Pathfinder 2 Playing the Game

Playing the Game

At this point, you have a character and are ready to play Pathfinder! Or maybe you’re the GM and you are getting ready to run your first adventure. Either way, this chapter provides the full details for the rules outlined in the Introduction. This chapter begins by describing the general rules and conventions of how the game is played and then presents more in-depth explanations of the rules for each mode of play.

Before diving into how to play Pathfinder, it’s important to understand the game’s three modes of play, which determine the pace of your adventure and the specific rules you’ll use at a given time. Each mode provides a different pace and presents a different level of risk to your characters. The Game Master (GM) determines which mode works best for the story and controls the transition between them. You’ll likely talk about the modes less formally during your play session, simply transitioning between exploration and encounters during the adventure, before heading to a settlement to achieve something during downtime.

The most intricate of the modes is encounter mode. This is where most of the intense action takes place, and it’s most often used for combat or other high-stakes situations. The GM typically switches to encounter mode by calling on the players to “roll for initiative” to determine the order in which all the actors take their turns during the encounter. Time is then divided into a series of rounds, each lasting roughly 6 seconds in the game world. Each round, player characters, other creatures, and sometimes even hazards or events take their turn in initiative order. At the start of a participant’s turn, they gain the use of a number of actions (typically 3 in the case of PCs and other creatures) as well as a special action called a reaction. These actions, and what you do with them, are how you affect the world within an encounter. The full rules for playing in encounter mode start on page 468.

In exploration mode, time is more flexible and the play more free form. In this mode, minutes, hours, or even days in the game world pass quickly in the real world, as the characters travel cross country, explore uninhabited sections of a dungeon, or roleplay during a social gathering. Often, developments during exploration lead to encounters, and the GM will switch to that mode of play until the encounter ends, before returning to exploration mode. The rules for exploration start on page 479.

The third mode is downtime. During downtime, the characters are at little risk, and the passage of time is measured in days or longer. This is when you might forge a magic sword, research a new spell, or prepare for your next adventure. The rules for downtime are on page 481.

General Rules

Before exploring the specific rules of each mode of play, you’ll want to understand a number of general rules of the game. To one degree or another, these rules are used in every mode of play.

Game Conventions

Pathfinder has many specific rules, but you’ll also want to keep these general guidelines in mind when playing.

The GM Has the Final Say

If you’re ever uncertain how to apply a rule, the GM decides. Of course, Pathfinder is a game, so when adjudicating the rules, the GM is encouraged to listen to everyone’s point of view and make a decision that is both fair and fun.

Specific Overrides General

A core principle of Pathfinder is that specific rules override general ones. If two rules conflict, the more specific one takes precedence. If there’s still ambiguity, the GM determines which rule to use. For example, the rules state that when attacking a concealed creature, you must attempt a DC 5 flat check to determine if you hit. Flat checks don’t benefit from modifiers, bonuses, or penalties, but an ability that’s specifically designed to overcome concealment might override and alter this. If a rule doesn’t specify otherwise, default to the general rules presented in this chapter. While some special rules may also state the normal rules to provide context, you should always default to the normal rules even if effects don’t specifically say to.


You may need to calculate a fraction of a value, like halving damage. Always round down unless otherwise specified. For example, if a spell deals 7 damage and a creature takes half damage from it, that creature takes 3 damage.


When more than one effect would multiply the same number, don’t multiply more than once. Instead, combine all the multipliers into a single multiplier, with each multiple after the first adding 1 less than its value. For instance, if one ability doubled the duration of one of your spells and another one doubled the duration of the same spell, you would triple the duration, not quadruple it.

Duplicate Effects

When you’re affected by the same thing multiple times, only one instance applies, using the higher level of the effects, or the newer effect if the two are the same level. For example, if you were using mage armor and then cast it again, you’d still benefit from only one casting of that spell. Casting a spell again on the same target might get you a better duration or effect if it were cast at a higher level the second time, but otherwise doing so gives you no advantage.

Ambiguous Rules

Sometimes a rule could be interpreted multiple ways. If one version is too good to be true, it probably is. If a rule seems to have wording with problematic repercussions or doesn’t work as intended, work with your group to find a good solution, rather than just playing with the rule as printed.

Making Choices

Pathfinder is a game where your choices determine the story’s direction. Throughout the game, the GM describes what’s happening in the world and then asks the players,“So what do you do?” Exactly what you choose to do, and how the GM responds to those choices, builds a unique story experience. Every game is different, because you’ll rarely, if ever, make the same decisions as another group of players. This is true for the GM as well—two GMs running the exact same adventure will put different emphasis and flourishes on the way they present each scenario and encounter.

Often, your choices have no immediate risk or consequences. If you’re traveling along a forest path and come across a fork in the trail, the GM will ask, “Which way do you go?” You might choose to take the right fork or the left. You could also choose to leave the trail, or just go back to town. Once your choice is made, the GM tells you what happens next. Down the line, that choice may impact what you encounter later in the game, but in many cases nothing dangerous happens immediately.

But sometimes what happens as a result of your choices is less than certain. In those cases, you’ll attempt a check.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Core Rulebook (Second Edition) © 2019, Paizo Inc.; Designers: Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and Mark Seifter.