So this is the last review of August Review Week. My next review week will be the week of September 8-15 and start with two card games: Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools and News Flash: Bad Decisions by Diamond Dust Dreams, Inc.
Recapping this week, we started with two Pathfinder hardcovers from this year: Advanced Class Guide (August) and Inner Sea Gods (May). On Thursday I covered Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules by Wizards of the Coast and Friday was Fate Core System by Evil Hat Games. Saturday was a day off, and Sunday I did a trio of inexpensive game products: Fate Accelerated RPG by Evil Hat Games, The Harrow Handbook by Paizo, and The Everyone Everywhere List by Magic & Tactics Unlimited.
Today’s book is a big, thick tome of role-playing goodness…
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook (Paizo, Inc. $49.99)
In a macro sense, Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition are the same thing – they’re a response to what people perceived as a fundamentally “wrong” edition of Dungeons & Dragons. When D&D 4th Edition came out, much of the gamer community looked at it and didn’t like what they saw. Classes were structured homogeneously, alignments were simplified from the classic nine into a linear chart of “Really Good, Good, Neutral, Evil, Really Evil” (which is not what was intended, but it’s how it came across). Most of the rules did not particularly facilitate roleplaying; some of them actively hindered it.
If 3rd Edition had been initially derided as “Dungeons & Diablo,” 4th Edition gained the image of “World of Warcraft Tabletop” and never really recovered from that point. All is not lost in terms of 4th Edition; plans are to continue the 4E-derived line of D&D tabletop board games, but the role-playing game is going in a drastically different direction with 5th Edition.
After Wizards of the Coast announced 4th Edition at their winter 2008 convention, Dungeons & Dragons Experience, they then delayed for months announcing licensing plans for 4E, forcing Paizo Publishing, LLC to announce that they would create a new RPG based on the System Reference Document released under the Open Gaming License by Wizards of the Coast in 2000. Which is a long way of saying that Paizo would be publishing their own version of Dungeons & Dragons under a different title. The title they used was the title of their in-house replacement for Dungeon magazine, the long-time magazine published by first TSR, then Wizards of the Coast, then Paizo, and again Wizards of the Coast, for D&D adventures: Pathfinder.
Pathfinder quickly found itself the focal icon for everyone who was displeased with the direction of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and its year-long playtest, starting from the alpha release at Gen Con 2008 and culminating with the release of the finished game at the following year’s Gen Con, was a wild success from both a rules and a PR perspective. It took me another two years to switch to Pathfinder, but my D&D 4th Edition books haven’t really been opened since then.
Functionally, Pathfinder differs from D&D 3rd Edition in that it has a handful of added features. Classes no longer have “dead levels” – every class gains something that it can do at every level increase. The core races have received a minor buff, effectively reducing the Equivalent Class Level of every non-core race in the game by 1 (so for example Aasimar and Tieflings are now ECL 0, allowing them to be taken on par with other human-derived races). Feats are changed from every third level to every second, allowing greater character customization on level up. The difficult rules in 3rd Edition to perform secondary combat actions like grappling have been replaced by a simplified set of “Combat Maneuver” rules that treat such maneuvers in combat as another form of attacking.
So what’s it all about?
Well the front cover of Pathfinder shows a red dragon, in a dungeon, menacing a male human fighter (Valeros, an open reference to Madmartigan) and an unwisely skimpily clad female human sorcerer (Seoni, casting a spell). Reverse the book and you see a woman encased in some rather dark and dangerous looking armor, next to the back cover text. She’s obviously a stormtrooper of some sort.
The cover painting is all about adventure, and it communicates that adventure far more effectively than the 4th Edition cover. The adventurers are not statically posed, they’re moving and dynamic and in their proper environment.
Chapters 1-7 of the book take you through character creation in a reasonable, normal order, from concept to equipment and personal details. 8-11 are combat, magic, spells, and prestige classes, completing the “player’s handbook” portion of the core rules. From Chapter 12 on we’re in the Game Master part of the book, talking about campaigns, adventure building, NPCs and magic items, and then at the end are appendices and character sheets. Since the Core Rulebook essentially packs equivalent rules material to the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide into a single volume, its massive thickness as a tome (nearly 600 pages) makes a great deal of sense.
It is also emphatically not a book that you can read in a single sitting. If you’re using it as a reference piece, you use it like a volume of an encyclopedia: Find the information you need, the one bite of the book that you can handle, and leave the rest for later.
In fact unless you are actually playing at Pathfinder Society (which requires you to be able to demonstrate that you own any and all books that your characters are built from), you probably don’t need the Core Rulebook as an everyday reference – the online Pathfinder Reference Document at http://paizo.com/prd/ and http://d20pfsrd.com contains the rules information that you need to play the game. It’s a big, thick, heavy book, and it’s fun and satisfying to run around with.
The spine on my copy feels a little bit loose – I’m not sure if this is damage over time or if the binding was originally a bit loose, but there it is. I can wiggle the cardboard a bit under the paper – I don’t do so often because that’s counterproductive to a book’s long and healthy life.
Like any role-playing game, though, the benefits of owning the Pathfinder Core Rulebook far outweigh the drawbacks, because a role-playing game is more than just the written rules. Artwork, sidebar text, design notes and other information grace the pages of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and give a lively presence to the text that give it context that a mere online database couldn’t match.
So that’s the end of RPG Review Week. For the rest of this week I’ll be posting about my impressions of Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin as I read it!