Review: Pathfinder Beginner’s Box

I know I said I wouldn’t buy anything else. The goblins made me do it. Little psychopaths.

Summary: Best introductory RPG I’ve seen in years. WotC, this is how you should have done it.

Hero’s Handbook (68 pages)

This dives straight into a 7-page solo adventure, teaching the absolute basics, in which you’re a fighter exploring a crypt. That’s followed by a one-page example of group play.

Next comes two pages of Getting Started; how to use the book, how to read dice.

The next 32 pages cover how to create a character, races, classes, spells, skills, and feats. The Beginner Box here has a perfect mix of character generation; there are pregenerated PCs if you want to dive straight in, recommended skills and feats if you want to create your own guy (or gal) but aren’t sure what the optimum mix is, or full-on generation for three races (dwarves, elves, humans) and four classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) if you want. Crucially, you can not only create characters, but advance them up to 5th level as well.

The equipment section covers the basic armour, weapons and adventuring gear a starting character might want in six pages. Each is presented as an illustrated text box, and my immediate thought was that from the PDF version of the rules one could print these pages on card, trim them, and use them as equipment cards.

Then there are 14 pages of how to play the game; skill checks, combat, spellcasting. The last page explains how to level up. By limiting the rules to what you need to know, and eliminating the special cases that bulk out the core rulebook, this does a very good job of introducing the game in an easily digested manner.

There are one-page summaries of character generation and rules, the former inside the front cover, and the latter actually as the back cover – this is a nice touch as I wouldn’t have to crease the book open to see it.

Game Master Guide (100 pages)

Again we’re straight into the action, with a sample dungeon of 10 locations/encounters covered over 15 pages, some of which step out into explaining basic rules.

This is followed by an 8-page "how to be a GM" section; what a GM does, how to prepare and run an adventure. That theme is expanded in sections on creating an adventure (8 pages, including an illustrative skeleton scenario), rules for environments and their hazards (16 pages – note that this includes traps), magic items (12 pages of goodies for the PCs to find), monsters (27 pages of vile nasties guarding said items, including random encounter tables), the default base town of Sandpoint (4 pages, including maps of the town and surrounds, and half-a-dozen adventure seeds), and conditions (2 pages on the specific rules for being blinded, staggered and so on).

The book finishes with a half-dozen pages of quick reference charts, again with the combat reference (a different one, for the GM) at the end.

Other Goodies

A "read this first" sheet obviously aimed at complete beginners.

Character sheets; a blank one, and one for each of the four pregenerated characters included in the box – cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard. You can download extra copies of all of those from Paizo’s website. The layout of these sheets and their cross-referencing to the rules is exemplary; the pregen sheets in particular could be plonked down in front of a complete novice, and they’d be playing in minutes.

A flip mat, with a blank ruled grid 24" x 30" on one side, and a sample dungeon on the other (to go with the introductory adventure in the GM’s Guide).

Cardboard character tokens for each combination of race, class and gender in the rules, plus common monsters.

2011112601

Above: Scene from our playtest session using Pathfinder. The party are searching for whatever it is that has been eating local livestock without permission. In the cave system where they think it lives, the elven rogue noticed a treasure chest the others didn’t, and decided not to share;  he is returning from looting it, pursued by a reefclaw.

Credits: Battlemat by Paizo, figures by WotC.

Conclusions

Since I got the open beta of Pathfinder years ago, I have wanted to like it, but been put off by the size of the core rulebook. The Beginner’s Box does what I wanted; pares the massive complexity of the rules engine down to something I can understand quickly and explain easily to casual gamers. It broadens out the appeal of Pathfinder from D&D 3rd edition diehards to new gamers.

I reckon I could run a campaign for 3-6 months without needing to step up to the full rulebooks. I have to try this, probably in combination with Dungeon Bash as GM-less campaign. It might even challenge Savage Worlds as my poison of choice.

This one is moving into the tryouts for 2012.

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