The Pathfinder Society is a fictitious and widespread adventuring guild in the world of Golarion, Paizo’s official setting for its Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (which is a variant of the 3.5 edition of a popular roleplaying game). The society is devoted to exploring and documenting ruins, places of mystery and current affairs.
In Pathfinder Society organised play, you take on the role of agents of the Pathfinder Society, undertaking missions on behalf of the society – always keeping in mind the three duties of every Pathfinder: explore, report, and co-operate.
But not all Pathfinders are alike. There are a number of factions within the society that seek to influence its policies and purpose. Every PFS character will be asked to choose which faction he or she supports. Sometimes, factions may give you tasks to complete even as you attempt to complete your main mission.
Pathfinder Society Organised Play is a worldwide shared campaign. You will be able to take your character to any Society game in the world (assuming it’s of appropriate level for that character). You may even find online games, played using chat, VOIP or virtual tabletops.
The core assumption of Pathfinder Society play is that players will own and be familiar with the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and the GUide to Pathfinder Society Organised Play. While we don’t necessarily expect new players to invest in a Core Rulebook PDF or hardcopy straight away, the expectation is that they will obtain one if they wish to keep playing the campaign.
Because characters can be carried from one GM to another, PFS play has some particular rules which differ from regular home Pathfinder games. Players and GMs are expected to follow the rules as closely as possible (though GMs are expected to make judgement calls if hunting down an obscure rule will hold up play). The Pathfinder rules FAQ and the Pathfinder Society FAQ offer useful clarifications.
Your character will level up, earn gold, find and buy equipment and magic items, and win influence within the Pathfinder Society, creating his or her own story – if he or she survives.
You can have more than one character – in fact, it’s common to have more than one character – though you can only play one at a time.
Because you can carry a character to any game, record-keeping is very important. After most games, the GM will give you a signed Chronicle Sheet listing the experience, prestige and gold you’ve earned, and any items, special abilities or other perks you’ve found or unlocked. It’s your job to keep your Chronicle Sheets safe and bring them to adventures with your character sheet. If you lose them or forget them, you will not be able to use any of the items or abilities.
Getting started in Pathfinder Society
1) Create a Pathfinder Society account – go to the Pathfinder Society homepage and click the link for My Pathfinder Society account (under ‘Get Involved’).
Note: if you haven’t created an account, a GM may have temporary membership cards available so you can sign in later and still get the benefits you earned in a session, but it’s better to sign up for an account first.
2) Download the free Guide to Pathfinder Society Organised Play. This contains background on the society, factions, special rules for PFS play, and special rules for creating a PFS character.
3) Create your character using the Guide to Organised Play and the Core Rulebook.
If you want to use races, classes, feats or equipment from supplementary books, you need copies of the books, or the PDFs, and you must bring either the book or printouts of the relevant PDF pages you’re using to the game, along with a copy of the Additional Resources document from Paizo’s website, so that the GM doesn’t have to carry a huge stack of books every time. Not everything in supplementary rulebooks is legal for Pathfinder Society – check the Additional Resources document to make sure.
Note that free or third-party rules content is NOT sufficient to use content from outside the Core Rulebook. Hero Lab, websites like the PRD and d20PFSRD and apps like Masterwork Tools may be useful references, but you need official Paizo printed books or PDFs to use their content.
Chronicle inventory sheets
When you complete an adventure you will be given a Chronicle Sheet for your character. This provides a way to record your adventure and what treasure you found so GMs know what your character is entitled to. Similarly, the Inventory Tracking Sheet (which comes with the Guide to Organised Play) records what equipment and magical items you’ve bought with your loot.
You must bring your character’s chronicle sheets and inventory sheets, in hardcopy, in order to play that character. If you fail to do so, you may not be allowed to play that character in that game.
Note: An earlier version of this page claimed players did not need to own a copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook if they limited themselves to content from the Core Rulebook. This is incorrect.
PFS co-ordinator Mike Brock has clearly indicated that, although players are not required to own a Core Rulebook initially, the expectation is that they will buy one if they wish to keep playing in the PFS campaign. Please see this post on the PFS messageboards for details (and note that the Pathfinder Society Field Guide is no longer a current requirement).