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GameMastery Guide


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 100
Chapter 5

The Role of Rewards

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 102
Much of the famously addictive appeal of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and its predecessor games lies in its variety of reward mechanisms. These most obviously include experience points, treasure, and magic items, but also such in-story advantages like information, property, status, titles, even the possibility of eventual godhood.

Rewards mark the PCs’ victories. The act of scribbling down a new item or quantity of coins on a character sheet solidifies one of the game’s key pleasures. These moments cement the players’ commitment to the game by connecting them emotionally to what has just happened, while at the same time hooking them with the promise of future gains. Players revel in the success they’ve just scored, while also looking forward to the future triumphs their characters will be able to rack up after leveling up, using new gear, or making use of a long-forgotten scrap of lore.

Expect responses to rewards to vary from group to group and between individual players. Some players enjoy constant rewards and actively alter their play styles to maximize the benefits they receive. Others regard them as a bookkeeping necessity they’d rather keep in the background. Observe your players’ responses to see where they fit on this continuum. As you make decisions affecting reward distribution, seek out the sweet spot of compromise that makes the experience as compulsively entertaining as possible for the majority of your players.

Generalizations don’t always hold but can be useful as a starting point in determining what your players will enjoy. Younger or less experienced players often tend to prefer frequent rewards, with no benefit too small to lovingly describe. Even the most jaded players can remember their first few sessions, when a measly clutch of copper coins wrenched from a stinking kobold warren seemed like the most awesome haul ever. Older players, especially ones who are squeezed for time and can only meet for short sessions, may prefer to move the rewards process to the background. In this mode, shopping, swapping, and leveling up usually occurs outside of precious session time.

Whatever their amount of experience, some players remain more oriented toward rewards than others. Players heavily invested in their characters' abilities and in slaying monsters tend to want their rewards as soon as they can get them. Becoming more powerful is their biggest thrill. A steady stream of small power boosts suits them just fine. They don’t want to go into the next fight until they know they’ve squeezed every last iota of potential ability from their past accomplishments.

Players more focused on characterization or story progress may look at reward management as a form of homework. They’re more interested in seeing what’s on the other side of that hill, or talking to the crazy hermit, than stopping every scene to add up their XP totals or divide treasure. They’ll find it easier to stay engaged with the game if you bundle rewards together, dealing with them all at the same time.

The diagram on the next page lays out in graphic form the various considerations to take into account when deciding how much emphasis to give to rewards over the course of a session. Factors on the left side of the continuum lead to giving out awards in occasional bundles. Factors on the right side argue in favor of giving out rewards throughout the session.


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 102
Experience points are the lifeblood of the Pathfinder rewards system. They determine the rate at which the PCs progress, and form the currency with which the most spectacular and reliable abilities are acquired. By deciding when and how to give out XP, you’re establishing the expectations the players will bring to the rest of the game’s reward system.

Backgrounded Experience

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 102
Track experience points throughout the session, without mentioning it to your players. Announce awarded XP at the end of each session, after the evening’s narrative has concluded. Players may level up only between sessions, even if they pass the level mark during a game session. They're expected to arrive at the next session ready to go with all of their character changes. Players who don’t own the rules set should show up early to update their character sheets.

This timing scheme suits groups at the bundled (left) end of the rewards continuum. It preserves session time and keeps participants focused on the fictional proceedings. Backgrounded awards remove the temptation for players to undertake ridiculous, tangential, or out-of-character actions just to acquire the last few XP they need to level up.

Downtime Experience

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 103
Track experience points as they accrue. Whenever the party stops in a safe haven, or the story leaps forward in time and place, announce a period of downtime. All of the XP accumulated since the last period of downtime is awarded and characters may level up. When the PCs leave downtime, the normal story resumes. Again track experience points while they are accrued, and hold off awarding it until the next downtime phase.

Downtime experience suits groups falling in the middle of the rewards continuum. It compromises between players who live for rewards and those who view them as an occasion for homework. Downtime awards make leveling up seem like something that happens in the world. The characters only become visibly better at their tasks after taking some time to rest, reflect, contemplate, and train. One danger with downtime awards is that they can tempt players to take otherwise poorly motivated rest stops just to gain their XP awards and level up. Depending on the pacing of a given session, a break for downtime might completely deflate the game’s momentum and make it hard to recapture your players’ attention. On the other hand, it might give you a much-needed break to work out an upcoming encounter, dream up fresh story events, or simply let your brain idle for a few minutes.

If players seek out downtime at an ill-placed moment, you can always deter them with a plot development requiring immediate action. This interruption might range from a simple wandering monster attack to an elaborate new wrinkle in the campaign’s ongoing storyline.

Immediate Experience

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 103
Award players experience points as soon as they earn them. Allow the characters to level up at the end of any scene, as soon as they have accumulated enough XP.

Immediate experience suits a group at the frequent (right) end of the rewards continuum. It focuses the game more obviously, for good and for ill, on the acquisition and expenditure of experience points. As the name suggests, this system gives the players immediate gratification when they succeed.

When using this timing scheme, be prepared for the game to stop at a moment’s notice, shifting into rules-scanning mode while the players level up. Characters also risk becoming unsympathetic or unbelievable as they chase the biggest XP results at the lowest risks.

Handwaved Experience

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 103
Ignore XP altogether. Decide how many sessions you want the group to spend at each level. Allow your players to level up each time they hit that milestone. This option suits groups at the far left side of the rewards continuum.

Ad Hoc Experience

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 103
Many players recall with great fondness sessions where the dice were never rolled. When a game spends considerable time developing plot and character and places fighting monsters and accumulating XP in the background, however, some players may feel that they’re being penalized. In these situations, reward out-of-combat successes with ad hoc experience awards.

When the group takes part in an entertaining scene that takes 15 minutes or more, consider awarding ad hoc XP. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Did the scene move the group toward an important, identifiable objective?
  • Did the group face significant negative consequences if the events portrayed in the scene went against them?
  • Did the players take an active role in the scene, as opposed to listening to your descriptions or NPC dialogue?
  • Did most of the players make a noteworthy contribution to the scene?
  • Did all of the players appear attentive and entertained? If you can answer at least four of these questions in the affirmative, you should award ad hoc XP. The following steps can be used to determine a baseline figure for ad hoc awards:
  • Roughly determine the amount of real time it takes you, on average, to run a challenging encounter.
  • Divide this into 15-minute increments. So if it takes you an hour, more or less, to run a challenging fight, you have four increments.
  • Take the XP award the group would normally get for a challenging encounter (usually APL+1) and divide it by the number of increments. This is your baseline ad hoc award.
Once you have decided to award ad hoc experience for a scene, roughly estimate the amount of real time the sequence took. Award your baseline amount multiplied by the number of 15-minute increments as ad hoc XP.

Revise the baseline as the group increases in level. Take into account any increases in the average length of encounters, as well as the experience awards the characters garner. Additional individual ad hoc experience points can also be awarded to players for particularly good roleplaying. If you decide to use individual awards, be careful not to show favoritism. All of the characters should have opportunities to receive such rewards at some point.

Players on the right side of the rewards continuum probably prefer heavily action-oriented games. If your game consists mostly of exciting combat sequences with a minimum of plot to connect them, it’s probably not worth bothering with ad hoc awards.


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 105
Game balance depends on rewarding the treasure values as given on cost of living guidelines in the Core Rulebook provide an easy way to quantify such expenditures. You can place specific treasures in particular encounters, making sure that the overall amount equals the recommended character wealth by level by the time the characters reach a new level.

In extreme cases for the left side of the continuum, you can handwave treasure altogether. As characters level up, award them the cash they need to bring them in line with Table 12–4. The assumption is that they’ve picked this up along the way, but in a way that wasn’t interesting enough to make a big deal about. Similarly, assume that the characters spend enough to keep themselves in reasonable comfort while in towns and leave it at that.

On the other hand, more reward-focused groups on the right side of the continuum often enjoy tracking treasure. To please them, you can research historical economies and describe each treasure horde in loving detail. For variety, include art objects, gems, and notable or valuable mundane equipment. For example, in the medieval era, items of luxury clothing were among the most highly valued trade goods. A little later, spices became wildly desirable.

Some groups prove particularly cash-obsessed, more interested in leveraging the economic system than killing monsters. If so, assume that they’ll go the extra mile to get a higher than usual percentage of the base price, and build that into your game. Peg the ultimate cash values of their treasures to the amount they can get if they coax, haggle, and swindle maximum prices out of their merchant partners. Use this interest to build in plot elements. They might happily spend more time spying on rivals, muscling out competitors, and fending off bandits than they do fighting orcs and demons. Rather than discouraging this behavior, you can go with it, building your treasure values and plot elements around it. The profit motive may not be traditionally heroic, but it does provide an easy source of story hooks. For example:
  • The Skull of the Crimson Khan might fetch little in the farming community surrounding the dungeon, requiring a dangerous overland journey to the Bazaar of the Silver Kingdoms.
  • The corpse of a bizarre aberrant creature, if properly preserved and maintained, might fetch a pretty penny from the crazy wizard-sage of the Spiral Tower—if his automaton rivals don’t swoop in and steal the coffin first.

Magic Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 105
Magic items are an integral part of treasure calculation in the Pathfinder RPG. The system determines a baseline treasure haul per character for each level, assuming that most of the treasure will be used to buy magic items.

Rewards-oriented groups, on the right end of the continuum, enjoy finding, trading, and selling magic items. Often they’ll enjoy the economic aspect of the game so much that they’ll set up lucrative side businesses making and selling enchanted objects. Let them feel rewarded for these activities, while subtly reducing dungeon treasure hauls to keep the group’s overall access to cash in line with Table 12–4. They might face early successes only to see the value of manufactured items drop as they contribute to an oversupply. Let them get away with what seems like a score or two, then add complicating factors that can also act as story hooks, such as:
  • Other shady adventurers come after the characters, as easier sources of treasure than dungeons.
  • Competing enchanters target the PCs for elimination.
  • Supplies of raw materials dry up, requiring quests into the dangerous wilds.
Keep detailed treatment of magic items low for groups on the left side of the continuum. Ask them for wish lists of items they desire for their characters. Use these as the items they find while dungeon crawling, adding in just enough variation to maintain a sense of surprise. These groups usually want to use their magic items without fussing over them. The odd item might serve as an epic plot device, but most magic items should remain quietly in the background.

Starting Treasure

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
By default, we tend to think of starting characters as inexperienced beginners who have scraped together a few coins to equip themselves with mundane items for a new life of adventure. By adjusting what beginning characters start with, you can use starting treasure to define the characters, making them part of the world they’re about to explore.

Starting with Magic Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
Giving each of the PCs a starting magic item makes them more robust and capable from the jump, and can be useful for smaller groups. Campaign concepts in which the characters already enjoy wealth, status, or recognition might also be reinforced with starting magic. For example, the PCs might be the younger generation of a land’s great trading houses. It makes narrative sense for their families to give them a leg up over other adventurers.

One option is to grant the players a collective budget of 1,500 gp per person, which they can use to buy any number of magic items. Leave them alone to agree on a distribution; they might get one mighty item, used by only one of them, or many lesser ones, so everybody gets something. The budget can only be spent on magic; they don’t get to keep leftover cash.

Keep a close eye on what the players purchase, and veto anything that might break the game from the beginning. Also be prepared to adjust encounter difficulties to account for the increased competence of magically equipped parties.

Be careful starting young or inexperienced players with magic items. Giving the stuff away can devalue the classic moment when a player finds her first piece of magical gear out in the wild.

Heirloom Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
When characters start play with magical items, ask players to create a brief story explaining how they got them. The story should not only reveal something about the item, but also about the person who carries it. Avoid bogging down the introductory adventure with a recitation of each description. Instead, space them out by waiting until the items see use in play, prompting each player to supply his own anecdote.

We’re calling these heirloom items, because the most obvious story is that the item was handed down in the character’s family. This explanation humanizes the character and creates a supporting cast the GM can bring into narrative moments. No longer are the PCs rootless vagabonds; they have a history, and people they care about.

Alternative explanations are as varied as your players’ creativity. An item might be a loan from an organization or patron, which you can weave into your campaign as it develops. Characters might tell of finding the item themselves, in a moment predating their adventuring careers. A rogue might have stolen her item, implying an enemy character who may appear later looking to get it back. Consider ways to build on each mini-narrative, crafting them into a broader story.

Non-magical equipment can also be treated as heirlooms, especially for characters from impoverished backgrounds. That scuffed-up suit of leather armor might be a hand-me-down from a roguish uncle, or a precious bit of loot from a terrible battle that took place nearby a generation ago.

Setting Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
Another way to add flavor to starting magic items is to use them to introduce details of your world, whether you’re using the Pathfinder world of Golarion or a setting you have created. Make a list of each treasure item selected, or the most notable piece of standard gear carried by each PC. Avoid consumable items, which are unlikely to have survived long enough to have interesting histories attached to them. Develop quick snippets of narration referring to their histories. For example:
  • “Your sword’s blade is new, but the haft is a crude, castiron handgrip bearing the runes of the fell king who ruled a duergar kingdom in Nar-Voth 2 centuries ago. The haft gives your sword its magic.”
  • “Faint hieroglyphs on the hand of the mage you wear around your neck date it to ancient Osirion. The mummified appendage might have belonged to a vizier of a god-king, who lived and breathed 5,000 years ago.”
Highlight facts about the world you expect to take on greater significance in the course of play. Alternatively, you might choose random setting details and then use them as inspiration for adventure hooks. The first example above suggests that the party will eventually meet duergar or journey to Nar-Voth, while the mummified owner of the third item might eventually come back to repossess it.

As with heirloom items, slip setting items into your narration at suitable moments as the action progresses rather than front-loading them into your opening session preliminaries. Be ready to collaborate with players on modified descriptions in case they decide that your suggestions don’t fit their character concepts.

Plot Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
Plot items work like setting items, except that, instead of referring to great events of the past, they set up future developments in the PCs’ personal stories. Introduce them to the players before the action begins, perhaps with a brief description on an index card. Be careful not to impose choices that alter a player’s character background. Work with the player until you have a hook that works for you, and a personal detail that fits her vision. Although secrets occasionally lead to interesting play, backstories the players are willing to share with the rest of the group are more likely to take an active role in play.

At a suitable moment in the action, invite the player to describe the item and its backstory to the other players. Examples include:
  • “I found this magical feather in a red vellum envelope, slipped under my door at the inn the day before I set out for the big city. A note inside was signed only, ‘Your benefactor.’” (The gift establishes a mystery, the identity of the benefactor, which you can slowly develop and finally reveal.)
  • “This darkwood shield was given to me by my uncle, who said it saved his hide several times, back during the gnoll raids.” (This detail introduces a mentor figure who can give the PCs crotchety advice, and sets up the possibility that the gnolls will rise again to terrorize the area.)

Mighty Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 109
Under ordinary circumstances, avoid giving starting PCs magical weapons that would normally be reserved for much higher-level characters. Overpowered items can wreak havoc with your ability to scale encounters to the characters’ capabilities.

As a change of pace, though, a powerful item can drive the premise for a campaign or a series of linked adventures within a campaign. Getting an item that outclasses them leads the PCs into a series of crises. Entities better equipped to use the item hunt them down and try to take it away from them. Political leaders treat them as a destabilizing threat to public order. Do-good sages try to capture the dangerous item and lock it in a vault forever. Meanwhile, the characters realize that they have a goal to achieve or duty to perform that requires them to hold onto the item until certain events occur or conditions are met.

For starting PCs, a major item may be mighty enough to make the plot work. Relics or artifacts, however, carry more cachet and are more likely to be received with a mixture of glee and fear. Create a new artifact for the purpose, or modify an existing one. Limit its number of uses so that the characters can occasionally use it to blow through superior opposition, but can’t rely on it to overcome every obstacle they run up against. The players should have to think hard before pulling it from their arsenal. It might cause additional problems whenever it is used. The item might do collateral damage to surrounding people and buildings, or its use might alert pursuers to the party’s presence.

Wealthy Characters

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 109
Princes, scions of mighty trading houses, and other characters of wealth and influence bring a ready supply of plot hooks to your game. But the modest starting budget given to player characters would seem to rule out certain background concepts. World logic says that their vast resources ought to include any piece of gear available for sale, but game balance requires that treasure must be earned in the course of play.

This can be addressed in the character’s background. Perhaps the character is proving a point to doubting elders, stealing away from familial duties to lead a footloose life, or has been banished from the fold, justly or not.

During play, you might also acknowledge the characters’ wealth in areas other than the equipment list. Ordinary citizens fawn over them. They have many contacts and enjoy access to the highest levels of society. Their non-combat garb might be expensively impressive—though of course, social rules forbid them to sell it to buy useful adventuring gear.

Alternatively, if other players consent, a player with a character concept that logically demands it might get a 10–20% bonus to their starting budget.

What is a Reward

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 110
With a little added effort, treasure can be much more than just numbers temporarily penciled onto a character sheet. You can also extend the definition of treasure by making a variety of intangible benefits available to the characters.

Making Basic Treasure Interesting

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 110
Each time you place a major treasure hoard in your game that includes coins or goods, look for a way to make the experience of discovering, transporting, or trading it somehow interesting or memorable. One general point to bear in mind when fleshing out any aspect of your world is that engaging details compete with one another. Players tend to recall one or two salient moments from any given session. They form strong memories of items and incidents that carry an emotional charge or promise to affect future events. If you lovingly add texture and history to every single item of treasure, all of this detail will blend together. This technique is more powerful when used sparingly.

Be prepared to be flexible when introducing special treasure details. You may find yourself about to bring in a vividly detailed treasure when the players are preoccupied with other concerns, like chasing down an escaped enemy, saving a dying comrade, or charging onward to the next plot development. If something else has already captured their interest, turn the treasure into a nondescript pile of coins and save the vivid details for an otherwise uneventful moment.

The most memorable treasure details are those that relate in some way to other events in the campaign, including the characters’ backstories. This might be as simple a matter as specifying that a cache of coins was minted in Celwynvian, when one of the PCs is exploring her elven heritage. When customizing basic treasure, ask yourself the following questions.

Does the item reinforce a PC’s characterization?

If a player has described his character as obsessed with books, make sure that your campaign’s treasure troves turn up more than their share of rare and antique tomes.

Can the item reflect the adventure’s theme?

In an adventure where the heroes are questioning their identities, they could discover a precious mirror. During a quest for political power, they might find a crown or scepter.

Would the item foster an interesting debate or conflict within the party?

If one PC hates demons and wishes to destroy anything associated with them, and the other is interested in studying dark arts in order to defeat them, give them a golden demon statuette to argue over. Aim for conflicts that define the characters, rather than ones that set them at each other’s throats.

Is there a detail that will become important later?

Foreshadow a future adventure into the ruins of a forgotten civilization by letting the adventurers discover a tapestry depicting the rise and fall of that society. This allows you to spread out the history lesson over several game sessions.

Can an item of treasure be used to subtly introduce an NPC?

Often you want the party to meet a supporting player in a casual context before they discover his or her true importance in the story. The NPC might later be revealed to be an evil conspirator, a prince unaware of his birthright, or a predatory monster in disguise. If so, introduce an item of treasure that character will want to buy, examine, or attempt to steal. For example, make your conspirator a rug merchant, and the item of treasure a rare and valuable carpet.

Would an item lead the characters to interact nonviolently with an enemy who wouldn’t ordinarily talk to them?

A precious memento or object of art might attract the attention of a cruel and powerful entity who wants it enough to negotiate a fair transaction under neutral circumstances. This allows the PCs to converse with the dragon, bandit king, or demon lord they’ll wind up fighting later, when they have enough experience to tackle the foe.

When none of these questions help you to customize a treasure item, find a random interesting detail. Turn to a random page of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, or another setting sourcebook you happen to be drawing on, and look for a detail that inspires a unique item of non-magical treasure. If you’re not using a setting book, any edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable makes a fine source of random mythological and fantastic inspiration.

For example, let’s say that your random page takes you to the section of the Campaign Setting detailing the Red Mantis Assassins. Using this as inspiration, you decide that the treasure includes a fabulously expensive brooch given to top members of the organization after performing an exemplary kill. In order to trade this in for cash, the party will either have to find a merchant who doesn’t fear the wrath of the Red Mantis, or seek out a high-ranking member of the group. One of the PCs might do something rash, like use the brooch to pass herself off as a member of the Red Mantis.

Non-Adventuring Magic Items

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 111
The magical objects detailed by the game rules are, for obvious reasons, restricted to items useful to adventurers. It stands to reason, though, that in a world of readily available enchantment, many items would be broadly useful in everyday life and of little or no interest to explorers and freebooters. These items are memorable and unique but players will inevitably trade them for cash or use them to solve plot dilemmas. You don’t need detailed rules for them because they don’t affect the world of adventure in which the characters operate. Categories of non-adventuring enchantments include:
  • Agricultural: enhanced plows, fertility potions for livestock, or magic beans
  • Decorative: art objects, architectural features, furniture, or garments made more beautiful and wondrous by magical means
  • Tools: enhanced hammers, leather-curing vats, never-dull scissors, rope-making devices, or self-heating forges

Burdensome Treasure

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 111
The difficulty of moving treasure out of a dungeon and back to home base might in itself inspire scenes of challenging adventure. Large or unwieldy furnishings, antiquities, or art objects may require the hiring of carts, wagons, or entire trade caravans. Chunks of precious ore or extremely large coin hoards could also require huge transportation efforts. Delicate items, though easily carried, might also be tough to safely move through long stretches of treacherous terrain. Bandits and nomadic wilderness monsters often prey on slow-moving caravans. The party might end up battling as many enemies while taking a burdensome treasure back to civilization as they did to acquire it in the first place.

Although such problems are realistic and logical, they can be overused. Players think of treasure as theirs once they’ve found it and may resent it when it’s taken away from them.

Special Treasures

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 111
Art objects include paintings, sculptures, ceramics, tapestries, and so on. Heavily ornamented weapons and armor may be useless in the field but highly valuable as art objects. Everyday objects from ancient civilizations may also be regarded as desirable collectibles, especially when well made. Ostentatious garments were central to the luxury trade of the Middle Ages, but textiles are easily damaged. If found in good condition, a heavily ornamented cloak or tunic could fetch more than a chest full of coins. Books are always rare and valuable in a pre-print society, and may be of value to scholars, collectors, monasteries, or universities. All of these luxury items are salable to knowledgeable and specialized dealers located in large civilized centers.

Art objects may be delicate or burdensome. Use of the Appraise skill is necessary to separate valuable objects from dross. Condition affects value; a badly deteriorated work fetches a low price, no matter how renowned the artist. Works by known artists increase in value if accompanied by documentation establishing their histories, but this is rarely found when objects have been stolen or looted.

Services, Franchises and Property

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 111
Rather than hauling treasure hoards from the dungeon hideouts of defeated foes, adventurers may be granted boons or gifts by patrons assigning them to perform dangerous tasks. Example assignments can include rescuing hostages, gathering information, defeating military foes, or clearing a landholding of hostile occupants.

Artisans, merchants, and others of middling means may offer free future services in exchange for adventurous deeds. These can range from free lodgings or repair work to discount magical services. Churches might gift worthy adventurers with credits for free spells, up to and including resurrections. Local authorities or wealthy non-nobles may grant franchises or licenses to perform lucrative business operations, such as textile-weaving, bookmaking, glass-blowing, or leather-tanning.

Outright ownership of land by commoners may be rare in a pseudo-medieval society, but noble patrons often grant property rights. Adventurers typically gain management rights over a section of arable land, which belongs to a noble either as an ancestral claim or a similar feudal grant from a ruler. When it comes to managing and working such land, adventurers may prefer to take a hands-off approach, hiring a bailiff or sheriff to oversee production and taxation. These details may then be left in the background, except when land ownership generates the occasional story hook or perhaps the occasional small profits (nothing rivaling the rewards of adventuring, of course). The PCs may periodically be called on to deal with marauders, repel invading rivals, or quell peasant rebellions.


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 112
Most of the time, a coin should be a coin—a background object the PCs quest for, but that warrants little attention. Occasionally, though, you can add a sense of reality and nuance to your world by describing certain coin hoards as possessing special properties.

Antiquity: Coins may have been struck hundreds or thousands of years ago. They might date to a past era of a still-extant nation, or to an extinct civilization. They may contain images of long-dead rulers, or symbols of vanished religions. Figures on the coins can be inhuman or monstrous.

Distance: The coins might be contemporary but originate from a far distant land. Physical clues found nearby might explain the past presence of foreign adventurers or traders.

Unusual Forms: Old or foreign coins might have unexpected shapes. They could have holes in the center, so they can be stringed as necklaces. Triangular, spherical, square, or rectangular shapes might replace round coins, perhaps to suit the peculiar hands of non-human races.

Bullion: Large quantities of precious metals are sometimes found not in coin form, but as bricks or wafers. For symbolic reasons, other cultures might store them as cylinders, cones, or other less efficiently stacked shapes.

Superficial Magic: Coins of lost or fabulous civilizations might be imbued with decorative magic. They could glow, change color, or contain moving images. Enchanted coins might produce sounds, ranging from soothing hums to dramatically chiming music. They might emit separate aromas for each denomination, suggesting that the people who minted them relied on smell over sight.

Unusual coins might carry a value higher than their metal content suggests. Magical coins whose functions prove useful to adventurers should not count as cash, but as magical treasure far above their face value.

Intangible Benefits

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 112
Other rewards provide benefits with no cash trade-in value. Kings or other rulers might confer noble titles, granting the characters status and specific legal rights forbidden to commoners. These may include various story benefits, including the right to be present at royal court. There the PCs can wield political influence, gather useful information, and find ways to enhance their holdings and franchises. Letters of marque grant the legal right to attack designated enemies, and in exchange the PCs get to keep financial proceeds without fear of legal reprisal within the king’s borders.

Other authorities may confer honors and privileges valid within their own spheres of influence. A bandit king may grant rights of command and passage valid on his turf. A clerical order might recognize a PC as a defender of the faith. An honorary degree at a university allows access to libraries and knowledgeable NPCs.

Certain experiences, usually arising during successful encounters, may grant a character a bonus on checks related to a highly specific situation. The situation to which the bonus applies should reflect the original experience in some fashion. For example:
  • Noble titles grant characters a +2 bonus on Diplomacy checks when dealing with NPCs of inferior rank.
  • Subduing the famed Golden Bull grants the character a +2 bonus on Handle Animal involving beasts of burden.
  • By slaying the Lich of Gwyndor, the character gains a +2 bonus on all Spellcraft checks concerning necromancy.
To avoid overload, these “situational bonuses” might be limited to three such awards per character. Characters who reach their limit can drop old bonuses to gain new ones.

Story Benefits

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 112
Some adventures can confer additional benefits to make it easier for the characters to overcome upcoming obstacles. Often you can describe these story benefits in advance, increasing the players’ investment in the proceedings.
  • “By driving the orcs out of the valley, you’ll make it safe for the peasants who live on your landholding.”
  • “By capturing the Golden Cornucopia, you can save the besieged residents of High Castle from starvation.”
  • “By disarming the astral cannon, you can stop the priests of Urgathoa from decimating the paladin army.”
  • Sometimes story benefits become obvious after the characters overcome a crucial obstacle. The PCs may discover only in retrospect that they’ve saved farmers, lifted the siege of High Castle, or shielded a paladin army.

    Story benefits can provide information, grant political influence, or allow NPC allies to overcome rivals and enemies. They allow adventurers to meet or solidify connections to important NPCs. As with any exciting ongoing story, a success often leads to a new challenge, and additional obstacles and encounters for the heroes to overcome.

    Treasures as Adventures

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 113
    Treasures usually appear as the capper to a successful encounter or adventure. Though their appearance may mark the end of one story, they can also serve as springboards to further events.

    You can draw out the sense of emotional reward treasure brings by making its acquisition a multi-step affair. Anticipated rewards are sweeter than surprise treasures. By completing one encounter, the heroes may obtain a map, document, or verbal description pointing to a treasure’s actual location. This should be an impressive haul of cash or magic the entire group will look forward to claiming.

    Alternatively, the treasure itself might be assembled from several parts, each gained after a separate encounter. Magical relics might accumulate additional powers as the pieces are put together. A group of dispersed art objects— for example, a chess set or a collection of royal jewels— may have a greater value if sold together than piecemeal. Linked treasures can unify an otherwise unrelated series of combat and exploration sequences.

    Intelligent magic items give you wide latitude to launch adventures. Give the item an agenda of its own. It works to persuade its owner to perform missions furthering its goal. It might unlock new powers as its agenda is served, in effect making it a multi-step treasure. Like any influential NPC, an intelligent item may have past enemies who come gunning for it. Its owners might simply evade them, or counter by actively seeking and defeating their newly acquired foes.

    Story events may be triggered not only by the discovery of items but also by their use. When the heroes solve problems using mighty magic items, the unintended consequences of their actions may spawn further adventure plots. For example, magical wishes may alter the world in unexpected ways. After unwittingly skewing the cosmic balance, the adventurers may have to undertake further tasks to put matters right.

    Exit Rewards

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 113
    As your campaign reaches a final climax, you may choose to lay the groundwork for story rewards that change the characters forever, bringing closure to their personal narratives. You may do this when you know a player is leaving your game for good, or when you want to wrap up the entire campaign. The latter is a natural choice as PCs reach the game’s highest levels.

    Given enough advance notice, you can create a series of adventures leading to an indispensable position for a departing hero. This impressive new role in the world precludes the PC from embarking on further adventures—though the character might make occasional cameo appearances as an NPC, played by you. The exiting hero might take on political power as a king, emperor, or elected ruler. She might be granted military authority as a general, or rise to heights of clerical power as a pontiff or high priestess.

    The ultimate exit reward is apotheosis, an ascension to godhood or similar immortal status. Perhaps in the wake of plane-shattering events that leave holes in the known pantheon, the heroes achieve victories so great that they depart the mortal world. Now vastly powerful but unable to intervene directly in mortal events, they accept worship, dole out divine spells to their followers, and hold court in their newly acquired celestial realms. Incorporate these new gods into your next campaign, allowing players’ new characters to worship their former ones as deities.

    Be careful to avoid favoritism when concluding a PC’s career with exit rewards. Give everyone a chance to shape his favored glorious end state. Collaborate with players to successfully bring the closure they envision to their exiting heroes. If they see their characters retiring to blissful obscurity, that can be just as satisfying a reward as godhood.

    PCs Controlling Rewards

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 114
    In some cases, the PCs themselves can take on the responsibility of providing their own rewards, using character abilities and resources gained from their adventures to create exactly the weapons, armors, tools, and treasures they desire. While mundane items might be created using various Craft skills, many PCs set their sights upon more extraordinary goals, such as researching and designing new spells and crafting magic items.

    Research and Designing Spells

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 114
    The subject of designing spells is touched on only briefly in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. While some guidance on cost and time is provided, a GM needs to consider balance and design factors before allowing a PC to introduce a new spell into the game. As a first step, request a detailed write-up of the spell using the Pathfinder RPG rules. Based on this write-up, you can determine whether or not the spell is balanced for its level and appropriate for the game.

    Spell Categories: When considering a new spell, first determine the category into which it fits. Spells can be divided into the broad categories of offensive magic (spells that deal direct damage, enhance combat abilities, or summon allies to fight), defensive magic (spells that protect the caster or her allies, control or impede enemies, or heal damage), and utility magic (spells of general use outside of combat, such as travel magic and most divinations). Some spells fit into multiple categories, such as teleport, with both defensive and utility applications.

    Level-Appropriate: Compare the new spell to other spells in the same category and at or near the desired spell level. Pay close attention to “must have” choices like fireball, dimension door, and wall of force. If the spell is more powerful or more useful than other spells of the desired level, increase the level. If it seems weak, consider lowering the level. If there is already a similar spell in the game, pay particularly close attention to the new spell’s relative power.

    Saving Throw or Attack Roll: Most spells that are usable against others should require either a saving throw or an attack roll (generally touch or ranged touch). Spells that are quite powerful for their level, like disintegrate or phantasmal killer, may require both, or allow two saving throws. Watch out for spells that effectively take the target out of the fight and are negated by a saving throw. Consider adding a minor effect even on a successful save, and toning down the result of a failed save. Spells that automatically affect the target should be higher level or limited in their consequences.

    Components: Unless there’s a particularly good reason, almost all spells should require both verbal and somatic components, and most divine spells should require a divine focus. Spells with no verbal component are particularly rare. If the spell-as-designed lacks them, consider adding material component or focus requirements as a means of adding flavor. Expensive components and foci are a good way to adjust the effective power of a spell without changing the level.

    Good Spells and Bad Spells

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 114
    The best spells do something interesting even when the casting isn’t fully successful. They should have fairly simple mechanics without many ambiguities, special cases, or qualifications. If a spell takes a half-page or more to describe, it is probably too complicated and should be rejected or revised.

    Watch out for spells that counter or otherwise render useless equal- or higher-level magics. For defensive spells, countering an equal-level spell is fine (like shield negating magic missile), but an offensive spell generally should only overcome lower-level defenses or higher-level spells that duplicate those defenses (like disintegrate destroying both wall of force and forcecage).

    Good spells expand upon the existing themes of magic, but in a novel manner. The game doesn’t really need more ways to throw damage around, but a spell that hurls adjacent enemies away from the caster is both interesting and useful. Watch for spells that break the implied limits of the game. Most arcane casters have poor healing abilities, and divine spells rarely excel at direct damage. With rare exception, spells shouldn’t duplicate existing class features or feats.

    While as a general rule overly specialized spells are a bad idea, there’s much to be said for researching specialized spells like a brewer’s blessing or a charm to hold a shoe on a horse. If a player is particularly excited about the spell, consider approving it even if it doesn’t have much in-game application.

    Creating a Spell

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 114
    Successfully researching a new spell requires time and expensive research. An optional system for researching new spells is outlined below. The research should cost at least 1,000 gp per spell level (or even more for particularly exotic spells) and require both the Spellcraft skill and a Knowledge skill appropriate to the researcher’s class. Wizards and bards use Knowledge (arcana), sorcerers use a Knowledge skill appropriate to their heritage (usually arcana, nature, or planes), druids and rangers use the Knowledge (nature) skill, and clerics and paladins use Knowledge (religion). The actual research process varies by the type of spell, often involving magical experimentation, the purchase and study of moldy scrolls and grimoires, contact with powerful magical beings or outsiders, and extensive meditation or rituals.

    For each week of research, the caster makes separate Knowledge and Spellcraft checks against a DC of 20 plus twice the level of the spell being researched, modified according to Table 5–1. To successfully research the spell, the caster must succeed at both checks. Failure indicates the week was wasted. Spells of 4th–6th level requires 2 weeks of successful research, while spells of 7th–9th level require 4 weeks. The researcher may employ up to two assistants in the research process to assist on the skill checks using the aid another action (see page 86 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook).

    Table 5-1: Spell Research Materials

    ConditionDC Modifier
    Caster already knows a similar spell-2
    Per material component required-2 (maximum -6)
    Focus required-2 to -5, based on cost and rarity
    No verbal component+10
    No somatic component+5
    Additional research materials-1 per 100 gp per spell level (maximum +5)

    Spell Components

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 115
    The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game handles most spell components in a fairly abstract fashion: the components are purchased as part of a spell component pouch, which is assumed to contain the required quantity of any components for any spell of which the caster has knowledge. For many GMs, this suits their needs, and other than having the player mark off some gold when his PC uses a more expensive component like diamond dust, that is the extent of attention spell components receive. The virtue of this system is speed and simplicity. A GM desiring more verisimilitude can instead require the PCs track down or prepare individual components, and even allow PCs to obtain enhanced components that improve their spells.

    Even when tracking individual components, many reagents are so common they can be assumed to be easily found. Save the legwork for commissioning tiny silver whistles (for mage’s faithful hound), finding dragon scales (for form of the dragon), and things of that nature. Yet even then, don’t go overboard—while finding rare components can be a fun opportunity for side-quests, your players go grocery shopping often enough in real life, and obsessing over whether their leaves are fresh or their eggshell components got cracked in the last fall is a good way to bore your players and ensure nobody wants to play a caster in your game.

    Components for New Spells

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 115
    Two principles of magic to remember when considering spell components are that of contagion (a part retains a connection to the whole) and sympathy (like produces like). A component can be linked to its source, manipulating or drawing power from that source, or it can produce effects based upon its nature.

    Historically, components such as blood carried both the life and strength of a creature, and the potential to bind two lives together; coffin nails could be pounded or bound into a weapon, making it strike true; hair and nails rendered the original owner vulnerable to hostile magic even at great distances; and animal horns and tusks provide protection to their wearer, not to mention the healing properties of a unicorn’s horn.

    Most spell components in the Pathfinder RPG are based on sympathy, either duplicating the desired outcome of the spell (gauze and a wisp of smoke for gaseous form) or having properties related to the spell (an owl’s feather for owl’s wisdom). The latter sort of component may utilize contagion as well, as the single feather retains the nature of the whole.

    When adding material components or a focus to a new spell, consider what forces the spell is shaping, and select components that reflect those forces. Good components don’t necessarily need to be literally appropriate—the handful of earth required for detect undead is an example of a more symbolic fit. Humorous spell components are tempting (and well represented in the game), but should be used sparingly.

    Enhanced Components

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 115
    An enhanced component is a specialized reagent used to improve a spell. The exact effects of such a component are up to the GM, but may include a small increase to save DC, caster level, damage, range, or duration. Particularly rare enhanced components may even provide the benefits of metamagic feats. In addition, enhanced components used in long-duration spells often make them significantly harder to dispel.

    The power of a component is strongly influenced by the means by which it was obtained. For most magic, the most powerful components are those freely given, rather than taken by force, thievery, or magical compulsion. A vial of dragon’s tears wept during a masterful performance may well hold more magic than a vial of blood taken from that same dragon’s ravaged corpse. The same is not true for darker magics. For such spells, components obtained in profane and blasphemous rituals are the most powerful by far.

    Symbolism is key in obtaining enhanced components. A wizard seeking the last light of an eclipse to enhance a sunburst might catch the sun’s rays in a mirror, while a druid might gather the nectar of morning glories that bloomed in the day’s light and shut in the darkness of the eclipse for the same spell. Neither is literally the last light of the sun, but the principle of contagion suffices to enhance the spell.

    Before introducing enhanced components into your game, consider the implications of allowing casters to increase their abilities without investing in metamagic feats or permanent magic items. To preserve their rare and exotic feel, enhanced components should not be easily obtainable or fixed in price. Finding a source for an enhanced component is an adventure in itself, and the quantities available should be limited to just a few castings. Two examples are as follows:

    Dragon’s Tears: These yellowish drops extend the duration of any spell that influences emotion, such as heroism or rage. If the tears are both genuine and freely given, the duration is increased by 50%. If obtained by trickery or magic, the increase is only 20%.

    Vampire Dust: The carefully sifted dust of a destroyed vampire enhances spells fueled by negative energy. A single vampire yields only 1d4+1 uses of dust. Spells infused with vampire dust receive a +1 bonus to caster level. If the caster personally slew the vampire, the dust increases save DCs by +1 as well.


    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 116
    The monstrous four-armed demon spoke in a surprisingly pleasant tenor voice. “And what, pray tell, is it you so desire?” Seltyiel paused, steeling his resolve. “I wish suffering for my family, tenfold for each wrong visited upon myself. I wish the lord mayor’s daughter and rank, and his head resting beneath my boot. I wish for such wealth that even a Qadiran merchant would weep with envy.” The demon’s laugh boomed throughout the cavern. “Is that all, little one? I expected ambition.”

    More so than almost any other ability, wish and its cousin miracle have the potential to drastically change a campaign. When your players reach the upper echelons of the game at 15th level and beyond, you should consider whether or not you want to allow your players access to wishes, as even if they can’t buy them, they’ll soon enough be able to cast the wish spell themselves.

    The easiest way to control wish is to restrict it to those options listed in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. None of these uses are game-breaking. However, by expanding the boundaries of wish and miracle, you open up roleplaying and story opportunities that can keep your high-level game fresh and exciting for many adventures to come.

    Types of Wishes: One of the first boundaries to set is whether or not all wishes are created equal, and have similar constraints. Treating all wishes the same has the virtues of consistency and simplicity, and helps keep your game under control. Having a hierarchy of wishes gives fodder for the story in your game, letting PCs alter their local reality with their wishes, but leaving the option of seeking out higher powers to grant the wishes spoken of in legends. A suggested hierarchy is wishes from spells or magic items, followed by miracle, wishes granted by artifacts and relics, wishes granted by powerful outsiders like the efreet and djinn, and finally those wishes bestowed directly by gods and other entities beyond mortal ken.

    Making Good Wishes: The best wishes are short, unambiguous, related to matters immediately at hand, and usually aimed at a simple (if powerful) task. A wish for a sundered mirror of mental prowess to be made whole or a wish to reveal the identity of the thief of the crown jewels is unlikely to go awry.

    Making Bad Wishes: Wishes born of greed or vengeance have a way of turning sour. Attempts to guard against mishap with a list of conditions and qualifiers are rarely successful, most often resulting in partial fulfillment of the wish. Wishes that stretch the limits of the power granting them are always ill advised. If the wish is from a spell or magic item, failure or backlash is likely, while if the wish is from an outside source, the granter of the wish may be angered by mortal temerity and twist the wish or otherwise seek retribution against the wisher.

    Twisting Wishes: Folklore is filled with tales of wishes gone awry, bringing heartbreak, misery, and perhaps eventually wisdom to the hapless wisher. The wishes most likely to be perverted away from the wisher’s intent are wishes granted by hostile outsiders, wishes from cursed objects, and bad wishes as described above. Evil outsiders in particular are loath to grant wishes that don’t serve evil ends, and take every opportunity to twist them toward harm and suffering. A wish for eternal life may leave the wisher imprisoned in a decrepit yet still undying body. A wish for a powerful magic item can be granted by stealing the item from a powerful and vengeful lord. Wishes are best turned awry by adhering closely to the letter of the wish, but violating the spirit.

    Deferred Results: Rather than denying a particularly powerful wish, such as for the throne of a kingdom, the wish can be granted over an extended period. The wish subtly reshapes reality, guiding the wisher through seeming coincidence, good fortune, and the timely appearance of helpful NPCs. Success is not assured unless the PC takes advantage of her opportunities.

    Making Magic Items

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 116
    In every campaign, there comes a time when the PCs are no longer satisfied with the magic items available to their characters. Whether looking for a power to complement their skills, a new twist on an old favorite, or just the sheer joy of invention, creating a new magic item opens up new venues for a PC. It is also a great way to leave a mark on the campaign—after all, even the oldest magic items were once new to the world.

    Pricing a magic item is more art than science. Guidance on item pricing is given in Table 15–29 in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, but a trip through the magic item section shows the formulas are often not applied exactly. An example is the ring of invisibility, with a calculated price of 10,800 gp, but a book value of 20,000 gp. This is because the at-will nature of the ring offsets the biggest drawback of invisibility, namely that it ends after attacking. When pricing new magic items, watch out for any item that counteracts a basic weakness of an ability, class, or spell.

    The best test for item pricing is to compare it to “must have” items in the game, like weapons, armor, and stat-boosting gear. Also compare it to other items that share the same slot, and items with similar powers. As a rule of thumb, if you’d take the item in a heartbeat over a more expensive standard item, it is probably too cheap. And if you’d never consider taking a 10,000 gp ring over a belt of physical might +2 or even a +2 battleaxe, it might just be overpriced. However, it is safer to price items too high rather than too low. After all, the PC gets a new, custom magic item out of the arrangement, and that’s worth paying a bit extra.

    Ad-Hoc Pricing

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 117
    If there’s no effect in Table 15–29 that matches the new item’s powers, try looking through existing magic items for something that’s close. For example, Seltyiel wants to add the bladethirst ability to his longsword, a power he’s come up with that lets him draw the weapon as a free action. This is essentially the Quick Draw feat, but tied to a single weapon. Even though it’s a weapon enhancement, Seltyiel wants it as a flat cost, like adding fire resistance to a suit of armor. Looking over the ability, the GM decides that this fits well, since it doesn’t really scale up with a more powerful weapon. Gloves of arrow snaring are a 4,000 gp item that grants a feat, so the GM uses this as the base price. Multiple different abilities on a magic item would normally increase this cost by 50%, but since the Quick Draw feat would allow drawing items other than just a single weapon, the GM splits the difference and makes it a 5,000 gp weapon enhancement.

    Keeping the Balance

    Source GameMastery Guide pg. 117
    Watch out for magic items that provide benefits beyond the calculated price. Keep an eye toward preserving the existing power level of magic items in the game.

    Disadvantages That Aren’t: Be wary of items that are designed with a class or alignment restriction in order to lower the price. Since the item’s restriction doesn’t restrict the character who is going to use it, it isn’t really a drawback at all and shouldn’t reduce the price.

    Slotless Items: The Pathfinder RPG is designed with assumptions about how many magic items a character can reasonably use at the same time, requiring players to make hard choices about which magic items their PCs acquire. Slotless items like ioun stones are usually either relatively low-powered or specialized in purpose. Think carefully before allowing a new magic that essentially duplicates an old one, but without using up an item slot.

    Good Item, Bad Formula: Take a look at what the magic item actually does, and compare it to the formula used. Consider tweaking the cost or powers to match the provided benefit. A ring that provides mind blank calculates to 153,000 gp, while one that casts mind blank once per day (at 24 hours per use) comes out to 55,080 gp. In truth, there’s not a large difference in utility between the two items, and the first ring is a better fit for the theme of continuous mental protection.