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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, Pathfinder is a game where your character’s choices determine how the story unfolds.
Pathfinder adventures take place in the Age of Lost Omens, 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.
Pathfinder 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 these rules, there are a few things you will need to play Pathfinder. These supplies can be found at your local hobby shop or online at paizo.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 at paizo.com, as a free pdf.
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. See the Dice infobox above 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 and even entire 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. These can be found in the Pathfinder Bestiary, an absolutely invaluable book for GMs. Monster statistics can also be found online for free at paizo.com/prd.
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, but this chapter is only an introduction to the basics of play. The complete game rules are defined in later chapters, and the Glossary and Index in the back of this book will help you find specific rules you need.
In Pathfinder, the 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.
Creating a Narrative
Characters and their choices create the story of Pathfinder, 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
In a Pathfinder 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 Age of Lost Omens 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. In Pathfinder, 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 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!
There are a number of important terms that you’ll need to know as you create your first character or adventure. Some of the most important terms mentioned previously are also included here for reference.
Ability Scores: Each creature has six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These scores represent a creature’s raw potential and basic attributes. The higher the score, the greater the creature’s potential in that ability. Ability scores are described in full later in this chapter.
Alignment: Alignment represents a creature’s fundamental moral and ethical attitude.
Ancestry: An ancestry is the broad family of people that a character belongs to. Ancestry determines a character’s starting Hit Points, languages, senses, and Speed, and it grants access to ancestry feats. Ancestries can be found in Chapter 2.
Armor Class (AC): All creatures in the game have an Armor Class. This score represents how hard it is to hit and damage a creature. It serves as the Difficulty Class for hitting a creature with an attack.
Attack: When a creature tries to harm another creature, it makes a Strike or uses some other attack action. Most attacks are Strikes made with a weapon, but a character might Strike with their fist, grapple or shove with their hands, or attack with a spell.
Background: A background represents what a character experienced before they took up the life of an adventurer. Each background grants a feat and training in one or more skills. You can read more about backgrounds in Chapter 2.
Bonuses and Penalties: Bonuses and penalties apply to checks and certain statistics. There are several types of bonuses and penalties. If you have more than one bonus of the same type, you use only the highest bonus. Likewise, you use only the worst penalty of each type.
Class: A class represents the adventuring profession chosen by a character. A character’s class determines most of their proficiencies, grants the character Hit Points each time they gain a new level, and gives access to a set of class feats. Classes appear in Chapter 3.
Condition: An ongoing effect that changes how a character can act, or that alters some of their statistics, is called a condition. The rules for the basic conditions used in the game can be found in the Conditions Appendix at the back of this book.
Currency: The most common currencies in the game are gold pieces (gp) and silver pieces (sp). One gp is worth 10 sp. In addition, 1 sp is worth 10 copper pieces (cp), and 10 gp are worth 1 platinum piece (pp). Characters begin play with 15 gp (or 150 sp) to spend on equipment.
Feat: A feat is an ability you can select for your character due to their ancestry, background, class, general training, or skill training. Some feats grant the ability to use special actions.
Game Master (GM): The Game Master is the player who adjudicates the rules and narrates the various elements of the Pathfinder story and world that the other players explore.
Golarion: Pathfinder is set on the planet Golarion during the Age of Lost Omens. It is an ancient world with a rich diversity of people and cultures, exciting locations to explore, and deadly villains. More information on the Age of Lost Omens, the world of Golarion, and its deities can be found in Chapter 8.
Hit Points (HP): Hit Points represent the amount of punishment a creature can take before it falls unconscious and begins dying. Damage decreases Hit Points on a 1-to-1 basis, while healing restores Hit Points at the same rate.
Initiative: At the start of an encounter, all creatures involved roll for initiative to determine the order in which they act. The higher the result of its roll, the earlier a creature gets to act. Initiative and combat are described in Chapter 9.
Level: A level is a number that measures something’s overall power. Player characters have a level, ranging from 1st to 20th, representing their level of experience. Monsters, NPCs, hazards, diseases, and poisons have levels ranging from –1 to 30 that measure the danger they pose. An item’s level, usually within the range of 0 to 20 but sometimes higher, indicates its power and suitability as treasure.
Spells have levels ranging from 1st to 10th, which measure their power; characters and monsters can usually cast only a certain number of spells of any given level.
Nonplayer Character (NPC): A nonplayer character, controlled by the GM, interacts with players and helps advance the story.
Perception: Perception measures your character’s ability to notice hidden objects or unusual situations, and it usually determines how quickly the character springs into action in combat. It is described in full in Chapter 9.
Player Character (PC): This is a character created and controlled by a player.
Proficiency: Proficiency is a system that measures a character’s aptitude at a specific task or quality, and it has five ranks: untrained, trained, expert, master, and legendary. Proficiency gives you a bonus that’s added when determining the following modifiers and statistics: AC, attack rolls, Perception, saving throws, skills, and the effectiveness of spells. If you’re untrained, your proficiency bonus is +0. If you’re trained, expert, master, or legendary, your proficiency bonus equals your level plus 2, 4, 6, or 8, respectively.
Rarity: Some elements of the game have a rarity to denote how often they’re encountered in the game world. Rarity primarily applies to equipment and magic items, but spells, feats, and other rules elements also have a rarity. If no rarity appears in the traits of an item, spell, or other game element, it is of common rarity. Uncommon items are available only to those who have special training, grew up in a certain culture, or come from a particular part of the world. Rare items are almost impossible to find and are usually given out only by the GM, while unique ones are literally one-of-a-kind in the game. The GM might alter the way rarity works or change the rarity of individual items to suit the story they want to tell.
Roleplaying: Describing a character’s actions, often while acting from the perspective of the character, is called roleplaying. When a player speaks or describes action from the perspective of a character, they are “in character.”
Round: A round is a period of time during an encounter in which all participants get a chance to act. A round represents approximately 6 seconds in game time.
Saving Throw (Save): When a creature is subject to a dangerous effect that must be avoided, it attempts a saving throw to mitigate the effect. You attempt a saving throw automatically—you don’t have to use an action or a reaction. Unlike for most checks, the character who isn’t acting rolls the d20 for a saving throw, and the creature who is acting provides the DC. There are three types of saving throws: Fortitude (to resist diseases, poisons, and physical effects), Reflex (to evade effects a character could quickly dodge), and Will (to resist effects that target the mind and personality).
Skill: A skill represents a creature’s ability to perform certain tasks that require instruction or practice. Skills are fully described in Chapter 4. Each skill includes ways anyone can use that skill even if untrained, as well as uses that require a character to be trained in the skill.
Speed: Speed is the distance a character can move using a single action, measured in feet.
Spell: Spells are magical effects created by performing mystical incantations and gestures known only to those with special training or inborn abilities. Casting a spell is an activity that usually uses two actions. Each spell specifies what it targets, the actions needed to cast it, its effects, and how it can be resisted. If a class grants spells, the basics of that ability are provided in the class description in Chapter 3, while the spells themselves are detailed in Chapter 7.
Trait: A trait is a keyword that conveys additional information about a rules element, such as a school of magic or rarity. Often, a trait indicates how other rules interact with an ability, creature, item, or another rules element that has that trait. All the traits used in this book are listed here.
Turn: During the course of a round, each creature takes a single turn according to initiative. A creature can typically use up to three actions during its turn.
Example of Play
The following example is presented to give you a better idea of how the game of Pathfinder is played. In this adventure, Erik is the GM. Lyz is playing Valeros, a daring human fighter, James is playing Merisiel, a deadly elven rogue, and Judy is taking on the role of Kyra, a fiery human cleric. The group has just defeated a horde of undead and is making its way into an ancient mausoleum.
Erik: The entrance to the crypt stands before you, a set of crumbling stairs leading down into darkness. A terrible smell issues forth from the doorway—the stench of old, rotted flesh.
Lyz: I'm not afraid of a foul stink! I draw my sword and ready my shield.
Judy: The light of the goddess will guide us. I cast my light spell on my religious symbol.
Erik: All right, a glowing radiance spills forth, illuminating the stairs. They appear to go down only about 10 feet before opening up into a chamber. Puddles of stagnant water fill the cracks between uneven stone tiles.
James: I should go first to make sure it's safe. I'm going to draw my rapier and carefully go down the stairs, looking for traps as I go.
Erik: Sure, but looking for traps is a secret check, so I'll roll for you. What's your Perception modifier?
James: I have a +5.
Erik rolls a d20 behind his GM screen, hidden from the players' view, and gets a 17 on the die for a total of 22, more than enough to find the trip wire on the third step.
Erik: Your caution pays off! You spot a thin wire located at ankle height just above the third stair.
James: I point it out to the others and head down.
Lyz: I follow right behind Merisiel, avoiding the wire but otherwise keeping an eye out for danger.
Judy: Me too.
Erik: Okay! You make it down the stairs to find yourselves in a crypt. Ancient wood coffins are arranged around the room, covered in cobwebs and dust. Directly ahead, on a raised dais, is a stone casket adorned with wicked-looking symbols. You can tell that it was once wrapped in iron chains, but now twisted links are scattered around the room, along with chunks of what must have been the casket's lid. From the damage, it looks like it was shattered from within!
Judy: Goddess protect us. I draw my blade and advance — I want a better look at those symbols.
Lyz: I'll keep pace with her. I don't like the look of this.
James: I think I'll stay back here and hide behind one of the coffins.
Erik: Merisiel takes cover while the two of you advance. As you draw near, the stench of rot grows stronger until it's almost overpowering. Suddenly you see the source of the horrid odor. Rising up out of the casket is a nightmarish dead thing. It might have once been a human, but it's hard to tell from its withered body. Its flesh is the color of a new bruise, pulled so tight across its bones that it has split in places. It's hairless, with pointed ears, but worst of all, its mouth is lined with tiny, sharp teeth and its tongue is entirely too long.
Lyz: So, not a friend?
Erik: Most certainly not. It looks poised to leap at you and attack. Roll for initiative! Valeros and Kyra need to roll Perception, while Merisiel should roll Stealth.
Everyone rolls for their initiative. Lyz rolls a 2 for Valeros, getting a total of 8. Judy rolls better for Kyra, getting a total of 14. James uses Stealth for Initiative, because Merisiel was hiding at the start of the fight, and rolls a 17 for a total of 25! Erik rolls for the undead creature, getting a 12. Erik records all these totals, putting the characters in order from highest to lowest.
Erik: Looks like Merisiel gets to act first. Whatever that thing is, you're pretty sure it doesn't know you are there.
James: Awesome! For my first action, I want to draw a dagger. For my second, I want to move closer.
Erik: You can get to within 15 feet of it with one Stride action.
James: Perfect. For my final action, I'm going to throw my dagger at it!
James rolls a 13 and adds 8, due to Merisiel's skill at thrown daggers, for a total of 21, but the range means he takes a –2 penalty for a result of 19. Erik consults his notes to learn that the monster has an AC of 18.
Erik: That's a hit! Go ahead and roll damage.
James: Okay, and I get to add extra damage due to sneak attack.
Rogues have the ability to deal extra damage to foes that haven't acted yet in an encounter. This extra damage also applies to attacks against enemies that are distracted. James rolls 1d4 for the dagger and 1d6 for the sneak attack, and he adds 4 for Merisiel's Dexterity, getting a total of 9.
Erik: It hisses as the blade sinks into its shoulder. That looks like it hurt, but the undead thing doesn't appear to be slowing down. James, that was all three of your actions. Next up is Kyra!
Judy: I think this is undead. What do I know about it?
Erik: You use an action to recall your training about the living dead. Give me a Religion skill check.
Judy rolls a 16, adding Kyra's +8 with Religion to get a total of 24.
Erik: At first, you thought this thing might be a ghoul, which is a type of undead that feasts on the flesh of the dead, but the terrible smell reveals the truth. This thing is a ghast, a more powerful type of ghoul. You are pretty sure that its stench can make you sick and that its claws can paralyze you with a touch.
Judy: This is bad. I am going to spend my last two actions to cast bless. It gives anyone next to me a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
Casting this spell is an activity that requires two actions to complete, and it has two components. The complex gestures needed to invoke the spell are the somatic component, and Kyra's prayers to her deity are the verbal component.
Erik: Okay! The ghast leaps from the casket straight toward Merisiel. The stench of its rotting body is absolutely horrific up close. Attempt a Fortitude save!
James rolls an 8, for a total of 14.
Erik: Not quite enough—you gain the sickened 1 condition, which is going to give you a –1 penalty to most of your d20 rolls. Next, it lunges at you, trying to bite you!
James: Oh no! I use my reaction to nimbly dodge out of the way.
Erik rolls an attack roll for the ghast, getting an 9 on the die. Looking at the monster's statistics, he adds 11 for a total of 20. Merisiel's AC is normally 19, but the Nimble Dodge feat lets her use her reaction to increase her AC by 2 against a single attack. In this case, it turns the ghast's attack into a miss.
Erik: Does a 20 hit you?
James: Nope, just missed!
Erik: You twist away from the ghast as its tongue leaves a slimy film on your armor. With its final action, the undead menace lashes out at you with its claw.
Erik rolls a second attack with the ghast, this time with its claw. Normally this attack would take a –5 multiple attack penalty, but since the claw has the agile trait, the penalty is only –4. He rolls a 19 on the die, adds 11 for the ghoul's attack modifier and subtracts 4, for a total of 26.
Erik: You may have dodged the ghast's bite, but the thing's bony claw rakes across your face!
Erik knows this is a hit and rolls the ghast's claw damage, getting a total of 8.
Erik: Take 8 points of damage, and I need you to attempt a Fortitude saving throw as a numbing sensation spreads from the wound.
James rolls a Fortitude saving throw. He gets a 4 on the die, and after adding his bonus and the penalty from the sickened condition, it comes out to only a 9.
James: This isn't my day. I don't suppose a 9 is good enough?
Erik: I am afraid not. You are paralyzed!
Erik notes that Merisiel is paralyzed, making her unable to act, but she will get a new saving throw at the end of each of her turns to shake off the effect.
Erik: A dry, creaking laugh escapes the ghast's curled lips, but that's the end of its turn. Valeros, you are the last one to act this round.
Lyz: About time, too! I raise my shield and use my final two actions to make a Sudden Charge!
Sudden Charge is a fighter feat that lets Valeros move up to twice his Speed and attack at the end of his movement, all for only two actions.
Erik: As you draw near, the smell is horrific. Attempt a Fortitude save.
After rolling, Lyz gets a 19 on the Fortitude save.
Erik: You fight off the nausea from this thing's stench. Make your attack roll.
Lyz rolls the die and it comes up a 20.
Lyz: I got a 20! That must be a critical success!
Erik: Your blade hits the vile creature right in the neck, dealing double damage!
Lyz rolls a 5 on her d8, then adds 4 because of Valeros's Strength modifier. Because it is a critical success, she then doubles the total.
Lyz: A mighty 18 damage! That surely had to kill it!
Erik: I'm afraid not. Black ichor runs from the deep wound on its neck, but it only turns to look at you. You can see burning hatred in its eyes!
That is the end of the first round of combat. The second round begins immediately after this, using the same initiative order as before. The fight is far from over...
Format of Rules Elements
Throughout this reference, 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 these 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 look it up in the Glossary.
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 reference, you will see special icons to denote actions.
Single Actions ◈
Single actions use this symbol: ◈ . 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: ⤾ . 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.
Free Actions ◇
Free actions use this symbol: ◇ . 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: ◈◈ . Activities that use three actions use this symbol: ◈◈◈ . 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 book 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 found in Chapter 9, 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 of Chapter 2 contains rules for each of the game’s six core ancestries, and an explanation of these rules appears at the beginning of that chapter.
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 (see Chapter 7 for more on reading spells, and Chapter 11 for more on alchemical and magic items).
Action or Feat Name ◈
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.
Unless you’re the GM, the first thing you need to do when playing Pathfinder is create your character. It’s up to you to imagine your character’s past experiences, personality, and worldview, and this will set the stage for your roleplaying during the game. You’ll use the game’s mechanics to determine your character’s ability to perform various tasks and use special abilities during the game.
A step-by-step guide for creating a character can be found at this link: Character Creation.