Guidance – Design 101: Child Characters and 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, we’re going to be talking about child characters and PFS Organized Play.

The adage of, “Don’t change the wheel,” is sort of weird, because the wheel  has changed a lot over the course of human existence. Wheels likely started out sloppy and made of wood, and were refined into superior shades and craftsmanship with time. Wood gave way to rubber and steel, and our ability to make wheels faster and better specialized improved with time. Basically what I’m saying is that a good idea can always be refined, and  that wanting to refine an already good idea doesn’t show an inherent disdain for it. This is the basic premise that I want to go with whenever I do a Design 101 article on the design of the Pathfinder Society Organized Play ruleset, because to me there’s no difference between the Pathfinder Society Rules and, say, the occult ritual rules in Occult Adventures. They’re both a series of rules that people use to balance a game with a wide audience, and both can (and should) be expanded upon to make them more exciting and fun.

For today’s article, I want to discuss an unspoken PFS rule that I noticed about ten months ago when the Iconic Kineticist pregen was released: the rule against child characters in Pathfinder Society. This article is going to focus heavily on analyzing outside factors for the purpose of building a new ruleset, so even if you’re not into organized play you might enjoy this article just for the musings. This is the sort of considerations that you need to make when designing new game mechanics like the advanced weapon trainings and bloodline mutations.

So yeah. Buckle up.

Easy Never Works in PFS

As a general rule, any remarked “easy” solution almost never works in Pathfinder Society because of the campaign’s size and scope. You really have to consider all of the moving pieces when working on a ruleset, and it helps to understand why a rule is the way it is before looking at ways to change it. While I was at PaizoCon, I spoke with a fair number of people involved with Paizo and Pathfinder Society Organized Play about their views on the subject of child characters in PFS, and I ended up with several different sentiments.

  1. “Children in danger” could potentially be a trigger for some people. When I say, “trigger,” I mean, “Things that cause someone to recall a traumatic memory.” I’m a little torn on this one. On one hand, I respect people who have triggers and try my best to empathize with them because I don’t have many triggers of my own when it comes to roleplaying. (You completely lose my interest and participation in a game if you bring up rape and/or raping the PCs, but that’s about my only line that I know of). On the other hand, Yoon, the Iconic Pregen, has been a thing for about 3/4 of a year now and I haven’t seen any big outcry against her participation. Child PCs are still PCs, and even though they’re young they’re almost never helpless in whatever situation we find them in.
  2. Players could roleplay inappropriately with a child character. I also think that this shouldn’t be a concern either, as players can roleplaying inappropriately with ANY character. That PC who starts trying to ask every female NPC he meets to have sex with him? Totally inappropriate. I don’t think that there’s any objective evidence that supports the notion that child PCs are more likely to experience inappropriate roleplaying than those of other age categories or races. (I myself have two young PCs who are as close as they can get to minimum age; a 15-year old kineticist and a 17 year-old investigator.) As with 1., I don’t think that this occurrence is impossible, but I do think that it doesn’t (and wouldn’t) happen enough for it to actually be a problem.
  3. There are many player options that are inappropriate for child PCs. This is an excellent argument that I fully agree with. From archetypes like the deadly courtesan to the enchanting courtesan prestige class to no less than a half-dozen character traits, there are PLENTY of options that are super inappropriate for child characters.

So with these in mind, #3 is by and large the biggest reason why child PCs can’t currently be in Society play; because even one child PC with a courtesan prestige class is too many. However, fixing ALL of this is relatively simple when you stop and consider what the largest problems are: character traits, archetypes, and prestige class options.

Plugging the Hole: Traits

After a thorough search on the Archives of Nethys and my own collection of Pathfinder products, I’ve discovered that traits are by and large the most problematic element as far as “inappropriate content” is concerned. Character traits typically represent a character’s background, and giving a child a courtesan background is not appropriate. So how can we create a rules system that prevents pervy PFS players from making child prostitutes via character traits?

Easy. Don’t let the child take character traits.

In short, our first step towards making the playing of young characters legal is to make that option tied to character traits. Yes, traits. Plural. As in both. In order to make sure that the child doesn’t have an inappropriate background, we make a “super trait” or sorts that requires the young character to give up both of her traits for the privilege of being a young character. This includes the Additional Traits feat, which the option would need to account for.

Mortaring the Cracks: Character Options

While there’s only one prestige class and one archetype that really emphasize sexuality in their vision (the deadly courtesan rogue for vishkanyas and the enchanting courtesan prestige class in Inner Sea Intrigue), we need to build our rules to be ironclad so we don’t have to risk the child character having sexually-charged abilities or the like. This is something we can do with a simple readjustment and clarification of flavor in most cases, and we can do it flavorfully by referencing childhood innocence and whatnot.

Mortaring the Cracks: Character Options

So with all this in mind, this would be my solution for bringing young characters into the Pathfinder Society.

Academy Graduate (Social)

Despite your young age, the Masters of the Society have agreed to allow you to act as a junior field agent. This can be due to your distinguished skills in the Pathfinder Society’s Academy for new recruits, an influential parent or guardian who agreed to supervise your expeditions, or a mentor who vouched for your competence. Reduce the starting age for a character of your race by half. At 1st level, you may choose to be one size category smaller than an Adult of your race (such as a Small creature for a human or a Tiny creature for a halfling). Once you make this choice, it cannot be changed. In addition, you may choose any two skills that represent your hobbies or personal interests. Those skills are class skills for you.

If you select this trait, you cannot select a second trait at 1st level. If you select Additional Traits, you may select any family trait or race trait or the kin bond (Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign), or you can choose to add one skill of your choice to your list of class skills instead of gaining a new trait. You cannot gain levels in an archetype, class, or prestige class whose name includes “courtesan” or a similar word or profession that would be inappropriate for a young character. Additionally, characters without this trait are never considered to be attracted to you for the purpose of all effects (such as the charming trait), and any spell or effect that that you use or that is used against you that involves love or attraction (such as love spell) always creates a platonic bond between you and your target and taking any kind of sensual action against you is considered an evil act for a character without this trait.

This trait, while long, solves most of the big problems.

  1. It removes the need for the young character to take traits, which removes a sizable portion of available “creepy fuel” from such characters.
  2. It removes any “creepy archetype, class, or prestige class” options for young characters. The trait is also flexible enough that it could be easily interpreted and adapted in new ways as the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game grew and evolved.
  3. It alters all of the “problem effects” that could create uncomfortable situations for a young character.
  4. It gives clear, undeniable consequences for Pathfinder Society players who would try to “test” a young character.

So, what do you think? Did I miss any important issues that could arise from playing a Pathfinder Society character in Organized Play? Would you allow a rules system like that at your table? What PFS (or general Pathfinder) topic should I tackle next? Leave your comments and questions below, and I’ll see you back here on Friday for a new Iconic Design. Take care!

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 "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at

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  1. Kevin

    Wouldn’t it be easier to use the social stigma attached to such behavior by just making a Society rule that any player engaging in said behavior be reported by the GM, and that player’s character banned?

    I’m not super familiar with all of PFS rules, but I’m pretty sure there’s rules against behavior like that.

    • Kevin

      Because honestly, I’m in favor of harsh penalties for anyone who would utilize a child character in such a way, because it reveals something about that person that is, at the least, disturbing, and at the worst, criminal.

    • Alex Augunas

      It is usually easier to have rules in effect to prevent behavior then to just take drastic action later. Because what’s inappropriate to one table might not be appropriate to another table, and PFS as a behemoth thrives on having detailed rules for all GMs across the globe to adhere to.

  2. Nate Wright

    I like the layout, and it’s mostly pretty solid. In fact, it’s gotten me pretty excited about the prospect! However, I do have a few concerns.

    As you suggested: “You cannot gain levels in an archetype, class, or prestige class whose name includes “courtesan” or a similar word or profession that would be inappropriate for a young character.”

    That could open a Pandora’s Tacklebox of Table Variation. One table might say anything related to Urgathoa is wrong. Another one might say a Gunslinger is improper, thinking about real world child soldiers. Some Alchemy-based character options could be seen as drug use. And this is all before Lamashtu gets involved.

    Now that I think about it, there are a few scenarios that might make this problematic. I can recall one specific scenario that involves visiting a temple of Calistria, which includes a brothel. Not only are the PCs allowed to purchase intimate services, but it has an in-scenario STD Mechanic. This is the most noteworthy stand-out, but I’m sure there are others scattered about. We’re either looking at DMs illegally (but understandably) altering scenario content or a series of scenario rewrites and re-releases. And really, I’m not sure if I’m okay over having content toned down for the sake of this particular character option.