In the near future I will be running a Pathfinder campaign for a group of players rather new to the system. One has not roleplayed in many years and got out of the hobby late in the run of 2e D&D; the other two have not roleplayed before whatsoever. What I need to know is: What parts of Pathfinder are most important to teach these players before they build their characters ?

Note that I am speaking in terms of Pathfinder's character mechanics; that is, I'm seeking to know what mechanics might be considered uniquely Pathfinder and essential, rather than optional, to the experience of creating & customizing Pathfinder characters. I can teach players how to roleplay just fine and the social end of the affair is entirely handled. As a result I would prefer that advice relating to learning to roleplay or dealing with social troubles be kept to a strict minimum and preferably only be brought up when it relates to mechanical knowledge (e.g. if a specific mechanic or group of mechanics might help flesh out a character concept and thus be considered essential). Exotic subsystems such as Harrow are also not particularly desired.

Resources available and in-use for the upcoming campaign include PFSRD, Path of War (Dreamscarred Press) and Ultimate Psionics (Dreamscarred Press). Full access to the latter two books is being permitted and encouraged, so answers that include them are welcome. Other 3pp content is not currently being included for consideration.

The expected campaign style will place an emphasis on combat exploration and tactical encounters. Attrition is not expected (though it might happen anyway), and players will have significant control over their own wealth. It will not be set in Golarion.

Knowledge of what mechanics to avoid placing before new players would also be greatly appreciated, especially if aforementioned mechanics might bog down play or prove confusing and intimidating.

Thank you for your time, and let me know if further information would be helpful.


4 Answers 4


Having recently played a Pathfinder one-shot where half of the players were completely new to the system; many of them were confused, including our normal D&D 4E DM. Character creation alone took around an hour and a half due to the wide variety of options. Despite this, once we actually started playing things rolled along decently quickly. Based on this experience, I can certainly recommend a few things to avoid.

Avoid too Many Options

Option paralysis is a very real thing even for experienced players; when someone is just starting out with Pathfinder, they lack the ability to make an assessment of important skills, feats, and variant classes or alternate class features available. I'd recommend letting the players in question choose their race and class and whipping up a set of recommended Feats and Skills they should take to prevent this paralysis; keep the character building aspect simple at first. If you had a lot of time on your hands, you might even make two or three of these recommendation sheets per character and let the player choose between them; this would serve as a simplified introduction to feats and skills. You can do something similar with spells for spellcasters. It's worth stating that these options are important to Pathfinder; it's just important to introduce them slowly. If you wanted to go even further, you could recommended against prepared spellcasters and make them keep to spontaneous spellcasters to keep their options low. I would also recommend against Summon type spells, since they usually require the player to have a detailed knowledge of all the creatures on the Summon List.

Keep it Low Level

No, lower level than even that. I'd recommend starting around level 1 or 2; higher than that, and the feat and spell choices multiply quickly. We all played as Level 4 Monk variants in our one-shot, and feat selection alone took the bulk of our character creation time.

Make sure your Players know what they can do In Play

Depending on familiar your players are with other editions of D&D, many of these concepts might not need to be explained. Other than the obvious attack and damage rolls, make sure fighter-type classes know what their feats actually do; give them a sheet with the descriptions of their feats on it. You should be able to make sure your players understand the action system as well. With spellcasters, I would recommend printing off a sheet of their prepared spells to let them know what options they have immediately available to them. For all players, make sure they know what their class abilities are; if their options are described on their character sheets and can be quickly refereed to, they're more likely to learn them. Readily available descriptions for Feats, Spells and Class Abilities will reduce confusion at the table

All of these are pointing to one thing: Reduce Complexity. Your players will understand Pathfinder better when they aren't immediately thrown into the deep end of interlocking mechanics, build choices, and combat options. If you present options as they come up (or let players read and discover for themselves between sessions), your players will be less overwhelmed and have more fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Speaking as a newbie to Pathfinder and D&D 3.5e, creating a recommended spells list would also be a good idea. We know the spell and feat lists are full of options that are traps or simply sub-par: even as a newbie I can tell some are, and then I get paralysed not knowing which of the rest are crap without me knowing it. At least being assured I have a list of good stuff to pick from is going to help a lot. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2014 at 1:28

I'll start with suggestions, then I'll move on to things you may want to avoid.

Try to steer players away from trap options

I think it goes without saying, if you've played Pathfinder, that PF has a lot of objectively terrible character creation and advancement options. It can be really frustrating for a Rogue player when a player with an Archaeologist Bard does Rogue better than the Rogue. You don't have to blatantly start shouting "PLEASE DON'T PICK MONK," but just ask the players what class they're thinking of playing, then suggest a few choices that ensures that their character won't be completely eclipsed by someone else's (or worse, everyone else's). I personally would probably ask everyone what class/archetype they're playing, then what feats they're thinking of picking, after they've looked around at the options.

Avoid critical hit tables

This is probably pretty obvious to you, but I thought I'd put it in anyway. Determining special and status effects from critical hits will slow down your game a lot, even if you use a software program to generate the effects for you; the status effects themselves will likely slow down your combat. On that note...

Avoid too many status effects in general

I like status effects, they can make a fight more interesting. However, I think they're a huge time sink if you don't understand them beforehand. It might be best to avoid monsters that rely on causing status effects and conditions until the players get used to them. They'll end up afflicting monsters with them by themselves anyway, but it will still speed up your game if you avoid inflicting more of them on the PCs. The party mage will likely end up demonstrating the majority of them, then after a few combats you can put in monsters that use similar or the same effects that your mage used in the past (i.e. your mage cast Stinking Cloud in an encounter; later encounters, feel free to use monsters that cause the "nauseated" condition).

Avoid randomly generating your traps

I don't know how you make your dungeons, but I've played in a campaign in the past where me and the other players switched off GMing, and we all had characters that were members of an adventurer's guild set on exploring/looting a ruined, but magical, city. This was a rather casual campaign where we would typically randomly generate a dungeon and then change/remove the incredibly stupid things. It was a good learning experience. Still, due to our lack of experience at the time, we ended up making some mistakes. For instance, my friend generated a dungeon with a "CR 3" 80-foot pit trap. For those of you who don't know, that's 8d6 falling damage, which is 28 damage on average. My level 2 rogue fell down this pit trap, and the GM decided he'd change it such that there would be water at the bottom, in an attempt to help me. Needless to say, this didn't work, and my rogue fell unconscious from the fall damage and promptly drowned. We've also nearly had instant deaths and TPKs from similarly out-of-place traps in later dungeons.


What parts of Pathfinder are most important to teach these players before they build their characters ?

#1 Actions

Pathfinder combat is primarily focused on the "action economy".

Each turn consists of a Standard, a Move and a Swift action. That's a lot of things that can happen within a single turn. That's without the complications of 5ft steps and full-round actions and immediate actions and attacking with multiple weapons.

Players who do well in combat will work towards maximizing their actions in a given turn. There are several paths to this, but it's almost impossible to really understand until you've done a few combats.

This also has a big impact on which spells are good. For example, at 5th and 6th level, Haste/Slow are often more important than Fireball. Grease, Web and other debuff spells are surprisingly important in Pathfinder. But it's really hard to get a feel for this without running a few combats first.

#2 Trees of options

Understand that the variety of character options in PF is overwhelming. Building a character can be very intense. Even using a tool like Hero Lab, it can easily take an hour+ to build a character.

The real side effect here is that your players will inevitably make selections that are just wrong for their character or useless in the game.

If you are playing with rookies, I would avoid setting characters in stone early on. There are lots of things that seem fun, but aren't, or that seem useful, but really suck. There are also lots of things that don't quite work the way you expect them to, but it's not always obvious this is the case until you bring the player into combat and realize that it's not working.

Attrition is not expected (though it might happen anyway), and players will have significant control over their own wealth.

PF has a lot of "save-or-die" or "save-or-suck" spells that make it incredibly dangerous. See this answer for some examples.

Resurrection spells are not reliably available until level 7+ and they are quite expensive. So even if you meet a kindly Cleric much earlier, you simply don't have the wealth at level 3 to purchase a resurrection.


Having played several editions of D&D, I have a few suggestions:

Print up any relavent information for your party to use. Class features descriptions, feat descriptions, spell descriptions, etc. This way if your paty has any question pertaining to those things they are easily referenced.

You can create premade character sheets for the 4 primary classes (Cleric, Fighter, Roge, Wizard/Sorcerer) that has all of their spells, skills, race, etc. listed so that your party can just come in and pick a character to play. I'd also suggest making multiples of these, say 3 of each, so your players don't feel they are locked into the human or any given race...

Give your players an array of dice rolls to choose from, with a selection of feats for each of the 4 classes already mentioned, as well as suggested spell suggestions. Let them choose their race, and then build their character with the given suggestions.

These suggestions are here to cut down on time and hastle of character creation, but unless you actually have pregened characters for them to use, expect to take at least 45 minutes to make their characters.

Cantrips (0-level spells) are usable pretty much at will. Any 0-level spell that is prepared (or known for spontanious casters) can be used as much as they want. This is a big change from most systems that I've played.

Describe the basic actions that your players can do. Full attack, move, cast a spell, search, etc. This way they know what they can do. If they have questions later, at least they have a basic understanding and this will make things easier for everyone.

Start everyone off at 1st level. This will help them see how things get started. Expect a sharp learning curb, and hence the 1st level starter.

Pathfinder gives feats at every odd level (1, 3, 5, etc.). This is much more than in other D&D-esque games I've played. It's not so drastic as other aspects, just something to keep in mind.

Much of D&D 3.x can be easily brought over to Pathfinder, so feel free to use those references. At this time, you might want to stay away, focusing more on just teaching your players Pathfinder though. Pathfinder has its own flaws, to be sure, but it's a bit more "powerful" than regular D&D 3.x. The races have better or stronger abilities, the classes are stronger and better ballanced. The Monsters are actually a bit weaker surprisingly, but this adds much to the fun of the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be assuming that the GM is also new to Pathfinder. I'm pretty sure that's not the case, and the crux of the question is what's important to give a quintessentially-Pathfinder experience to new players (which can be hard to figure out when one is super-familiar with a game already). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2014 at 2:20

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