In asking this question Depowering a high AC PC without killing the rest of the group I realized that one of the problems of my setting is, that characters are not playing up to their full potential. This is especially problematic with the player of the bard character.

We are playing pathfinder, and all of my players are new to pathfinder and still learning. The Player of the bard character chose, for whatever reason, to play the Sandman archetyp (http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/core-classes/bard/archetypes/paizo---bard-archetypes/sandman) . So instead of the typical buffs a regular bard applies to the group, she gets a lot of sneaky stuff added. Unfortunately, she fails to apply them. Most of the time, she just fights with her slingshot or her shortsword, no really making an impact with BAB 0. So far she has used her bard skills just once or twice.

Even if I am lowballing her some field, where a bard can shine and no fight is involved, she kinda misses it. For example, they were trying to gather information about the whereabouts of a cult. I told her, that while strolling the market, she sees a bunch of circus-people performing and playing instruments. She just said "how nice" and watched until the other PCs encouraged her to TALK to those people and join them.

I already talked to her if she wants to try another class if the Sandman feels overly complicated to her. But she told me, she now invested a lot if time in learning the spells and abilities and wants to keep him.

Its frustrating both of us. I have no character-edges I can work with as a GM and she feels that her character just isn't as awesome and can't really do anything in comparison to a fortress-like knight, a crazy alchemist with a burning passion for beer-brewing and a pyromaniac sorcerer.

Can I help her somehow? Or do I just have to accept, that some people are just not as creative and leave this to my players? ( I already suggested to them that they help her).

Regards Yulivee

  • \$\begingroup\$ What level are they? \$\endgroup\$ – Phlyk Dec 21 '16 at 12:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ They are all level 7 \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ How does she have BAB 0 at level 7? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 21 '16 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have a point there. I guess she forgot to adjust her BAB during level up. I looked up the rules, it should be +5 by now. Going to review her sheet before the next session. \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, if you have new players, sit down next to them while they level up, and go line by line to make sure they've got everything written down correctly. \$\endgroup\$ – chif-ii Dec 21 '16 at 16:47


Running games at conventions, i noticed that players who are completely new to roleplaying games will have a hard time being proactive. But this can be partially fixed when they have something that tells them what they can do, like a card, or a special sheet with big or coloured texts.

A friend who also GM's at conventions once told me that he liked to GM D&D 4ed because of the ability cards, people knew exactly what to do on combats after a small explanation on how the combat works.

I had a player that had a barbarian who would level up without using his rage ability once between those levels. This was fixed when i took a piece of white card paper and wrote tiny boxes which he could tick for the duration, and also had the bonuses on his attack and damage as a reminder. So in combat, i would simply hand him the paper whenever the combat started so he could remember it. This paper also had notes about his rage powers on the back, which were once per rage or once per day.

I also tried this with Numenera and works surprisingly well. It has a bunch of cards with item effects.

Players will respond easier to things they can handle, than looking up for a specific text between 2-4 sheets of paper filled with information about his character.

Tell her what her character could do on that situation

This will break a little of her player agency, be she is new to the game and might need the extra help.

But it works like this, once you show her a situation that you prepared for her or that you know she could use her abilities, you simply tell her "your character finds this interesting, maybe you should ...", or "maybe Alice could talk to him to obtain more information about that cavern you guys are headed at".

This can be used out of combat and in combat, diplomacy type characters works best when played by veteran players, but new players will need every help they can to become the party's face or the party's rogue. In combat, whenever her turn shows up, tell her what are her options (you could attack him or cast a spell to make all of them sleep).

In time, she will know her character better and should be able to come up with everything by herself.

When running pathfinder, i often stumble upon this issue, and for the first few sessions, i play those characters as if on a tutorial, explaining everything to them, telling her the options she has, saying what she could do on specific situations.

Like, she is a new player and took a caster, and is just about to take an attack of opportunity for casting a spell in melee. So i tell her, that she can take a step back (called a 5-foot step) and then cast her spell, or if that's not possible, that she can cast defensively and attempt to cast it, or hold for later and use total defense while others try to help her.

This movie about attacks of opportunity is worthing saving up.

Avoid complicated characters

Veterans usually want to play whatever they want, and give "jobs" to the novices, usually the healer or spellcaster of the group. This results in disaster. Spellcasters in general have to micro-manage resources, and they have more resources than most other characters, so on top of learning the game and her character sheet, she has to manage those resources.

One mistake i see often is to give archetypes to new players, usually fueled by the veteran's putting ideas on them. Give them the basic class, let them learn it first. Because whenever they read the text on an archetype, they will be forced to also know something else, either the replaced ability, or something from another class that is not her own.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good Idea with the handouts! Thinking about cards for combats, exploration etc. Have to say that movie is hilarious and great! \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even as a 3.5/5th veteran, I find PF archetypes confusing, because not only do you have to learn your main class' powers, you also have to learn the powers your archetype gains and replaces them. I'm not a fan of telling new players, "Don't pick this class," but saying "archetypes are off the table for this game" greatly reduces the information overload new players have to deal with. \$\endgroup\$ – chif-ii Dec 21 '16 at 16:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @chif-ii on my table, whenever someone wants to try a class they never played before from some shiny new book, i restrict their access to the archetypes of that class. There were a few complaints at the beginning but now they are used to it. That DOES help when questions arise or when they have to level up their character. Since the information is all in one place. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Dec 21 '16 at 16:11

I would do X

If you were teaching someone how to play chess (or any other game) you would say " I would do X because ..." or " I wouldn't do Y because ..." a lot! why treat D&D or Pathfinder differently?

  • \$\begingroup\$ As stated, we are all new to pathfinder and I have prior experience in D&D. I did not want to come across as a GM who puts their characters on a trail in advicing a character what to do. As I am also continuing to learn Pathfinder, I find myself with the task of learning 3 characterclasses I did not previously now ( the alchemist and the knight beiing special, the sandman a new archtype) on which to advise on and learning all stuff GM. At times, this can get overwhelming... \$\endgroup\$ – yulivee Dec 21 '16 at 13:08

The sandman has some of the abilities rogues normally have. If you know the building/dungeon they are in will have traps later on you could give her hints like: "Something about the walls around here looks as if it could be used to hide traps in. Maybe it might pay of to look out for those." if she doesn't look for traps herself.

Or "Unlocking doors quietly might daw less attention than breaking them down by force".

And if an enemy spellcaster uses spells against them and you know (or decide) he has access to that same spell more often you could tell her "With your steal spell ability you could prevent him from using this spell again, or you could use it against his henchmen".

After a couple of situations where you hinted her at something and she could then successfully use it she might remember those situations and think of it herself and by that get to know her PC better.

And then there is the spell selection. If some enemy uses a spell that's on the bard list, too tell her that this might be an option for her next spell selection. Example: A heavily wounded foe casts vanish. "That might be a way for you to get some respite, too. If you are in danger you could cast vanish and use the invisibility to drink a potion, get out of melee and/or get a sneak attack on an enemy."

The bard spell list is strong if you are not trying to go for blasting (using spells to deal damage).

The Sandman's Slumber song isn't easily used during a fight but might be a strong way to start combat. "Those thugs guarding the door will be tough. Perhaps you might try to take one out of the fight for some time. You could fascinate them both and try to have one fall asleep, then the others rush in and take out the one who isn't sleeping before the second wakes up".

Those above are just examples but some that might help a player with the sandman archetype get started.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Iv used that first advice about traps differently before, i noticed that the rogue was never looking for hidden doors or trap, so i designed a small tower with about 10 different traps, there were traps after traps, all of them of CR 1 (group was lv3), and some of them would rest after 24 hours. After failing on the first two, he started to get in character and loved looking for traps for the rest of that session. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Dec 21 '16 at 15:38

The problem

The most frequent issue is a system agnostic one, it is what is commonly called the paradox of choice, together with its little brother named Analysis paralysis.

Classic tabletop or pen-and-paper roleplaying games live with their freedom of choice and action - players can do anything and go anywhere, sometimes much to the chagrin of GMs when players swiftly go past any plot hooks they carefully set up.

Yet, said freedom of choice can be overwhelming, especially to new players. Been there, experienced that as well. Said paradox of choice says that given too much freedom of action makes persons who have to choose even more indecisive, and the more elaborate explanation in Analysis paralysis says that one is bogged down to inaction because he tends to over-analyze outcomes of every possible action.

It takes practise. Sometimes lots of practise. Especially INTJ type personalities (emphasis on I, T and J) - the 'quiet thinkers' - have the innate tendency to think things through first rather than jump in at the proverbial deep end.

Possible solution

  • I said it's the 'most frequent issue', but it's not necessarily the only possible one. You need to talk to the player first to see if it's indeed the case. It could very much be that the bard wasn't a good fit for her play style, but she invested too much into that character to simply 'let go'.

  • If she's really overwhelmed by the number of 'possible' actions and outcomes, hinting at good choices had been a good start, like stating "it might be a good idea to introduce yourself to the circus troupe". It may have not been enough to overcome the Analysis paralysis, because the inevitable question "what are the consequences" and "is it good for the group/campaign?" crop up.

  • Yes, it breaks player agency, but a little bit of railroading might be actually needed in more severe cases. Since the root cause is the broad number of possible actions the solution would be to prune the "decision tree" somewhat.

    • You may start with situations where her character has to react, rather than act out of her own volition. Said circus troupe may have gotten aware of her presence and invited her, perhaps with the other party members egging her on as well.
  • For the long run, much of it is a matter of self-confidence. While a character making mistakes often meets a rather grisly end, not every bad or at least not-completely-thought-through decision turns out to be a fatal mistake. You might need to stress that, too, either by expressly stating it or maybe giving some (unsolicited) hints like "While the wall looks climbable, you're sure that you'd be spotted by the guards down the street, and they won't talke that lightly." or - as a positive example - "You didn't see anyone for the last minute - that would be a chance to swipe that bag on the crate."


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