Guidance – Alex’s Top 10: Best “Home Rules” in PFS Organized Play

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, Alex is going to be sharing his favorite PFS rules.

I was browsing the Paizo forums the other day, and I came across this rather large thread filled with people ranting about Pathfinder Society Organized play. This time, the topic was, “What if Pathfinder Society Organized Play was the default rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game?” Now, considering that this thread was created in the rules forum rather than the Pathfinder Society forum, you can imagine what happened: the thread filled rapidly with people who have never played Pathfinder Society before who promptly began touting a bunch of out of context rules that they honestly believed made Pathfinder Society the worse thing ever.

Now, I want to be fair; some of the rules that were cited, such as the lack of Kingdom Building or meaningful, individual continuity are legitimate things to dislike about Pathfinder Society. But because I am ever a crusader against toxic people on the internet (no matter how futile a cause it is), I’ve decided to honor the Pathfinder Society today by talking about my favorite home campaign rules that can be found on both sides of organized play’s screens. These rules aren’t listed in any particular order; just as they come to mind.

(And yes, I know this is categorized as a Top 10 article despite there only being 6 reasons. This fit the “Top 10 List” style of article the best, so I’m going with it. DON’T JUDGE ME!!!)

#1 – The Research Rules

A number of different PFS scenarios deal with researching as a game mechanic, but by far my absolute favorite one comes from the newish scenario The Blackros Connection, which I ran for my local PFS lodge several weeks ago. In the Blackros Connection, you have to do a LOT of researching in order to follow the trail of a particular artifact and the mechanics involved are really neat. Essentially, each library or research center that you research in had a skill check DC and a number of kp, or Knowledge Points. Every time you beat the skill check DC, you deal damage to the library’s kp based upon your qualifications (such as the number of ranks you have and what feats or class abilities, if any, you possess) and if you roll a natural 20, you can roll to confirm to double the damage dealt to the research center’s kp. As the research center’s kp drops, you find bits of information until you reduce it to 0, signaling that you’ve found all you can learn or you’ve found what you’re looking for.

This is a VERY neat and tidy subsystem that’s a lot of fun to play. Considering how important research is to iconic horror games (see Lovecraft), I’d be very surprised if a mechanic like this didn’t find itself in Horror Adventures. If it doesn’t, Paizo NEEDS to make sure that this rules set gets into official print somewhere. Its fun, innovative, and a great add-on to the PFS line-up.

#2 – Starting Gold

Having randomized starting gold can be fun if you want to have a “rags to riches” character, or if you want to play hard mode. For most GMs, however, variable starting gold is annoying and puts the players on an uneven playing field. By doing away with varying starting gold and balancing wealth between all party members, there’s a nice, even starting field and most importantly, the value is easy to remember. 150 gold. Short, sweet, and no rolling involved.

#3 – Fame as a Means of Wealth Progression

By far, I think this is one of the absolute best things to come out of Pathfinder Society, the mechanic that allows PFS to regulate wealth for its characters. Now, to make it clear, I don’t think that using Fame to limit the GM’s ability to drop loot for his players in a home game is a good idea. Rather, I like the idea of using Fame to determine what PCs can purchase from a given town or organization. (Especially an organization.) In PFS, you can’t purchase an item that exceeds the value associated with your Fame within the Pathfinder Society, because why would the society let an untested recruit purchase expensive, powerful items? This same system would work well when running a game in a large city like Absolam or Oppara in addition to the normal wealth limit of the city. The PFS Fame system would allow you to run a political intrigue game in a large city without having to worry about whether your PCs will ask to buy something that totally throws off their wealth by level or character power. GMs always have the ability to fiat-block whatever they want, but the PFS Fame system is a nice, rulesy way to say, “No, you can’t do that and here’s why” instead of “No, you can’t do that because I said so.” GM the arbiter rather than GM the overlord and all that jazz.

#4 – The Entire Player Etiquette Chapter

Did you know that the Core Rulebook doesn’t once say that cheating is bad or that you should shouldn’t be a jerk towards people in your party? The Pathfinder Society assumes that all players in a party are part of the same organization whose tenants include, “Explore, Report, Cooperate,” and as a result, things like “Don’t be a jerk” are literally written into PFS’s rules. This also includes a rule that states, “You cannot inflict friendly fire damage on an ally unless that ally is okay with you doing so.” Now, I’m sure that plenty of purists don’t like that Pathfinder Society literally has a rule that tells them how they should act, but let’s be honest; Pathfinder is a cooperative game, and you should be doing what PFS tells you to do anyway. This is an awesome rule at the table, in my opinion, because conflict at the table tends to bleed over into real life. A small section on player etiquette in Chapter 1 of the Core Rulebook would have been much appreciated, in my opinion.

#5 – Gear Upgrading

So technically, there’s nothing in the standard Core Rulebook that doesn’t say that upgrading one’s gear is allowed. (As a matter of fact, the wealth-by-level rules flat-out state that players are expected to push their own wealth below the expected totals as a result of selling off gear they don’t want.) Is it a common house rule? Fairly, yes. But its nice to have a system that specifically lets you save money by upgrading old gear into better forms for you.

#6 – Hit Point Progression

Ever been in a game where a character was super squishy because he/she rolled super low for hit points? I have, and it SUCKS. That’s why one thing that I really like about Pathfinder Society is that it does away with rolling for hit points in favorite of average (rounded up). So a bard has 8 hit points + Constitution at Level 1, and gets 5 hit points + Constitution at every level there after. It’s a great way to make sure that players aren’t too powerful for their level or hard to kill. Personally, I’d also keep a retraining mechanic in for getting more hit points for my home games (a la Ultimate Campaign), but while that isn’t an option in PFS, that doesn’t take away the fact that static hp per level is an easy and fair way to keep players balanced against one another.

So those are my top 6 favorite “house rules” in the Pathfinder Society? Are there more that I like? Probably, but I don’t remember them all at the moment. What do you think? Are these home rules good enough to keep you playing (or make you consider trying PFS for the first time)? What rules do you think PFS could use? What rules do you think are too much? What other comments do you have? Leave your questions and answers below, and I’ll be back next Monday for another installment of Guidance!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

10 Comments

  1. Christopher Eich Reply to Christopher

    It might just be me, but #3 and #5 seem very similar. Could you maybe explain or differentiate them a bit, please?

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      #3 is the Fame system. #5 is the fact that PFS lets you upgrade old gear at all. Rereading it, I think I went off on a regressive tangent that bled back into #3 when I wrote #5. I’ve cut out that tangent for the sake of clarity.

      Thanks!

  2. The Masked Ferret Reply to The

    You can use the Ultimate Campaign rules to gain more hitpoints (at least you could the last time I checked). It is just generally not considered to be worth it the way that PFS prices it (3 PP + the gold cost per hit point).

  3. Mike Desaulniers Reply to Mike

    Our house rule is because a couple of us enjoy Sammy Hagar’s “Can’t drive 55”. Any time we need to role a % die, if you roll a 55 you get an epic bonus in your favor. It’s only happened once in 5 years.

  4. As for me, for the ones I have an opinion one way or the other about…

    #2: I like randomized starting gold because it reflects that characters have different backgrounds and come from different places in the world and society. An ascetic monk isn’t going to have as much wealth as a professional bard, after all. It adds a little bit of flavor to characters for the first session or two of a campaign — and it quickly becomes irrelevant, because after a few levels, the differences in starting wealth don’t even amount to rounding errors compared to how much wealth the characters earn.

    #5: Actually, rules for upgrading items are in the core rulebook under the “Adding New Abilities” section of “Creating Magic Items”: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/magic-items#TOC-Adding-New-Abilities
    In fact, if you allow them, the rules for crafting and upgrading magic items are quite a bit more flexible than anything PFS allows. (to the boon of players who want a vest of resistance because there’s no good chest-slot items but lots of good cloaks and to the bane of GMs who have to deal with players min-maxing every item slot)

    #6: Generally, people I know who like random HP are the same people who like rolling for stats, because it introduces an element of unpredictability; it makes it harder to min-max a character from their conception, and you may have to change your plans over the course of a campaign to deal with unexpected rolls. Still, most GMs I’ve played with that roll for HP allow players a re-roll if they roll within the bottom 25% of their die. (1s for d6s, 2s for d8s and d10s, and 3s for d12s) When I GM I usually let players choose whether they want to roll or take the average rounded up, though, and most players go with the average.

    I think that #2 and #6 are both emblematic of one of the issues I have with PFS in general — the rules are focused more on being /fair/ than being /fun/. To be fair, that’s a valid concern when you’re playing with a randomized set of people every time and some players do not have fun if their characters are not mechanically at least as good as or better than everybody else’s.

    > Are these home rules good enough to keep you playing (or make you consider trying PFS for the first time)?

    I played PFS for a few years and quit a few years ago, and I don’t think there are any house rules that could convince me to go back. 😉 But I have no problem with occasionally stealing good ideas from it and using them in home games.

  5. I’m putting together a home game right now and I am going to be converting PFS into the world’s Adventuring Guild. I’m keeping both fame and prestige, and what they do. I’m even setting things up do they can gain prestige and fame at a similar rate to PFS.

    My group generally likes to use “action points” as a way to get rerolls and prevent deaths but I’m doing away with that house rule to make way for some of the things prestige does, like recover dead bodies and getting free items.

    I haven’t run this by them yet, but I am sure they will on board.

  6. I once had a 3.5 wizard who, by 8th level, due to my rolling multiple 1’s for hp, had 24 hp.

    Fortunately he was an Abjurer specialist wizard, so he was good on the defense.

    My first question in every battle to the GM was “Where can I get cover?”

  7. Samurai Jon Reply to Samurai

    I like the concept of research rules, especially since my homebrew setting is one with a big theme of occult and paranormal threats. I do hope the system appears in Ultimate Intrigue or Horror Adventures.

  8. Question: How would you expand the vanities and benefits Prestige Points can be spent on? The possibilities for PP in a home game are pretty limitless.

    A couple ideas I had:
    – Allowing PP to be spent for retraining or downtime training.
    – Allowing PP to be spent to gain the benefits of certain feats. There are SO many feats in PF that most players, and especially the optimizers, just wont take. PP could be a way to award them as bonus feats or use them as temporary benefits.

  9. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    My issue with PFS is that the GM is not a GM, he’s basically a video game console. Someone slots a game (scenario) into the console, and the game is played out. The player can move around in the game, but is ultimately limited by what the game has pre-coded into it. The console has no power or ability to change the games coding, it simply runs the code as it is instructed.

    PFS scenarios are as close to table top video game as one can get. The GM has no power to do anything in the game, his sole purpose is to be the person rolling the dice for the scenario. What little power he does have, is to settle a dispute at the table.

    In a home game, the GM has the power to change things to raise or lower the difficulty of the game for the good of the table. In PFS, if a scenario starts going bad, tough shit, that’s the way the scenario plays out. In a home game, if it’s going bad, the GM could tweak things, like maybe the evil wizard taunts the players and teleports away, mocking them for their weakness.

    The same is true for the opposite. If players are steam rolling, then the scenario is over and done with. But in a home game, the GM can modify things on the fly.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the GM having no power in PFS. A PFS GM is not a GM, he’s a game console, and that’s my issue with PFS.

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