Paizo publishing’s Pathfinder RPG is both familiar and innovative, as it brings the best of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 into a fresh new approach. In this review, I explore the core rulebook and a couple of their supplements, explaining why you should look into the game system if you haven’t already.
Paizo Publishing (575 pages, $49.99, Aug. 2009)
Paizo Publishing (32 pages, $13.99, Sept. 2009)
Edited by Sean K. Reynolds
Paizo Publishing (92 pages, $19.99, Aug. 2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
Your first look at the massive tome that is the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook can be a bit intimidating. I first ran across it piled high on a mountainous table at GenCon’s Paizo Publishing booth in summer 2009 and, I admit, I wasn’t even sure what it was. Yet another fantasy roleplaying game? Elves, dwarves, and halflings? It sure didn’t seem worth much attention, and I didn’t really get what all the hype was about.
Then I realized what it was… this was my old mistress, Dungeons & Dragons v3.5, all dressed up in a new outfit and ready to go out on the town again.
And the massive tome? It was everything you need to play – Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide all in one. The only thing missing were the monsters, and you can make those up on the fly if you really have to. (Or buy The Pathfinder Bestiary, which has over 350 monsters in it. It will be reviewed in the upcoming Black Gate #15!)
There are modifications – the entire project started out as house rules for 3.5 and got kind of out of hand – but the vast majority of the game will be readily familiar to anyone who knows the 3.5 rules system.
So why buy the Pathfinder book? One thing is very cool artwork. The picture of a dwarven ranger alone is nearly worth the fifty bucks. Okay, that’s not true. Though the artwork is phenomenal, there actually isn’t much of it in the book when you consider its size. This thing is all about the text, with some very slick graphics thrown in as eye candy.
The most obvious change is that almost every single level in the game gives a character some sort of new ability, regardless of class. (Removing these “dead levels” was also reputedly one of the objectives of 4th edition.) Rogues have a wider range of talents to choose from, while barbarians get some new rage powers. Sorcerers are tied to magical bloodlines, such as Abyssal, Draconic, Elemental, or Undead, which grant access to different bonus spells, feats, and powers. Some existing spells have been modified so they are more evenly powered and don’t break the game. Even the lowly fighters get more steady increases, with bravery (fear check), armor training (armor check), and weapon training (damage) bonuses at various levels.
The combat system overall has become more streamlined, as various maneuvers such as bull rush, grapple, disarm, and trip have been integrated into a single clear combat maneuver system. Undead are now vulnerable to sneak attacks and critical hits. The XP system has been modified, and tables are provided which help you determine the speed of progression and tailor the game to the rate you want to play at.
Of course, having gone to the trouble of revising an entire iconic roleplaying rule system, there’s nothing to do but take it out for a spin. The perfect place to start is the level 1 Pathfinder module Crypt of the Everflame.
I’ve personally never been one for following modules too closely, but they’re often very useful for starting out adventures with a new group. This one has a nice hook, as it starts off with a local harvest festival where the players are going through a traditional rite of passage in the town of Kassen. They are chosen to travel to a nearby crypt to light the Everflame (which, tradition has it, will bring good luck to the community). I won’t give away the adventure, but needless to say all does not go easily. The adventure is straightforward and rewarding.
The book also offers a few pages outlining the town of Kassen, which could make a good home base for the group’s adventures, with a ready supply of NPC contacts. Assuming that the group isn’t too diverse, they can be from Kassen and perhaps have even grown up together.
If a more urban setting is to your liking, then there’s the first installment (of six) from the Council of Thieves adventure path, The Bastards of Erebus. This is set in Westcrown, a city which has fallen on hard times after losing its status as capital. The adventurers are part of a grassroots effort to restore order to the city… an effort that quickly gets labeled as a rebellion by the corrupt powers at work in Westcrown. As the group attempts to rid the city of the “Bastards of Erebus,” a group of tieflings that terrorize the northern ruins of the city, they discover that these are just part of the machinations of the sinister “Council of Thieves.”
This first adventure module runs characters from first through third levels (assuming the medium advancement path from the Pathfinder rules), and by the end of the entire 6-part adventure path the characters are expected to be around level 13. This volume consists of a 40-page adventure, a 12-page profile of Westcrown, an 8-page profile of tieflings (including some optional variations on basic racial powers), an 8-page short story (part 1 of 6), and a 14-page bestiary (followed by an overview of the entire campaign and some pre-generated characters). The book also provides a link to an online player-friendly introduction to the setting, so the players won’t have to nose around in the adventure book to find out about their hometown.
Overall, both of these adventures provide some excellent starting points for an entire campaign, and having some guidance in how this system differs from 3.5 might be helpful. (Crypt of the Everflame has some especially nice sidebars to help in this regard.) With the options available from Pathfinder, players can even taken traditional settings like Dragonlance and adapt them to the new mechanics provided by Paizo.
This review originally appeared in Black Gate #14.