If you’re someone who thinks modern games suffer from holding the player’s hand too much, Pathfinder: Kingmaker may be the game for you. With its brutal difficulty spikes and labyrinthine rules, Kingmaker is more likely to chop off an extended hand than hold it. Based on the notoriously complex Pathfinder tabletop roleplaying system, Kingmaker pulls no punches, throwing players into the deep end right from character creation. While some of the game’s mechanics will probably remain murky to anyone who doesn’t have plenty of practice rolling d20s, there are some ways to make Kingmaker’s crown sit a little lighter on your head.
Do your homework
Unless you’ve played the Pathfinder tabletop game (or at least Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, on which it was based), you’re likely to stumble on your very first steps into Kingmaker. The first task before you is to create a character, which can be surprisingly daunting. Kingmaker offers dozens of classes and variants to choose from, each with several pages of customization options. If you run into any terms you’re not familiar with, it’s worth looking them up. And if you’re planning on making a less conventional character build, it’s definitely in your best interest to understand the game’s rules. Once you’re in the game proper, its mechanics largely recede into the background, but not knowing certain rules can completely ruin your experience. While you won’t really be able to master Pathfinder’s complex ruleset if this is your first experience with it, it pays to learn as much as you can. Here are a few common mechanics to get you started:
Armor class (AC) — Your character’s armor class determines their ability to avoid being hit, but doesn’t decrease damage from successful attacks. Basically, the higher your AC, the less likely you are to be hit. Your character can gain several types of bonuses to their AC, such as dodge or deflection, but keep in mind that you can only have one bonus of each type. So if you have two items equipped that grant dodge bonuses, you’ll only gain the higher bonus.
Attack bonus — This stat determines how likely your attacks are to hit, but doesn’t affect the damage you do. Every time you make an attack, the game performs a virtual dice roll, then adds your attack bonus, and compares that against your enemy’s armor class. If your roll is higher than the target AC, your attack hits. Every character has a base attack bonus that increases every level or so, and you can gain additional bonuses from spells, abilities, or gear. You’ll want to dump plenty of points into whichever ability score increases your class’ or weapon’s attack bonus if you ever want to hit anything.
Concentration — As you might imagine, it’s best not to get distracted when you’re trying to raise an undead minion or summon a fireball. When a character is struck in combat while channeling a spell, there’s a chance that the spell will fail. This chance is mitigated by your Concentration stat, determined by your casting ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma), but it’s best to avoid taking damage while casting whenever possible, either by keeping your enemies occupied elsewhere or buffing your AC with a spell like Mage Armor.
Damage — Damage is usually expressed in terms of dice rolls, so for instance, many early spells do 1d3 damage, or one roll of a three-sided die. Higher level attacks may do something like 2d6+1, or two rolls of a six-sided die plus one damage. The potency of healing spells is expressed the same way. When creating your character, keep in mind that your strength score increases weapon damage in most cases.
Opportunity attacks — Some characters hardly need to worry about opportunity attacks at all, while others can live or die by them. Essentially an extra attack that can happen at any time in a turn, opportunity attacks are triggered when a character tries to either run past an enemy or use a ranged attack within their melee range. That means that if your character is only set up for ranged attacks, they’re in for a world of hurt if an enemy decides to close the distance. Fortunately, you can use this same vulnerability against your foes.
Spell slots — If you’re playing a magic-using class, you’ll need to pay attention to spell slots. These determine how many spells you can use in a day. Some classes must pick a small selection from all the spells they know at the beginning of the day, while others have access to all their spells at any time, but you always need to expend a spell slot to cast a spell. Your number of spell slots increases on level up, and some items or abilities allow you to recover one after use.
Find your niche
With so many different skills and class builds available to you, it can be tempting to make your character a jack of all trades, but that would be missing the point of a party-based RPG. You can run around with up to six characters at a time, so it makes more sense to have each one serve a different role in the group, both in and out of combat. A balanced party with a mix of dedicated melee and ranged attackers, plus offensive and support casters will always fair better than a group of multi-classed oddballs, unless you really understand Pathfinder’s systems.
Just as importantly, you’ll want a wide variety of skills represented in your group. In the game’s parlance, skills are a set of stats that mostly give characters bonuses out of combat, such as when they’re identifying items, searching for traps, schmoozing with NPCs, or cooking over a campfire. For the most part, you only need one character to excel at each skill, since you only get one shot at most skill checks. If you have spare skill points and need to double up on a few skills, though, some options are better than others.
Perception determines your ability to sniff out hidden loot and traps, so having several characters with this skill will reduce your chances of missing some good loot or walking face-first into a spike trap.
Trickery allows you to open locks. Having an extra character with a point or two in this skill will at least give you another shot if your usual thief rolls a one on their check.
Use Magic Device allows you to — well, you can probably figure it out. If you want a character to be able to use scrolls or wands, they’ll need a couple points in this skill.
Mobility, like Use Magic Device, has combat applications, giving a character the chance to move past enemies without provoking opportunity attacks. It’s highly situational and only useful for certain builds, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’ve got extra skills point lying around.
Talk to strangers
Kingmaker is not a game for dialogue-skippers. Important quest details are often buried in conversations or conspicuously placed journals, and your dialogue choices can have a huge impact on the game, from your relationships with your companions to the outcome of certain quests and fights. Not only that, but breezing through dialogue will also make an already complicated game utterly incomprehensible. While you may not have the time or patience to chat with every peasant you come across, it’s a good idea to at least click on every named character you meet and try to get a sense of whether they’re worth investing more time into. Pay special attention to dialogue options that involve skill or alignment checks, as these are the most likely to have interesting content gated behind them.
Pack your bags
You’ll spend a lot of your time in Kingmaker on the road, and your travel preparations are almost as important as the trip itself. For one thing, Kingmaker uses an uncompromising encumbrance system, meaning your party members can suffer stat penalties or simply be unable to move if they carry too much gear for too long. The best way to make your journeys a little less grueling is by using a bag of holding. A staple of tabletop games since time immemorial, the bag of holding is bigger on the inside than on the outside, letting you carry items in extradimensional space. In Kingmaker, owning one simply subtracts weight from your inventory. Your first chance to snag one is at Oleg’s Trading Post, giving you an extra 100 pounds of carrying capacity early in the game. It’s usually worth it to pick up another bag of holding whenever you can, since later in the game you’ll be heading out on longer trips and collecting more valuable loot.
No matter how carefully you manage your inventory’s weight, your party will eventually need to take a break. You’ll have to make camp pretty frequently in Kingmaker, and each time you do, you’ll need something to eat. When you’re camping outside, you can hunt for food, but when you’re in dungeons you’ll be stuck with rations. Even when you don’t plan on doing any dungeon crawling, it’s still a good idea to pack some rations, since you never know how successful your hunters will be. Keep in mind, though, that rations are heavy, so carrying too many of them can actually hurt you by forcing you to rest more frequently. Carrying enough rations for two nights of rest (12 rations with a full party) should ensure you never go to bed hungry while staying light on your feet.
Of course, you’ll need more than a bag full of s’mores to survive on the road. Kingmaker throws all manner of challenges as its players, and it can take both a fully stocked pharmacy and a well-equipped arsenal to tackle them. Try to bring enough potions and scrolls to combat any afflictions, like blindness, that you might reasonably encounter, plus some standard healing and buffing potions. You’ll face all kinds of foes with different strengths and weaknesses, from magical beasts to walking skeletons to tricky fey, so you’ll also want to bring weapons that do different types of damage to bypass their resistances. You may spend most of the game using only one weapon type, but what happens when your party of archers and rapier fanatics comes up against an enemy with piercing resistance? They get clobbered by a murderous tree monster, that’s what.
Check the tape
Tabletop combat unfolds at a slow pace with plenty of opportunities for feedback and tactical adjustment. Translating that to a faster-paced PC game can leave a lot of gaps where you’re not quite sure why — or even if — your attacks aren’t connecting. Fortunately, you have a constantly updating combat log to keep track of everything that goes on in battle. In the lower right corner of the screen, you’ll see a scroll of every action that you and your enemies take in combat. If you notice that your allies are whiffing most of their attacks, your damage is being reduced, or a fight just doesn’t seem to be going in your favor, you can pause the game and read through a full recounting of everything that’s happened. It’s not perfect (for instance, the log will show you when your enemy is taking reduced damage from attacks, but not why), but it at least provides enough information about your foes’ capabilities to tell you when you need to shake things up.
Call the shots
By the time you’ve gotten your head around the game’s combat, you’ll be ready to lead your fledgling kingdom to glory (or iron-fisted imperialism, if you’re more of a lawful evil type). The kingdom management aspect of Kingmaker is fairly complex, but after an initial tutorial dump and some experimentation, it’s not too difficult to grok. It’s also pretty free-flowing, allowing you to determine the best course for your kingdom rather than making you stick to one particular path. Just remember to mind the expiration dates for your tasks, solve problems before opportunities, and look for ways to keep your treasury full. It’s tempting to spend all of your Build Points at once, but you’ll rue the day you built that fourth brewery in the village of Party Town when you find yourself without the resources to fight off a barbarian horde later.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker can be intimidating at first (and, frankly, for quite a while), but the more you learn about the systems behind it, the more fun you’ll have. And if it never quite clicks with you and you’re still having trouble, remember that you can tweak individual aspects of the game’s difficulty to make it a smoother experience without removing the challenge altogether.