Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box Review by Kenneth Kooi

Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box

“It is important to note that you are not competing with the players. You don’t win the game by killing all the characters. This is a game where everyone wins if everyone has a fun time. Your role is to challenge the players, not defeat them.”

Pathfinder Beginner Box Game Master’s Guide

The average roleplaying game is a mystifying experience for the uninitiated, for lurking beyond the oh-so-pretty cover art lie things that occasionally send even some of the most hardened players skittering for cover. Assaulted by terms like Vancian Magic, Stunt Points, and Dramatic Edges, sometimes even the most stalwart of gamers will beat a hasty retreat, content to leave the mysterious edifice of roleplaying with its seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry behind them.

Which is a pity… Roleplaying is actually really easy.

Like a highway into the heart of a dark continent, the Pathfinder Beginner Box is an attempt to distill the core of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game experience down to its basic components and present new players with a more manageable experience. Chock full of goodies that will likely serve a roleplayer throughout their entire career, the Beginner Box represents a quantum leap forward compared to many other introductory products which have come before it.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pop open this sturdy cardboard case is how hefty it feels – loads of effort has gone into producing this box and its contents and it shows in the quality of the components.

Sitting on top in a sealed package are a complete set of high impact polyhedral dice, including a percentile and a 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 20 sided die. Given that a new player is unlikely to already own their own set of dice, this is a handy inclusion. Now that I think about it, short of pencils, markers and a group of friends, everything necessary to play is included in a single package. In addition to the dice, one should also find a little package of plastic stands. More on these later.

Sitting directly beneath the layer of knickknacks is a single glossy sheet, proudly emblazoned with the words: “Before you go any further, read this page, as it will help guide you through the contents of this box.” This is exactly what it says on the tin, with guidelines on how to use the rest of the books in the box set. While this may not sound like much, it’s nice to know Paizo considered that a first-time user would be awash with sensory overload, and include a set of advice on exactly where to go from here.

Inside the book are two glossy full colour books – a 64-page Hero’s Handbook and a 96-page Game Master’s Guide. On first glance, both books are chock full of eye-catching artwork and printed on a nice glossy paper, the same type which Paizo uses in its Pathfinder magazine range.

Rules Illustration: You are here. The Ogre is here. You should probably find somewhere else to be.

The Hero’s Handbook contains the basic rules for both combat and non-combat interactions, as well as rules for building a Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard from levels 1 to 5. While the cut down spell and feat lists included in the box might seem restrictive to players used to the variety of the full Pathfinder system, Paizo made certain to build around the staples so you’d never actually miss anything from the main rules set until you actually cracked open the Core Book. The Skeleton King’s Crypt is a nice touch as well, an evocative fast playing single-player ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style game excellent for a new player to get his feet wet without a group while walking them through attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and even damage reduction as they come up.

Seeking monstrous adversaries to meet their ends and have their stuff taken by heroes. Enquire inside.

The companion volume, the Game Master’s Guide begins with the pregenerated adventure Black Fang’s Dungeon. The dungeon is presented in a room-by-room manner, each encounter area designed to illustrate a different concept, ranging from monster encounters, traps, environmental dangers, and so forth. Following the adventure, Paizo spent a surprising amount of time discussing the art of gamemastering, designing your own adventures, environments, magic items and random encounters. With a major selection of monsters ranging from low level fodder like orcs and goblins, all the way to nasties like the Chimera and a Black Dragon, the Beginner Box is not quite the Pathfinder Bestiary, but there’s enough going on to keep players and new game masters entertained for a long time. The book finally closes with the little town of Sandpoint and its surrounding environs – a perfect kickoff spot for ‘hometown heroes’ out to make their mark on the world.

Play this Character if I’d like to be good at...? Any of them handy with particle physics?

Also included are character folios for four pre-generated character sheets. These are clearly labeled for easy reference back to the relevant pages in the Hero’s Handbook and also use the left and right sides of the page as sidebars to explain what the information on the pages mean. These are four page foldouts, with nice color artwork, a front piece of “Play this character if you want to…” information, a back with a brief background for the character, and the character sheet on the inside. There are also four blank character sheets in case players want to roll up their own characters. Like the pre-gens, these are clearly designed for easy reference to the Hero’s Handbook if players get stuck.

Admit it: The thought of an entire party of hot elven chicks did cross your mind at least once.

Next up are three sheets of thick card punch-outs which provide 87 cardboard standees that fit onto the plastic stands mentioned earlier. One sheet includes hero tokens for one of each possible race/class/gender combination that can be made with the Beginner Box rules. The other two sheets are monsters, with a good mix of low-level fodder such as goblins, wolves, and skeletons, which are expected, but also a number of nastier foes, including a really intimidating looking ogre. These round out the pack and stiffen the Game Master’s list of options with some higher level critters.

Orcs, Oozes, and Ogres, Oh My…

The final component in the box is a dry-erase flipmat that Paizo produces as part of its Game  Mastery line. As a nice touch, one side of the map is a detailed layout of “Black Fang’s Dungeon”, making the adventure (in conjunction with the pre-gen characters) playable right out of the box. The other side is a blank grid on which a Game Master can draw his own dungeon, making this map an asset long after a player has moved beyond the Beginner Box rules. The really cool thing about these flipmats is their ‘dry-erase’ quality – one can draw on and easily erase markings from their surface with standard whiteboard markers, making this a fantastic tool to sketch dungeon maps or draw scenery.

I’ve spent a significant quantity of time talking about the physical contents of the Beginner Box, but what about the game itself? Well, truth be told, as a player, I can honestly say I haven’t seen a starter set this good since West End Game’s GHOSTBUSTERS way back in 1986. The introductory adventure, Black Fang’s Dungeon is a case in point: without hand-holding, the designers instead opted to reward players for exploring and thinking out of the box, rather than heavy-handedly forcing players through a series of encounters. A carrot rather than a stick approach. Likewise, for a company whose primary product line is well-written prepackaged adventures rather than rules, it’s refreshing to see the effort Paizo has put into the ‘art’ of designing an encounter and an adventure. Likewise, from a rules perspective, a lot of effort has gone into slimming down the ruleset into manageable chunks. I might miss the omission of Combat Maneuvers and Attacks-of-Opportunity, but these are fiddly bits which can appear downright intimidating to a new player. Rather than beat someone senseless with the bullet-stopping Core Rulebook, I actually have an easy way to ease someone into the game.

The Beginner Box is a bit of an oddball product with the primary value being to new players just starting out (or possibly an old hand who just happened to be excited by the thought of easily portable tokens and another dry-erase map). The Beginner Box contents are designed to introduce new players to the game and keep them adventuring until they reach 5th level. By that point, one should know if they want to buy into the full-fledged roleplaying game or not. The differences are not immense, but the Beginner Box rules are quicker and a bit easier to play with. If you are even the slightest bit interested in trying out a fantasy RPG, the Beginner Box is the product for you.


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