Behind the Screen With Pathfinder


Pathfinder has been out on the market since August 2009. Many of us have been playing the game since its release or transitioned straight from D&D 3.x to Pathfinder. Sometimes it is easy to forget that some people wanting to try out Pathfinder are coming from another game system or are perhaps even new to RPGs in general. With that premise, this article hopes to focus on how those people can get started running Pathfinder.

We will look at this as two groups of distinct people – folks new to RPGs in general and those that might simply be new to Pathfinder. Let’s take a look at an entry point to running Pathfinder games for those completely new to RPGs.

New to RPGs

So you have heard about roleplaying games and have finally decided to get started with the hobby. You have your eye on a fantasy RPG and the Pathfinder system has caught your fancy. But you hit the Paizo site or your local bookstore and see all these rulebooks, campaign supplements, player supplements, and modules. Where to start!?

Paizo has recently released an excellent option for those interested in getting their start in RPGs with Pathfinder with the Beginner Box. The Beginner Box has everything in it you need to get started gaming. The box comes with a flipmat, an adventure, rules to get you as the GM and your player up to 5th level, one set of dice and pawns to represent your characters and monsters on the flipmat.

The Beginner Box gives you exactly what you need to get started playing. It also does a wonderful job of simplifying the Pathfinder rules to the basics and the books walk you carefully through the process of creating a character step by step and how to run an adventure. The included adventure helps highlight various rule mechanics such as skill checks, diplomacy, traps, and more while still being an entertaining adventure. It also provides a well rounded starting point with the village of Sandpoint.

The Pathfinder Beginner Box makes an excellent introduction to the Pathfinder system. Make sure to check out the Beginner Box review here on the Troll in the Corner.

New to Pathfinder, Not RPGs

Even for those not new to RPGs, but new to the Pathfinder system you can find yourself overwhelmed with the wealth of material for the system and wonder how to get started running Pathfinder games. For people relatively new to RPGs or coming from radically different systems, the Beginner Box can still be a solid start to getting you running Pathfinder games.

If you find yourself a seasoned RPG veteran or recall your D&D 3.x days then you are well positioned to get started behind the screen with the core offering.  Paizo has released several hardback books since the initial release that add options to the Pathfinder rules. This frequently leads to people new to Pathfinder asking just which books are considered core. You’ll get varying answers on this question.

First, lets define core. I define core as the bare minimum you need to run a Pathfinder game with the books. Using this definition I consider core to be the Core Rulebook if you are a player. If you are the GM then you need the core rulebook and tack on the first Bestiary. The Bestiary will provide you with plenty of monsters to challenge your players with.

I always suggest using those two books as the starting point for your Pathfinder campaign if you are new to the system. Take the time to learn those rules well, those options and use that to form your solid foundation for the Pathfinder system.

After time you (or your players) will start to want a few more options. This naturally leads you to the Advanced Player’s Guide. This is the tome that really carries Pathfinder from being a D&D 3.75 to its own game. The introduction of some very popular character classes such as the Inquisitor, Alchemist, Summoner, and more are in this book. You also get archetypes as a way to customize your character and additional favored class bonuses. This is a very popular book with the Pathfinder community and deservedly so.

The Ultimate line of books, which include Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat, from Paizo continue to provide more options but are further down on my list of required play material. You can run many an interesting Pathfinder campaign with just the core rulebook and the APG expands that even further.

Beyond the Books

One important item to know about Pathfinder is that the majority of the rules are released under the Open Game License (OGL), much like D&D 3.x was. The OGL allows one to freely redistribute the game mechanics. What does this mean to the average person? This means that while the Pathfinder rules are published in wonderfully illustrated books, Paizo also publishes the rules on their website as part of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Reference Document.

The online availability access to the rules offer a great way to lookup rules when you happen to be away from your books. It also allows you to preview the material from books that are outside of the core assumptions I have made above. I am sometimes surprised to learn people do not know about this resource.

Paizo has improved their PRD in the past months to make it look a little cleaner and improve access from mobile devices. If it still is not to your liking you can also take a look at which is a similar resource with a different look and feel.


You also need a world to play in. You can either design your own world or even just a small corner of a your own world. Or you can take a look at Golarion, the official Pathfinder campaign setting as a place to set your adventures in.

Golarion is detailed in the Inner Sea World Guide along with many supplement books released by Paizo. Golarion is an expansive campaign setting and what many like to call a “kitchen sink” setting. This approach to campaign worlds is to try to make sure there is something for everyone regardless of your campaign world preference.

Golarion indeed has something for everyone with a myriad of regions to base your campaign in. In my opinion that is the key to not getting overwhelmed by Golarion, find a region that meets your preference for fantasy and focus your campaign in that region. Whether you like Vikings, stately kingdoms, gothic feel, jungles, or more, Golarion has a region for you and your campaign.

Wrapping It Up

I have covered a lot of information in this post.  Covering everything from starting with the Pathfinder system as a new RPG player, to getting into the system with some experience, as well as a world to set your campaign in. In a future post I will discuss some additional tools to help you run your campaign after getting started.

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