Roll Initiative #2 Getting Started

So… you wanna give ol’ Pathfinder a try, eh? Well, you’re gonna need a couple of things to start. The first thing is dice, the tools of the trade. 

Pathfinder, like D&D and most other tabletop RPGs, uses a variety of dice to determine outcomes in the game. The most important of these is the fabled twenty-sided die, or d20- just about any comic or hobby shop worth its salt sells these in a set of seven dice (including two d10s, for those troublesome “percentile” situations) in a little rectangular plastic prism ranging from five to ten bucks, in all sorts of colors and fashions. Warning: collecting dice can become an addiction! Personally, I have about fifteen sets or so, plus a bag full of random dice scooped up from a box at Dragoncon. Every aspiring gamer should start with a good set of dice. If you’re feeling particular about that perfect color to represent who you are at the table, feel free to order some- Chessex has a ton of great options.

Next? Paper and pencils! Don’t fret, you haven’t been transported back to elementary school again. Tabletop RPGs are pretty low-tech most of the time; you’ll be using these to record all sorts of data, but it’s not as much of a chore as it sounds. Besides, you’ll probably end up wanting to jot down names or juicy bits of info… or just doodle the cool-ass character you’re about to come up with.

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That’s our next step. Assuming you’re a player and not the group’s GM, you should think about the type of character you want to play. Assuming this is Pathfinder, you already know a few things: this is probably a fantasy adventure, and you’re going to be exploring strange environments and fighting monsters. So what kind of character are you thinking of being in this fantasy world? A burly, kick-ass-and-take-names fighter? A bespectacled, socially-awkward wizard? A sleazy, womanizing bard? This avatar-to-be is the persona you’ll be taking on in the game, and it can be just about anything you want (within certain limitations), from “you, but wearing chainmail” to a meticulously-constructed being with a fully-realized backstory and unique personality quirks. Just keep in mind, roleplaying isn’t easy for most people, at least not at first- stepping outside yourself and into the shoes of a fictional being you created can be awkward until you get into the flow of it, so starting out simple might not be a bad thing. If in real life, you’re Gary the disgruntled retail cashier, your first RPG character can just be Gareth the disgruntled mercenary. That’s fine. Just remember that, once you’re more comfortable with the idea of roleplaying, you can go as deep as you want. Even playing a character of a different gender, race, age group, or sexual persuasion is fine and fair game (although I would advise keeping away from stereotyping if you do- you’ll just annoy your fellow gamers)! The next edition of this series will cover the art of crafting a character in more detail, from concept to making a character sheet.

Now, if you’re planning on being the GM for your group, there’s a lot more to consider. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting my thoughts on GMing a little further down the line. The most important thing to remember is that you’re going to need to know the game rules a little better than your players, since you’re the one they expect to make judgment calls when things get a little fuzzy (and they will). You’re also the one running the adventure, so if you haven’t come up with something for your players to be, y’know, doing, it might help to think about that. If crafting an adventure for your players sounds intimidating, you might want to consider grabbing a pre-made adventure, called a module. Paizo has made a ton of good ones, some of which are available online for free. Heck, I’d advise any beginning GM to take a look through some of those anyway, just to mine them for cool ideas for encounters, adventures, and story hooks.

Y’know what else is available online for free? All of the rules for the Pathfinder game. That’s right: the whole game system is available online for free. You’ll probably want someone in the group (usually the GM) to have a physical copy of at least the Core Rulebook at some point, but it’s nice that you don’t actually have to spend any money if you don’t want to. Trust me, though, having the real rulebook on hand is worth it- it’s a lot more readable than a website, and it’s got a lot of neat artwork in there to boot. I would suggest that any players at least look over the character creation stuff (race, class, skills, etc.) a bit to get a head’s up, but the group’s GM will need to go a bit more in-depth. Hint: there’s a cheat sheet for quick reference. You can find it (along with lots of other free stuff, including the all-important character sheet) here.

The final step to getting your RPG experience started is just getting a good group together. Group synergy can be tough to quantify; the most important tips I can share are to try to find a group of people who get along, have a bit of creative spirit, and have schedules that are not entirely incompatible. Scheduling is the bane of tabletop RPGs, and there’s no getting around that- plans change, work schedules can be brutal, and sometimes stuff comes up and the game night has to be rescheduled. Sometimes you might have to make a backup plan for if one person can’t make it to the table. That’s okay- every night spent around the table with your friends, slaying monsters and cutting up, is so worth it.

Stay tuned! Next week, we’re going into detail about creating a character!