As tabletop roleplaying games go, Pathfinder is a bit of an anomaly. Its basic mechanics are simple enough for children to pick them up in minutes, but the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook is a telephone book sized, 576-page hardcover tome. And at $50 (or $10 for the PDF), it’s selling like proverbial hotcakes, even though the rules to the game are published online for free.
Why is Pathfinder so popular? And how can you get in on the action?
The story so far
To make a long story short, Pathfinder is based on the open-source rules for an edition of Dungeons and Dragons that’s roughly 10 years old. They were intended to be used by third-party publishers, to make add-ons for D&D. But a group of ex-Wizards of the Coast staffers began selling a slightly modified version as its own separate product, after Wizards discontinued that edition in a move that alienated many D&D players.
That’s one reason why Paizo, the company behind Pathfinder, can get away with selling a rulebook the size of a phonebook. Most of the people they’re selling to already know the gameplay by heart; they just need a reference for the new version, and want to pay to support the company that they feel is standing up for their interests.
If you’re already a D&D fan …
Then you could probably go that route, too.
If you want a physical product, pick up the Core Rulebook. Players might want the Advanced Player’s Guide, which has six new character classes and add-ons for the normal ones. Game Masters will want the Bestiary, which is the Pathfinder Monster Manual. They might also want a GameMastery Guide, which includes tons of helps for putting a game together and managing it at the table.
Your old dice, minis, and maps will work fine, and you can save money by buying the $10 PDF ebooks. You can even start playing for free by reading the Pathfinder Reference Document, which includes character creation rules. It has no art and little “fluff,” and is not intended to teach the game to new players, but it can serve as a handy reference.
Finally, check out Paizo’s Resources page for free downloads. Like character sheets, a list of optional Character Traits, and a Conversion Guide to help D&D players adjust.
If you’re completely new to Pathfinder …
Then you want to get the Beginner Box. This $35 boxed set is well worth the price, as it includes everything you need to start playing … dice, character sheets, a dry-erase grid mat with a premade dungeon drawn on one side, and premium cardboard tokens you can use in place of miniatures. (Although if you want minis for the characters featured in the game’s artwork, you can buy them as a separate set.)
You can use the included books to create your own characters and take them to level 5, which can take months of regular play to reach. Paizo’s Beginner Box website also includes free resources for both players and GMs, including more prewritten adventures and a whole new character class. If you want to join Pathfinder Society organized play with a Beginner Box character, you’ll find a guide for doing that too.
Whichever you decide to do, have fun with it!