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Playing The Game

Before diving into how to play, it’s important to understand the different modes of play, which depend on the story and the pace of the adventure. Each mode of play is suited to a different flow of time in the game world and level of risk to the players. The Game Master is in charge of determining which mode works best for what the characters are up to, and controls the transitions between modes. Each mode has its own rules for resolving actions and activities.

In encounter mode, time is divided into a series of rounds, each lasting 6 seconds. On every round, each participant has a turn to act and take a number of discrete actions. This mode of play is most often used for combat or other high-stakes situations.

In exploration mode, time is more flexible and the style of play more free-form. Here, minutes or even hours in the game world could pass quickly in the real world. This mode of play is frequently used when traveling, exploring a dungeon, or roleplaying in a town. Developments in exploration mode can lead to encounters, causing play to alternate between encounter mode and exploration mode as the story unfolds.

In downtime mode, the players are at little risk, and the passage of time is measured in days or even longer units of time. Forging a magic sword, researching a new spell, or retraining a feat are all activities that you might undertake in this mode of play.

The first section of this chapter presents general rules all players should understand. You’ll use these in every mode of play to resolve a wide variety of scenarios and challenges. Subsequent sections dive into the specifics of tactical combat, exploring environments, and downtime.


The GM will call upon you to attempt a check whenever you need to resolve a conflict or test your aptitude at a particular task or challenge. Examples include any attempt to attack another creature in combat, using skills, and resisting the effects of a dangerous spell that has been cast upon you. Checks are attempted against the difficulty class (DC) of the task or challenge to determine success or failure. When you attempt a check, you’ll take these steps: roll aA Pathfinder adventure will take you to new lands, bring you into conflict with monsters and villainous rivals, and introduce you to new friends and allies. The major rules governing how your decisions and deeds affect the world around you are detailed in full in this chapter.

d20 and identify the modifiers, bonuses, and penalties that apply to the result of the roll; calculate the result; compare the result to a DC; and determine the effect.

1. Identify Modifiers, Bonuses, and Penalties

After you roll your d20, you’ll identify all the relevant modifiers, bonuses, and penalties that need to be applied to the roll. A modifier can be either positive or negative, but a bonus is always positive and a penalty is always negative.

Most rolls include at least an ability modifier, which is based on one of your ability scores, and a proficiency modifier, which is based on your level of training. Other bonuses and penalties may come from magic, the situation at hand, or other sources.

Ability Modifier

An ability modifier represents your raw capabilities, and is derived from an ability score.

Nearly all checks are keyed to an ability, and different types of checks require different ability modifiers, according to the nature of the checks.

For example, Stealth is a Dexterity-based skill because it relies on grace and quickness, but attacking with a battleaxe is Strength based, because it relies upon physical power to be effective. The rules indicate which ability modifier to use, but the GM might sometimes determine that you should use a different ability modifier.

Proficiency Modifier

Your proficiency rank represents your degree of training in a weapon, a skill, or many other things. Your class and feat choices determine your proficiency ranks. For example, a fighter gets high proficiency ranks in many types of weapons and armor, while a wizard gets little in these categories, exchanging martial prowess for proficiencies related to magic.

Unless your class, a feat, or some other ability makes your proficiency rank trained or better, you’re assumed to be untrained at a task. As your character gains levels, your proficiency rank can increase. If you’re ever in a situation where more than one proficiency could apply, use your highest applicable proficiency rank. For example, if you are trained in all simple weapons but an expert in daggers specifically, you’d use expert proficiency when attacking with a dagger. The only exception to this is that when calculating your Armor Class while carrying a shield, your proficiency rank is the lower of your proficiency ranks with the armor you wear or the shield you carry.

Proficiency Rank Modifier
Untrained Your level – 2
Trained Your level
Expert Your level + 1
Master Your level + 2
Legendary Your level + 3

You have a proficiency rank for all the following items, types of rolls, and DCs.

Proficiency Roll or DC
Weapons, unarmed attacks,
other types of attacks
Attack rolls
Armor Armor Class*
Shields Armor Class*
Perception Perception checks and DC
Each skill Skill checks and DCs
Each type of saving throw Saving throws and DCs
Spell rolls  Spell rolls and DCs

* When calculating AC while carrying a shield, apply the lower of your armor proficiency rank or your shield proficiency rank.

You have all lower proficiency ranks (other than untrained) in addition to your current rank. For example, if you have reached the master proficiency rank, you can still select feats that require expert rank or trained rank.


Beneficial circumstances, conditions, items, and spells might give you bonuses to a roll in one of three types.

A circumstance bonus is based on a beneficial situation, the culmination of a tactic, or some other situational benefit. Circumstance bonuses range from +1 to +4.

Conditional bonuses are typically the result of magic or abilities applying helpful, often temporary conditions to you. Conditional bonuses range from +1 to +4. Conditional bonuses are also granted by some magic items, depending on the effect—for example, if an item granted you the benefits of heroism, you’d get conditional bonuses rather than item bonuses.

An item bonus applies when you receive a benefit from a piece of gear. High-quality or magical items often grant an item bonus when used or worn, from +1 to +5.

If you gain multiple bonuses of the same type, only the highest bonus applies—you don’t add them together. For instance, being behind cover grants you a +2 circumstance bonus to AC. Using Raise a Shield with a light shield grants you a +1 circumstance bonus to AC. If you are both behind cover and raising a light shield, you gain only the +2 circumstance bonus for cover, since it’s the higher.


Negative circumstances, harmful conditions and spells, and inferior items can impede your rolls. There are four different types of penalties.

Circumstance penalties are applied due to the environment, enemies’ tactics, and other situational reasons. For instance, being flanked by a pair of foes can make you flat-footed, which imposes a –2 circumstance penalty to your Armor Class and Touch Armor Class. Circumstance penalties range from –1 to –4.

Conditional penalties are caused by negative conditions. Being sick 2, for example, imposes a –2 conditional penalty to all your checks and DCs. Conditional penalties range from –1 to –4.

Item penalties occur when using poor-quality or cursed items, in the same way that better items provide item bonuses. Item penalties range from –1 to –4.

As with bonuses, if you gain multiple circumstance, conditional, or item penalties, only the worst penalty of each type applies. However, there’s also a special, fourth kind of penalty that doesn’t have a type, called an untyped penalty. These include the multiple attack penalty and the check penalty from your armor. All relevant untyped penalties combine and apply to your roll, no matter how many different ones you have. Untyped penalties are always the result of choices you’ve made, and are never forcibly applied to your character by an opponent or situation.

2. Calculate The Result

Once you’ve identified the modifiers, bonuses, and penalties that apply to your roll, you calculate the result (sometimes called a “total”) using the following formula.

Result of a roll = number on the die + ability modifier + proficiency modifier + circumstance bonus + conditional bonus + item bonus + circumstance penalty + conditional penalty + item penalty + untyped penalties

3. Determine the Difficulty Class (DC)

The result of your check is compared against a Difficulty Class (often abbreviated as DC) to determine how well you did. For tasks that aren’t opposed by another character, the GM will set the DC depending on the difficulty of what you’re trying to achieve.

For tasks opposed by another character, the DC is based on one of the target’s modifiers, as defined in the task. A DC derived in this way is equal to 10 plus the creature’s modifier for that type of roll. All modifiers, bonuses, and penalties that would apply to the character’s rolls for a task also apply to its DC unless noted otherwise. For example, if you’re trying to sneak past a guard, you attempt a Stealth check opposed by the guard’s Perception DC. If you have a +5 Stealth and they have a +3 Perception, you roll 1d20+5 against their Perception DC of 13.

Armor Class

Armor Class (AC) is a special type of DC used to defend against attacks. It’s how you measure whether an attack hits or misses you, and it is usually modified if you are wearing armor, have a high Dexterity score, or have a special ability that makes you more nimble or defensive.

You usually determine your AC while creating your character.

Touch Armor Class

Some effects, items, or abilities (such as spells) require only contact, not a solid impact, to hit. This is called a touch attack. To determine if a touch attack hits a target, make an attack roll (either melee or ranged, as appropriate) and compare the result to the target’s Touch Armor Class (TAC). Your TAC is typically lower than your AC.

Anything that gives you a bonus or penalty to Armor Class also gives you an equal bonus or penalty to Touch Armor Class unless stated otherwise.

4. Determine the Degree of Success

Comparing a result to a DC determines which of the four degrees of success you achieve—success, critical success, failure, or critical failure. This tells you whether (and how spectacularly) you succeeded or failed. Some checks don’t specify every degree of success. If no critical success or critical failure is specified, use the effect of an ordinary success or failure, respectively. If no success or failure is described, nothing happens depending on what isn’t described.

Success and Critical Success

If your result is equal to or greater than the DC, you succeed and apply any success effect (or generally achieve what you set out to do). However, if you succeed and rolled a 20 on the die (often called a “natural 20”), or if your result is equal to or greater than the DC plus 10, you critically succeed. You apply the critical success effect instead of the success effect. If the critical success was an attack roll, it is sometimes called a critical hit.

Critical successes usually have greater effects than regular successes. For instance, if you succeed at a Strike, you deal damage, but if you critically succeed, you deal double damage. If an ability doesn’t specify a critical success effect, then the effect for a critical success is the same as that for a success. A critical success counts as a success for rules that have different effects depending on whether you succeed or fail.

If your enemy is far more powerful than you or a task beyond your abilities, you might roll a natural 20 and still get a result lower than the DC. In this case, you succeed instead of critically succeed or fail. If you lack the proficiency for a task in the first place, or it’s impossible, you might still fail on a natural 20.

Failure and Critical Failure

If your result is less than the DC, you fail. For actions you initiated, this typically means there is no effect. If you were rolling a saving throw, failing generally means you are affected by a spell or ability. If there is no failure effect listed, the ability simply has no effect if it fails.

If you fail and roll a 1 on the d20 (also called a “natural 1”), or you fail and your result is equal to or less than the DC minus 10, you critically fail instead of just failing. A critical failure is sometimes called a “fumble.” If an action or activity does not specify a critical failure effect, then the effect for a critical failure is the same as that for a failure.

The effects of a critical failure are often more detrimental than those for a failure and can be debilitating or even deadly. If an ability does not specify a critical failure effect, then the effect for a critical failure is the same as that for a failure. A critical failure counts as a failure for rules that have different effects depending on whether you succeed or fail. It might be possible in some situations to meet the DC even on a 1. If your roll would equal or exceed the DC even on a 1, you don’t critically fail, but you still fail instead of succeeding. You can’t succeed when you roll a 1 no matter what your modifier is.

Flat Checks

When there’s a chance something will happen or fail to happen based on pure chance, you attempt a flat check.

A flat check never includes any modifiers, bonuses, or penalties—you just roll the d20 and compare the result on the die to the DC. Specific effects might adjust your DC for certain types of flat checks, but abilities that don’t specifically call out flat checks can’t change their DCs.

If more than one flat check would ever cause or prevent the same thing, just roll once using the highest DC. In the rare circumstance that a flat check has a DC of 1 or lower, skip rolling; you automatically succeed. Conversely, if one ever has a DC of 21 or higher, you automatically fail.

Secret Checks

When a player shouldn’t know the exact result of a roll for their character, the rules call for a secret check. The secret trait appears on anything that uses secret checks. This type of check uses the character’s normal modifier, but is rolled by the GM, who doesn’t reveal the result. Instead, she simply describes any information or effects that result from the check. If a player doesn’t know a secret check is happening (for instance, if the GM rolls a secret Fortitude save for a player against a poison that he failed to notice), he can’t activate a fortune or misfortune ability (see the sidebar) on that check, but any such effect that would apply automatically to that type of check still applies. If a player knows the GM is attempting a secret check—as often happens with Recall Knowledge or Seek—he can activate fortune or misfortune abilities.

The GM can make any check secret, even if it’s not usually secret. Conversely, the GM can let the players roll any or all of their checks even if they would usually be secret, trusting players not to make choices based on information their characters don’t have.

Other Rolls

Once you know that your action or ability is successful, you might need to make a different kind of roll to know what effect it has. These rolls will use a different number and type of dice. The result of such a roll is the sum of the number rolled on all the dice plus all modifiers, bonuses, and penalties that apply. You don’t compare this result of this roll to a DC unless otherwise noted. A damage roll (see below) is a common example of this type of roll.


Attacks, traps, spells, and hazardous environments can all cause damage to a character. Damage decreases Hit Points on a 1-to-1 basis (so a creature that takes 6 damage loses 6 Hit Points). Damage might be a fixed amount, or it might be determined by a damage roll. A damage roll typically uses a number and type of dice determined by the weapon or unarmed attack used or the spell cast. Damage can be affected by immunities, resistances, and weaknesses.

Damage Types

Damage comes in many different types. Weapons, spells, and abilities indicate the types of damage they deal, and immunities, resistances, and weaknesses function against certain damage types. An effect that deals a type of damage gains the matching trait, if appropriate.

Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage typically comes from weapons; these types are collectively called physical damage. Spells, special weapons, and environmental dangers can cause many other types of damage. Acid, cold, electricity, fire, and sonic are all types of energy damage. Force damage comes from pure magical energy and can damage ethereal creatures, such as ghosts. Negative damage harms the life force of living creatures, and positive damage hurts undead. Effects that exist purely in the target’s mind deal mental damage.

Weapons and effects keyed to a particular alignment can deal chaotic, evil, good, or lawful damage.

Special materials can modify a type of damage. For example, an adamantine greataxe would deal adamantine slashing damage. This largely matters for resistances and weaknesses.

Precision damage increases an attack’s damage rather than being a separate pool of damage. For example, a dagger Strike that deals 1d6 precision damage from sneak attack increases the piercing damage by 1d6. A creature that was immune to precision damage would ignore the 1d6 but take the rest of the damage from the Strike.

Doubling and Halving Damage

Sometimes you’ll have to halve or double an amount of damage. When you halve damage, you roll the normal damage specified and halve the resulting number, rounding down. You do this whether the damage is delivered by an effect with an attack roll or one that required a creature to attempt a save.

How you double damage depends on the effect’s delivery. If the damage comes from an effect with an attack roll, you roll double the normal number of dice and apply all damage modifiers, bonuses, and penalties twice.

If the damage comes from an effect allowing a creature to attempt a saving throw, you double the damage total instead, rather than rolling more dice.

For example, if you critically hit with a +1 longsword, you would roll 4d8 and add your modifier twice instead of rolling 2d8 and adding your modifier once. On the other hand, if one of your enemies critically fails its saving throw against your 3rd-level fireball spell, you would roll 6d6 damage and then double that total. For instance, if you rolled 21 damage, those who critically fail their saves against the spell would take 42 fire damage instead.

Rolling Twice and Rerolls

Fortune and misfortune effects can alter how you roll your dice.

These abilities might allow you to reroll a failed roll, force you to reroll a successful roll, allow you to roll twice and take the higher result, or force you to roll twice and take the lower result.

You can never have more than one fortune or misfortune effect come into play on a single roll. For instance, if you roll twice and take the higher roll, you can’t use Halfling Luck to reroll if you still fail. If multiple fortune effects would apply, you have to pick which to use. If two misfortune effects apply, the GM decides which is worse and applies it.

If you are subject to both a fortune effect and a misfortune effect on the same roll, the two cancel each other out and you roll normally.

Nonlethal Attacks

You can make a nonlethal attack in an effort to knock someone out instead of killing them (see Getting Knocked Out). Weapons with the nonlethal trait (including fists) do this automatically.

If you’re making a nonlethal attack with a weapon that doesn’t have the nonlethal trait, calculate your attack roll’s result as if you were untrained with the weapon.

Likewise, you can attempt lethal attacks with a weapon that has the nonlethal feature, also calculating your attack roll’s result as though you were untrained.

Immunity, Weakness, and Resistance

Protections against certain types of effects or damage are known as immunities or resistances, while vulnerabilities are called weaknesses. Apply immunities first, then weaknesses, and resistances third. Immunity, weakness, or resistance to an alignment applies only to damage of that type, not to damage from an attacking creature of that alignment.


A creature with immunity to a specific type of damage or trait can’t be affected by that type of damage or by effects with that trait. Though the creature can still be targeted by such attacks or effects, it ignores all damage, drawbacks, and benefits. If the creature also has resistance or weakness to a type of damage it has immunity to, the immunity takes precedence. Usually immunity applies to a certain trait but might be more specific, like immunity to arcane cold spells.


When a creature has a weakness to a certain type of damage or damage from a certain source, increase that damage by the amount of the creature’s weakness. For instance, if a creature takes 2d6 fire damage and has weakness 5 to fire, it takes 2d6+5 fire damage instead.

If the creature has more than one type of weakness that would apply to the same instance of damage, use only the highest applicable weakness value. This usually only happens when a monster is weak to both a type of physical damage and the material a weapon is made of.


A creature with resistance reduces damage dealt to it by the amount listed in its resistance entry (to a minimum of 0 damage). Resistance can specify damage types or certain other properties of attacks. For instance, a creature might be resistant to nonmagical bludgeoning damage, meaning it would take less damage from bludgeoning attacks that weren’t magical, but would take normal damage from a +1 mace or a nonmagical spear. A resistance might have an exception. For example, resistance 10 to physical damage (except silver) would reduce any physical damage by 10 unless that damage was dealt by a silver weapon.

If the creature has more than one type of resistance that would apply to the same instance of damage, use only the highest applicable resistance value.

It’s possible to have resistance to all damage. If you have resistance to all damage, apply the resistance to each source separately. If an attack would deal 7 slashing damage and 4 fire damage, resistance 5 to all damage would reduce the slashing damage to 2 and negate the fire damage.

Weakness and Resistance Interactions

Sometimes a magic item or a spell that inflicts a weakness or grants a resistance interacts with a creature’s intrinsic weaknesses and resistances or other effects that grant weaknesses or resistances. If you have a weakness to a damage type and gain a resistance to it, first lower the weakness by the amount of the resistance. After this, if there is any remaining resistance, that amount becomes the actual resistance. For example, if you have weakness 5 to fire, but gain resistance 10 to fire, your weakness is reduced to 0 and you gain resistance 5 to fire instead.

This works the same way if you have a resistance and gain a weakness. Since multiple weaknesses and resistances aren’t cumulative, determine the highest weakness and the highest resistance before comparing the weakness and resistance to each other.

Damage and Enhancements

Some abilities that deal damage have enhancements.

These take effect only if you deal at least 1 damage. For instance, if you use a poisoned blade to attack a creature with slashing resistance and the creature takes no damage because of its resistance, it’s not exposed to your poison.

Hit Points and Healing

All creatures have Hit Points (HP). Your maximum Hit Point value represents your health, wherewithal, and heroic drive when you are in good health and rested. Your maximum Hit Points include the HP you gain at 1st level from your race and class, those you gain at higher levels from your class, and any you gain from other sources (like the Toughness general feat). When you’re dealt damage, you reduce your current Hit Points by a number equal to the damage dealt.

Some spells and other effects can heal living or undead creatures. When you are healed, you regain Hit Points equal to the amount healed, up to your maximum Hit Points.

When most creatures reach 0 Hit Points, they die, unless the attack was nonlethal, in which case they are knocked out for a significant amount of time (usually 1 minute or more). When undead and construct creatures reach 0 Hit Points, they are destroyed. Player characters don’t automatically die when they reach 0 Hit Points. Instead, they are knocked out. Villains, powerful monsters, enemies with healers or regeneration, and any other NPCs at the GM’s discretion are knocked out like a PC as well.

Getting Knocked Out

When you’re reduced to 0 Hit Points, you get knocked out.

When this happens, you are subject to the following effects:

You fall unconscious (gaining the unconscious condition).

You immediately move your initiative position to directly before the creature or effect that reduced you to 0 HP. If the attack was lethal, you gain the dying 1 condition. If you already had the dying condition, instead increase your dying condition by 1. If the attack was a critical hit, you gain the dying 2 condition (or increase your dying condition by 2).

If the attack was nonlethal, you do not gain the dying condition or increase your dying condition, and you return to 1 Hit Point (though you remain unconscious).

If your dying condition reaches 4 or greater, you die.

Recovery Saving Throws

When you’re unconscious, at the start of each of your turns you attempt a special Fortitude saving throw to regain consciousness, called a recovery saving throw.

The GM sets the DC of your recovery saving throw when you’re knocked out. This DC equals the DC of the spell or ability that dropped you plus your current dying value.

If damage that reduced you to 0 Hit Points came from something that doesn’t have a DC, such as an attack roll, use the attacker’s class DC. Though a class DC usually includes the key ability modifier for a character’s class, the GM might sometimes decide a different ability score is appropriate; for example, a wizard’s class DC usually uses Intelligence, but if he knocks someone out with his staff, the DC might use Strength or Dexterity. For monsters, the GM will use a high-difficulty skill DC of the monster’s level.

Always use the recovery DC determined at the time you were knocked out—if the attacker’s DC changes later, your recovery save DC doesn’t retroactively change to match.

Recovery Save Effects

The possible effects of a recovery save depend on whether you’re at 0 Hit Points (at risk of dying) or at 1 Hit Point (stabilized with a chance to wake up).

If you are at 0 Hit Points:

  • Success You return to 1 Hit Point.
  • Failure Your dying value increases by 1.
  • Critical Failure Your dying value increases by 2.

If you are at 1 Hit Point or more:

  • Success You become conscious and can take your turn normally, although you lose 1 action this turn (so in most cases, you can take only 2 actions). You still have the dying condition.

Reducing the Dying Condition

At the end of each of your turns while you have at least 1 Hit Point and are conscious, you reduce your dying value by 1. As with other conditions, when the dying value reaches 0, the dying condition ends.

Taking Damage while Unconscious

If you take damage while you’re already unconscious, apply the same effects as if you had been knocked out by that damage. If the recovery save DC for the new damage is higher than your current recovery save DC, start using the higher DC.

Heroic Recovery

You can spend 1 Hero Point to lose the dying condition and return to 1 Hit Point (if you are at 0 Hit Points) no matter how close to death you are.

Death Effects and Instant Death

Some spells and abilities can kill you immediately or bring you closer to death without needing to reduce you to 0 Hit Points first. These abilities have the death trait and usually involve negative energy: the antithesis of life.

If you are reduced to 0 Hit Points by a death effect, you are slain instantly without needing to reach dying 4. Some effects might state that they kill you outright, which means you gain the dead condition without having to reach dying 4. Other abilities can inflict the dying condition directly, without having to reduce you to 0 Hit Points or to damage you when you’re already at 0 Hit Points.

Massive Damage

You die instantly if you ever take damage equal to or greater than double your maximum Hit Points.

Temporary Hit Points

Some spells or abilities give you temporary Hit Points.

Keep track of these separately from your other Hit Points, and when you take damage, reduce your temporary Hit Points first. Most temporary Hit Points last for a limited duration. You can’t heal lost temporary Hit Points through healing, but you can gain more via other abilities. You can have temporary Hit Points from only one source at a time.

If you gain temporary HP when you already have some, choose whether to keep the amount you already have and their corresponding duration or to gain the new temporary Hit Points and their duration.

Actions and Activities

The primary ways you affect the world around you are actions and activities. Actions can be completed in a very short time. They’re self-contained and their effects are generated within the span of that single action. During an encounter, you get three actions on your turn.

Activities usually take longer and require using multiple actions, which must be spent in succession. Stride is an action, but casting fireball is an activity, because it lists the specific actions that need to be spent to generate its effect.


An activity typically involves spending multiple actions to create an effect that’s different from merely the sum of those actions. In some cases, usually with spellcasting, an activity can take only 1 action, 1 reaction, or 1 free action.

An activity might cause you to take specific actions. You don’t have to spend additional actions to perform them because they’re already factored into the activity’s required actions. (See Dependant Abilities.)

You have to do an activity all at once. In an encounter, this means you must complete it during your turn, but outside of encounters, activities can take minutes, hours, or days. If an activity gets interrupted in an encounter, you lose all the actions you committed to it. For an activity that occurs outside of encounter mode, you usually lose the time you put in, but no additional time beyond that.

An activity doesn’t count as any of its dependent actions or other abilities. For example, the quick condition you get from the haste spell lets you spend an extra action each turn to Stride or Strike, but you couldn’t use the extra action for an activity that includes a Stride or Strike.

As another example, if you took an action that specified, “If the next action you use is a Strike,” an activity that includes a Strike wouldn’t count, because the next thing you are doing is starting an activity, not using the Strike basic action.

Dependent Abilities

An action, activity, free action, or reaction might call on you to use a simpler ability—usually one of the actions under Basic Actions—in a different circumstance or with different effects. The dependent ability still has its normal traits and is modified in any ways listed in the more complex ability. For example, an activity that tells you to Stride up to double your Speed modifies the Stride action by changing how far you can move. The dependent ability doesn’t gain any of the main ability’s traits unless specified. As noted under Activities, the ability that allows you to use the dependent action doesn’t require you to spend more actions or reactions to use it; the cost is already figured in.

Reactions and Free Actions

In response to certain events, you can use reactions and free actions. Each reaction or free action lists a trigger that must happen for you to perform it. When its trigger is satisfied, you can use the reaction or free action as long as you’re not otherwise prevented from doing so. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. There are far fewer basic reactions and free actions that all characters can use than there are basic actions. Your class, feats, and magic items all might allow you to use specific reactions and free actions.

Reactions are usually triggered by other creatures or by events outside your control. In an encounter, you can use only 1 reaction between the start of one of your turns and the start of your next turn. Outside of encounters, it’s more flexible and is up to the GM.

Free actions are usually triggered by actions that you use, but many can trigger at the start or end of a turn.

Unlike reactions, there’s no limit to how many free actions you can use. The exception is that you can use only 1 free action for a given trigger.


The triggers listed in the stat blocks of reactions and free actions limit when you can use them. You can use only 1 free action on a single trigger, but you can take both a free action and a reaction on the same trigger. If you somehow get more than 1 reaction per round, you can also use only 1 reaction per trigger. If two triggers are similar, but not identical, the GM determines whether you can use multiple free actions or reactions. This limitation is per creature; more than one creature can use a reaction or free action on a single trigger.

For instance, anyone can Drop an item with a free action, and its trigger (see below) is quite flexible! If you had an item in each hand, you could Drop one at the start of your turn and the other when you start to use an action, but you couldn’t drop two when you start to use an action because that’s only a single trigger.

Trigger Your turn begins, your turn ends, or you start to use an action.


Various abilities and conditions, such as an Attack of Opportunity, can disrupt an action, reaction, free action, or activity. When an action, reaction, free action, or activity is disrupted, you don’t benefit from the effects, though you still spend any actions or reactions and pay any costs. In the case of an activity, you usually lose all actions spent for the activity up through the end of that turn. For instance, a disrupted spellcasting action causes you to lose all the spellcasting actions you’ve committed to that activity. The GM will decide what effects a disruption causes if it isn’t simply negating the effects that would have occurred. For instance, a Leap disrupted midway usually wouldn’t send you back to the start of your jump, and an interrupted item transfer might cause the item to fall to the ground.


When you spend an action, a reaction, or a free action or you engage in an activity, you do so to generate an effect. Effects are how you interact with and affect the game world. Many times just performing an action or completing an activity generates an effect. For instance, if you use the Stride action, the effect is that you move up to your Speed. Other times, you have to roll to determine what effect you generate.

Unless an action, reaction, free action, or activity states otherwise, it affects a single creature or object (often, it affects only you). Some of these—especially spells—have area effects instead, meaning they can affect all creatures and objects within the specified area.

An effect might follow some of these common rules.


Some effects last for a certain duration rather than being resolved instantly. Once the duration has elapsed, the effect expires and ends. The rules use the following wording for durations in general, though spells have some special types.

For an effect that lasts a certain number of rounds, its remaining duration decreases by 1 at the start of each turn of the creature that created the effect. This is a common duration for spells or beneficial effects targeting you or your allies. Detrimental effects often last until the end of the target’s next turn or through a number of their turns (such as “through the target’s next 3 turns”), which means that their duration decreases at the end of the turn rather than the start.

A duration might also end only when a requirement is met or ceases to be true. These effects last while that requirement is met or until it’s met, respectively.

Range and Reach

Actions and other abilities that generate an effect typically work within a specified range or a reach.

Ranged and thrown weapons have a range increment listed in feet. Attacks with such weapons work normally up to that range. Attacks against targets beyond that range take a –2 penalty, which worsens by 2 for every additional multiple of that range, to a maximum of a –10 penalty after five additional range increments. Attacks beyond this range are not possible. For example, if you are using a shortbow, your attacks take no penalty against a target up to 60 feet away, a –2 penalty if a target is 65 to 120 feet away, a –4 if a target is 125 to 180 feet away, and so on, up to a maximum of 300 feet. For spells and arcane or divine actions that list a range, the range is simply the farthest distance the effect can travel.

Reach is how far you can physically reach with your body or a weapon. Melee Strikes rely on reach. Your reach also creates an area around your space where other creatures could trigger reactions. Your reach is typically 5 feet but weapons with the reach trait can extend this.

Larger creatures can have greater reach; for instance, an ogre has a 10-foot reach.

Line of Effect

You usually need an unblocked path to the target of a spell, the origin point of an area, or the place where you create something with a spell or other ability. This is called the line of effect. If you need to check whether you have a line of effect, draw a line like you do when determining cover. Only solid barriers break line of effect. Fog doesn’t matter for line of effect, nor do portcullises and other barriers that aren’t totally solid. If you’re unsure whether a barrier is solid enough, usually a 1-foot-square gap is enough to maintain a line of effect, though the GM makes the final call.

Line of effect also applies to areas. If there’s no line of effect between the origin of the area and the target, the target is unaffected by the spell. For example, if there’s a solid wall between the origin of a fireball and a creature that’s within the burst radius, that creature doesn’t need to attempt a save against the fireball and is unaffected by it. Likewise, any ongoing effects created by an area cease to affect anyone who moves outside of the line of effect.


An area effect always has a point of origin, and it extends out from that origin. There are four types of areas: auras, bursts, cones, and lines. When you are playing in encounter mode and using a grid, areas are measured in the same way as movement, but areas’ movements and effects are never reduced or affected by difficult terrain or screening. You can use the area diagrams as common reference templates, rather than measuring every square each time.


An aura issues forth from each side of your space, emanating out to a specified number of feet in all directions.

For instance, the bless spell’s aura radiates 30 feet from the caster. Because the sides of a target’s space are used as the starting point for the aura, a Large or larger creature’s aura affects a greater overall area than that of a Medium or smaller creature.

The rules for cover apply to auras; an aura does not need line of effect to a target, but it must not be entirely cut off from the target (an aura in a lead box would not extend outside the box). Some auras are active for a duration, meaning you can potentially move while the aura is active; in this case, the aura moves with you as you move.


A burst issues forth in all directions from a single corner of a square, spreading in all directions for a specified radius.

For instance, when you cast fireball, it detonates in a 20-foot burst, meaning it extends out 20 feet in every direction from the corner of the square you chose, affecting each creature whose square the burst overlaps. A burst follows the same restrictions as an aura regarding cover or having line of effect.


A cone shoots out from you in a quarter circle on the grid.

When you aim a cone, the first square of that cone must share an with edge your square, or it must touch a corner of your space if you are aiming diagonally. If you’re Large or larger, it can run along the edge of any square of your space. You can’t aim a cone so that it overlaps your space.

The cone extends out for a number of feet, widening out as it goes, as shown in the Areas diagram. For instance, when a green dragon uses its breath weapon, it breathes a cone of poisonous gas that originates at the edge of its square and affects a quarter-circle area 30 feet on each edge.

If you make a cone originate from someone or something else, follow these same rules, using that creature or object’s space instead of your own.


A line shoots forth in a 5-foot-wide (or sometimes 10-foot-wide) line from a creature, in a direction of the creature’s choosing. The line affects each creature whose square it overlaps. For example, the lightning bolt spell’s area is a 60-foot line.

Game Conventions

When adjudicating rules, apply these general guidelines.

Exceptions to these appear in rules where necessary, and if you’re ever uncertain how to apply a rule, the GM decides.

Specific Overrides General

One of the core tenets 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, when attacking a concealed creature you must attempt a flat check against DC 5, and flat checks never have modifiers, bonuses, or penalties, but an ability specifically designed to overcome concealment might still alter your odds.


You’ll often need to calculate a fraction of a value—most often halving damage or calculating a fraction of a cost when crafting. Always round down when you halve or create a fraction or percentage of something. For example, if a spell deals 7 damage and someone takes half damage from it, they would take 3 damage.


When more than one effect would multiply the same number, you don’t multiply more than once. Instead, you 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 equivalent in level. For example, if you were under the effect of a mage armor spell and then cast it again, you’d still be under the effect of only one casting of mage armor. Casting a spell again on the same target might extend the duration (per the spell’s description) or give you a better bonus if it were cast at a higher level the second time, but otherwise doing so gives you no advantage.

Hero Points

Your character earns Hero Points for performing heroic deeds or tasks and can spend these Hero Points to gain certain benefits. Your character starts each game session with 1 Hero Point. The GM can award Hero Points when PCs perform further heroic deeds or tasks, or when players do something special for the group. For the characters’ actions, this all comes from the story. A character needs to do something selfless or daring beyond normal expectations. Players add Hero Points by taking on at least one additional responsibility, such as bringing food for the group, keeping a map of a dungeon, or taking notes.

Each game session, the GM should award no more than 1 Hero Point per PC for in-game actions plus 1 Hero Point per PC for out-of-game actions. This number can be higher for game sessions longer than 4 hours.

Your character can have a maximum of 3 Hero Points at a given time. These points can’t be saved up over the course of multiple sessions; at the end of each game session, your character loses all Hero Points.

Spending Hero Points

Spending Hero Points doesn’t require your character to take an action, a reaction, or a free action.

  • Spending 1 Hero Point allows you to stave off death. Anytime you gain the dying condition or your dying condition increases in severity, you can spend 1 Hero Point to lose the dying condition entirely, even if the increase in the dying condition would otherwise cause you to die. If you have 0 Hit Points, you also go to 1 Hit Point.
  • Spending 2 Hero Points allows you to reroll a d20 roll. You must use the second result, but if you fail, you regain 1 of the Hero Points you just spent. You can’t spend Hero Points more than once on a single roll. This is a fortune effect.
  • Spending 3 Hero Points allows you to act one extra time in an encounter. You can spend the Hero Points on your turn to increase your number of actions for the turn by 1. To take an extra reaction when you’ve already used your reaction for the round, you spend these Hero Points when the trigger for that reaction occurs. You can’t spend Hero Points to use additional actions or reactions if you can’t act.

Describing Heroic Deeds

Because spending Hero Points reflects heroic deeds or tasks that surpass normal expectations, if you spend a Hero Point, you should describe the deed or task your character accomplishes with it to the other players.

Your character’s deed might involve a lesson learned in a past adventure, could be spurred on by a determination to save someone else in the encounter, or might depend on an item that ended up on their person due to a previous exploit or social interaction. If you don’t want to describe the deed or don’t have any strong ideas about how to do so, ask the GM to come up with something for you. This can be a collaborative process, too. The GM might remind you of a long-forgotten event in the campaign, then have you fill in how that comes back just at the right time.