Pathfinder is a wildly popular—and mostly free—role-playing game that spawned as an offshoot of Dungeons and Dragons. While the game is traditionally set in a high fantasy realm similar to the Lord of the Rings, Pathfinder has evolved over time to incorporate alternative settings such as horror and science fiction. But the core of the game remains the same: a group of friends playing both cooperatively and competitively in a game that mixes strategy, role-playing and imagination.
Pathfinder games consist of a dungeon master, who governs both the story and the rules, and one or more players, who control the characters within that story. Perhaps the best tip to getting started is not to be intimidated. The rules may seem complex, but the game itself is relatively simple and revolves around two basic concepts: acting and action.
It is important to remember that Pathfinder is a ROLE-playing game, not a ROLL-playing game. The fun of playing the game for most players is inventing a new person with a complex personality and then becoming that person. This part of the game is both simple and difficult at the same time. You don't need to memorize a set of complex rules, but you do need to split what you as a person knows from what your character knows and how they might behave, which can be more difficult than it sounds.
This is where the dice and the rules come into play. You will spend much of your time in towns and roaming the countryside, talking to non-player characters (NPCs) and experiencing the story unfold around you. But there is acting and then there are times in which you must act. Any time you take an action, you may need to roll the dice to see if you are successful, with the dungeon master controlling whether or not the roll was a success.
For example, if you decide to pick a lock on a door, the dungeon master may have you roll to see if you perceive the poison needle trap on the lock. Next there will be a roll to see if you disarm the trap, and another roll to determine if you successfully pick the lock.
How to Get Started Playing Pathfinder
The easiest way to learn the game is to find a group of players. The role-playing community is generally very inclusive. Players drop out from groups all the time, so there is often a need to add new players to the mix. But even if you can't find an established group, Pathfinder makes it easy for a group of friends to begin learning the game via the Pathfinder Beginner Box.
This kit sold by Paizo, the publishers of Pathfinder, has everything a group needs to get started with the game. The box is designed as an introduction to the game, so you will quickly outgrow it and need to move on to the core rules. But it generally does a good job of teaching the basics, and at $35, it isn't a bad price.
So what do you get with it? The beginner box includes the Hero's Handbook, which not only details how to create a character, it also has a solo adventure that will teach you some of the basics. The Game Master's Guide is a larger handbook that includes a stripped down version of the rules, a small adventure with tips on how to be a game master, and information about the monsters encountered during the adventure. These two guides combine to create a great way for both a single person or an entire group to learn the game.
The beginner's kit also includes a set of dice, a flip-mat used for maps and 80 "pawns" that are used to depict the heroes and monsters. The pawns are used in conjunction with the map to help determine where all of the characters and creatures are located at any specific moment.
It's possible to learn Pathfinder by going straight to the core rules and watching YouTube videos, but for those who have little experience with role-playing games, the beginner's kit is easily worth the money.
Once you are accustomed to the rules, you can purchase the core rulebooks from the Paizo website or most gaming and comic book stores. The core rules and information on the beasts and monsters found in Pathfinder adventures is also available for free at d20pfsd.com.
How to Find a Group to Play Pathfinder
The hardest part in playing Pathfinder may have more to do with finding people to play with rather than actually learning the rules. However, finding an established group is also the easiest way to introduce yourself to the game. The great part about Pathfinder is that it has a built-in teacher in the dungeon master, and because you don't need to know all of the rules, you can concentrate on the fun part: becoming a new character.
So where do you find a group of people to play with?
- Game Shops & Comic Book Stores: Most game shops have tables set aside for playing games like Pathfinder. These areas can get quite busy on weekends and make a great place to start. You can ask the management about new groups, and the store may have a bulletin board for placing want ads for groups.
- Facebook: Try searching for role-playing groups or gaming groups in your city or in a nearby town. There are also several groups about Pathfinder in general where you can ask questions.
- Meetup: If you haven't heard of Meetup, the easiest way to think of it is as a dating website that isn't for dating. It's designed for getting people together who have the same interests, such as gaming.
- Reddit: The LFG subreddit is a great place to post if you are having trouble finding a group in your area.
- Craigslist: While Craigslist no longer has a personals section, it does have discussion groups, including a group dedicated to gaming.
Do You Have to Play Pathfinder in Person?
You might think Pathfinder is regulated to dens and gaming shops, but there is a thriving digital side of role-playing. Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are two popular virtual tabletops that allow people from around the world to game together. These products are part video conferencing and part interactive maps and designed with role-playing in mind.