A core goal of Pathfinder Second Edition was to lower complexity while continuing to provide the depth we love from Pathfinder First Edition. At 640 pages, the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook has a ton of content to provide that depth–we have twelve character classes and six ancestries to pick from, a hundred pages of spells, pages and pages of feats, skills, equipment and magic items–but don’t let the size of this tome daunt you. You don’t need to read the whole thing from the get-go and can be playing in no time!
For instance, like I said there are twelve character classes; at twelve pages per class, that’s 144 pages right there. To understand the game, start with reading just the one class that interests you most. Come back to read the others at a later time. You don’t even need to read the whole class: multiple options are listed, and you could pick and choose, or just read the low level options at first.
Just how much do I think you should read to get going? Here’s my assessment.
- Introduction: Covers the obligatory, “what’s a roleplaying game,” but also some foundational information about symbology used in the book and an important overview of character creation. Say, 20 Pages.
- Ancestries & Backgrounds: Covering what Ancestry a character can be, dwarf, elf, human and the like, as well as the character’s potential Background, what they were prior stepping into the life of an adventurer. Each Ancestry spans four pages, and there are four pages of Backgrounds; you could easily understand the game reading a page worth of the backgrounds. So, given the introduction, a page of Backgrounds, and reading one Ancestry in-depth, that’s 6 Pages.
- Classes: What is your character’s role in the adventuring party? Stealthy rogue, or spell-casting wizard? This chapter has 12 Classes each covered in 12 pages. Again, read the intro, and one Class. That’s 15 pages (and one page of the Class is an awesome piece of full-page art, so 14 pages)!
- Skills: Skills are important for any adventurer and this chapter dives deep into what Skills are available, and how to use them. Seven pages of explanation, and about 14 pages of Skills. It covers crafting and knowledge checks, and more though, so, I’m going to say 10 pages to get a pretty good feel for Skills.
- Feats: Feats are the main way you differentiate your character, and a significant way how we make three different characters of the same Class play completely differently at the table. Some Feats were covered in the Ancestry section, but this chapter provides a wealth of selections for General Feats and Skill-specific Feats. This chapter has an intro page, and then fourteen pages of Feats, as well as a reference table. I’d say, you can understand this in a quick two pages. Come back and delve into it further during character creation, or as a GM, look things up as you need it. 2 Pages.
- Equipment: This chapter discusses currency and price, carrying and using items, damaging items, armor, weapons, shields, costs of living, and more. You should go through and read at least the beginning of each major section, glancing over lists of equipment. I’m going to say 14 pages, much of the chapter.
- Spells: What’s a fantasy roleplaying game without spells? Pathfinder Second Edition provides us plenty! Ten pages describing the various schools of magic, methods of spellcasting– prepared vs spontaneous, boosting Spell power through Heightening, Cantrips (awesome!), Saving Throws, basically everything you need to know about casting Spells. Then we’re treated to one hundred pages of Spells! Flip through these to get a feel for them, in say 4 pages combined, then spend about another page to learn about rituals. 15 pages total.
- The Age of Lost Omens: 26 pages about the geographical regions of the campaign world of Golarion, the cultures and creatures that live within it, the factions that influence the world, and the deities that rule over it. With a focus on understanding how to play the game, skip it for now– but definitely come back for this rich flavor for the world. Any player that plays a divine centered character such as a cleric will need to delve into this chapter to select a deity to worship, and learn about the influence this has on their character’s morals and abilities. For now, though, 0 Pages.
- Playing the Game: As the title of this chapter suggests, this is a pretty important one for our goal of knowing how to play the game. I recommend reading the whole chapter. As a player, you could get away with much less of this chapter, or skimming it, but to really understand the mechanics you’re reading about in character sections of the book it would make more sense to read it all. If you’re the GM, read this– maybe twice! Reading it once, 39 Pages.
- Game Mastering: This whole chapter focuses on how to run the game and create your world. If you’re going to be just a player, skip it for now. There is a ton of great info in this chapter though, from how to schedule the game, to how to create and balance encounters as well as campaign writing, and there’s some nitty-gritty rules stuff such as terrain and climate types. It’s 47 pages of super useful information, but to get going, read the first couple pages about running welcoming games, read about determining turn order with initiative, about determining difficulty classes (how difficult it is to succeed at an action– what you need to roll), and Hero Points, and call it good for now. 5 Pages. Come back to this though!
- Crafting & Treasure: Loot! What’s better than a whole chapter about how to craft and use magic items? Over 350 magic items, of course! Around 85 pages, but if you’re starting at first level, you certainly don’t need to know all of this on day one. Read the first six pages, and then pick and choose items to read about. 10 pages for now.
- Conditions Appendix: The appendix is great as a reference for the conditions that can be affecting the characters and other creatures in the game. You don’t need to read it right now! 0 Pages.
So, grand total– 135 pages to read for an understanding of the game, and I mean to understand it pretty well. If you read these 135 pages you’ll have been exposed to all the core mechanics of the game and seen numerous options for Feats and Spells for instance. Again, I think a player could get away with reading quite a bit less, and focus on the character creation portions.
In short, don’t be intimidated by a 640-page tome! Dive in! After you read and enjoy those first 135 pages, you’ll have another 505 pages to enjoy for days to come!
Also, while it’s an impressive tome to have on your shelf, and even though I feel it’s well worth it, you don’t need to commit to the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook hardcover for $59.99 (cheaper on Amazon, affiliate link), you can get the PDF at Paizo for Just $14.99. Still too much of a commitment? Check out the totally free online Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Doc at Archives of Nethys. The online version is stripped of all the flavor and Golarion specific material, but the rules are all there. Even if you have the physical book, the PRD is a great quick reference.
Disclosure: Paizo provided GeekDad the ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook’ and ‘Bestiary’ for review. Opinions remain our own, and I’ve already also purchased the PDF on my own!