Game Review: Pathfinder Beginner Box

Game Review: Pathfinder Beginner Box


Back in March I got this hankering for something nostalgic in the RPG universe so I went to my twin bookshelves of games and thought ‘where do you go from here?’

Well, where I went was to the tattered pages of Basic D&D, and as I flipped through the booklets I was transported back to a simpler time, a better time, when the game I loved wasn’t a rules monster with so many supplements I didn’t know which way was up.

As I re-familiarized myself with this venerable system I emailed James Jacobs over at Paizo to tell him of the small joys I was discovering along the way. Low and behold, James fired an email back that indicated Paizo felt the same way and was prepping for a boxed release of their own.

I mean really, when was the last time a gaming box hit the market? I’d say sometime around 1995 as the death-throes of TSR were beginning in Lake Geneva.

In turn, this came as heady and exciting news, but alas I had to wait a full seven months before I got to lay hands on a new piece of legend entering my collection.

So it goes that I finally received my copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Holding it, I noted how thick it was, how heavy, and when I shook it much like a gift at Christmas it sounded of cardboard, bound books, and dice… ah the sound!

This was what I’d been waiting for, indeed what any true gamer should be waiting for. It was a perfect dichotomy, a time capsule filled with things from the future!

The box was shrink-wrapped, and I held for only a moment in quiet collector’s trepidation before I gave in to my gaming fever and broke the seal. I slid the top open, held the box close to my nose and took a deep breath.

Yep, there it was; the absolute flash of everything good in my 12 year-old self coming back with the smell of fresh paper and stale air. Paizo had done it… put me upon the event horizon of absolute adventure.

As presumed from my aforementioned box shake, the set was chocked full of wonder. The first thing I noticed, after the full set of polyhedral dice, was how much color was involved.

Paizo spared no expense here bringing the player full renderings of characters, classes, and my personal favorite weapons, armor, and equipment. If you had a question about something inside the box, there was a full description and picture, which I find totally off the chart to begin any gaming experience.


A player, or even Game Master, can settle in with the first of two small books that first depict what an RPG is, the Hero’s Handbook. This fine 64 page manual takes you through a base solo adventure scenario before character building occurs.

Now interestingly enough, in old school RPGs there wasn’t a huge amount of detail in character generation, but Paizo is tasked with showing a new player how to build a full Pathfinder character… not an easy task.

Still, the writers to a great job of leading the way, giving examples, and showing details as you go from base statistics all the way through Skills and Feats.

Then a purchaser can pull out the more in depth Game Master’s Guide, which contains 10 mini-adventures, creatures, treasure, and a detailed chapter what it means to be a Game Master in the Pathfinder system. Truly, it’s a bonanza of great info to set up adventures and take your first steps into a much larger universe.

Below the booklets rests a card-stock folding map to help place and visualize each encounter as well as three full pages of pop-out cardboard figures and bases to accompany the map. Beyond that you get pre-printed and ready to go character sheets [talk about a nice touch, I still remember folding my game books over the spine on a Xerox machine at the local library to get my sheets in 1984] as well as 4 class fold outs that detail what each style of character is and helps one decide if you’d like to play it [Choose Fighter, Fighters Rule!].

I have to say, as I laid the contents out it felt a bit like I was delving into a Bag of Holding because my rational brain kept saying ‘there can’t be anything else packed in this box!’ With everything inside, however, I’ll be ‘that guy’ and give you my only knock, that being the lack of inclusion of a small gaming and quick reference screen to help early Game Masters with game flow.

Whatever the case, Paizo has done well to hit a home run with this supplement in their already thriving gaming community and system. But if you don’t want to take my word for it, how about this quote I received in an email from known hardcore role-player and industry iconic artist Wayne Reynolds!

I think the industry needs to encourage new players and I hope the Beginners Box will do that. The box has everything you need to start playing, including a map and cardboard figures. It even has a solo adventure to help introduce the owner to the game. There’s just something I find truly delightful about it. I think it’s because I’m from that “D&D Basic Game Box” generation, where our first introduction to RPGs was that amazing red box with the Elmore art on the cover. I think the Pathfinder Beginners Box harks back to those days, except the production values are far better.

Yep, this is what gaming is about, and if you haven’t, or even have, tried Pathfinder before, this is still a must own. Oh, and if you have some young gamers in the house, I can think of nothing better to wrap and place under the tree. Christmas is coming, so give the gift of high adventure!

Best and great gaming!

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Nice article! I felt the same tinge of nostalgia, almost a year ago, about my first gaming box -The “First Quest”- which came along with plastic miniatures, a dungeon map and a CD among other things( and really tried to find something similar in the market. Apart from the D&D 4th ed. starter box (a really poor relative of “First Quest”) I was intrigued by “Dragon Age Box set 1” ( I still haven’t playtested the box but it really delivered on the nostalgia part. Regarding production values I was happily surprised by the interior art (it had the same impact on me as Clydwell’s and Elmore’s on the TSR books). The box doesn’t contain miniatures, because it tries to disperse with the battle grid, but offers a set of dice(d6).
Regarding paizo’s box, it’s fortunate that they choose to modernise TSR’s legacy in such a good way.


That looks neat.

I like the “Maturity” of RPGs now as an accepted hobby.

I also like both, without hating the other:

1. Things like Pathfinder, which IMO is what D&D should have been, tried to be.


2. The deliberately “Retro” movement for “Old School” games.

John R. Fultz

This is a great move on Paizo’s part, and I tell you why:

Today I came within an inch of buying the PATHFINDER Core Ruelbook. I had seen it sitting in the the local bookstore (Copperfield’s in Napa) a few weeks ago, and since I had gotten my retro-groove on last year by digging up all the old AD&D 1st edition books and running a campaign set in the Age of Kull, I thought it might be time to try some of the NEW gaming options.

Well, I looked at this gorgeous rulebook and was blown away by the quality of its artwork, its packaging, the orderliness of the rules…then I noticed that in order to run a campaign I’d have to buy a Bestiary. There are no monsters in the Core Rulebook! For $50 you’d expect at least a few monsters to throw at your PCs. Especially since the verbiage on the cover said something like “Everything you need to start a campaign,” or something like that.

My dilemma was compounded when I noticed that there WERE no Bestiaries on the shelves of the bookstore. Why would I shell out $50 on a “Core Rulebook” when I would have to then go on a quest to find a books of monsters–and probably shell out another $50 (I’m guessing). Not including monsters (i.e. EVERYTHING you need for a campaign) in the sourcebook was a HUGE mistake.

So it’s good to see that Paizo is remedying that situation by putting everything you need in a box.

John R. Fultz

Oh, that explains it. Well, I’ve never played 3rd or 3.5 editions. I came back to RPGing last year after 15 years of being “out of the game” (literally). When I last played me and my homies were hardcore 2nd Edition players, and we loved it.

However, when I decided to get back into it, I went “retro” and assembled all the old 1st Edition materials (used, about $5 per book–and a couple of “Best of Dragon Anthologies–ready to go). Afterall, I had grown up playing 1st Edition, then switched to 2nd Edition in my college years. So I went “back to the source”–and we had a great campaign where I modified the 1E rules to suit me. Basically, that meant replacing that silly “cast-and-forget” magic system with a Spell Points system that made wizards a bit more powerful and the magic system a lot more logical.

I’ve toyed with jumping to 3.5 edition…but my players are like “Hey, we like this version!” I think they’re right in that 1st Edition is a great baseline that a ref can tweak to create whatever game he wants. It is the “grandaddy” of RPGs, afterall.

Lately, however, we’ve shelved the AD&D 1st Edition campaign in favor of a GAMMA WORLD 4th Edition campaign. Now if I can just get the players to stop squabbling and killing one another over inane issues, the game will be much better. 🙂

John R. Fultz

Yeah, 1E is the nucleus of it all. You can tweak it and modify it any way you want. In the world I built, I also had “No Elves, No Orcs” rule. That is, until the PCs got high-level and started travelling to parallel planes of reality that had elves and orcs.

My PC’s went through the entire Vault of the Drow system (the only elves left in this world were the far-underground Dark Elves, save for a single isolated elven village on the surface). They went through Decent Into the the Depths of the Earth, then I completely modified Shrine of the KuoToa into the Temple of Cthulhu–complete with Mi-Go, Shoggoths, and Deep Ones from the old DIETIES AND DEMIGODS books. They survived that and made it to D3: Vault of the Draw, where they invaded the Temple of Lolth, then travelled into the Abyss and Q1: Queen of the DemonWeb Pits–which I modified with a “Skein of the Death Mother” supplement from Dragonsfoot. After a long and mind-bending quest through the Demonweb, they had a fantastic final battle with Lolth herself; after a long battle, the encounter culminated in the psionic half-ogre with a girdle of Frost Giant Strength ripping her to shreds in 2 rounds–before she could do her “Heal” ability. It was epic.

The campaign ended a few adventures later when the Great Cataclysm happened–Cthulhu had finally risen from R’lyeh and the PC’s went to face him down–with the help of special guest-star Hercules–and succeeding in destroying his physical form and sending him back into slumber. But it was too late for the Age of Kull…Kull ended up leading a group of survivors from Valusia into the wilderness to rebuild civilization, while the PCs retired to Arvandor with the blessings of Zeus.

Then we all decided we liked low-level playing better, so we retired the campaign. It went too “cosmic” too fast. Some player groups might like that, but the one I’m reffing likes a more ground-level approach.

[…] if you’re looking for a potential Christmas gift, check out Scott Taylor’s review of the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box at Black Gate. This sounds like a great way to encourage new gamers into the […]

Bob Byrne

Lately, I’ve had to fight off the urge to tear the shrink wrap off of my Beginner Box and check it out.

Since I have over a dozen of the Core books, I’m not sure what the allure is, but it’s getting stronger…

Bob Byrne

Finally unwrapped my copy. This is a FANTASTIC product!

[…] if you’re looking for a potential Christmas gift, check out Scott Taylor’s review of the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box at Black Gate. This sounds like a great way to encourage new gamers into the […]

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