In the tabletop Pathfinder RPG, characters earn the benefits of a level all at once as they hit an experience point threshold. In Pathfinder Online, this system is turned on its head: instead of using experience points as a prerequisite for improving in a skill, improving skills are part of the prerequisite for gaining new abilities. Characters must earn all the things needed to qualify for a new "level," and then are rewarded with a special bonus. If a player wants to be a better rogue, he should do roguish things and train roguish skills, and at a certain point, he receives a special merit badge recognizing a development milestone, rewarding the character with a benefit for his persistence. Like class levels in the tabletop game, there are 20 such rewards available for each class type, creating a way to simulate a 20-level progression within Pathfinder Online's unique system.
Each of the base classes in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook will be represented in the online game in this way, and in time Goblinworks intends to add additional development paths to simulate prestige classes, archetypes, and base classes from other Pathfinder RPG content such as the Advanced Player's Guide and the Ultimate rulebooks.
These are the 11 basic development paths, which Pathfinder Online refers to as archetypes. The key to each archetype is a skill tree that encourages characters to train a skill that is directly linked to their development in that archetype, in addition to many other skills.
- Barbarians, masters of rage
- In the ways of their people, in the fury of their passion, in the howl of battle, conflict is all these brutal souls know.
- Bards, masters of inspiration
- These characters capably confuse and confound their foes while inspiring their allies to ever-greater daring.
- Clerics, masters of divine power
- These characters' true strength lies in their capability to draw upon the power of their deities, whether to increase their own and their allies' prowess in battle, to vex their foes with divine magic, or to lend healing to companions in need.
- Druids, masters of nature empathy
- Allies to beasts and manipulators of nature, these often misunderstood protectors of the wild strive to shield their lands from all who would threaten them.
- Fighters, masters of weapons
- Lords of the battlefield, these characters are a disparate lot, training with many weapons or just one, perfecting the uses of armor, learning the fighting techniques of exotic masters, and studying the art of combat, all to shape themselves into living weapons.
- Monks, masters of ki power
- These warrior-artists search out methods of battle beyond swords and shields, finding weapons within themselves just as capable of crippling or killing as any blade.
- Paladins, masters of smiting evil
- These noble souls dedicate their swords and lives to the battle against evil.
- Rangers, masters of tracking
- Knowledgeable, patient, and skilled hunters, these characters hound man, beast, and monster alike, gaining insight into the way of the predator.
- Rogues, masters of stealth
- Ever just one step ahead of danger, these characters bank on their cunning, skill, and charm to bend fate to their favor.
- Sorcerers, masters of blood magic
- Scions of innately magical bloodlines, the chosen of deities, the spawn of monsters, pawns of fate and destiny, or simply flukes of fickle magic, these characters look within themselves for arcane prowess and draw forth might few mortals can imagine.
- Wizards, masters of hermetic magic
- These shrewd magic-users seek, collect, and covet esoteric knowledge, drawing on cultic arts to work wonders beyond the abilities of mere mortals.
Capstones and multiclassing
Pathfinder Online hopes to capture the idea from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that dedication to one path has additional benefits. Therefore, if a character chooses to stay committed to one of these archetypes until it has achieved all 20 archetype merit badges, that character earns an additional capstone ability! (A character can train in many other skills outside of their archetype skill tree and still progress towards the capstone ability—they just need to avoid training in the skill tree of a different archetype.)
Alternatively, players who decide that it would be more interesting or fun for their characters to train in the skills of more than one archetype, they can still earn the appropriate class-type bonuses when they meet the prerequisites—they just won't be eligible for the final special capstone ability when they achieve the 20th merit badge in that archetype.