How do you get started with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game? How to get started with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Roleplaying Game? What do you need to get started? What books to get? Do you go for first or or second edtion? This is not hard, but you have some choices to make.
Last year I asked the same question regarding its cousin Dungeons and Dragons, and the answer for Pathfinder RPG is more or less the same:
- Weird Dice!
- Get the Rules
- Prepare Your Adventure
- Gather Your Party and Venture Forth
Pathfinder RPG, like any roleplaying game, is about having fun with your friends, roll some dice and create a great story. The only difference is, of course, the rules, which is where Pathfinder gets a bit tricky compared to Dungeons and Dragons.
First off, the rules are still free, although not at quite as easily accessible for beginners.
Second, Pathfinder RPG is as of writing this an old system, with a new edition, is looming on the horizon. Should you wait, or should you dive in now? It depends on what you want.
Why Pathfinder? Isn’t Dungeons and Dragons Better?
So why stick with Pathfinder? Dungeons and Dragons is the granddad of roleplaying games, and all of sudden it is the new and fresh, all rolled into one sweet package.
I realize “rules bloat” is considered bad, but consider this: when I found myself needing a curse for my Pathfinder RPG game, I realized my collection of rulebooks had devoted nine pages on the topic. How awesome is that? An old and bloated system has a lot to offer compared to the lighter and streamlined competition.
I’m not gonna tell you what to do, or which is “best,” but just pros of sticking with first edition Pathfinder, and leave the decision to you.
- More options than you’ll ever need. Dozens of base classes, with countless of archetypes, feats, spell, and items, and you can build species from the ground up. I’m hard-pressed to think of a character concept that isn’t covered somewhere in the Pathfinder rules.
- A deep tactical game where placement and timing matters. Do you use cleave or power attack? Bull rush or disarm? Do you delay your actions? Do you move or launch a full attack? How and where do you move? Where are the others?
- Six bestiaries of monsters and the Frog God Games’ Tome of Monsters should cover any monsters theme or challenge level you require. The monster design rules are solid if you’re feeling creative.
- Pathfinder support several game fantasy game modes: kingdom building, mythic heroes, horror, honor systems, hex crawls, intrigue, planar adventures and probably more.
- An impressive backlog of adventures and adventure paths.
Making a Case For the First Edition Pathfinder RPG
The Pathfinder RPG Second Edition (August 2019) will hopefully be a streamlined and updated version of the game. Fewer options will make it more manageable, and the designers have probably learned a thing or two about game design. Should you wait?
The Pathfinder RPG First Edition (August 2009) currently counts 20+ hardcover books and hundreds of support softcover books and adventures. This abundance of material means rules bloat and a real possibility that your resident rules lawyer can tear your game apart if he or she is so inclined.
However, the thing is that rules bloat will happen with any successful system regardless. You will have to figure out how to deal with lots of options. Slow down if you are overwhelmed, and only include the books you are comfortable with.
What’s more, working with a mature rules set is satisfying because you’re probably covered if you have some specific needs for your story. Fiendish half-orc android warlock armed with a chainsaw? Pathfinder First Edition can do that. Demigod half-dragon succubus skeletal champion occultist armed with a gun? Pathfinder First Edition can do that as well. You even have free reasonably bug-free software online to back it up.
Many will now sell their collections to move on to the new and shiny version, so bargains are likely perhaps for a couple of years until they begin to rise again. Amazon sells used Core Rulebooks for as low as 20 USD as of writing this (may 2018), and new Core Rulebooks for 35 USD.
Which First Edition Books to Get?
The OGL Setup
The free version is online in the PRD (Pathfinder Reference Document), which is the Pathfinder version of the original OGL. Playing with just this will undoubtedly be awkward, but doable with a bit of hand-waving, patience, and experience with roleplaying games in general.
The Beginner Box Setup
The Pathfinder RPG introduction product is the Beginner Box, a gorgeous box covering the first five levels, which is excellent for starting out, but it will not sustain your game for the first couple of adventures.
What that means depends on your play style and preferred level progression. For me and my games, it would be perhaps 30 hours of play, but your mileage will vary a great deal. You will need to expand with either the PRD or at least the Core Rulebook after that point.
The Traditionalist Setup
The traditional Dungeons and Dragons experience is the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary, which means 800 pages-or-so of game material. You get a dozen classes, hundreds of monsters, magic items, traps, and whatnots.
This is in some ways a tweaked reprint of the 2001 Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition rules. Which was great! It is still an excellent game! Just somewhat different to the current version of D&D.
The Stronger-Monster-Themes Setup
If you lack the time or have no interest in writing up monster or NPC codices, you may want to consider expanding your Pathfinder library with the Monster Codex and the Villain Codex.
The codices are great as they collect NPCs and monsters thematically and thus make them easier to use on short notice. The NPC Gallery in the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide was a good starting point but did not offer enough variants to justify space in my gaming bag. The NPC Codex was helpful, but the lack of thematic chapters hurt the usefulness of the book in my opinion.
That leaves me with the Monster Codex, the Villain Codex, and the Bestiary.
The God-Damn-Give-Me-Everything Setup
The complete line of Pathfinder RPG hardcovers is, what, 20-something books? Which are 6600 pages of game rules? No wonder some folks are reluctant to switch after making that investment.
A Vaguely Remembered History of Pathfinder Origins and Editions
Maybe a few words about why the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game even exists is in order. Pathfinder came along as a happy accident in 2009 when the Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons, dropped the ball with the fourth edition.
Updates and revisions of roleplaying games are a tricky business, and with every edition, the publisher will leave a fraction of their player base behind with the old edition. The question is how many of the player-base is actual customers. The transition seemed reasonably straightforward with the 2001 release of the D&D third edition as relatively few of the old guard of AD&D players bought new products anyway.
That was not the case in 2008 when WotC released the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Interest in the old game was still strong, although the sales were probably slowing down and increasingly harder to come up with new exciting products. Worse yet, the D&D 4e felt more like a massively multiplayer online game, like World of Worldcraft, than old-fashioned D&D. Unfair, perhaps, but that was my perception at the time.
The D&D fourth edition was probably an excellent game, but it never seemed to get the following of its predecessor.
The transition to D&D 4E was the start of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as circumstances forced Paizo’s hands, and they developed and published their version of Dungeons and Dragons under the name Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as discussed at length in Auntie Lisa’s Story Hour on the Paizo webpage. Lisa Steven‘s account of the time is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of the game and a highly recommended.
Fast forward ten years and the second edition of the Pathfinder is on the horizon for August 2019.
- Creating a Fantasy Setting
- Create a Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Area
- Create Roleplaying Game Characters
- Creating Roleplaying Game Adventure
- Creating Roleplaying Game Campaigns
- Wikipedia: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
- The Story of D&D Part Three: How 3rd Edition Became the Mother Of Many RPGs (Geek and Sundry)
- Pathfinder, with roots in a decades-old strain of D&D, is launching a second edition (Polyon)
Three Non-Paizo Books to Consider
Here are three pricey books I’ve not regretted preordering (in the case of ToH) or backing on Kickstarter, so get them if you can.
- Frog God Games’ Tome of Horrors Complete (2011). Three hardcovers’ worth of old-school monsters.
- Kobold Press’ Deep Magic (2014) is a gorgeous book full of inspired magic, albeit flawed, but this book makes me want to play a wizard, which more than makes up for sloppy editing.
- Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos (2018). Peterson is the go-to guy for everything Cthulhu. He also designed a number of the original Doom levels, which makes him a hero for that reason alone.