Getting Started with the Pathfinder RPG
Note: This post was written for the First Edition of the Pathfinder RPG. Much of this information is no longer current.
Pathfinder RPG Rules and the PRD
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is an evolution of the 3.5 rules set of the world's oldest fantasy roleplaying game. Since Paizo released the first playtest documents in March of 2008, Pathfinder RPG has matured to a complete gaming system whose core rule set has enjoyed well over a decade of active playtesting and revision. For a glossary of terms used on this page, check out the Getting Started section of the Pathfinder Reference Document (PRD).
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is released under the Open Game License, meaning the core rules that drive the Pathfinder RPG system are available to anyone to use for free under the terms of the OGL. The PRD contains all of the essential rules, but frequent players will want access to the complete Core Rulebook, which can be purchased directly from Paizo in PDF format for $9.99. The hardcover edition is available for $49.99 both online or through local retailers. If you're going to buy the hardcover and live here in southeast Michigan, please consider supporting our friends at Flatland Games in Wixom with your purchase.
Beyond the Core Rulebook, there are something like 13-15 additional rule books from Paizo now, and all of them are represented in the PRD. My general rule of thumb is that I'll allow anything you can find in the PRD as long as figuring out how it works doesn't slow the game down. Clear exceptions to this would be the alternate magic mechanics (Words of Power) in Ultimate Magic or non-traditional rule sets like Mythic Adventures or the Technology Guide. When Pathfinder Unchained info is added to the PRD, we can talk, but don't assume anything there, either.
I wrote this page to help get new players thinking about the game before your first session. You don't need to know or understand any of the rules at this point. You don't need to figure out anything at this point, either. We'll walk you through all of the steps the first time you play.
The idea behind this page is to get you thinking about your character before it's time to create one. Who are they? What do they do? What are they like? What's their back story? How do they get along with others?
I'll also introduce some general concepts to help explain how both you and your character fit into the world. "What world?" you might ask. The games I currently run take place on the planet Golarion, the base of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, and more specifically on the continent of Avistan, north of the Inner Sea.
New players can think of tabletop roleplaying games as a variation of collaborative storytelling where some elements, like the setting and the previous actions of some non-player characters (NPCs) are already written, either by a publisher or your Game Master (GM), but the actual stories of the main characters, the player characters (PCs), are yet to be played out. What happens will depend on the characters themselves as their traits and abilities develop, on decisions made by the players and GM as situations arise, and ultimately on dice rolls which determine nearly every outcome in a game. If your character wants to try something, the GM will help you determine which rule applies, and the dice will determine the ultimate success or failure.
Go ahead and get familiar with your d20, your twenty-sided die. Almost every action in the game starts with a d20 roll. The other dice are generally used to determine the degree or success or failure of any action started with the d20 roll. So whether you're swinging your sword to strike a foe (as an attack roll), listening for the sound of footsteps (with a perception check), or dodging out of the way of an explosion (using a reflex save), the action begins by rolling your d20.
Everything your character can do, and a general indicator at how well they may do it, is on your character sheet. When you first start creating a character, you'll probably feel like you're filling out a medical insurance form or paying your taxes, but once you get going, you'll quickly learn where everything is.
Generating your first character could take up to an hour, with help, longer if they're a spellcaster or have spell-like abilities. Don't worry, it's a fun part of the game, and you'll watch a whole new person emerge as you discover their innate abilities, then give them training, weapons, and equipment before sending them on their first adventure.
Begin by selecting a race (what they are) and a class (what they do) for your character. You'll also need to decide things like their name, gender, and alignment, so start thinking about those, too. When it comes to alignment, I don't allow evil characters in normal campaigns. Yes, the secretly evil character waiting to wipe out her whole party is always a fun plot twist, and an all-evil party could be fun, but in general, don't plan on it.
If you'll be joining an existing party, find out what characters already exist and consider how a new character will fit in when making your selection.
There are 30 alternate races listed in the Advanced Race Guide. Don't plan on playing any of those without talking to me well in advance, and not on your first character. The core races are plenty to choose from:
- Dwarf: Tough and wise, but somewhat gruff, dwarves stand about a foot shorter than humans, but are still considered a medium creature. Slow and patient craftsmen, they're quick to fight and drink, long on honor and tradition. Dwarves are proficient with heavy weapons and can see in total darkness.
- Elf: Long-lived, tall and graceful, elves their tastes tend towards finer arts, such as magic or finesse fighting. Dismissive of other races, but fascinated with humans, elves are capricious, but generally good. Elves can see in low light, have keen senses, and are immune to sleep and charm effects.
- Gnome: Tiny creatures with colorful hair, gnomes are impulsive tricksters with genuine hearts. Ill-suited for heavy combat, gnomes tend towards magic and music as their strengths. Gnomes are slow-moving, can see in low light, and are resistant to illusion. Their obsessive nature makes them strong craftsmen and professionals.
- Half-elf: Considered bastards by humans and elves alike, half-elves live a lonely existence outside of societal norms, but form close bonds when true friends are found. They take traits from both their human and elven parents, allowing them to see in low light while being exceptionally good learners. Masters of multiple talents, half-elves can take levels in two classes without penalty.
- Half-orc: Tragic monstrosities birthed of perversion and violence, half-orcs learn early to fight for survival and tend towards lives as mercenaries and enforcers. Powerful brutes, half-orcs tower over humans, can see in the dark, and fight with the ferocity of their orcish parent.
- Halfling: Lighthearted and full of wanderlust, these tiny creatures use their size, keen senses, and luck to their advantage, excelling at thievery and trickery, but are ready to rush fearlessly into battle whenever the mood strikes them, which is often.
- Human: The most predominant race on Golarion, humans are skilled adventurers, well-suited to any class. Products of ethnicity and societal influences, humans are wildly diverse in nature.
With the release of the Advanced Class Guide in the summer of 2014, there are now over 30 classes and archetypes from which to choose. However, some of these have a reputation of being more difficult or less enjoyable to play, especially at lower levels.
- Barbarian: The barbarian is a brutal berserker from beyond the edge of civilized lands.
- Bard: The bard uses skill and spell alike to bolster his allies, confound his enemies, and build upon his fame.
- Cleric: A devout follower of a deity, the cleric can heal wounds, raise the dead, and call down the wrath of the gods. Tends to be a support character, not that that's a bad thing.
- Druid: The druid is a worshiper of all things natural—a spellcaster, a friend to animals, and a skilled shapechanger. Relatively underpowered at low levels.
- Fighter: Brave and stalwart, the fighter is a master of all manner of arms and armor.
- Monk: A student of martial arts, the monk trains his body to be his greatest weapon and defense. Limited to unarmed combat. Reportedly not enjoyable until level 5 or so.
- Paladin: The paladin is the knight in shining armor, a devoted follower of law and good. Basically a fighter at lower levels. The good stuff kicks in later.
- Ranger: A tracker and hunter, the ranger is a creature of the wild and of tracking down his favored foes.
- Rogue: The rogue is a thief and a scout, an opportunist capable of delivering brutal strikes against unwary foes.
- Sorcerer: The spellcasting sorcerer is born with an innate knack for magic and has strange, eldritch powers. Bloodlines seem a bit confusing. Wizards may be more straightforward.
- Wizard: The wizard masters magic through constant study that gives him incredible magical power.
- Alchemist: The alchemist is the master of alchemy, using extracts to grant him great power, mutagens to enhance his form, and bombs to destroy his enemies.
- Cavalier: Mounted upon his mighty steed, the cavalier is a brave warrior, using his wit, charm, and strength at arms to rally his companions and achieve his goals. Not much good in places you can't take a horse.
- Inquisitor: Scourge of the unfaithful and hunter of horrors, the inquisitor roots out the enemies of her faith with grim conviction and an array of divine blessings.
- Oracle: Drawing upon divine mysteries, the oracle channels divine power through her body and soul, but at a terrible price. Reportedly not fun to play. Like, ever.
- Summoner: Bonded to a mysterious creature called an eidolon, the summoner focuses his power on strengthing that connection and enhancing his strange, otherworldy companion. At lower levels, the edolion is the star, while the summoner himself is weak and ineffectual. Also reportedly not much fun.
- Witch: Lurking on the fringe of civilization, the witch makes a powerful connection with a patron that grants her strange and mysterious powers through a special familiar. The hexes are weird and the character somewhat complicated. Again, maybe try a wizard instead?
- Magus: The magus blends magical ability and martial prowess into something entirely unique, a discipline in which both spell and steel are used to devastating effect.
- Gunslinger: Brave, clever, and frequently foolhardy, many gunslingers push to position themselves at close range, barrels blazing, to take down their foes and demoralize their enemies. As fun as this sounds, see me before considering a gunslinger to determine its fit in a campaign.
- Ninja: These shadowy killers are masters of infiltration, sabotage, and assassination, using a wide variety of weapons, practiced skills, and mystical powers to achieve their goals. The ninja is an alternate class for the rogue core class.
- Samurai: The samurai takes on his training with zeal, learning the way of the blade (typically a katana), the bow, and the horse. The samurai is an alternate class for the cavalier base class.
These ten new classes are combinations of two existing classes.
- Arcanist: The arcanist combines the arcane knowledge and flexibility of the wizard with the eldritch might of the sorcerer.
- Bloodrager: The bloodrager fuses the bloody frenzy of the barbarian with the blood-based magic of the sorcerer.
- Brawler: The brawler merges the fighter and monk together into a vicious, no-holds-barred pugilist.
- Hunter: The hunter takes the martial danger that is the ranger and pairs it with a druid’s animal companion.
- Investigator: The investigator mixes the focus of the alchemist and the resourcefulness of the rogue into a master of inquiry.
- Shaman: The shaman intertwines the divine magic of the oracle with the arcane magic of the witch into a master of spirits.
- Skald: The skald blends the ferocity of the barbarian with the utility of the bard into a leader who can make others rage.
- Slayer: The slayer combines the ranger and rogue’s individual combat prowess into a being of devastating fury.
- Swashbuckler: The swashbuckler merges the gunslinger and the fighter to make a daring and dashing melee combatant.
- Warpriest: The warpriest turns the divine nature of the cleric into a raw weapon that fuses with the fighter’s battlefield mastery.