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PFS Benchmarks

This guide is inspired by Painlord's treatise on what he expects of others at the table.

Pathifnder Society has been out for almost five years and with more players moving into mid- and higher-tier play, I want to update his guide. While Painlord's work rather didactic I hope to convey a tone that better fits the sensibilities of the contemporary TTRPG landscape — one focused on collaboration and teamwork. This is a guide, it is not intended to tell anyone how to play; it's a starting point for thinking about how your PC can be a positive contributor in the Organized Play environment where party compositions are randomized. I am writing it in the first person to position it as my own framework.

The baseline question I ask myself is simple: will the party be stronger or weaker with this character in it?

Everyone builds characters differently. I plan out every level, and prefer make choices that are informed at least in part based on the common problems scenarios throw at parties. Even if you don't meticulously plan your PCs, or prefer to focus on roleplay over mechanics, this section might provide considerations or help you hone in on a particular option.

Level 1

Healing is super challenging at low levels, and the party might not have a healer or anyone trained in medicine! If my PC isn't capable of magical or mundane healing, I take a potion from my school items. After the mission briefing my PC takes a moment to mention where it is on their person so allies can feed it to them if they're Dying. I like to do this for two out-of-character reasons: it gives an out-of-character signal that I'm willing to communicate and collaborate, and it demonstrates that I am willing to expend my own resources on keeping my character alive. I have also found this to be tactically efficient: having a potion handy is a habit will that hs saved several of my PCs from death (I've also used my resources to save PCs who don't bring their own).

I also try to build new PCs with the essentials: a spare light weapon (often a dagger), a primary weapon, and a ranged weapon (sometimes also dagger). My martial characters purchase a couple of damaging types so they can get through Damage Reduction or capitalize on Weakness easily.

If I don’t have darkvision, I try to have a way to create light, even if it’s just a torch or Wayfinder (free at level 2). If I am playing a caster with darkvision, I strongly consider preparing a Light cantrip just to be a good teammate. I liek to cast it on a rock and drop hand it into your human buddy's pocket, or cast it on as word or shield for efficiency and a fun roleplay hook.

Level 3

Here is where most PCs get their first General Feat. If I'm unsure about what to choose, I allow the unpredictable nature of PFS party compositions to guide me. If I am playing lower-con melee type I consider Toughness. A caster might choose Canny Acumen to shore up a weak save and retrain it later, or increase Perception to Expert (perception is used often). Another sleeper hit for PFS is Untrained Improvisation, which helps you make checks the party not always be able to have; at 7th level it becomes a fantastic feat!

As a fellow player, I hope everyone at my table now grasps the basics of action economy and will always do something on their turn. I have seen new players get frustrated and say "I just stand there" because they're not sure what to do. Since every player at the table increases encounter difficulty; opting out of a turn only makes things more difficult for the whole group; instead of being a net positive, I view players who do not do anything on their turn as net-negatives and feel annoyed with them.

What are the basics of the action economy? By now, I hope everyone knows what Stepping, Sustaining, Delaying, and Readying entail.

It's also nice to see fellow players utilize their third actions consistenylu. If I'm not sure what to do with a third action I consider the following: raise a shield or cast shield, stride into a safer position or a flank, set up an Aid, or Recall Knowledge. In most cases, trying something is better than doing nothing.

Every +1 counts. My Martial characters have a magic weapon the moment they hit level 3. if proficient, hey have a few bombs to deal with swarms and Damage Reduction or Regeneration. I liek to buy Holy Waters on every PC as well — it's super effective against creatures weak to good damage (Society games pit us agianst many evil creatures, so it's a good bet you will encounter enemies vilnerable to Good damage).

When I am on the other side of the screen as a GM, I also hope players can now start speaking Pathfinder in ways that keep the game flowing smoothly. For example, players can include DCs when you cast spells:

I cast Fear; DC 21 Basic Will Save for the dire Corgi.

Many players are still be learning the finer points of the system or their PC's mechanics, but having a foundation to build on is important.

Level 5

This is a point at which the game becomes a lot more exciting (and challenging). For the ability boost, I always consider increasing Constitution. With four boosts it's difficult for me to find a reason to skip this on any build. My thinking on this is that PFS isn’t a home game where you might always have a healer to pick you up, or the sheltering wing of a Champion to let you go all-out on offense. Staying alive one more round or or taking one more hit you can help your whole team operate smoothly.

At this point, my martials have more than one weapon with which to solve problems, or they're prepared to just do big enough damage to fight through higher damage resistance/hardness (e.g. Power Attack or Rage).

unless I hvae access to MAge Armor, my first purchase at level 5 is always an Armor Potency rune… even on my casters. A +1 AC can make a world of difference, between a crit that knocks oyu down and a hit.

My casters also start investing in scrolls for utility — options include resist energy (great against persistent damage), glitterdust/faerie fire, spider climb (deal with terrain), Heal/Soothe, Restoration, Water Walk, and similar utility scrolls. This is a collection that will someday become a library of party-saving magic. I will often have a wand or two as well (for example, level 2 Longstrider and False Life provide all-day utility).

My Martials also strive for party-enhancing utility, whether that is debuffs (intimidation provides one of the best debuffs in the game), face skills, crafting, etc. They can also purchase items to contribute in a variety of situations, such as by buying silvertongue mutagens to contribute in a social endeavor or emerald grasshoppers to solve terrain.

Speaking of, scenarios now start throwing challenging terrain at you with high frequency. It's often baked into the encounter as part of the challenge rating. I try to write down "what if's" for my characters, thinking about how they will deal with cliffs, bogs, underwater, etc.

Level 7

Another general feat. Defensive-minded players such as myself often want to bump a weak save to Expert with Canny Acumen here. This is also the level wt which Untrained Improvisation becomes amazing.

As a player I hope to see more flexibility from spell casters, and a greater willingness to expend non-cantrip slots.

Enemy tactics are now more robust; scenarios may instruct GMs to target lower-AC PCs, ambush the party, or leverage spells like Invisibility and Darkness. To mitigate this a potion of Darkvision can help a lot, as can Faerie Fire or Glitterdust.

Spike damage can be a factor as well; I try to have a way to heal myself for a non-trivial amount (healer's gloves, potions purchased with my own gold that are near my level). I also carry around "break in case of emergency" tools such as potions of invisibility (uncommon, but available through school training), stronger elemental bombs, etc. These are important "break in case of emergency" items that even casters can buy.

Casters now have the opportunity to work on an improved utility library: Remove Curse, Remove Disease, Air Walk, See Invisibility, Earthbind, and Neutralize Poison have all made me the hero of the day. I also like to prep a Dispel Magic at or near my highest-level slot.

Level 9

When I show up to a level 9+ table I bring my "A game." Here is that that means to me:

  1. I show up well-rested, well-fed, and ready to pay full attention.
  2. I try to be emotionally aware of my personal mental state and get ready to collaborate and listen to feedback — even if I'm not in the best mood.
  3. I make every effort to operate as a teammate and work together. This means showing up early and sharing my general build tactics to see how they fit in with the team's. I coordinate daily spell/ability/skill choices to cover gaps or maximize offense.
  4. I bring my full sheets, prepared for an audit.
  5. I can explicate abilities and math if the GM asks.

As for fellow players, I expect them to have built upon all of the above with basic knowledge of their own spells and abilities; for example, knowing how Incapacitation works, how Counteracting works, and to remember to use key skill feats like Foil Senses effectively.

At this point I usually have some spare gold to buy some nicer consumables, or items that help shore up weaknesses (for example, most of my PCs without Darkvision end up purchasing Goggles of Night at some point between level 5 and 9). I invest in a Moderate Elixir of Life — it's expensive, but lower-level potions can place you in greater danger than if you just stay down.

Finally, I try to run my turns as efficiently as possible. I think ahead about what I'm going to do, I roll my damage dice with my d20's, and I try to perform any math quickly.

Best Practices for Any Level

Focus Fire

It’s the easiest strategy, yet often overlooked due to distractions. Remember, games can last 4-5 hours, and we all have other things in our lives that can divert our attention.

Keep track of the enemy that has taken the most damage and focus your attacks there. Consider jotting this down in your own notes. Pathfinder 2E is heavily influenced by action economy, and removing even one minor enemy can lead to a positive chain reaction.


Flanking is vital to success — even if you’re a caster, you can equip a whip to threaten enemies at reach. Remember, everyone is trained in Unarmed, so you always have the potential to flank (although you might not want to be face-to-face with an enemy!).

If you're a wizard and the party's primary damage dealer needs a flank to hit a high AC enemy, you're not exempt from this strategy. Spend a few silver pieces to carry a whip and threaten from range. Often, flanking a high-AC enemy to allow the rogue's sneak attack can be more beneficial than using a second attack.

How Will You Cope Without a Healer?

Given the unpredictable nature of Pathfinder Society, figuring out how to manage without a healer is one of the most significant and difficult challenges. I always try to have at least one healing potion of the highest level available. The 1d8 minor healing potion from level 1 is more likely to hurt than help at level 8. I think it's wise to have a few cheaper backup potions, too.

I always consider training in Medicine. Taking Battle Medicine can also be useful; the DCs are manageable, and with assurance, any character can be effective. Alternatively, consider purchasing healer’s gloves to aid an ally (or yourself if a GM allows it).

Remember, healing is about damage mitigation too. Every striker character I play has a strategy or feat for dealing with dangerous melee enemies, such as Dueling Parry or Parry weapons, Nimble Dodge, Moment of Clarity, Shield Block, or the Dusty Rose Prism Aeon Stone. These are all great options for martial characters.

My casters all know the Shield cantrip and have another way to bolster their defenses against damage or effects, such as the Mirror Images spell.

Light Weapons

Never underestimate the value of a simple dagger. Its versatility can't be overlooked, especially when facing the very real threat of being swallowed whole and needing a light-bulk weapon to fight your way out.

Stay Dynamic

Adaptability is key in Pathfinder. If you find yourself facing a particularly dangerous enemy, don't hesitate to keep moving. If you fall because you took on multiple attacks and got critically hit on a third strike, you've not only made a tactical error but you've also forced your teammates to expend their actions to help you. This can lead to a rapid downward spiral.

Be Versatile

A common pitfall I've encountered is the temptation to create a character that often uses all three actions on their turn to operate. However, I've found that often, even ranged characters need to stride, reposition, or step. For this reason, I aim to create characters who are flexible and can still operate effectively even if they need to spend two actions on movement. It's fun to whiteboard an ideal combat scenario and even nicer when it comes together, but no plan survives contact with the enemy!

Spend, Don't Hoard

Pathfinder Society often provides far more gold per level than what you'd earn in an Adventure Path. The stark contrast between the wealth of a Pathfinder Society character versus that of a traditional adventurer can be surprising. But remember, this is by design. The wealth isn't there so you can acquire flashy items faster; it's there to give you a fighting chance when you're thrown into complex scenarios.

If my character's class and ancestry features don't cover the basics, I invest in items that do. I try to compensate for my character's weaknesses with appropriate gear. For instance, if my character isn't particularly intelligent, I might buy a couple of cognitive mutagens to have on hand for critical moments. If a PC doesn't have Darkvision I invest in Goggles of night.

I typically allocate about 10% of my character's wealth towards consumable items.

Have a Fallback Plan

When building a character, I always consider alternate strategies for a variety of common scenarios. For example:

  • What if the enemy is immune to my main shtick?
  • What if I’m underwater?
  • What if I’m being shot at from a cliff?
  • What if I cannot see the enemy? (Invisible/Deeper Darkness)
  • What if the enemy is flying?
  • What if I am ambushed?

These thought exercises help illuminate what items to buy as well, a common problem many Society players face at middle to high levels.

Contribute Both In and Out of Combat

No matter what I build, I find that I enjoy Pathfinder more if I can contribute both in and out of combat. PFS scenarios typically have components of social as well as combat encounters, so I prefer to build PCs who are good at both. I try to pick one social or intelligence skill that is useful out of combat, in addition to the lore we get with character creation.

Stick Together

Pathfinder is a team game. It takes everyone pulling their weight to beat some of the Extreme encounters you find in Society games. Always communicate with your team and agree on objectives together. Let specialists do their jobs and don't rush ahead. Try to make decisions as a group and coordinate to ensure everyone is playing at an appropriate level.

Roll All the Dice at Once

To keep the game moving smoothly, try to roll all your dice at once. If you're making multiple attacks, designate specific dice for each attack and roll them all together.

Learn the Secret to Improving Fast

The best way to improve your playing skills is to learn to GM! Running games gives you a new perspective that can greatly enhance your understanding of the game.


However you build, remember that Pathfinder Society is a team game and a social experience. Respect your GM and fellow players, and try to be a positive force both on and off the table. Everyone is doing their best and often balancing other life commitments. Show empathy, share knowledge, and create space for everyone to shine. Celebrate failures as well as successes, as they can make the game more interesting. Always express appreciation when a teammate makes a valuable contribution. Saying thanks goes a long way.


This resource is a worksheet that prompts you to think about solutions by level, and has a checklist and cost of common solutions—from permanent to consumable items—for problems by level.