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Pharasma’s Revolving Door

Congrats! You’re dead! It happens even to the best of us at some point. I know that I have had 9 character deaths over the course of my Pathfinder Society play time, and even if you build really good characters and play them really well, natural 20’s happen and crits can hurt. It does behoove everyone to learn how raising a dead character works, especially once you start hitting level 5 and above where you can come back from death more often. So, how does coming back from death work?

To start off with, most deaths are going to require you to get a raise dead. Raise dead has some limitations on it though. You need not to have been by a death effect or something with the death descriptor, you need to not have had your body turned into undead, and you need to have your full body available. If your body is potentially recoverable, but your party wasn’t able to bring it back for some reason, then you can pay for a body recovery with 5 Prestige. You can’t pay for this with money, only with favors. If your body is inaccessible for other reasons, or you suffered from one of the earlier problems, you’re going to need to pay for a resurrection instead of a raise dead.

Even with those restrictions, the vast majority of deaths only need raise dead. The problem is that you’re going to have to pay for it. Here’s the ways to pay for a raise dead:

  • Pay with gold. Raise dead is a 5th level cleric spell, which means a spellcasting service costs 5*9*10+5,000 (for the diamond) = 5,450gp.
  • Party member casts it. Any 9th level cleric can prepare raise dead, while 10th level oracles might have it as a spell known and 11th level witches might have it in their familiar. This will save the 450 you would have to pay for getting someone to cast it for you, but still requires you to find a 5,000gp diamond somewhere.
  • Prestige! All those favors you’ve done for people and those times you’ve proven yourself to be an exemplary Pathfinder are finally paying off in the form of a ticket back to the Material Plane. However, unlike the previous two examples, you must spend you’re own prestige and only your prestige. Other people can’t chip in to help you. If you wish to pay this way, it will cost you 16 prestige.

All of these options you can either do in between sessions, or during the session if you have access to a town of greater than 5,000 people (or a high level caster and the 5,000gp diamond for the second option). Either way, your character has suddenly recovered and is back in the land of the living and scot-free!

Well… close. Walking through Pharasma’s revolving door is a harrowing experience. When your character gets raised, he gets 2 negative levels. These can be taken care of with restoration. The choices you have mimic the raise dead choices above. For each negative level, either you pay 1280gp, or a character can cast restoration and you only need to pay 1,000gp, or you pay 4 Prestige. Also, you can only recover from 1 permanent negative level a week, which means that if you die in-game, unless you are doing a massive amount of travel in-game, you’re going to be stuck with a permanent negative level for the rest of the session. If you’re recovering between sessions, then you are assumed to spend enough time recovering that you can remove all your permanent negative levels.

Pharasma in her Boneyard

The last important thing to know about raising is that you can’t leave your character dead at the end of a session and raise him later. You must resolve the dead condition that session or your character is reported as dead and can no longer be played. Negative levels on the other hand you don’t need to worry about paying for right away if you don’t have the money or the prestige to pay for them. (Guide to Society Organized Play 22)

Especially at low levels, if someone dies in your party, considering pitching in to help them out. Raising someone and removing the negative levels at low levels can cost someone most of the money they have, which is incredibly crippling for a character. You are never forced to help someone out, but it is polite, especially if that person’s death is no fault of their own. It’s a lot easier for 5 people to give up 1,000gp than for one person to give up 5,000gp.

Okay, so you’ve just died, been raised and cleared all your negative levels. It was expensive, but you’re still able to play your character. You’re all done, right? Nope. You’ve just done everything that the game requires you to do, but you’re still missing one step. After the game, you need to think about what happened and why your character died. After all, we would like to prevent that experience from happening again, and only with reflection can you figure out what went wrong. Allow me to share you some examples of my own character deaths and how I changed characters based on the deaths:

Komana Higgenstrom is my Master of Many Styles Lore Warden. She wears light armor and uses Crane Style/Wing/Riposte to give her a good AC while she tries to combat maneuver things to death. Her major weakness was revealed when I had to fight a pair of huge fire elementals + a caster on the Ethereal Plane. Both of the fire elementals beat her in initiative, and slammed Komana enough that she died from the burn damage on her turn. Most of the elementals’ attacks wouldn’t have hit me if I had beaten them in initiative, but it turns out that when you get around +9 AC when you fight defensively + combat expertise, your AC is drastically lower than normal before you get to go. The problem is that her Dex wasn’t high and I hadn’t invested anything into initiative. I changed that when I leveled her up. I dipped diviner (foresight) wizard, got her a rabbit familiar, and took Improved Initiative as a feat, giving her a +9 bonus to initiative. While an enemy or two has beaten her in initiative since then, she has never lost initiative to all of the monsters and gotten in the same trouble since then.

Of course, changes don’t have to be as drastic. Getting hit by 2 shadow evocations revealed that my witch’s saves weren’t great and I prioritized cloaks of resistance after that. Getting a bunch of giant scorpions surrounding me helped me realize that my skill monkey’s AC wasn’t that great, so I bought him better armor with the leftover money from that scenario. And of course, sometimes you run across situations that you’re not prepared for. Deeper darkness and flight are 2 problems that frequently come up and that can be really deadly if you aren’t prepared for them, but can be solved with a simple consumable.

And sometimes, the dice just aren’t with you or you’re in a really bad situation. My halfling cavalier went up and tanked a bunch of thugs who needed an 18 on the die to hit him, and proceed to fall unconscious from multiple attacks, despite good hit points and healing him in the middle. My skill monkey got hit by a slay living and failed his save. My bard went into Bonekeep 2. Sometimes your death isn’t your fault, and that’s okay. Just as long as you recognize that and don’t let it discourage you.

After all, what’s the fun if there’s not a little risk?


Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Advice, Articles


Secondary Success Conditions

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that we’ve had a streak of scenarios where the players have failed at getting the secondary success condition. While us old geezers in the campaign know what the in-game society expects out of its agents, this isn’t always clear to new players to the campaign. So if you’re lost as to how to complete your secondary success conditions, here’s some tips as to what the society expects of its agents.

The Society defends its own. Agents are more useful to the Society alive than dead. If you have the opportunity to keep an agent alive over the course of the adventure, keeping them alive helps the Society a great deal. Dead agents aren’t useless to the Society though. Recovering dead bodies and bringing them back to the Society to be raised or at least given a proper burial makes you great within the Society. Even recovering keepsakes of agents for their next of kin means a lot emotionally to other agents – especially if that keepsake is a wayfinder.

Is the Society supposed to be here? As much as the Society is a knowledge-gathering and an adventurous organization, it is also a political organization. As an agent, you aren’t just expected to navigate vast swaths of wilderness or localized dungeons, but also political climates. One thing to ask yourself before every mission is if the Pathfinder Society is allowed go where you’re going. If yes, be on your best behavior and help to improve and maintain the reputation and good name of the Society. If no, then be as sneaky as possible so that they won’t know that you’re there. And if they do find out – try to blame it on the Aspis Consortium. Speaking about the Aspis Consortium…

Try to discover intelligence about the Society’s enemies. You don’t get to be an organization as big as the Society without making a few enemies. There are a number of enemies out there, the most famous of which is the Aspis Consortium. Any information you happen to gain about our enemies as you do your missions for the Society will be helpful to the organization. We’d rather strike before these agents lash out than clean up the mess they leave. Any information you can gain helps us do that.

Preserve and record the environment you’re in. As an agent of the Society, you’re going to explore many exotic and interesting locales. The Society would prefer if you weren’t the only group to explore that locale. Maintaining the environment so that other people can study it and find things you missed would be most advantageous. Of course, we would also prefer that it was safe for our sages and other scholarly types to explore and catalog. You may be well-adjusted to jumping head-first into danger, but not everyone in our Society shares those same traits. It’s not good, for instance, if there are traps lying around that you didn’t find or at least trigger. That said, you may come across locales where it will be impossible for anyone besides yourselves to explore due to magical or extraordinary circumstances. In that case, accurate and detailed notes will be key if the Society is to learn anything from your exploration.

Do the job you’ve been sent to do in a more heroic fashion. One of the wonderful products of our Society is the Pathfinder Chronicles, a collection of journals, notes and essays by various members of our field agents detailing the work they have done in the Society’s name. Getting published in the Chronicles is an easy way of earning fame in our Society, but not every story can qualify to be published. The more heroic your story, the better chances it has of getting published. Sure, you could try to bypass that door by pulling out your adamantine pick and hacking through, but wouldn’t learning the secret behind how that arcane door works and publishing that riddle and the genius of how you bypassed it be a much more entertaining read?

Do the obvious secondary success condition. Sometimes, there’s literally a second objective you can do as you go. Sure, you were sent into the Tomb of the Ferrous Nagaji to recover the Iron Snake Tail, but when you get in there you find that not only does the Tomb contain the Iron Snake Tail but also the Ring of Parseltongue Speaking. You should get that too if you can. No reason to send a second team of Pathfinders out to get what you could’ve easily retrieved while you were out there.

There might be multiple secondary success conditions. There may not be just one thing that helps the Society in any given circumstance. In some cases, there are multiple things you can do. The Society understands that not all agents are equal, and some teams are going to be left with holes in their capabilities. Be on the lookout for multiple things you can do. Many of the recent secondary success conditions involve doing X of a list of items.

Hopefully, this provides more context as to what the Society expects of its agents and what to be on the look out for as you complete your missions. And remember, you shouldn’t expect to get your secondary success every time. They are supposed to be hard, and if you manage to get 6 prestige points a level, you will have earned it!

Did I miss something? Got any (spoiler-free) suggestions related to the above? Feel-free to share it in the comments below!

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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Advice, Articles


You Are Not Omniscient

Running a home Pathfinder game and running a Pathfinder Society game are two completely different things. In a home game, the GM can control what rules items are legal and can become intimately familiar with the options that his characters are using. This means that the GM only needs to know the rules for the characters and the particular NPCs that are involved with the current session. For most sessions, this is all you need, and therefore a prepared home game GM can appear to be the stereotypical all-knowing rules arbiter with a sufficient amount of preparedness. This is impossible in Pathfinder Society. There are currently 34 Campaign Setting books, 38 Player Companions, and 12 hardcover books with material legal in them for Pathfinder Society. While a lot of the books only have a couple of items legal in them, there is still a lot of material available out there – it’s impossible to know it all. And that’s not even counting the massive amount of crunch that’s coming out in the Advanced Class Guide this August. The 6 players at your table could be using any of that crunch for their characters, and they could be using completely different crunch than the 6 players from the last time you GM’d. Some GMs are better at knowing fringe material than others, but nobody’s perfect. No matter who you are, there will be some PFS game where a player pulls out some random build that you’ve never seen before.

The point is, as a PFS GM, the perception of omniscience is overrated because someone will play something that breaks it eventually. It is okay to admit “I don’t know.” In fact, you should admit it every single time you don’t know something. Taking this approach will have a couple good effects on your games.

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Posted by on February 8, 2014 in Articles, James' Soapbox


Statblock Scavenger Hunt – Sellsword

I’ve been writing a lot of articles recently that focus on the player side of the screen. However, one of the things that I have been thankful about in Philadelphia is the amount of people who also GM as well as play. It’s about time I wrote an article for GMing.

Take a moment and look over this statblock:

Sellsword CR 7
(Edited from Gamemastery Guide 283)
Human fighter 8
N Medium humanoid
Init +6; Senses Perception +8
AC 25, touch 12, flat-footed 23 (+10 armor, +2 Dex, +3 shield)
hp 80 (8d10+36)
Fort +10, Ref +5, Will +6; +2 vs. fear
Defensive Abilities bravery +2
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 bastard sword +14/+9 (1d10+8/17–20) or spiked gauntlet +11/+6 (1d4+3)
Ranged javelin +10 (1d6+3)
Special Attacks weapon training (heavy blades +1)
Str 16, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
Base Atk +8; CMB +11; CMD 23
Feats Cleave, Improved Critical (bastard sword), Improved Initiative, Improved Iron Will, Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness, Vital Strike, Weapon Focus (bastard sword), Weapon Specialization (bastard sword)
Skills Intimidate +7, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +5, Perception +8, Profession (soldier) +5, Ride +8, Survival +10
Languages Common
SQ armor training 2
Combat Gear potion of align weapon, potion of bull’s strength, potions of cure light wounds (2); Other Gear +1 full plate, +1 heavy steel shield, +1 bastard sword, spiked gauntlet, javelins (5), cloak of resistance +1, 40 gp

Now, answer the following questions. Feel free to look back at the statblock, but first see how much you can answer without looking anything up.

  1. A PC caster targeted you with phantasmal killer with a DC of 17. You rolled a 10 on your first save. Did you pass?
  2. A PC caster targeted you with confusion with a DC of 17. You rolled a 10 on your save. Did you pass?
  3. Modify the attack line to account for Power Attack
  4. Modify the attack line to account for Vital Strike
  5. What’s the Sellsword’s bonus to Trip? Disarm?
  6. What’s the Sellsword’s CMD vs. Trip? CMD vs. Disarm?
  7. What’s the Sellsword’s Perception bonus?
  8. What’s the Sellsword’s Sense Motive bonus?
  9. What’s the Sellsword’s Acrobatics bonus?
  10. Why is this stat block slightly misleading? (The answer is related to at least one of the questions above.)

When you think you have your answers, click here to check your work.

(Special thanks to Alexander Nudd for help with editing this article.)

Feel free to discuss the questions in the comments below. If you’re looking to complete the questions without spoilers, I would recommend not looking in the comments.


Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Articles, Statblock Scavenger Hunt


The Game Changes at Level 5

As your character gains levels, they will become more specialized. Your character has a couple things that they are really good at, and they will certainly try to spend most combats following that one strategy, whether it be summoning monsters, full attack power attack with a greatsword, or yelling insults at enemies to get them to attack your super high AC instead of squishy party members. The problem is, your enemies also have some things that they are very good at and sometimes their strategy trumps yours. A lot of these are things you can prepare for if you know they exist. However, if this is your first higher level character, you may not be aware of the effects and strategies at these levels. Here are some things you can expect.

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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Advice, Articles


The ACG Playtest is Here!

Today the playtest for the Advanced Class Guide will drop, and as of this blog post, will be legal right away. Additional Resources will be updated with exactly what is legal for playtesting, although one can imagine that most of the playtest will be legal. I know that I’m excited to try out the new classes, and I’m sure that a lot of you guys are too. There hasn’t been an open playtest in PFS in a while, so here’s some advice to make the playtesting experience a little bit better for all.

The player is responsible for bringing the playtest rules to the game. Much like any other additional resource, players are responsible for bringing any playtest material to the game so that the GM can become familiar with the mechanics upon request. While there may be some GMs who dive into the playtest and become familiar with all 10 classes deeply, most GMs will need a reminder about what your class can do. If you are playing a playtest character, it is polite to inform your GM of this and ask them if they are familiar with the mechanics of it. If they aren’t, provide a copy of the playtest rules plus a copy of any messageboard clarifications.

Be involved with the playtest on the Paizo boards. There will be forums set up on Paizo’s site dedicated to discussing the playtest classes. This is one of your opportunities to affect the content that Paizo puts out. Discuss your experiences, what you liked and didn’t like about the class, and how it performed during the game. This playtest is a giant conversation, and the developers are listening. If you take the time to give feedback, it will be better for all.

Untested mechanics are no excuse for bad behavior. It’s already possible in Pathfinder Society to create broken characters. Optimized summoners, slumber-spamming witches, and kitsune fey sorcerers are all examples of characters who are on the very top of the power curve. There are 10 new classes in the playtest, each with something brand new. Chances are, something will be overpowered and/or broken. You may be playtesting, but everyone at the table is trying to play Pathfinder Society. If you realize that you are dominating the table, hold back and let other people participate. As players who play those kind of builds know – you may have found a “win button” in the rules, but that doesn’t mean that the game is automatically enjoyable.

Different is not necessarily overpowered. This one is mostly for the GMs out there. As people play the playtest classes in your games, you are going to see brand new mechanics that break your expectations over and over again. Certainly, when this happens, check to make sure that everything is kosher and that there are no problems. However, that little voice in the back of your head that tells you when something is overpowered will probably be wrong at some point in the playtest process. There will be new strong options, and sometimes we need to tell the voice in the back of our heads to shut up. If the mechanic is causing the problem at the table, then you should let the player know and tell him to hold back a bit, much like you would for a powerful build from current material. And if a new mechanic is constant causing problems, please post that feedback on the Paizo forums! That’s really important to know!

Most importantly, have fun! Playtests are an exciting time where we can try out lots of cool new stuff! Just remember to have fun while doing it! If you have any questions about the playtest, feel free to send me an email, although I won’t be able to answer anything until the playtest is actually posted.

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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Advice, Articles, Community


Changing Our Expectations for Season 5

Season 5 changed a lot about how Pathfinder Society works and the overall direction of the campaign. Now that we’re 7 scenarios in, we have a clearer picture about where Season 5 is going and how we should change our expectations about various parts of the campaign. I wanted to take a moment and talk about how the changes have affected us so far and how we should take a different look at the campaign going forward.

Even more so than previous posts, this is definitely an opinion piece by me, so take everything here with a grain of salt. Given my experience, I hope that my opinion is a useful one, but it is certainly not an universal truth. Take these opinions with a grain of salt like you should for all opinions, and use them to form your own opinions about how we should look at PFS going forward. (And I’m certainly interested in hearing your take on the things I bring up in this article.)

(Added a cut since this is a long one.)

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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Articles, Community, James' Soapbox