Title: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box
Release Date: 2011
Age: 10 and older
Pros: Gorgeous glossy artwork, many examples, solid introduction and minimal start-up time.
Cons: Only 4 blank character sheets included and no pencil.
Overall Score: Two thumbs up, 96/100, A, ***** out of 5
Pathfinder is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) from Paizo Publishing, based on the open gaming license which 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons (3E D&D) was itself based upon. As such, fans of 3E D&D won’t find that much new in the game as far as rules go; luckily, RPGs are about adventures, and Paizo has built a name for itself with amazing adventure path lines, like Carrion Crown.
Unfortunately, for those new to the hobby, the rules for 3E are spread throughout dozens of books, many out of print. The main Pathfinder core rulebook is a massive hardback tome, daunting to newcomers and still doesn’t have everything you need to play. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box tries to address this issue by being a product that does, indeed, have everything a gamer (or group of gamers) needs to play the game, all in one box. Veterans of the game won’t find much here of interest for themselves but it says “Beginner” on the box for a reason and they might still want this as a great way to introduce friends to the game.
The Adventure Begins. Now.
No matter how much simplification is done, Pathfinder will always be a rules-intensive game. The very first thing you see once the box is opened is a glossy sheet telling you what to read first: page two of the Hero’s Handbook (the “Player’s Handbook” of the box set). Page two begins a solo adventure, complete with pre-made fighter. Paragraph by paragraph, the reader is guided through a small dungeon, each section giving a direct application of the rules for combat and skill use. It’s gracefully handled in barely seven pages and plentiful illustrations serve to help the reader visualize many of the concepts. Everyone who wants to play the game should probably go through the solo adventure first to get all the basic rules down, or at least the entire group could read through it at the same time.
The rest of the book presents a streamlined version of the “whole” game, with just three races (human, dwarf, elf) and four classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard), complete with step-by-step illustrated examples of creating a character of each main type. Even when it comes to purchasing equipment, each piece comes with its own illustration, whether it be a prosaic dagger or candle, to the obscure starknife or piton. The extensive artwork makes what is often the worst chore of RPGs, reading a huge rulebook, into a light and amusing read.
Is the Gang All Here?
If you have a group of 4 players and a gamemaster (GM) aching to play immediately, the Game Master’s Guide – the other main book in the box – contains a full sample adventure. It’s the very first thing in the book, so no advance rules reading necessary. There are also four pre-made characters with everything filled out (even the names), ready-to-play, each with their own little folder to hand to the player. The box also has a complete glossy fold-out map just for this dungeon (very cool!), and stand-up cutouts of the characters and all the monsters the new players might face (not quite as cool, but I can respect including almost a hundred prepainted plastic miniatures would be too expensive for an introductory set).
It’s a very solid little adventure. Not every encounter is about combat and the GM notes detail how the players might investigate or talk their way out of fighting, giving options to explore the dungeon in a manner that won’t necessarily leave a trail of hacked corpses. A group with only a rudimentary understanding of how to play a RPG can literally open the box and be playing Pathfinder in under 15 minutes, and that’s a very impressive achievement.
It’s Always Something
While there’s much to like about this introductory set, there’s no mention of what to do if you have three players instead of four and having five players (as well as the GM) means someone will need to create another character, which can greatly slow down start-up time. Yes, it’s easy enough to vary the number of monsters in the encounters (though that trick doesn’t help much with the dragon encounter) but, once one player makes his own character, the other players might follow suit and there are only four blank character sheets in the box. In a world where most everyone has a copy/fax machine, this isn’t much of an issue but, much like “there’s no pencil in the box,” this is really the amount of effort I need to put in to criticize this product, which does an amazing job of taking a complicated game and paring it down to exactly what is needed to play it.
The rest of the rules cover how to raise characters up to fifth level, and provide guidelines and ideas for GM to create his own adventures. While five levels covers a lot of territory for characters, anyone going that far will almost certainly want to check out the core rulebook.