Burst of Insight

Burst of Insight – Campaigning with Pre-gen PCs

As promised this week we’ll talk about race and class in a Maze-based campaign, but not as I originally anticipated. Originally, I thought I’d be presenting a gestalt class-race rules-set instead I’m going to talk about pre-generated player characters. Pre-gen PCs won’t work for every group or every campaign but if the player’s trust the GM and the GM doesn’t abuse that trust it might be worth a shot in your next campaign.

Pre-generated PCs aren’t a new idea in table-top. Indie games like Lady Blackbird have been doing this for some time but that’s usually in shorter arcs. But it’s not even new to the Pathfinder Roleplaying game examples include playing as the iconics in PFS or Jason Bulmahn’s Patreon project: Edge of Eventide. There are occasions when players to play pre-generated characters but it doesn’t happen all that often.

So how did I get here?

Monica has been playing a lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition and I’ve been watching as I write. Now while the player has some open options regarding the Herald of Andraste the rest of the party is completely pre-generated and advancement for all the characters is pretty regimented along skill trees. Which got me to thinking: What if I build a “class” that is a specific character. I can customize the advancement but still leave a lot of open options for players to choose from.

This sort of design means you can weave the characters tightly into the campaign’s story and have a good expectation of what each character will be capable of at various levels.

For the campaign story, I’m going to go with a classic archetypal Robin Hood story set in the Maze where the Minotaur Lords forbid maps of the maze and starve out non-compliant villages. During the campaign, the PCs will be a small band of rebels resisting minotaur tyranny by mapping the roads of the maze and bringing supplies to starving towns. An ideal culmination of the campaign would be a heist to steal the mythical True Map. The artifact that bestows the ability to traverse the maze to the minotaur race.

So who would be the first player character of the Maze campaign?

Venn Mears a male Halfling who bears physical and emotional scars from his long conflict with the Minotaur Legion. Venn might be the leader, the other certainly follow him, but, he doesn’t care who gets the credit. Venn’s more Little John than Robin. On a similar note, Venn has a number of abilities and character options that allow him to more effectively aid his companions.

As a youth Venn harbored a fierce resentment for the freedom the minotaurs seemed to possess over the other races with their ability to freely travel the maze. He made a decision early to explore the region surrounding his home village of Cliffside. Alone and against the wishes of his closest family and friends Venn wandered into The Maze.

He watched the stars and the caravan of constellations arrayed across the sky. He mapped the paths of The Maze for several miles around the village until a band of minotaurs wearing the uniforms of Legion soldiers encountered Venn on the road. The unit’s leader decided this halfling’s behavior was suspicious and his presumption to “map the roads” tantamount to treason. Venn was beaten, tortured then left for dead.

[Design notes: Below are some of the mechanics for playing and advancing Venn. It should be noted characters are built with the consolidated skills system but get their full Intelligence bonus’ worth of skills. Hit points are a flat number that incorporates the character’s race in the equation at each level. Characters are built using 15 points for ability scores but get to advance attributes twice before seventh level (Venn’s Ability Scores are 9, 16, 12, 13, 12, 14). And characters get a feat at every level unless like Venn they are using the variant multi-classing rules from Pathfinder Unchained. Venn is designed primarily as a rogue (ranger). PCs also begin at 2nd level. All of these adjustments increase the character’s potential power but not dramatically even so GMs should keep the power shift in mind when designing adventures.]


Venn Mears

Class Skills

Venn’s Class Skills are Acrobatics, Finesse, Influence, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.

Skill Points per Level: 4 + Intelligence modifier.


Character Features

Weapon and Armor Proficiencies: Venn is proficient with all simple weapons, plus the hand crossbow, rapier, sap, short sword, shortbow, and any weapon with the word “halfling” in its name. He is also proficient with light armor, but not with shields.

Evasion (Ex): Venn can avoid even magical and unusual attacks with great agility. If he succeeds at a Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals half damage on a successful save, he instead takes no damage. Evasion can be used only if Venn is wearing light armor or no armor. If helpless Venn does not gain the benefit of evasion.

Fearless: Halflings receive a +2 racial bonus on all saving throws against fear. This bonus stacks with the bonus granted by halfling luck.

Finesse Training (Ex): Venn begins play with Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat. In addition, starting at 3rd level, he can select any one type of weapon that can be used with Weapon Finesse (such as rapiers or daggers). Once this choice is made, it cannot be changed. Whenever he makes a successful melee attack with the selected weapon, he adds his Dexterity modifier instead of his Strength modifier to the damage roll. If any effect would prevent Venn from adding his Strength modifier to the damage roll, he does not add his Dexterity modifier.

Halfling Luck: Halflings receive a +1 racial bonus on all saving throws.






Fort Save Ref Save Will Save Hit Points Level




1st & 2nd +1 +0 +3 +0 24 + Con Mod. 2 Feats Evasion, Fearless, Finesse training, Halfling luck, keen senses,  rogue talent,  Small size, sneak attack +1d6, sure footed, trapfinding
3rd +2 +1 +3 +1 31 + Con Mod. 1st Ability Danger sense +1, finesse training, sneak attack +2d6, track
4th +3 +1 +4 +1 38 + Con Mod. 1 Feat Ability Increase, Debilitating injury, rogue talent, uncanny dodge
5th +3 +1 +4 +1 45 + Con Mod. 1 Feat Rogue’s edge, sneak attack +3d6
6th +4 +2 +5 +2 52 + Con Mod. 2nd Ability,

1 Feat

Danger sense +2, rogue talent
7th +5 +2 +5 +2 59 + Con Mod. Favored enemy, sneak attack +4d6

Keen Senses: Halflings receive a +1 racial bonus on Perception checks.

Rogue Talents: As Venn gains experience, he learns a number of talents that aid him and confound his foes. Starting at 2nd level, Venn gains one rogue talent. He gains an additional rogue talent for every 2 levels attained after 2nd level. Venn cannot select an individual talent more than once. See below for a list of talents for Venn to choose from.

Small size: Halflings are Small creatures and gain a +1 size bonus to their AC, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, a –1 penalty to their CMB and CMD, and a +4 size bonus on Stealth checks.

Sneak Attack: If Venn can catch an opponent when it is unable to defend itself effectively from his attack, he can strike a vital spot for extra damage.

This attack deals extra damage anytime his target would be denied a Dexterity bonus to AC (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), or when Venn flanks his target. This extra damage is 1d6 at 1st level, and increases by 1d6 every 2 levels thereafter. Ranged attacks can count as sneak attacks only if the target is within 30 feet. This additional damage is precision damage and is not multiplied on a critical hit.

With a weapon that deals nonlethal damage (such as a sap, unarmed strike, or whip), Venn can make a sneak attack that deals nonlethal damage instead of lethal damage. He cannot use a weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage in a sneak attack—not even with the usual –4 penalty.

Venn must be able to see the target well enough to pick out a vital spot and must be able to reach such a spot. He cannot sneak attack while striking a creature with total concealment.

Sure-Footed: Halflings receive a +1 racial bonus on Acrobatics and Athletics checks.

Trapfinding: A rogue adds 1/2 her level on Perception checks to locate traps and on Finesse checks (minimum +1) made to disable traps. A rogue can use Finesse to disarm magic traps.

Danger Sense (Ex): At 3rd level, Venn gains a +1 bonus on Reflex saves to avoid traps and a +1 dodge bonus to AC against attacks made by traps. In addition, she gains a +1 bonus on Perception checks to avoid being surprised by a foe. These bonuses increases to +2 at 6th level. This ability counts as trap sense for the purpose of any feat or class prerequisite.

Track (Ex): At 3rd level, Venn adds half his level to Survival skill checks made to follow tracks.

Debilitating Injury (Ex): At 4th level, whenever Venn deals sneak attack damage to a foe, he can also debilitate the target of her attack, causing it to take a penalty for 1 round (this is in addition to any penalty caused by a rogue talent or other special ability). The rogue can choose to apply any one of the following penalties when the damage is dealt.

Bewildered: The target becomes bewildered, taking a –2 penalty to AC. The target takes an additional –2 penalty to AC against all attacks made by Venn.

Disoriented: The target takes a –2 penalty on attack rolls. In addition, the target takes an additional –2 penalty on all attack rolls it makes against Venn.

Hampered: All of the target’s speeds are reduced by half (to a minimum of 5 feet). In addition, the target cannot take a 5-foot step.

These penalties do not stack with themselves, but additional attacks that deal sneak attack damage extend the duration by 1 round. A creature cannot suffer from more than one penalty from this ability at a time. If a new penalty is applied, the old penalty immediately ends. Any form of healing applied to a target suffering from one of these penalties also removes the penalty.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): At 4th level, Venn can react to danger before his senses would normally allow him to do so. He cannot be caught flat-footed, nor does he lose his Dexterity bonus to AC if the attacker is invisible. He still loses his Dexterity bonus to AC if immobilized. Venn can still lose his Dexterity bonus to AC if an opponent successfully uses the feint action against him.

Rogue’s Edge (Ex): At 5th level, Venn has mastered a single skill beyond that skill’s normal boundaries, gaining results that others can only dream about. He gains the skill unlock powers for that skill as appropriate for her number of ranks in that skill.

Favored Enemy (Ex): At 7th level, Venn selects a creature type from the ranger favored enemies table. He gains a +2 bonus on Perception and Survival checks against creatures of the selected type, and to checks with the monster knowledge function of the relevant skill. Likewise, he gets a +2 bonus on weapon attack and damage rolls against them. A ranger may make Knowledge skill checks untrained when attempting to identify these creatures.

If Venn chooses humanoids or outsiders as a favored enemy, he must also choose an associated subtype, as indicated on the Ranger Favored Enemies table. (Note that there are other types of humanoid to choose from—those called out specifically on the table are merely the most common.)

Venn’s Rogue Talent Options

[Design note: Venn has a very restricted list of rogue talents but not all of them originate in the core rules. I added some slayer talents from Rogue Genius Games Talented Slayer variant class and I adjusted some of the variant Halfling racial traits and made those rogue talents and I created one new talent entirely. I wanted Venn’s player to have plenty of options but I wanted to make sure the options available reflected the sort of character that Venn is. So several of the talents from the core rules are unavailable. There are about eight talents for each selection the player can make. I’ll make similar decisions for each character’s feats as well although I’m not covering that here.]

Talents marked with an asterisk add effects to a rogue’s sneak attack. Only one of these talents can be applied to an individual attack, and the decision must be made before the attack roll is made.

Bleeding Attack* (Ex): A rogue with this ability can cause living opponents to bleed by hitting them with a sneak attack. This attack causes the target to take 1 additional point of damage each round for each die of the rogue’s sneak attack (e.g., 4d6 equals 4 points of bleed). Bleeding creatures take that amount of damage every round at the start of each of their turns. The bleeding can be stopped by a successful DC 15 Heal check or the application of any effect that heals hit point damage. Bleed damage from this ability does not stack with itself. Bleed damage bypasses any damage reduction the creature might possess.

Camouflage (Ex): A rogue with this talent can craft simple but effective camouflage from the surrounding foliage. The rogue needs 1 minute to prepare the camouflage, but once he does, it is effective for the rest of the day or until the rogue fails a saving throw against an area-effect spell that deals acid, cold, or fire damage, whichever comes first. The rogue gains a +4 bonus on Stealth checks while within terrain that matches the foliage used to make the camouflage. This ability cannot be used in areas without natural foliage.

Combat Trick: A rogue who selects this talent gains a bonus combat feat.

Esoteric Scholar (Ex): A rogue with this talent can attempt any Knowledge skill check, even if he is not trained in that Knowledge skill.

Fast Stealth (Ex): This ability allows a rogue to move at full speed using the Stealth skill without penalty.

Find the Chink (Ex): When the character scores a critical hit on a target with an attack that does not get to add his sneak attack dice, he may opt to deal normal (rather than critical) damage, and add his sneak attack dice.

Fleet of Foot: Some halflings are quicker than their kin. Halflings with this talent move at normal speed and have a base speed of 30 feet.

Force Off-Guard (Ex): As a standard action the rogue may make an Influence check to feint a target. If he succeeds, he may select one ally who may add half the rogue’s sneak attack dice to the first successful attack the ally makes against that target before the start of the rogue’s next turn. A rogue must have at least 2d6 of sneak attack to select this talent.

Got Your Back (Ex): While the rogue is adjacent to an ally, he may grant that ally the benefits from his uncanny dodge ability. If the rogue has improved uncanny dodge, the ally also gains the benefits of that ability. (If a creature would be able to flank the rogue despite uncanny dodge, it can also flank the rogue’s ally.) If the rogue is adjacent to multiple allies he may either select a single ally to benefit from this talent as a free action, to grant it to all adjacent allies as a swift action. If an ally moves so it is no longer adjacent to the rogue, the ally loses the benefit of the got your back talent. If the rogue is immobilized, flat-footed, or helpless, he cannot use this talent. A rogue must have uncanny dodge to select this talent.

Ledge Walker (Ex): This ability allows a rogue to move along narrow, uneven, or slippery surfaces (such as ice) at full speed using the Acrobatics skill without penalty. In addition, a rogue with this talent is not flat-footed when using Acrobatics to move along such surfaces, and retains her Dexterity bonus to AC.

Low Blow: Some halflings train extensively in the art of attacking larger creatures. Halflings with this talent gain a +1 bonus on critical confirmation rolls against opponents larger than themselves.

Major Magic (Sp): A rogue with this talent gains the ability to cast a 1st-level spell from the sorcerer/wizard spell list once per day as a spell-like ability for every 2 rogue levels he possesses. The rogue’s caster level for this ability is equal to his rogue level. The save DC for this spell is 11 + the rogue’s Intelligence modifier. A rogue must have the minor magic rogue talent and an Intelligence score of at least 11 to select this talent.

Minor Magic (Sp): A rogue with this talent gains the ability to cast a 0-level spell from the sorcerer/wizard spell list. This spell can be cast at will as a spell-like ability. The rogue’s caster level for this ability is equal to his rogue level. The save DC for this spell is 10 + the rogue’s Intelligence modifier. A rogue must have an Intelligence score of at least 10 to select this talent.

Multitalented (Ex): The rogue can use his rogue talents more often. Once per day, he can use a rogue talent that is normally only usable once per day one additional time. At 10th level and 18th level, he can use this talent one additional time per day (for a maximum total of 3 additional uses of a rogue talent that can normally only be used once per day). The uses of this talent do not have to be spent on the same rogue talent. This ability cannot be used with an advanced talent.

Nimble Climber (Ex): Whenever the rogue fails an Athletics check to climb by 5 or more, he can attempt a Reflex save (using the same DC as the Climb check) to catch himself and avoid falling.

Nimble Squeeze (Ex): Whenever the rogue needs to squeeze through a small space the penalties for squeezing are halved from –4 to –2. Additionally, the movement penalty to move through tight spaces is reduced. Each square counts as a square and a half, treat this like moving diagonally through a square. The first square counts as 5 feet the next 10 feet.

Powerful Sneak* (Ex): Whenever a rogue with this talent takes a full-attack action, he can take a –2 penalty on all attack rolls until the start of him next turn. If he does, he can reroll any sneak attack damage dice that result in 1s. He can reroll multiple dice, but he can’t reroll any individual die more than once per attack.

Resiliency (Ex): Once per day, a rogue with this ability can gain a number of temporary hit points equal to twice him rogue level. Activating this ability is an immediate action that can be performed only when the rogue is brought to below 0 hit points. This ability can be used to prevent the rogue from dying. These temporary hit points last for 1 minute. If the rogue’s hit points drop below 0 due to the loss of these temporary hit points, he falls unconscious and is dying as normal.

Rogue Crawl (Ex): While prone, a rogue with this ability can move at half speed. This movement provokes attacks of opportunity as normal. A rogue with this talent can take a 5-foot step while crawling, and he reduces his attack roll and AC penalties for being prone by 2.

Stand Up (Ex): A rogue with this ability can stand up from a prone position as a swift action without provoking attacks of opportunity, or as a free action that provokes attacks of opportunity.

Surprise Attack (Ex): During the surprise round, a rogue with this ability always considers opponents flat-footed, even if they have already acted. A rogue with this ability adds 1/2 his rogue level to his sneak attack damage rolls made during the surprise round.

Terrain Mastery (Ex): A rogue with this talent gains a favored terrain, as the ranger class feature of the same name, but the bonus does not increase with his level. A rogue can select this talent multiple times, each time applying it to a new terrain.

Trap Spotter (Ex): Whenever a rogue with this talent comes within 10 feet of a trap, he can attempt an immediate Perception check to notice the trap. This check should be made in secret by the GM.

Weapon Training: A rogue who selects this talent gains Weapon Focus as a bonus feat.

Zig-Zag (Ex): The rogue is an expert at moving swiftly through crowds and past foes. The rogue adds half her level to Acrobatics checks made to avoid attacks of opportunity and does not treat crowds as difficult terrain.


I think if the player’s trust the GM, pre-generated player characters can be an interesting option for a change of pace particularly if the story is tightly woven through the characters backgrounds. If this sounds like an interesting idea check with your group if everyone is on board with you the GM designing character’s for a short campaign give it a shot. It need not be as elaborate as I’ve planned out here it could be a matter of building 1st level PCs and integrating the backgrounds into the ongoing story.



Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.

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