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What’s New in Pathfinder RPG?

posted Thursday, November 13th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & CultureOther SystemsThird Edition

With the D&D fourth edition licensing rules in question, Paizo is hoping players will latch onto Pathfinder RPG, their revised version of D&D 3.5 which is planned to become the standard rules set for for future issues of the similarly-named Pathfinder adventure module series. Pathfinder RPG is currently in open beta, and a Pathfinder RPG beta release PDF is available. Here’s a brief overview.

Character generation: No real differences from normal D&D. There are a few extra options for rolling ability scores, such as 3d6, 4d6 drop lowest, 2d6+6, and various levels of points-buy.

Races: Although the core races are the same as usual – dwarf, halfing, elf, human, gnome, half-orc and half-elf – many racial abilities have been shaken up. All races now gain +2 to an extra ability score, such as the dwarf who now has +2 to both Constitution and Wisdom, and -2 to Charisma. A few gain bonus racial traits, such as the half-orc who can fight on for one round if brought below zero hit points. Each race can now pick from between two favoured classes.

Classes: Significant changes here. The barbarian gains powers usable while raging, such as knockback or a bonus attack. The bard uses d8 hit dice and gains knowledge skill bonuses. Fighters gain gradual bonuses to armour and weapon types, and bonuses to saves versus fear. The paladin gains new aura abilities, such as allowing allies to smite. Rangers gain d10 hit dice amd specialties in chosen terrain. Rogues can sneak attack against constructs and undead, and gain new rogue special abilities from level 2. Sorcerers gain bloodline abilities much like cleric domains. The wizard can trade his familiar for an object, like an amulet or staff.

Skills: Skills are handled slightly differently in Pathfinder RPG. Instead of 4x skill points at level 1, you gain a +3 bonus to all class skills that you have ranks in. Cross-class skills now cost one point per rank instead of two, although you’re still three points behind. A few skills have been consolidated, such as Decipher Script, Forgery and Speak language into Linguistics. There are now 36 skills including ten Knowledge skills, whereas D&D 3.5 had 44. Use Rope is gone, and winged or otherwise flight-capable characters can use a new skill called Fly.

Feats: Feats are gained at every two levels, instead of every three. Magic item creation no longer costs XP. New feats are introduced – I count 140 in the Pathfinder core book, compared to 110 in the D20 SRD. Several existing feats have different effects. Alertness now grants +2 to Perception (Spot/Listen) and Sense Motive, raising to +4 if the character has 10 or more ranks in one of those skills. Cleave, perhaps unpopularly, requires a full-round action to attempt, meaning it’s not as ubiquitous a choice as in D&D 3.5.

Equipment: Very little difference here, bar the occasional new weapon. Weapon damage and armour types are unchanged.

Description: Very little difference. The alignment system is unchanged.

Combat: A major new experimental rule is chanelling energy, formerly known as the cleric’s Turn Undead ability. Chanelling positive energy now additionally deals damage to undead, while healing allies in the same area. Negative energy bursts deal damage to living creatures. The other major change is that combat maneuvers like grapple and disarm use a unified “Combat Maneuver Bonus”, and are made against a flat DC rather than opposed roll (1d20 + your bonus, versus DC15 + opponent’s bonus).

Magic: Very little difference. However, there’s a notice in this chapter that Polymorph has been substantially changed, very important considering the problems with polymorph throughout D&D third edition. Paizo’s solution is similar to Rich Burlew’s polymorph variant in that there are separate spells for each creature type (such as low level animal form spells and higher level dragon form spells), although you gain a fixed and limited set of benefits. For example, form of the dragon iii lets you assume the form of any Huge metallic or chromatic dragon, but grants a fixed +10 bonus to your character’s normal Strength (amongst other abilities) regardless of the Strength score of a typical dragon of that type.

Spells: Clerics now gain special domain abilities at 1st and 8th level, and domain spells at 2nd, 4th, 12th, 16th and 20th level. A druid can trade his animal companion for one nature-related domain (air, water, etc). For example, the war domain grants an ability at level 8 to temporarily use any combat feat. Specialist wizards similarly gain special abilities at 1st, 8th and 20th level. Spells with XP costs are replaced with tgold piece costs at 5 gp per XP.

Running the game: Like Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes, Pathfinder RPG uses its own experience points scale. Story XP bonuses are officially encouraged. Charts and tables are provided for calculating appropriate challenge rating of encounters, including adjustments for high-magic and low-magic campaigns. Pathfinder also expands on the guidelines for creating new monsters.

The rest: Very little difference in the additional rules and magic items, although some cool art. However, the glossary notes that permanent level drain has been replaced by negative levels, essentially -1 to all rolls and -5 hit points.

Still to come: The final release of Pathfinder RPG in 2009 promises to revisit prestige classes, cursed and intellgent items, and new disease, poison and environment rules.


  1. Rone Barton

    November 13th, 2008

    Fantastic summary, JD!

  2. ECOA

    November 13th, 2008

    I really like almost all of the changes. The only one I don’t care for is the removal of XP costs. I think I’ll keep XP costs in, and maybe revert a few of the spells back to the 3.5 SRD editions (Wish, for instance). Other than that, I really really like how they’ve approached the revision.

  3. bonemaster

    November 13th, 2008

    @ECOA – I don’t think the removal XP cost is such a big deal, but hey it’s your game in the end. The only other changes that’s been hard coming to grip with is the change in feats like Power Attack. While we are playing, we tend to go back into the 3.5 OGL version of power attack without thinking about it. Some things are just going to be hard to deal with.

    @Johnathan – I think you forgot what I consider one of the more important changes. Clerics, Druids, Wizards and Sorcerers get to have a set number of 0 level spells that they can cast an unlimited number of times. This change prompted the removal of the 0-level cure spell.

  4. RPG Ike

    November 13th, 2008

    Awesome. Many thanks for the summary, Jonathan. I’m thinking about starting a new Pathfinder campaign, and this will be a much easier thing to get rolling if I direct my players here, instead of expecting them to read it all for themselves. Graçias.

  5. RPG Ike

    November 13th, 2008


    What did you like about the XP costs for spellcasting and magic item creation? In my experience it has really hamstringed the use of those feats and spells for many players.

  6. Nume

    November 14th, 2008

    Excelent summary! Can you give me permission to translate and quote some parts of this article for my blog?

  7. Jonathan Drain

    November 14th, 2008

    Nume: Sure, go ahead!

  8. Noumenon

    November 14th, 2008

    The other major change is that combat maneuvers like grapple and disarm use a unified “Combat Maneuver Bonus�, and are made against a flat DC rather than opposed roll (1d20 + your bonus, versus DC15 + opponent’s bonus).

    That’s not really a flat DC, it’s an opposed roll where the opponent gets to take 15. The effect should be to make it harder for enemies to grapple PCs in the first place, but once they do — hoo boy. If they have +6 on you between size, Strength, and BAB, you can never escape.

    What did you like about the XP costs for spellcasting and magic item creation? In my experience it has really hamstringed the use of those feats and spells for many players.

    At least for item creation, I read here that you can spend 25% of all the gold you ever earn on item crafting and you’ll only be about half a level behind.

  9. Nume

    November 14th, 2008

    Thanks man! ;)

  10. CountBuggula

    November 14th, 2008

    The updated Prestige Classes are already available to be evaluated here:


  11. Stefan Happ

    November 14th, 2008

    I didn’t realize the changes were so few but apparently needed. . I really appreciate you doing this and definitely owe you drinks, Jonathan!

  12. ECOA

    November 14th, 2008

    @3 (bonemaster)- I agree with you on the Power Attack thing, I just didn’t want to get into individual feats in my earlier post. Certain individual feat changes are annoying, no so much in that they’re unbalanced but in remembering the changes. It can be a pain, I agree. If I recall correctly, the Alpha release had a rule about using only 1 combat feat in a round, which may have been removed in the Beta. I thought it was interesting, but I haven’t investigated enough to say whether or not that rule was too limiting.

    @5 (RPG Ike) – I am the only player in any of my campaigns who has ever used any item creation feat other than Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, or Craft Wand. the low XP costs (relative to the gold costs) of using those three feats never seemed to bother my players (until they were 100xp short of levelling, in which case they all cried me a river. Too bad, says I. Enjoy your Wand of Cure Serious Wounds and get over it). I feel that the benefit of having up to twice the amount of magic items makes up for the small lag in XP. Also, it keeps the use of certain spells under control. Costing XP instead of gold means that the decision to make an item or use a spell falls on the caster, whereas switching to a gold cost allows the burden to be shared by the party. Some DMs, no doubt prefer the sharing aspect. No problem there, Whatever floats your boat. I prefer to think that the player must manage their own resources, and that it is easier to adjudicate XP rewards than it is to adjudicate gold rewards, at least for me. From a roleplaying aspect, I like the “personal power cost” aspect of XP costs (your powers are weak, old man!) versus the “magic shopping” feel of gold rewards. I also like that item crafters can make items for the party in exchange for gold and both the crafter and the purchaser can come out ahead. There are no magic shops in my campaigns, and if a player really wants a specific item it is usually faster, cheaper, and easier to take a feat and make it him/herself. Thar’s just me, though, and not a judgement on the rules of the game or the stylistic choices of DMs as a whole. Me likey the XP cost, in short.

  13. GeminiGM

    November 16th, 2008

    This is great. I was looking over the Pathfinder Beta and was hoping for a list somewhere of the changes that were made. It’s important when I migrate my campaign. Thank you for the summary.

    So all the current Paizo adventure paths (Curse of the Crimson Throne,etc.) are still DnD 3.5 and not yet the new Paizo 3.5 right?

  14. Pathfinder Writers Wanted! « Jonathan Drain’s D20 Source: Dungeons & Dragons Blog

    January 22nd, 2009

    [...] modules. Unusually for Paizo, this one’s an open call, so anyone can enter. Pathfinder runs a slightly modified version of D&D [...]

  15. John Reyst

    June 23rd, 2009

    Wanted to let everyone know about a new Pathfinder SRD site. It’s at http://www.d20pfsrd.com. Check it out and let me know if you have any suggestions or if you’d like to help work on it at jreyst@gmail.com. Thanks!

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    [...] I noticed that Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG system uses an alternative XP system from the D&D 3.5 system it’s based on. The [...]

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