Rules and Systems

Sidebar Wednesday: Hirelings & Followers

Sidebar Wednesday: Hirelings & Followers

This is the seventh in a new series of weekly blog posts where we'll be making free our Sidebar product line for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Too often players forget that they can pay for the help of hirelings or, if they have the Leadership feat, followers that can aid them. Sometimes these characters are treated as little better than dragon-fodder. This Sidebar introduces a streamlined method of getting clear in-game benefits of having various hirelings or followers with your character.

Hirelings: Hirelings are skilled NPCs that can be hired for their services in a settlement. These services provide a specific benefit, help save time, or both. Most hirelings are paid a daily wage to work for their clients, though some are paid by the hour or week.

Followers: Followers are a skilled NPCs that are recruited by those who have the Leadership feat. Many hirelings may be recruited as follower to provide better services, often for cheaper rates.

Cost of Living & Followers

If a leader has at least a wealthy level of cost of living (100 gp/month) they do not need to pay for the following followers: companion, cook, messenger, nurse, and porter. If they are on an extravagant level of cost of living (1,000 gp/month) they do not need to pay the price for any follower but the fence. The cost of these followers is part of the monthly expenses for those levels of cost of living.

How to Use This System

The services presented here should be suggested by the gamemaster when they become appropriate and needed. The players may not be used to having hirelings, but their characters would be aware of the services they provide. If the party is famous enough, hirelings may even come to them offering their services. Be upfront about the benefits of the service and the price, and feel free to give names and personalities to the people being hired.

Hirelings available for follower recruitment should be presented as soon as a player character gains the Leadership feat. The gamemaster should decide if the player needs to actively seek out and personally recruit these followers or if the followers come to the leader. The gamemaster could also require the leader to have hired the hireling at least once before they can be recruited as a follower.

Hirelings & Followers

Each type of hireling/follower is broken down into an entry listing their price, a description of their services, the benefits of having them along as a hireling and the added benefit of having them as a follower.

Name: This is the name of the hireling.

Price: The prices listed are the common rates. These rates may be higher for more experienced hirelings or hirelings that offer superior services.

Benefit: This is the benefit gained by using the hireling's services.

Follower Level: This is the level of follower that the hireling can be recruited to fill.

Follower Benefit: This is the benefit someone with the Leadership feat gains when recruiting the hireling to be a follower. If the benefits overlap, the follower benefit supersedes the hireling benefit.

Listing of Hirelings & Followers


Price: 1 gp
A chronicler records the party’s glorious deeds. He may compose songs or heroic poems, or write epic histories of their accomplishments to bolster the party’s reputation. Fame has its benefits—a well-known adventuring party usually attracts additional patrons and allies. The price is the daily rate of services rendered.
Benefit: It typically takes a single day of work to create a common song, poem, or story, and someone who knows of the events recorded needs to be interviewed for at least an hour. More spectacular pieces need at least five days. Commissioned spectacular pieces grant the party a +1 bonus to one Charisma based skill or ability check. This bonus increases by +1 for every 5 days spent creating the piece.
Follower Level: 2nd to 4th
Follower Benefit: Chronicler's who are recruited to be followers still need to be paid for their services but the bonuses their pieces grant are doubled.


Price: 5 cp - 10 gp
Whether a brazen strumpet, gigolo, saucy tart, escort, or expensive doxy, this person is available for an adventurer who needs intimacy, a private listening ear, or just a warm body next to them. The price is related to the reputation of the companion, is often only for an hour long diversion, and also covers the cost of the room. Multiply the price by ten for a full night of companionship.
Benefit: Companions who are hired for a full night help their clients relax and sleep well. A night with the companion grants a +1 single use morale bonus to one skill or ability check of the client's choice. This bonus must be used within 24 hours. The price of the companion must have a price of 10 gp or more for a full night in order to grant these benefits.
Follower Level: 1st - 3rd
Follower Benefit: The companion will follow the leader outside of the settlement for no extra cost, but must be paid their full night rate per day they are away. Full night rates are equal to the follower level x 10 gp. A companion grants a +1 morale bonus to a number of saves per day equal to their level.


Price: 8 sp - 2 gp
Good food is sometimes hard to come by, and the perfect meal for a special occasion is worth paying for. Cooks offer common comfort food and local dishes while chefs are trained to prepare specialized dishes and foreign fare. The listed rates are the daily rates for cooks, and covers two meals that feed four people. Chefs are hired at ten times those amounts but the number of people their meals serve is doubled. Cooks can be hired to follow the party out of the settlement, but chefs cannot.
Benefit: Paying for a cook or chef also covers the basic costs of the ingredients for the meals they create unless the meal is made from exotic or expensive ingredients. Common meals offer no real benefits but are hot, good, and fulfilling. A meal from an exceptional cook gives those eating it a +2 bonus to Fortitude and Constitution made against natural environmental effects, such as cold or exposure. An exceptional chef will grant the client a +5 bonus to a single Charisma based skill or ability check made during the meal.
Follower Level: 1st to 3rd cook, 3rd to 5th chef
Follower Benefit: Cooks that have been recruited as followers only need to be paid half a much each day and will cook two meals for up to ten people each meal. Recruited chefs are always on call and will be able to have a meal prepared after an hour of preparation. If a cook is paid at least 5 gp for a day one of their meals will grant up to five creatures temporary hit points equal to 1d4 + the cook’s level for eight hours. A chef paid 50 gp can prepare a meal that grants a number of temporary hit points equal to 2d4 + double the chef’s level.


Price: 10% of value of fenced goods
With connections to the local thieves’ guild as well as honest merchants and antiquarians, a fence can sell non magical treasures such as art or jewelry and be trusted to give the proceeds back to the adventurers—minus a reasonable fee, of course.
Benefit: Fences are able to sell items that are either restricted within the city or may have high taxes attached that the party wishes to avoid. Fences need one day per 1000 gp of value to sell the items, and at the end of that time they give the party the money made in the sale. A particularly talented (and expensive) fence can also safely ship loot to a large metropolis, allowing the PCs to ignore the purchase limits of nearby settlements when selling their treasure.
Follower Level: 4th to 5th
Follower Benefit: Recruited fences will help the party sell magic items as well as non-magical treasure, and can be hired to find specific items and gear, both magical and not, for the leader to purchase. Fences will only charge their leader a 5% cut of the value of fences non-magical treasure, but still charge the 10% rate for buying or selling magical items. Lastly, fences can arrange for smugglers to help move items, treasure, or goods from one location to another for 10% of the value of the smuggled goods.


Price: 5 sp novice, 3 gp competent, 10 gp experienced
A lawyer is a person who knows and practices law. A lawyer writes and interprets contracts, represents clients or the government in civil and criminal trials, gives legal advice, or presides over cases as a judge. An experienced lawyer with a successful history can charge higher fees than a novice or competent but unremarkable one. The listed price is per day.
Benefit: When looking over contracts, deeds, or other legal paperwork the client gains a bonus to their rolls to find any clause or part that is unfavorable. Novices grant a +2 bonus, competent a +5 bonus, and experienced a +10 bonus. Some contracts may need more than a single day to look over. Competent and experienced lawyers can also be paid for at least a full week’s rate to help find and purchase land, businesses, and buildings, reducing the cost by 2% is using a competent lawyer or 5% if using an experienced one.
Follower Level: 3rd to 6th
Follower Benefit: Lawyers that have been recruited as followers are paid a rate of 1 gp a day to remain on retainer and always be ready to assist the leader. They can be given instructions and resources in the event of arrest, death, or other significant events and they will do their best to carry out the instructions to the best of their ability. Recruited lawyers can also help you be released from jail or prison early on bail, subtracting their level from the number of days you are expected to be incarcerated. Minor crimes would have 2 – 4 days, moderate crimes would have 5 – 10 days, and major crimes 11 – 30 days. These are the times you would be in jail awaiting a trial or sentencing, and not the actual time you would be punished with. Lawyers do no leave their home settlement unless they are at least level 5, and only then to settlements at least the size of a small city.


Price: 5 sp – 5 gp
Mercenaries are paid to fight, guard, or protect. Mercenaries typically belong to a band or city guild and can be hired in any settlement at least the size of a small city. The price listed is per day. The price doubles if you want them to follow you outside of the settlement.
Benefit: Common mercenaries have 2 levels in warrior and come with their own gear and equipment. Competent and experienced mercenaries will be higher level, will have levels in fighter, or both. These can cost up to ten times the amounts, and are often hard to hire because their services are often only given to the rich and powerful. You can hire mercenaries from other classes but they may cost more. Mercenaries will not engage in fights that are clearly far too dangerous for them unless given proper incentives.
Follower Level: 2nd to 5th
Follower Benefit: Mercenaries as followers are not strong enough to take on the same challenges as their leader but they can guard assets, buildings, and base camps. Specialized followers of this kind may also be able to scout ahead, track prey, or perform sabotage.


Price: 2 cp per mile
A messenger carries a written or verbal message to its intended target.
Benefit: Verbal messages must be short enough for the messenger to memorize (typically about 25 words). A few messengers have exceptional memories and charge 5 sp to relay a verbal message of up to 300 words. Most messengers are only willing to travel to locations within the current city or outlying areas. You can pay a messenger the return fee if you want her to wait for the message recipient to reply, just in case the recipient is too miserly or poor to pay for a return message. Depending on the location and the overall wealth in a settlement, a messenger may be a runner or ride a horse.
Follower Level: 1st to 6th
Follower Benefit: Low level messengers who have been recruited to be followers work the same as above but at half the price. 5th or 6th level messengers also have magic items and access to spells that allow for sending and receiving messages much faster. Followers of this profession will be on call to quickly send messages while in a settlement and can be paid 1 sp a day to follow the leader outside of the settlement.


Price: 7 sp
A nurse is a person familiar with healing and medicine. A nurse generally knows a little bit about what local magical healing can do and where to find it. The listed price is per day.
Benefit: A typical nurse is a 1st-level expert with 1 rank in Heal and the Skill Focus (Heal) feat. An experienced nurse is 3rd or 4th level, has additional ranks in Heal, and is paid two to three times as much; however, these nurses are in high demand and are normally employed full-time by wealthy merchants or nobles to look after children and elderly family members. Nurses can be paid at least a week ahead of time to follow a client out of their settlement.
Follower Level: 1st to 4th
Follower Benefit: Nurses as followers do not need to be paid extra to follow the leader outside of the settlement. They can help a number of injured creatures equal to their level each night. Those creatures heal double the amount of hp from resting.


Price: 1 gp
A physician is a person skilled in non magical healing and medicine. A physician generally knows a little bit about what local magical healing can do and where to find it. The listed price is per day. physicians will not leave their settlement.
Benefit: A typical physician is a 3rd-level expert with 3 ranks in Heal, the Skill Focus (Heal) feat, and ranks in other valuable skills such as Knowledge (nature) and Knowledge (religion). An experienced physician is up to 5th level, has additional ranks in appropriate skills, and is paid five to 10 times as much; however, these physicians are in high demand and are usually employed full-time by royalty. A common physician has no additional benefit, but a skilled physician adds 1 to the amount healed with the Heal skill, and an experienced one adds 2 to that amount.
Follower Level: 3rd to 5th
Follower Benefit: Physicians who are recruited to be followers cost 5 sp per day of service and are able to sell medical supplies to the leader at a 5% discount. This includes healing kits, anti plague, antitoxin, and similar gear. They also add their level to the amount of hp they heal when using the Heal skill. Recruited physicians will follow their leader outside of the settlement only if they are paid double their cost.


Price: 1 cp per mile
Porters pack, transport, carry, and unpack goods and supplied from one location to another.
Benefit: A common porter is simply a level 1 commoner that is willing to move goods and gear from one place to another. Professional and experienced porters have a couple levels in expert with ranks in Handle Animal, a pack mule, and a Strength score of 16. These can cost up to ten times as much. All porters need at least an hour to pack the items they are asked to transport.
Follower Level: 1st to 3rd
Follower Benefit: Recruited porters not only transport goods but can help other people pack. Anyone who is assisted by a porter for at least a half-hour can add the porter’s level to their Strength score when calculating their carrying capacity.


Price: 1 gp
This title includes valets, butlers, lady's maids, ladies-in-waiting, secretaries, stewards, concierges, majordomos, manservants, batmans, and other skilled, trusted servants and employees who work closely with an employer or run a household or business, sometimes without direct supervision. The listed price is per day.
Benefit: Valets make sure the client is comfortable and happy wherever they go, so long as it is within a settlement. Valets can be hired to run households, keeping house staff in order, and assisting their client with keeping their life orderly and predicable. If their client is going to be staying outside the home, such as at a tavern, the valet goes ahead of time and arranges for the room, food, and any desired entertainment. This reduces the cost of the room and food by 10%.
Follower Level: 3rd to 5th
Follower Benefit: Valets that have become followers will typically have levels in expert and handle the payment of all other followers and hirelings, lowering the cost by a percentage equal to their level. They will also follow their leader outside of the settlement and handle any arrangements that are needed, such as moving goods, staying at taverns, scheduling appointments with officials, and helping the leader find places to sell items.



This content originally appeared in:
Sidebar: Hirelings & Followers © 2015, Fat Goblin Games; Author; Taylor Hubler.

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Sidebar Wednesday: 5 Haunted Items

Sidebar Wednesday: 5 Haunted Items

This is the sixth in a new series of weekly blog posts where we'll be making free our Sidebar product line for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.


Throughout the world there items haunted by the dead, by evil, and by powerful curses. some are just frightening while other haunted objects are quite dangerous. The following are haunts inspired by real world haunted objects to be used in any campaign. They are great plot hooks for side quest or can be used as haunted treasure the party brings home.


Royal Blood Diamond (CR 11)

Greedy, spoiled, and covetous, the Princess Gelledona was not a person to be denied what she demanded. Already extremely rich, she owned an impressive collection of jewels, gems, and precious things when she spotted the Royal Blue diamond worn by a visiting princess from a far off realm. The diamond was the largest she had ever seen, set into a magnificent necklace of silver and surrounded by dark sapphires. The blue glow that came from the diamond was enchanting, and Princess Gelledona did all she could to convince the foreign princess to give it to her. After all the offers of money, land, and other fine jewels were rejected, Gelledona paid the visiting princess’s own guards kill her for it. Savage in their work, the princess died clutching the diamond after being stabbed repeatably. Princess Gelledona was able to have her own staff clean up the mess after she secretly claimed the  diamond for herself, her diplomats putting the blame on another nation already at war with the dead princess’s realm.

Royal Blood Diamond Cr 11

XP 12,800

CE fast, spiteful item-bound haunt (haunted object that affect creatures within 60 feet of it.)

Caster Level 13th

Notice Perception DC 26 (to see the diamond glow turn to red)

hp 22; Trigger special (see below); Reset 1 day

Effect When the wearer of the diamond’s necklace attempts a diplomacy check the diamond turns red and becomes soaked with blood. All creatures within a 60 foot radius of the wearer suffer the effects of the symbol of fear spell (DC 21 Will save negates) for the next 13 rounds.

Destruction The diamond must be returned to the kingdom it came from, and Gelledona needs to either sign a confession or die.


The Busty Maid Stool (CR 5)

Ballis Yellowtusk was deadly highwayman and local outlaw. He was caught at his favorite tavern, the Busty Maid, eating a fine meal at his regular spot at the bar. He went quietly when the soldiers came, not putting up a fight as they carried him away, nor while he was sentenced to hang for his crimes. His last request was to have the stool from his favorite spot in the Busty Maid be the thing he stood on for his hanging. Before the stool was pulled from his feet he smiled and promised to haunt anyone who would sit in his spot at the tavern. He grinned as the stool was yanked out from under him, and kept grinning even after he was long dead.

The Busty Maid Stool Cr 5

XP 1,600

LE belligerent item-bound haunt (haunted object affecting the creature sitting on the stool)

Caster Level 5th

Notice Perception DC 18 (to hear a whispered warning when someone sits on the stool)

hp 30; Weakness tricked by hide from undead; Trigger special (see below); Reset 1 day

Effect A ghostly Ballis Yellowtusk appears and attacks anyone who sits on this stool fifteen minutes after they have left the Busty Maid. The victim suffers the effects of phantasmal killer (except no Will save to disbelieve, DC 16 Fortitude save or die of fear, 3d6 points of damage is save is success.)

Destruction Hanging the stool five feet off the ground on the wall next to Ballis’s spot for one year will successfully destroy the haunt.


Hardnook Plantation Mirror (CR 7)

The Hardnook family was one of the wealthiest plantation owners in their area. Unfortunately Vande, the head of the family, was a cruel man and abused all of the slaves and workers who worked for him. Angry at his actions and riled by an accident that killed a young child, the slaves eventually revolted and the family was forced to barricade themselves in the plantation manor. After three nights waiting for help Vande was fatally wounded and his wife, Seadora, grew insane from the constantly shouted threats and attacks. In her crazed delirium, she tied nooses around her husband’s neck, her neck, and the neck of each of her children. Then she threw each one over the banister in the entryway of the manor before jumping herself. The last thing each of them saw was the reflection of their struggling and gasping bodies in the large silver mirror that hung in that entryway.

The Hardnook Plantation Mirror Cr 7

XP 3,200

CE persistent item-bound haunt (haunted object affecting a 15 foot by 10 foot area in front of the mirror)

Caster Level 7th

Notice Perception DC 22 (to see the family hanging from the manor’s banister in the mirror’s reflection)

hp 14; Weakness tricked by invisibility; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 hour

Effect This haunt seeks to choke the life out of anyone viewing the mirror. When someone within 30 feet looking into the mirror is targeted by the haunt they see themselves hanging with the family and suffer the effects of the spell suffocation (DC 17 Fortitude save to resist the effects.) The haunt stays with the mirror, and the banister the family hung from is still visible in the mirror if it is moved to another location.

Destruction The mirror needs to be melted down and minted into coins. Those coins then need to be given to plantation’s former slaves.


The Willow’s Doll (CR 2)

The exact origins of the doll are uncertain but the last owners, the Willow family, discovered it along the side of the road near their home. The doll is expertly made, with a smiling face and a body stuffed with soft feathers. Not long afterwards the family started to be woken up nightly by slamming doors and distant laughing. Even more unsettling was how the doll would move unseen through the house, and was even discovered in high up places the children couldn’t reach. Things became worse when the youngest claimed the doll kept trying to choke her in her sleep, and the family discovered just how difficult it was to get rid of the doll. No matter how many times they have tossed it into a well or gave it away the doll would always return to their doorstep each morning. Burning it seems to do nothing to it as it simply laughs at the flames.

The Willows Doll Cr 2

XP 600

NE free-roaming, harmless, persistent item-bound haunt with increased area (haunted object affecting one creature within 2 feet of it)

Caster Level 2nd

Notice Perception DC 15 (to hear a child’s laugh)

hp 4; Weakness tricked by Stealth; Trigger nighttime; Reset 1 minute

Effect The malevolent spirit bound to the doll only wishes to torment those around it. Each night it moves itself about the house, slamming doors, laughing, and placing itself in unsettling places. Each person that the doll comes across while wandering about the house is affected by a cause fear spell (DC 10 for partial effect.) The haunt can only affect each target once per night.

Destruction The haunt is permanently destroyed if it completely submerged in holy water.


Sir Vincent’s Portrait (CR 9)

Sir Vincent was a rich, arrogant, aristocrat who had great pride in his appearance and was known to be hot-headed about a disfiguring burn scar on his neck. Anyone who pointed it out would be shouted at, or even attacked if he was in a foul mood. When it came time to do his portrait he hired only the best in the land, but demanded that the scar be left out. Fabelli, the painter, refused the demand because he painted his subjects as he saw them. Sir Vincent was so furious at the sight of his scar in the portrait that he attacked Fabelli on the spot, grabbing a small stone bust in his anger and repeatedly beating Fabelli over the head with it. As he died, Fabelli left a single bloody handprint in the bottom corner of the portrait, his last words too gargled with blood for anyone to hear them. Sir Vincent simply ordered that the scar and handprint be painted over before anyone could hang it in the ballroom, paying off all witnesses to his crime.

Sir Vincents Portr ait Cr 9

XP 6,400

LN fast persistent spiteful item-bound haunt (haunted object affecting a 15 ft. by 15 ft. area in front of the portrait)

Caster Level 11th

Notice Perception DC 25 (to see the painted Sir Vincent slowly become covered in burn scars)

hp 18; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 day

Effect When this haunt is triggered the painted Sir Vincent slowly becomes horrifically scarred as if by fire. The clothing in the painting also appears to be charred. Anyone standing in the area the haunt effects must make a DC 17 Fortitude save or take 3d6 fire damage and catch fire, taking 1d6 fire damage at the end of each of their turns. Those that have caught fire can use a full-round action to attempt to extinguish the flames before taking this additional damage. Extinguishing the flames requires a DC 17 Reflex save. Rolling on the ground provides the target a +2 bonus on the save. Leaping into a large body of water or magically extinguishing the flames automatically smothers the fire. Each round the haunt is active it will target any creatures not on fire within its area of effect until it is destroyed or it has no more creatures it can target.

Destruction The haunt desires that Sir Vincent be brought to justice and his crime brought to light. When these conditions are met the portrait bursts into flames and burns itself to ashes.

This content originally appeared in:
Sidebar: 5 Haunted Items © 2015, Fat Goblin Games; Author; Taylor Hubler.

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Sidebar Wednesday: The Secret Roll (with Handouts)

Sidebar Wednesday: The Secret Roll (with Handouts)

This is the fifth in a new series of weekly blog posts where we'll be making free our Sidebar product line for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.


I was told that if I wanted to get something out there (published) that I should talk about what I know. Come to find out, I know a lot about gamemastering. One of the things that I learned early on as a gamemaster is that you need to keep the story moving. When you start to choke the game with mechanics it loses its flavor and players start to lose interest. It is bad enough that combat can become a nightmare of rules interpretation, arguments, and lag time for the players. When you are dealing with something as simple as a Perception check I always tried to make it simple on the players. Hence, Secret Rolls. I’d like to hear back from you about Secret Rolls and other gamemastering tips and tricks that you use in your games. Hit me up at and lets talk. If your ideas have merit then perhaps you can help me write the next of these GamesMastery Sidebars for Fat Goblin Games!

The Secret Roll

Too many times during a game session you will see players scrambling over one another to assist, aid, or otherwise help a hapless party member when the GM calls out, “Joe, roll a Perception check.” The check the GM wanted was a passive one; the player characters entered the room and he was seeing if the PC noticed a secret door. Yet now that the cat is out of the bag everyone is stumbling over one another to assist in what was supposed to be a small mechanical roll between the PC and the GM. What the GM needed was a “Secret Roll”, one that has been pre-rolled and noted on a sheet with Joe’s character’s Perception skill score. Let’s compare:

Scenario One:

GM – “You enter into the large room filled with musty smells and a round altar directly before you. Joe, you are
in the lead so go ahead and roll a Perception check.
Bill – “Perception? That’s one of my best skills, I will Aid him!
Kim – “Me too! Me too! Aid Aid Aid!”
Michael – “I am not the best at Perception but heck, I will give it a try…”

With maniacal glee dice begin to clatter on the table, sheets are consulted, and +2’s are thrown at poor Joe, who still is trying to find Perception on his character sheet.

Scenario Two:

GM – You enter into the large room filled with musty smells and a round altar directly before you. (Consults a sheet in front of her) Joe? Your character notices an odd outline on the side of the altar that seems out of place. As you look a bit more closely you see the vague outline of what appears to be an entrance or door. What do you want to do?”

The first scenario was a mechanical mess. The second was an elegant example of a GM using tools at her disposal to keep players in the game, give them the information that they need, and allow them to use their passive skills in a manner that enhances role playing while removing mechanics from the game.

Taking Rolls Away from Players?

There is actually quite a bit of controversy regarding Secret or Passive rolls. Some Game masters refuse to do them because it is too much paperwork in an already crowded corner of the table that they have. Some players find it infuriating that the fate of their characters are taken away from them and placed in the hands of the nefarious Game master. Yet there are ways around both of these arguments.

The first argument, one of more paperwork is taken care with the simple form that is attached to this Sidebar, the Secret Roll Tracker. Simply print one of these up before your game and pass it around. Explain what they need to do and cover the rules (below) for what the rolls will be used for.

The second argument where the fate of the character is being taken away from the player is just as easy to take care of. Explain the rules, or just use the second hand out that is included with this Sidebar. It explains what Secret Rolls will, and more importantly will NOT be used for. Players dislike control being taken away from them but if they see that it is for the good of the game, both from a role playing and mechanical standpoint, they will come around.

When Not to Use Secret Rolls

It is much easier to explain when not to use a Secret Roll than it is to explain when to use on. The primary golden rule is “Never use a Secret Roll if there is a chance it could kill the character.” Basically, if this single die roll has a chance to kill the player character then the Player should be allowed to make the roll.

Other than the golden rule, the sky’s the limit as to when you can use a Secret Roll.

Types of Secret Rolls

There are five types of Secret Rolls. Each one is described below with an example or two.

Perception Rolls: There are always instances where you want your players to “possibly” notice something. A Secret Perception Roll is just the thing for this instance.

The player characters are moving down a long corridor and are not being all that careful. You know there is a pit trap 20 feet ahead of them. Checking your Secret Roll tracker and knowing that the DC to discover the trap is 25, you note that the character in the lead would spot it with a passive Perception check. “Cassandra you note that there is a depression in the floor about 15 feet ahead of you that seems a bit unusual.”

Sense Motive: There is an abundance of lying, cheating scoundrels out there. As your player characters talk to them there is a chance that through subtle body language, shifty eyes, and wavering voices they might give themselves away.

The chase is going well and it looks like the player characters might actually catch the rascal of a thief that stole their treasure map. When they come to a turn in the road they look in both directions and then ask the old man on the corner, “Which way did he go?” He shifts uncomfortably on his feet and points down the alley to the left. Cassandra’s passive Sense Motive check (Secret Roll!) reveals something different. “Cassandra. Although the beggar is pointing down the alley he is looking over his shoulder as though someone is watching to see what he does.”

Character Skills: All character classes have skills that may qualify for Secret Rolls. Fighters can use bluff or intimidate out of combat to great effect, however if they are looking at the die roll then they know automatically if they succeeded or failed. Try using a Secret Roll instead for these Character driven skills and watch the reactions.

Cassandra walked up to the foreman at the docks hoping that there would not be a fight. Looking him straight in the eye she began to speak in a low voice, trying to explain to him why he wanted to take his boys and back off. With a snarl the foreman hauls back and tries to land a haymaker on Cassandra’s pretty face. Apparently the Intimidation check did not go so well…

Class Abilities: There are more than a few class abilities and skills, that when botched, can turn a great day into a really bad one. Failed (or successful) Spellcraft checks can mean the difference between realizing the difference between a wall of air and a wall of force when you are hurtling down the corridor. Trapfinding, a special ability of rogues is a particularly good example of when a Secret Roll can be useful.

Robilard the Rogue was having a great day. The party had just defeated the goblin horde and the band of assassins that had been sent out to kill him were littering the streets. With the lovely Lucinda on one arm he climbed the stairsto his room in the inn for some much deserved celebration. Coming to his door however something seemed amiss as he slowly observed the area. Stepping back he realized what the problem was when he saw the slender thread crossing the lower part of the doorway. “Lucinda dear,” he whispered. “Would you be so kind as to go downstairs and get my friends?”

Saves: A Secret Save is something that should be carefully considered prior to being used. Secret Roll Saves cannot be used if the outcome would be the death of the player character as that violates the Golden Rule (see above). However there are times when a Secret Roll can make the game that much more interesting…

Cassandra was tired after a long day of orc slaying and dealing with Robillard’s assassin guild friends. All she wanted to do was to get to her room, get her armor off, and take a long hot bath. She was when she opened the door to find the serving boy pouring the final bucket of steaming water into the large tub in the center of the room. As she turned to begin removing her armor though a strange tingle of energy flushed through her body. Whipping around she realized the only person there was the serving boy, and she really liked this serving boy a lot. Smiling broadly at her new best friend she closed the door so that they could talk in private. (Charm person Will save DC 22, and Cassandra’s Secret Roll was only a 14.)

So That's It?

There are potentially an unlimited number of things that you can do with a Secret Roll as long as you follow the Golden Rule. Don’t limit yourself to what we have talked about already as your only option. Remember that a Secret Roll is used to reduce mechanics in the game or to make them invisible to your players. Lets take a look at a few more examples of when a Secret Roll might be useful to you.

Aid Another: Remember our scenario at the beginning of this Sidebar? The players falling all over themselves to aid poor Joe when he was asked for a Perception check? If Joe’s Perception skill is low and you think that he might need help them all you have to do is take a look at your party order and figure out who is behind Joe. If Sally’s character is there, then use a roll from her section of the Secret Roll Tracker as an Aid Another roll. If she succeeds (silently of course) then you add a +2 to Joe’s roll from the Tracker to get a final result. You also can do most of this in your head quickly and reduce the mechanics that take place on the table.

You enter into the large room filled with musty smells and a round altar directly before you. (Consults a sheet in front of her and then looks down a bit farther to find Sally’s Perception score) Joe? Sally’s character nudges you from behind and then points forward to the dark altar before you. Your character notices an odd outline on the side of the altar that seems out of place. As you look a bit more closely you see the vague outline of what appears to be an entrance or door. What do you want to do?”

Stealth: Every sneaky person wants to be able to slip through the guard’s headquarters without being seen. Yet when the player looks at the die roll for their Stealth check and sees a 2, they know that they might have been spotted. A Secret Roll for a Stealth check is not an instant death sentence and you should consider giving one a try. Not only does it heighten the tension at the table, it puts a bit more risk into the entire concept of being stealthy. Disguise is another skill that could be treated well with a Secret Roll to similar results as seen below…

“So we are here to discuss the ransom of our thief Robilard,” Cassandra said as she sat across from the very grumpy city guardsman and her slightly abused friend. Robilard cleared his throat with indignation, “I’m normally really good at this Cassandra! I don’t know what could have happened!” Cassandra sighed and rolled her eyes while the guardsman chuckled. Robilard was not helping matters.

Secret Rolls offer the Game Master a chance to keep the mechanics of the game to a minimum and focus on role playing. Instead of having everyone throw dice to see what happens in a particular instance, a quick glance at a sheet and a bit of math in your head is all that is required in order to maintain the sense of adventure and mystery that can sometimes be lacking when mechanics get in the way. Give Secret Rolls a try and tell us what you think on the Fat Goblin Games forums and watch out for Blog Posts that talk about other ways and more examples of when you can use Secret Rolls.

Enchantment Spells & Secret Rolls

Charm person is a great spell to use a Secret Roll with because it does not take over the character, it simply changes their attitude about a certain person. They are not forced to do anything that they would not normally do, they are simply forced to act like they enjoy the company of someone that they probably would not have had the spell not been in effect.
Suggestion or Domination on the other hand would not be good spells to use a Secret Roll with. Neither would lightning bolt or other damaging spells.

This content originally appeared in:
Sidebar: The Secret Roll © 2015, Fat Goblin Games; Author; Troy Daniels.

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Sidebar Wednesday: Forbidden Knowledge & Corruption

Sidebar Wednesday: Forbidden Knowledge & Corruption

This is the fourth in a new series of weekly blog posts where we'll be making free our Sidebar product line for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

There exist Things-Man-Was-Not-Meant-to-Know. Secular scholars might argue that knowledge, in and of itself, is neutral, but those who have delved the darker mysteries know better. Certain manuscripts contain knowledge so corrosive, that it is toxic to the humanoid mind. From implications of cosmic insignificance to knowledge that such insignificance may be the only thing saving us from eldritch malevolence that simply hasn’t noticed us, the further one delves into such grimly esoteric lore, the more such knowledge weighs on the mind. It frays the reader’s capacity to interact with their neighbors and slowly transforms them, drawing them inexorably into madness, damnation, or both.

Whenever a reader encounters a book of forbidden lore, the player must declare how detailed an interaction the PC will undertake with the book. Each level of interaction takes a different amount of time, grants a different amount of information, and carries with it a different risk of corruption. A Will save against corruption must be made each time the book is interacted with, regardless of the level of interaction.

  • Survey (15 minutes) – This level of interaction involves reading the title, any chapter or heading names, and making note of any illustrations or magical script. Surveying a forbidden tome allows an Appraise check to determine its value, identifies any Knowledge checks it may be applicable to (but not the bonus to those checks), and the presence or absence of magic spells within the text, as well as the general themes of the text. Corruption saves when surveying a forbidden tome are made with a +5 bonus to the save.
  • Examine (1 hour per 100 pages) – This level of interaction involves spending time examining the text, as well as possibly making some minor notes about significant themes, references to other texts, and subject matter. Reading a forbidden tome grants all of the information gained in a survey, but also reveals the level of bonus the book grants to any skill checks as well as the actual themes of the text. If the reader has access to read magic, they may also identify any spells available in the book. Corruption saves are made with no bonus or penalty to the save when examining a forbidden tome.
  • Read (8 hours per 50 pages) – This level of interaction involves spending time exploring the text. Referenced persons, places, and things may be researched in other available tomes; extensive notes may be made about the subject matter; and full translations of passages in foreign languages may be produced. Studying a forbidden tome grants all of the information gained from reading, but also grants any circumstance bonus to any Knowledge or similar skill to the reader for 24 hours after completing study. Additionally, any spells discovered in the forbidden tome may be copied into other spellbooks (using the standard rules for copying a spell from one spellbook to another). If the book is a spellbook in its own right, with a preparation ritual, the book must be studied before the preparation ritual may be accessed. In addition, after the first time reading any forbidden tome, you gain the otherworldly insight ability (see below). Corruption saves when reading a forbidden tome are made with a -5 penalty.
  • Study (24 hours per 25 pages) – This level of interaction involves spending as much time as needed with a book to fully absorb its knowledge. The reader cross-references when needed, translates the text fully, and adds their own annotations (either in the original text or separately, reader’s choice). In addition to the benefits of studying a text, the reader can also consult the book and their notes at any time in the future to gain any circumstance bonuses granted by the text to Knowledge or similar skills. After studying a forbidden tome for the first time, increase your otherworldly insight bonus by the amount set by the book. Corruption saves when studying a forbidden tome are made with a -10 penalty.


It is important to understand that, in metaphysical terms, concepts like Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos are not just ideas - they have presence. They exist in the same way as animals, minerals, and vegetables. In most people, places, and things, they are so diffuse (or mingled together) that their presence is barely noted. In other cases, beings can be composed of the stuff of pure Good, pure Evil, pure Law, and pure Chaos, forming the outsiders like angels, demons, devils, and the like.

For the otherworldly, cosmic horrors of reality, their Evil can act like a cancer in a living being or a toxic miasma in a location. The resulting effect becomes hazardous for those who come into contact with it.

Certain actions, events, or even places can trigger a Corruption Save. A Corruption Save is a Will save against a DC determined by the gamemasters, based on the extant circumstances. In the case of forbidden lore and the tomes that contain it, each book has its own save DC, determined by the amount of forbidden lore and the power of that lore. Creative gamemasters can feel free to use similar Corruption Saves for everything from having haunted dreams fueled by slumbering gods, to the mere presence of the Great Old Ones and their scions. Studying a tome fully increases your otherworldly insight bonus by the listed amount, regardless of if you succeed or fail the save for studying it. Example tomes of cosmic horror are included below.

Forbidden Tome Corruption DC Insight Bonus
Necronomicon 40 +5
The King in Yellow 30 +3
Unaussprechliche Kulte 35 +4

If a character passes their Corruption Save, there is no effect. If a character fails a Corruption Save, they gain one additional Corruption Point and increase their Corruption Score by one. Corruption Points can be treated several ways, based around the idea that the dark forces the character has permitted into their soul are now actively working to increase the character’s corruption and, eventually, transform them into a minion of the cosmic horrors.

Corruption Scores and Using Corruption Points

A number of game mechanic systems exist that can be integrated with Corruption with three examples explained below. Regardless of which system is used, the following rules always apply. When a creature’s total Corruption Score is equal to or greater than their character level + Wisdom modifier, they have been “corrupted”. In-game changes in mechanics will vary from gamemaster to gamemaster, but player characters should be turned over into NPCs and many creatures should change their type to native outsider (evil) or aberration, etc. Creatures so corrupted can rarely survive in our reality and take on one negative level every 24 hours until they are either killed or find a Great Old One to bolster their corrupted essence.

A creature’s Corruption Score is never reduced by spending a Corruption Point. The only way to gain more Corruption Points is an increase to the Corruption Score. Additionally, every time a creature taps into their corrupted power, regardless of system used, they must make a Will save DC 20 + their current Corruption Score. If the save is successful, their score remains the same. If they fail the save, increase their Corruption Score by one point. It is left to gamemaster’s discretion to determine if any methods exist to remove or reduce a creatures’ overall Corruption Score.

Corruption as Hero Points

The simplest way to treat corruption points for a minor benefit to the corrupted creature is to use them as alternate hero points using that system from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player’s Guide.

Corruption against Sanity

In games that use some form of Sanity rules, creatures that have been corrupted have both had their own sanity eroded and are able to destroy the sanity of those they encounter. Reduce the maximum sanity points of any corrupted creature by their Corruption Score, in addition to other penalties from sources like any otherworldly insight bonus they posses. Additionally, as a standard action, a corrupted creature can spend up to half their level in Corruption Points to alter their appearance or otherwise warp reality for one round, inflicting on all witnesses to the action a Sanity check (base DC 10 + 2 per point of corruption used). Creatures that fail their sanity checks lose one point of sanity per point expended by the corrupted creature.

Corruption as Mythic Power

A more powerful means of treating corruption is as a twisted form and source of mythic power, using the rules found in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Mythic Adventures. In this case, treat corrupted creatures as 1st tier mythic creatures, with their Corruption Points as their well of mythic power.

Otherworldly Insight (Ex): You have been exposed to the cosmic horrors of reality, and while it erodes your sanity, it informs all of your thinking as you reinterpret the truth. You gain this ability by either having read a tome of forbidden knowledge, or by having first-hand experience of cosmic horrors like the Great Old Ones and their lesser scions.

You gain a +1 insight bonus to any Knowledge skill check made in relation to the Great Old Ones or other true horrors of the cosmos. At the gamemaster’s discretion, this insight bonus can be added to other skill checks, like a character’s Sense Motive check to understand a creature’s intentions or Craft (alchemy) to attempt to identify an otherworldly being’s ichor. This insight bonus can increase by two means. Any time you are suffering from some form of insanity or madness, you may attempt a single Will save (DC = 10 + total of your current insight bonus) to gain added insights into the true nature of the cosmos and the Great Old Ones. A successful save increases your otherworldly insight bonus by +1. In addition, studying various tomes increases your insight bonus, typically by a set amount depending upon the nature of the tome of forbidden knowledge read.

Unlocking the truth about reality has an unsettling effect on your psyche. Your otherworldly insight bonus acts as a penalty on all Will saves to resist fear-effects or other mind-affecting abilities from an otherworldly source (especially those based on insanity and madness, gamemaster’s discretion as to what counts as “otherworldly”). If your game uses optional Sanity rules, reduce your maximum Sanity score by your otherworldly insight bonus. Any magical spells or effects that would reduce or remove this penalty concurrently reduce or remove your insight bonus, effectively removing the forbidden knowledge gained from your mind. You may always voluntarily retain your otherworldly insights if subject to magic that could normally cure it, choosing to revel in your own madness.

Paranoia - Optional Rule: If a creature’s otherworldly insight bonus is equal to their overall Will save bonus, they are treated as possessing the shaken fear condition, even if possessing magic items or class features that would negate such a condition. If their otherworldly insight bonus is greater than their Will save bonus, they need to succeed at a Will save (DC 10) or become frightened when faced with any creature of cosmic horror or similar challenge. Note that this means fear causing sources will produce heightened effects on those already subject to lower grade conditions.

This content originally appeared in:
Sidebar: Forbidden Knowledge and Corruption © 2015, Fat Goblin Games; Author; Lucus Palosaari.

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Sidebar Wednesday: Aptitudes

Sidebar Wednesday: Aptitudes

This is the third in a new series of weekly blog posts where we'll be making free our Sidebar product line for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.


When players level their characters, they make decisions regarding the new feats and skills they will select. These are conscious choices made by the players, usually to enhance their characters. Even unoptimal choices in a feat or skill are the players’ choice. Some players even select to advance in a different class. Often, the reasons behind these choices are hand waved as happening behind the scenes during the downtime between adventuring—the rogue somehow gains a level of wizard while the fighter learns the discipline to be a monk. It is easy to explain that the players were practicing all this time, and it gives players choices in making their characters. Aptitudes, on the other hand, are the GM’s decision to create and give out based on what players do in game.

What are Aptitudes?

Essentially, aptitudes are personalized special abilities geared toward a specific player based on the actions of the player’s character. Aptitudes are created organically from game play. They not only reward role-play but also sometimes roll-play as well, acknowledging the quirks and chances of circumstance of an individual player’s character.

Creating Aptitudes

Creating an appropriate aptitude for a character takes several sessions of observing your players’ characters and how they handle the events presented to them. It helps to ask these questions to get started.

  • Is there one particular skill, ability, or attack a player seems to consistently roll well on?
  • Is the player using a particular class ability or skill in a new and interesting way to achieve positive results?
  • When role-playing a character, is the player displaying a particular quirk, habit, activity, etc.?
  • When placed in situation X, is the player consistently doing Y to come out on top?
  • For whatever reason, is there a random element or situation that keeps occurring to a particular player?

If you can answer “yes” to one or more of the above questions, then you have an aptitude in the making. When thinking about what the aptitude should be, you want it to derive from the questions above. The aptitude should then give players an edge to succeed at whichever of the above questions applies to them.
Once you have an idea for an aptitude, creating it is relatively easy—you don’t have to be an accomplished game designer because they do not have to be complicated.
Here are the guidelines I use when creating aptitudes for my games.

  • First and foremost, it must be unique and original to the character.
  • Must provide a tangible, useful benefit based on play.
  • Power level should be around the benefits of a feat or slightly less.
  • I cap most aptitudes at a usage of three times per day unless it’s something that applies to a specific attack.

For example, you have a player that always rolls a natural 20 on Bluff checks when your players need it the most to get out of trouble. You decide this would make a good aptitude for the player and that now when the player rolls a natural 20 on Bluff checks, the player can implant a minor suggestion into the target’s mind because the player is so believable. It’s unique to the character, has a tangible benefit, and is relatively balanced since it works off a natural 20. If you didn’t want to use a natural 20, then you can make the condition that the player exceeds the check by X amount. Aptitudes should always have a purpose.

Assigning Aptitudes

When aptitudes come into play depends on the length of your campaign. I have assigned aptitudes to players as early as 4th level and as late as 7th. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when assigning aptitudes.

  • Aptitudes need to come from play, so it will be several sessions before you start assigning them.
  • Assign aptitudes to the whole group and instead of one at a time (no player wants to see another player get a shiny new toy). The aptitudes should be relatively balanced against one another.
  • Assign aptitudes when the players level up their characters.
  • Assign aptitudes when you need to inject a little excitement into a campaign. Little extra perks are a great way to get you and your players reinvested.

How many aptitudes you assign is up to you and the needs of your campaign. You may decide to do it every 4 levels or just once. Sometimes you may be able to scale the aptitude, slightly increasing its benefit as players gain more levels.

More Examples

The following aptitudes were created for a campaign I’m currently running. I am including the aptitude, its description, and how it came about in play.

Strength Surge (Ex): Three times per day as an immediate action, whenever you make a Strength roll, a Skill check roll that uses Strength, or one attack roll, you gain a +4 morale bonus to Strength.
How it came about: One of my players runs an oracle with an 18 Strength (at the time, the highest in the party). This particular player usually has terrible luck with rolls; However, multiple times during the campaign at especially cinematic moments, he rolled a natural 20 on his Strength roll like when he lifted up a portcullis while arrows rained down on him and his allies.

Flash of Insight (Ex): Three times per day, you may make a Knowledge check in any untrained Knowledge skill with a bonus equal to 3 + your Intelligence modifier.
How it came about: The fighter in the group decided to be the magister in the players’ kingdom. He took it upon himself to liaise with scholarly types and studied at the library during his downtime. This ability represents him recalling bits and pieces he read in books.

Defender’s Shield (Su): Three times per day as an immediate action, you may apply your shield bonus to an adjacent ally for one single attack.

How it came about: The holy vindicator in the party loves his vindicator’s shield ability. He often swings back in forth in fights between a melee fighter and a healer. This ability represents him being able to use his faith and melee process to protect his allies.

Finishing Bite (Ex): Your bite attack is treated as a magical weapon for the purposes of bypassing damage reduction.
*Note: I often scale this one, starting with magic and then moving onto other materials (like silver) depending on the nature of the enemies the player fought.
How it came about: I’ve used this ability in two different campaigns. For some reason, whenever I have a player with a bite attack, it is always that couple of hit points of damage that finishes of an enemy—usually a big one and all the players cheer. This ability keeps players’ bite attacks relevant without the expenditure of magic items as well as the excitement of finishing off a foe with a well-placed bite.

This content originally appeared in:

Sidebar- Aptitudes © Fat Goblin Games 2015; Author John Bennett

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