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Inspired by this question I was wondering if class fluff descriptions are part of the rules or just guidelines for ideas? For example does a Freebooter have to be a pirate, or just a strong leader (and good swimmer)?

Curious about either a RAW and RAI answer, as long as it's sourced.

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Arguments will be deleted without warning, because everyone responding to this should know better. Please make sure to cite your sources and Back! It! Up! or answers will be deleted. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 11 at 5:59
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Note that this was at best mixed in 3.5e (the origin of Pathfinder): Prestige classes were explicitly in-world things, while the game never said anything about the other classes. This fact about prestige classes has widely been ignored online though, since it's inconvenient. –  SevenSidedDie Jan 11 at 6:26
    
@SevenSidedDie To be fair, a lot of 3.5 authors ignored that as well, and it became much less prevalent as the edition went on (particularly as prestige classes became the primary form of supplemental player content). –  KRyan Jan 11 at 23:14
    
If you have an example of a prominent pathfinder author doing that, that seems to be like it would be sufficient evidence for fluff being reskinnable (not just under the "GM can do what (s)he wants" clause). –  Julix Jan 12 at 1:01

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes, fluff descriptions are part of the rules. How do I know? Look, they're written in the rulebook.

The question becomes, how much of what is in the rulebook is it permissible for you to override or discard? The answer is based on context.

In your home game - up to and including all of it! Of course, that applies to the advice, the fluff, and the rules as well. The books explicitly tell you to change or disregard things as it suits your game. It is becoming a common practice to re-skin; there's extensive discussion of it as a practice in Pathfinder podcasts for example (3.5 Private Sanctuary/Know Direction, Pathfinder Chronicles; the Gamer's Guide to Pathfinder had an entire episode on the practice). It's not really touched upon in the crunch section of rulebooks as it's a "meta" practice (like do you fudge rolls or not...). But, in the advice type sections, you're in luck! (Here's where owning and reading the actual books is better than just using the free SRD.)

The Pathfinder GMG specifically mentions reskinning for GMs -

"Another trick is to “re-skin” one adventure with a different flavor, such as taking a fire-themed temple and changing all encounters, spells, and monsters from fire to cold as the players go through it."

Also;

"That’s particularly true in an emergency situation where you’re likely going to “reskin” the monsters anyway. That armored knight? You can just describe him as a hill giant and your players will never know. Then you can make him into a dire wolf, or a swarm of killer bees, and still your players may never know. Sure, you’ll know that the damage dice should have been different, the skills were completely irrelevant, the Armor Class was wrong, and the special abilities were made up on the spot, but you’re the only one who sees the stat block. Everyone else is just rolling dice and having fun."

So reskinning is explicitly declared as a legit, good tactic for GMs for monsters and adventures. Since you're the GM, you can also allow PCs to reskin as you see fit. In my games, I see zero problem with reskinning - if there's no rules impact, it's all good. So yes, you can be a freebooter rules-wise but depict yourself in any number of different ways.

The Animal Archive backs this approach, saying:

As a player, you may desire a special familiar—either real, unique to your campaign world, or wholly imagined—that hasn't yet been presented with specific stats. With your Gamemaster's approval, however, it's easy to “re-skin” an existing familiar stat block to create the exact familiar you want.

In a Pathfinder Society game - none of it can be reskinned. The PFS FAQ specifically disallowed reskinning of fluff for animals and items:

Can I re-skin or re-flavor an animal companion or item?

You may choose a specific type of animal companion from any of the base forms listed on pages 53–54 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook or a legal Additional Resource but may not use stats for one base form with the flavor of another type of animal. Thus, a small cat could be a cheetah or leopard, as suggested, as well as a lynx, bobcat, puma, or other similar animal; it could not, however, be "re-skinned" to be a giant hairless swamp rat or a differently-statted wolf. If a GM feels that a re-skinning is inappropriate or could have mechanical implications in the specific adventure being played, he may require that the creature simply be considered its generic base form for the duration of the adventure. A player may not re-skin items to be something for whic h there are no specific rules, and any item a character uses for which there are no stats is considered an improvised weapon (see page 144 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook).

And in general reskinning is disallowed for other things as well - if there's a friendly individual GM that lets you, that's one thing, but all the campaign rulings have been against it. PFS exists to provide a standardized generic Pathfinder experience for the masses and this they don't allow reskinning.

See also To what extent is reskinning acceptable? for 4e and What are the commonly accepted definitions of reskinning and refluffing? for concept discussion.

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This is... a shockingly good answer. I doubted this question would get any. That said, your very first line is, even tongue-in-cheek, assuming the conclusion (“all statements in the book are rules”) as evidence to prove that same conclusion, and I furthermore very much doubt it’s true. I don’t have a Pathfinder example handy, but for 3.5 there’s “You are the object of envy to sorcerers” in PHB2’s description of the duskblade class – clearly some of the content is not a “rule” per se. Where the line is drawn, well, that your answer covers nicely. –  KRyan Jan 11 at 23:13
    
I agree, this answer was really useful! Thanks a lot mxyzplk! :-) –  Julix Jan 12 at 0:57
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Oh, it' not tongue in cheek - strict RAW suffers from the fundamentalism problem, which is either you treat the whole book as inviolable or you're already picking and choosing what to keep and what not to. Choosing to change fluff is no different from choosing to change rules in any objective way. –  mxyzplk Jan 12 at 18:25

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