Monday, November 7, 2011

Pathfinder Beginner Box...The Box That Keeps On Giving!

Earlier in the week I managed to snag a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box. From the moment I held it in my hands I knew I was going to be quite happy with the treasures to be found inside. To be fair, I was hard pressed to find a negative review of this product, the single biggest complaint was Paizo shouldn't have included this as part of Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscription. I think this product has wide appeal but not universal appeal and as such, shouldn't have been forced on Paizo's subscribers.

Now, before I begin I must confess something. I have always had a complicated relationship with Pathfinder. It is probably closer to the Dungeons and Dragons I am most familiar with but I have such an attachment to the history and culture of Dungeons and Dragons it is hard for me to give that up. I will finish this thought in a separate post as this post is about the Beginner Box. For the record, I do have the Core Rulebook and the Beastiary and a supplement or two.

With my box in hand, I rushed home to open it up. Inside I found the 64 page Player Book, the 96 page GM's Book, a complete set of dice, four pre-generated characters, 4 double-sided character sheets, more than 80 pawns of the pre-generated characters and creatures from the GM's book and a reusable dry erase mat. The Beginner Box provides everything to play a low-level campaign, from levels 1 through 5.

One of the biggest problems new people have when they start playing Pathfinder is the sheer size of the core rulebook. It weighs in at a whopping 576 pages and has been rumoured to be able to stop a bullet fired from 20 paces away! The Players Book provides a simple baseline of the most important rules. This book was written to get new players playing within 15 minutes from opening the box. The book, and for that matter the GM Book, is very colourful, it is filled with illustrations and instructions that make learning to play fast and easy. The book only contains the four main character classes, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric and Fighter. Character creation is broken into 14 steps, which is simpler than it sounds. Each step tells the new player exactly where in the Player Book they can find the section they need. The character creation chart is located inside the front cover of the Player Book. The Player Book also includes a solo adventure to teach the mechanics of the game. An example of play is also included to reinforce the mechanics. Basically, the first 1/4 of the book includes the solo adventure and the example of play. The middle half focuses on character creation and the final 1/4 provides an overview of how to play the game.

The 96 page contains a 14 page adventure. The adventure is nothing special. Its a simple kill monster, get treasure adventure. It provides fledgling game masters with the step by step examples of what to do. Overall this makes running this adventure pretty simple, and being the Game Master less intimidating. The remaining pages provide the Game Master with tools on running the game, building adventures, a list of magic items, a bunch of creatures, magic items, a description of the town of Sandpoint and a very handy reference section. My only complaint of this book is it would have been nice to have included the reference section as a double sided sheet apart from the book, or even as a two page mini GM screen. The book finishes off with a section entitled "Where To Go From Here". It provides a description of the Core Rulebook, the Beastiary and the Inner Sea World Guide. On the inside back cover, there is a list of common map symbols and the back cover a simple combat reference guide.

If the Beginner Box only contained the two books it would be a pretty good deal. both books have additional material online which expand the material a little bit. The online player material provides a new class, the barbarian, plus additional option for the four core classes and some additional equipment. The online GM material provides a short adventure in a mine, I suspect to encourage GMs to purchase the new GameMastery Map Tiles: Mines tiles, a few new creatures and a pretty useful section on how to use republished adventures with the reduced rules in the Beginner Box. I am hoping Paizo will be slowly increasing the number of web enhancements. It would be nice to include some adventures written specifically for the Beginner Box as well.

The remaining items in the Beginner Box is where the product really provides value for your money. The included dice are not of the highest quality but the set includes all the required dice including a percentile die to make rolling 1-100 easier for a new player. The included pre made characters are nothing special. Players who don't want to create their own characters will have everything they need to begin playing. The blank character sheets are colourful and contain all the information needed for playing. When the players outgrow these sheets, there is another one provided on the Paizo website.

The real value of this box is the included fold out map and the 80 or so pawns. The dry erase fold out map contains the map for the adventure in the GM Book one one side. The other side is a blank tan coloured map suitable for drawing any map you might need. This is exactly the same type of map that Paizo sells for 12.99 on its website under the Flip-Mat brand. I have two of these already and this is one excellent addition to the Beginner Box. It was nice to see this included, they could have easily skimped and just included a glossy folded battle mat. The pawns are made from very heavy card stock and include 30 black stands. The artwork is colourful and the name of the creature or class is written on the bottom of the pawn so a new GM will have no trouble finding the exact one needed. I would love to see this format carried forward and included for all the Pathfinder modules and Adventure Paths. My biggest complaint with the pawns is the stands are only 1". There is nothing to indicate a creature who is larger. Not a major issue but when you are learning the game, understanding how different size creatures react in combat is important.

So, if we add the Flip-Mat at $12.99, a set of dice at $7.99 and we price the pawns at $15, we get $35.98...a little more than the $34.99 price on the Paizo website. Even if you don't agree with my valuation of the pawns, the included books make this box easily worth the money. Speaking about the box, it is made of very sturdy cardboard and will hold plenty of additional materials.

The bottom line is this is an excellent introduction to Pathfinder and quite possible the best introduction to an role-playing game since TSR published the Red Coloured Basic Boxed Set over 30 years ago. New players and GMs will find the rules easy to learn and the included extras will provide new GMs with tools they will use long after they out grow the rules in the Beginner Box. For someone looking to start playing Pathfinder this purchase is a no-brainer. If you are already playing the game, this purchase will depend on wether or not you find value in the included things in the box.

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