Advanced Class Guide – A Review

This is something I haven’t done in a while (and have never done on this blog) a game book review. And complicating matters, this is a book that I haven’t actually used in-game yet, so my review is going to be based on first impressions and char gen. But that’s ok, because this is the Advanced Class Guide, and character generation is really what it’s all about.

The Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide, which is totally coincidentally, we pinkyswear, coming out in the same month as the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, introduces ten new classes and numerous new archetypes to the Pathfinder RPG, as well as a plethora of new magic items, spells, and feats, and guidelines (note that I did not say “rules”) for creating new classes.

Do you have class?

The Advanced Class Guide, as its title indicates, is mostly about class options – about new classes that are being added to Pathfinder, and new options for the existing classes. It contains 10 new classes, all of them hybrids of previous classes. This is NOT new to Pathfinder – the Magus class, from all the way back in Advanced Players’ Guide from 2010, was explicitly a hybrid of fighter and wizard. What is new is that they are explicitly acknowledging how these classes hybridize and work.

The new classes, and their iconic characters, are:

Arcanist (Enora – female halfling) – sorcerer/wizard

Bloodrager (Crowe – male human) – barbarian/sorcerer

Brawler (Kess – female human) – fighter/monk

Hunter (Adowyn – female human) – druid/ranger

Investigator (Quinn – male human) – alchemist/rogue

Shaman (Shardra – female dwarf) – oracle/witch

Skald (Haakon – male human) – barbarian/bard

Slayer (Zadim – male human) – rogue/ranger

Swashbuckler (Jirelle – female half-elf) – fighter/gunslinger

Warpriest (Oloch – male half-orc) – fighter/cleric

The art in the book is top-notch, with a cover and iconic character illustrations by, as always, Wayne A. Reynolds – this is important because Reynolds’ art has been a unifying factor for Pathfinder (and also sort of a piece of continuity between Pathfinder and D&D, because he’s been responsible for some of the best artwork for both games for most of the past decade and a half). So once we have the new classes laid out, the book continues to cover the important bits of a traditional Paizo player’s handbook supplement. This of course means that the art also has all the drawbacks of WAR’s art – drawn-back, screamy faces and feet right out of Rob Liefeld’s sketchbook. Oh well, not everything is perfect!

In a sense, hybrid classes have existed from AD&D onward. Bard combines wizard and rogue. Paladin and Ranger both combine cleric and fighter, but in complementary ways (the paladin is the Paragon of Law and Good way, the ranger began as an intersection of cleric and fighter but over the years has become an intersection of druid and fighter – figuring out D&D is an inexact art). What is different about this book is the explicit acknowledgment that this is what they’re doing. As a result, the new classes are extremely strong mechanically (the Slayer may well be my new default melee character).

Physical Construction Notes

The book is a well-constructed hardcover (the only Pathfinder book I own that feels a little bit fragile is the uber-thick Core Rulebook, which has a spine that feels a little less than stable), spine and incidental color bars are in green and parchment-brown. There are a couple of misprints in the first printing: The front cover uses the Pathfinder Adventure Path logo in lieu of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game logo. Also, a small handful of headers are put in normal text size on the previous line.

Playability

The classes presented in the book actually feel eminently playable, and they breathe some new life into old archetypes. There are certain corner cases in D&D that are hard to do well – the “gish” (fighter/mage character) is a major example of this, for which existing class hybrids tend to be either massively overpowered (such as a full-attack gish that also has a full spell progression) or massively underpowered (as in a fighter/monk combo who still can’t wear any armor). The classes presented in Advanced Class Guide synergize their parent classes well, and the only class that’s even mediocre is the Brawler, and I’ll admit that I haven’t played that yet.

The Arcanist is, as is usual for a pure caster in D&D, exceptionally powerful – this is however nothing new and honestly, in D&D to a certain extent caster overpower – and complaints about the same – are overblown. Eliminating an entire encounter in a single action isn’t really that much fun more than the first time or two that you do it.  

Summary

In the summer of Dungeons & Dragons (the first edition since “Red Box” D&D that hasn’t explicitly marketed itself by its edition), the Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide provides a compelling argument that the 3.5 system remains strong. Advanced Class Guide offers new and interesting archetypes to the Pathfinder game, and continues Paizo’s tradition of excellent options for classes both new and old.

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