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Mad Scientist

Jhaeman's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 126 posts. 44 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.



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A Perfect Setting to Inflict on Jaded Players

*****

If you're a GM and hate your players, send their characters to The Worldwound! Joking (mostly). The Worldwound is a location in Pathfinder's campaign setting of Golarion, and this book is an excellent product. The premise is that a century ago, a group of demon-worshipping cultists succeeded in the one thing that most adventures assume PCs will arrive to stop in time: they opened a permanent gate to the demon plane known as the Abyss! Untold numbers of demons poured out and quickly overwhelmed the entire country of Sarkoris before a crusade of defenders assembled from all over the continent managed to partially contain the threat by erecting magical barriers around the doomed country. The fighting continues to this day as the demons probe for weaknesses and the exhausted defenders dream of some way to banish the evil forever. The former nation of Sarkoris is a blasted apocalypse overrun by demons. It's the perfect setting for mid- and high- level adventuring groups looking for maximum danger and carnage.

The Worldwound book is a 64-page entry in the Campaign Setting line. The inside front cover is an excellent map of the area: it's detailed, has a scale, and is generally cool looking (really, everything one needs in a map). The inside back cover is a concise timeline of what led to the formation of the Worldwound, and the effects of the efforts to close or contain it since. The inside is divided into three chapters: a gazetteer, adventuring dangers, and a bestiary. As a minor note, I noticed and appreciated the detailed cross-referencing and incorporation of material from other Pathfinder books.

The gazetteer (25 pages) covers five different regions of the Worldwound and each of them receives four pages of coverage including a half-page map of a city or other notable location within that region (unlike the main map, these maps are sparsely annotated). Unlike some campaign setting books, there are no NPC or monster stat blocks within the gazetteer. The first region to get coverage is Frostmire, one of the safest places to be in the Worldwound because there's literally almost nothing there besides ragged hills and stinking swamps: both the demons and the crusaders long ago lost interest in the place. Next up is Riftshadow, a "ruin-choked waterway" notable in part for containing the home of Areelu Vorlesh, the demon-worshipping witch responsible for opening the rift to the Abyss in the first place! The Sarkorian Steppe is the third region covered and it's notable for the raids frequently launched into the area by the barbarian tribes of the Mommoth Lords. I really liked the description of an enduring rivalry between one barbarian leader, Khraigorr Half-Face and demon named Gashgelag. The fourth region covered, Stonewilds, has a fantastic backstory involving the last stand of a powerful circle of druids whose final action stymies the demon occupiers to this day. The final region is The Wounded Lands, the actual site of the rift to the Abyss and the center of its demonic taint. The description is quite effective at making it a terrifying place to visit! Overall, the writing in this chapter is strong. My main criticism, and it's not necessarily a damning one, is that I see incredibly little incentive for PCs to want to come here. GMs will have their work cut out for themselves to persuade sensible groups that the risk is worth whatever reward is on offer.

"Adventures in the Worldwound" is the title of the second chapter (15 pages). It starts with a great explanation of why travellers to the area will be lucky to survive the hazardous landscape before even thinking about the demonic armies waiting to pounce. This is the first Campaign Setting book I've seen to make good use of Pathfinders rules for weather, and each region has descriptions of its normal weather and occasional Abyss-influenced dangerous weather. In another nice touch, a detailed description is given to how Survival checks to obtain food and water are much harder in each of the different regions, and how they're likely to result in magically tainted finds that can have a variety of terrible effects. In other words, adventurers better bring their own food (and a lot of it, if they plan to stay long) and sufficient spells to protect themselves against crazy-dangerous weather patterns. Fantastically fun (and cruel) hazards like "Bowel Worms" and "Demonplague" are detailed here as well. If you want to tell a "Man vs. Environment" story, just crossing the Worldwound is a feat in itself. The remainder of the chapter gives overviews of ten different "adventure sites." Each receives about a page of coverage; for example, there's an entire village of werewolves called Moonscream Glade, and a mysterious hovering structure called simply "Hanging Tower." My favourite is Pulura's Fall, a temple to an empyreal lord that has managed to stave off the demonic forces that have besieged it for over a century. It's an evocative and inspiring tale. Do keep in mind that these entries are broad descriptions only, and a GM would have a lot of work to do (in terms of coming up with stat blocks and layouts) to actually use them in a game. They're aids to creativity, but definitely not "pull-and-play" encounters.

The third and final chapter is perhaps the longest bestiary I've seen in a book in this line: 25 pages. There are random encounter tables for each of the regions, and the lowest CR on any of them is 10! A good sign, as the book explicitly says earlier, that PCs shouldn't be coming to the Worldwound until they have several levels under their belts. As for the new monsters introduced (16 of them), simply put they're as good as it gets. If you think you've seen it all, you're wrong! There's some incredibly creativity (and horror) put on display in this chapter and I would cackle with glee (or sigh with pity) to put PCs up against them. The artwork here is really strong--maybe not the absolute best Paizo has offered, but still quite effective at conveying how hideous these creatures are. Whoever was responsible for this bestiary should pat themselves on the back and be given a raise.

I don't have any groups adventuring in the Worldwound at present, so I wasn't sure what to expect from reading this one. I hope, as a PC, that I never have to go there! But that's good. A fictional world needs places that scares PCs (and the players running them), and not every area needs to be suitable for 1st level characters. If your players have become jaded, the Worldwound will be an eye-opening experience. They may never forgive you!


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Passable, but not Exciting

***( )( )

Sargava, a former Chelish-built colony on the shores of the Mwangi Expanse, is an area of the fictional world of Golarion that, in lesser hands, could have gone horribly wrong. The colonialism, racism, and exploitation of Africa, South America, India, and so many other places by imperial powers in the real world could have found strong echoes in a setting about a vast, unexplored jungle continent full of technologically-primitive dark-skinned tribespeople. Fortunately, Paizo recognized the dangers of the "explore the dark continent" trope and was careful to ensure it would receive a far more intelligent expression in Pathfinder. Although the themes of colonialism, invasion, and corporate exploitation remain, the PCs are definitely not expected to follow in the footsteps of real-world colonialists, nor are they necessarily expected to play outsiders at all: extensive information is given about the indigenous peoples of the Mwangi Expanse, so that alternative themes of resistance and cultural integrity can be experienced. And lest this all seem to heavy, this is a Pathfinder game so groups who want to focus on being chased by huge dinosaurs and ancient demons can do that too!

Sargava, the Lost Colony is a 32-page book in the Player Companion line. I think the front cover is great, showing one of those aforementioned dinosaurs chasing after the Iconic ranger, Harsk. The inside back-cover reproduces the artwork sans logos, while the inside front-cover is a map of Sargava showing the perfect amount of detail for PCs to understand what's around them without giving away too much detail. The interior is divided into eight sections.

The first section (11 pages) is an overview of Sargava. It covers the interesting history of the area as a colony founded by the Chelish empire, the bloody battle for independence (aided by a problematic deal with a pirate fleet), and the situation today, wherein Sargava has to try to delicately navigate relations with the native inhabitants of the area and find allies overseas. All in all, it's an interesting political situation with plenty of room for PCs to become involved in all sorts of intrigue and adventures that could influence the state of things. A detailed timeline of Sargava is provided, which is probably more detail than is needed for a Player Companion. As we'll see, this is one of the problem areas for the book: an inability to differentiate between player needs and GM needs. The section provides an overview of the various Mwangi tribes that exist near Sargava, and I appreciate how it takes pains to establish that a) they're not all the same; b) they don't necessarily get along with each other; and c) there is a vast degree of complexity and sub-groups within each tribe. This helps avoid the "all natives are the same" problem of historic colonial fiction. The section contains large sidebars on private organizations that have a major influence in Sargava, including corporate mining companies, trade guilds, and the Pathfinder Society. There's about a page on "Classes in Sargava", but each class (core-only) receives just a single sentence or two about their common role in the area. As this would be one of the most important thing for players in a Sargava-focussed campaign, it would have been helpful to elaborate on this much further.

The second section (7 pages) provides more detail on particular settlements in Sargava. First up is Eleder, the only city built by the original Chelish colonists. The sense I get is that it's a lot like how the colonial British acted in India as seen in a novel like A Passage to India: deeply concerned with maintaining the social decorum and expectations of the "Old World." Although the local Mwangi have roles within the city, it's also clear they face discrimination and subordination. Apart from these issues, there wasn't a lot that stood out to me about Eleder--it seemed like a pretty average "D&D" city. But perhaps that helps to emphasize the mysterious dangers that await outsiders if they venture too far into the jungle . . . The second settlement discussed is Kalabuto, a city with a really interesting history (a bit too involved for me to cover here) that today consists of a partially-assimilated Mwangi tribe and some descendents of the colonists. Because it is frequently attacked and often overrun by hostile Mwangi, Kalabuto is a much more dangerous (and exciting) place for PCs to visit. Five other settlements, much smaller than Eleder and Kalbuto, receive about two paragraphs of description each: Crown's End, Fort Bandu, Freehold, Port Freedom, and Stark Point. Overall, I would say the writing in this section is about average--not as original and exciting as some Pathfinder products I've read, but serviceable.

Section three is "Adventuring in Sargava" (six pages). The first few pages talk about different locations in the area where adventurers are commonly hired, and what tasks they might be asked to perform. It's not exactly "adventure hooks" in the conventional sense, but more like "reasons why a PC might be in a general location." One of the topics on a subsequent page is interesting: buying nobility. A chart lists the quite modest cost to buy 100 acres of land of various terrains from the colony's leader, and says that titles of nobility can be purchased as well (though no prices are given for the latter, which seems like an oversight). The most important page for players is the collection of new traits. There are four combat traits, each of which makes fighting in a particular terrain (hill, jungle, river, and savanna) a little bit easier. There's one magic trait which is actually a pretty good one: the ability to take one zero-level spell from another class' spell list and add it to your own. Next, there are eight race traits, but the "race" prerequisite doesn't refer to things like the "core rulebook races" but instead specific tribes in the Mwangi Expanse, being Mwangi in general, or being a colonist. On the whole, I don't imagine they're taken very often: they are quite specific and most come with a drawback along with a benefit (like a bonus on Intimidate checks vs. Mwangi but an equal penalty on Diplomacy checks against them). The three regional traits are pretty bland and narrow in scope. Of the two religion traits, one is interesting from a flavour-perspective ("Faithful Arodenite"--a worshipper of the dead god Aroden), but both are lacking when it comes to game effect. As a whole, I wasn't impressed with this section. The first part is too vague and, for the most parts, the traits are forgettable.

Section four, "Sargavan Fighting Styles" (two pages), introduces several new combat feats, each with an animal theme, like "Monkey Lunge" (no AC penalty for using Lunge) and "Rhino Charge" (allowing a character to use the Ready action for a charge attack). The feats are actually quite useful for certain melee builds. There's also a new "Equipment Trick" (a concept first introduced in the Adventurer's Armory Player Companion). This one focuses on Kava Musk, an adhesive chemical with a powerful odor. It's a creative idea of something to base an Equipment Trick around.

The fifth section (two pages) is on religion in Sargava and talks generally about the Mwangi attitude toward religion, the efforts of some colonists to convert them to "mainstream" religion, and how some of the "Core 20" deities (like Shelyn, Abadar, and Iomedae) are viewed in the area. This section is all "flavour" with no "crunch."

Magic is the topic for the sixth section (two pages), and it contains three new spells (all for druids, rangers, and/or wizard/sorcerers) and six new magic items. All of the spells and items are jungle themed, and seem reasonably interesting and useful.

The last section (two pages) is "Local Hazards", and it contains descriptions of various jungle dangers (like heat, mosquitos, getting lost, wild animals etc.). It's all pretty broad, and I would think such stuff would be more for a GM than a player.

Sargava, the Lost Colony is clearly from the period when Paizo was still figuring out what a Player Companion should be like. Readers expecting it to be like a modern Companion that's chock full of dozens of feats, archetypes, spells, etc., will be disappointed by the relative sparsity of PC options. The book serves as a solid introduction and overview to Sargava, and could be useful to both players and GMs who intend to use it for that purpose. But although Sargava is potentially quite interesting, this book probably doesn't do the area justice. I would recommend this one only for a campaign specifically set in the area, and even then, I wouldn't say it's a "must buy."


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A Good Take on Classic RPG Fiction

****( )

NO SPOILERS

I have to admit I wasn't particularly looking forward to Plague of Shadows, the third book in the Pathfinder Tales line of novels. The blurb about adventurers banding together on a quest to retrieve a lost artifact sounded about as cliche "gamer fiction" as it gets. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. Yes, there are adventurers and there is a quest, but Howard Andrew Jones' writing is excellent and he manages to give each character enough spark so that they don't come off as cardboard-cut-out heroes. I quite liked the use of flashbacks linking two different adventuring groups together despite the passage of time, and the portions of the story set in Galt really made the country come alive (in a terrifying way). There's a big twist about 5/6 of the way through that I'm not 100% sure is justified, and there's a limit to how much originality can be added on to the "fantasy adventuring group" chassis, but I honestly enjoyed Plague of Shadows and would definitely read more Pathfinder novels from the author.

SPOILERS

I thought Jones did an excellent job portraying the elves of Kyonin and their condescending but charitable view towards the "Forlorn" (elves who grew up outside elven society). I thought his portrayal of the Shadow Plane was a bit bland, especially considering the major villain is a specialist Shadow Wizard; I didn't feel like there was enough detail given to explain why Arcil, and the cabal of Shadow Wizards that Elyana's old adventuring group fought, were so fascinated with the place. The story's biggest twist (SUPER SPOILER REMINDER) in having Vallyn be working with the Galtans to betray Elyana just wasn't set up well enough; a twist of that kind needs to have enough (cleverly hidden) basis before it appears so that the reader doesn't feel it just came out of nowhere. Last, I thought the ending was superb, with Elyana leaving so that she doesn't have to watch her love grow old and die; and Drelm coming with her was inspired.


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Legendary (and more compact!)

*****

The bulk of this review is about the contents of the Core Rulebook, but I did want to make special mention about this softcover edition. The interior is exactly the same as the sixth printing of the hardcover, but it’s lighter and easier to carry. I’ve been using it for a few months now, and I’m quite happy with the font size, reduced price, durability, and ease of use.
--------------------------------------
Legendary. It’s hard to know where to begin to review this book, but that one word encapsulates it well. There’s a reason Pathfinder is thriving a decade into its existence, and it all starts here. If you don’t know anything about Pathfinder, you can think of it as a revised and improved version of a specific edition of D&D (the “3.5” edition). Its strength is the nearly infinite capacity for customization, and its weakness is that enormous customization introduces complexity. In other words, this is a “crunch heavy” instead of a “rules light” game. Trust me, it’s worth it though. This is going to be a long review because I’ve got fifteen chapters to cover in this massive, 575-page book! If you don’t have the patience to read through the whole review, the conclusion makes it clear: buy this book. With this and the Bestiary, you have years of adventure at your fingertips.

Chapter 1 is “Getting Started” (12 pages). This chapter contains a brief introduction to the game, an overview of each chapter, a glossary of common terms, an example of play (very useful if this is your first RPG ever), and the rules for generating ability scores for a character (how physically and mentally capable they are).

Chapter 2 is “Races” (11 pages). The “Core” races presented here are: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Halflings, and Humans. As you would imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to each race. The chapter spends a page on each race, and beyond the rules ramifications it takes care to talk about what members of that race typically look like, what their culture is like, why they often become adventurers, and how they relate to other races. It’s not an overwhelming amount of information (which is good for new players). For the most part, these races stick to fairly standard fantasy expectations.

Chapter 3 is “Classes” (57 pages). There are eleven “core classes” presented in this book: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard. The spread of classes does an excellent job covering different play-styles and roles within a group. The power level of these classes has been significantly bumped up from D&D 3.5, and there are a lot more choices to be made within each class. This makes the classes more complex, but also more satisfying to see advance up through each level. If you’re brand-new to Pathfinder, it might be good to stay away from spell-casters like the Druid, Cleric, Sorcerer, and Wizard until you get more experience, as the sheer number of choices to be made can be overwhelming at first.

Chapter 4 is “Skills” (27 pages). Skills are something that every character has and they determine the likelihood of success in doing certain things. Want to leap from one rooftop to another? Roll an Acrobatics check. Want to figure out what spell that evil wizard just cast at you? Roll a Spellcraft check. Different classes get bonuses to using particular skills, but every character, regardless of class, can become good at something if they invest their “skill points” in a particular skill. Pathfinder has condensed the number of skills slightly from D&D 3.5, though it still has more than newer RPGs tend to have. I like the diversity and ability to specialize in discrete areas, but some think there should have been further consolidation. Each skill is described with great detail on specifically what it allows you to do and not do, which is quite helpful in avoiding rules arguments.

Chapter 5 is “Feats” (29 pages). Feats are special abilities. Every character gets to choose one feat at every odd level, and some classes and races get “bonus” feats. A feat might be something that lets you fight better in darkness (“Blindfighting”) or it might be something that makes certain spells you cast more effective (“Spell Focus”). There are several dozen feats to choose from, so this can be one of the parts of character creation that takes the longest to do. Their value, again, is that they allow for enormous customization of a character. Just because there are two Fighters in the party doesn’t mean they’ll be identical, because feats allow them to operate in very different ways!

Chapter 6 is “Equipment” (16 pages). Your character will need a weapon, maybe some armor, and some other gear like a backpack or a coil of rope. But in addition, you might wonder how expensive a night’s stay at an inn is, or how much it’ll cost to persuade a local wizard to cast a spell for you. All of the answers are in this chapter. I really appreciate that every item and service isn’t just listed on a table with a price, but in addition most receive a description, a picture, and (sometimes) additional rules to explain how it works in actual gameplay.

Chapter 7 is “Additional Rules” (13 pages). The title of this chapter isn’t particularly helpful, as the entire book consists of rules. Really, it’s a miscellany of various things about your character. First up is Alignment, which is whether your character is good, evil, or somewhere in between. A lot of other RPGs dispense with such questions, but it is “hard-coded” into Pathfinder in the sense that it’s not just a role-playing choice: many spells, magic items, and other effects change depending on a character’s alignment. Next, there’s a few pages on “Vital Statistics” like determining a character’s age, height and weight, and (most importantly) carrying capacity (also known as “encumbrance”). If your character has a low Strength score, don’t expect him or her to be able to carry a lot of gear. Then, there’s a discussion of movement speeds in various contexts (in the course of a combat encounter, for example, or for travelling great distances overland). Last, a bunch of little things are covered under the title “Exploration”: how far characters can see in different levels of light, how to determine if an object can be intentionally broken, etc. It’s a chapter that’s easy to overlook but provides answers to a lot of “little things” that might come up during a session.

Chapter 8 is “Combat” (29 pages). Combat is a major part of Pathfinder, and there’s admittedly a lot to digest in a short number of pages here. The way the chapter is laid out isn’t necessarily intuitive, and later Paizo products (like the Strategy Guide) do a much better job making combat clearer. You’ll find everything you need in this chapter, but you’ll be flipping back and forth for a while. I’ve been playing for years and I still refer to it occasionally.

Chapter 9 is “Magic” (19 pages). This chapter discusses different categories of spells, how characters learn them, and how to read a spell entry in the next chapter. It’s a chapter that’s easy to skip over at first, but is actually pretty important once a campaign gets serious.

Chapter 10 is “Spells” (156 pages). You read that right: about a quarter of the book consists of an alphabetical list and description of several hundred different spells! The spells have been cleaned up and improved from D&D 3.5 for better gameplay, but what hasn’t changed is that magic still rules. If pure power is what you want, play a true spell-caster and you’ll find it.

Chapter 11 is “Prestige Classes” (23 pages). Prestige Classes are special classes that characters can eventually take, well into their adventuring careers, if they meet certain prerequisites. This book has ten of them: Arcane Archer, Arcane Trickster, Assassin, Dragon Disciple, Duelist, Eldritch Knight, Loremaster, Mystic Theurge, Pathfinder Chronicler, and Shadowdancer. For the most part, and until very recent, Pathfinder hasn’t been a game where prestige classes thrive. Apart from some specific flavour reasons, a character would usually be better off simply continuing in their base class rather than taking levels in a prestige class.

Chapter 12 is “Gamemastering” (15 pages). As its title indicates, this chapter helps the person running a game (the “Gamemaster” or “GM”) prepare an adventure, referee the rules, deal with common problems at the table, etc. It’s okay for what it is, but I’ve seen better resources to help new GMs figure out what they’re doing.

Chapter 13 is “Environment” (39 pages). This chapter contains a lot of little things to help make the setting interesting. It contains rules on weather, travelling through the wilderness, dealing with traps, and so forth. It’s primarily for the GM too and shouldn’t be a priority to master until more fundamental rules are digested.

Chapter 14 is “Creating NPCs” (11 pages). This chapter gives rules for creating background (non-player) characters by using “NPC classes” like a Commoner. I have to admit I never use this chapter, as I just rely on NPC stat blocks already generated in other Pathfinder products.

Chapter 15 is “Magic Items” (101 pages). Your adventurer is going to want some cool magic gear, and this chapter explains what it does, how much it costs, and how it’s made. It’s pretty extensive and detailed.

Last up, there are appendices summarizing “Special Abilities”, “Conditions” (status effects a character might be under), “Inspiring Reading”, and “Game Aids” (other products you can purchase).
The Core Rulebook is a hefty tome for an RPG book. For players coming from D&D 3.5, it’s basically a combination of the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide in a single volume, but refined and improved. The book is, with the single exception of the deities, completely “setting neutral” (that is, it’s suitable for play in any campaign world or a homemade setting). There’s some excellent artwork taken from other Paizo products mixed in with some artwork that’s more pedestrian. Still, the production quality overall is fantastic. I would normally go into more detail, but there are hard word counts on these reviews. So I’ll sum up by saying: this is the one book you won’t leave home without, and it’s worth every penny.


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Legendary

*****

Legendary. It’s hard to know where to begin to review this book, but that one word encapsulates it well. There’s a reason Pathfinder is thriving a decade into its existence, and it all starts here. If you don’t know anything about Pathfinder, you can think of it as a revised and improved version of a specific edition of D&D (the “3.5” edition). Its strength is the nearly infinite capacity for customization, and its weakness is that enormous customization introduces complexity. In other words, this is a “crunch heavy” instead of a “rules light” game. Trust me, it’s worth it though. This is going to be a long review because I’ve got fifteen chapters to cover in this massive, 575-page book! If you don’t have the patience to read through the whole review, the conclusion makes it clear: buy this book. With this and the Bestiary, you have years of adventure at your fingertips.

Chapter 1 is “Getting Started” (12 pages). This chapter contains a brief introduction to the game, an overview of each chapter, a glossary of common terms, an example of play (very useful if this is your first RPG ever), and the rules for generating ability scores for a character (how physically and mentally capable they are).

Chapter 2 is “Races” (11 pages). The “Core” races presented here are: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Halflings, and Humans. As you would imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to each race. The chapter spends a page on each race, and beyond the rules ramifications it takes care to talk about what members of that race typically look like, what their culture is like, why they often become adventurers, and how they relate to other races. It’s not an overwhelming amount of information (which is good for new players). For the most part, these races stick to fairly standard fantasy expectations.

Chapter 3 is “Classes” (57 pages). There are eleven “core classes” presented in this book: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard. The spread of classes does an excellent job covering different play-styles and roles within a group. The power level of these classes has been significantly bumped up from D&D 3.5, and there are a lot more choices to be made within each class. This makes the classes more complex, but also more satisfying to see advance up through each level. If you’re brand-new to Pathfinder, it might be good to stay away from spell-casters like the Druid, Cleric, Sorcerer, and Wizard until you get more experience, as the sheer number of choices to be made can be overwhelming at first.

Chapter 4 is “Skills” (27 pages). Skills are something that every character has and they determine the likelihood of success in doing certain things. Want to leap from one rooftop to another? Roll an Acrobatics check. Want to figure out what spell that evil wizard just cast at you? Roll a Spellcraft check. Different classes get bonuses to using particular skills, but every character, regardless of class, can become good at something if they invest their “skill points” in a particular skill. Pathfinder has condensed the number of skills slightly from D&D 3.5, though it still has more than newer RPGs tend to have. I like the diversity and ability to specialize in discrete areas, but some think there should have been further consolidation. Each skill is described with great detail on specifically what it allows you to do and not do, which is quite helpful in avoiding rules arguments.

Chapter 5 is “Feats” (29 pages). Feats are special abilities. Every character gets to choose one feat at every odd level, and some classes and races get “bonus” feats. A feat might be something that lets you fight better in darkness (“Blindfighting”) or it might be something that makes certain spells you cast more effective (“Spell Focus”). There are several dozen feats to choose from, so this can be one of the parts of character creation that takes the longest to do. Their value, again, is that they allow for enormous customization of a character. Just because there are two Fighters in the party doesn’t mean they’ll be identical, because feats allow them to operate in very different ways!

Chapter 6 is “Equipment” (16 pages). Your character will need a weapon, maybe some armor, and some other gear like a backpack or a coil of rope. But in addition, you might wonder how expensive a night’s stay at an inn is, or how much it’ll cost to persuade a local wizard to cast a spell for you. All of the answers are in this chapter. I really appreciate that every item and service isn’t just listed on a table with a price, but in addition most receive a description, a picture, and (sometimes) additional rules to explain how it works in actual gameplay.

Chapter 7 is “Additional Rules” (13 pages). The title of this chapter isn’t particularly helpful, as the entire book consists of rules. Really, it’s a miscellany of various things about your character. First up is Alignment, which is whether your character is good, evil, or somewhere in between. A lot of other RPGs dispense with such questions, but it is “hard-coded” into Pathfinder in the sense that it’s not just a role-playing choice: many spells, magic items, and other effects change depending on a character’s alignment. Next, there’s a few pages on “Vital Statistics” like determining a character’s age, height and weight, and (most importantly) carrying capacity (also known as “encumbrance”). If your character has a low Strength score, don’t expect him or her to be able to carry a lot of gear. Then, there’s a discussion of movement speeds in various contexts (in the course of a combat encounter, for example, or for travelling great distances overland). Last, a bunch of little things are covered under the title “Exploration”: how far characters can see in different levels of light, how to determine if an object can be intentionally broken, etc. It’s a chapter that’s easy to overlook but provides answers to a lot of “little things” that might come up during a session.

Chapter 8 is “Combat” (29 pages). Combat is a major part of Pathfinder, and there’s admittedly a lot to digest in a short number of pages here. The way the chapter is laid out isn’t necessarily intuitive, and later Paizo products (like the Strategy Guide) do a much better job making combat clearer. You’ll find everything you need in this chapter, but you’ll be flipping back and forth for a while. I’ve been playing for years and I still refer to it occasionally.

Chapter 9 is “Magic” (19 pages). This chapter discusses different categories of spells, how characters learn them, and how to read a spell entry in the next chapter. It’s a chapter that’s easy to skip over at first, but is actually pretty important once a campaign gets serious.

Chapter 10 is “Spells” (156 pages). You read that right: about a quarter of the book consists of an alphabetical list and description of several hundred different spells! The spells have been cleaned up and improved from D&D 3.5 for better gameplay, but what hasn’t changed is that magic still rules. If pure power is what you want, play a true spell-caster and you’ll find it.

Chapter 11 is “Prestige Classes” (23 pages). Prestige Classes are special classes that characters can eventually take, well into their adventuring careers, if they meet certain prerequisites. This book has ten of them: Arcane Archer, Arcane Trickster, Assassin, Dragon Disciple, Duelist, Eldritch Knight, Loremaster, Mystic Theurge, Pathfinder Chronicler, and Shadowdancer. For the most part, and until very recent, Pathfinder hasn’t been a game where prestige classes thrive. Apart from some specific flavour reasons, a character would usually be better off simply continuing in their base class rather than taking levels in a prestige class.

Chapter 12 is “Gamemastering” (15 pages). As its title indicates, this chapter helps the person running a game (the “Gamemaster” or “GM”) prepare an adventure, referee the rules, deal with common problems at the table, etc. It’s okay for what it is, but I’ve seen better resources to help new GMs figure out what they’re doing.

Chapter 13 is “Environment” (39 pages). This chapter contains a lot of little things to help make the setting interesting. It contains rules on weather, travelling through the wilderness, dealing with traps, and so forth. It’s primarily for the GM too and shouldn’t be a priority to master until more fundamental rules are digested.

Chapter 14 is “Creating NPCs” (11 pages). This chapter gives rules for creating background (non-player) characters by using “NPC classes” like a Commoner. I have to admit I never use this chapter, as I just rely on NPC stat blocks already generated in other Pathfinder products.

Chapter 15 is “Magic Items” (101 pages). Your adventurer is going to want some cool magic gear, and this chapter explains what it does, how much it costs, and how it’s made. It’s pretty extensive and detailed.

Last up, there are appendices summarizing “Special Abilities”, “Conditions” (status effects a character might be under), “Inspiring Reading”, and “Game Aids” (other products you can purchase).
The Core Rulebook is a hefty tome for an RPG book. For players coming from D&D 3.5, it’s basically a combination of the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide in a single volume, but refined and improved. The book is, with the single exception of the deities, completely “setting neutral” (that is, it’s suitable for play in any campaign world or a homemade setting). There’s some excellent artwork taken from other Paizo products mixed in with some artwork that’s more pedestrian. Still, the production quality overall is fantastic. I would normally go into more detail, but there are hard word counts on these reviews. So I’ll sum up by saying: this is the one book you won’t leave home without, and it’s worth every penny.

Special Note: The Core Rulebook was recently released in a smaller softcover. The interior is exactly the same as the sixth printing of the hardcover, but it’s lighter and easier to carry. I’ve been using it for a few months now, and I’m quite happy with the font size, reduced price, durability, and ease of use.


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