GMing 101: Creating a Campaign

Gming 101 creating a camaign

It’s been a while since I wrote about Tabletop RPGs. The Roll Initiative series that we wrote a while back was a pretty good romp, but that was really geared more toward players- rolling up a character of your own and setting about an adventure along with the rest of the party… and that’s only half the game. Somebody’s gotta run the damn thing, and that’s the job of the Game Master/Dungeon Master. Being the GM is a wholly different experience from being a player in a Tabletop RPG, but it’s just as rewarding, if not more so, depending on which side of the experience you connect with more.

Myself, I love playing the game. I love making a character and stepping into their shoes, stomping around some fictional world, fighting monsters, nabbing loot, and acting as one of the stars in some epic adventure. But as great as that can be, I love GMing more. I love making the world the PCs stomp around in, pulling the strings of the plot and watching the reactions of the other people gathered around the table as this fictional world unfurls around them. It’s a lot like writing a novel, in a way, except that you can only influence the actions of your main characters, rather than controlling them outright. It’s a lot of work, though. A TON of work. But if you stick to it, and you can handle the load, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.

This new series of articles is going to talk about being a Game Master, and how one goes about creating a campaign- from conceptualization to wrapping up the end of your epic adventure. Now, before you say anything, there are a lot of guides about GMing available out there- too many to name. Heck, any RPG worth its salt includes a great deal of advice about running a game in its core rulebook, unless it has an entirely separate book strictly for the GM. Those will cover things like general advice and game mechanics better than I ever could, but that’s not my goal here. My goal for this series is to walk you through my own personal experiences in creating a world, from the initial spark of inspiration to running, expanding, and, eventually, wrapping up a campaign in a fittingly dramatic and satisfying fashion.

So, then, let’s set up our GM Screens (even though I don’t use one), break out our campaign binders (you DO have one, right?), and get to world-building!

I. Get a little practical experience!

I have a bit of an overactive imagination. As a writer, I have a lot of random ideas for stories and settings floating around in my head at any given time, but realistically, very few of those ideas are going to make the full transition onto the page. That doesn’t make them lost causes, however. Right around the time I started really looking into tabletop gaming, I realized that becoming a GM could be a great creative outlet for some of those stray settings. Once I finally got involved in my first real campaign, I was one of the players, and I was already starting to develop a setting and style for my own future campaign in my head. I feel that this is the ideal way to progress in the game- start off by playing the game if at all possible, and transition into GMing afterward. You’ll understand the flow of the game and have an idea of what you personally enjoy a lot better than if you just jump into GMing blindly. Since I had that experience on the other side of the table on my side, I was going into things with a much smarter mindset than if I had just gone straight into it, as I had originally planned to.

And, uh, I read the Core Rulebook pretty much cover to cover. In a few nights. Hey, I didn’t say these steps were mandatory!

II. Start Small:

For my first campaign, I didn’t want to get overly ambitious. While being able to run a wide variety of different genres within the Pathfinder ruleset was tempting, I thought I’d show a little restraint and conform to a relatively traditional style of heroic fantasy. That said, I did allow a bit of inspiration to seep into the early stages of my worldbuilding- influence from film noir and horror, two of my favorite corners of the fictional wheelhouse. I started as small as I could… with a city.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. I happened to be listening to the album Warp Riders by The Sword- in particular, the song “Night City.” I loved the imagery of a shady, dangerous city that started popping up in my head and started extrapolating ideas from there, ending up with a city divided by river into a “night side” ruled by organized crime and “day side” lorded over by wealthy nobles, who were hardly any better. Further aesthetic influence came from movies like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Gangs of New York. A backstory involving the city being founded by wealthy, occult-obsessed families fell into place as soon as I realized I wanted the main villains of this upcoming campaign to be devil-worshiping cultists. And just like that, I had the first living, breathing part of my setting!

I’ve found in my experience since that this is often all you really need to get you started in building a campaign setting- just one interesting, decently-developed location from which you can launch your initial adventures. The rest of the world can develop naturally from there. You certainly can go ahead and plan out the entire world ahead of time if you like, but for your first campaign, I’d recommend starting out small like this.

III. Run a one-shot as a trial run!

There’s only one way to know for sure if you’re cut out to be a GM- and, for that matter, whether your ideas for your campaign setting are gelling. You have to actually run a game!

My very first test run as a GM was a super-short trial run that I did for one friend (playing four characters, bless his heart!), in which I just ran the first scene from Pathfinder’s first and most iconic Adventure Path, Rise of the Runelords, just to test out how it felt to step into that role- but that was just a half-hour or so of goofing off and learning the rules in a practical fashion. A short while after this, while I was still playing in my first Pathfinder campaign, I decided to try out a real, proper one-shot adventure.

I spent a little while dreaming up an adventure designed to introduce the setting, while remaining confined to a single location for simplicity’s sake. I also knew that I wanted it to include those key modifiers that I had decided on for this setting: noir (in this case, in the form of a gritty, urban mystery) and horror (an enclosed-space thriller with a creepy inner-city cult as the villains). I decided that this adventure- designed for a small party of second-level characters- would involve the PCs having been captured and taken to an isolated facility in a burned-out, mostly-abandoned part of the city and would have to find a way to escape, encountering monsters and the weird cult that had imprisoned them along the way. A quick flip through the bestiary for a couple of choice monsters and a hastily-designed map of the temple (three floors and a basement) later, and I was feeling ready to run the damn thing.

I actually ended up running the adventure more than once. I started running it for two of my friends shortly after finishing my preparations, marking my first “true” steps into the world of GMing. The session was a blast- I threw on some choice music from the Silent Hill games for mood, and both players really got into it- bickering as their characters woke up tied together in a room they didn’t recognize with little memory of how they got there, cleverly escaping their bindings, and beginning their search for a way out of the creepy temple as rain and thunder beat down outside. They seemed tense as they debated which direction to go at each intersection, and ran from a swarm of blood-sucking stirges as they searched for their stolen gear.

Unfortunately, the session ran longer than I expected. As in, a lot longer. They didn’t even make it off the floor they started on before we ran out of time… and after several weeks of waiting to pick back up and hopefully finish, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to get back to it thanks to that dread bane of tabletop gaming… work schedules!

Plan B: run it again, but with different players who I knew would be available for the next few weeks!

This proved to be fortuitous, as one of those players happened to be Sword of Nerdom’s own Celeste, who would go on to become one of my favorite players. Y’know, among other things. Anyway, round two with my first real adventure as a GM was just as good as the first time, but this time around I got a chance to learn about the characters ahead of time, giving them each their own real reasons to be involved in the adventure. The stakes were a bit higher, and this time the characters bickered even more (one threatened the other at knife point!), but were more decisive in their movements and moved at a brisker pace, stumbling across other captives of the cult, sneaking around a creepy blind golem in the library, discovering the vestige of a dying god trapped in the temple’s upper levels, and eventually heading downstairs in search of an exit…

gm (5 of 6).jpg

It still took more than one session, but finally wrapping up my first adventure as a GM was immensely satisfying. It wasn’t perfect- I bungled the turn order during combat a few times, I the final opponent was a little wimpy, but… all in all, I thought it was a rousing success. The players seemed to really enjoy it, and even more importantly, I really enjoyed it. I felt like the setting worked, my GM style (a bit loose on the rules, a little overly conversational, but with a flair for the dramatic) seemed to be working, and more importantly, we all had fun and the adventure was a memorable one.

I was ready. It was time to start turning this thing into a real campaign.

But that’s a story for next time. Stay tuned for the next entry, in which I detail how this one ambitious little one-shot turned into a real campaign! ...and then two.  

How to Come Up With and Run a One-Shot on Short Notice

one shot

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is as follows: create and run a Pathfinder session adventure for a group that includes at least one brand-new player and can be completed in a single four-to-five-hour session. The catch? You have less than one week to put the whole thing together.

One week of prep time for a Pathfinder session might not sound too rough to those of you out there who have an abundance of free time to spend on such things, but for those of us who work full-time, write, blog, and still attempt to wrestle some sort of social life into that maelstrom, it can be a real challenge. So, what’s the right way to tackle this sort of scenario? I was recently put into such a situation, and attempted to rise to the challenge. Let’s look at some of the possible methods for putting together a one-shot adventure on short notice.

Option #1

The first option is the easiest: run a module! There are tons of great pre-written adventures out there, regardless of the RPG you’re playing. Since my game of choice is Pathfinder, that gives us a large number of modules to choose from, many of which are pretty brilliant. The only complicating factor there is that little clause about being able to complete it in a single session- and most modules, though designed to be fairly brief, will still last two or three sessions, realistically. A one-shot should probably have no more than three combat encounters, as those tend to be the most time-consuming and rule-intensive events in most games. Some modules feature large dungeons with fifteen to twenty encounters therein- sometimes more than that. In my experience, I’ve found that modules make for great mini-campaigns, but not particularly great one-shots.

Now, modules aren’t the only type of pre-written adventures you can rely on; Pathfinder Society Scenarios are designed specifically to be completed in a single session. They tend to be light on role-play, however, like Pathfinder Society in general- don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean there’s no room at all for inter-character dialogue and interacting with NPCs, but in general Pathfinder Society Scenarios tend to feel a little… flat, in my experience. They also assume that all player characters are a part of the Pathfinder Society, a network of adventurers that pretty much just get hired to do all kinds of work across Pathfinder’s default campaign setting, Golarion. It’s fun if you really love combat, but Society tends to cater toward the power-gamery side of things. The Scenarios are cheap, though, at about four bucks a pop to download… but let’s assume that we don’t have any interest in spending money on something pre-made.

Option #2

That leads to our second option: homebrewing an adventure. Now we’re cookin’- homebrew is, in my opinion, where the true strength of the RPG lies. So we’re going to press on without the aid of modules or pre-fab adventures (mostly), and try our damnedest to put together something that is not only fun, but won’t overwhelm a newbie and can be completed in four-to-five hours.


Homebrew Process

Here’s the process I went through, step-by-step:

1. Pick a theme.

What kind of theme will the adventure have? Gothic horror? High-seas adventure? Urban intrigue? A good-ol’ fashion dungeon crawl? Pick one and stick with it. I always like a bit of a horror element in my adventures, so I decided to try to put together a dark, mysterious adventure that begins with the player characters being left stranded in an isolated location swarming with hostiles.

2. Pick a good monster or two- especially if they have synergy.

This is where a site like The Daily Bestiary comes in handy. You can come up with a great adventure hook on the spot if you have the right monster to center it on. My personal suggestion is to pick a monster that has some kind of association with another creature, so that you can easily come up with a variety of encounters- nobody wants to just fight the same thing over and over again. For instance, for my one-shot, I looked through some of the low-CR monsters and found the Akata- an unusual, blue, lion-shaped extraplanar creature with head-tentacles and a particularly nasty (and interesting) ability; they can infect other creatures with parasites that transform them into “void zombies,” giving them a nasty extended tongue attack. It’s not only a dangerous power for any monster to have, it opens up a ton of doors for you as the GM! No longer must you struggle to figure out why all these neat monsters you’ve picked out are hanging out together. That’s synergy, baby! If I’m planning a one-shot with about three encounters, I’m already pretty much covered with just the Akata and a couple of void zombies. The template can even be applied to non-human creatures, for extra deviousness.

3. Keep the location reined in!

In a full-length campaign, traveling long distances and exploring a variety of environments is part of the thrill. In a one-shot, however, you don’t have time to move the players around a bunch of different locations, so my strategy of choice is to pick a single location- a lonely mansion in the woods, an underground cavern, a boat out on the high seas- and roll with it. Flesh this location out as best you can, keeping it relatively small but interesting- no “plain, rectangular room with 10’ ceilings and two doors” like you might find in any average dungeon. For my one-shot, I start the players off in a wrecked vehicle, give them free reign to explore the surrounding wilderness, with the only safe haven nearby being a quiet, seemingly-abandoned mansion on a looming hill nearby.

Tips & Tricks

  • Mine modules for maps, locations, and encounter ideas ahead of time. These things are written by industry professionals who (usually) know what they’re doing. Even if I’m not running a module, I’ll sometimes poke my nose into one that covers the same level range as the one-shot I’m running and see if there are any fun bits to swipe and alter to fit my needs.

  • Consider pre-making your players’ character sheets for them. Pre-generated characters are a love it or hate it sort of thing, but they can save a load of time when you’re in a pinch- creating a character sheet can take upwards of an hour, especially if you’re working with a new player, so anything that saves some time is worth looking at. If I’m making pre-gens, I’ll ask the players ahead of time what race and class they’re interested in playing, and make all of the mechanical decisions (stats, equipment, etc.) before allowing them to fill in all the “flavor”- the name, gender, personality, and backstory for themselves.

  • For new players, keep the game as exciting and fast-paced as you can, while allowing them ample time to roleplay and make decisions. I wouldn’t recommend a slow-paced dungeon crawl for a first-time player, as a long sequence of exploring rooms that might not have anything of note in them can be boring, and packing every chamber with enemies to fight is both too time-consuming and too video-gamey. Showing new players what makes tabletop gaming great is important- so focus on what makes it special: imagination, improvisation, and unpredictability. Keep things loose and fun.

  • When you’re not running any games, if an idea for an adventure hook hits you, jot it down! I keep a folder in Evernote where I record all my ideas for future games, mostly one-shots or module-length mini-campaigns. In a pinch, you can grab one of those ideas and run with it.

The next time you have some buddies asking you to run a game for them on short notice, keep this stuff in mind. There’s no need to panic! Running a game on short notice doesn’t have to be stressful. And, really, the whole point of RPGs is to have fun- so if at any point you feel as if you aren’t doing that, change your direction!

Or you could just play Monopoly instead, I suppose… ;)

5 Awesome Pathfinder Races You (Probably) Haven't Played

Everybody’s played as the usual fantasy tropes: humans, dwarves, elves, half-orcs, and their ilk. You might have even played as some of the better-known alternative races, like tieflings, aasimar, fetchlings, tengu, or catfolk. In my travels, there are a few races I haven’t seen much of- races that deserve a little love. This post will highlight a few such lesser-known Pathfinder races available for play (depending, of course, on what sort of adventure your GM is running) and what, in my humble opinion, makes them worth taking a look at.


Samsarans are blue-skinned, clear-blooded humanoids who continually reincarnate, retaining the memories of their past lives as waking dreams and vague impressions. While their racial abilities are interesting enough as it is (with special resistances to death effects and a smattering of spell-like abilities), the true appeal of Samsarans lies in the roleplaying opportunities they present. Being able to access memories from lifetimes long past makes creating a backstory for any Samsaran character a fine excuse to flex your writing muscles. For instance: a samsaran monk who becomes the lone practitioner of a forbidden and long-dead martial arts style, taught entirely by her own memories of being the style’s last grand master in an incarnation hundreds of years ago, slowly learning each new technique as she delves deeper and deeper into her embedded spirit-memories… There’s also a cool Archetype for Oracles (the Reincarnated Oracle, of course) available only to Samsarans that practically writes itself as the story of a character whose quest to uncover the truth of their Mystery spans multiple lifetimes.

2. Strix


Just look at the picture. You already know what makes Strix stand out: they have wings. They don’t have to cast a spell or burn a bunch of Feats (I’m looking at you, aasimar) to fly; it’s built-in to their racial abilities. Some GMs consider flying characters to be their bane, and for good reason; you can’t restrict someone who can fly around all willy-nilly to just any old pedestrian method of travel, meaning Strix characters are particularly tough to railroad. In a dungeon-crawling adventure, those wings won’t do much good, but when it comes time to tackle the evil wizard camping out on the top floor of his enormous arcane tower, well… why doesn’t the Strix just fly up there and shank ‘im? Well, it’s time to get creative, GMs. Strix have a cool look (like dark elves, but with wings!), but the bad blood between them and humans makes for a fascinating RP opportunity- things are a little more hostile than the usual “Oh, sorry, this bar doesn’t serve half-orcs!” business attached to other races that supposedly bear some social stigma. Golarion, Paizo’s campaign setting, has Strix attached to a singular location, but there’s no reason why you can’t come up with your own, vastly-different habitat for Strix in your own games.

3. Vishkanya


Elegant, seductive, and possessing an alien beauty that’s almost human, Vishkanya might be written off as “too much like elves” by some. But who says your campaign setting even has to have elves in it? If you decide to give our long-eared pals a break, Vishkanya make a very cool, very flavorful alternative, particularly if your campaign setting has a more Asian theme. With their poisonous bodily fluids, flexible bodies, and seductive nature makes Vishkanya perfect spies and saboteurs. Want an example of a somewhat more unconventional Vishkanya, though? I once played a Vishkanya Paladin (of a homebrewed, benevolent winged serpent deity) who treated her poisonous blood as a holy weapon, “anointing” her scimitar with it and enhancing its power with her “divine henna” tattoos.

4. Suli


Suli are the humanoid spawn of jann, a type of genie. This makes them kin to other elemental-blooded races like Ifrits, Sylphs, Undines, and Oreads, but what makes Suli interesting is that they embody all four elements. Their coolest racial ability is their Elemental Assault, which allows them to conjure up elemental energy into their fists to fire-punch (or ice-punch, or lightning-punch, etc.) enemies right in their damn faces. This makes them a natural fit for the Monk class. The alternate racial trait Energy Strike swaps out Elemental Assault and their all-round energy resistances for one of four very cool powers that focus on a single element- including the ability to walk on water by freezing it beneath your feet! That is just too damn cool.

5. Android


Some of you out there are probably groaning: “Keep your sci-fi out of my fantasy!” While I won’t open the sci-fi-versus-fantasy can of worms today, I can say that Androids are one of the most interesting new races to come out of Pathfinder’s Inner Sea Bestiary. They’re also getting a little bit of exposure as of late thanks to Paizo’s most recent Adventure Path, Iron Gods, which has a distintive sci-fi theme and even pictures an iconic Android character on the cover of the first volume. With a number of fitting immunities and penalties thanks to their bionic nature, Androids are another one of those races that open up all kinds of doors for their backstories, and their difficulty in understanding and processing emotions is just begging for some great roleplay. Also: Nanite Surge is a very, very neat ability.

All art belongs to Paizo Publishing.

Roll Initiative #8 Keeping It Classy (Part 2)

Last time, we talked a bit about some of the more physically-inclined classes and what makes each one unique. This time, we’ll hit up the other side of the fence- spellcasters! Now, again, some of the classes here are perfectly capable of engaging in melee, and can even be quite good at it, but let’s face it- shoehorning any class into a single category is a bit pointless in Pathfinder, where variety is the spice of life and, with the right stats, feats, and equipment, even a once-scrawny wizard can wade out into melee and kick some Orc butt. Anyway, here’s a glimpse into the shiny world of spellcasting classes in Pathfinder:



The oracle is a unique spellcasting class and one of my favorites. They fall under divine casters and share the cleric’s spell list, but they don’t answer to a particular deity of their choice like a cleric. An oracle doesn’t choose to receive the power given to them by a mysterious source and doesn’t fully understand this power. Their motivation is to learn about their mystery and gain revelations to increase their abilities. Unfortunately the power comes at a price; Oracles are cursed and must endure some type of disability (clouded vision, wasting disease, haunted by spirits) in order to balance out the power they can draw. The oracle is kind of like the divine equivalent to a sorcerer (see below), and has a lot of cool abilities. If you want access to divine spells and abilities without having to be a stuffy priest, oracle might be the way to go.


Clerics are essentially priests, who worship a particular deity and draw their powers directly from that divine source. They prepare their spells in advance like a wizard, but instead of studying his or her spellbook, a cleric prays to their deity every day to access spells. There are a ton of ways to play a cleric, with a healing/supporting role being the classic route, but they can make hearty fighters or offensive spellcasters as well depending on the domains they choose. Our first campaign had a cleric with the Fire domain, which helped make up for the fact that we didn’t have any Arcane spellcasters in the party.


Druids worship Nature deities, spirits, or the natural world itself. In that, they’re similar to Clerics, but they have a very different spell list and some unique shapeshifting abilities. Does having a pet wolf or transforming into a hawk sound fun? Druid’s the way to go. They tend to fulfill a supporting role in the party, and since the types of armor they can wear are limited to non-metals, they might not be the best at wading into a fight, but that’s what shapeshifting into a bear is for.



The wizard is one of the most traditional types of spellcasters out there. Wizards have spellbooks and take a very academic approach to magic, choosing a “school” to specialize in, such as Illusion, Conjuration, or Divination. With the ability to copy down tons of spells into their books and prepare different ones for use each day, wizards are the masters of versatility. That said, playing a wizard gives one such a staggering variety of spell options that we wouldn’t recommend the wizard to a first-time player- it can get intimidating having so many choices.


Bards are a little different from the typical spellcaster- they certainly have plenty of spells to choose from, but not only are they decent fighters (and get proficiency with whips!), but their greatest gimmick is their Bardic Performance, which allows them to make beautiful, beautiful music- or dance, or insult comedy, your choice- with a variety of effects, from boosting the combat abilities of their allies to confounding enemies. They’re also great with Skills, and while they’re not the best fighters or magicians around, their variety of abilities make them great supporters, and an excellent way to round out any party.


Sorcerers are similar to wizards in many ways- they share the same spell list, after all- but they’re a good deal easier to understand. Sorcerers possess innate magical abilities instead of formally studying magic, and get to choose from a variety of bloodlines from which to draw their power. Want to play as a descendant of a dragon or demon? Sorcerer’s the way to go! In addition to their spells, they also get a small variety of powers based on their chosen bloodline. They only “know” a certain number of spells, so they may not have the variety a wizard possesses, but in general they can use their spells more times per day than wizards can.


The Magus is Paizo’s answer to that classic conundrum: what if I want to fight and cast spells? While multi-classing Fighter and Wizard is one way to achieve this, as is the Eldritch Knight prestige class, the Magus is probably the most direct route to achieving that sort of character. Built around the idea of holding a weapon in one hand and casting spells with the other, the Magus gets some cool powers like being able to deliver a touch spell by attacking with their melee weapon. They also get to wear armor while casting without penalty, gaining the ability to wear heavier types as they go up in level.


Summoners are an interesting idea: they sacrifice a good deal of variety in their spell selection for vastly improved Summon Monster powers, and gain a unique companion called an Eidolon that works kind of like a customizable animal companion, which evolves and gains new abilities as it levels up. Many GMs hate dealing with Summoners, but they can be a really fun class when played responsibly… since you’re basically getting to roleplay two separate characters


Witches operate in a similar fashion to wizards, but the flavor of the class is very different- witches are creepy. Instead of a spellbook, they have a familiar that acts as their conduit to eerie occult forces. They also get access to Hexes, which can be used without limit (although most can’t target the same creature more than once in a given period of time), which helps make up for their smaller selection of spells. With spells like Vomit Swarm on their list, witches have a very particular niche- debuffing enemies, pumping up their allies, and creeping everybody the hell out.


Now, by the strictest definition, Alchemists aren’t really spellcasters, but the way in which their Extracts work suggests that they imbue their alchemical creations with a hint of magic from their own being to give them their spell-like properties. These Extracts emulate various spells- generally ones that only affect the user. In addition to this, however, Alchemists get bombs! Tossing explosives into crowds of enemies is tons of fun, and alchemists also gain “discoveries” every couple levels, allowing them to customize their abilities. Alchemists have one other key ability: mutagen, which transforms them physically, making them better combatants, Jekyll/Hyde style.

Well, that about wraps it up for this installment of Roll Initiative. There are still more classes out there- the new Hybrid Classes from the Advanced Class Guide, the countless Prestige Classes, and don’t even get me started on the smorgasbord of Archetypes available for every class. Those we may cover in a future installment, but for now, well… just look at all those classes! If you don’t see anything in this or the previous installment’s breakdown that you want to play as, then fantasy role-playing games might just not be for you. So what’re you waiting for? Go grab your dice and get to rollin’!

Still have a few questions about classes? Ask us in the comments! 

Images belong to Pathfinder/Paizo Publishing. 

Roll Initiative #7 Keeping it Classy (Part 1)

Picking a class to play can be a difficult matter sometimes. Should I be a fighter, picking fights with gnolls and being in the center of battle, or maybe a wizard, blasting skeletons with arcane spells? But I want to use a bow… so maybe I should be a rogue or ranger instead... See what I mean? Pathfinder has almost 30 classes to choose from (with more coming). So, to keep this simple, I’ll only be discussing the core and base classes. Hybrid classes are still relatively new and they will touched on another day.

Hopefully at this point you’ve decided on a race. If you recall Creating a Character, choosing your race first can help you narrow down what class to choose. If that doesn’t work ask yourself this question: To magic or not to magic? Classes are be generally split into two categories: martials and spellcasters. Martials focus on close or long distance physical combat, while spellcasters tend to be a support/utility role or blasters. Keep in mind that a lot of classes can take on a variety of roles, and there’s a good bit of crossover possible there with classes like the Inquisitor, Ranger, or Paladin, who can also cast spells.

Martial Classes


Inquisitors are the shadowy secret agents of the Church; the secret weapon to the cleric’s public servant. Inquisitors have a huge sack of cool tricks to play with aside from the usual weapons and spellcasting. Their abilities are very flavorful and focus on intimidation and interrogation, declaring judgment on enemies of the church, and applying the “bane” ability to their weapons, which can rack up a lot of extra damage. **Now, while we've grouped Inquisitors in with the fighting classes for simplicity's sake, you should know that these guys can use divine magic, too- they don't have the variety of magic that, say, a Cleric might possess, but their magic definitely gives them another excellent tool in their Swiss Army Knife skill-set.** If you want to play something along the lines of Castlevania’s Belmont clan or Van Helsing (the goofy Hugh Jackman version, that is), this is the class for you


Rogues are your classic sneaky characters, and every good party should have one (or at least a character who can ape one or more of the Rogue’s abilities). They’re the best at stealthing about, unlocking doors, detecting or disarming traps, and sneak-attacking enemies. They make great flanking buddies for a fighter or monk, since sneak attack damage can quickly sap an opponent’s hit points. Some players complain that rogues are underpowered compared to other classes; there may be some truth to this, but you don’t play a rogue to be the hardest-hitting, baddest-ass character at the table. There’s a particular sort of niche the rogue fills better than any other class, and if you play to its strengths, it’s a lot of fun. Just don’t go walking up to every enemy and trying to stab them in the guts. That’s the fighter’s job. Rogues wear light armor and don’t have the hit points to take a beating, so play smart and keep out of harm’s way.


Rangers are almost like a cross between a fighter and a druid; they have limited access to some nature-based divine spells, and can have an animal companion, but the real meat of the ranger lies in their ability to focus on a chosen fighting style (traditionally either two-weapon fighting or archery) and pick out an enemy of choice that they’re extra-good at fighting. Does your character concept involve parents or a loved one killed by the undead? A ranger with the undead as a favored enemy makes an easy, built-in roleplaying opportunity with gameplay benefits to boot!


Gunslingers are fairly unique in that they specialize in, well, guns. This makes them uniquely focused on long-ranged combat, but there’s more to them than just shooting holes in the bad guys. They gain a pool of “grit” points, which let them pull off cool stunts and trick shots, which gives them a lot more variety than, say, any random fighter or rogue who learned how to use a gun. There’s a lot of risk and upkeep involved with guns, since they can misfire at the worst possible moment, but the reward is usually worth it since firearms will punch through armor at normal range.


Barbarians, thanks to their Rage ability, can hulk out and gain extra strength and durability for a limited time. They’re not as versatile as fighters, but they can cause just as much if not more damage in a scrap, and that makes them very, very dangerous. Of course, that danger extends to themselves as well, as coming out of a rage leaves the barbarian fatigued- and losing those temporary hit points that come along with raging can cause a character to fall over dead at the end of that Ragesplosion. If you want to play the angriest character at the table, barbarian’s your class of choice.


Fighters may seem straightforward, but they’re incredibly versatile thanks to the heaping helping of feats they get, level after level. They may not have much in the way of class features, but with the ability to use just about any non-exotic weapon or armor in the world and the feats to craft their own play style, fighters are a lot more fun to build and play than one might think. Want to walk into battle with a sword and shield? A two-handed Cloud Strife-style greatsword? A bow and arrow? Fighters can do any of those things. If you want to do damage to your enemies, you could do a lot worse than the traditional fighter.


Like a shining knight from a classic fairy tale, the paladin is devout, chivalrous, and gains special powers that set it apart from the fighter thanks to the favor of a divine entity. Paladin’s are fantastic front-line combatants who also have abilities that let them heal their allies, can smite undead or fiendish enemies, and can cast some divine spells after a few levels. Paladins do have a very strict code of conduct they have to follow, however, lest they lose their divine gifts, so some players might be turned off at having to watch their behavior so closely. Don’t expect the GM to be okay with you torturing captives or executing a surrendered enemy and let you keep your paladin abilities!


Monks are martial artists who have trained their minds and bodies into their weapon of choice. Some choose to fight solely with their fists and other choose a weapon focus. They have strict guidelines to how they live and fight. If you’re into kung fu movies or wuxia, the monk is the closest thing you’ll find to creating a character along those lines in Pathfinder. They don’t wear armor, but they have a lot of cool wuxia-inspired abilities like High Jump and Slow Fall and get access to a pool of “ki points,” a resource that recharges with rest that allows them to pull off a variety of cool martial arts-y abilities. We always house-rule that Monks get a d10 hit die and full-Base Attack Bonus progression like a Fighter, which helps them survive better in melee combat.


Cavaliers are a bit like fighters on the surface, but they have some nifty abilities. For one thing, cavaliers choose an Order to belong to, which gives them different abilities. They can challenge enemies to a one-on-one duel and gain bonuses if they fight appropriately. They excel at mounted combat. Now, cavaliers aren’t for every campaign- dungeon crawls don’t leave much room for lugging your horse around, for instance- but in the right kind of adventure, cavaliers are really fun, especially if you roleplay your Order well.

Spellcasters will be covered in Part 2! 

Roll Initiative #6.5 Game Time


So here we are, at the tail end of Roll Initiative’s first sequence. We’ve covered pretty much all of the basics of Pathfinder from a player’s point of view, from building a character on up through how a battle unfolds in the game. Before moving on to the next phase of the series, where we’ll tackle GMing, let’s take a quick look back at what we’ve covered so far.

Roll Initiative #1: An Intro to Pathfinder - Here, we talked a little about what tabletop roleplaying games are, why they’re fun, and what my game of choice (Pathfinder) is.

Roll Initiative #2: Getting Started - Want to know what you need to get started playing Pathfinder, or what to look for when putting together a group? We covered that here.

Roll Initiative #3: Creating a Character - In this installment, we covered the creation of a player character, from concept to crunch.

Roll Initiative #3.5: The Character Sheet - This interlude served as a fine tuning on the previous post, in which we used one of our own player character sheets as an example of what to look for and how to put your character sheet together.

Roll Initiative #4: Staying in Character - The tricky art of role-playing your character can be difficult to get a handle on at first. Here, we shared a few of our tips for making it a little simpler.

Roll Initiative #5: Game Flow - So how does the game actually go, anyway? We illustrated a typical example of Pathfinder in action, along with the various phases of gameplay, here.

Roll Initiative #6: Combat! - Of course, combat is by far the most complicated aspect of the game, and in this post, we went over how a round of fighting in the game might go.

And what have we learned? Tabletop roleplaying games can be complicated. Pathfinder is a big system with tons and tons and tons of options- feats, equipment, archetypes, all kinds of stuff- and it’s not the easiest game in the world to learn overnight. But all those options also mean practically endless customization, which also means that this is a game that can last you a long, long time- especially as you play multiple characters across several campaigns, you start to realize that the enormous amount of options Paizo and the various third-party contributors to the system have provided means that one could stick with Pathfinder exclusively and never exhaust all the different types of characters and situations that might come up.

That’s really the beauty of this particular form of gaming, regardless of the rule system you’re playing- Pathfinder, D&D, Dungeon World, Savage Worlds- in the theater of the mind, there are no limits to what characters you can create, what adventures they might run into.

Illustation by GENZOMAN