Pathfinder Read-through – Chapter 1: Getting Started

Actually, I’ll start with the Table of Contents.

Sixteen Chapters, about 572 pages to the index; compare GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition at . . . 569. Coincidence? I think not!

The first chapter is preceded by the Introduction, which is about what forces led to Pathfinder as a game. That’s an interesting read, and speaks to the difficulties and opportunities in tweaking an established game into a new form.

Un-named: Introduction to Roleplaying and Needed Stuff

After that, the Getting Started chapter starts into the inevitable and useful discussion of what is roleplaying, what you need to play, and a few tie-ins to some merchandising: flip-mats, miniatures, and a link to the Paizo website. I’m all for this – I think game books should tie in to other products, both as a good one-stop source for “stuff I want to have fun more easily” but also to keep game companies solvent. Perhaps this is less true for the 800-lb. Ogre of the game world (D&D and its derivatives), but we don’t exactly play in a hobby with weekly outlets as popular and pervasive as the NFL.

So, having armed yourself with dice, character sheets, friends, and if you’re the GM, perhaps a small assortment of other books – the game says the GM must have the Bestiary, and might want modules or adventure paths – you can get to it.

The game explains how to use the dice; and the roll-high concept.

[Edit: at this point, my daughter has asked me to write: OTTO. That’s her fish.  It is pink with white stripes. Otto. The fish. We now return you to your regularly scheduled read-through.]

It touches on character advancement, and then hits up Rule Zero in two forms: above all, have fun, and the rules can change to fit your needs. We’ll see if Pathfinder is as attached to “optional” rules as GURPS is; I doubt it, since the Pathfinder game/genre is not required to be as mutable. Still, the game gives the nod to house rules, the importance of communication, and cooperation to enhance the fun for everyone.

One interesting note: boy is it nice and convenient to have genre assumptions be relatively fixed. Slipped into this very first section (not sneaky, just assumed) are references to:

  • Noble knights, powerful evil, and conniving rogues
  • Rampaging dragons and lowly goblins
  • Advancement by gaining gold, magic items, and experience points; 
If you don’t know knights, rogues, goblins, dragons, and magic, you soon will. Not a bad thing, but the fact that the system is designed around a set of assumptions allows a level of specificity that is probably one of the reasons GURPS Dungeon Fantasy does so well.

Using This Book

At this point, the book goes into a text description of each Chapter. After Getting Started, we get four or five (if you include Equipment as part of character creation) chapters on character creation, plus another – Chapter 11: Prestige Classes – which is tucked between Spells and Gamemastering.

Combat is given one chapter, Magic, Spells, and Magic Items get one each. Gamemastering, the Environment, and NPCs get a solid wall of text for three chapters.  Finally, the appendices cover special rules and conditions, recommended reading, and a bit more marketing.

Tucked into the chapter explanations is a bunch more genre information. Races tells you that the relevant use of the word race includes elves, dwarves, humans, and gnomes, rather than the way we use it conventionally (a good thing). Classes are defined by ability differentiation and specialization. Skills are broken out to their own chapter, as are special rules-exemptions, often but not always combat-related, called Feats.

Chapter 7 seems to blend the last bits of character creation with how the character interacts with the game world, from alignment to movement to visibility.

Chapter 8 is Combat, which has always been a core bit of DnD and it’s spawn. Or, rather, it has always been a core bit of damn near every RPG ever,with a few exceptions to prove the rule.

Common Terms

Then three pages of Common Terms, a glossary of technical language used throughout the book.

One thing to note: I am reading this as a PDF, and throughout the book, it makes extensive use of cross-referencing and links. In the glossary entry on Ability Score, each of the six scores is linked to its section in the book, and another link to the section on determining and assigning Ability Scores, which is right there later in Chapter 1. Score 1 for electronic books. This is a great feature. Sure, you can get there with Search (and that’s how I do it in GURPS, plus having written for the system, I’ve memorized key page and section locations). But adding links to the Basic Set would be a nice bonus.

It’s here in the glossary where certain concepts hit you for the first time, so you’d better read this more than once. Combat rounds being six seconds long? It appears twice in the entire book – once is here in the glossary, the other is appropriately placed on p. 178, in the first sentence of the section The Combat Round.

This is also where you realize that you’re going to need an entirely new technical vocabulary to play the game. Actions seem to contain something like either eight enumerated, or maybe as many as fifteen or more types of things to do, which hopefully when we get to Chapter 8 aren’t all special cases with non-overlapping concepts.

Also tucked into this chapter is the notion, which is mentioned in the bit on Bonus as well as explicitly called out in the definition on Stacking, that many (but not all) bonuses do not stack together. I can see this being pretty contentious in play, at times. Either that or a commonly and happily ignored rule: stack ’em up. More bonuses = more fun. On the other hand, while bonuses are noted as not usually stacking, penalties are noted to usually stack. I love it when Murphy’s Law is codified in game mechanics. Talk about verisimilitude!

As noted earlier, it’s important to really read through and understand (or have these three pages on hand for reference) the Common Terms. They are key, lay down important caveats that will be assumed for most of the book, and are abbreviated occasionally in many places (AC, DC, Su, DR, Sp . . .).

Example of Play

The example of play is heavy on mechanics, pointing out the die rolls and targets and other things. It does successfully showcase the rules, choices, and special cases that can crop up (piercing rather than bludgeoning damage on skeletons, for example).

One thing that does pop out, but only implicitly, is just how high bonuses can get. “Harsk” fires a crossbow at a skeleton, rolls his d20, and adds 9 to his total in the example.

The example also ends with one PC declaring that he’s getting the hell out of combat (“RUN!”). Or attempting to. It’s a good place, early in the book, to note that all encounters aren’t “stand until dead.”

Generating a Character

Scores, race, class, skills and feats, equipment, details, done. This is where class- or template-based systems can really shine. Limit beginning choices, and get to the game faster.

Ability Scores

The book gives you five different ways to generate your key ability scores, which will define a lot of your bonuses that get tacked on to your d20 rolls, damage rolls, etc. It’ll be challenging to start with the old classic “you cheated” standby of “I rolled all 18’s!” using some of the options – especially the ability purchase option. Unless the GM gives you a lot of points, the best you can do on even “epic fantasy” level is a single 18, one 15, and one 11, the rest 10’s . . . unless you nab a dump-stat or three. For broadly above-average, you can wind up with Low Fantasy averages of 11-12, or Epic Fantasy averages of 14-15, enough for decent but not shattering bonuses (which top out at +4 in the range we’re discussing anyway).

After this, you hit a definition of each of the six key ability scores, and what they effect. While one may quibble with the assignments (your ability to hit and do damage in melee combat is based only on STR . . . except when it’s not for certain Feats), the definition of what impacts what is clear.

Ballistic’s Summary

Overall, the Getting Started chapter is quite well executed. All the basics are here, and enough reference is made to advanced concepts that you know they’re coming. Good use of the digital medium in the PDF file is made for cross-referencing, though I did find myself wishing I could travel backwards to where I’d just come from. That’s user-issue if that feature does exist in Acrobat Reader, though. Might not be a fault of the book.

Otherwise, you’ve got stats, basic concepts defined, and a decent sense of the game mechanics: roll some dice, add bonuses, and exceed a Difficulty Class, of which Armor Class can be considered a subset. Higher DC or AC is harder; higher bonuses and higher rolls are better. The universal applicability of “higher is better” has been asserted here; we’ll see if it’s true, but it would be  a fairly trivial thing to arrange for most mechanics. GURPS has “roll low for skills, roll high for effects,” which is a tweak, but a good one given the mechanics involved, since you roll directly against a skill which is a target. Possibly confusing? Meh. Not very.

Next post will move into Chapter 2, talking about Races.


Link summary:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

12 thoughts on “Pathfinder Read-through – Chapter 1: Getting Started

  1. I look through this book at game stores and book stores. It's mostly incomprehensible to me, but I sometimes wish I played a game that had a large fan base and that was available in most major book chains. I think however my choice to play mostly miscellaneous vintage rpgs keeps me away from gamer-types I might otherwise annoy and vice versa, so maybe it is for the best.

    1. I am going to do my level best to give it a fair, full, readthrough. I drifted away years ago, but I'm playing in a game now, and I would like to read the rules and know the game better.

      But I just finished the Races chapter, and I'm about to get a bit picky from a game design point of view.

  2. What print edition is the PDF you're using? Probably the most recent version, huh? I have a 1st printing physical copy and couldn't find that paragraph about the conventional race usage bit.

    1. That was just a personal commentary, where in Pathfinder "race" is going to mean elf, dwarf, human race, not "black," "white," "asian," etc. When you have such very real differences in sapient types, the usual "within human genetic variation" loses its importance. It's subtle or I'm reading too much into it, perhaps.

    2. And yet, if you get into the "default" setting, Golarion, you'll find that not only do they allow for the standard "races" but also for actual races, with differing cultures and skin tones and the like, alongside the somewhat more monolithic nonhuman "races".

    3. Man, that's one thing I don't like about most settings — "Elf" is one monolithic (or nearly so) culture. Only tiny offshoots of "lost tribes", etc., existing for individual adventure purposes. Sure, I suppose this is possible for long lived, quasi-supermen elves. But for races? By those standards, humanity is a chaotic mess…

  3. Yes, but…what kind of fish is Otto? Don't leave us hanging, man.

    Also, I can't find a way to follow a link back in Acrobat Reader either. Other pdf viewers manage it, so I think the fault here lies with Adobe, not Paizo.

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