PathfinderRPG Style Guide

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Before submission, please also see RGG Writer Guidelines

GENERAL

These are issues that could come up any time, or have broad impact and implications.

Abbreviations

A lot of things are only abbreviated in specific places. Learn what, and where. A partial list is below.
  • Hit points/hp – The only time you abbreviate hit points as hp is in a stat block. Everywhere else, it's spelled out, and is not capitalized.
  • Masterwork/mwk – This one is sometimes inconsistent. Mostly, the only time you *don’t* abbreviate masterwork as mwk is in running descriptive text in paragraph form. Everywhere else (including the Melee or Ranged attack line of a stat block( it’s abbreviated. Whether or not you abbreviate, is not capitalized or italicized.
  • Minutes/min. – For the "Duration" entry of a spell, minutes is abbreviated as "min." but round and hour are not abbreviated.
  • Empty lines and normal face/reach – You almost never create a blank entry – if a section standard to the type of rule you are creating would be blank, don’t add it at all. In a monster stat block, also omit "Space 5 ft. Reach 5 ft." because that's the default – only include the line of either space or reach is not 5 ft. Similarly the SQ line would also be omitted if the monster has no Special Qualities at all, and a feat with nothing special omits the Special entry (and one with no prerequisites omits the “Prerequisite” entry.)

Check Hyphenated Terms

If you are not 100% sure if the name of a class, ability, maneuver, or rule is hyphenated, check it! For example, it's "full-attack action," not "full attack action," Blind-Fight (not Blindfight, Blind-Fighting, or Blind Fight), Quick Draw, and Ride-By Attack (but, note, Flyby Attack).

Names

There is no special treatment of the names of classes, races, subtypes, descriptors, class features, combat maneuvers, monsters, or mundane gear. Treat them the way you were told to by your English teacher.

  • The names of ability scores, feats, skills, and saving throw categories are always Capitalized.
  • The name of spells and magic items are italicized. (I guess magic leans to the right.)

Gender, Pronouns, and Inclusion

The question of how to use gender-specific pronouns to be both clear and inclusive is a contentious one, and different publishers handle it differently. At least for Rogue Genius Games, no product or series of products should ever, by example, suggest that gender is entirely binary, or that it defines the most likely role for a character. That is the First Rule of Gender, though RGG also follows the guidelines below.

  • The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook and related products use both "he" and “she” as the default gender of gendered entities with an unknown gender. Things that do not have an immediately obvious gender (often, but not always, including monsters) are generally referred to as "it" even if they technically would have a gender. Many sentences are carefully worded to avoid the necessity of mentioning a player or character's gender at all (often by using plurals, but never plural pronouns as single nouns), but only when it can be done without creating awkwardness.
  • Specific classes (including prestige classes) are generally assumed to be the same gender as the iconic example of that class unless speaking about a specific character.
    • Thus in examples (and the class write-ups), the following classes are assumed to be female:
      • Arcane tricksters, arcanists, barbarians, battle heralds, brawlers, clerics, druids, duelists, gunslingers, inquisitors, master chymists, master spies, nature wardens, oracles, paladins, pathfinder chroniclers, rogues, shadowdancers, shamans, sorcerers (who are, nevertheless, never referred to as the "sorceress class"), swashbucklers, and witches.
    • Similarly, in those circumstances, the following classes are assumed to be male:
      • Alchemists, arcane archers, assassins, bards, bloodragers, cavaliers, dragon disciples, eldritch knights, fighters, holy vindicators, horizon walkers, hunters, investigators, loremasters, magi, monks, mystic theurges, rangers, rage prophets, skalds, stalwart defenders, summoners, warpriests, and wizards.

1st, 2nd, and 3rd person

Not every section of rules is written with the same standard for being in second or third person. While you can write rules that are concise and balanced in any person, they may strike readers as "odd" (even if they don’t know why) if they aren’t using the same kind of pronouns. Also, your publisher may want to compile different sets of rules, and it looks sloppy if one feat is in 2nd person, and the next is in third person.

So believe it or not, this matters!

  • Class description use third-person language.
    • This grants her a +2 bonus on attacks against pies. Or: The baker can select any of his cakes to gain this bonus.
  • Skills and feats use second-person language.
    • You can use the appropriate Craft skill to make cakes and pies.
  • Spells and magic items use second person for the spellcaster ...
    • You create explosive pies.
    ... and third person for other creatures.
    • The pie damages all foes within 30 feet, unless they make a Reflex save.

One reason second-person is used so much is that it is gender-neutral, and extremely inclusive.

Exclude Unnecessarily Verbose Descriptions Like This One

When writing any rule, re-read it to see if you have described it in the simplest possible way. You don’t need to add a whole sentence to the end of an ability that says "You can use this ability once per day," if you can just as easily begin it just by saying "Once per day, you can..." Also, if you say you gain a +2 bonus to saves against an effect, you don’t need to mention that you don’t get the bonus if you are a willing target (since willing targets are forgoing their saving throw anyway).

Also, be sure you aren’t suggesting limitations that don’t exist, or options you don’t intend. For example, if you have created a new metamagic feat, and at some point in the description you refer to it working on "arcane magic," you have immediately opened the question if it works on divine magic, or not. Similarly, if you say in the descriptive section of a spell it creates a "burning" flame, you open it to interpretation that people hit by the flame catch on fire.

Especially since words such as large, mythic, divine, reach, size, movement, action, and fighter have a specific definition within the rules of the game, it's important to make sure you aren’t using them in ways the rules don’t support.

Spellchecker

The spellchecker on your word processing program is NOT the same as reading back over your article to make sure it makes sense. Reread everything. If you can get it done a week or two before deadline, put it down for a few days, then go back and re-read it.

That said, do USE your spell-checker. If I see you've misspelled perhaps as prehaps, I wonder how mcuh efftort you've put into he whole manascript. (Looks sloppy and lazy, doesn’t it?)

Also, if you make up a word or name (like Argonax the Mad), when you are done with ALL other writing, do another spell check and make sure you spelled it right the FIRST time it comes up. Then, tell your program to skip it and/or add it to your dictionary. If an alternate spelling then shows up ("Argonex the Mad") fix it.

Word Choice

Two hundred barbarians is a horde of foes. If you kill them all and take their stuff, you have a hoard of treasure. Also, two hundred barbarians is too many to expect PCs to kill them all, even if they’re all there for their amusement.

Books that give lists of trouble words are common. Buy one, read it. 

SPECIFIC ISSUES

The following specific issues come up often enough they are worth calling out individually. 

FEATS

Things to check as you design and write feats.
  • Name – The name of a feat is Capitalized wherever it is used.
  • Check Your Feats Names – Whenever you reference a feat (or any other rule, but feats get messed up most often) for heaven's sake, CHECK ITS NAME. I once sent in a feat with "Deceptive" as a prerequisite – which is great, except the feat I meant was "Deceitful."
  • Also, make sure you have the correct version of the names, looking for hyphens and compound words. It's Blind-Fight (not Blindfight, Blind-Fighting, or Blind Fight), Catch Off-Guard, Improved Bull Rush (not Improved Bull-Rush), Point-Blank Shot (NOT Pointblank Shot, or Point-Blank-Shot), Quick Draw, Ride-By Attack (but, note, Flyby Attack), Self-Sufficient, and Two-Weapon Fighting (not Two Weapon Fighting or Two-Weapon-Fighting). There are lots of other examples.
  • For each section of a feat the name of the section should be bolded, but the colon after it is not (“Prerequisite: Str 13," rather than "Prerequisite: Str 13").
  • Prerequisites – The prerequisites for a feat are listed in a specific order, separated by commas. While I haven't combed through for a complete list of possibilities, in general the order is:
    • ability score minimum (which is listed as a flat number; "Str 13," not "Str 13+" or "Str 13 or greater"),
    • skill ranks (listed as "Ride 1 rank," not "Ride +1" or "Ride +1 or greater"),
    • other feats (in alphabetical order, and all the prerequisites of those feats should also be listed as prerequisites, shuffled in using this standardized order),
    • and then everything else in alphabetical order, including race (this is rare), racial trait (also rare, and listed as "gnome magic racial trait"), class feature (listed as "channel energy class feature" if you just need it, or as "channel energy 3d6" if you need some specific increment of it), extraordinary ability, spell-like ability, supernatural ability, any odd prerequisite not normally used (like "any two critical feats"), base attack bonus (listed as "base attack bonus +1," not "BAB +1," or "base attack bonus +1 or greater"), caster level (listed as "caster level 7th," not "7th level caster" or "caster 7+"), class level (listed as "14th-level fighter," not "fighter 14" or "fighter 14+"), character level *(which, perversely, IS listed as "character level 11th," and not "11th-level character").
  • If you are mentioning a spell or monster type, subtype, or descriptor in running text, you just use it. It's not capitalized, italicized, or put in [brackets].
  • All ability score prerequisites are odd numbers. This is because the bonus for an ability score increases on the even numbers, so the real difference between a 12 Dex and a 13 Dex is the ability to qualify for Dodge and other feats with a Dex 13 prerequisite.
  • Even though it isn’t a sentence (so this is dumb), there is a period at the end of the "Prerequisites" line of a feat.
  • So these are all minor things, but minor things add up. The less you make your developer and editor fix your minor mistakes, the happier we are (and the more time we have to deal with less-easily-avoided major mistakes).
  • In Paizo style, if a feat has one prerequisite the line is "Prerequisite:"
    • If it has two or more, it is "Prerequisites:"
    • It is never "Prerequisite(s):," and if I see that, I know you were looking at d20pfsrd.com for formatting questions, which is a mistake. I love that site, but it is not formatted the way Paizo material is. (And if you do it with spells, it's an even bigger red flag)
    • Also, the Prerequisite/Prerequisites line ends with a period, even though it's not a sentence.
    • And if a feat has no prerequisites, exclude this line entirely.
    • And no matter how many benefits a feat has, the line is "Benefit," not "Benefits."
Second Person

Feats use second-person language. ("You gain the ability to eat twice as much pie and cake.")

Normal

If it wouldn’t be immediately clear upon reading a feat why you would want to take it, list the way the relevant work normally functions in the Normal section after the Benefit section. If no such entry is required, exclude it entirely.

Special

If a feat can be taken more than once, or can be taken as a bonus feat by some class, or works differently for a specific class (see Stunning Fist), or has some other odd feature that isn't part of its benefit to a character that takes it, that should be noted after everything else in the Special line. If it has more than one unrelated special feature, each should have its own heading.

If no such entry is required, exclude it entirely.

SPELLS

I'm not going to go into it all but READ ALL OF CHAPTER 9: MAGIC IN THE CORE RULEBOOK before you write a spell. There's crucial information on how schools, subschools, descriptors, areas, duration, components, spell resistance and many more things work. Understand it all, or look it up every time you write a spell.

Spell balance is as much art as science, but some spells are benchmarks. While there is a range of power for spells within each level, you shout shoot for the middle. If you create a 1st level spell that is more powerful than charm person or magic missile, it's a problem.

  • DON'T repeat information covered by the spell stat block. You don’t have to say the spell affects a creature if it fails its saving throw if you have "Save: Will negates" 
  • Order - List spells in alphabetical order. Remember that a blank alphabetizes before any other letter (in other words fire seeds comes before fireball, even though b comes before s).
    Stat Block - Spells do NOT have labeled Caster, Effect, and Description subheadings in their stat block in the standard Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. Do not include these for RGG products, either.
  • Entries for the spell stat block (school, duration, saving throw, and so on) are not sentences. The first word of each section are not capitalized, and they do not end with a period. The save categories are an exception ("Saving throw: Reflex half," for example) because the save categories are always capitalized.
      • For Rogue Genius Games, each section should use a colon (such as "Duration: 1 round/level"), even though this is not the standard presentation from the Core Rulebook (which has no colon).
      • For the "Level" entry, list the classes that get the spell alphabetically, regardless of what level each class receives the spell. Sorcerer/wizard is a single entry. Oracles don’t get an entry, as they use the cleric spell list. If only one of those classes gets a spell, write either wizard (only), or cleric (oracle only) as appropriate for the spell.
      • There are now a lot of different spellcasting class spell lists.  When you list a spell’s level, check to make sure you cover all the classes it should belong to, and list the appropriate spell list. The following classes receive their own spell lists:
        • AlchemistAPG: Levels 1-6 (Not technically spells)
        • Antipaladin APG: Levels 1-4
        • Bard: Levels 0-6
        • BloodragerACG: Levels 1-4
        • Cleric: Levels 0-9
        • Druid: Levels 0-9
        • InquisitorAPG : Levels 0-6
        • MagusUM: Levels 0-6
        • Paladin: Levels 1-4
        • Ranger: Levels 1-4
        • ShamanACG: Levels 0-9
        • Sorcerer/Wizard*: Levels 0-9 (Listed as sorcerer/wizard except for single-class spells)
        • SummonerAPG: Levels 0-6
        • WitchAPG: Levels 0-9
      • These classes use the lists for other classes
        • ArcanistACG, uses sorcerer/wizard: Levels 0-9
        • HunterACG, uses both druid and ranger: Levels 0-6
        • Investigator ACG, uses alchemist: Levels 1-6 (Not technically spells)
        • OracleAPG*, uses cleric: Levels 0-9 (Listed only as cleric, unless it is oracle only)
        • SkaldACG, uses bard: Levels 0-6
        • WarpriestACG, uses cleric: Level 0-6
          • *Rare examples exist of a spell for only one of these classes, such as mnemonic enhancer for wizards and oracle’s burden for oracles. Such spells are almost always linked to a mechanic strongly tied to the class it is restricted to.
      • For the "Duration" entry, minutes is abbreviated as "min." but round and hour are not abbreviated.
      • If a spell has "Range: personal" and "Target: you," don’t include the saving throw/spell resistance line.
  • Second person
    • Spells and magic items use second person for the spellcaster ...
      • You create explosive pies.
      ... and third person for other creatures.
      • The pie damages all foes within 30 feet, unless they make a Reflex save.

    One reason second-person is used so much is that it is gender-neutral, and extremely inclusive.

CRITICAL HITS

  • If you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll (or 19, 18, etc., depending on the weapon’s critical threat range), you “threaten a critical hit.”
  • If you hit on the roll to confirm the critical hit, you “confirm the critical hit.”
  • If an effect is contingent on confirming a critical hit, use the following wording: "On a confirmed critical hit, the sky falls."
  • If a critical hit is automatically confirmed, we say so using that wording: "That critical threat is automatically confirmed."

BONUS ON/BONUS TO

RGG doesn’t care about "Bonus On" vs "Bonus To," but some publishers do. For those that do, you gain a bonus ON variable values like saving throws, checks, and rolls. You can a bonus TO static values like ability scores, Armor Class, or DCs.

CHECKS/SAVES WORDING

  • Avoid the word “make” when talking about checks and saves—instead use “attempt” or “succeed at” (depending on the context).
    • Anyone who opens the fridge must attempt a DC 20 Constitution save.
    • You must succeed at a DC 10 Reflex save or trip while walking up the stairs.
    • The PCs may want to let their biggest fan down lightly (Diplomacy DC 40 to improve the creature’s starting attitude).
  • The character attempting the check should be the doer/agent when describing the outcome:
    • If you succeed at the check…
    • With a successful DC 30 Climb check, a character scampers effortlessly up the side of the building.
    • You succeed AT checks, saves, etc.

NUMERALS

In fiction/read aloud text, spell out numbers! Elsewhere, use numerals for 10+, and with measure units (feet, minutes, doses, charges, etc.). Swords aren’t measure units.

COLLECTIVE NOUNS

“A pair” is singular, but “a dozen” is plural (The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition 5.220).

STAT BLOCK FORMATTING

It can be tricky to know where everything in a stat block goes. For quick checks, look up the format of an ancient red dragon on d20pfsrd.com, since ancient red dragons have one example of nearly every kind of power.

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/dragons/dragon/chromatic-red/ancient-red-dragon

For most classes, you can find an NPC with the class (or class with similar power) and use that as a format. There's a column with scores of NPCs on the lower-right of the url below.

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/npc-s

In Conclusion!

Write well! Yes, I know that's vague. If it was possible to give advice that assured the reader would write well, everyone would read it, and no books, games, or DVD programming guides would suck anymore. This guide can help you polish your "diamond in the rough," but you need to try hard to make the diamond first.

Read every game thing you can lay your hands on. Be creative. Be evocative. Playtest. Wow your publisher. We'll fix the order you list the bonus feats a class gets if the class is so awesome we want to play one immediately.

But don’t depend on that!

If you want to change the style of presentation away from these guidelines for something you plan to publish, or you know your publisher handles those differently, great! But for anything you write for RGG (or Paizo for that matter), you make your developer happier when you get these right.