CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making A Character For The Game You're In

Pathfinder Orc
One of the statements I hear a lot of is, “just let the player make whatever they want.” One of the practices I see very often is that GMs let players make characters before they come to the table. What I see happening with this a lot is that players end up with characters that don’t fit the game.

 Maybe your ranger has goblins as a favored enemy but because there was no discussion as to what the game would be about you had no clue you were never going to see a goblin in the game. Maybe you’ve come up with an enchanter you wanted to play but you were unaware that the game consisted of a lot of mindless undead and constructs thus making your mind-effecting powers ineffectual 90% of the time. Or maybe it’s as simple as you come to the table with a desert dwelling druid, and the game takes place in the arctic region of the world.

I know this isn’t an issue for folks who play a super sandboxy make it up as you go along campaign, but a lot of GMs have an idea they are going to work with even in homebrew, and there are very specific things that go on in a module or one of the Pathfinder APs (adventure path). So today we are going to talk about making a character for the game you’re playing.

One of my first suggestions is don’t let players make their characters alone. At the very least the GM should sit with the player when making characters. This allows the GM to make suggestions based on their knowledge of what will happen during the game. If the GM knows there are never going to be goblins but undead are going to be a heavy theme he may suggest the player switch his rangers favored enemy. No player likes having an ability on their sheet they’ll never use. But beyond that it helps connect the story.

I run the Shattered Star AP and one of the first things it says is that the players are working for the Pathfinder Society, they are aspiring or junior Pathfinders. By giving this piece of information you can help the player make a character that will from the start fit into the game. I can't even count the number of times at the beginning of an adventure when a GM sets out the initial plot hook and a player says, “My character wouldn’t be interested in that.” If your character wouldn’t be interested then why did you make that character?

One of the things I love about Paizo’s APs is that each AP has a Player’s Guide. A short PDF which Paizo offers for free on their website. These Player’s Guides, give a lot of information on what to expect,  the region play will start in, and they even give campaign traits which help start the player with a connection to the AP that also gives a mechanical advantage to the character.

When I do run homebrews I try and keep all of this information in mind as well, and I work with my players to make characters that will be both fun for them to play and connected to my scenario. I’m running a group of strung together modules right now, with some interspersed original ideas and I sat over the course of a week or two with each player making sure their characters were prepared for my the game I wanted to run, and so far it’s been a blast.

I think however things are easier to understand if given an example. So today we’re going to create a character for one of the APs I’ve never played or run before, Carrion Crown. First thing I’m going to do is download the Player’s Guide from the Paizo site.

To start we get our plot hook all the characters somehow knew a man named Professor Petros Lorrimor, a famed scholar, explorer, and teacher. We know that all the characters will have traveled to the land of Ustalav to attend the funeral of the Professor and that each of the characters was named in his will, so our character is probably assumed to have been close to the professor. This gives us a huge starting point to attach our character to the game.

Now the Player’s Guides all give campaign traits and as a player I almost always take one of these as they give the character a stronger connection to the story. As a GM I require the players take a campaign trait. Looking through them I’ve decided on the On The Payroll Trait;

“Whether he needed a bodyguard in a rough neighborhood, a guide to an isolated archeological dig, or information on a specialized topic, Professor Lorrimor was never shy about hiring professionals to help him attain his goals. Over the course of his long career, thousands of people throughout the world served his needs and benefited from his generous wages (usually covered by his academic benefactor at the time). He had contacts in most areas of expertise in every corner of the known world, a knack for recognizing talent, and a desire to be surrounded by the best and brightest at all times. Whatever job the professor originally hired you for, your performance captured his attention, and he hired you many times throughout your career, sometimes even for jobs away from your home, always paying your expenses and compensating you well for your time. In your area of expertise, you are among the best.

Benefit: Your years of hard work have paid off, granting you an additional 150 gp in starting wealth.”

This trait gives us a lot of leeway on the character choices to be made and extra starting gold is always a nice benefit for doing so. Next up I’m going to think about class a minute, each class is listed in the book with suggestions on roleplay aspects and some mechanical recommendations. I’m going to play a ranger I think both because it’s one of my favorite classes but also because the mechanical recommendations highlight a point I made earlier about not choosing abilities that may be worthless.

Here are the recommendations for ranger.

“Suggested ranger archetypes for the Carrion Crown Adventure Path include Guide, Infiltrator, Skirmisher, and Urban Ranger. Good favored enemies include aberration, animal, construct, humanoid (human), and undead. Rangers with the favored terrains of forest, mountain, swamp, and urban will find their talents most useful during the course of the campaign. See the druid section for suggested animal companions.”

And the druid section on animal companions says this;

“Any animal companion native to temperate land environments would be appropriate for this adventure, particularly cougars, falcons, owls, and wolves.”

I’m getting a picture of a rough and tumble type here. Maybe a bodyguard hired on by the professor when he would move through the darker parts of Ustalav. Before I delve to deeply into what I’ll do with the actual ranger class I must decide on a race. Everyone has their go to race, mine is usually human, and to that end as a way of playing something I don’t usually, I’m going to go half-orc on this one.

Looking at the suggest archetypes none of them really stand out to me, there is a corpse hunter archetype but I don’t like that either. So I’m thinking the Skirmisher archetype, since I don’t like spell casting, with a wolf pet.

And honestly that would be enough everything else, the mechanics can be molded around the basic story. A quick look at a map of Ustalav and the pathfinder wiki page for it and I’ve got an even clearer picture.

A Half-orc from the county of Canterwall where Ustalav abuts the Orc held Belkan hold. Distrusted because of his parentage he spends a lot of time wandering especially into the haunted wastelands of the prison county of Virlych. He was a guide to the professor on a number of occasions when he was investigating something or another in the area. The Half-Orc has become quite adept and fighting off the undead that plague the region.

After that you can play fill in the blanks and write a much longer background, I know I would. But even this is enough to satisfy any GM that you’ve made a character that fits into the campaign that you’ll be playing. He’ll be happy he won’t have to fight you tooth and nail to go on the adventure he’s planned.

How do you make a character when starting a new game? As a GM how much information do you give your players?


  1. This is really neat! Thank you for sharing!

  2. You're welcome Jesse. Hopefully it can help you in your gaming experience. Inspiring thought and creativity is what we're about here at the CRB.

  3. So based on your experience directly with Shattered Star, and the fact that the Players Guide doesn't have much in the way of direct suggestions (aside from the Society Traits) how did you help your group figure out what characters they were going to be playing?

    Did you generally discuss party build before characters were made?

    If so what suggestions did you give your players at the time? (IE this party should have a healer, trapper etc).

  4. Good questions G.

    Its more than just the society traits in Shattered Star all the player's start out as fledgling members of the pathfinder society. So that was something they each had to work into their characters. Why is your character a member of the society, what drove them to join up.

    Also all the characters were made together. Except the bounty hunter which joined the game before the first session but after the chargen session. I always prefer my players make their characters together.

    I don't really discuss party make up. And I don't believe in the "perfect party." I'm going to touch on that in another article but I don't think you need a fighter (tank), Arcane Caster, Healer, Skill Monkey. So for me I let the players pick whatever they wanted to play with this information.

    1) Shattered Star is a very traditional fantasy game. There will be lots of dungeon crawling. It is a find the ancient artifact scenario while fighting ancient evils. So make characters that are into this sort of thing.

    2) You guys are the good guys. You don't have to be goody two-shoes, but please don't be horrible people you are heroes.

    3) You are members of the Pathfinder society. Regardless of what else you are, you need to work this into your background and it should flavor how you make your character.

    For the record here's what we have in the group.

    A dwarven trapfinder (rogue) his great resistance to spells and poisons makes him an excellent trap tripper even if he can disarm them. He became a pathfinder for the thrill of exploration.

    A slyph wind wizardess. If something goes wrong its her fault. She is overly inquisitive and is consistently getting the entire party in trouble, which they all love. She became a pathfinder because she is always looking for the next big risk to take.

    A human cleric of Sarenrae. The black sheep of a noble family sent off to the monastery. Although he has found some solace in the worship of the dawnflower, he joined the Pathfinder society in an attempt to find his place in the world.

    A half-Elf Paladin of Abadar. A fugitive from Rahadoum, sent away by his parents after hearing the call of the God of the First Vault. He joined the Pathfinder society because they are famed for finding and thwarting old evils and protecting the civilized world.

    Human Ranger, bounty hunter. Not officially a member of the pathfinder society at first. But the opening of book one is the hunt for a person who's gone missing and who better to find a person who doesn't want to be found.

    A well rounded party to be sure. But more importantly each character wants to be where the game is. They have worked themselves into the scenario and I don't need to fight them to get them to do things.