As player characters overcome challenges, they gain experience points. As these points accumulate, PCs advance in level and power. The rate of this advancement depends on the type of game that your group wants to play. Some prefer a fast-paced game, where characters gain levels every few sessions, while others prefer a game where advancement occurs less frequently. In the end, it is up to your group to decide what rate fits you best. Characters advance in level according to Table: Character Advancement and Level-Dependent Bonuses.
A character advances in level as soon as he earns enough experience points to do so—typically, this occurs at the end of a game session, when your GM hands out that session's experience point awards.
The process of advancing a character works in much the same way as generating a character, except that your ability scores, race, and previous choices concerning class, skills, and feats cannot be changed. Adding a level generally gives you new abilities, additional skill points to spend, more hit points, and possibly an ability score increase or additional feat (see Table: Character Advancement and Level-Dependent Bonuses). Over time, as your character rises to higher levels, he becomes a truly powerful force in the game world, capable of ruling nations or bringing them to their knees.
When adding new levels of an existing class or adding levels of a new class (see Multiclassing, below), make sure to take the following steps in order. First, select your new class level. You must be able to qualify for this level before any of the following adjustments are made. Second, apply any ability score increases due to gaining a level. Third, integrate all of the level's class abilities and then roll for additional hit points. Finally, add new skills and feats. For more information on when you gain new feats and ability score increases, see Table: Character Advancement and Level-Dependent Bonuses.
Instead of gaining the abilities granted by the next level in your character's current class, he can instead gain the 1st-level abilities of a new class, adding all of those abilities to his existing ones. This is known as “multiclassing.”
For example, let's say a 5th-level fighter decides to dabble in the arcane arts, and adds one level of wizard when he advances to 6th level. Such a character would have the powers and abilities of both a 5th-level fighter and a 1st-level wizard, but would still be considered a 6th-level character. (His class levels would be 5th and 1st, but his total character level is 6th.) He keeps all of his bonus feats gained from 5 levels of fighter, but can now also cast 1st-level spells and picks an arcane school. He adds all of the hit points, base attack bonuses, and saving throw bonuses from a 1st-level wizard on top of those gained from being a 5th-level fighter.
Note that there are a number of effects and prerequisites that rely on a character's level or Hit Dice. Such effects are always based on the total number of levels or Hit Dice a character possesses, not just those from one class. The exception to this is class abilities, most of which are based on the total number of class levels that a character possesses of that particular class.
This optional system allows a character to trade out half her feats in order to gain the benefits of a secondary class. These rules enable characters to gain many of the benefits of multiclassing without sacrificing advancement in their primary classes, and creates opportunities to explore novel character concepts, such as a barbarian whose rage stems from being afflicted by the gods with an oracle's curse and revelations.
Under the standard rules, multiclassing can lead to a wide disparity in character ability. With this system, each character can choose a secondary class at 1st level that she trains in throughout her career, without giving up levels in her primary class. Once selected, this choice is permanent (though if using the retraining rules, the secondary class can be retrained by paying half the cost of retraining all her class levels). A character who selects this option doesn't gain feats at 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th, and 19th levels, but instead gains class features from her secondary class as described on Table: Multiclass Character Advancement. It is probably a good idea to use either this variant system or normal multiclassing, but it's possible for the two systems to be used together. In a game using both systems, a character can't take levels in the secondary class she gains from this variant.
A character who chooses barbarian as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Rage: At 3rd level, she gains the rage class feature for a number of rounds per day equal to her Constitution modifier + her character level.
Uncanny Dodge: At 7th level, she gains uncanny dodge.
Rage Power: At 11th level, she gains a rage power. For the purpose of which rage powers she can select, her effective barbarian level is equal to 1/2 her character level, but for the purpose of the rage power's effect, her effective barbarian level is equal to her full character level.
Damage Reduction: At 15th level, she gains DR 3/—.
Greater Rage: At 19th level, she gains greater rage.
A character who chooses bard as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Bardic Performance: At 7th level, he gains the ability to inspire courage and inspire competence as a bard of his character level – 4 for a number of rounds per day equal to his Charisma modifier + his character level.
A character who chooses cleric as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Deity: At 1st level, she must select a deity within one alignment step of her own. She gains the cleric's aura, bonus languages, code of conduct, and restriction from casting spells of opposed alignments. She also gains the cleric's spontaneous casting ability, which she can use with any prepared casting classes that have the appropriate spells on their spell lists.
Domain: At 3rd level, she selects one domain her deity grants, gaining that domain's 1st-level granted power, treating her character level as her effective cleric level.
Improved Domain: At 15th level, she gains the additional domain power of her chosen domain, treating her character level as her effective cleric level.
A character who chooses druid as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Code: At 1st level, she gains Druidic as a bonus language and must abide by the druidic code of conduct—respecting nature, not teaching the Druidic language to outsiders, not wearing metal armor, and so on.
A character who chooses fighter as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Armor Training 1: At 7th level, he gains armor training 1.
Weapon Training 1: At 11th level, he gains weapon training 1.
Armor Training 2: At 15th level, he gains armor training 2.
Weapon Training 2: At 19th level, he gains weapon training 2.
A character who chooses monk as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Armor: At 1st level, he loses all his secondary monk abilities when wearing armor, using a shield, or carrying a medium or heavy load.
Evasion: At 7th level, he gains evasion.
Ki Pool: At 11th level, he gains the ki pool class feature of a monk of his character level – 2, with a number of ki points equal to 1/2 his character level. He only ever gains ki pool (lawful) if he is of lawful alignment.
AC Bonus: At 15th level, he gains a +3 dodge bonus to AC.
Improved Evasion: At 19th level, he gains improved evasion.
A character who chooses paladin as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Mercy: At 15th level, she selects one mercy from the paladin's 3rd-level mercy list.
A character who chooses ranger as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Track: At 3rd level, he gains the track class feature, treating his character level as his effective ranger level.
Favored Enemy: At 7th level, he gains the 1st favored enemy class feature.
Favored Terrain: At 11th level, he gains the 1st favored terrain class feature.
Expert Tracker: At 15th level, he gains the woodland stride and swift tracker class features.
Quarry: At 19th level, he gains the quarry class feature.
A character who chooses rogue as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Trapfinding: At 3rd level, she gains the trapfinding class feature.
Sneak Attack: At 7th level, she gains the sneak attack class feature. She can deal 1d6 points of extra damage. This extra damage increases by 1d6 for every 4 levels beyond 7th, to a maximum of 4d6 at 19th level.
Evasion: At 11th level, she gains evasion.
Uncanny Dodge: At 15th level, she gains uncanny dodge.
Improved Uncanny Dodge: At 19th level, she gains improved uncanny dodge, treating her character level as her effective rogue level.
A character who chooses sorcerer as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Improved Bloodline Power: At 7th level, she gains her bloodline's 3rd-level bloodline power.
Blood Feat: At 11th level, she gains one of her bloodline's feats or Eschew Materials.
Greater Bloodline Power: At 15th level, she gains her bloodline's 9th-level bloodline power.
True Bloodline Power: At 19th level, she gains her bloodline's 15th-level bloodline power.
A character who chooses wizard as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
School: At 1st level, he chooses a school of magic in which to specialize. For all powers of that school, he treats his character level as his effective wizard level.
School Power: At 7th level, he gains the 1st-level powers of his chosen school. If any of those powers grant an extra effect at 20th level, the character does not gain that extra effect.
Cantrip: At 11th level, if he has an Intelligence score of 10 or higher, he chooses a wizard cantrip from his chosen school and can cast that cantrip as a spell-like ability at will. He uses his character level as the caster level and Intelligence as the cantrip's key ability score.
Greater School Power: At 19th level, he gains the 8th-level power of his chosen school.
A character who chooses alchemist as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Bombs: At 7th level, he gains the ability to create a number of bombs per day equal to his Intelligence modifier + 1/2 his character level. The bombs deal damage as an alchemist of his character level, but since he doesn't have the alchemist's throw anything class feature, he doesn't add his Intelligence modifier to the damage.
Swift Poisoning: At 15th level, he gains the poison use and swift poisoning abilities.
Poison Immunity: At 19th level, he becomes immune to poison.
A character who chooses cavalier as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Order: At 1st level, he chooses an order. He must follow the edicts of his order.
Challenge: At 3rd level, he gains the ability to issue a challenge as a cavalier of his character level – 2 once per day. He adds the appropriate order adjustment to his challenge based on the order he selected.
Order Ability: At 7th level, he gains the 2nd-level ability of his chosen order, treating his character level as his effective cavalier level.
Tactician: At 11th level, he gains the tactician class feature, treating his character level as his effective cavalier level.
Greater Order Ability: At 15th level, he gains the 8th-level ability of his chosen order, treating his character level as his effective cavalier level.
Greater Tactician: At 19th level, he gains the greater tactician class feature, treating his character level as his effective cavalier level.
A character who chooses gunslinger as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Firearm Proficiency: At 3rd level, she gains proficiency in all firearms.
Gunsmith: At 7th level, she gains the gunsmith class feature.
Deed: At 11th level, she gains the Amateur Gunslinger feat.
Improved Deed: At 15th level, she gains a 3rd-level gunslinger deed of her choice.
Greater Deed: At 19th level, she gains a 7th-level gunslinger deed of her choice.
A character who chooses inquisitor as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Stern Gaze: At 3rd level, she gains the stern gaze class feature, treating her character level as her effective inquisitor level.
Solo Tactics: At 11th level, she gains the solo tactics class feature.
Additional Judgment: At 15th level, she can use the judgment class feature twice per day.
Second Judgment: At 19th level, she gains the second judgment ability.
A character who chooses magus as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Arcane Pool: At 3rd level, he gains the arcane pool class feature as a magus of his character level – 2.
Spellstrike: At 11th level, he gains the spellstrike class feature, but he can use it only with spells that are on the magus spell list, even though he can cast them using another class's spell slots.
Improved Arcana: At 15th level, he gains one additional magus arcana.
Greater Arcana: At 19th level, he gains one additional magus arcana.
A character who chooses oracle as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Mystery: At 1st level, she must select a mystery. She never qualifies for the Extra Revelation feat.
Curse: At 1st level, she must select a curse. She gains all effects of the curse, treating her effective oracle level as equal to 1/2 her character level.
Revelation: At 3rd level, she gains one of the following revelations from the list of those available to her mystery as an oracle of her character level – 6 (minimum 1). She must have an effective oracle level high enough to select the revelation.
Battle: Battlecry, battlefield clarity, combat healer, iron skin, resiliency, skill at arms, surprising charge, war sight.
Bones: Armor of bones, bleeding wounds, death's touch, near death, raise the dead, resist life, soul siphon, spirit walk, undead servitude, voice of the grave.
Flame: Burning magic, fire breath, form of flame, gaze of flames, heat aura, molten skin, touch of flame, wings of fire.
Heavens: Coat of many stars, dweller in darkness, guiding star, interstellar void, lure of the heavens, mantle of moonlight, spray of shooting stars, star chart.
Life: Channel, delay affliction, energy body, enhanced cures, healing hands, life link, lifesense, safe curing, spirit boost.
Lore: Arcane archivist, automatic writing, brain drain, mental acuity, spontaneous symbology, think on it, whirlwind lesson.
Nature: Erosion touch, life leach, natural divination, speak with animals, spirit of nature, transcendental bond, undo artifice.
Stone: Acid skin, clobbering strike, crystal sight, earth glide, mighty pebble, rock throwing, shard explosion, steelbreaker skin, touch of acid.
Waves: Blizzard, fluid nature, fluid travel, freezing spells, ice armor, icy skin, punitive transformation, water form, water sight, wintry touch.
Wind: Air barrier, gaseous form, invisibility, lightning breath, spark skin, thunderburst, touch of electricity, vortex spells, wind sight, wings of air.
Orison: At 7th level, if she has a Charisma score of 10 or higher, she chooses an oracle orison to cast as a spell-like ability at will. She uses her character level as the caster level and Charisma as the orison's key ability score.
Curse Focus: At 11th level, she adds 5 to her effective oracle level for the purposes of determining her curse's effects.
Improved Revelation: At 15th level, she gains one additional revelation.
Greater Revelation: At 19th level, she gains one additional revelation.
A character who chooses summoner as his secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Summon Monster: At 3rd level, he gains the summoner's summon monster spell-like ability as a summoner of his character level – 2. He can use this ability once per day; the casting time is 1 full round, and the duration is 1 round per effective summoner level.
Eidolon: At 7th level, he gains the ability to summon an eidolon, using the statistics of an eidolon for a summoner of his character level – 4, except with half as many evolution points. This eidolon can only be summoned using his summon monster spell-like ability.
Additional Summons: At 11th level, he can use his summon monster spell-like ability three times per day.
Shield Ally: At 15th level, he gains the shield ally class feature.
Aspect: At 19th level, he gains the aspect class feature, except he can divert only 1 evolution point from his eidolon to himself.
A character who chooses witch as her secondary class gains the following secondary class features.
Patron: At 1st level, she chooses a patron. She never qualifies for the Extra Hex feat.
Cantrip: At 11th level, if she has an Intelligence score of 10 or higher, she chooses a witch cantrip and can cast that cantrip as a spell-like ability at will. She uses her character level as the caster level and Intelligence as the cantrip's key ability score.
Each character begins play with a single favored class of his choosing—typically, this is the same class as the one he chooses at 1st level. Whenever a character gains a level in his favored class, he receives either + 1 hit point or + 1 skill rank. The choice of favored class cannot be changed once the character is created, and the choice of gaining a hit point or a skill rank each time a character gains a level (including his first level) cannot be changed once made for a particular level. Prestige classes (see Prestige Classes) can never be a favored class.
The final section for each racial discussion describes alternative benefits for members of that race taking certain classes as a favored class. The normal benefit of having a favored class is simple and effective: your character gains one extra hit point or one extra skill rank each time she gains a level in that class (or in either of two classes, if she is a half-elf). The alternate favored class abilities listed here may not have as broad an appeal as the standard choices. They are designed to reflect flavorful options that might be less useful in general but prove handy in the right situations or for a character with the right focus. Most of them play off racial archetypes, like a half-orc’s toughness and proclivity for breaking things or elven grace and finesse.
In most cases, these benefits are gained on a level-by-level basis—your character gains the specified incremental benefit each time she gains a level. Unless otherwise noted, these benefits always stack with themselves. For example, a human with paladin as a favored class may choose to gain 1 point of energy resistance each time she gains a level; choosing this benefit twice increases this resistance bonus to 2, 10 times raises it to 10, and so on.
In some cases this benefit may eventually hit a fixed numerical limit, after which selecting that favored class benefit has no effect. Of course, you can still select the bonus hit point or skill rank as your favored class benefit, so there is always a reward for sticking with a favored class.
Finally, some of these alternate favored class benefits only add +1/2, +1/3, +1/4, or +1/6 to a roll (rather than +1) each time the benefit is selected; when applying this result to the die roll, round down (minimum 0). For example, a dwarf with rogue as his favored class adds +1/2 to his trap sense ability regarding stone traps each time he selects the alternate rogue favored class benefit; though this means the net effect is +0 after selecting it once (because +1/2 rounds down to +0), after 20 levels this benefit gives the dwarf a +10 bonus to his trap sense (in addition to the base value from being a 20th-level rogue).
As in the previous section, what is presented here is a set of alternative benefits that characters of each race may choose instead of the normal benefits for their favored class. Thus, rather than taking an extra hit point or an extra skill rank, players may choose for their characters to gain the benefit listed here. This is not a permanent or irrevocable choice; just as characters could alternate between taking skill ranks and hit points when they gain levels in their favored class, these benefits provide a third option, and characters may freely alternate between them.
As with any alternate or optional rule, consult with your GM to determine whether exchanging normal favored class benefits will be allowed.
Although classes doesn't describe what happens after 20th level, this isn't to say that there are no resources available to you should you wish to continue your campaign on to 21st level and beyond. Rules for epic-level play like this exist in numerous products that are compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, although in many cases these alternative rules can provide unanticipated problems. For example, if your campaign world is populated by creatures and villains who, at the upper limit of power, can challenge a 20th-level character, where will epic-level PCs go for challenges? You might be looking at creating an entirely new campaign setting, one set on different planes, planets, or dimensions from the one where your players spent their first 20 levels, and that's a lot of work.
The following are brief guidelines to continue play beyond 20th level. These guidelines aren't robust enough to keep the game vibrant and interesting on their own for much longer past 20th level, but they should do in a pinch for a campaign that needs, say, 22 or 23 experience levels to wrap up. Likewise, you can use these rules to create super-powerful NPCs for 20th-level characters to face.
To gain a level beyond 20th, a character must double the experience points needed to achieve the previous level. Thus, assuming the medium XP progression, a 20th-level character needs 2,100,000 XP to become 21st level, since he needed 1,050,000 XP to reach 20th level from 19th. He'd then need 4,200,000 XP to reach 22nd level, 8,400,000 XP to reach 23rd, and so on.
Hit dice, base attack bonuses, and saving throws continue to increase at the same rate beyond 20th level, as appropriate for the class in question. Note that no character can have more than 4 attacks based on its base attack bonus. Note also that, before long, the difference between good saving throws and poor saving throws becomes awkwardly large—the further you get from 20th level, the more noticeable this difference grows, and for high-level characters, bolstering their poor saving throws should become increasingly important. Class abilities that have a set, increasing rate, such as a barbarian's damage reduction, a fighter's bonus feats and weapon training, a paladin's smite evil, or a rogue's sneak attack continue to progress at the appropriate rate.
A spellcaster's caster level continues to increase by one for each level beyond 20th level. Every odd-numbered level, a spellcaster gains access to a new level of spell one above his previous maximum level, gaining one spell slot in that new level. These spell slots can be used to prepare or cast spells adjusted by metamagic feats or any known spell of lower levels. Every even-numbered level, a spellcaster gains additional spell slots equal to the highest level spell he can currently cast. He can split these new slots any way he wants among the slots he currently has access to.
For example, a 21st-level wizard gains a single 10th-level spell slot, in which he can prepare any spell of level 1st through 9th, or in which he can prepare a metamagic spell that results in an effective spell level of 10 (such as extended summon monster IX, or quickened disintegrate). At 22nd level he gains 10 spell-levels' worth of new spell slots, and can gain 10 1st-level spells per day, two 5th-level spells per day, one 7th-level and one 3rd-level spell per day, or one more 10th-level spell per day. At 23rd level, he gains a single 11th-level spell slot, and so on.
Spellcasters who have a limited number of spells known (such as bards and sorcerers) can opt out of the benefits they gain (either a new level of spells or a number of spell slots) for that level and in exchange learn two more spells of any level they can currently cast.
You might want to further adjust the rate of spell level gain for classes (like paladins and rangers) who gain spells more slowly than more dedicated spellcaster classes.
The simplest way to progress beyond 20th level is to simply multiclass or take levels in a prestige class, in which case you gain all of the abilities of the new class level normally. This effectively treats 20th level as a hard limit for class level, but not as a hard limit for total character level.