Pathfinder Read-through – Chapter 2: Races

This is the first real “meat” chapter in the Pathfinder RPG book, and it’s a short one. Still, it gives a flavor for what is to come from a game design point of view.

The chapter opens with seven individuals who can probably divide up 7% body fat between them. I’m not sure if that’s a good way to start, but it certainly gets one’s attention. Halflings never looked so buff (and half-elves never looked so, well, cold).

The first few paragraphs note that you mostly get to pick your race but once, while classes come and go. It also points out quite explicitly that some choices are more complimentary with certain classes than others, and makes no apology other than caveat emptor. 

Your choice of race will give you extra ability scores, and some special powers/abilities/talents that come along with it. It claims that each race is roughly equal and balanced with the rest. We’ll see.

Each race starts with a physical description, a discussion of the society the adventurer will have come from, discusses which other races or monsters that race tends to hate or like, mentions typical alignments and what Gods and religions are favored, and dedicates a paragraph to why a member of that race would go adventuring. It end with sample names for men and women of that race. After all that, comes the goodies: the list of bonuses, penalties, and abilities that you get by choosing that race.


Low sense of humor, high hatred of giants and goblins. Craftsmen and warriors, and “little hairy women.” ( – Gimli). Lawful good fighters and barbarians are set up as a natural match. Noted. Let’s check out the goody bag: It’s a long list.

Abilities: The attribute bonuses seem to all net out to +2, and in this case Dwarves get bonuses to CON and WIS (which is a stand-in for perception), but penalized for being gruff with a slap to CHA. Checking the skill list, the only thing they might care about there is maybe Intimidate. We’ll see what happens later; I’ve heard reference to “dump stats” where you can purposefully sink an ability score with little damage to your character’s abilities or survival – but we shall see.

Positives: they can see in the dark, bonuses to AC vs giants, boost to ability to value gemstones and craftsmanship, boost when fighting orcs and goblins, boost to some saving throws, boost to certain types of combat maneuvers, bonus to notice stone traps and such. And axes. Lots of axes.

Negatives: 2/3 normal movement (but even that has a benefit: armor and encumbrance doesn’t weigh you down).

Huh. Elves may be Just Better than You, but Dwarves seem pretty badass.


Long-lived (until eaten by orcs), standoffish, Just Better than You (see above). Fashion models who are also back-to-nature types. Would do well in Hollywood, apparently. Do not make good baby-daddies. Love of magic. OK, we get it. Now, let’s see if the Trope holds:

Abilities: Dexterous and smart, but frail.

Positives: Can see farther in dim light, immune to magic sleep and resistant to enchantments. Bonus to resisting spells in general and to identify magic items. Perceptive.

Negatives: None. (See? Just Damn Better than You.)

As an aside, am I the only one who looks at “immunity to sleep spells” and says “Oh, I gotta have that.” Seriously – I dislike it intensely when the bad guy waves his hand and you just decide to catch a few Z’s right there in the middle of the octagon.

OK, so elves wind up looking good as rangers and wizards, as the book plainly states. Bet they’d make decent rogues too.


Punk-rock midgets? Kender with ADHD? But they make good druids. OK. Rock on. After all that, you’d think druid or rogue/thief, but no . . . sorcerers and bards.

Abilities: Hardy and clever, but weak.

Positives: Small size gives AC and attack bonuses and a major boost to stealth. Good low-light vision.  Even more AC bonuses (presumably doesn’t stack) vs. giants, and they get a bunch of spell-like abilities if you have CHA of 11+, so you’d best do that. Bonus to hated foes, bonus to resist illusions, bonus to perception, bonus to craft or profession skills. This is a pretty big list of small-scale goodies.

Negatives: penalty to Combat Maneuvers, 2/3 normal movement. They don’t get any racial weapon stuff like Dwarves do with axes or elves do with bows.


The elves have to amuse themselves somehow, and apparently making really hot offspring is it. Hot sulky and bitter emo offspring. Open to new relationships, lonely, less likely to turn to religion – and prone to playing RPGs, apparently.

Abilities: +2 to any one score, player’s choice. I might allow +1 to any two scores for fun, but no problem there. This makes them the same as humans and half-orcs – just pick a stat and be good at it.

Positives: Low light vision, an extra skill focus, immunity to magic sleep, and the elven resistance to enchantment. Boost to perception, and two favored classes with extra HP and skill points. Start speaking two languages.

Negatives: Maybe you can count that anything that impacts humans or elves hits them, but that’s pretty blah.

So they’re Just Half-Better Than You.

Half-elves don’t seem to be tailor made for any particular class . . . but since I actually play a half-elf rogue in the Pathfinder game I play with +Jeromy French , I’ll note that with the right allocation, the massive amount of skill levels you get adds with the bonus skill points to make for a metric crap-ton of skill points.


Because what could be more fun than playing the child of overly-exuberant culture sharing between sapients? These guys are Darth Vader big, and channeled into jobs where that size is useful – mercenaries and enforcers.

Abilities: Odd. +2 to one ability score – any ability score. I’d have pegged it perhaps as +1 to STR, CON, and maybe WIS (for perception), with a -1 to CHA.

Positives: Dark vision, Intimidation bonus, some racial weapon familiarity, and some sort of oddball ferocity thing where you get to fight for one more round, but if you don’t get healing, you KO and start to die. Woo hoo. You do get to speak orc, though. Bonus.

Negatives: Not many. Orc blood, like elf-blood, makes you susceptible to things that hurt both orcs and humans.

This race seems lame to me. I’d maybe play up the orcish nature more; I’d like to know what orcs look like, but looks like unless I buy the Bestiary, I can’t find out. Huh, I’d have thought that some of the common monsters were included in the book, but when they say the Bestiary is required, they really mean it. Maybe even up the ante, with +3 STR, +1 CON, and -2 CHA (or even -1 CHA and -1 INT).

Halflings. Not Hobbits. We mean it.

The entire writeup screams “thief.” It’s hard to escape that, from the loyalty to friends, not nations, scrap and scrounge, etc.

Abilities: Dexterous, charming, but weak.

Positives: Size bonus to AC and attacks, +4 to Stealth due to size. Yow. Bonus to saving throws versus fear, and another generic bonus to all saving throws. Perceptive, nimble.

Negatives: penalty to CMB and CMD, plus 2/3 speed due to small size.

This is a nice set of packages, but doesn’t really sing to me.


Hey, that’s us. This is the jack-of-all races. Endlessly varied, can be and do anything.

Abilities: +2 to any score. This makes a bit more sense, though it would also be interesting to be able to (say) adjust any score by +1 or -1 so long as it nets to +2, or even any score by up to +/-2 so long as it nets to +2 as well.

Positives: An extra Feat when they start, and an extra skill rank every level.

Negatives: None.

Ballistic’s Parting Shot

The chapter on races contains the barest minimum of information to play the character and understand the overall society from which each non-human race derives. It then presents some variables by which to tweak your stats, but those don’t always appear to be balanced, and they definitely steer choices for later class selection. That may not be a bad thing, but it does suggest that while the book says “pick race, then class,” you’re more likely to do well by choosing a class you want to play, picking a compatible race, and then (if allocating ability scores by points) tuning your stats accordingly.

What about GURPS? GURPS is unapologetic point-buy only. You can do pretty much anything. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy makes heavy use of Templates, which aren’t exactly race and class, but can come darn close.

The whole point is to provide a limited set of interesting choices that provide variability without bewilderment. Racial packages in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy have an assigned point value to them. You may not like the point costs, but if you take a racial package (for example) that’s Just Damn Better than You, you’ll have fewer points to spend on skills and advantages and attributes.

The Pathfinder rules claim the races are balanced. With no decent accounting method to hand, I can neither dispute or affirm that claim. But given the lists of abilities, I think I will be playing a Dwarf next time. And given the art, I think I want to date that half-elf, but (a) my wife, a red-headed Human Sorcerer/Monk in real life, would pull out my pancreas through my nose, and (b) she’d be really hard to dance with, being all of 6’2″ or something.


This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

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

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

6 thoughts on “Pathfinder Read-through – Chapter 2: Races

  1. I suspect the +2 to any stat instead of +1 to any two has to do with the breakpoint in point-buy, where every level that increases your bonus is reflected by an increase in per-point cost to raise the stat. If you start tossing around odd bonuses instead of evens, you encourage min/maxing.

    Other thoughts as they occur to me. 🙂

    1. Flip sides of the same coin, I think. +2 to stats encourages me to still pay the "premium" to land on an even number, so as to get the maximum value. +1 would encourage me to avoid those costly breakpoints.

  2. Actually, the races are very balanced but until they released the book on races where you can customize each race to fit your flavor better, they were pretty much carved in stone. You liked them as is or not which is why I gravitate towards humans because of the freedom of that extra feat. Still all the races are an improvement over regular 3rd Edition.

    What the base book doesn't do is flush out the races that Paizo/Pathfinder has done since the base book with their world supplements. Those are all really nice where they talk about culture, variance and ways to make them feel cool. And to be honest, it's the world that I like more than the system. A decent system and one that I know very well, but Golarion is a very vibrant and well developed fantasy world.

  3. I haven't played Pathfinder (the last edition of D&D I played was 3.5), but a friend of mine, who plays it (and is the guy I use to munchkin-test any rules), considers humans to be the superior race, as the extra feat and skill point continue to provide benefits at all levels (specially the feat, as it allows you to start going through your feat chains faster), while the other races' bonuses become more and more irrelevant as the characters level up (Why would you want low light vision when you can get darkvision via either spell or item? etc)

  4. Elves do make good wizards. I'm not sure I['ve seen a Pathfinder Wizard in my group who wasn't an Elf. They amke pretty good Rogues too but do not dominate that class. The -2 Con is a biggie though hitting both HP and Fort Saves.

    In my experience Gnomes and Halflings do not make good Rogues. The +1 to Hit from size s makes up for the -2 to ST but you still lose the pt to damage.. You then lose more dmage for havng to use size s weapons (i.e D5 instead of D*, D4 instead of D6) That's a net -2 damage to every hit you ever score.

    Then there's the hit to movememt. Unless your GM isn';t using mapped combat or something it's going to be far harder for your Small Rogue to maneuver into position to flank and score the bonus D6s.

    Bonus damage for Flanking is considered a very core function of a 3.x/Pathfinder Rogue and there's a reason that "Newspeak" terminology considers Rogue as a "Striker" Class. Rogues can't hit high ACs like a Fighter or take damage like one but they can very much do damage like a Fighter if played with savvy.

    In my experience Gnomes and Halflings make better Spellcasters. In particular if Druids they can almost automatically ride their Animal Companions which tends to solve their mobility issues..

    Orcs are in the new Advanced Race Guide and a simple if brutal +4 ST and –2 IQ,Wis, and CHA.

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