in-world organization. The organization can come into play only during downtime, or it can provide adventure seeds or even play a major role in a campaign.

Organization Levels

Source GM Core pg. 204
Every organization has a level from 1 to 20. Any organization below level 1 has no followers; it’s just an ordinary group of PCs. Unlike many other subsystems in this chapter, leveling up an organization in the leadership subsystem does not involve accumulating points. Instead, the process of growing the organization itself is what causes it to level up! As a reward for quests, roleplaying scenes, or succeeding at other subsystems (particularly influence or reputation), the PCs can add an NPC follower to their organization. At first, only a few level 0 NPCs follow the PCs, but as the party builds up more followers, they can also gain followers of higher and higher level, as well as a small number of higher-level lieutenants to lead groups of followers. Once an organization has recruited enough followers, the organization itself levels up, which increases the maximum level of followers, the number of lieutenants, and the level range of those lieutenants.

Base of Operations

Source GM Core pg. 204
Beyond the very smallest organizations, PCs need some kind of base of operations the organization calls home. This allows the organization to function and grow in its intended role. For instance, if the PCs run a mercenary army, it might have a keep for training and as a base for defending the nearby area. While organizations usually gain a base of operations early in their existence, they must have one by 6th level unless the story of the organization demands otherwise. A base of operations is not necessarily immobile; a caravan, circus, or flagship (or fleet, for a larger organization) could serve well for wandering organizations.

Organization NPCs

Source GM Core pg. 205
Followers and lieutenants are noncombatant NPCs of the levels indicated on Organization Statistics by Level. When an organization has followers or lieutenants of several levels, most of them are at the lowest possible level. As a rule of thumb, an organization has twice as many NPCs of a given level than of the next-higher level. This allows you to quickly estimate the level composition of the organization's members, but you can of course change the levels of various followers as much as you like. When the minimum level for lieutenants increases, either the lower-level lieutenants level up to the new minimum, or they become followers of more powerful lieutenants the PCs recruit, whichever fits best with the story.

Followers and lieutenants are loyal to the PCs and their organization, working to maintain the organization, its base of operations, and their own way of life. Because of this work, PCs don't need to pay for basic upkeep of their base of operations or for expansions to house the burgeoning activity as their organization grows in level— the followers and lieutenants take care of all of that. But similarly, these followers and lieutenants never get involved in the PCs' adventuring, nor do they provide a source of free magic or labor.

Table 3–3: Organization Statistics by Level

LevelFollowersMax Follower LevelLieutenantsLieutenant Levels

Cohorts and New PCs

Source GM Core pg. 205
While the followers and lieutenants who define an organization’s advancement don’t accompany the PCs on adventures, sometimes the organization is the perfect plot hook to introduce an NPC who will be traveling along with the party or a new PC hoping to join the party. For instance, if the PCs are running a mercenary army, a rising officer might become a new PC. Treat such NPC cohorts and PCs just like any other additional characters in the party, with an enriched story that ties them to the PCs.

Running Leadership

Source GM Core pg. 205
When running a game with the leadership subsystem, adding new NPCs who join the PCs’ cause becomes a type of reward you should grant the PCs consistently throughout the campaign. For a typical rate of growth, give the PCs enough followers for the organization to level up at roughly the same rate as the PCs. In some cases, you might want to vary that rate—sometimes drastically. Perhaps the 10th-level PCs have a 20th-level organization with top lieutenants nearly as powerful as the PCs, or maybe the PCs start gathering followers only at 15th level and start their organization from scratch as a 1st-level organization.

Leadership Events

Source GM Core pg. 205
During downtime, or over the course of long stretches of time when the PCs aren't in downtime but their organization is operating in the background, you should periodically provide special leadership events. These are in addition to the events you would normally provide the PCs during downtime. These should generally be a good mix between the following three categories.

Opportunity: An opportunity offers the PCs a chance to make a consequential decision that shapes the organization moving forward. For instance, the Aspis Consortium offers the PCs a deal to store their goods in the PCs' mercenary fort. Accepting gives the PCs money, but they'll have to deal with the consortium's unsavory goods. Rejecting the proposal might upset the consortium, but it allows the PCs to show their priorities between conscience and coin.

Trouble: Something's gone wrong with the organization. Perhaps the thieves' guild is dealing with a clever new guard captain and needs help from the PCs to stay safe. Typically the resources the PCs need to invest to solve the troubles should be less than the benefits the PCs gain from windfalls to ensure that the organization is providing a substantial benefit to the PCs, rather than simply evening out.

Windfall: The organization has received an unexpected benefit that helps the PCs. This is typically access to an uncommon option: perhaps the organization researched a new spell or discovered the techniques for an uncommon feat. However, it could be extra money or resources, clues for the PCs' adventures, political prestige, or anything else you can think of. The players might even be able to suggest a few options for their followers and lieutenants to work toward to give you some ideas.


Source GM Core pg. 206
Few activities epitomize adventure as much as pure exploration through an unknown wilderness. Leaving the city streets and trade roads behind and striking out into the unknown can test the mettle of the most experienced adventurers, but such efforts reward those seeking fantastical sites, natural resources, and unforeseen opportunities.

While you can represent long, heroic journeys using normal exploration, if you want something more detailed, you can use the hexploration subsystem instead. This is a method where the overland map is divided into individual hexagonal sections of territory. During their exploration, the PCs travel through and explore individual hexes, finding interesting sites, secrets, resources, and dangers.

The pace of travel is measured in days rather than hours or minutes. This means choosing hexploration activities are more akin to choosing downtime activities than exploration activities. Each day, the PCs explore or travel through a region of the wilderness measured in hexes on a map to survey, discover resources, forage, find sites, and reconnoiter potential foes and allies.

Hexploration is ideal for sandbox-style campaigns, where the players are at liberty to set the course of their own adventure. The GM populates a region with interesting locations and situations that the players explore in any order they see fit.

Designing the Map

Source GM Core pg. 206
The best way to map the area is with a hex grid. Each hex represents a discreet area 12 miles from corner to corner, which can be traveled across and explored in about 1 day even by slower-moving groups. Hexes track the distance the party travels while exploring and define the bounds of certain types of terrain.

When designing your hex map, it's best to have each hex represent one primary terrain type. This doesn't mean that's the only feature of the land in this hex, but it is the predominant type and represents the challenges of traveling across and exploring that hex. You can also give your hex other elements: a river or a road might snake through the area, or it could contain a castle, cave, village, fort, or some other type of encounter setting. You can quickly draw your map using just a few colors, some basic symbols, and letters or numbers for reference.

But this is only the start. This detailed map is your GM map, holding all the secrets for the PCs to discover. Give the players a blank map that they can fill in as they explore the wilderness hex by hex. The more they explore, the more their map will look like yours.

Populating Hexes

Source GM Core pg. 206
When populating a hexploration map, keep in mind that you have little control over which areas the players choose to explore first—or if they’ll explore those areas at all. Because hexploration leads to nonlinear, player-guided play, consider providing hooks within encounters and sites for them to explore in several directions from their starting point. You can provide some direction by presenting jobs like exploring a site on behalf of an NPC, escorting travelers, delivering goods, or scouting a region for a local noble. This typically leads to a set encounter (see below).

Set Encounters

Source GM Core pg. 206
Even a sandbox adventure has a story or is the setting of multiple stories. Set encounters, be they just a simple encounter or an entire adventuring site, can serve as important beats in the story behind the PCs’ exploration. These are typically the points on the hex maps the PCs are searching for, and the discovery of one set encounter will often incorporate story points that lead to the next.

Random Encounters

Source GM Core pg. 206
You can instill additional danger into your hexploration by including random encounters, whether they take the form of interesting features, natural hazards, or creatures native to the terrain. It can help to create a series of short lists in advance, each including a mix of three types of encounters: harmless, hazards, and creature encounters. Then create tables to randomize the results, or simply pick whichever encounter you think would work best for your hexploration narrative when these encounters occur (as described in Random Encounters on page 209). It's often easier to create a list by terrain rather than for each hex. The forest hexes could have their own random encounter list while the plains beyond have a different list, possibly with some overlap.

A harmless encounter is just that: the party is in no danger from it. Harmless encounters can be opportunities to flesh out the world with interesting bits of set-dressing, like a shrine on the side of the road dedicated to a minor god, opportunities for the party to interact with other travelers, or simply interesting or noteworthy moments on the road, like a distant and dazzling electrical storm.

Hazard encounters can include those located in the Hazards section on pages 98–108, primarily the environmental hazards and haunts. You can also create your own hazards (page 109).

Creature encounters can use the creatures found in Monster Core, or you can create your own using the rules found in Building Creatures on page 112.

Plan your hazard and monster encounters with a degree of flexibility so you can tailor them to the PCs' current level, perhaps by creating a lower-level encounter and including notes on how to scale it up. Alternatively, if you want to run a more challenging or open-world hexploration, don't adapt to your players at all. Make a variety of encounters, some of which are so powerful that the correct tactic is to flee. You can even create a chase to make the escape exciting (see Chases on page 192).


Source GM Core pg. 207
While each hex should have a predominant terrain type, your terrain can come alive using the info in the Environments section on pages 90–97. A hex might also include a river or road. These can cut through the terrain, making it easier for the PCs to travel through the hex, so long as they follow the path. Additionally, each hex might have special features like resources and secrets (see the Types of Terrain sidebar on page 209).

Generating Random Hex Maps

Source GM Core pg. 207
If you’d like to create your map randomly, begin by selecting a hex on a blank map as the starting point. Then decide the type of terrain for that starting point or roll it on the Random Terrain Type table on page 208. From that point onward, let the players decide which direction they travel. If they enter an unexplored hex, generate that hex by rolling 1d20 on the Random Terrain Type and Random Terrain Feature tables to determine a type and element for that hex. Apply common sense when producing terrain in this way. Unless magic is involved, it is unlikely a patch of arctic ice would appear in the heart of a desert—though figuring out a way for that to occur could lead to an interesting encounter or subplot later on.

Running Hexploration

Source GM Core pg. 207
Once you have your hexploration map ready, it's time for the PCs to start exploring! Each day, the PCs decide how they plan on exploring, either learning more about their current hex or traversing a new hex. They do this by declaring one or more hexploration activities for the day. These activities take two forms: group or individual. The number of hexploration activities a group can accomplish each day is based on the Speed of their slowest member. If a group is willing to split up, faster members can perform more hexploration activities based on their own Speed, but such a decision may be deadly given the threat of random encounters. A group moving at a Speed of 10 feet or less is so slow it can't even traverse an open hex in a single day; it takes such a group 2 days for each hexploration activity.

This rate assumes the PCs are taking time to camp and rest at healthy intervals. When a new day of hexploration begins, the group can decide to take a forced march as long as no one in the group is fatigued. Doing so allows them to gain an extra Travel activity (or perform a full Travel activity each day if their Speed is 10 feet or less), but this is the only activity they can perform that day. A character can participate in a forced march safely for a number of days equal to the character's Constitution modifier (minimum 1 day). Any additional days of forced march make the character fatigued until they spend an entire day of downtime resting.

Table 3–4: Random Terrain Type

1d20 Result
6–7Aquatic (lake, sea, or ocean)
14–20Match the previous hex

Table 3–5: Random Terrain Feature

1–3Landmark A feature of some significance that distinguishes the hex as noteworthy.
4–6Secret The hex contains a secret the party uncovers upon exploring the hex.
7–9Resource The hex contains some valuable resource appropriate to the terrain.
10–20Standard A standard representation of the terrain type.

Table 3–6: Hexploration Activities Per Day

SpeedActivities per Day
10 feet or less1/2
15–25 feet1
30–40 feet2
45–55 feet3
60 feet or more4

Group Activities

Source GM Core pg. 208
Group activities require the entire party to work together in order to be effective; these activities each count as one of the day’s hexploration activities for the whole group. For instance, if the group had 2 hexploration activities per day and decided to Travel and Reconnoiter, no one would have any additional hexploration activities that day. There are two group activities: Travel and Reconnoiter.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 172
You progress toward moving into an adjacent hex. In open terrain, like a plain, using 1 Travel activity allows you to move from one hex to an adjacent hex. Traversing a hex with difficult terrain (such as a typical forest or desert) requires 2 Travel activities, and hexes of greater difficult terrain (such as a steep mountain or typical swamp) require 3 Travel activities to traverse. Traveling along a road uses a terrain type one step better than the surrounding terrain. For example, if you are traveling on a road over a mountain pass, the terrain is difficult terrain instead of greater difficult terrain.

The Travel activity assumes you are walking overland. If you are flying or traveling on water, most hexes are open terrain, though there are exceptions. Flying into storms or high winds count as difficult or greater difficult terrain. Traveling down a river is open terrain, but traveling upriver is difficult or greater difficult terrain.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 173
You spend time surveying and exploring a specific area, getting the lay of the land and looking for unusual features and specific sites. Reconnoitering a single hex takes a number of hexploration activities equal to the number of Travel activities necessary to traverse the hex—1 for open terrain, 2 for difficult terrain, and 3 for greater difficult terrain. Traveling on roads doesn’t lessen the time required to Reconnoiter. Once the hex has been Reconnoitered, you can Map the Area to reduce your chance of getting lost in that hex (see below). You automatically find any special feature that doesn’t require a check to find, and you attempt the appropriate checks to find hidden special features.

For instance, if you were looking for an obvious rock formation among some hills, you would spend 2 hexploration activities to Reconnoiter the hex, and you’d find the rock formation. But if you were looking for a hidden tengu monastery somewhere in some deep forests, after spending 2 activities to Reconnoiter the forest hex, you would have to succeed at a Perception check as part of your Reconnoiter activity to find the monastery.

Individual Activities

Source GM Core pg. 208
Not all hexploration activities need to be accomplished as a group. In place of using a hexploration activity to Travel or Reconnoiter, each individual group member can instead perform one of these individual activities.

Fortify Camp

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 173
You can spend time fortifying your camp for defense with a successful Crafting check (typically at a trained or expert DC). Anyone keeping watch or defending the camp gains a +2 circumstance bonus to initiative rolls and Perception checks to Seek creatures attempting to sneak up on the camp.

Map the Area

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 173
As long as your group has successfully Reconnoitered the hex, you can use this activity to create an accurate map of the hex with a successful Survival check (typically at a trained or expert DC). When you have an accurate map of the hex, the DC of any check to navigate that hex is reduced by 2.

Existing Activities

Source GM Core pg. 208
Characters can use the Subsist downtime activity, which follows the same rules but assumes they’re using it after 8 hours or less of exploration. Any skill feats or other abilities that apply to Subsist normally still apply here. In general, the various exploration activities found in the sidebar on pages 438-439 of Player Core (except Hustle) can be used as individual hexploration activities, as can skill actions in Chapter 4 of Player Core, at the GM’s discretion.

Random Encounters

Source GM Core pg. 209
When exploring, there is always a chance the PCs will stumble upon random encounters, depending on the terrain. At the start of each day of hexploration, roll a flat check and consult the appropriate terrain type on the Random Encounter Chance table. If the flat check is a success, the PCs have a random encounter, and on a critical success, they have two random encounters. Roll on the Random Encounter Type table to determine the type of encounter. Once you know the type of the encounter, either choose from the list you made for that region or choose your own.

Table 3–7: Random Encounter Chance

Terrain TypeFlat Check DC*
* On a road or river, decrease the DC by 2. If PCs are flying, increase the DC by 3, but choose a hazard or monster that is relevant to flying PCs.

Table 3–8: Random Encounter Type


Switching out of Hexploration

Source GM Core pg. 209
Most short encounters do not affect the number of hexploration activities that the PCs can perform during the day, but when the PCs take on multiple encounters or engage in activities that take hours rather than minutes, you’ll want to deduct the time from their available hexploration activities. For the story’s sake, it’s best to think of hexploration activities as the various things that the PCs have time to do in the daylight hours. For instance, maybe the group spends 2 of their 3 hexploration activities Reconnoitering a hex, finding a tengu monastery, and learning that it is a sprawling complex underneath a small, wooded hill. You might decide that the PCs found it in the evening, and they have the choice between making a foray into the complex late in the day or pursuing some individual activities, camping for the night, and starting off fresh in the morning.


Source GM Core pg. 210
A villain on the run steals a carriage and sends the characters on a chase through the city, or the characters find an ancient airship and decide to take it for a spin. Whatever the case if vehicles are common throughout your world, they're likely to come up in your game. This section provides the tools you'll need when that happens.

Vehicles can play many roles in a game. They might simply be the means by which the party travels from one location to another, determining only the Price to be paid for passage. But a caravan wagon that gets attacked becomes part of an encounter. In a pirate campaign, the ship is both the party's home and its primary weapon.

The majority of the rules in this section are for using vehicles in encounters, but vehicles are also useful during exploration and even downtime play.

Vehicle Basics

Source GM Core pg. 210
Ultimately, vehicles are objects. They have object immunities (Player Core 269), and they can’t act. In addition to the statistics most objects have, vehicles have several additional statistics and abilities. Vehicles have a size like any object, but their spaces are more specifically defined. Vehicles also have specialized movement rules.

Size, Space, and Capacity

Source GM Core pg. 210
Vehicles have size traits, but they don't occupy the same spaces that most creatures use. Instead, each vehicle has specific dimensions provided in its stat block.

Most vehicles are Large or larger, and many vehicles are made for the purpose of carrying cargo. Unless stated otherwise, the amount of cargo a vehicle can carry depends on its size, terrain, and propulsion. A draft horse or similar creature can usually pull around 100 Bulk of goods consistently throughout the day, so pulled vehicles can typically hold 100 Bulk per Large creature pulling. Water vehicles, such as ships, have limits that are more based on volume than weight; a ship can hold upwards of 1,000 Bulk. Flying vehicles can typically hold only 1/10 the Bulk of a water vehicle and still remain airborne. The GM might rule that unique or unusual vehicles can hold different amounts of Bulk.

Movement and Heading

Source GM Core pg. 211
A vehicle's movement type is determined by the vehicle itself, while its movement each round is based on the pilot's actions. Vehicles trigger reactions when they move, just like a creature does, as do the actions of the pilot and any passengers.

Creatures can rotate and turn freely, so when you play a creature, you usually don't need to keep track of which way it's facing. However, vehicles can't turn on a dime, so when controlling a vehicle, you need to keep track of which direction it's facing. This is called the vehicle's heading.

When a vehicle moves, it must move in the direction of its heading—it can't move backwards or sideways, though it can turn gradually as it moves forward. Most vehicles can turn up to 90 degrees for every vehicle length they move forward. For example, a 10-foot-long carriage could turn left in only 10 feet. A 100-foot-long warship, however, would need 100 feet to make the same turn; given the warship's 30-foot Speed, turning typically requires several actions' worth of movement.

Some rules specify that a vehicle must move in a straight line. This line is measured from the center of the vehicle's front edge, and it can skew up to 45 degrees from the vehicle's current heading.

When using a vehicle in exploration mode, the vehicle's Speed determines its travel speed just like a creature (for more information, see the Travel Speed table on page 438 of Player Core). No Drive actions or piloting checks are necessary to pilot a vehicle at these speeds.


Source GM Core pg. 211
Vehicles typically travel over land, on water, or through the air, and their Speeds indicate their terrain and movement types. But vehicles also have a form of propulsion—the way in which their movement is powered—and this propulsion often has additional considerations.

There are five main types of propulsion: alchemical, magical, pulled, rowed, and wind. A vehicle can have more than one means of propulsion, though it usually uses only one type of propulsion at a time. For instance, a galley has both the rowed and the wind propulsion traits, meaning it can sail when the winds are favorable, but the crew can also lower the sails and row the ship when necessary. The vehicle's means of propulsion informs the skills a pilot can use for piloting checks (page 212), and some means of propulsion have additional rules.


Source GM Core pg. 211
Powered by the reactions of alchemical reagents, controlled internal combustion, lighter-than-air gases, or steam, vehicles with alchemical propulsion tend to be powerful but have the potential to be wildly unpredictable. Alchemical vehicles can often be piloted using the Crafting skill.
Source GM Core pg. 211
Magically propelled vehicles are powered by spells, magic items, or an entirely magical engine. A magical propulsion system can be targeted with counteracting effects like dispel magic, using half the vehicle’s level rounded up for its counteract rank and a standard DC for the vehicle’s level for the counteract check. A creature can use Arcana, Nature, Occultism, or Religion (depending on the type of magic) for a magical vehicle’s piloting checks.
Source GM Core pg. 211
This method of propulsion is perhaps the most common, wherein a wheeled conveyance (such as a carriage or wagon) is pulled by one or more creatures. The Speed of the vehicle can never exceed that of the slowest creature pulling the vehicle. The creatures pulling the vehicle don't act on their own; they instead act as part of the vehicle's actions, and their movement as part of those actions triggers reactions just as it does for the vehicle itself and its pilot.

When a pulled vehicle takes collision damage, so do the creatures pulling that vehicle (though they can typically attempt the basic Reflex saving throw to mitigate that damage). The death of one or more pulling creatures might damage or slow the vehicle, and it might cause the pilot to lose control.

For a vehicle pulled by an animal or similarly unintelligent creature, a pilot can use Nature for piloting checks; for sapient pulling creatures, the pilot can instead use Diplomacy or Intimidation for piloting checks.
Source GM Core pg. 211
These vehicles are propelled by the power of creatures rowing the vehicle from within. The creatures rowing the vehicle act only as part of the vehicle's actions, and their movement as part of those actions triggers reactions just as it does for the vehicle itself and its pilot (though rowers often have some degree of cover).

When a rowed vehicle takes collision damage, so do the creatures rowing that vehicle (though they can typically attempt the basic Reflex saving throw to mitigate that damage). The death of one or more creatures might cause the vehicle to go out of control or slow the vehicle, but usually doesn't damage the vehicle.

A pilot on a vehicle rowed by other people can use Diplomacy or Intimidation for piloting checks.
Source GM Core pg. 211
Wind-propelled vehicles require some form of air movement to power them, and adverse wind conditions can cause them to stall or even go out of control. Wind vehicles that rely on cloth sails typically have weakness to fire. Pilots of wind-powered vehicles can use Nature for piloting checks.

Piloting a Vehicle

Source GM Core pg. 212
In encounter mode, a vehicle moves on its pilot’s turn, and the pilot must use their actions to control it. A vehicle can take part in only 1 move action each round, even if multiple creatures Take Control as pilots on the same round.

Vehicle Momentum

Source GM Core pg. 212
A vehicle in motion builds up momentum that keeps it in motion. Each round, if the vehicle has moved in the previous round, the pilot must either use another move action or Stop the vehicle. If the pilot does neither of these things on their turn (even if the pilot Delays), the vehicle continues to move and becomes uncontrolled, as described in Uncontrolled Vehicles on page 212.

Piloting Checks

Source GM Core pg. 212
Many actions related to vehicles call for the pilot to attempt a piloting check. The skills a pilot can use for a piloting check are listed in the vehicle's stat block, but most vehicles use Driving Lore or Piloting Lore along with others determined by their propulsion. The creature piloting a vehicle when an encounter begins can usually roll an appropriate piloting skill for that vehicle for initiative.

The GM sets the DC of the piloting check using a standard DC for the vehicle's level, with adjustments based on the circumstances. Generally speaking, an action that would move a vehicle through difficult terrain increases the DC to a hard DC for its level, and moving through greater difficult terrain increases the DC to incredibly hard. Other factors, such as turbulent winds for a wind-powered vehicle, monsters threatening the creatures pulling a pulled vehicle, or rough seas for a water-based vehicle, could all increase the DC of a vehicle's piloting checks.

Piloting Actions

Source GM Core pg. 212
Characters use the actions listed below to move and interact with vehicles. The reckless trait is described below.

Board [one-action]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 175
Requirements You are adjacent to a point of entry on the vehicle you are attempting to board.
You board a vehicle through an open top, a door, a portal, or a hatch; if you’re already on board, you can instead use this action to disembark into an empty space adjacent to the vehicle’s point of entry. Using this action while the vehicle is in motion is challenging, requiring a successful Acrobatics or Athletics check with a DC equal to the vehicle’s AC.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 175
Requirements You are piloting a vehicle.
You pilot your vehicle to move. Decide how many actions you intend to spend before you begin Driving. The effects depend on the number of actions you spend. You can’t Drive through spaces occupied by creatures, even if they are allies.

[one-action] Attempt a piloting check. On a success, the vehicle moves up to its Speed and can turn normally. On a failure, the vehicle moves its Speed in a straight line. On a critical failure, the vehicle moves its Speed in a straight line and becomes uncontrolled.

[two-actions] (reckless) The vehicle moves up to twice its Speed in a straight line at the vehicle’s current heading.

[three-actions] (reckless) You take a –5 penalty on your piloting check to maintain control of the vehicle. The vehicle moves up to three times its Speed in a straight line at the vehicle’s current heading.

Run Over [three-actions]

Move Reckless 
Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 176
Requirements You are piloting a vehicle.
You try to run over creatures with your vehicle, possibly also ramming one larger creature or object. If you maintain control of your vehicle, the vehicle moves up to twice its Speed in a straight line at the vehicle’s current heading. You attempt to run over any creatures in your path two sizes smaller than the vehicle or smaller, and you can attempt to ram one target creature or object in your path one size smaller than the vehicle or larger.

Each creature in your path, including a rammed target, takes the vehicle’s collision damage (basic Reflex save at vehicle’s collision DC). If the rammed target is a vehicle, its pilot can attempt a piloting check in place of this Reflex save, with the same results. If the target of your ram takes damage, you and your vehicle each take collision damage (no save) and your movement ends.

Stop [one-action]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 176
Requirements You are piloting a vehicle in motion.
You bring the vehicle to a stop.

Take Control [one-action]

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 176
Requirements You are aboard the vehicle and adjacent to its controls.
You grab the reins, the wheel, or some other mechanism to control the vehicle. Attempt a piloting check; on a success, you become the vehicle’s pilot, or regain control of the vehicle if it was uncontrolled. Some vehicles have complicated controls that cause this action to become a multi-action activity.

Reckless Piloting

Source GM Core pg. 212
Actions that have the reckless trait push the pilot and the vehicle beyond the normal parameters for safe operation, and the pilot risks losing control of the vehicle. When performing a reckless action, the pilot must first attempt an appropriate piloting check to keep control of the vehicle, with the following effects. Resolve this piloting check before resolving the action itself.
Success The action occurs as described.
Failure The vehicle moves its Speed in a straight line along its most recent heading, drifting up to 45 degrees at the GM's discretion, and becomes uncontrolled.

Uncontrolled Vehicles

Source GM Core pg. 213
Some situations can cause a pilot to lose control of their vehicle. Most commonly, this is due to a failed piloting check for a reckless action, but it can also occur if a round passes without a pilot using a move action to control the vehicle or Stopping the vehicle. A vehicle can also become uncontrolled if the pilot becomes unable to act during a move action to control the vehicle. For example, if a vehicle's movement triggers a Reactive Strike that knocks the pilot unconscious or paralyzes them, the vehicle becomes uncontrolled.

An uncontrolled vehicle continues to move each round at its most recent pilot's initiative position. The distance it moves each round is 10 feet less than on the previous round, always in a straight line at its current heading until it crashes or it comes to a stop. At your discretion, it could slow down more if it's on uneven terrain, difficult terrain, on an upward slope, or facing adverse wind conditions; by the same token, it could stay at the same speed or even accelerate if it's on a downward slope or being pushed by strong winds.

An uncontrolled vehicle in motion interacts with obstacles, other vehicles, and creatures using the effects of the Run Over action, except that the distance it moves is dictated by the factors above instead of the Speed specified in that action.

Vehicles in Combat

Source GM Core pg. 213
Whether driving a chariot in an arena or fighting off a boarding party, characters sometimes attack from a vehicle or target other creatures aboard a vehicle. Attacks made while on a vehicle that has moved within the last round take a –2 penalty, or a –4 penalty if the vehicle is uncontrolled or any action in the last round had the reckless trait.

While on a vehicle, a character might have cover from certain angles of attack. A vehicle with sides but no top, such as a chariot or a keel boat, usually provides lesser cover, or standard cover from an attacker on the ground. An enclosed vehicle, such as a carriage, provides greater cover or may prevent attacks entirely. Breaking the vehicle can reduce the cover it provides.

Some vehicles have special mounted weapons that can be used by the pilot or passengers. These are typically ranged weapons, such as a crossbow, and use the same rules as any other weapon, save that they might be able to target only creatures in a certain range or direction.

Broken Vehicles

Source GM Core pg. 213
When a vehicle is broken, it becomes harder to use. It takes a –2 penalty to its AC, saves, and collision DC, and the DC of all piloting checks related to the vehicle increase by 5. The broken vehicle's Speeds are halved.

A vehicle reduced to 0 HP is destroyed, like any other item. If the vehicle is in water when it's destroyed, it sinks; if it is flying, it falls and everyone aboard takes falling damage. A pulled or rowed vehicle that becomes wrecked, regardless of which method of propulsion the vehicle is using at the time, deals its collision damage (no saving throw) to the creatures pulling or rowing it, and the creatures may have to be physically freed from the wreckage.

Vehicle Statistics

Source GM Core pg. 213
Vehicles can be as simple as a farmer's cart, or as large and complex as an airship. Whatever the size or complexity of a vehicle, it uses the following stat block format.

Vehicle Name Vehicle [Level]

Size Other Traits
Price This entry lists the vehicle's Price. This does not include creatures for pulling a vehicle, materials needed to power the vehicle, or the cost of rowers.
Space This entry gives the vehicle's dimensions, not including any creatures pulling the vehicle.
Crew The crew members required to operate the vehicle; Passengers The number of passengers the vehicle is typically configured to carry, if any, when the vehicle isn't carrying cargo. The number might be reduced if the vehicle is carrying cargo, at the GM's discretion.
Piloting Check This entry lists the skills that can be used for piloting checks while operating the vehicle. Some skills may increase the DC; these list the DC adjustment in parentheses following the skill name.
AC The vehicle's AC; Saving Throws The vehicle's saves (typically only Fortitude). If a vehicle needs to attempt a saving throw that isn't listed, the pilot attempts a piloting check at the same DC instead.
Hardness The vehicle's hardness, HP The vehicle's Hit Points, with its Broken Threshold in parenthesis; Immunities The vehicle's immunities; Weaknesses The vehicle's weaknesses, if any; Resistances The vehicle's resistances, if any. Speed The vehicle's Speeds, each followed by the propulsion type for that Speed in parentheses. A pulled vehicle indicates the number and size of the pulling creatures.
Collision The vehicle's collision damage and the DC for saving throws to mitigate that damage. Unless otherwise stated, collisions deal bludgeoning damage. If the vehicle has any other form of attack, like mounted weaponry, they appear in their own entries below this one.
Special Abilities Any abilities unique to the vehicle are listed at the end of the stat block.