The Few, The Proud, The Steves
Pathfinder – the closest successor to Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) on the RPG market – is a very polished and impressive RPG, but it doesn’t skimp on the complexity. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook weighs in at a hefty 576 pages, and that doesn’t even include monsters (available in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary) or all the extra GM advice (available in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GameMastery Guide). Up to now, it’s been a system for RPG veterans.
This month, that is set to change with the introduction of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box (or PFBB from here on), a boxed set aimed squarely at players new to RPGs. The product should be available in stores on October 26, but I received my subscription pdf copy this week and wanted to get the word out.
The box itself is landscape format, but the contents are not.
The PFBB is chock full of goodies - see this video for a look. In brief, the set includes:
A Read This First pamphlet that provides a guide to the contents.
The 64-page Hero’s Handbook, which provides a solo adventure, a guide to character creation, and the rules of the game. This is a full-color perfect-bound paperback.
The 96-page Game Master’s Guide, which contains a short adventure, advice for GMs, treasure tables, a bestiary, and some rules on environment, etc. This is also a full-color perfect-bound book (very similar to a Pathfinder Adventure Path volume).
Four blank character sheets as well as four pregenerated characters (a cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard). The latter are double-sized foldouts, with the sheet itself in the middle and reference information on either side. Everything is full color.
A flip-mat (as in Pathfinder Flip-Mat), containing one side from GameMastery Flip-Mat: Haunted Dungeon (which is the map used in the included adventure) and one blank side.
A complete set of RPG dice (including an extra d10 marked for percentile dice). Mine are red.
A bit over 80 punch-out counters (and 20 stands to hold them). These include male and female choices for all the character options (by race and class) as well as a wide selection of monsters. Needless to say, all the monsters in the introductory adventure are included. All told, that’s one full page of characters and two pages of monsters. All are full color and double-sided. The cardstock is nice and sturdy.
Some advertisements for “next step” Paizo products.
All of this is included in the pdf version – except the dice and stands, of course.
The box is priced at $34.99 retail, which makes it too expensive for “Big Box” stores like Target, but it will be available in mainstream bookstores as well as hobby stores. The pdf is only $9.99!
This book aimed at players opens with a short solitaire adventure structured like a gamebook, the Skeleton King’s Crypt. This is a very basic adventure: enter the dungeon, kill some monsters, make a couple of skill checks, and get some treasure. As such, it’s certainly not going to win any awards for Gamebook of the Year – but it is a serviceable introduction to the kind of D&D I liked as a kid.
The bulk of the book (almost 40 pages) describes how to create a character. This is presented as a step-by-step guide: choose a concept, race, class, roll abilities, etc. Each step provides advice at the major decision points: where to put your ability scores (note that random ability generation is the norm).
We get very brief descriptions of each race, but we get a few pages on each class that present its options in detail (and again in a step-by-step fashion). The options are limited from the base game (for example, fighters are all given the Weapon Focus feat at first level rather than allowed a free choice), but almost all the elements of a full character are there.
Each of these “class” sections also provides step-by-step instructions for leveling up – for example, take a second-level wizard:
which tells you exactly what numbers change and list any new abilities learned by the PC. This is something I liked in the D&D Essentials line, and it’s nice to see a similar “self-contained” philosophy taken here.
The graphic design is perhaps the most impressive part of this book. Color is used liberally to organize the text, and symbols are sprinkled throughout to guide choices and actions. For example:
The number “4” tells you the current step in the character creation process. The letter B tells you where this information goes on the character sheet (on which the sections are labeled the same way). The little pencil tells you when you are supposed to write something. The square “6” indicates what kind of die to use (that’s more clear for the oddly-shaped dice!).
The same kind of thought is put into the rest of the book as well. For example, look at a few second-level wizard spells:
The symbol tells you whether the spell is offensive, defensive, or utility – nice touch! (There are analogous symbols in the Feats chapter telling you which character classes would most benefit from a particular feat.)
Game Master’s Guide
The GM guide also opens with an adventure, Black Fang’s Dungeon, which is written to introduce players to the various systems of the game as they move through the dungeon. It’s not exactly a complex story – just a simple dungeon crawl – but it is much more interesting than the solitaire one. In particular, there are some nice surprises:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
including an underwater combat, some negotiation, and a finale that will scare the bejesus out of experienced players!
My only gripe so far is that it seems like a pretty generous treasure allotment. Guess we gotta hook ‘em somehow!
The next 16 pages contain GM information: how to run a game, how to design adventures (including a table of plot hooks), different kinds of encounters, building a world, etc. This is largely distilled from the excellent Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GameMastery Guide, and while I haven’t yet read it in detail it looks like a great introduction to creating your own adventures.
There are 12 pages of magic items, including the basics as well as some unusual items (like a feathered shield) and random tables for generating treasure hoards. All the usual types of magic items (rings, wands, etc.) are included.
We then get 24 pages of monsters and several pages of random encounter tables (a bit of a surprise, there, for me). Many of the staple monsters are here – goblins, orcs, etc. – but there are also some more unusual choices that new players will find interesting (like the barghest). This bestiary also includes NPCs – evil wizards, etc. There are about 50 opponents here; most (if not all) also have corresponding tokens.
The same graphic design principles used in the Hero’s Handbook are also used here – the tables have lots of color and are exceptionally easy to read, the adventure maps use bright and clear symbols, and the monster stat blocks are very easy to read (even easier than D&D 4E!). Each gets a single column, with a picture, and the various elements are color coded for easy reading.
Finally, the book closes with a description of Sandpoint, an example home base for the PCs (and the starting point for two Pathfinder Adventure Path arcs, including the current one), as well as a list of adventure seeds for next steps (there’s also a second dungeon map earlier in the book).
Rules of the Game
The actual rules of the game are presented in less than 20 pages and are a definite streamlining of the base game rules. For the most part, this is accomplished by removing subsystems or options. For example, only three choices are provided for wizard schools, the selection of feats is much smaller than the base game, combat maneuvers and attacks of opportunity are gone, and monster abilities are streamlined.
On the other hand, the subsystems that remain are (mostly) complete. Skills are treated roughly the same, the feats listed here have the same effect as those in the base game, etc. In the end, characters here are compatible with those from the base game – though, with fewer options, I’d allow players to modify those characters when they are integrated into such a game.
A good example of the simplifications is contained in the selection of spells shown above. Note that spells have only two “stats”: range and duration. Schools, components, casting time, etc. are all gone. I think that does a great job of preserving the essentials but making it much easier for a newcomer to grasp.
Monsters are also a good example, as you can see by downloading the preview bestiary spread from the PFBB product page. Monster ability scores are eliminated in favor of just listing the ability modifiers and attack options are limited and in some cases simplified. But, for the most part, these play as their base set cousins do.
There are, however, a few subtle rules changes that might confuse people making the jump from the PFBB to the full game. An example is the wizard blinding ray power, which doesn’t have a power cap here (but does in the base game).
I’ve also spotted a few rules inconsistencies: for example, the sleep spell is limited by Hit Dice, which are not listed in the new monster stat block, and there are a few confusing parts: for example, characters get a +1 ability bonus at 4th level, but that’s not listed in the leveling up diagrams except outside of the character class chapter. But so far it does look like these are isolated issues.
Edit: Note that the free Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box Player Pack and Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box GM Kit already have corrections for this rules error (and about half a dozen others) - see What Next? below for more info!).
One important note is that Pathfinder is presented as very much a tactical game: the language of the rules, the lists of essential materials, etc. all assume a map and some sort of tokens representing the various actors. The simplified rules set actually makes a more open-ended combat system more plausible than in base Pathfinder, but that won’t be apparent from reading through this game.
The character sheet is fairly straightforward and will be instantly recognizable if you are already familiar with the game. It’s a two page document, but the back page is dedicated to equipment, spells, and miscellaneous info like a portrait and history. The sheet also contains a guide to the icons used in the book.
The pre-gen sheets are more complex. Each has a two-page cover spread describing that character’s focus and skills. The other side shows a filled out version of the front of the base character sheet, with advice and rules info on either side. This gives a quick guide to how to make skill checks and attack rolls, what kind of actions you are allowed, and specific information for each class (such as a detailed discussion of the rogue sneak attack). I think that a player could pick this up and begin playing without reading anything else of the rules, provided that the GM knew those rules and could guide the players through the beginning stages.
All in all, this is one of the best elements of the set. You can download an example pregen (the cleric) from the PFBB product page.
The PHBB does a good job of presenting an introductory adventure and giving GMs the tools to continue a campaign all the way to fifth level. There are also some free materials available from the product page (here):
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box Player Pack, which includes a new character class (the barbarian), more options for the other existing classes (like new feats and spells), new equipment, and a brief guide to the rules additions you can expect in the full game.
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box GM Kit, which includes a new adventure (The Deadly Mine) for 1st level characters, four new monsters, a couple of pages of new magic items, and a brief guide to adapting published adventures to these rules.
A pdf of the blank character sheet
Free downloads of the complete pregen package.
There is one danger to the support network: what about GMs who don’t feel comfortable creating more adventures themselves? The existing adventures are both for first level characters. And while Paizo has lots of adventures available, they use the much more complex base rules. The advice in the GM Kit is very helpful in this regard, but I hope that the PFBB is successful enough that Paizo releases a steady stream of supplements in the future to bring groups up to the cusp of the base game.
The Bottom Line
This looks to be an excellent introduction to the Pathfinder game and to RPGs in general – at least the mainstream kind. It’s beautifully designed, has lots of bells and whistles to get folks going, and is written with an eye clearly pointed toward a new player. I must especially compliment the designers on the layout and graphics, which provide lots of tools for new players to follow what is going on.
There are a couple of niggling issues (a lack of clarity in a few places and at least one apparent mistake in the rules) and I’m a bit concerned about how well this version of the game will be supported. But I am very excited about this product as an introduction to role-playing, and my hopes for the future are very high indeed!
Note: This is my twenty-first entry in the Iron Reviewer series.
- Last edited Fri Oct 21, 2011 7:10 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Oct 18, 2011 10:36 pm
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Sweet Review! Can't wait to see this on the shelves!
I think this might be the product that will get me into Pathfinder.
I think this might be the product that will get me into Pathfinder.
The Few, The Proud, The Steves
FYI, I've edited the review a bit now that I've gotten a look at the physical product and, more importantly, that the free support products have been posted. In addition to the expected goodies, they include a list of errata (about 8 small points in all) and advice on using published adventures!
Combat Commander Archivist
Move! Advance! Fire! Rout! Recover! Artillery Denied! Artillery Request! Command Confusion...say what?!
Picked this up today at my FLGS. Wow...just...wow!
Perusing the material it really seems to be written in a style suitable for beginners. I remember the old purple box of D&D and I flipped through the books wondering, "OK, we'll how do I actually play it?"Tthe PFBB really seems like it can bring you in easily. Component quality is great. It's a really nice product.
I'm already running a full PF campaign (Serpent's Skull) but this will be great with the teen gaming group I run.
Well done, Paizo!
This RPG was recommended to me as the best option for a first-time RPG player. Judging from the content of your review, that recommendation was spot-on!
Looks like now all I need to do is come up with some money so I can start buying games from my wishlist!