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Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 1: Gamemastery Basics

Special Circumstances

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 33
No two Pathfinder groups are exactly the same. At each gaming table, the GM and players work together to find their own style for the game and to tell their own stories. Some of these differences require the GM to make adjustments, especially for groups participating in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, large or small groups, and groups in which one or more players has needs that are not addressed directly in the Core Rulebook.

Pathfinder Society Organized Play

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 33
The Pathfinder Society Organized Play campaign is a thriving, worldwide organization of players and GMs. While most home campaigns provide long-running stories with a consistent group, Pathfinder Society provides adventures designed to be completed in a single game session, so that players can continue their characters’ stories whenever and wherever works best for them. To allow this flexibility while maintaining a fair experience, the Pathfinder Society campaign handles some tasks that are normally in the GM’s purview, such as selecting which rules options are available to PCs. Pathfinder Society GMs are expected to stay true to the adventure as it is written but are encouraged to allow players to apply creative solutions to the situations they face. For example, PCs may be able to use illusions, bribery, or social skills to bypass a challenge that is presented in the scenario as a combat encounter. You can decide for yourself which alternative solutions seem reasonable based on the context of the adventure, consulting the Difficulty Classes section on page 503 of the Core Rulebook to set appropriate DCs for challenges. For more about playing, running, and organizing games for Pathfinder Society Organized Play, visit

Unusual Group Sizes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 33
The standard group size for Pathfinder assumes four players and a GM. Page 489 of the Core Rulebook gives instructions for how to adjust for other group sizes, but additional changes may be helpful.

Small Groups

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 33
Small-group games focus more intently on the interests of the players and their characters, allowing for an experience that can be more customizable for each individual. However, they can also run into trouble when the PCs have gaps in their abilities. In many cases, the easiest way to adjust for a small group is to add additional characters. This could come in the form of allowing each player to play two characters or adding hirelings and support NPCs to the party to shore up roles that the PCs don’t fill. When adding GM-controlled NPCs to the party, it’s important to be sure that the PCs remain the stars of the show. In general, GM-controlled characters shouldn’t make major decisions, and they shouldn’t outshine PCs at their primary skills or roles (for more information, see GM-controlled NPCs). You can also use variant rules like dual-class characters, free archetypes, or even just a few extra trained skills to help improve the PCs’ overall flexibility.

If you don’t add additional characters to the party or modify the PCs, it’s a good idea to tailor challenges and storylines to their abilities as well as player interest. For example, if you have two players, a rogue and a bard, a heist could be a good fit. In combats, carefully consider how the PCs will fare against each opponent. Some monsters are particularly likely to incapacitate a single PC; in small groups, use such creatures carefully and consider raising the encounter difficulty and XP awards beyond what a creature of that level is normally worth. Meanwhile, creatures that depend on affecting or damaging large numbers of PCs at once might be less effective.

Large Groups

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 33
Large-group games bring together the creativity and enthusiasm of many players, and they lend themselves to combat at a grand scale. However, they also divide the GM’s attention. Large groups also need to set ground rules for how many players need to be present for the game to run when some players are missing. Recaps at the beginning of each session are crucial to keep everyone on the same page. Delegation is one of your most powerful tools to keep the session running smoothly. For example, you can put the players in charge of recapping the events from the previous session, handling initiative, managing the party’s treasury, looking up rules, or helping with accessories like props and music. (For information on even greater degrees of player delegation, check out Narrative Collaboration) Also consider which tasks really need to be taken care of while everyone is there. For example, you could ask your players to handle selling items, deciding which common items they want to buy, and leveling up between sessions instead of at the table.

Each additional player adds to the length of combat twice: once for their own turn, and once for the additional foes on the field. By encouraging players to pay attention to the battle when it isn’t their turn and to plan their actions as their turn approaches, you can shorten each player’s turn and keep the battle moving swiftly.

Inevitably, there will be situations and circumstances that don’t involve the whole group. In a sufficiently large group, splitting the party is not necessarily dangerous. If the party splits up for more than a short stint, you can call for separate sessions to determine what happens to the two halves of the group, allowing them to reunite and share their findings afterward. Whether or not the party splits, having more players means less active time for each character. Look for opportunities to highlight each PC by providing challenges that play to their strengths or tie in story elements to which they are particularly connected.

Player Needs

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 34
Sometimes, making your game accessible and fun for everyone at the table requires making some adjustments to your typical GMing style or setup. The first step is open communication so you can learn what the players need, what accommodations would be helpful, and what type of assistance players do and don’t want to receive.

Sensory Differences

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 34
Players may have differences in the way that they process sensory information, as well as which senses they use. For players who are hard of hearing or who struggle to process large amounts of sensory information at once, selecting a quiet gaming venue and establishing ground rules about table talk (such as asking players not to interrupt each other) can make the game more accessible. Such players can also often benefit from handouts they can consult during the session. Keep in mind the way your players perceive the world when describing locations. For example, if you have a blind or visually impaired player at the table, instead of simply describing what a location looks like, describe how it sounds and smells, the temperature of the room, the feeling of the breeze, and other aspects of the scene that they can identify with.

Attention Span

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 34
It’s not uncommon for people to struggle to maintain their attention for hours on end, especially for young players. If keeping attention is an issue at your table, add breaks to the game. Whether you’re just taking a break to stretch and chat or enjoying a full meal in the middle of the game, switching up the context helps players refresh their focus. Some players remain more engaged if they have something else to do while playing, such as doodling or pacing. Maintaining attention can be particularly challenging for some players when their character is not engaged, such as when the party splits or when they have just finished their turn in a large combat. You can allow players to engage in other activities during the session, such as texting, reading, or playing other games, and then draw them back into the game when their character is active.