- What is a Roleplaying Game?
- Basics of Play
- Playing the Game
- Using This Site
- Format of Rules Elements
Pathfinder is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) where you and a group of friends gather to tell a tale of brave heroes and cunning villains in a world filled with terrifying monsters and amazing treasures. More importantly, this is a game where your character’s choices determine how the story unfolds.
Pathfinder adventures take place in a perilous fantasy world rife with ancient empires; sprawling city-states; and countless tombs, dungeons, and monster lairs packed with plunder. A Pathfinder character’s adventures might take them to forsaken underwater ruins, haunted gothic crypts, or magical universities in jungle cities. A world of endless adventure awaits!
What is a Roleplaying Game?
A roleplaying game is an interactive story where one player, the Game Master (GM), sets the scene and presents challenges, while other players take the roles of player characters (PCs) and attempt to overcome those challenges. Danger comes in the form of monsters, devious traps, and the machinations of adversarial agents, but Pathfinder also provides political schemes, puzzles, interpersonal drama, and much, much more.
The game is typically played in a group of four to seven players, with one of those players serving as the group’s Game Master. The GM prepares, presents, and presides over the game’s world and story, posing challenges and playing adversaries, allies, and bystanders alike. As each scene leads into the next, each player contributes to the story, responding to situations according to the personality and abilities of their character. Dice rolls, combined with preassigned statistics, add an element of chance and determine whether characters succeed or fail at actions they attempt.
The Flow of the Game
Pathfinder is played in sessions, during which players gather in person or online for a few hours to play the game. A complete Pathfinder story can be as short as a single session, commonly referred to as a “one-shot,” or it can stretch on for multiple sessions, forming a campaign that might last for months or even years. If the Game Master enjoys telling the story and the players are entertained, the game can go as long as you like.
A session can be mostly action, with battles with vile beasts, escapes from fiendish traps, and the completion of heroic quests. Alternatively, it could include negotiating with a baron for rights to a fort, infiltrating an army of lumbering frost giants, or bargaining with an angel for a strand of hair required for an elixir to revive a slain friend. Ultimately it’s up to you and your group to determine what kind of game you are playing, from dungeon exploration to a nuanced political drama, or anything in between.
Everyone involved in a Pathfinder game is a player, including the Game Master, but for the sake of simplicity, “player” usually refers to participants other than the GM. Before the game begins, players invent a history and personality for their characters, using the rules to determine their characters’ statistics, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The GM might limit the options available during character creation, but the limits are discussed ahead of time so everyone can create interesting heroes. In general, the only limits to character concepts are the players’ imaginations and the GM’s guidelines. During the game, players describe the actions their characters take and roll dice, using their characters’ abilities. The GM resolves the outcome of these actions. Some players enjoy acting out (or roleplaying) what they do as if they were their characters, while others describe their characters’ actions as if narrating a story. Do whatever feels best! If this is your first experience with a roleplaying game, it is recommended that you take on the role of a player to familiarize yourself with the rules and the world.
The Game Master
While the other players create and control their characters, the Game Master (or GM) is in charge of the story and world. The GM describes all the situations player characters experience in an adventure, considers how the actions of player characters affect the story, and interprets the rules along the way.
The GM can create a new adventure—crafting a narrative, selecting monsters, and assigning treasure on their own— or they can instead rely on a published adventure, using it as a basis for the session and modifying it as needed to accommodate their individual players and the group’s style of play. Some even run games that combine original and published content, mixed together to form a new narrative.
Being the GM is a challenge, requiring you to adjudicate the rules, narrate the story, and juggle other responsibilities.
But it can also be very rewarding and worth all the work required to run a good game. If it is your first time running a game, remember that the only thing that matters is that everyone has a good time, and that includes you. Everything else will come naturally with practice and patience.
Gaming Is for All
Whether you are the GM or a player, participating in a tabletop roleplaying game includes a social contract: everyone has gathered together to have fun telling a story.
For many, roleplaying is a way to escape the troubles of everyday life. Be mindful of everyone at the table and what they want out of the game, so that everyone can have fun.
When a group gathers for the first time, they should talk about what they hope to experience at the table, as well as any topics they want to avoid. Everyone should understand that elements might come up that make some players feel uncomfortable or even unwelcome, and everyone should agree to respect those boundaries during play. That way, everyone can enjoy the game together.
This is a game for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identities and life experiences. It is the responsibility of all of the players, not just the GM, to make sure the table is fun and welcoming to all.
Tools of Play
In addition to this site, there are a few things you will need to play. These supplies can be found at your local hobby shop or online at various sites (such as opengamingstore.com).
- Character Sheet: Each player will need a character sheet to create their character and to record what happens to that character during play. You can find a character sheet online as a free pdf. There are both full-color and printer-friendly versions of the official character sheets available.
- Dice: The players and GM will need at least one set of polyhedral dice, although most participants bring their own. Six-sided dice are quite common, but all the dice in the set can be found at hobby game stores or online at opengamingstore.com. See the Dice sidebar for more on the different kinds of dice and how they are discussed in the text.
- Adventure: Every table needs an adventure to play, whether it’s designed by the GM or found in a published resource. You can find a variety of exciting adventures from many publishers at opengamingstore.com, and even official Adventure Path campaigns at paizo.com.
- Bestiary: From terrifying dragons to mischievous gremlins, monsters are a common threat that the PCs might face, and each type has its own statistics and abilities.
- Maps and Miniatures: The chaos of combat can be difficult to imagine, so many groups use maps to represent the battlefield. These maps are marked with a 1-inch grid, and each square represents 5 feet in the game. Miniatures and illustrated tokens called pawns are used to represent the characters and the adversaries they face.
- Additional Accessories: There are a number of additional accessories you can add to your game to enhance the experience, including tools that help you track turns in combat, decks of cards for referencing common rules, digital character-creation tools, and even background music and sound-effect sets.
Basics of Play
Before creating your first character or adventure, you should understand a number of basic concepts used in the game. New concepts are presented in bold to make them easy to find.
Players take on the role of player characters (PCs), while the Game Master portrays nonplayer characters (NPCs) and monsters. While PCs and NPCs are both important to the story, they serve very different purposes in the game. PCs are the protagonists— the narrative is about them—while NPCs and monsters are allies, contacts, adversaries, and villains. That said, PCs, NPCs, and monsters share several characteristics.
Level is one of the most important statistics of the game, as it conveys the approximate power and capabilities of every individual creature. PCs range in level from 1st, at the start of the character’s adventuring career, to 20th, the very height of power. As the characters overcome challenges, defeat foes, and complete adventures, they accumulate Experience Points (XP). Every time a character amasses 1,000 XP, they go up a level, gaining new abilities so they can take on even greater challenges. A 1st-level PC might face off against a giant rat or a group of bandits, but at 20th level, that same character might be able to bring ruin to an entire city with a single spell.
In addition to level, characters are defined by ability scores, which measure a character’s raw potential and are used to calculate most of their other statistics. There are six ability scores in the game.
Strength represents a character’s physical might, while Dexterity represents agility and the ability to avoid danger. Constitution indicates a character’s overall health and well-being. Intelligence represents raw knowledge and problem-solving ability, while Wisdom measures a character’s insight and the ability to evaluate a situation. Finally, Charisma indicates charm, persuasiveness, and force of personality. Ability scores for ordinary folk range from as low as 3 to as high as 18, with 10 representing average human capabilities. High-level characters can have ability scores that range much higher than 18.
An ability score that’s above the average increases your chance of success at tasks related to the ability score, while those below the average decrease your chance. This adjustment is called an ability modifier.
Your player character is also defined by some key choices you make. The first choice is a PC’s ancestry, representing the character’s parents and heritage, such as human, elf, or goblin. Next up is the PC’s background, which describes their upbringing, from lowly street urchin to wealthy noble. Finally, and most importantly, a PC’s class defines the majority of their aptitudes and abilities, like a wizard’s command of powerful arcane spells or a druid’s power to transform into a fearsome beast!
In addition to these key choices, player characters also have a number of feats— individual abilities selected during character creation and as the character increases in level. Every feat has a type to denote where its explanation can be found (for example, elf feats can be found in the elf ancestry) and its theme (wizard feats, for example, grant abilities that deal with spells). Finally, characters have skills that measure their ability to hide, swim, bargain, and perform other common tasks.
The World As A Participant
Aside from characters and monsters, the world itself can be a force at the table and in the narrative. While the presence of the larger world can sometimes be an obvious hazard, such as when a powerful storm lashes the countryside, the world can also act in subtle, small ways.
Traps and treasures are just as important in many tales as cunning beasts. To help you understand these game elements, many of them use the same characteristics as characters and monsters. For example, most environmental hazards have a level, which indicates how dangerous they are, and the level of a magic item gives you a sense of its overall power and impact on a story.
Creating a Narrative
Characters and their choices create the story, but how they interact with each other and the world around them is governed by rules. So, while you might decide that your character undertakes an epic journey to overcome terrifying foes and make the world a safer place, your character’s chance of success is determined by their abilities, the choices you make, and the roll of the dice.
The GM determines the premise and background of most adventures, although character histories and personalities certainly play a part. Once a game session begins, the players take turns describing what their characters attempt to do, while the GM determines the outcome, with the table working together toward a specific goal. The GM also describes the environment, other characters’ actions, and events. For example, the GM might announce that the characters’ hometown is under attack by marauding trolls. The characters might track the trolls to a nearby swamp—only to discover that the trolls were driven from their swamp by a fearsome dragon! The PCs then have the choice of taking on an entire tribe of trolls, the dragon, or both. Whatever they decide, their success depends on their choices and the die rolls they make during play.
A single narrative—including the setup, plot, and conclusion—is called an adventure. A series of adventures creates an even larger narrative, called a campaign. An adventure might take several sessions to complete, whereas a campaign might take months or even years!
Playing the Game
Three modes of play determine the pacing of each scene in the story. Most of your character’s time is spent in exploration, uncovering mysteries, solving problems, and interacting with other characters. The world abounds with danger, however, and characters often find themselves in an encounter, fighting savage beasts and terrifying monsters. Finally, time moves quickly when the characters enjoy downtime, a respite from the world’s troubles and a chance to rest and train for future expeditions. Throughout an adventure, game play moves between these three modes many times, as needed for the story. The more you play the game, the more you’ll see that each mode has its own play style, but moving from mode to mode has few hard boundaries.
During the game, your character will face situations where the outcome is uncertain. A character might need to climb a sheer cliff, track down a wounded chimera, or sneak past a sleeping dragon, all of which are dangerous tasks with a price for failure. In such cases, the acting character (or characters) will be asked to attempt a check to determine whether or not they succeed. A check is usually made by rolling a single 20-sided die (a d20) and adding a number based on the relevant ability. In such cases, rolling high is always good.
Once a check is rolled, the GM compares the result to a target number called the difficulty class (DC) to determine the outcome. If the result of the check is equal to or greater than the DC, the check is successful. If it is less, the check is a failure. Beating the DC by 10 or more is referred to as a critical success, which usually grants an especially Positive outcome. Similarly, failing the check by 10 or more is a critical failure (sometimes called a fumble). This sometimes results in additional negative effects. You also often score a critical success by rolling a 20 on the die when attempting a check (before adding anything). Likewise, rolling a 1 on the die when attempting a check often results in a critical failure. Note that not all checks have a special effect on a critical success or critical failure and such results should be treated just like an ordinary success or failure instead.
For example, in pursuit of the wounded chimera, your character might find the path blocked by a fast-moving river. You decide to swim across, but the GM declares this a dangerous task and asks you to roll an Athletics skill check (since swimming is covered by the Athletics skill). On your character sheet, you see that your character has a +8 modifier for such checks. Rolling the d20, you get an 18, for a total of 26. The GM compares this to the DC (which was 16) and finds that you got a critical success (since the result exceeded the DC by 10). Your character swims quickly across the river and continues the pursuit, drenched but unharmed. Had you gotten a result less than 26 but equal to or greater than 16, your character would have made it halfway across the river. Had your result been less than 16, your character might have been swept downriver or, worse, been pulled under the current and begun to drown!
Checks like this are the heart of the game and are rolled all the time, in every mode of play, to determine the outcome of tasks. While the roll of the die is critical, the statistic you add to the roll (called a modifier) often makes the difference between success and failure. Every character is made up of many such statistics governing what the character is good at, each consisting of a relevant ability modifier plus a proficiency bonus, and sometimes modified further by other factors, such as bonuses or penalties from gear, spells, feats, magic items, and other special circumstances.
Proficiency is a simple way of assessing your character’s general level of training and aptitude for a given task. It is broken into five different ranks: untrained, trained, expert, master, and legendary. Each rank grants a different proficiency bonus. If you’re untrained at a statistic, your proficiency bonus is +0—you must rely solely on the raw potential of your ability modifier. If your proficiency rank for a statistic is trained, expert, master, and legendary, your bonus equals your character’s level plus another number based on the rank (2, 4, 6, and 8, respectively). Proficiency ranks are part of almost every statistic in the game.
Most of the time, your character will explore the world, interact with characters, travel from place to place, and overcome challenges. This is called exploration. Game play is relatively free-form during exploration, with players responding to the narrative whenever they have an idea of what to do next. Leaving town via horseback, following the trail of a marauding orc tribe, avoiding the tribe’s scouts, and convincing a local hunter to help in an upcoming fight are all examples of things that might occur during exploration.
Throughout this mode of play, the GM asks the players what their characters are doing as they explore. This is important in case a conflict arises. If combat breaks out, the tasks the PCs undertook while exploring might give them an edge or otherwise inform how the combat begins.
In the course of your adventures, there will be times when a simple skill check is not enough to resolve a challenge— when fearsome monsters stand in your character’s way and the only choice is to do battle. This is called an encounter. Encounters usually involve combat, but they can also be used in situations where timing is critical, such as during a chase or when dodging hazards.
While exploration is handled in a free-form manner, encounters are more structured. The players and GM roll initiative to determine who acts in what order. The encounter occurs over a number of rounds, each of which is equal to about 6 seconds of time in the world of the game. During a round, each participant takes a turn. When it’s your turn to act, you can use up to three actions. Most simple things, such as drawing a weapon, moving a short distance, opening a door, or swinging a sword, use a single action to perform. There are also activities that use more than a single 10 action to perform; these are often special abilities from your character’s class and feats. One common activity in the game is casting a spell, which usually uses two actions.
Free actions, such as dropping an object, don’t count toward the three actions you can take on your turn. Finally, each character can use up to one reaction during a round.
This special type of action can be used even when it’s not your turn, but only in response to certain events, and only if you have an ability that allows it. Rogues, for example, can select a feat that lets them use their reaction to dodge an incoming attack.
Attacking another creature is one of the most common actions in combat, and is done by using the Strike action.
This requires an attack roll—a kind of check made against the Armor Class (AC) of the creature you’re attacking.
Strikes can be made using weapons, spells, or even parts of a creature’s body, like a fist, claw, or tail. You add a modifier to this roll based on your proficiency rank with the type of attack you’re using, your ability scores, and any other bonuses or penalties based on the situation.
The target’s AC is calculated using their proficiency rank in the armor they’re wearing and their Dexterity modifier.
An attack deals damage if it hits, and rolling a critical success results in the attack dealing double damage!
You can use more than one Strike action on your turn, but each additional attack after the first becomes less accurate. This is reflected by a multiple attack penalty that starts at –5 on the second attack, but increases to –10 on the third. There are many ways to reduce this penalty, and it resets at the end of your turn.
If your character finds themself the target of a magical lightning bolt or the freezing breath of a fearsome white dragon, you will be called on to attempt a saving throw, representing your character’s ability to avoid danger or otherwise withstand an assault to their mind or body. A saving throw is a check attempted against the DC of the spell or special ability targeting your character. There are three types of saving throws, and a character’s proficiency in each says a great deal about what they can endure. A Fortitude saving throw is used when your character’s health or vitality is under attack, such as from poison or disease.
A Reflex saving throw is called for when your character must dodge away from danger, usually something that affects a large area, such as the scorching blast of a fireball spell. Finally, a Will saving throw is often your defense against spells and effects that target your character’s mind, such as a charm or confusion spell. For all saving throws, a success lessens the harmful effect, and scoring a critical success usually means your character escapes unscathed.
Attacks, spells, hazards, and special abilities frequently either deal damage to a character or impose one or more conditions—and sometimes both. Damage is subtracted from a creature’s Hit Points (HP)—a measure of health— and when a creature is reduced to 0 HP, it falls unconscious and may die! A combat encounter typically lasts until one side has been defeated, and while this can mean retreat or surrender, it most often happens because one side is dead or dying. Conditions can hinder a creature for a time, limiting the actions they can use and applying penalties to future checks. Some conditions are even permanent, requiring a character to seek out powerful magic to undo their effects.
Characters don’t spend every waking moment adventuring. Instead, they recover from wounds, plan future conquests, or pursue a trade. In Pathfinder, this is called downtime, and it allows time to pass quickly while characters work toward long-term tasks or objectives.
Most characters can practice a trade in downtime, earning a few coins, but those with the right skills can instead spend time crafting, creating new gear or even magic items. Characters can also use downtime to retrain, replacing one character choice with another to reflect their evolving priorities. They might also research a problem, learn new spells, or even run a business or kingdom!
Using This Site
This site is organized to make finding the rule you need as easy as possible.
This introduction is designed to help you understand the basics. This section also includes the rules for building and leveling up a character. The section ends with an example of building a 1st-level character.
The rules for the most common backgrounds are in this section.
Each class entry includes guidelines on playing the class, rules for building and advancing a character of that class, sample builds, and all of the class feats available to members of that class. This section also includes rules for animal companions and familiars, which can be acquired by members of several different classes. At the end of this section are the rules for archetypes—special options available to characters as they increase in level.
These rules allow a character to dabble in the abilities of another class or concept.
The rules for using skills are presented in this section, and they detail what a character can do with a given skill, based on that character’s proficiency rank.
Armor, weapons, and other gear can all be found in this section, along with the price for services, cost of living, and animals (such as horses, dogs, and pack animals).
This section starts with rules for casting spells, determining their effects, and getting rid of foes’ spells (called counteracting). After that, the spell lists for each spellcasting tradition are included, making it easy to quickly find spells by their level. Next are rules for every spell, presented in alphabetical order. Following the spell descriptions are all of the focus spells—special spells granted by specific class abilities and feats. While most spells appear on multiple spell lists, focus spells are granted only to members of a specific class and are grouped together by class for ease of reference. Finally, at the end are rules for rituals, complicated and risky spells that any character can cast.
Playing the Game
This section contains the universal rules needed to play Pathfinder, including rules for the various modes of play, the basic actions that every character can perform, the rules for combat, and the rules for death and dying. Every player should be familiar with this section, especially the GM.
Packed full of guidelines and advice, this section helps Game Masters tell an interesting and compelling story.
It also includes advice on creating a fun and encouraging game space and guides for empowering players to create characters they want to play. This section also includes rules that are particularly important for the GM to know, such as rules dealing with traps, environmental dangers, and afflictions (such as curses, diseases, and poisons), as well as guidance on setting DCs and handing out rewards to player characters.
Crafting & Treasure
The treasures characters find during their adventures take many forms, from gold and gemstones to powerful magical weapons. This section details guidelines for distributing treasure to characters, as well as descriptions of hundreds of magic items. This section also contains the rules for alchemical items.
This page includes rules for all of the conditions that you will find in the game.
This page includes a comprehensive glossary of common terms and traits that you’ll encounter in the game.
Format of Rules Elements
Throughout this site, you will see formatting standards that might look a bit unusual at first. Specifically, the game’s rules are set apart in this text using specialized capitalization and italicization. These standards are in place to make this site’s rules elements easier to recognize.
The names of specific statistics, skills, feats, actions, and some other mechanical elements in Pathfinder are capitalized. This way, when you see the statement “a Strike targets Armor Class,” you know that both Strike and Armor Class are referring to rules.
If a word or a phrase is italicized, it is describing a spell or a magic item. This way, when you see the statement “the door is sealed by lock,” you know that in this case the word denotes the lock spell, rather than a physical item.
Pathfinder also uses many terms that are typically expressed as abbreviations, like AC for Armor Class, DC for Difficulty Class, and HP for Hit Points. If you’re ever confused about a game term or an abbreviation, you can always turn to the Glossary and Index.
Characters and their adversaries affect the world of Pathfinder by using actions and producing effects. This is especially the case during encounters, when every action counts. When you use an action, you generate an effect. This effect might be automatic, but sometimes actions necessitate that you roll a die, and the effect is based on what you rolled.
Throughout this site, you will see special icons to denote actions.
[1A] Single Actions
Single actions use this symbol: [1A]. They’re the simplest, most common type of action.
You can use three single actions on your turn in an encounter, in any order you see fit.
Reactions use this symbol: [R]. These actions can be used even when it’s not your turn. You get only one reaction per encounter round, and you can use it only when its specific trigger is fulfilled. Often, the trigger is another creature’s action.
[0A] Free Actions
Free actions use this symbol: [0A]. Free actions don’t require you to spend any of your three single actions or your reaction. A free action might have a trigger like a reaction does. If so, you can use it just like a reaction—even if it’s not your turn.
However, you can use only one free action per trigger, so if you have multiple free actions with the same trigger, you have to decide which to use. If a free action doesn’t have a trigger, you use it like a single action, just without spending any of your actions for the turn.
Activities are special tasks that you complete by spending one or more of your actions together. Usually, an activity uses two or more actions and lets you do more than a single action would allow. You have to spend all the actions an activity requires for its effects to happen. Spellcasting is one of the most common activities, as most spells take more than a single action to cast.
Activities that use two actions use this symbol: [2A]. Activities that use three actions use this symbol: [3A]. A few special activities, such as spells you can cast in an instant, can be performed by spending a free action or a reaction.
All tasks that take longer than a turn are activities. If an activity is meant to be done during exploration, it has the exploration trait. An activity that takes a day or more of commitment and that can be done only during downtime has the downtime trait.
This site contains hundreds of rules elements that give characters new and interesting ways to respond to situations in the game. All characters can use the basic actions, but an individual character often has special rules that allow them to do things most other characters can’t. Most of these options are feats, which are gained by making certain choices at character creation or when a character advances in level.
Regardless of the game mechanic they convey, rules elements are always presented in the form of a stat block, a summary of the rules necessary to bring the monster, character, item, or other rules element to life during play.
Where appropriate, stat blocks are introduced with an explanation of their format. For example, the Ancestry section contains rules for each of the game’s six core ancestries, and an explanation of these rules appears at the beginning of that section.
The general format for stat blocks is shown below. Entries are omitted from a stat block when they don’t apply, so not all rule elements have all of the entries given below. Actions, reactions, and free actions each have the corresponding icon next to their name to indicate their type. An activity that can be completed in a single turn has a symbol indicating how many actions are needed to complete it; activities that take longer to perform omit these icons. If a character must attain a certain level before accessing an ability, that level is indicated to the right of the stat block’s name. Rules also often have traits associated with them (traits appear in the Glossary and Index).
Spells, alchemical items, and magic items use a similar format, but their stat blocks contain a number of unique elements.
Action or Feat Name [actions] Level
Trait 1 Trait 2…
Prerequisites Any minimum ability scores, feats, proficiency ranks, or other prerequisites you must have before you can access this rule element are listed here. Feats also have a level prerequisite, which appears above.
Frequency This is the limit on how many times you can use the ability within a given time.
Trigger Reactions and some free actions have triggers that must be met before they can be used.
Requirements Sometimes you must have a certain item or be in a certain circumstance to use an ability. If so, it’s listed in this section.
This section describes the effects or benefits of a rule element.
If the rule is an action, it explains what the effect is or what you must roll to determine the effect. If it’s a feat that modifies an existing action or grants a constant effect, the benefit is explained here.
Special Any special qualities of the rule are explained in this section. Usually this section appears in feats you can select more than once, explaining what happens when you do.