What is Pathfinder RPG: Beginners & Transitioning From D&D

Three human fighters and an eleven sorceress stand before an old archway. Near the group is a petite goblin frantically digging through a bag. Finally, the goblin pulls free a tattered scroll and races toward the group.

She mumbles a few strange words, and the archway begins to shimmer, bathing the sorceress and her companions in ethereal light.

What is Pathfinder RPG?

Pathfinder is a tabletop RPG system that is very similar to Dungeons and Dragons (DnD). First published in 2009, the game has been gaining popularity ever since. 

Pathfinder RPG is designed with flexibility in mind; players can choose from a variety of ancestries and classes to create their characters. Pathfinder offers a degree of customization that other RPGs lack, and this makes it popular among players.

DnD players commonly transition to Pathfinder after playing DnD for a long time. As players become more experienced with DnD, they may be drawn to the more complex ruleset and expanded list of backgrounds available in Pathfinder.

The following content provides an introduction to what Pathfinder is for beginners who might be curious about the game. It discusses what it means to play RPGs in general and how people can transition from DnD 5e to Pathfinder.

How To Play Pathfinder

Pathfinder is a tabletop RPG based on the DnD system. Its popularity has led to it having many supplements and expansions, as well as Pathfinder-specific books. The Pathfinder Core Rulebook serves as the basis for the game.

RPGs, or Role-Playing Games, are a type of game where players take on the role of a character and explore a world. RPGs can be played with friends or strangers, both in-person or online.

The Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook is the first step on your journey to becoming a Pathfinder legend. It contains the rules for playing the game and everything you need to set out on your own adventures.

What Separates Pathfinder From Other RPGs?

Pathfinder shares plenty in common with other RPGs. It requires a Game Master (GM) and players, dice, and character sheets. Pathfinder players level up, find treasure, and hunt monsters just like in DnD. So what separates Pathfinder from other RPGs?

Here are some of the features that make Pathfinder such a great game.

  • High Fantasy Theme
  • Ancestry and Backgrounds
  • Strategic Combat
  • Downtime Activities

High Fantasy Themes

Golarion is an ancient and diverse world filled with dangerous monsters, deadly villains, and hidden treasures. While players are free to invent their own worlds, kingdoms, and cities, most Pathfinder adventures take place in the Inner Sea region of Golarion.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook contains everything you need to get started playing your own adventure set in Golarion. The manual includes detailed maps and descriptions of the geography, places, and peoples that inhabit the world of Pathfinder.

Adventures in Pathfinder take place during the Age of Lost Omens, a time of crumbling empires and ambitious city-states. The gameplay involves exploring the various regions of Golarion and interacting with the people and creatures who live there.

Ancestry and Backgrounds

One of the most enjoyable aspects of playing tabletop RPGs is creating a character. Pathfinder offers players the opportunity to create a wide variety of characters with different ancestors and backgrounds.

DnD has a cast of playable races that includes elves, halflings, dwarves, and more. The ancestry system in Pathfinder has a similar theme but includes a variety of subgroups for additional customization. Your character’s heritage and ancestry represent their culture and ethnicity within the world of Pathfinder.

For example, not only can your character have an elf ancestry, but you’ll need to choose a specific heritage as well. Maybe you’re an Arctic Elf from the frozen lands or a Seer elf who possesses natural magical abilities.

Strategic Combat

Diplomacy isn’t always an option when dealing with monsters. Oftentimes, Pathfinder players will be forced to confront and defeat foes on the battlefield. When adversaries turn violent, it’s time to draw swords and roll initiative! 

While combat in Pathfinder shares many characteristics with combat in DnD, there are some major differences. Like DnD, Pathfinder uses a d20 system for most checks, including attack rolls. Combat in Pathfinder happens over the course of many rounds, with the GM controlling the monsters, just like DnD.

Unlike DnD, however, you can use up to three actions on your turn in Pathfinder. Things like moving, drawing a weapon, or attacking an enemy use a single action. Some activities, such as casting a spell, use more than more action.

Pathfinder also features more rules for combat than DnD 5e. While it can take longer to learn these rules, players will find that the extra limitations offer new chances to customize their character and make their advancement choices more meaningful. 

Combat in Pathfinder is usually played out using miniatures or tokens and a 1×1 inch grid. Using a grid makes it easier to visualize and adhere to the advanced combat mechanics that make Pathfinder so enjoyable.

Downtime Activities

Golarion may be full of wild monsters and treacherous dungeons, but it’s also home to peaceful cities and villages. When your characters aren’t off chasing dragons and solving riddles, you’ll find there’s still plenty to keep you amused.

It can take days to recover from an intense battle in Pathfinder. While recovering from wounds or planning for an upcoming journey, characters can participate in various downtime activities such as learning new skills or earning gold and prestige. 

Pathfinder includes an extensive crafting system, allowing skilled characters to craft their own armor, weapons, and even magic items! Depending on their training, characters may be able to brew potions or build snares. Doing so, however, requires access to raw materials, the proper tools, and plenty of time. 

But downtime isn’t only for focusing on material pursuits. By reflecting on their experiences, characters can learn from their mistakes. Retraining in Pathfinder allows characters to replace choices they’ve made about their skills or abilities. 

What Do I Need to Play Pathfinder?

Pathfinder requires a copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder Bestiary to play. The Core Rulebook includes all the rules for Pathfinder, while the Bestiary provides hundreds (if not thousands) of monsters and enemies that can be used in your campaign.

Pathfinder also has several online tools that can help you learn the game.

  • D20pfsrd — an extensive online reference for Pathfinder rules.
  • Pathfinder Society  — an online community and organized play system for Pathfinder
  • Pathbuilder2e  — a web application that can help you build your character and keep track of your progress. Most features in Pathbuilder2e are free and players can use the site to quickly reference rules, features, ancestors, and equipment.

These tools are all optional, but they can be helpful if you’re new to Pathfinder or just want a more streamlined experience. With Pathfinder, there’s no wrong way to play — it’s all up to you and your group! So get out there and start adventuring!

How to Make a Pathfinder Character

When it comes to making characters, Pathfinder has more options than any other RPG system out there with over 100 base classes (including archetypes), a dozen ancestries, hundreds of spells, feats, etc.… 

Pathfinder gives players more than 30 backgrounds to choose from, like bartender, soldier, or apprentice. This helps further immerse yourself in your hero’s backstory. Pathfinder also has twelve character classes, including alchemist, barbarian, bard, champion, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard. 

Players can also find a step-by-step guide to creating their first character on page 30 of the Core Rulebook

How Do Encounters Work in Pathfinder 2e?

Pathfinder encounters feature a strategic action economy where players have more choices on what actions they can take each turn. This makes encounters feel more tactical and challenging while also providing more opportunities for roleplaying and character development. 

Players will have to carefully manage their actions and movement on each of their turns, which can have dramatic results. Juggling actions on your turn keeps combat from turning into a repetitive slog and leads to more immersive battles. 

How Is Pathfinder Different from DnD?

Pathfinder shares many of the core concepts and basic rules as DnD. The main difference is that Pathfinder has more combat and character advancement options. An elaborate combat system based around using actions presents players with highly strategic and “crunchy” monster encounters.

Pathfinder 2e is perfect for players who enjoy creating diverse and interesting characters. While DnD is well-known for its cast of elves and dwarfs, Pathfinder expands character creation with a rich and customizable system of ancestries, backgrounds, and classes. 

Pathfinder also has a high fantasy theme with races like dwarves, elves, and goblins, as well as spells and abilities that focus on magic and the supernatural. This gives Pathfinder a different feel than DnD, which is more grounded in medieval Europe. 

Pathfinder also has a more intricate and detailed world than DnD, with an extensive history, mythology, and cosmology. Pathfinder is designed to be a more “sandbox” style game where players have more control over their own destiny and can choose from a wider variety of quests and adventures than what’s available in the average DnD campaign.

Ultimately, Pathfinder feels like a more “complete” RPG system with something for everyone, whether you’re a veteran gamer or just starting out. 

Why You Should Play Pathfinder

Pathfinder is an amazing game that offers tons of action, adventure, and lore. But it isn’t for everybody. Players new to Pathfinder are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of rules, feats, and abilities the game has to offer. And that’s okay. 

The joy of Pathfinder is found in its rules and layers of complication. For those willing to take the leap, Pathfinder offers a rich and immersive gaming experience that can keep you entertained for years. 

How to Transition from DnD 5e to Pathfinder

Pathfinder uses the same dice as DnD, but adds new rules to make gameplay more interesting. If you are thinking about transitioning from DnD 5e to Pathfinder, there are three things you need before playing your first game of Pathfinder: 

  1. A copy of the Core Rulebook 
  2. A character sheet 
  3. A set of dice

To get started in Pathfinder, you’ll need to create a character. Creating a new character in Pathfinder is more difficult than it is in DnD 5e, but you can get help using online tools that walk you through the process. The first thing you’ll notice looking at the Pathfinder character sheet is that it’s more complicated than the one used in DnD 5e.

Once players have joined a game, they’ll find that Pathfinder focuses more on gameplay than DnD 5e. Whereas DnD focuses on narratives and roleplaying, Pathfinder focuses on character customization and strategy.

Players new to roleplaying games may have a difficult time learning Pathfinder’s more imposing system of rules. The streamlined gameplay in DnD 5e makes the game easier to learn and more accessible to new players. But veterans of 5e may find these rules create repetitive gameplay.

Transitioning to Pathfinder gives players a whole new world to explore, new abilities to discover, and a set of rules that are familiar enough to learn but different enough to be interesting.

Are Pathfinder 1e and 2e Different?

The first edition of Pathfinder was released in 2009. This version of the game was close to its spiritual predecessor in terms of gameplay and character advancement. Based on DnD 3.5, Pathfinder 1e quickly grew in popularity in the TTRPG community.

Pathfinder 2e was released in 2019, ten years after the original. Second Edition represents a major overall of the game’s mechanics, offering new feats and abilities, more customizable character advancement options, and a revised combat system. 

Finding Your Path

The world of Golarion is one of infinite opportunity. In a session of Pathfinder, you might fight a corrupt dragon, find a magic sword, or meet a giant. But to survive in Golarion, you’ll need to make careful use of your character’s abilities and learn the Pathfinder way. 

Everyone’s path is different. To find yours, all you need is your imagination, some friends, and a set of dice! Prepare to dive into dangerous crypts and solve ancient mysteries, fight terrifying monsters, and parlay with strange and wonderful creatures.

And who knows, you might just have what it takes to make it in the Pathfinder Society.