Rules Index


Chapter 10: Game Mastering

Running Modes of Play

Source Core Rulebook pg. 493
Pathfinder sessions are divided into three different modes of play: encounters, exploration, and downtime. Each mode represents different kinds of situations, with specific stakes and time scales, and characters can use different sorts of actions and reactions in each.

Encounters take place in real time or slower, and they involve direct engagement between players and enemies, potential allies, or each other. Combat and direct social interaction usually take place in encounter mode.

Exploration is the connective tissue of an adventure, and it is used whenever characters are exploring a place where there’s danger or uncertainty, such as an unfamiliar city or a dungeon. In exploration mode, characters aren’t in immediate peril, but they must still be on their toes. Exploration and encounters are collectively called adventuring.

When the party isn’t adventuring, the characters are in downtime. This mode covers most of a normal person’s life, such as mundane, day-to-day tasks and working toward long-term goals.

Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 493
Encounter mode is the most structured mode of play, and you’ll mostly be following the rules presented in Chapter 9 to run this mode. Because you usually call for initiative during exploration before transitioning into an encounter, guidelines for initiative order appear on page 498 in the discussion of exploration mode. Rules for building combat encounters appear on page 488.

Stakes: Moderate to high. Encounters always have significant stakes, and they are played in a step-by-step time frame to reflect that.

Time Scale: Encounter mode is highly structured and proceeds in combat rounds for combat encounters, while other sorts of encounters can have rounds of any length. In combat, 1 minute consists of 10 rounds, where each combat round is 6 seconds long, but you might decide a verbal confrontation proceeds in minute-long or longer rounds to give each speaker enough time to make a solid point.

Actions and Reactions: In combat encounters, each participant’s turn is broken into discrete actions, and participants can use reactions when their triggers occur. Reactions can occur in social situations, though their triggers are usually more descriptive and less tactical.

Choosing Adversaries' Actions

Source Core Rulebook pg. 493
Players often coordinate and plan to be as efficient as possible, but their adversaries might not. As the GM, you’re roleplaying these foes, and you decide their tactics. Most creatures have a basic grasp of simple tactics like flanking or focusing on a single target. But you should remember that they also react based on emotions and make mistakes—perhaps even more than the player characters do.

When selecting targets or choosing which abilities to use, rely on the adversaries’ knowledge of the situation, not your own. You might know that the cleric has a high Will save modifier, but a monster might still try to use a fear ability on her. That doesn’t mean you should play adversaries as complete fools; they can learn from their mistakes, make sound plans, and even research the player characters in advance.

Adversaries usually don’t attack a character who’s knocked out. Even if a creature knows a fallen character might come back into the fight, only the most vicious creatures focus on helpless foes rather than the more immediate threats around them.

Running adversaries is a mix of being true to the creature and doing what’s best for the drama of the game. Think of your encounter like a fight scene in a movie or novel. If the fighter taunts a fire giant to draw its attention away from the fragile wizard, the tactically sound decision is for the giant to keep pummeling the wizard. But is that the best choice for the scene? Perhaps everyone will have more fun if the giant redirects its ire to the infuriating fighter.

Bypassed Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 493
What happens if you’ve planned a fight or challenge and the PCs find a way to avoid it entirely? This could leave them behind in XP or cause them to miss important information or treasure.

In the case of XP, the guidelines are simple: If the player characters avoided the challenge through smart tactical play, a savvy diplomatic exchange, clever use of magic, or another approach that required ingenuity and planning, award them the normal XP for the encounter. If they did something that took only moderate effort or was a lucky break, like finding a secret passage and using it to avoid a fight, award them XP for a minor or moderate accomplishment. In an adventure that’s more free-form, like a sprawling dungeon with multiple paths, there might be no reward for bypassing an encounter, because doing so was trivial.

You’ll have to think on your feet if information or items get skipped when players bypass encounters. First, look for another reasonable place in the adventure to place the information or item. If it makes sense, move the original encounter to another part of the adventure and give the PCs a major advantage for bypassing the encounter in the first place.

Ending Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494
A combat encounter typically ends when all the creatures on one side are killed or knocked unconscious. Once this happens, you can stop acting in initiative order. The surviving side then has ample time to ensure that everyone taken out stays down. However, you might need to keep using combat rounds if any player characters are near death, clinging to a cliff, or in some other situation where every moment matters for their survival.

You can decide a fight is over if there’s no challenge left, and the player characters are just cleaning up the last few weak enemies. However, avoid doing this if any of the players still have inventive and interesting things they want to try or spells they’re concentrating on—ending an encounter early is a tool to avoid boredom, not to deny someone their fun. You can end a fight early in several ways: the foes can surrender, an adversary can die before its Hit Points actually run out, or you can simply say the battle’s over and that the PCs easily dispatch their remaining foes. In this last case, you might ask, “Is everyone okay if we call the fight?” to make sure your players are on board.

One side might surrender when almost all its members are defeated or if spells or skills thoroughly demoralize them. Once there’s a surrender, come out of initiative order and enter into a short negotiation. These conversations are really about whether the winners will show mercy to the losers or just kill or otherwise get rid of them. The surrendering side usually doesn’t have much leverage in these cases, so avoid long back-and-forth discussions.

Fleeing Enemies

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494
Fleeing enemies can be a problem. Player characters often want to pursue foes that flee because they think an enemy might return as a threat later on. Avoid playing this out move by move, as it can easily bog down the game. If every adversary is fleeing, forgo initiative order and give each PC the option to pursue any one fleeing foe. Each PC can declare one action, spell, or other ability to use to try to keep up. Then, compare the PC’s Speed to that of the target, assess how much the pursuer’s chosen spell or ability would help, and factor in any abilities the quarry has that would aid escape. If you determine that the pursuer catches up, go back into combat with the original initiative order. If not, the quarry escapes for now.

If the PCs decide to flee, it’s usually best to let them do so. Pick a particular location and allow them to escape once they all reach it. However, if they’re encumbered or otherwise slowed down, or if enemies have higher Speeds and a strong motive to pursue, you might impose consequences upon PCs who flee.

Social Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494
Most conversations play best as free-form roleplaying, with maybe one or two checks for social skills involved. Sometimes, though, a tense situation or crucial parlay requires a social encounter that uses initiative, much like a combat encounter. As with any other encounter, the stakes of a social encounter need to be high! A failed social encounter could mean a character is imprisoned or put to death, a major rival becomes a political powerhouse, or a key ally is disgraced and ostracized.

Using the structure of an encounter is helpful because it makes the timing clearer than in free-form play, and each character feels like they’re contributing. When running a social encounter, establish the stakes up front, so the players know the consequences of success or failure and the circumstances that will cause the encounter to end.

You have much more flexibility in how you run a social encounter than in a combat encounter. Extending the length of rounds beyond 6 seconds, allowing more improvisation, and focusing less on special attacks and spells all differentiate a social encounter from a combat one. In most cases, you don’t need to worry about character’s movements, nor do you need a map. Some examples of social encounters include:
  • Proving someone’s innocence in front of a judge.
  • Convincing a neighboring monarch to help defend against an invasion.
  • Besting a rival bard in a battle of wits.
  • Exposing a villain’s deception before a noble court.

Initiative and Actions

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494
Initiative in a social encounter typically has characters rolling Society or a Charisma-based skill, such as Diplomacy or Deception. As with other encounters, a character’s approach to the conflict determines which skill they’ll roll. On a character’s turn, they typically get to attempt one roll, usually by using a skill action. Let the player roleplay what their character says and does, then determine what they’ll roll. Allow them to use any abilities or spells that might help them make their case, though keep in mind that when most people see the visual signs of a spell being cast, they think someone is using magic to try to influence or harm them, and they have a negative reaction.

Good social encounters include an opposition. This can be direct, such as a rival who argues against the characters’ case, or passive, such as a mob that automatically becomes more unruly as each round passes. Give the opposition one or more positions in the initiative order so you can convey what it is doing. You can create game statistics for the opposition, especially if it’s an individual, but in situations like that of the unruly mob, you might need nothing more than establish a set of increasingly difficult DCs.

Measuring Success and Progress

Source Core Rulebook pg. 495
You’ll need to decide how to measure the characters’ success in social encounters, because there’s no AC to target or HP to whittle down. Chapter 4 includes guidance on setting DCs for social skill actions, often using a target’s Will DC. If you need a DC for people who don’t have stats, such as a crowd or an NPC for whom you haven’t already generated statistics, use the guidelines on setting DCs, found on page 503. You can either pick a simple DC or use a level-based DC, estimating a level for the subject or how challenging it should be to sway them.

The attitude conditions—hostile, unfriendly, indifferent, friendly, and helpful—provide a useful way to track the progress of a social encounter. Use these to represent the attitude of an authority, a crowd, a jury, or the like. A typical goal for a social encounter is to change the attitude of a person or group to helpful so they assist you, or calming a hostile group or person to defuse a situation. Try to give the players a clear idea of how much they’ve progressed as the encounter proceeds.

Another option is to track the number of successes or failures the characters accrue. For instance, you might need to trick four guards into leaving their posts, and count each successful attempt to Lie or Create a Diversion toward a total of four necessary successes. You can combine these two methods; if the PCs need a group of important nobles to vote their way, the goal of the encounter might be to ensure that a majority of the nobles have a better attitude toward the PCs than they have of a rival—all within a limited time frame.

Consequences

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
When you set stakes at the start of a social encounter, give an idea of the consequences. Beyond whatever narrative benefits player characters might gain, a social encounter usually includes an XP award. Because these are encounters along the same lines as combat encounters, they grant a sizable amount of XP, typically that of a moderate accomplishment, or even a major accomplishment if the encounter was the culmination of long-term plans or a significant adversary got their comeuppance.

The outcome of a social encounter should direct the story of the game. Look for repercussions. Which NPCs might view the PCs more favorably now? Which might hold a grudge or formulate a new plan? A social encounter can seal the fate of an NPC and end their story, but this isn’t true for player characters. Even if something looks truly dire for them, such as a death sentence, the social encounter isn’t the end—there’s still time for desperate heroics or a twist in the story.

Exploration

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
Exploration mode is intentionally less regimented than encounters. As a result, during exploration you’ll be making judgment calls on just about everything that happens.

Fundamentally, exploration is all about rewarding the PCs for learning about their surroundings. To facilitate this, it’s especially important to have and convey a clear mental picture of the group’s surroundings. You’ll be better able to keep track of where the players are and describe the sights, sounds, and other sensations of their adventuring locales. Encourage the players to have their characters truly explore, and reward their curiosity. The things they try to do in exploration mode show you what they’re interested in and what they consider important. As you play, you’ll get a good feel for the aspects of exploration that intrigue certain players, and you can add more of those things to your adventures or emphasize these points in published adventures.

Stakes: Low to moderate. Exploration mode should be used when there’s some amount of risk, but no immediate danger. The PCs might be in an environment where they’re likely to face monsters or hazards, but they usually stay in exploration mode until they enter a fight or engage in some other direct interaction.

Time Scale: When the PCs are in exploration mode, time in the game world passes much faster than real-world time at the table, so it’s rarely measured out to the second or the minute. You can speed up or slow down how quickly things are happening as needed. If it’s important to know exactly how much time is passing, you can usually estimate time spent in exploration mode to 10-minute increments.

Actions and Reactions: Though exploration isn’t broken into rounds, exploration activities assume the PCs are spending part of their time using actions, such as Seeking or Interacting. If they have specific actions they want to use, they should ask; you can decide whether the actions apply and whether to switch to encounter mode for greater detail. PCs can use any relevant reactions that come up during exploration mode.

Exploration Activities

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
In exploration mode, each player who wants to do something beyond just traveling chooses an exploration activity for their character. The most common activities are Avoid Notice, Detect Magic, Hustle, and Search, though there are many options available. While players usually hew close to these default activities, there’s no need for them to memorize the exploration activities and use them exactly. Instead, allow each player to describe what their character is doing. Then, as the GM, you can determine which activity applies. This also means you determine how an activity works if the character’s actions differ from those on the list.

The following sections discuss exploration activities that require adjudication from you beyond the guidelines for players detailed on pages 479–480 of Chapter 9.

Detect Magic

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
This activity doesn’t enable characters to automatically find every single magical aura or object during travel. Hazards that require a minimum proficiency can’t be found with detect magic, nor can illusions of equal or higher level than the spell.

When characters find something magical using this activity, let them know and give them the option to stop and explore further or continue on. Stopping brings you into a more roleplay-heavy scene in which players can search through an area, assess different items, or otherwise try to figure out the source of the magic and what it does. Continuing on might cause the group to miss out on beneficial magic items or trigger a magic trap.

Follow the Expert

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
A skilled character can help out less skilled allies who choose to Follow the Expert. This is a good way to help a character with a low Stealth modifier sneak around, get a character with poor Athletics up a steep cliff, and so on. Usually, a character who is Following the Expert can’t perform other exploration activities or follow more than one person at a time.

Investigate

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496
As with Searching or Detecting Magic, the initial result of Investigating is usually enough to give the investigator a clue that leads into a more thorough examination, but it rarely gives all possible information. For instance, a character might note that the walls of a dungeon are covered with Abyssal writing, but they would need to stop to read the text or determine that it’s written in blood.

Search

Source Core Rulebook pg. 497
With a successful Perception check while Searching, a character notices the presence or absence of something unusual in the area, but it doesn’t provide a comprehensive catalog of everything there. Instead, it gives a jumping-off point for closer inspection or an encounter. For instance, if an area has both a DC 30 secret door and a DC 25 trap, and a Searching character got a 28 on their Perception check, you would tell the player that their character noticed a trap in the area, and you’d give a rough idea of the trap’s location and nature. The party needs to examine the area more to learn specifics about the trap, and someone would need to Search again to get another chance to find the secret door.

If an area contains many objects or something that will take a while to search (such as a cabinet full of papers), Searching would reveal the cabinet, but the PCs would have to examine it more thoroughly to check the papers. This usually requires the party to stop for a complete search.

You roll a secret Perception check for a Searching character to detect any secrets they pass that’s in a place that stands out (such as near a door or a turn in a corridor), but not one that’s in a more inconspicuous place (like a random point in a long hallway) unless they are searching particularly slowly and meticulously.

Setting a Party Order

Source Core Rulebook pg. 497
In exploration mode, it often matters which characters are in the front or back of the party formation. Let the players decide among themselves where in the group their characters are while exploring. This order can determine who gets attacked first when enemies or traps threaten from various directions. It’s up to you to determine the specifics of who gets targeted based on the situation.

When you come out of exploration mode, the group usually remains in the same general formation. Decide the PCs’ exact positions, with their input, if you’re moving to a grid (as usually happens at the start of a combat encounter). If they come out of exploration mode on their own terms, they can move around as they see fit. For example, if they detect a trap and the rogue starts attempting to disarm it, the other characters can move to whatever locations they think are safe.

Adverse Terrain and Weather

Source Core Rulebook pg. 497
Exploration gets slower when the party faces dense jungles, deep snow, sandstorms, extreme heat, or similar difficult conditions. You decide how much these factors impact the characters’ progress. The specific effects of certain types of terrain and weather are described starting on page 512.

Difficult terrain such as thick undergrowth usually slows down progress. Unless it’s important how far the group gets in a particular time frame, this can be covered with a quick description of chopping through the vines or trudging through a bog. If the characters are on a deadline, adjust their progress on Table 9–2: Travel Speed (page 479), typically cutting it in half if almost all of the land is difficult terrain or to one-third for greater difficult terrain.

Hazardous terrain, such as the caldera of an active volcano, might physically harm the player characters. The group might have the option to travel directly through or go around by spending more time. You can transition into a more detailed scene while the characters move through hazardous terrain and attempt to mitigate the damage with spells or skill checks. If they endure hazardous terrain, consider giving the PCs a minor or moderate XP reward at the end of their exploration, with slightly more XP if they took smart precautions to avoid taking damage.

Dangerous crevasses, swampy bogs, quicksand, and similar dangers are environmental hazards, which are described beginning on page 512.

Hazards

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498
Exploration can get broken up by traps and other hazards (see Hazards on page 520). Simple hazards pose a threat to the PCs only once and can be dealt with in exploration mode. Complex hazards require jumping into encounter mode until the hazard is dealt with. Disabling a trap or overcoming a hazard usually takes place in encounter mode. PCs have a better chance to detect hazards while exploring if they’re using the Search activity (and the Detect Magic activity, in the case of some magic traps).

Rolling Initiative

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498
Transitioning from exploration to an encounter usually involves rolling for initiative. Call for initiative once a trap is triggered, as soon as two opposing groups come into contact, or when a creature on one side decides to take action against the other. For example:
  • A group of PCs are exploring a cavern. They enter a narrow passage patrolled by a group of kobold warriors. Now that the two groups are in the same area, it’s time to roll initiative.
  • Amiri and a kobold champion agree to have a friendly wrestling match. They square off on a patch of dirt, and you call for initiative using Athletics.
  • Merisiel and Kyra are negotiating with the kobold king. Things aren’t going well, so Merisiel decides to launch a surprise attack. As soon as she says this is her plan, you call for initiative.
  • Harsk and Ezren are trying to Balance across a narrow beam to reach an isolated kobold treasure trove. When they get halfway across, a red dragon who was hiding behind the mountain flies around to attack! As soon as the dragon makes its appearance, you call for an initiative roll.

Initiative After Reactions

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498
In some cases, a trap or a foe has a reaction that tells you to roll initiative. For instance, a complex trap that’s triggered might make an attack with its reaction before the initiative order begins. In these cases, resolve all the results of the reaction before calling for initiative rolls.

Choosing the Type of Roll

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498
When choosing what type of roll to use for initiative, lean toward the most obvious choice. The most common roll is Perception; this is what the kobolds would use in the first example, as would Kyra and the kobold king in the third example. The next most common skills to use are Stealth (for sneaking up, like the dragon in the last example) and Deception (for tricking opponents, like Merisiel in the third example). For social contests, it’s common to use Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, Performance, or Society.

If you’re unsure what roll to call for, use Perception. If a different type of roll could make sense for a character, you should usually offer the choice of that roll or Perception and let the player decide. Don’t do this if it’s absolutely clear another kind of check matters more sense than Perception, such as when the character is sneaking up on enemies and should definitely use Stealth.

You can allow a player to make a case that they should use a different skill than Perception, but only if they base it on something they’ve established beforehand. For example, if in the prelude to the attack, Merisiel’s player had said, “I’m going to dangle down off the chandelier to get the drop on them,” you could let them use Acrobatics for their initiative roll. If they just said, “Hey, I want to attack these guys. Can I use Acrobatics?” without having established a reason beforehand, you probably shouldn’t allow it.

Character Placement

Source Core Rulebook pg. 499
When calling for initiative for a combat encounter, you’ll need to decide where the participants in the encounter go on the battle map. Use the party’s order, described on page 497, as a base. You can move forward characters who are using Stealth to get into position, putting them in a place they could reasonably have moved up to before having a chance to be detected. Consult with each player to make sure their position makes sense to both of you.

Resting

Source Core Rulebook pg. 499
Characters require 8 hours of sleep each day. Though resting typically happens at night, a group gains the same benefits for resting during the day. Either way, they can gain the benefits of resting only once every 24 hours. A character who rests for 8 hours recovers in the following ways:
  • The character regains Hit Points equal to their Constitution modifier (minimum 1) multiplied by their level. If they rest without any shelter or comfort, you might reduce this healing by half (to a minimum of 1 HP).
  • The character loses the fatigued condition.
  • The character reduces the severity of the doomed and drained conditions by 1.
  • Most spellcasters need to rest before they regain their spells for the day.
A group in exploration mode can attempt to rest, but they aren’t entirely safe from danger, and their rest might be interrupted. The 8 hours of rest do not need to be consecutive, however, and after an interruption, characters can go back to sleep.

Sleeping in armor results in poor rest and causes a character to wake up fatigued. If a character would have recovered from fatigue, sleeping in armor prevents it.

If a character goes more than 16 hours without going to sleep, they become fatigued.

Taking long-term rest for faster recovery is part of downtime and can’t be done during exploration. See page 502 for these rules.

Watches and Surprise Attacks

Source Core Rulebook pg. 499
Adventuring parties usually put a few people on guard to watch out for danger while the others rest. Spending time on watch also interrupts sleep, so a night’s schedule needs to account for everyone’s time on guard duty. Table 10–3: Watches and Rest on the next page indicates how long the group needs to set aside for rest, assuming everyone gets a rotating watch assignment of equal length.

If a surprise encounter would occur during rest, you can roll a die to randomly determine which character is on watch at the time. All characters roll initiative; sleeping characters typically roll Perception with a –4 status penalty for being unconscious. They don’t automatically wake up when rolling initiative, but they might roll a Perception check to wake up at the start of their turn due to noise. If a savvy enemy waits for a particularly vulnerable character to take watch before attacking, the attack can happen on that character’s watch automatically. However, you might have the ambusher attempt a Stealth check against the Perception DCs of all characters to see if anyone noticed its approach.

Table 10-3: Watches and Rest

Party SizeTotal TimeDuration of Each Watch
216 hours8 hours
312 hours4 hours
410 hours, 40 minutes2 hours, 40 minutes
510 hours2 hours
69 hours, 36 minutes1 hour, 36 minutes

Daily Preparations

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
Just before setting out to explore, or after a night’s rest, the PCs spend time to prepare for the adventuring day. This typically happens over the span of 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, but only after 8 full hours of rest. Daily preparations include the following.
  • Spellcasters who prepare spells choose which spells they’ll have available that day.
  • Focus Points and other abilities that reset during daily preparations refresh. This includes abilities that can be used only a certain number of times per day.
  • Each character equips their gear. This includes donning their armor and strapping on their weapons.
  • Characters invest up to 10 worn magic items to gain their benefits for the day (page 531).

Starvation and Thirst

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
Typically characters eat and drink enough to survive comfortably. When they can’t, they’re fatigued until they do. After 1 day + a creature’s Constitution modifier without water, it takes 1d4 damage each hour that can’t be healed until it quenches its thirst. After the same amount of time without food, it takes 1 damage each day that can’t be healed until it sates its hunger.

Downtime

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
In downtime, you can sum up the important events of a whole day with just one roll. Use this mode when the characters return home or otherwise aren’t adventuring.

Usually, downtime is a few minutes at the start of a session or a break between major chapters of an adventure. As with exploration, you might punctuate downtime with roleplaying or encounters when it’s natural to do so.

This section describes ways to handle downtime and details several activities and considerations specific to downtime, such as cost of living, buying and selling goods, long-term rest, and retraining. Most other downtime activities are skill actions; a number of these common downtime activities and their associated skills are listed below. See the relevant skills in Chapter 4 for details.
  • Craft (Crafting)
  • Earn Income (Crafting, Lore, Performance)
  • Treat Disease (Medicine)
  • Create Forgery (Society)
  • Subsist (Society, Survival)
Stakes: None to low. Downtime is the counterpart to adventuring and covers low-risk activities.

Time Scale: Downtime can last days, weeks, months, or years in the game world in a few minutes of real time.

Actions and Reactions: If you need to use actions and reactions, switch to exploration or encounter mode. A creature that can’t act is unable to perform most downtime activities, but it can take long-term rest.

Playing out a Downtime Day

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
At the start of a given day of downtime, have all the players declare what their characters are trying to accomplish that day. You can then resolve one character’s efforts at a time (or group some characters together, if they are cooperating on a single project). Some activities, such as Earning Income, require only a simple roll and some embellishment from you and the player. Other activities are more involved, incorporating encounters or exploration. You can call on the players to play out their downtime activities in any order, though it’s often best to do the simplest ones first. Players who aren’t part of a more involved activity might have time to take a break from the table while the more complex activities are played out.

Characters can undertake their daily preparations if they want, just as they would on a day of exploration. Ask players to establish a standard set of preparations, and you can assume the characters go through the same routine every day unless their players say otherwise.

Cooperation

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
Multiple characters can cooperate on the same downtime task. If it’s a simple task that requires just one check, such as a party Subsisting as they await rescue on a desert island, one character rolls the necessary check while everyone else Aids that character. If it’s a complex task, assume all of them are working on different parts of it at one time, so all their efforts count toward its completion. For example, a party might collaborate to build a theater, with one character drawing up architectural plans, one doing manual labor, and one talking to local politicians and guilds.

Checks

Source Core Rulebook pg. 500
Some downtime activities require rolls, typically skill checks. Because these rolls represent the culmination of a series of tasks over a long period, players can’t use most abilities or spells that manipulate die rolls, such as activating a magic item to gain a bonus or casting a fortune spell to roll twice. Constant benefits still apply, though, so someone might invest a magic item that gives them a bonus without requiring activation. You might make specific exceptions to this rule. If something could apply constantly, or so often that it might as well be constant, it’s more likely to be used for downtime checks.

Longer Periods of Downtime

Source Core Rulebook pg. 501
Running downtime during a long time off—like several weeks, months, or even years—can be more challenging. However, it’s also an opportunity for the characters to progress toward long-term plans rather than worrying about day-to-day activities. Because so much time is involved, characters don’t roll a check for each day. Instead, they deal with a few special events, average out the rest of the downtime, and pay for their cost of living.

Events

Source Core Rulebook pg. 501
After the characters state what they want to achieve in their downtime, select a few standout events for each of them—usually one event for a period of a week or a month, or four events for a year or longer. These events should be tailored to each character and their goals, and they can serve as hooks for adventures or plot development.

Though the following examples of downtime events all involve Earning Income, you can use them to spark ideas for other activities. A character using Perform to Earn Income could produce a commanding performance of a new play for visiting nobility. Someone using Crafting might get a lucrative commission to craft a special item. A character with Lore might have to research a difficult problem that needs a quick response.

PCs who want to do things that don’t correspond to a specific downtime activity should still experience downtime events; you just choose the relevant skill and DC. For example, if a character intends to build their own library to house their books on magic, you might decide setting the foundation and organizing the library once construction is finished are major events. The first could be a Crafting check, and the second an Arcana or Library Lore check.

Average Progress

Source Core Rulebook pg. 501
For long periods of downtime, you might not want to roll for every week, or even every month. Instead, set the level for one task using the lowest level the character can reliably find in the place where they spend their downtime (see Difficulty Classes on page 503 for more on setting task levels). If the character fails this check, you might allow them to try again after a week (or a month, if you’re dealing with years of downtime). Don’t allow them to roll again if they succeeded but want to try for a critical success, unless they do something in the story of the game that you think makes it reasonable to allow a new roll.

The events you include during a long stretch of downtime should typically feature higher-level tasks than the baseline. For instance, a character Earning Income with Sailing Lore for 4 months might work at a port doing 1st-level tasks most of the time, but have 1 week of 3rd-level tasks to account for busy periods. You’ll normally have the player roll once for the time they spent at 1st-level tasks and once for the week of 3rd-level tasks.

Cost of Living

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
For short periods of downtime, characters are usually just passing through a settlement or spending a bit of time there. They can use the prices for inn stays and meals found on page 294. For long stretches of downtime, use the values on Table 6–16: Cost of Living on the same page. Deduct these costs from a character’s funds after they gain any money from their other downtime activities.

A character can live off the land instead, but each day they do, they typically use the Subsist activity (page 240) to the exclusion of any other downtime activity.

buying and Selling

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
After an adventure yields a windfall, the characters might have a number of items they want to sell. Likewise, when they’re flush with currency, they might want to stock up on gear. It usually takes 1 day of downtime to sell off a few goods or shop around to buy a couple items. It can take longer to sell off a large number of goods, expensive items, or items that aren’t in high demand.

This assumes the characters are at a settlement of decent size during their downtime. In some cases, they might spend time traveling for days to reach bigger cities. As always, you have final say over what sort of shops and items are available.

An item can usually be purchased at its full Price and sold for half its Price. Supply and demand adjusts these numbers, but only occasionally.

Long-Term Rest

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
Each full 24-hour period a character spends resting during downtime allows them to recover double what they would for an 8-hour rest (as listed on page 499). They must spend this time resting in a comfortable and secure location, typically in bed.

If they spend significantly longer in bed rest—usually from a few days to a week of downtime—they recover from all damage and most nonpermanent conditions. Characters affected by diseases, long-lasting poisons, or similar afflictions might need to continue attempting saves during downtime. Some curses, permanent injuries, and other situations that require magic or special care to remove don’t end automatically during long-term rest.

Retraining

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
The retraining rules on page 481 allow a player to change some character choices, but they rely on you to decide whether the retraining requires a teacher, how long it takes, if it has any associated costs, and if the ability can be retrained at all. It’s reasonable for a character to retrain most choices, and you should allow them. Only choices that are truly intrinsic to the character, like a sorcerer’s bloodline, should be off limits without extraordinary circumstances.

Try to make retraining into a story. Use NPCs the character already knows as teachers, have a character undertake intense research in a mysterious old library, or ground the retraining in the game’s narrative by making it the consequence of something that happened to the character in a previous session.

Time

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
Retraining a feat or skill increase typically takes a week. Class features that require a choice can also be retrained but take longer: at least a month, and possibly more. Retraining might take even longer if it would be especially physically demanding or require travel, lengthy experimentation, or in-depth research, but usually you won’t want to require more than a month for a feat or skill, or 4 months for a class feature.

A character might need to retrain several options at once. For instance, retraining a skill increase might mean they have skill feats they can no longer use, and so they’ll need to retrain those as well. You can add all this retraining time together, then reduce the total a bit to represent the cohesive nature of the retraining.

Instruction and Costs

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
The rules abstract the process of learning new things as you level up—you’re learning on the job—but retraining suggests that the character works with a teacher or undergoes specific practice to retrain. If you want, you can entirely ignore this aspect of retraining, but it does give an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) NPCs and further the game’s story. You can even have one player character mentor another, particularly when it comes to retraining skills.

Any costs to retraining should be pretty minor—about as much as a PC could gain by Earning Income over the same period of time. The costs are mostly there to make the training feel appropriate within the context of the story, not to consume significant amounts of the character’s earnings. A teacher might volunteer to work without pay as a reward for something the character has already done, or simply ask for a favor in return.

Disallowed Options

Source Core Rulebook pg. 502
While some character options can’t normally be retrained, you can invent ways for a character to retrain even these—special rituals, incredible quests, or the perfect tutor. For example, ability scores can’t normally be retrained, as that can unbalance the game. But not all players necessarily want to exploit the system—maybe a player simply wants to swap an ability boost between two low stats. In situations like this, you could let them spend a few months working out or studying to reassign an ability boost.