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Game Mastering

Musings on GMing in Panakos

One of the most profound and interesting differences of GMing in Panakos as opposed to a typical fantasy realm, is this one's history is Earth's (Pangaea's) history, and this one's myths are Earth's myths. The "story" of Fenrir the Wolf is even more real in the Panakos world than in our world. You could stat Fenrir out and throw him into a game session, without fear that you will have ripped something off or been 'unoriginal' with your story development. In fact, throwing stuff like that in is almost the point.

Real "earth" locations from history are sprinkled all throughout Panakos, as are real "earth" personalities. Bet you didn't know Confucius was a 20th level Druid / Great Wyrm Dragon, did you? Think in those terms, and the game sessions get a lot more fun. All the source material you need is Wikipedia.

Rotating the GM

Part of the allure for running a sea faring campaign is to compartmentalize the plot, so no ongoing storyline is required for the game to be fun. Each “Episode” is a cluster of gaming sessions that deal with one specific occurrence, be it a series of sea battles, or exploring ancient ruins on an undiscovered island, or acquiring a treasure map and finding the treasure, or whatever. When the objective is completed, and the party has completed their downtime actions following the objective, the campaign is easily shelved for several months in ‘break,’ or is easily picked up by a new GM who wants to run a new Episode. Once the game has been compartmentalized into Episodes, it also becomes easy for players to split off from the main gaming group and run side adventures concurrent with the existing game, possibly bringing newer players into the same game world.

The major difficulty in running a game like this is line management, to ensure no single GM wrecks the balance of the world by going too Monty Haul with the rewards, or permitting major political ramifications that alter the game world itself. So to facilitate GM rotation, here are the reward guidelines for developing your own Episodes:

Levels: Estimate the number of sessions to completion. Grant the party one level for approximately every three sessions in your estimate. Establish chapters within the Episode, and direct the players to level at the end of each of these chapters. This keeps you away from managing a bunch of XP tables and math that are really just meaningless window dressing to the end reward, which is to ding your character.

Loot: In order to establish a fair and equitable loot system for a rotating GM game, utilize the "Character Wealth By Level" table.

For an "epic" level feel, multiply values by 2 or 4.

To maintain that track, a GM should look at what levels he’s taking a party from, what levels he’s taking a party to, and subtract the expected worth of characters of those levels to determine approximately how much treasure per person to distribute in an Episode. This is not a hard rule, but is a friendly guideline.

So if you’re planning on running an Episode for a group of six 10th level characters, and that Episode will require 8 gaming sessions to complete, it should take them from 10th to 13th level. The amount of loot available in your Episode should be (140,000-62,000) approximately 78,000 gp per character, or (78,000*6) 468,000 gp worth of loot in total. If your gaming group had decided from the beginning to go more "epic" with your loot distribution, multiply by the agreed upon factor. Unless it’s essential to the story of the episode, try not to let any one individual reward exceed the estimated per-character value of the adventure, so the PCs can more amicably divvy the rewards. 

After playing in the Panakos world for half a decade, experience has told us that raw money rewards are often of more value to the PCs than magic item rewards, as items are more difficult to divy and PCs tend to want to buy specific gear instead of build themselves around found gear.

Reward Yourself: You have a character in the game as well, presumably, and this character can be doing other things while the party is participating in the Episode. Make up a story about what your character has been doing, and give your character loot and levels equal to what you’re distributing per character. (78,000 in the above example) If you’d like to opt not to take your GMing reward now, and instead ‘bank’ that value for use after a second stint at GMing later, you may do so.

Don’t be Cheesy: Don’t add loot to the game that’s obviously intended for your own character’s use – use the Reward Yourself option for that. If your character has creation feats, you may craft, provided the time spend crafting doesn’t exceed the time the rest of the PCs were off in the Episode. Do not forget to roll the crafting checks as appropriate. This time away from the party is great if your PC needs downtime to fulfill actions such as overseeing the building of a boat, or rearing a Griffon egg into a combat mount, or doing necessary spell research, etc.

Don’t use your PC as an NPC in your Episode. Have him go off doing other things. There’s way too big a conflict of interest when GMs have a personal stake in the events happening to an NPC. Just don’t do it. The one exception is if you plan on killing him off anyway, using his death as a plot point is acceptable as long as it’s not so cheesy to make everyone else in the gaming session groan and throw Cheetos at you.

Death and Respending

If a character dies, or a player just wants to change characters, they may make a new character at whatever level the party is at. Gear him with either 100% of his "Character Wealth By Level" in the table above in randomly generated gear, or 50% of his estimated worth in custom hand-picked gear, or some combination thereof.

The VIP System

As crews gain notoriety, they advance in Villainy, or Infamy, or Prestige, depending on what sort of notoriety they gain. Rescuing the damsel in distress gains a crew “Prestige,” which influences government or official entities in a positive way. Kidnapping the governor’s daughter and ransoming her back gains the crew “Infamy,” which is a measure of reputation in criminal circles. Kidnapping the governor’s daughter and sacrificing her virgin form to a dark and evil god gains the crew “Villainy,” which measures how generally terrified the common folk are of the crew's evil ways. Each rank is a scale from 1 to 10, and crews may advance one or more ranks as they complete an Episode. Some game mechanics will refer to an “I” rating – that would mean their Infamy rating. Some might list multiple letters, such as a “VI” rating – in that case default to the higher rating of the two.

VIP Encounters

The higher a crew's reputation is, the more likely they are greeted (or attacked by) local authorities or criminal organizations on arrival in port. These are called "port encounters." The chance of a random port encounter increases with VIP, and can be found in the following Table:

Panakos Entanglements Chart

A legal entanglement indicates lawmen seeking to arrest, detain, or kill the crew. A criminal entanglement indicates a local criminal organization wishes to either meet with, steal from, or offer opportunities to the crew. An official entanglement means the governor or other official political entity wishes to meet with the crew. Roll for each separately, as a crew with high marks in all three elements of VIP may have more than one type of entanglement at port, and creative GMs may wish to mix the entanglements for creative and interesting results.

So for example, an adventuring party enters a "Large town," with a VIP rating of 254, indicating they have a '2' in Villany, a '5' in Infamy, and a '4' in Prestige. Their chances of having a legal entanglement on arrival are 2 times the greater of their V and I ratings, or 10%, their chances of having a criminal entanglement are 3 times their I rating, or 15%, and their chances of having an official entanglement are 5 times the greater of their I and P ratings, or 25%. If two or more entanglements are rolled, then those can be combined into a single encounter at the GM's discretion. 

VIP Trade

VIP rating influences the buy and sell price of mundane goods, the buy and sell prices of magic items, and the chances of an encounter with elements of the law, elements of crime, and elements of government when they arrive in a port. Also consult the "Purchasing Magic Items" section within Pathfinder, specifically the Available Magic Items table, as both mundane and magic items will be keyed to information from that table related to the size of the city.

Buying and Selling Mundane Items:

  • Mundane Item Purchase Cost Multiplier = 1.2 - (IP/25)
  • Mundane Item Purchase Limit = (Base Value) * IP * 10
  • Mundane Item Sell Cost Multiplier = 0.8 + (VI/25)
  • Mundane Item Sell Limit = (Base Value) * VI * 10

Buying and Selling Magic Items:

Buying and selling magic items is more difficult, as items are rarer, finding buyers is harder, and finding sellers who aren’t trying to gouge you is equally difficult. Determining these things is also done with the VIP system.

To determine the base sell cost multiplier for an item, roll a number of d10s equal to your crew’s Villainy or Infamy rating, whichever is higher, adding two dice for a medium port and four dice for a major metropolis. Choose the highest die, multiply by 10%, and that becomes the base sell cost multiplier. If the character doing the selling has the Talented Merchant feat, add 1% for every point of the bluff skill the character has, and this becomes the final sell cost multiplier. This must be rolled individually for each magic item a character or crew attempts to sell.

Magic Item Sell Cost Multiplier

Roll (VI)d10, pick highest result, multiply by ten, add one per bluff if the buyer is a Talented Merchant, this is the sell cost multiplier as a percentage.

To determine the base buy cost multiplier for an item, roll a number of d10s equal to your crew’s Infamy or Prestige rating, whichever is higher, adding two dice for a medium port and four dice for a major metropolis. Choose the lowest die, multiply by 10%, add 100%, and that becomes the base buy cost multiplier. If the character doing the buying has the Talented Merchant feat, subtract 1% for every point of the appraise skill the character has, and this becomes the final buy cost multiplier. This must be rolled individually for each magic item a character or crew attempts to sell.

Magic Item Buy Cost Multiplier

Roll (IP)d10, pick lowest result, multiply by ten, add 100, subtract one per appraise if the buyer is a Talented Merchant, this is the buy cost multiplier as a percentage.

Multiply the book price (NOT the cost to create) by the cost multiplier to determine the price of the mundane item, goods, or magic item. Items bought in an archipelago may not be sold in the same archipelago at a higher price than they were purchased for, unless the GM rules otherwise. Port economies can only handle so much trade volume before their local resources are stretched or outright exhausted. To simulate this, purchase limits and sell limits for mundane goods are keyed to the "Base Value" of the port size, as shown in the Pathfinder core rules. A crew may only buy or sell mundane items up to a certain transaction limit, after which time nobody else in port has anything worthwhile to sell, or has any money left to buy what the crew's selling. If a very famous crew sails into a small port, merchants from up in the hills may come down to buy or sell from the crew. To simulate this effect, both the cost multipliers and the transaction limits are indexed to VIP.

Item Availability follows the rules outlined by Paizo here:


Custom NPC Item Crafting

If a PC would rather commission a specific item be crafted by an NPC item crafter, instead of taking his chances buying what’s available at port, he can do so at added expense, time, and inconvenience. NPC item crafters willing to sell to random off-the-street adventurers, to say nothing of notorious pirates, are few and far between. The first step in commissioning an item is to find one.

First determine the availability of the item in question. Determine the caster level of the item, the level prerequisite for each crafting feat required to craft the item, and the level of each spell required to craft the item. Add these numbers up, and the total equals the DC of the Gather Information check necessary to discover the whereabouts of an NPC crafter who not only can craft the item, but is willing to sell it to the general public.

For example, if you were to search for someone capable of crafting a Keen, Holy Bastard Sword +3, the DC of the Gather Information check would be as follows:

CL 10 (CL for Keen is 10, for Holy is 7, for +3 is 9, so use the largest) = 10

Craft Arms and Armor level prerequisite is 5 = 5

Holy Smite Level = 4

Keen Edge Level = 3

Total Gather Information check DC is 22.

The location of the closest custom crafter found varies with item rarity. Consult the chart below to determine how many archipelagos in Panakos have an item crafter capable of creating the item requested.

Base Price of Item (gp) Number of Archipelagos Where a Crafter is Available
2,000 10
8,000 9
18,000 8
32,000 7
50,000 6
72,000 5
98,000 4
128,000 3
162,000 2
200,000+ 1

Randomly determine which archipelagos have a crafter available for that item. The PC’s Gather Information check only provides the location of the closest such crafter. All items less than 2,000 gp base price are generally available in every archipelago with a successful check. Next, randomly determine the size of city the crafter is located in, based on the cities available in Panakos, and on the packet material available. Chances of “small village” or “medium city” are always at least 1 in 3 a piece.

Once the location of a custom crafter has been identified, the PC must then seek out that NPC crafter and commission the item to be crafted. The GM may wish to draw up the NPC and role-play the purchase of the item, at his discretion. Cost for the custom item is 1.5 times the price from the VIP tables, and the time to finish crafting it is 1d4 times the crafting time listed in the core rules, due to backlog and other personal matters of the crafter.


Bulk goods originate in the locations shown on the following table, and are delivered elsewhere by boat. When trading, bulk goods can typically be bought for approximately half their base price at a supply port, and may be sold for full price at a demand port, but the multipliers shown in the Mundane Trade Chart previously do still apply. These are general guidelines, and can vary based on the individual relationships PCs have with NPC buyers and dealers, at the GM’s discretion.