Rules Index


Chapter 10: Game Mastering / Game Mastering

Preparing an Adventure

Source Core Rulebook pg. 486
An adventure is a self-contained collection of story elements, characters, and settings that become the basis for the story you and the other players tell. Think of the adventure as an outline for your own story. You’ll have major beats you want to include, some consistent characters, and themes you want to convey, but all sorts of things can change during the process of turning the outline into a completed story.

You might use a published adventure from Paizo or another company, or you might construct your own adventure as you prepare for your game sessions.

Published Adventures

Source Core Rulebook pg. 486
Prewritten adventures include background information and nonplayer characters needed for the story, plus all the locations, maps, and monster groups necessary for both exploration and encounters. Prewritten adventures can speed up your preparation, since you can simply read the relevant sections of the adventure before a game, and you don’t have to create everything from scratch. A published adventure already includes the expected amount of encounters and treasure, and you can find adventures built for different character levels to match your group. Reading a published adventure or running one as your first game can help you see how adventures are structured, which makes it easier to write one later if you choose.

Though a published adventure is prewritten, it’s not set in stone. Changing the details of an adventure to suit your group isn’t just acceptable, it’s preferred! Use the backstories and predilections of the player characters to inform how you change the adventure. This can mean altering adversaries so they’re linked to the player characters, changing the setting to a place some of the player characters are from, or excising particular scenes if you know they won’t appeal to your players.

Creating Adventures

Source Core Rulebook pg. 487
Building your own adventure is much more challenging than using a published one, but it lets you express yourself, be even more creative, and tailor the game directly to the players and their characters. Later sections in this chapter include guidelines for building and running encounters, placing treasure, and setting appropriately difficult challenges, all to help you construct your own adventures.

Adventure plotting can start at many different points. You might begin with a particular antagonist, then construct an adventure that fits that villain’s theme and leads the group to them. Alternatively, you could start with an interesting location for exploration, then populate it with adversaries and challenges appropriate to the setting.

Locations

Source Core Rulebook pg. 487
Memorable settings that include mysterious and fantastical locations for players to visit can elicit the players’ curiosity. Exploring each location should be a treat in itself, not just a chore the players must complete to get from one fight to the next. As you create a locale, picture it in your mind’s eye and write down minor details you can include as you narrate the game. Describing decorations, natural landmarks, wildlife, peculiar smells, and even temperature changes make a place feel more real.

Beyond monsters and loot, your locations can include environment-based challenges, from environmental conditions like blizzards to puzzles, traps, or other hazards. These challenges should suit your adventure’s location: walls of brambles in a castle ruin overrun with vegetation, pools of acid in a cursed swamp, or magical traps in the tomb of a paranoid wizard. Rules for environments appear on page 512, and those for hazards start on page 520.

Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 487
A robust set of encounters forms the backbone of your adventure. Encounters often feature combat with other creatures, but they can also include hazards, or you might create social encounters in which characters duel only with words. The rules for building encounters appropriate to your group’s level begin below.

Some adventures have a clear and direct progression, with encounters occurring at specific times or in a specific order. Others, such as a dungeon filled with interconnected rooms the group can investigate in any order, are nonlinear, and the group can face encounters in any order—or even avoid them entirely. Most adventures are somewhere in between, with some keystone encounters you know the characters will need to contend with, but others that are optional.

Treasure

Source Core Rulebook pg. 488
Your adventure should give out an amount of treasure that’s appropriate to the characters’ level. The guidelines for assigning treasure are on page 508. You can dole out treasure in all kinds of ways. Treasure could be items carried by an adversary, rewards from a patron for completing a mission, or a classic pile of coins and items inside a wooden chest guarded by a monster. It’s best to spread treasure throughout an adventure rather than stockpiled in a single hoard. This gives the players incremental rewards, letting their characters advance in frequent small steps rather than giant leaps separated by many hours of play.

Building Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 488
The most common type of encounter is a combat encounter, where the PCs face other creatures. Combat encounters are strictly governed by rules; the guidelines that follow will help you build combat encounters that pose appropriate challenges for your group. Building hazard encounters works the same way. Social encounters are more free-form, and are up to you as the GM to design.

To build a combat encounter, first decide how the encounter fits in the adventure as a whole. Then, estimate how much of a threat you want the encounter to pose, using one of five categories below.

Trivial-threat encounters are so easy that the characters have essentially no chance of losing; they shouldn’t even need to spend significant resources unless they are particularly wasteful. These encounters work best as warm-ups, palate cleansers, or reminders of how awesome the characters are. A trivial-threat encounter can still be fun to play, so don’t ignore them just because of the lack of threat.

Low-threat encounters present a veneer of difficulty and typically use some of the party’s resources. However, it would be rare or the result of very poor tactics for the entire party to be seriously threatened.

Moderate-threat encounters are a serious challenge to the characters, though unlikely to overpower them completely. Characters usually need to use sound tactics and manage their resources wisely to come out of a moderate-threat encounter ready to continue on and face a harder challenge without resting.

Severe-threat encounters are the hardest encounters most groups of characters can consistently defeat. These encounters are most appropriate for important moments in your story, such as confronting a final boss. Bad luck, poor tactics, or a lack of resources due to prior encounters can easily turn a severe-threat encounter against the characters, and a wise group keeps the option to disengage open.

Extreme-threat encounters are so dangerous that they are likely to be an even match for the characters, particularly if the characters are low on resources. This makes them too challenging for most uses. An extreme-threat encounter might be appropriate for a fully rested group of characters that can go all-out, for the climactic encounter at the end of an entire campaign, or for a group of veteran players using advanced tactics and teamwork.

XP Budget

Source Core Rulebook pg. 489
Once you’ve selected a threat level, it’s time to build the encounter. You have an XP budget based on the threat, and each creature costs some of that budget. Start with the monsters or NPCs that are most important to the encounter, then decide how you want to use the rest of your XP budget. Many encounters won’t match the XP budget exactly, but they should come close. The XP budget is based on a group of four characters. If your group is larger or smaller, see Different Party Sizes below.

Table 10-1: Encounter Budget

ThreatXP BudgetCharacter Adjustment
Trivial40 or less10 or less
Low6015
Moderate8020
Severe12030
Extreme16040

Choosing Creatures

Source Core Rulebook pg. 489
In all but the most unusual circumstances, you’ll select creatures for your encounter that range from 4 levels lower than the PCs’ level to 4 levels higher (see Table 10–2: Creature XP and Role). Each creature has a part to play in your encounter, from a lowly lackey to a boss so mighty it could defeat the entire party single-handedly.

Each creature costs some of the XP from your XP budget for the encounter, based on its level compared to the levels of the characters in your party. For instance, if the PCs are 5th level, a 2nd-level creature is a “party level – 3” creature, a lackey appropriate for a low- to-moderate-threat encounter, and it costs 15 XP in an encounter’s XP budget. Party level is explained in detail on page 508.

Table 10-2: Creature XP and Role

Creature LevelXPSuggested Role
Party Level -410Low-threat lackey
Party Level -315Low- or moderate-threat lackey
Party Level -220Any lackey or standard creature
Party Level -130Any standard creature
Party Level40Any standard creature or low-threat boss
Party Level +160Low- or moderate-threat boss
Party Level +280Moderate- or severe-threat boss
Party Level +3120Severe- or extreme-threat boss
Party Level +4160Extreme-threat solo boss

Different Party Sizes

Source Core Rulebook pg. 489
For each additional character in the party beyond the fourth, increase your XP budget by the amount shown in the Character Adjustment value for your encounter in Table 10–1: Encounter Budget. If you have fewer than four characters, use the same process in reverse: for each missing character, remove that amount of XP from your XP budget. Note that if you adjust your XP budget to account for party size, the XP awards for the encounter don’t change—you’ll always award the amount of XP listed for a group of four characters.

It’s best to use the XP increase from more characters to add more enemies or hazards, and the XP decrease from fewer characters to subtract enemies and hazards, rather than making one enemy tougher or weaker. Encounters are typically more satisfying if the number of enemy creatures is fairly close to the number of player characters.