What do You Strive for in Your Games?
This post is written by local VL Doug Hahn; it was also posted on the Paizo forums; you can add or participate in the discussion there. This post has been revised to be less didactic, reframing "expectations" as "hopes" and "goals."
Back in the ol’ days, in a realm far, far away called Pathfinder 1E, a player named Painlord posted an epic treatise about what he expected other players to be able to do when he sat down with them at the PFS table.
Painlord’s post helped me a lot. I still ask new players to read it. I link it on my GM profile. With more and mroe players moving into mid- and high-tier play, I wanted to articulate some of my own PFS thoughts, goals, and expectations in the same style.
I’m interested in your ideas, too!
Goals by Level
Grab a potion from your school items and mention where it is on your person. This way your allies can feed it to you while you're Dying. Or buy one and pick something else from your school… just bring a damn potion. This habit will save your bacon at least once in your society career.
Every new character should try to have at least one of the following: a spare light weapon (often a dagger), a primary weapon, and a ranged weapon (sometimes a dagger). Martial characters should try to buy a couple of types, so they can get through Damage Reduction or capitalize on Weakness easily.
You should have a way to create light if you don’t have darkvision… even if it’s just a torch. If you are a caster with darkvision, you should strongly consider preparing a Light cantrip just to be a good teammate. Cast it on a rock and drop hand it into your human buddy's pocket.
Here is where most PCs get their first General Feat. I don’t want to digress into build choices, but your pick should be informed by the unpredictable nature of PFS. If you’re a low-con melee type, Fleet might look fun but you should consider the less-flashy Toughness so people aren’t wasting time picking you up when you fall. A caster can choose Canny Acumen to shore up a weak save and retrain it later, or increase Perception to Expert (perception is used often).
Players are now expected to grasp the basics of action economy and to always do something on their turn. At this level, you should know what Stepping, Sustaining, Delaying, and Readying entail. If you aren’t sure what to do with your third action raise a shield, stride, set up an Aid, or make a Recall Knowledge check.
You should start speaking Pathfinder. Include your DCs when you cast spells:
I cast Fear; DC 21 Basic Will Save for the dire Corgi.
At level 3 you’re probably still learning the finer points, but having a foundation in the basics will make you awesome later.
Consider increasing Constitution. I can’t think of a good reason not to on any build, but if you don’t agree then you better have a good justification. Again, PFS isn’t a home game where you will always have a healer to pick you up, or the sheltering wing of a Champion to let you go all-out on offense. You need to take care of yourself. It's not your teammates' job.
At this point, martials should strive to have a more than one weapons with which to solve problems. If you use a steel shield, you should have been using the Sturdy shield for about a level now.
Save for an Armor Potency rune soon or immediately at 5. Casters should also try to invest in armor potency or be willing to use spell slots for mitigation tactics.
Casters can also invest in scrolls for utility — options include resist energy (great against persistent damage), glitterdust/faerie fire, spider climb (deal with terrain), Heal/Soothe, Restoration, Water Walk, and similar utility scrolls. You probably don’t have all these yet, but you can start a collection that will someday become a library of party-saving awesomeness. You might even have a wand or two (for example, level 2 Longstrider and False Life provide all-day utility).
Martials should also strive for utility, whether that is debuffs (intimidation provides one of the best debuffs in the game), face skills, crafting, etc. They can also purchase items to contribute in a variety of situations, such as by buying silvertongue mutagens to contribute in a social endeavor or emerald grasshoppers to solve terrain.
Speaking of, scenarios now start throwing challenging terrain at you with high frequency. It's often baked into the encounter as part of the challenge rating. You should think about how you will get to difficult places like cliffs, bogs, underwater, etc. Make a "what if" list and write down what you'll do in each case.
Another general feat. Always a good idea to bump a weak save to Expert here if you took Toughness at 3. At this level, teammates might hope that their spellcasters are more flexibile and willing to expend non-cantrip slots to buff allies or harm enemies.
Everyone to try to have a way to heal themselves for a non-trivial amount, and to have a variety of tools at their disposal such as potions of invisibility (uncommon, but available through school traiing!), all elements’ bombs, emergency boons, etc. Casters should now work on an improved library for utility: Remove Curse, Remove Disease, Air Walk, See Invisibility, and Neutralize Poison can be lifesavers.
The party should be able to cope with invisible and flying enemies.
All players should think about ways to help teammates deal with nastiness, such as persistent damage, spike damage, terrain difficulty, etc.
Somewhat theoretical as we're not really there yet in PFS. But this is what I hope for: teams will operate as a fluedly even though you might be playing with strangers, and formulate strategies together against enemies with unique and dangerous abilities. I Players should strive for one or more contingency plans against immunities/ Damage Reduction. PCs should try to pick each other up when one drops. I They should be prepared to deal with a variety of even more challenging terrains and use consumables freely.
Everyone should try to have at least one “break in case of emergency” item.
Your GM probably hopes that by this point, you are a subject matter experts on your abilities.
It’s the easiest thing in the world, yet it fails to happen so often. Why is that? Because people aren’t paying attention. It's challenging, sometimes. We all have stuff going on in our homes, our lives, etc.
Make note of whatever enemy is most damaged and focus fire. 2E is an action-economy game; taking even one mook out can have a positive cascade effect.
Flanking is mission-critical — even if you’re a caster, you can walk around with a whip in hand to threaten at reach. (Also remember everyone is trained in Unarmed, so you always flank anyway, but you might not want to be toe-to-toe with an enemy).
Your wizard is not off the hook if the only damage dealer in the party needs a flank to hit the high AC big bad severe encounter. Go ahead and pay a few silvers and carry around a whip to threaten from range.
You should also noe that flanking on a boss is often bettwer than using your fancy abilities; for example, given a choice to flank a large size, high-AC boss or keep someone in your Champion aura, flanking is most often the better choice.
What Will You Do When There's No Healer?
No Cure Light Wounds spam coupled with the randomized nature of PFS makes this one of the most important AND challenging 2E problems for you to solve. Don’t look at your sheet before a game and think “Gee, I hope some random person in the party can heal of me.” Instead: “What is my plan without healing in the party?”
Always try to have at least one healing potion of the highest level available. Your 1d8 minor healing potion you saved since level 1 is just going to hurt more than help at level 8. Try to have a couple cheaper fallbacks, too.
Picking up training in medicine is a strong contender for any character, as well as taking Battle Medicine and walking around with the healer’s tools in your bandolier. It works in a pinch and you'll hit the DCs at mid levels on, even if you;re not wisdom-based. Or, grab some healer’s gloves to help an ally in need.
Every caster should know the Shield cantrip and have some other way to bolster themselves against damage or effects (e.g Mirror Images, increased armor training).
2-handed melee PCs should still buy a shield and one-handed weapon so they can “sword and board” in a group where they will be put at high risk — even the barbarian can do this.
Never forget your dagger. You don't want to be swallowed whole without a light-bulk weapon.
Finally, be DYNAMIC. Stick and move if the enemy's highly dangerous and your group lacks healing. If you end up Dying because you ate a full attack and got crit on the third, it causes your teammates to use their actions helping you, and so forth… things can spiral quickly!
Use It & Lose It
PFS gives way more GP per level than you get in an AP. It’s totally crazy how wealthy Pathfinders are versus normal adventurers, and often shocking to go from PFS-land to AP-land.
This is by design, and it’s not so you get cool toys faster; it’s so you have a fighting chance when 6 barbarians show up to play the intrigue scenario.
If class and ancestry features don't cover your bases, invest in items that do. School items aren’t enough. Spend your gold on shoring up your weak points — is your character kind of dumb, and going to a social scenario? Buy a couple cognitive mutagens. Scholarly with no charisma? They have a mutagen for that, too.
Budget at least 10% of your wealth on consumables. I actually feel like you could swing even more than that.
Have a Fallback Plan
No plan meets contact with the enemy.
Are you an enchantment-focused caster or precision damager? What are you going to do in a scenario full of oozes? Do you channel negative energy? What are you going to do in an undead-themed scenario?
When I build or refine characters, I often write a variety of common situations and strategies on notecards. It can be helpful to some of these thought exercises:
- What if the enemy is immune to my main shtick?
- What if I’m underwater?
- What if I’m being shot at from a cliff?
- What if I cannot see the enemy?
- What if the enemy is flying?
And so on. You might not have all the answers, but you can probably patch together a secondary strategy if you think about it ahead of time. These thought exercises can help illuminate what items to buy as well.
Contribute — in and out of Combat
No matter what you build, you will enjoy Pahtfinder more if you can contribute in and out of combat. PFS scenarios typically have components of intrigue/social encounters as well as combat.
Shield champion? Take craft so you can fix your own busted shield. As a bonus, crafting is ridiculously broad in this system. Barbarian? Intimidation will help you in and out of combat.
Sky's the limit, and often these skills and feats serve multiple purposes. Plus, it makes your whole session more enjoyable when you can meaningfully participate in more parts of the narrative.
The awesome news is this is a LOT easier in 2e than it was in 1e.
Pathfinder is a team effort, and that is the only way to succeed. Don't go off on your own; let the rogue do their trapfinding and position yourselves on a tactical map with intentionality.
Agree on goals together. If there's an optional encounter or hard mode, tally a vote instead of letting the vocal individual decide. Try your best to coordinate tiers because play between subtiers can be very touch-and-go especially with a suboptimal party composition.
Learn the Secret to Improving FAST
Learn to GM!
Talk to your local VA about running some games. Seeing things on the other side of the screen is eye-opening.
The Most Important Thing
Pathfinder Society is a social endeavor. You are often playing with strangers who have different reasons for picking up this hobby and different things they enjoy about it. Respect that.
Your GM is volunteering their time and doing their best. Your fellow players are too. We're often tired after a busy day or have other things going on in our lives that distract us or detract from strategic ability.
Empathize, forgive, and pass on knowledge, and celebrate in a respectful manner. Allow space for everyone to have at least one moment in the spotlight, every single game.
When someone does something that helps the whole party or expends a valuable resource, give them a compliment. Say thanks.
I don't always live up to these expectations, but I strive for them.
What do you expect of yourself, and your teammates, in 2E PFS?