Pathfinder and Roleplaying Games at the Library

By Jacob Dotson

What Is Pathfinder?

Pathfinder is a D20 Roleplaying Game system published by Paizo, descended from the original Dungeons and Dragons. By D20, I mean a 20 sided die, used to introduce randomness to the game. Certain characters will have certain bonuses and penalties depending on how they were created. For example, a gregarious rogue and a taciturn old wizard are trying to find a noble family’s secret crypt. The rogue may choose to use his bonuses in areas of personality to crash one of the family’s parties, chatting up everyone and trying to lead conversations towards the object of his search. Meanwhile, the wizard goes to the town hall and studies district planning and deeds, looking for irregularities. We roll the d20, add appropriate bonuses, and compare the result against the difficulty of the task.

Maybe the rogue comes up with a low roll, and the noble family figures him out and sends their guards after him. He barely escapes with his life. Alternatively, he knocks out one, dons their uniform with a convenient full helmet to obscure his face, then poses as one of the guards until he’s assigned to guard the very crypt he was looking for. Players who can adapt on the fly to a bad roll can often survive long enough to turn the situation to their advantage.

In this scenario, there’s three players. Obviously there’s the players who are portraying the bard and the wizard, but there’s also the person playing the noble family, their guards, the party guests, and the grumpy clerk who gave the wizard a hard time at the town hall. That person is the game master, who comes up with a vague idea of a plot before adapting it to their players.

Why Should I play Pathfinder in the Library?

I have a fairly simple sales pitch I give to parents. Pathfinder:

  1. Teaches logical reasoning skills and how to predict consequences. If a strong fighter finds himself in a bar fight, the worst possible consequences would come from breaking a bottle over an opponent’s head and then stabbing them with the bottle, the fighter would probably end up in jail, possibly tried for murder. Moderate consequences would come from engaging in a fistfight, he’d probably get thrown out of the bar and might be allowed back after a week. The least consequences would come from defusing the situation by buying the opponents a drink, or trying to defer to a more charismatic teammate. All these consequences happen in a safe place to learn them, rather than later in adult life.
  2. Teaches teamwork skills, especially how to work with a diverse group. If the fighter from the first example didn’t think he could or should fight his way into a town with a strict entry policy, he might ask a team member with a more appropriate skillset for help. Maybe the wizard can teleport the team through the wall, or maybe the rogue has a set of climbing tools to get over it. However the team chooses to solve this problem, the players will learn how to rely on each other.
  3. Teaches math skills. Your character is a barbarian, powered by ferocious rage. The player of that character has to be a quick mathematician. You normally have a total bonus of +10 to hit your target. When you rage, you add +4 to the bonus. When the bard is inspiring you with his song, you add +2 to the bonus. You can attack twice in a turn, but the second attack has a -5 penalty. Quickly now! The rest of the team is waiting for their turn! Given the above bonuses and penalties, add the D20 result and get your attack attempt totals on the following results!
    1. Attack 1: 11
    1. Attack 2: 16
    1. Further, when we want to shoot flying enemies with bows, we can use Pythagoras’s Theorem to determine range.
  4. Teaches spatial reasoning. The game board is made up of a grid of squares that represent 5 foot squares. A Wizard would like to cast fireball such that it blows up a horde of goblins without harming his friend who is currently engaged in hand to hand combat with the goblins. Which square should serve as the center of the 20 foot radius fireball?

What do I need to get started?

The reason I recommend Pathfinder as opposed to any other roleplaying game is their use of the Open Gaming License ( This allows essentially any use of the product so long as it is not used to make money. All the major official rules can be found on which contains the full text of all of their rulebooks. The rest of the rules can be found at in a format which is easier to search, and which also includes rules found in the Paizo’s monthly publications. Many players prefer which has a proper search function and also hosts rules by publishers who are not Paizo, but still use the Pathfinder rule system. Other equipment you’ll need includes:

  1. Sets of dice: You need about 5 sets of 7 polyhedral dice. Each set should contain a d4, a d6, a d8, two d10s one marked as ones and the other as tens, and a d20. Five sets should run you between $10 and $30.
  2. A dry erase battlemat, or else a good supply of gaming paper. You’ll probably need at least 2×3 feet of it. This will run at least $20.

That’s it! You now have everything you need! If you have any specific questions, you’re welcome to contact me at and I will get back to you when I have time.

I’m Jacob Dotson, Information Services Coordinator at the Marengo-Union Library District in Marengo Illinois. I was promoted to the position November 2019, before then I was a Library Clerk, which I started at in April 2018. I’m responsible for the Pathfinder club, tabletop gaming, the Controller Freaks video gaming club, and the Animanga club. I’m from St. Louis. I earned a BA in History from the University of Missouri and expect to graduate with an MLIS from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois in Spring of 2020. My core philosophy is to look for reasons to say yes, rather than reasons to say no. Finding flaws comes too easily to me, the real value comes from finding out how things could work. You can contact me at

One comment

  1. Answer 1: 11(Die Result)+10(Base Attack Bonus)+4(Raging)+2(Bard Song)=27

    Answer 2: 16(Die Result)+10(Base Attack Bonus)+4(Raging)+2(Bard Song)-5(Second Attack Penalty)=27

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