How I introduced my players to Pathfinder


So, I’ve persuaded the GamesDay crew to try to play Paizo’s Pathfinder game. After the great success we had with HeroQuest (you can listen to that adventure here), the was really no convincing – everyone eagerly hopped on board.

Playing Pathfinder (photo by Jeremy)

The group gets underway!

Because six of the eight players are brand new to any kind of tabletop RP games and as we’re heading into a large, multi-session adventure I wanted to bring them all up to speed on how the game works and show them some typical scenarios they might encounter in future games.

Because people have been asking me about it, I’ve decided to post a recap of our first session with some links to our Obsidian Portal site for more info.

The Cave

To do this, I came up with the concept of the Cave of Trials. The Cave of Trials is a small dungeon that features a smattering of different enemies, items, and puzzles they’d discover in future games. As a back story, I explained that each region of the world has one such cave in it. The caves are intended for locals or travellers to get familiar with the world out there and to better learn how to use the skills and talents they possess. Typically, anyone applying to be a member of the local militia or another demanding job (sheriffs and deputies, for example) would go through the cave as well.

To act as a guide, I set it so that each of the caves are presided over by a Guardian who directs the would-be adventurers to venture inside and recover an artifact to prove their worth. The presence of the Guardians also helps to establish potential future plot lines with characters the players would already be familiar with (maybe the players might even want to eventually become Guardians?).

In this cave, located in the town of Sandpoint, Guardian Talia briefly explained that the heroes were after the Talisman of Courage and that they could keep whatever they found in the cave along the way. She then gave them each an incredibly powerful item called a Guardian Boon. This silver-dollar shaped pendant could be broken in half which would allow them to re-roll any one die roll. Once broken, the item became useless. That way, the new players could have a second chance if things started falling apart. They were able to keep the boon after they exited the cave if they didn’t use it during.

Players approached it in packs of two and three (one player abstained from going through). The group of two went first and the game went smoothly. This first pair of characters were a human Sorcerer named Furio Silverkin and a halfling Fighter named Bellatrix Faustina and it turns out were a good compliment for one another’s abilities.

For the other three (Gunnar, Rauru, and Muhng) I looked at what was easy and difficult for the first group and adjusted the cave’s difficulty before they entered.

What follows is a recap of my first group’s journey through the Cave of Trials.

First Challenge

The first challenge was a small room with three metre-tall pillars in the centre of the room, each with a slight bowl-shaped depression at the top. There was a locked door with three circles leading out of the room. In Dwarven (in this case but could have been in whatever extra language they could speak) was the message “Can’t progress? What’s the matter?”. The pair discovered that by placing bits of the three states of matter on the pillars that the door’s circles lit up and allowed them to continue. This was a fun challenge to preside over because they had never played before and didn’t know what all they could do. I let them work out the puzzle and after a bit they weren’t progressing. Eventually the halfling started pushing on pillar and I had some of their labourous breath come off onto the pillar which activated it. They then got some sweat on another pillar which activated it slightly. The sorcerer had the idea to pour water on it from his waterskin and they were off to the races. Having a puzzle room seems to be a great way to lead people into a game because they can work on it at their own speed, just don’t make the puzzle too hard.

The Restless Hall

Next came the obligatory fight with some wandering skeletons. I gave the players combat advantage so they could get some licks in before things got dirty and they dealt with the enemies with ease. Curse my awful dice! #shakesfist

Cleaning Your Weapons

Around the corner there was a room with a glowing fountain and a relief carving of a warrior cleaning his blades. Above it was Elvish script they could attempt to read that said, “The Bathing of the Blades”. When the water was drank, they recovered 1d4 lost HP. If they dipped a weapon in (any item would have worked), it got a temporary +1 attack bonus for the rest of the session. They got smart and filled their waterskins with water from the fountain so they could heal HP later if need be. Because they dealt with the skeletons with ease, I probably should have adjusted my notes to give them either the HP bonus and remove the carving OR remove the HP bonus and add the carving back.

Note: in the three player game I ran after with the other party, I did the HP and not the carving. Having blades wielded by a Paladin, Rogue, and Ranger in one party is like having +1 on a weapon by default.

Ghostly Visions

Next, I wanted to introduce them to the other player characters they hadn’t yet encountered and connect the party together before they actually met. So I created a vision sequence on a platform that incorporated 2 of the other players (the ones that already knew how to play and wouldn’t be going through the cave) and their actions from a previous session. I described their characters and what they did before the vision dissipated and they could continue. This creates a hook that gives them something to talk about when they actually met the other characters.

The Crypt

They then encountered a room with a “Death Door”, which I said was just a fancy crypt door to signify importance of those buried within. After entering the room, they encountered 3 zombies who were risen from the coffins in the room. The zombies managed to deal a bit of damage (I was rolling horribly all night and barely scratched either of them) before they were defeated. Even with halfling-sized weapons (and damage), the fighter’s dual weapon proficiency proved super helpful in combat.

The Golden Globes

The crypt emptied into a hallway which spit into another room which I borrowed from Scott Kurtz and Chris Perkin’s Mines of Madness campaign (hear about it on the D&D podcast). In the centre of the room was a gold orb the size of a basketball and around the edge of the room ran a 1” band of gold (could be seen with a Perception check). When a player crossed the band, they took 1d4 HP of damage. If they touched the sphere, they took another 1d6 (touch) damage. There was also a body that had a key that would unlock a future room (which I completely forgot to tell them about until they left the room). The room worked great and the players got really smart and thought of a way to try to diffuse the orb I hadn’t thought of. It made sense and I let them do it – and made sure I mentioned it and applauded their actions after the game (with a bit of bonus XP post-game).

Goblin Archers

Continuing on, they found another challenge room, this time it was the the last scenario before they could recover the Talisman of Courage for Guardian Talia (there was another door that they decided not to go through, which sucked – but it’s something I can use on them next time so it will work out in the wash). They had to cross a huge pit while goblin archers rained arrows down on them. One goblin rolled a critical failure and hit another one instead, sending him tumbling into the abyss. The rest of the goblins missed (grr, arg).

This room was intended to teach them that they could also move ahead and not stop to smell the roses if they wanted to. After a few fruitless rounds of missing with magic (and the halfling didn’t have any ranged items), they realized they were outnumbered and beat a hasty retreat into the next room.

Finishing Up

In the final room, they picked up the Talisman of Courage and Guardian Talia appeared to the congratulate them and heal them all back to full.
The session was over in about an hour or two and everything worked out well. It was great for me as GM because I got see my adventure come to life and see where I was too kind and too tough (and in this case, that I need new dice). The players got to ask me questions about the map and the game as well and we had a good chat about what worked and what didn’t.

Running small games between/before/after your normal campaigns are not only a great way to refresh yourself as a GM, but also to try out new materials on the players that you might use for real against them in the future.

GM to GM

If you’re interested, here is the map to the Cave (the map size is based on the Pathfinder Beginner Box fold out map size). Click for full size. Notes for the rooms can be downloaded here.

Let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in seeing more session recaps here (maps too)!