I love Pathfinder and Starfinder. Whether it’s delving into an underground dungeon or unraveling the mysteries of an urban intrigue plot, there are very few hooks that don’t inspire me to want to run or play more! That being said, there are more games out there that don’t end in -finder (gasp)! And while our beloved RPG is an excellent storytelling device, sometimes some activities can be better experienced using other methods. But that can be a great opportunity to further immerse your players into your ongoing Pathfinder or Starfinder campaign! Today I’m going to go over just three of the countless ways you can bring some real-world activities into your game to help spice up your next session!
It’s up to you to gauge whether or not suggestions like this are right for your group and how integrated into the campaign you want them to be. Do you want characters making skill checks to apply special benefits? Do you want people “in character” while they are ordering at the bar? Or is this just a casual trapping and you’ll see how things progress as the night goes on? Will this take up a whole session? Or is this just something to do pre-session or during your regularly scheduled break? In some cases, these activities are best when you are missing one or more players and want to kind of expand on what you’d normally do during your Downtime. Other times they can help set up or resolve important plot points, perhaps in ways players won’t completely comprehend until further down the road. There is no silver-bullet solution for using meta-session activities like sub-games because it will vary greatly from group to group, and if you aren’t sure the best way to check is by being open with your communications and perhaps testing it out with something low-stakes and quick: such as a single hand of cards or passing drinks around the table!
Pathfinder Lost Omens: Travel Guide has some fun recipes inspired by Golarion cuisine that you can cook and serve at your table before, during, or after your gaming session. This is especially fun if you have a chef character or a between-adventure session taking place in a bar, around a campfire, or during a feast! There are quite a few resources for the discerning culinary-gamer out there, including Baba Yaga’s Guide to Golarion Gastronomy and the bars in Queerfinder Issue 1: Bars of Absalom on Pathfinder Infinite. There’s an official Dungeons and Dragons inspired cookbook, numerous cooking fantasy-anime that can help inspire your cuisine, and, of course, countless cooking sites and youtube channels to help teach you how to whip up your favorite dish (my personal favorite being Cooking with Dog). You can even play in-character at a restaurant or bar (especially if you live near a nerdy gastro-pub or your game-shop has a restaurant attached to it); This can be especially immersive if you are running an adventure that starts in a tavern and you want an extended introduction; You can even do it in Pathfinder Society! Just make sure you know everyone’s allergies in advance, and warn people so they know not to eat before game-time.
Games are an important part of the human experience. Pathfinder Lost Omens: Travel Guide and Inner Sea Taverns gave us a peak into the games enjoyed by the people of the Lost Omens setting. But how many of your characters play these games? Introducing meta-games you can play “in character” is nothing new to tabletop RPGs; Both the Harrow Deck and Three Dragon Ante are examples of almost two decades old. And since most of the games in Pathfinder are based on real world games like Chess and Go, it’s pretty easy to adapt real world game accessories for use at your table. Now I am biased here, having made the in-character game Starstone: the Ascension, but having both run and played different integrated games in-character at game tables I can assure you it’s a great way to learn about our characters: Our play-styles, how serious or silly we get with the games, whether or not our characters try to “cheat” or get some other “meta-advantage”, and whether or not we are even interested in playing in the first place can say volumes about a character’s personality and style. They can even be used in lieu of subsystems, such as using the game Mysterium to help guide an actual occult murder investigation, giving players bonus cards (perhaps even Harrow cards) if they can get a Critical Success on select skill checks! You can even use Video Games, especially in Starfinder, and try to toggle handicaps for specific players who roll better in Profession (VidGamer). Of course, if your party’s technomancer is already the best gamer in the group that might not be necessary. Now it can be odd when the character with the lowest dex score is getting all the bullseyes when you get together to play darts, but that happens with dice-rolls too and can help add to an unforgettable night of mirthful storytelling!
Celebrating in-character achievements with a party can be an exciting and fun way to celebrate your friendship at the game table. Earlier this year during a session of my Where There’s Smoke campaign I planned a session around a character’s 18th birthday party. I wrote notes for the character from each NPC who attended the party, and then asked each of the PCs to write notes themselves. While we are a remote group, one of the players lives close enough that they were able to print out the notes and deliver them in person, along with some crafty decorations representing some of the gifts the character received, like a rare harrow card! The PCs went out and crafted or bought the character a gift, mostly minor consumable items, and the party received liquor and food and hero-points a plenty, in addition to some items I knew the player wanted that helped keep them within the same wealth range as the rest of the party. This can be made even more immersive if you time the session with the player’s actual birthday, in addition, to help giving a character who might be feeling a little left out of the spotlight some much-needed attention! You can throw similar parties for festivals, especially given how many holidays in Golarion have real world equivalents. For example, you can run Halloween scenarios in October and even bring pumpkins and markers so players can pretend they are carving pumpkins “in character” to help celebrate the harvest!