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My Question

In Pathfinder (1e), I'm seeing classes (or class-like things?) referred to as any of the following:

  1. Core classes
  2. Base classes
  3. Unchained classes
  4. Hybrid classes
  5. Parent classes
  6. Alternate classes
  7. Occult classes
  8. Prestige classes
  9. Archetypes
  10. NPC classes

What are the similarities and differences between these, especially with respect to multiclassing?

My current understanding

  1. Core classes are the original classes designed for Pathfinder. This is the most fundamental set of classes to choose from, and players should be able to choose any of these classes freely in just about any session.
  2. Base classes are just core classes, but might not be appropriate for all campaign settings?
  3. Unchained classes are updated versions of other classes?
  4. ?
  5. ?
  6. ?
  7. Occult classes use "occult magic" or "psychic magic" rather than arcane or divine magic? (If so, I'd classify these as "base classes", per my understanding of them.)
  8. Prestige classes are specialized classes with prerequisites, so you can't take them at first level.
  9. ?
  10. NPC classes are extremely simplified classes intended for NPC use only.

I'm not sure about the relationships between classes when it comes to leveling, or if a level in one type of class (e.g. an archetype or alternate class) counts as a level in another type of class for some class features.

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Core classes are player classes from the original Pathfinder 1st edition Core Rulebook. Each class was adapted from the original player classes in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, and has 20 levels of progression.

Base classes are player classes introduced in later books, such as Advanced Players Guide and Ultimate Magic. They are unique to Pathfinder, and tend to be more complex than the original core classes, but still have similar 20-level progression. Base classes also introduce new thematic elements such as alchemy, firearms, hexes, and undercover intrigue.

Unchained classes are revised versions of the barbarian, monk, rogue, and summoner, introduced in Pathfinder Unchained as an attempt to rebalance issues that were perceived with the original versions of those classes. Having levels in an unchained class counts as having levels in the original version. The unchained barbarian, rogue, and summoner can typically use archetypes intended for their original versions, whereas some of the core monk archetypes don't apply to the unchained monk.

Hybrid classes are player classes introduced in the Advanced Class Guide. Each hybrid class is designed to combine the features of two parent classes, plus their own unique mechanics, and so they tend to be complicated. Having levels in a hybrid class doesn't count as having levels in the parent class, however, some of the hybrid classes may qualify for things that are otherwise available to their parent class. A creature can multiclass with levels in a hybrid class and one or both of its parent classes, although this may restrict certain class feature choices (which are otherwise independent without multiclassing).

While a character can multiclass with these parent classes, this usually results in redundant abilities. Such abilities don’t stack unless specified.

Alternate classes are player classes that mostly consist of the features of one existing class (paladin/antipaladin, rogue/ninja, cavalier/samurai), with a small number of different features. These appear in the Advanced Players Guide and Ultimate Combat books. Having levels in an alternate class does not count as having levels in the original class. Unlike hybrid classes, an alternate class cannot be multiclassed with its original version.

An alternate class operates exactly as a base class, save that a character who takes a level in an alternate class can never take a level in its associated class

Occult classes were introduced in Occult Adventures. Aside from the Kineticist, these options use psychic spellcasting. Psychic spells require mental components (unlike the verbal and somatic components of arcane/divine casting), and some spells can be "undercast" to lower-level versions. Occult spellcasters also use special occult rules, such as occult skill unlocks which allow them to use skills to produce psychic effects.

Prestige classes are player classes with prerequisites. Typically a creature needs multiple levels in one or more non-prestige classes before they qualify for a certain prestige class. Some prestige classes were included in the original Core Rulebook, and others were added over time. Most prestige classes are extremely specialized, and tend to have 10 or fewer levels of progression. Also, all prestige classes use a different progression for base saving throw bonuses.

Class Archetypes are variant packages of class features, which trade some of a class's default features in exchange for more specialized features. Unlike alternate classes, using a class archetype still counts as having levels in the class. Some archetypes borrow class features from another class; for example, the Holy Gun Paladin counts as a Paladin plus some Gunslinger features, but does not count as a Gunslinger. A creature can have multiple archetypes within the same class, unless those archetypes modify or replace the same feature.

NPC classes are intended for humanoid NPCs such as townsfolk, guards, nobles, or even low-level enemies. Creatures with NPC class levels are typically given lower ability scores. NPC creatures may have levels in player classes, but player characters typically don't have levels in NPC classes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ unchained classes typically offer more choices than the base they are from. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 16 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also say that "base classes" includes all the "core classes"; Barbarian is both a core class (because it appeared in the first book) and a base class (because it's 1-20 and can be taken at 1st level). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 16 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: Using the Unchained version of a class is usually recommended over using the base version of it. In fact, most DM's in my group treat the Unchained set as an errata for the OG classes. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Jun 17 at 12:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I want so badly to make an infographic out of this. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Jun 17 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PoeticallyPsychotic if we're counting all the 1-20 classes that can be taken at 1st level as base classes, then it includes the core classes, the Unchained classes, the Hybrid classes, the Alternate classes, the Occult classes, and technically the NPC classes. And all the Archetypes as well, since the one thing it doesn't include - the Prestige classes - also don't have Archetypes of their own that I'm aware of. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 24 at 3:41
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These headings largely reflect publication

The “core” classes are from Core Rulebook, the “occult” classes are from Occult Adventures. Etc. and so on. They aren’t always named after the book they came from, but the groupings generally follow the books.

  1. Core classes, base classes that are from the Core Rulebook.

  2. Base classes, classes you can start out in as your “base.” The alternative to “base” class is “prestige” class.

  3. Unchained classes, classes that have been “unchained” from their original implementations to (usually) be stronger than they were originally, because the original versions were deemed too weak by many players. Published in Pathfinder Unchained. The summoner is the one exception—the original summoner was considered by many to be too strong, and the unchained version is weaker.

    All of the unchained classes are base classes.

  4. Hybrid classes, base classes that are “hybrids” of two other base classes. The only thing that is special about them is that if you have levels in both the hybrid and one or both of its parents, you are required to make the same choices for things they share. For example, if you are both a bloodrager and a sorcerer, you must be using the same bloodline for both classes. Otherwise, being a “hybrid” is purely thematic.

  5. “Parent classes” is the term a hybrid class use to refer to the two classes that they are hybrids of.

  6. Alternate classes, base classes that are “alternate versions” of other base classes. There are only three, ninja (an alternate rogue), samurai (an alternate fighter), and antipaladin (an alternate, alignment-swapped paladin).

    There isn’t really any clear motivation for categorizing classes this way, which is probably why they stopped after the first three.

  7. Occult classes, classes from Occult Adventures. Occult magic is somewhat different from arcane or divine magic (more so than those are from one another), but ultimately they’re not that much different. It’s just a another type of magic.

  8. Prestige classes, classes you cannot start out in and can only multiclass into after you have met their prerequisites while leveling in some other, base class. In Pathfinder, most of these are rather weak and not recommended. This was an over-correction for the perceived over-use of prestige classes in D&D 3.5e (which Pathfinder derives from).

  9. Archetypes, modifications or variants to a base class. An archetype might say “You get X as a bonus feat at 1st level. This ability replaces the Y bonus feat at 1st level,” or “Your spellcasting uses Charisma instead of Wisdom. This ability alters the spells ability.” These are very common and are make up much of the customization available in Pathfinder. There are somewhat complicated rules for combining multiple archetypes (basically, they can’t touch the same ability from the original class).

  10. NPC classes, classes for NPCs. These are very weak base classes that aren’t intended for players (or even important NPCs, for that matter). The adept actually isn’t that bad a class—it’s far short of the cleric, certainly, but it’s arguably superior to, say, the (chained) rogue or monk.

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  1. Hybrid are classes made out of aspects from two others. Like Skald, its a bard and barbarian.

  2. Parent class, for the hybrid its what it was created from.

  3. Similar to existing classes but with differences, so ninja is like a monk.

  4. Archetypes are classes but different features or abilities. So it is the base class, but some features are changed to present differently. Once the advanced race guide came out, most if not every class has been gaining these.

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