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Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 1: Gamemastery Basics

Campaign Structure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
Each adventure presents one contained story, but your campaign tells a more expansive one. Think of each adventure like an episode or arc and the campaign as a whole series. Though each adventure might tell a vastly different story, they should all tie into the themes and characters that stretch across the whole campaign.

A campaign interweaves multiple stories: the events of each adventure, the personal triumphs and failures of each PC, and the stories of NPCs who appear throughout. That means a campaign can become more than the sum of its parts. When you start out, you’ll likely have a core structure in mind for your campaign, but through play it can—and should—grow and evolve.

Basic Structures

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
When building your campaign, you can use these structures as a starting point. The Adventure Design section explains various styles of adventures on pages 41–43 that, after creating your basic campaign structure, can be used to inspire the creation of the adventures in your campaign.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
An adventure lasting one session, a one-shot works well for a highly themed adventure using characters or concepts that are novel, but that players might not want to stick with long-term.
Adventures 1, typically a dungeon crawl, horror, intrigue, or mystery
Top Level 1, but often starts at a higher level
Time Frame 1 session

Brief Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
This structure is meant for a brief, self-contained campaign. It can be ideal for introducing new players to Pathfinder, and can be extended to a longer campaign if the group wishes.
Adventures 2, typically one dungeon crawl followed by one high adventure; this format also works well for horror adventures
Top Level 4–5
Time Frame 3 months weekly, 6 months biweekly

Extended Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
An extended campaign works well for a dedicated group that might want to switch to a new campaign or a different game after a year or so. It allows for significant character and plot development but doesn’t reach the higher levels of the game.
Adventures 5, typically with multiple adventures fitting the main theme of the campaign (such as high adventure or gritty adventure), with other adventure styles for variety.
Top Level 11–13
Time Frame 1 year weekly, 1-1/2 years biweekly

Epic Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
An ambitious and complex game, the epic campaign takes PCs all the way to level 20, pitting them against the greatest threats in the world and beyond. This can be challenging in terms of time commitment and complexity, but it lets PCs develop into true legends, and the players will likely remember it for years.
Adventures 6 long adventures, typically starting with high adventure or a dungeon crawl and including military adventure, planar adventure, and romantic adventure
Top Level 20
Time Frame 1-1/2 years weekly, 3 years biweekly

Linking Adventures

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
In a campaign that includes multiple adventures, a smooth transition from one adventure to the next ties the story together. You might use NPCs who could appear in both adventures, a treasure or clue found in one adventure that becomes important in a later one, or even fallout from one adventure that causes the next adventure to take place. Related locations can help, too. Adventures that take place in neighboring regions, or both in the same region, have an inherent link. If they take place in two different places, you’ll need a reason the PCs should travel between the two, and you can use this journey as a short, interstitial adventure.

Adventure Themes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
Consider how each adventure’s theme plays into the campaign as a whole. You might want to keep similar or recurring themes, especially if each adventure is part of one overarching storyline. On the other hand, this can feel repetitive, and some groups prefer variety and seeing their characters play off of different situations. To convey shifting themes, you can show established parts of the world changing to reflect the new theme. For instance, if you’re switching from an adventure about subjugation to one of mayhem, the PCs could take down a villain who wants to enslave the populace, but then face opportunistic brigands who loot and pillage once order breaks down.

Player Goals

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 36
Ask what you and the other players enjoy and would like to see in the game. You can use these ideas as touchstones to build off of. When you get into the campaign itself, the PCs’ goals come to the forefront. Find out what each character wants to achieve and look for opportunities you can place in the game world and adventures. Consider which part of the game most closely ties to each goal. A PC who wants to build an institution will need money and interpersonal connections, so you can use treasure and NPC interactions to give them the resources they need. For a character whose purpose is to help people in danger, build some encounters that include people who need to be rescued.

Look for good times to recap the state of a character’s goals and remind the player how their character has progressed, particularly when something changes in relation to their goals. The Long-Term Goals section gives you more details on how you can use goals in downtime.

Changing the World

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 37
As the group moves through the campaign, the events of their adventures and downtime should change the world around them. Show this through the responses the characters get from other people, the scenery they see around them, and their environment. You might be able to anticipate some changes, but most will come up in play and require you to make adjustments later on.

Power Level

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 37
As the game progresses, the power level of the PCs and their foes increases. Going up in level brings new, stronger abilities into the game, and likewise adventures bring in new monsters with commensurate capabilities. Higher-level adventures should present new challenges appropriate to the PCs’ abilities, such as areas that can be accessed with flight at 7th level or higher. Beyond just the rules, PCs should compel different reactions from the people they meet, as their reputation spreads and they exhibit abilities beyond what most people have ever seen.

Recurring Villains

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 37
Consider including villains who can appear multiple times over the course of several adventures. They don’t necessarily need to be masterminds. Imagine an unscrupulous mercenary who works for major villain after major villain. When you create a recurring villain, it’s best not to make them too integral to the story, since the PCs might take them down earlier than you expect! Have some contingency plans in place.

The advice about Portraying NPCs applies especially to these recurring villains. As they reappear throughout the campaign, they should change in some of the same ways PCs do. Think about how previous run-ins with the PCs have shaped the recurring villain’s emotions and plans. Which PC do they have the biggest grudge against and why? Do they bear scars from previous battles? Have they developed a countermeasure against a PC’s spells or tactics?

Villain Goals

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 37
Just as PCs have goals, so do your villains. A recurring villain might have a vision for what the world should be and a step-by-step plan to get there. A plan gives you a clear way to progress the plot, and an underlying goal guides you in deciding what the NPC does if their plan goes awry. It can be especially helpful to contrast the villain’s goals with those of the PCs. If a PC wants to establish a trade network, maybe a villain plans to get rich robbing caravans or merchant ships. If a PC plans to found churches to a deity, a villain could worship one of that god’s adversaries. Just like with PCs’ goals, show how the villain’s goal has impacted the world, even in small ways. Try to find ways the villain can make a difference even if the PCs are successful against them. A villain will look ineffective if the PCs foil every single plot or plan. For instance, the villain might turn a memorable NPC to their cause, set an institution ablaze, or invade a village. All of these outcomes can have memorable, long-lasting effects even if the villain’s ultimate plan fails.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 38
The Core Rulebook explains (Rewards) three types of concrete rewards covered by the rules: Hero Points, Experience Points, and treasure. Experience Points and treasure are the bedrock of progress in a campaign, since attaining a higher level and acquiring magic items let PCs take on more challenging adventures.

Experience Points

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 38
In a standard game, Experience Points come from encounters of low threat or higher, and from accomplishments. Try to be consistent about what is worth accomplishment XP and what isn’t, and give out at least some accomplishment XP every session. If two PCs pull off the same magnitude of task, they should get an equal amount of accomplishment XP. That doesn’t mean you should allow XP “farming,” however. Part of the assumption of accomplishment XP is that the accomplishment is novel and the result of something challenging. If someone got accomplishment XP for snatching a dragon’s egg from a lair, someone collecting another egg wouldn’t necessarily get accomplishment XP.

You might find that accomplishment XP doesn’t work well for your game, especially if you’re running a dungeon crawl or other game with less interaction with NPCs or fewer quests. In this case, you can remove accomplishment XP and use fast advancement speed (800 XP to level up) to move at the standard advancement speed.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 38
The game’s math is based on PCs looking to find, buy, or craft items that are the same level as them—this includes weapons and armor with fundamental runes, and items that help with the PC’s favorite skills or tactics. A PC who gets the item at that level will typically be ahead of the monsters, hazards, and skill DCs briefly, before their challenges start to catch back up. The guidelines for awarding treasure, meanwhile, have you give the party items 1 level higher than the PCs. This means the items found on adventures are more powerful than those a PC could make (which are capped at the PC’s level). The treasure assignment is measured across a level instead of per encounter because some encounters won’t have treasure, some will have extra treasure, and some treasure hoards or rewards might be found outside encounters entirely. If your campaign structure works better by giving out treasure for individual encounters—such as some dungeon crawls or sandbox games—see Treasure by Encounter.

As you choose treasure, look at the flow of treasure in the campaign, and see which PCs are ahead and which are behind. It’s usually best to mix “core items,” treasure linked to a PC’s main abilities, with treasure that has unusual, less broadly applicable powers. For instance, a champion might not purchase plate armor of the deep, but they will likely wear it if they find it. These items should always be useful—a party without a primal spellcaster won’t have much use for an animal staff. The number of core items to give out depends partly on how much the campaign allows for crafting and buying items.
  • If there are few limits on buying items and there’s plenty of time to craft, make about half the permanent items you give out core items. The PCs have plenty of ways to obtain the items they want.
  • If purchasing items and obtaining formulas is somewhat difficult, make about three-fourths of the permanent items core items. If a PC really wants an item, they might have to do extra work to get it.
  • If there are no magic item shops or other ways to purchase items and formulas, make all the permanent items core items. In this case, it might work better for your game to use Automatic Bonus Progression to eliminate the need for core items.

Selling Items

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 38
The PCs’ ability to sell items plays a big part in their ability to equip themselves how they want. It’s expected that a Pathfinder campaign strives for some amount of verisimilitude—that PCs can’t find a buyer for every item, especially if they’re selling multiple copies of the same thing. Players should not have the expectation that they can sell whatever they want whenever they want. They might be unable to sell items that wouldn’t be in demand, have to take a lower percentage, or have trouble selling items in places without massive wealth.

If you don’t want to deal with that level of detail, you can choose to make selling items more abstract, allowing the PCs to sell anything for half Price essentially at any time. Since this makes it far easier for PCs to outfit themselves how they want, they might be more powerful.

Starting The Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
Before your first session begins, communicate back and forth with the players about the following details to make sure you’ve planned your campaign to fit their preferences, then recap and communicate your final decisions.
  • Establish the expected schedule and generally how long you expect the campaign to last. It’s okay if you don’t know the total length for sure, but you should still give an estimate.
  • Inform the players when and where the first session will take place, what they should prepare in advance, and what materials to bring. If you’re running a session zero to create characters first, let them know. You might also need to tell them whether to bring food, drinks, and other supplies beyond what they’ll use for the game itself.
  • Let the players know any restrictions or extra options for character building. Even if you plan to run a session zero, give them a heads-up before the session starts.
  • Tell the players where in the game world the first session will take place.
  • Give the players a basic idea of the genre or theme.

At the First Session

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
If you’re running a session zero, read the Session Zero section for advice on your first session. For the first time you play through an adventure, follow these bits of advice.
  • Recap the basics of the campaign you established earlier, particularly where it starts and any themes you feel will be important for the players to understand as they roleplay.
  • Have the players introduce their characters. If they have detailed backstories, it’s usually best that they start out just describing what the other PCs could learn with first impressions. If they want to go deeper into their backstory during play, they can do so later.
  • Ask questions about the characters. Note down anything you think will be significant, so you can adjust your plans for later sessions. You’ll want to keep doing this throughout play.
  • Begin the adventure, using the Starting a Session steps on page 490 of the Core Rulebook. For your first adventure, find a good place for the PCs to meet and a reason for them to be together.

Starting at a Higher Level

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
A typical campaign starts at 1st level, but you can start at a higher level if you choose. This can be especially satisfying for a one-shot or short campaign, or if your group wants to play a specific adventure made for higher-level groups. The PCs should start at the same level. They simply make a 1st-level character, then level it up the number of times needed to reach the starting level.

The Character Wealth table on page 511 of the Core Rulebook indicates how much currency and what common items of various levels the character should start with. Let the players choose their own items and spend their currency on common items as well if they choose. This table gives them fewer items than they might have had if they had gained items through adventuring, balancing the fact that they can choose what items they want.

Table 10-10: Character Wealth

LevelPermanent ItemsCurrencyLump Sum
1-15 gp15 gp
21st: 120 gp30 gp
32nd: 1, 1st: 225 gp75 gp
43rd: 1, 2nd: 2, 1st: 130 gp140 gp
54th: 1, 3rd: 2, 2nd: 1, 1st: 250 gp270 gp
65th: 1, 4th: 2, 3rd: 1, 2nd: 280 gp450 gp
76th: 1, 5th: 2, 4th: 1, 3rd: 2125 gp720 gp
87th: 1, 6th: 2, 5th: 1, 4th: 2180 gp1,100 gp
98th: 1, 7th: 2, 6th: 1, 5th: 2250 gp1,600 gp
109th: 1, 8th: 2, 7th: 1, 6th: 2350 gp2,300 gp
1110th: 1, 9th: 2, 8th: 1, 7th: 2500 gp3,200 gp
1211th: 1, 10th: 2, 9th: 1, 8th: 2700 gp4,500 gp
1312th: 1, 11th: 2, 10th: 1, 9th: 21,000 gp6,400 gp
1413th: 1, 12th: 2, 11th: 1, 10th: 21,500 gp9,300 gp
1514th: 1, 13th: 2, 12th: 1, 11th: 22,250 gp13,500 gp
1615th: 1, 14th: 2, 13th: 1, 12th: 23,250 gp20,000 gp
1716th: 1, 15th: 2, 14th: 1, 13th: 25,000 gp30,000 gp
1817th: 1, 16th: 2, 15th: 1, 14th: 27,500 gp45,000 gp
1918th: 1, 17th: 2, 16th: 1, 15th: 212,000 gp69,000 gp
2019th: 1, 18th: 2, 17th: 1, 16th: 220,000 gp112,000 gp

Ending the Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
A campaign might have a well-planned, emotionally resonant ending that executes perfectly, or the group might die in a ridiculous fashion at the worst time possible. It’s important that the ending follow the story, wherever it has gone, even if it doesn’t match the idea you had in your head at the start. Check in with your group, especially when you’re getting close to the end of each adventure, to see how long they want the campaign to go on. Check in with yourself, too, and express your opinion to the other players. Ideally, you know at least a session in advance that the end is coming, allowing you to prepare for a thrilling conclusion. You might plan for the final session’s gameplay to be a bit shorter—possibly just one big showdown—to allow time for an epilogue and for the group to reminisce and decompress at the end.

An epilogue can make the end of a campaign more fulfilling. First, let the group finish out their roleplaying in the final moments of the adventure until they’re content. Then tell the group the results of what they accomplished in broad terms, with concrete details of what happens to certain places or allied NPCs. Ask the players what their characters do after the adventure. You might want to narrate a few short scenes, such as a PC tracking down an escaped villain and bringing them to justice. When your epilogue is done, thank everyone for playing. If the campaign ended in success for the PCs, give yourselves a round of applause. A victorious ending warrants celebration!

Dealing with Failure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
If a campaign ends prematurely, get a sense from the players of whether they want to continue. The advice on Total Party Kills on page 30 should be helpful. If the campaign ended in a stranger way than a total party kill— say, a PC handing over the powerful relic the villain needed to complete a master plan—you can still look for ways the campaign might continue. Maybe the PCs struggle to survive in the world after the calamity, or maybe they have just enough time they might still be able to stop the plan.

The Next Campaign

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 39
If the group plays another campaign in the same world that takes place after your previous campaign, think through the repercussions of the last campaign and change the world as needed. You might introduce new elements into the world that call back to the previous campaign: newly powerful factions, new settlements, or new options for player characters such as backgrounds, all based on the impact the previous PCs made on the world.