Friday, August 22, 2014

Pathfinder Character Creation Guide

Recently I had the joy of introducing some new players to RPGs in general.  We played Pathfinder, which comes with some challenges (big books are intimidating!).  I tried to make the character creation process a little bit easier for my PCs that had never played before by creating a step-by-step guide with examples.  It's designed with the roll 4d6 and drop the lowest method in mind, but it can be adapted to point buy systems very easily.  Others might find it helpful, so here's a copy:

Step 0 – Create a basic backstory:
·       Use this backstory to help you make decisions about your choices below
·       Don’t be afraid to change these answers later if you think of something cooler; but work the chosen option into your backstory
·       Tips & Examples:
o   Don’t feel like you need to be as detailed as the example below.  For instance, “Dwarf.  Missing cousin.  Archer.” could easily be all you’d need at this stage to create the character below.
o   Throughout this guide, I’m going to create a dwarven character, Bronson Ironfeld.  He’s from an intact family, so he will need a reason to leave home.  It just so happens that Bronson had a slightly older cousin who was kidnapped by an unknown party while the two were adolescents.  Although Bronson grew up learning to run his father’s bakery, he’s always missed his cousin and wants to find him and bring him home. 
So, he started hanging around with several of the town’s guards.  He’s always been a fairly easygoing guy, and had several friends training for guard duty.  Of course, his duties in his father’s bakery meant that he couldn’t train as often with his friends as he’d like.  Consequently, Bronson fell behind in most weapons training.  He also had trouble keeping up with the larger humans’ natural reach.  But, he’s always been a very good archer. 
Additionally, training to run a bakery meant extremely early mornings.  Bronson became extremely adept at moving through the house into the bakery and not waking his mother or two little sisters.  Once he got out on his own, Bronson discovered that he’d need to live by his wits more than by the strength of his sword.  Today he sells his services as a jack of all trades and an archer, but he’s picked up experience living on the streets in his travels.

Step 1 – Pick your race:
Tips & Examples:
o   Because Bronson’s a somewhat lighter-stepping atypical dwarf, I’ve decided to focus on his darkvision and his attack and defense bonuses against giants, orcs, and goblins.  I’ll want to remember these things as I work on his final backstory.

Step 2 – Pick your class:
·       Your class may have some bearing on your alignment.
·       Tips & Examples:
o   Classes have the most customized abilities of any choice that you make about your character.
o   Martial & skills-based characters require the fewest game rules, so they are usually the easiest to play
o   Spontaneous spellcasters are the next rules light-est group of classes
o   Memorized spellcasters have the most game mechanics and therefore the most rules to know.
o   Example: I’ve decided to make Bronson a rogue.  Rogues are sneaks, spies, and thieves, though not always evil.  I want Bronson to be an effective ranged combatant, but not a one trick pony.  By choosing the rogue class, Bronson will have decent combat skills, but he’ll be equally able to shine in skills and role-playing-based situations.

Step 3 – Determine Ability Scores:
·       Roll 4d6, drop the lowest die, and add them together.  Discard any number under 8.  Continue until you have six numbers between 8-18.  Assign these numbers to your ability scores.
·       If you end up with three or more scores under 10, reroll all six numbers.
·       Tips & Examples:
o   Your race choice can provide bonuses or penalties to your scores.  You might want to consider your race before assigning your scores.
o   Class abilities are also affected by bonuses or penalties to your scores.  You might want to consider your class before assigning your scores.
o   Martial characters usually want to have a high strength score (close up fighters) or a high dexterity score (ranged fighters)
o   Spellcasting characters usually want to have a high score in the score tied to their spellcasting abilities (intelligence, wisdom, or charisma)
o   Constitution bonuses tie into your maximum hit points, which is important for all characters
o   Intelligence bonuses affect how many ranks you can put into a skill per level, which can be important
o   Wisdom affects your Perception skill, which is arguably the most important skill in the game.
o   Example:
§  Bronson rolled the following scores: 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17
§  I know that Bronson is going to be a dwarf, so I know he’ll get the following bonuses/penalties to his ability scores: +2 constitution, +2 wisdom, -2 charisma.
§  Because Bronson’s an archer, I want a high dexterity score for making ranged attacks.  So, I’ll use my 17 for his dexterity.  That also ties in nicely with learned habit of walking quietly so as to not wake his mother and sisters when he went downstairs early to the bakery.
§  Bronson is short and had trouble with close up fighting, but only because he couldn’t really spend time on training.  So, I’m going to assign the 12 for his strength.
§  Bronson had several friends who were training to be guards and he’s a likeable guy.  I’m going to assign the 15 to his charisma, which will become a 13 after his racial penalty gets added in.
§  My backstory doesn’t have a lot of details about Bronson’s heartiness, so I’m just going to place the other scores where I like them.  13 to constitution—which becomes 15, 11 to intelligence, and 10 to wisdom.
§  Bronson’s final ability scores are:
STR 12
DEX 17
CON 15
INT 11
WIS 10
CHA 13

Step 4 – Pick your skills & feats:
·       Skills Tips & Examples:
o   When you place a rank in a class skill, you automatically get a +3 bonus to that skill, meaning that you’re character gets an advantage to using class skills…if you invest in them.
o   Some skills checks can be made even if you aren’t trained in the skill, like swimming, while some cannot, like Linguistics.
o   All skills are tied to an ability score and allow you to use that ability score’s modifier to raise (or lower) your effective rank.
o   You cannot have more ranks in a skill than you have class levels.
o   Skills Example:
§  As a rogue, Bronson gets 8 skills ranks to place into skills.  He could get extra skills if his intelligence score was high enough, but at 11 he doesn’t get any bonus skills or lose any skill ranks.
§  I’ve identified 13 skills that I like for Bronson.  Unfortunately, he has only 8 ranks, so I’ll need to winnow that number down to 8: Acrobatics, Bluff, Climb, Diplomacy, Disable Device, Disguise, Escape Artist, Knowledge (local), Perception, Craft (Baker), Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Use Magic Device.
§  Craft (baker), stealth, and perception all tie into Bronson’s backstory somehow.  They are also class skills, meaning Bronson will get a bonus for choosing them.
§  Bronson hasn’t have much exposure to magic in his life, so I’m throwing out use magic device.  I might pick it up when I gain more skill ranks at second level.
§  I’ve divided the other skills into two groups.  Group 1 is more of a spy-focus it has bluff, diplomacy, disguise, escape artist, knowledge (local), & sense motive in it.  Group 2 is more of a second-story kind of person and has acrobatics, bluff, climb, disable device, disguise, knowledge (local), and sleight of hand in it.
§  I’ve decided that Bronson is more thief than spy, so I’ll choose acrobatics, climb, disable device, knowledge (local), and sleight of hand to round out Bronson’s skills.
§  Examples of Bronson’s final skill’s choices:
Acrobatics                  +1 (skill rank)                  + 3 (class skill)                  + 3 (Dexterity bonus):                  +7
Appraise                  +0 (skill rank)                  -- (class skill w/o ranks) + 0 (Int bonus):                  +0
Bluff                                    +0 (skill rank)                  -- (class skill w/o ranks)                  + 2 (Cha bonus): +2
Knowledge (arcana) +0 (skill rank) +0 (not class skill) +0 (Int): Trained Only/Can’t use
o   Feat Example:
§  As a dwarf, Bronon can choose only one feat.  He’ll either choose Alertness (which gives him another +2 when making Perception & sense motive checks), Point Blank Shot (which gives him a +1 to attack and damage rolls against enemies within 30’ when he’s shooting an arrow at them), or Stealthy (which gives him +2 on Escape Artist and Stealth skills checks).  Bronson has pretty good skills already, so he’s going to take the Point Blank Shot feat.  He’ll remember the others though—you get a new feat every other level.

Step 5 – Pick 2 traits:
·       Each trait must be from a separate category
·       Self-created traits that fit into your backstory and mirror pre-existing ones are a good idea (see example)
·       Example: Bronson has two traits that he can take.  These will be ways that we can really flesh out his backstory.  First, he will take the Indomitable Faith trait, which is supposed to be for characters born in a region where their faith is not popular but who never abandoned it.  I’m going to reskin it as Bronson’s belief that he’s meant to find his cousin, a belief in which he persevered even though people made fun of him for it.  This choice gives him a +1 on his will-based saving throws.
I’m also going to take and reskin the Eyes & Ears of the City Trait, which is supposed to be for characters whose religious upbringing required them to spend time working in the City Watch.  Bronson hung around with the watch trainees a lot growing up though, so this seems appropriate for him.  The trait gives him a +1 bonus to Perception checks and makes Perception a class skill for him.  Perception was already a class skill for Bronson, so he’ll only benefit from the +1 bonus, but the trait seems appropriate for him.  Bronson’s Perception score was +4 (+1 rank, +3 class skill, +0 wisdom), but this trait choice will boost it to +5.

Step 6 – Buy Equipment
·       Feel free to customize your equipment’s flavor (i.e. your helmet can have horns, but they can’t do any damage beyond head-butting someone with a normal helmet).
·       Example:
o   Bronson’s backstory focuses on his being an archer.  But, I’ve made a mistake!  Bronson, as a rogue, is only proficient with simple weapons (plus some exceptions).  If he uses a weapon he’s not proficient with, he’ll take a -4 penalty to his attack rolls.  When I take a look at the bow options, I see that only the crossbow is a simple weapon.  I’ve pictured him using a short bow up till now.  I’ve got two options.  I can either decide that Bronson is a crossbowman or I will need to find a way to make him proficient in using the short bow.  Fortunately, he’s eligible for the Martial Weapons Proficiency feat.  Bronson can take it, but he’ll have to give up his choice for Point Blank Shot.  That’s tough, but I’ll take it.  After all, he can always take Point Blank Shot when he makes it to 3rd level.  He’ll round out his gear with some a rapier (for when enemies get too close to shoot), leather armor (same), and some basic gear he might use such as a rope (to climb in and out of buildings), some trail rations (to eat), and a backback (to hold all of the stuff he finds on his adventures).

Step 7 – Finishing Details:
·       Hit points: Max class hit points + Con bonus
o   Example: As a rogue, Bronson starts with 8 hit points, +2 for his constitution bonus.  That’s 10 hit points.  Woot!  Woot!
·       Choose an alignment (law/order v. neutral v. chaos & good v. neutral v. evil).
o   Example: Bronson comes from a well-developed family unit in an orderly society.  That seems like a lawful alignment.  But, as an adolescent, he was shaped by the fact that that societal order couldn’t protect his cousin.  He’s also found that his skills aren’t always looked upon well by authority figures.  That pushes for chaos.  I’m going to balance them and choose neutrality.  On the good-evil axis, Bronson’s certainly not a bad guy.  His primary motivator is finding and returning home with his cousin and it hurts him to see other families torn by similar pain.  Bronson will be good, for a full alignment of neutral good.  He’s interested in protecting others, making the world a better place, and while he sees merits in doing so through a lawful and orderly manner, he doesn’t feel constrained to do so.
·       Finalize your backstory: Weave your race, class, feats, skills, traits, and equipment choices into a cohesive backstory.  Characters with strong personalities and interesting histories that can provide plot hooks are appreciated, and might be rewarded.
o   Example: For example, if a player were creating Bronson and ran into the short bow proficiency issue, as a GM I might just let him have proficiency with short bows (not all martial weapons).  But, that would depend on his creating all the backstory rather than just saying, “Oh, I wanted to be a rogue who uses bows.”
·       Name your character (if you haven't already)!
·       If you can give your description without using the name of your class or any of your abilities, you’re doing it right: Bronson Ironfeld stands just over four and a half feet tall and is stocky, like most dwarves.  He has dark red hair, auburn really.  It’s cut to a traditional short length and comes down to form a full beard on his face.  The beard is full, but still rather short and contains only a single braid, which holds a hematite-looking charm woven into it.  It was given to him by Grelda Longhandle, a dwarf-maid about who he’s known to wax poetic, especially when he’s been drinking.  Bronson appears lighter on his feet than most of his race.  He’s also smiling and more inviting, laughing and more relaxed than other dwarves you’ve encountered.  He’s wearing leather armor and has a bow and a quiver slung over his shoulder.  If you’ve found him seated, he’s probably holding a tankard of frothy ale, which he’s holding out towards you in a toast of greeting.  Unless you’re a giant.  When he’s drunk and moody he’ll also tell you about how his cousin was kidnapped by giants and how he’s going to slay every last one of them until he’s returned safely home.

Signs you might be doing it wrong: Bronson Ironfeld is a Level 1 dwarven rogue.  But, he’s really focused on archery, so he’s taken the Martial Weapons Proficiency Feat.  He’s really sneaky, so he’s taken skill ranks in disable device, stealth and sleight of hand.  He’s wearing leather armor because it has no armor penalty.

Like new player aids?  Leave a comment below!