Picking a class to play can be a difficult matter sometimes. Should I be a fighter, picking fights with gnolls and being in the center of battle, or maybe a wizard, blasting skeletons with arcane spells? But I want to use a bow… so maybe I should be a rogue or ranger instead... See what I mean? Pathfinder has almost 30 classes to choose from (with more coming). So, to keep this simple, I’ll only be discussing the core and base classes. Hybrid classes are still relatively new and they will touched on another day.
Hopefully at this point you’ve decided on a race. If you recall Creating a Character, choosing your race first can help you narrow down what class to choose. If that doesn’t work ask yourself this question: To magic or not to magic? Classes are be generally split into two categories: martials and spellcasters. Martials focus on close or long distance physical combat, while spellcasters tend to be a support/utility role or blasters. Keep in mind that a lot of classes can take on a variety of roles, and there’s a good bit of crossover possible there with classes like the Inquisitor, Ranger, or Paladin, who can also cast spells.
Inquisitors are the shadowy secret agents of the Church; the secret weapon to the cleric’s public servant. Inquisitors have a huge sack of cool tricks to play with aside from the usual weapons and spellcasting. Their abilities are very flavorful and focus on intimidation and interrogation, declaring judgment on enemies of the church, and applying the “bane” ability to their weapons, which can rack up a lot of extra damage. **Now, while we've grouped Inquisitors in with the fighting classes for simplicity's sake, you should know that these guys can use divine magic, too- they don't have the variety of magic that, say, a Cleric might possess, but their magic definitely gives them another excellent tool in their Swiss Army Knife skill-set.** If you want to play something along the lines of Castlevania’s Belmont clan or Van Helsing (the goofy Hugh Jackman version, that is), this is the class for you
Rogues are your classic sneaky characters, and every good party should have one (or at least a character who can ape one or more of the Rogue’s abilities). They’re the best at stealthing about, unlocking doors, detecting or disarming traps, and sneak-attacking enemies. They make great flanking buddies for a fighter or monk, since sneak attack damage can quickly sap an opponent’s hit points. Some players complain that rogues are underpowered compared to other classes; there may be some truth to this, but you don’t play a rogue to be the hardest-hitting, baddest-ass character at the table. There’s a particular sort of niche the rogue fills better than any other class, and if you play to its strengths, it’s a lot of fun. Just don’t go walking up to every enemy and trying to stab them in the guts. That’s the fighter’s job. Rogues wear light armor and don’t have the hit points to take a beating, so play smart and keep out of harm’s way.
Rangers are almost like a cross between a fighter and a druid; they have limited access to some nature-based divine spells, and can have an animal companion, but the real meat of the ranger lies in their ability to focus on a chosen fighting style (traditionally either two-weapon fighting or archery) and pick out an enemy of choice that they’re extra-good at fighting. Does your character concept involve parents or a loved one killed by the undead? A ranger with the undead as a favored enemy makes an easy, built-in roleplaying opportunity with gameplay benefits to boot!
Gunslingers are fairly unique in that they specialize in, well, guns. This makes them uniquely focused on long-ranged combat, but there’s more to them than just shooting holes in the bad guys. They gain a pool of “grit” points, which let them pull off cool stunts and trick shots, which gives them a lot more variety than, say, any random fighter or rogue who learned how to use a gun. There’s a lot of risk and upkeep involved with guns, since they can misfire at the worst possible moment, but the reward is usually worth it since firearms will punch through armor at normal range.
Barbarians, thanks to their Rage ability, can hulk out and gain extra strength and durability for a limited time. They’re not as versatile as fighters, but they can cause just as much if not more damage in a scrap, and that makes them very, very dangerous. Of course, that danger extends to themselves as well, as coming out of a rage leaves the barbarian fatigued- and losing those temporary hit points that come along with raging can cause a character to fall over dead at the end of that Ragesplosion. If you want to play the angriest character at the table, barbarian’s your class of choice.
Fighters may seem straightforward, but they’re incredibly versatile thanks to the heaping helping of feats they get, level after level. They may not have much in the way of class features, but with the ability to use just about any non-exotic weapon or armor in the world and the feats to craft their own play style, fighters are a lot more fun to build and play than one might think. Want to walk into battle with a sword and shield? A two-handed Cloud Strife-style greatsword? A bow and arrow? Fighters can do any of those things. If you want to do damage to your enemies, you could do a lot worse than the traditional fighter.
Like a shining knight from a classic fairy tale, the paladin is devout, chivalrous, and gains special powers that set it apart from the fighter thanks to the favor of a divine entity. Paladin’s are fantastic front-line combatants who also have abilities that let them heal their allies, can smite undead or fiendish enemies, and can cast some divine spells after a few levels. Paladins do have a very strict code of conduct they have to follow, however, lest they lose their divine gifts, so some players might be turned off at having to watch their behavior so closely. Don’t expect the GM to be okay with you torturing captives or executing a surrendered enemy and let you keep your paladin abilities!
Monks are martial artists who have trained their minds and bodies into their weapon of choice. Some choose to fight solely with their fists and other choose a weapon focus. They have strict guidelines to how they live and fight. If you’re into kung fu movies or wuxia, the monk is the closest thing you’ll find to creating a character along those lines in Pathfinder. They don’t wear armor, but they have a lot of cool wuxia-inspired abilities like High Jump and Slow Fall and get access to a pool of “ki points,” a resource that recharges with rest that allows them to pull off a variety of cool martial arts-y abilities. We always house-rule that Monks get a d10 hit die and full-Base Attack Bonus progression like a Fighter, which helps them survive better in melee combat.
Cavaliers are a bit like fighters on the surface, but they have some nifty abilities. For one thing, cavaliers choose an Order to belong to, which gives them different abilities. They can challenge enemies to a one-on-one duel and gain bonuses if they fight appropriately. They excel at mounted combat. Now, cavaliers aren’t for every campaign- dungeon crawls don’t leave much room for lugging your horse around, for instance- but in the right kind of adventure, cavaliers are really fun, especially if you roleplay your Order well.
Spellcasters will be covered in Part 2!
Images belong to Pathfinder/Paizo Publishing