How To do it Right
“Doing it Right,” in this context, means hitting a character’s weak points.
As the master of a universe, you need to be mostly fair, with a bias towards letting the player do their thing and excel. On the other hand, Pathfinder is designed with a delicate balancing act of storytelling style and mechanical juggling that makes it excellent. Sometimes, however, a stylistic element is an actual game balance factor that cannot be ignored. Why are some classes simply “better” than others? Why do some players get to be more powerful than their fellows? The answer often lies with the style of the GM and how they need to be pushing the weaknesses of certain players more harshly.
This is a classic. Why on earth would you play a Sorcerer instead of a Wizard? The masters of written spells are clearly and obviously more powerful in many significant ways, including better spell progression, flexibility, and metamagic.
The truth is that a Wizard has glaring weaknesses which the sorcerer does not share. Spellbooks can be lost, destroyed, or partially damaged, creating massive problems for the Wizard, while the Sorcerer breezes onward, slinging spells for all he’s worth. Bonded objects can break or familiars can die, and these things need to happen. Why? Doesn’t this make you a jerk GM?
No, of course not. These are the difficulties a wizard should learn to deal with, expanding their repertoire and preparing for any eventuality. Players always have a false sense of security which must needs be broken for them to care about the game and to feel for their characters. Look for opportunities to hit this most powerful of spellcasters in his weak point, and maybe, just maybe, this player will consider playing a Sorcerer next time.
Paladin’s Honor Code
If this never comes up you aren’t doing your job. The paladin is one of the toughest and most dangerous classes in the game, limited almost entirely by the honor code. Make the player suffer, wracked with indecision over slaying a captive. Make them search for a way out of a moral sinkhole. Make the code a tyrant, a strain to valiantly uphold.
And always, always, always be prepared to step in with in-game solutions if your paladin player decides to attack another party member and erstwhile friend. I’ve seen too many characters killed by a righteous paladin’s onslaught.
Many Druids have a leg up on pretty much everyone else–with an animal companion, they are almost TWO characters. Once you allow stone armor and so on, your Druid’s combat limitations disappear and you have a character who can do everything, right? Well, almost everything.
The truth is, an aversion to man-made constructions doesn’t have to end with armor. Make your Druid despise urban influences with areas too empty of plants for entangle, counter shapeshifters, or animals that can’t be reasoned with. Make the Druid face tough decisions between the will of nature and the needs of their fellow humanoids: perhaps a group of poor woodcutters clearing a forest for their houses and farms, or an infestation of aberrations that coincidentally guards the kingdom’s southern border. Use this tactic not to frustrate the Druid player, but light them on fire with ecological concerns and a desire to defend the will of nature.
Sometimes it seems as though the Cleric gets everything. Cast any spell on your list, wear any armor (with a feat), destroy or heal, save or slay. What slows them down?
Well, the Cleric has responsibilities the other players don’t have. Sometimes the church will call upon them, taking them away from their desired course. Or, if you’ve made the mistake of allowing Clerics who worship an “ideal” into your game instead of a deity, force them to struggle with upholding that high standard, like a Paladin. The Cleric must give money to poor houses and pay a tithe to the church, spend time healing the sick instead of adventuring, and even occasionally should get targeted by beings with a special taste for hurting clerics.
Everyone has a Weakness
No matter how ridiculously good a player’s design is, there’s always something they can’t cover in a game as complex as Pathfinder. If their AC is too high, hit their Reflex save next time. If you can’t get over their saves, trip and grapple them. If one spell is spammed to make monsters melt away, use dispel magic or golems. Don’t overdo it, of course; this is simply to make them consider alternate options and expand their playstyle to balance everything out. Use your nasty side like salt, sprinkled over a meal to make it more interesting. Occasionally, you can even salt their wounds.
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–Max Porter Zasada