Guidance – Playing 101: Tips for Being a Successful Pathfinder (2022)

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about general tips that I’ve learned for success in PFS.

I’ve been playing PFS for over a year and a half now, so I thought that it would be a good time to share some of the general tips that I’ve learned. These tips are decent enough for any player, but they’re especially important for PFS because GMs don’t really have any authority to work with players and help balance out their weaknesses or flaws. Knowing what you’re up against and how you should prepare yourself is SUPER useful in society play.

One of the most deadly mistakes that one can make in PFS is not investing in a high enough Constitution score. From my experience, the best practice is Con 14 or higher if you’re constantly in melee range or Con 12 or higher if you’re not a melee character. Anything lower then that is asking for trouble when a foe turns around and smacks you, or lobs a fireball in your general direction.

Generally speaking, this is a weakness that gamers who are home game veterans but society newbies have. In home games, you often roll your hit points randomly and can often be blessed with high numbers. My kitsune fighter, Kyr’shin, was blessed with constantly high rolls (we’re talking 8s and 9s on d10s) and he has a Constitution of 12, so he usually has a decent stack of hit points despite having a relatively low Constitution score. In PFS, however, characters are stuck with “half HD, rounded up” for their hit point total at each level, so there isn’t much of an opportunity for having an abundance of hit points. Basically, PFS characters determine their hit points in the same manner that the foes they battle do (although PFS characters are usually slightly higher on average). As a result, Constitution becomes MUCH more important, as your cavalier that’s used to rolling 8s and 9s for an extra 3 or 4 hit points is now always getting 6 hp per level. No more, no less. And if you don’t invest in at least a little Constitution, 6 hp or even 7 hp per level just isn’t going to cut it.

In fact, last month I played a game with a Pathfinder vet who was taking his first dip into PFS play. He built a kitsune ninja and used the Iconic Ninja PFS pregen as a template for what he was allowed to make in PFS play. The Iconic Ninja famously has a Con of 12, so our vet player was a little shocked when he ran into combat, failed an Acrobatics check to avoid provoking an attack of opportunity from an opponent with a ranseur, and then got critically hit by that ranseur for 18 points of damage, instantly killing him permadead in his first-ever PFS game. And the terrible irony? If he even had so much as a Con 12, he would have survived the hit with –1 hp and we could have brought him back.

This could have happened to anyone, but don’t let it happen to you.

When you complete a PFS scenario, most everything you find during that scenario is listed on your chronicle sheet for you to buy with your own money. Some new players get cheesed at this system of, “I don’t get to keep what I find?!” but the reason that PFS works in this way is so that A) every can get rewards and B) everyone can rewards that are meaningful to the kind of character that they want to play. I mean, if you wanted to be a badass gun master, you’d probably be sad when you realize that enemies NEVER have magical gun on them. Right?

Anyway, you get a big list of loot but do you know what the REAL prizes are? Anything that tells you that you can only buy a limited number of the thing. Why? PFS operates on a system of Fame unlocking, meaning that if you’re famous enough, you can basically buy almost anything, provided that you the player have a legal sourcebook with that item in it. There are a VERY small number of exceptions to that rule; namely wands with less than 50 charges and wands/scrolls/potions with a higher-than-normal caster level. These items are typically listed as being “limit 1” on the chronicle sheet, and they’re awesome rewards for several reasons.

For limited quantity wands, typically the wand has fewer than 50 charges. Wand charges have the best gp cost per charge of any spell-based consumable in the game; 1 wand charge is cheaper than 1 scroll or 1 potion of the same spell with the same caster level. This means that wands with less than 50 charges end up being an AWESOME deal longterm. Consider a wand of lesser restoration with 8 charges is worth 720 gp. A scroll of that same spell would cost 150 gp, meaning that you get roughly twice as many castings of lesser restoration per gold piece. Of course, you wouldn’t normally want to spend 4,500 gp for the full 50 castings of lesser restoration; that’s too much of a gold investment. But 720 gp? That’s pretty reasonable, especially for clutch spells like lesser restoration.

Even if you aren’t a spellcaster, you might want to think about buying the limited wands and scrolls on your spell list. Why? You can hand them off to spellcasting allies who might be able to turn the tide with your purchase. After all, its not like your allies can refuse to give the item back to you after the game ends.

Typically when I’m working on my characters in PFS, my policy is to try and buy a magic suit of armor and a magic weapon (for martials) or a few useful magic items like wands or scrolls (for spellcasters) during the early game. Around 3rd or 4th level, however, I start stockpiling my gold for what I call “death insurance.” I’ve done a LOT of articles about the Death Tax and how it pertains to PFS play over the past year, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Instead, I’m going to give you the sparknotes: wealth in PFS is gated and other players have few incentives to contribute anything major to your resurrection, so it is important to start planning for death as soon as possible while trying to simultaneously play in a way where you don’t get yourself killed. This means that you’re going to want to build up to 16 Prestige Points as soon as possible (the cost of a death), and keep about 5,500 gp on you at all times so you can afford a resurrection.

It is a difficult choice on whether to use PP or gp to come back to life. PP is precious, but its primary purpose is to buy cheap consumables and be a wealthless alternative to spending gp on coming back from the dead. Because dying HURTS in PFS; people never really tell you that. There’s nothing a PFS GM can do to help you fix your expected wealth by level if you spend a massive chunk of it coming back from death, after all. But of course, the 5,250 for that raise dead spell isn’t the only cost you’re eating; you’ll also need 2,500 gp to cast two restorations on your character. That amount of wealth loss at low levels is astronomical, so your best bet is to try and foot as much of the raise dead cost with Prestige as you can (hence why you should hoard Prestige), and then pay the 2,500 gp for the restorations with cold cash.

That being said, there is one thing that you 100% want to spend your prestige to buy, and that’s….

I don’t care if you can cast cure light wounds on your own or not, every character needs to have a source of healing for himself or herself. Relying on party clerics and bards in combat to save your life with healing is fine, but out of combat healing is the responsibility of each and every party member, even if you’re just handing the wand off to a cleric at the start of each adventure. Most players expect you to be carrying one of these bad boys by Level 2 (aka 3 games), so don’t cheap out on your friends. Explore, report, and cooperate by pitching in on out of combat healing costs with a wand of cure light wounds!

As you progress in the game, you’re going to need to have answers to different combat abilities that you come across. The earliest example is, “incorporeal monsters,” to which the answer is “scrolls / wands / potions of magic weapon” or “an actual +1 weapon.” Other common things that you need to be ready for are:

  • Swarms (alchemist’s fire, acid, liquid ice, holy water, alkaline flask, swarmbane clasp)
  • Damage-based DR (bludgeoning/piercing/slashing weapons)
  • Material-based DR (adamantine, cold iron, silver weapons or weapon blanches)
  • Flying (back-up ranged weapon, potion of fly)
  • Spell Resistance (spells that ignore SR, like acid splash or acid arrow)
  • Regeneration (alchemist fire, acid, or a simple torch for trolls and the like)
  • Mind Control (scrolls/potions/wands of protection from evil)

Another SUPER clutch item that never gets the credit it deserves are the feather step soles. These awesome foot-slot items allow you to ignore ALL difficult terrain for a mere 2,000 gp. Difficult terrain isn’t super common in society play, but you’ll feel like a champ when you have these.

I don’t want to overwhelm any new PFS players, so I think this is a pretty good place to stop. What do you think? If you’re new to PFS or thinking about playing, were these tips helpful? If you’re a veteran PFS player yourself, what sort of advice would you give new players in terms of the do’s and don’t’s of character building? Leave your questions below, and I’ll see you next week for another all-new installment of Guidance! Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

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