This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.
Book Review from the Pocket Pistol: Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook from Paizo Publishing (Roughly 575 Pages)
My FLGS put its copies of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game on its shelves today, eight full days before the official release date. I know this because they called me and told me they had my reserved copy, so I could come pick it up any time. Well, technically, I guess this is my SigO‘s copy, since the next one we get is via a subscription in my name, and being charged to my card.
This is going to be a longer Pocket Pistol Review than usual. Bear with me — I’ve been eagerly anticipating this thing for a while now.
This thing — at 576 pages — is a fucking tome. You could probably kill a rhinoceros with this thing, in a single well-placed blow to the head. It’s over four pounds of gaming goodness.
It measures up to Paizo’s usual production quality. The pages are lightly textured semi-glossy, with vibrant color. Its binding appears to be sewn through the fold of the page signatures, against a durable folded synthetic weave fabric backing. The hardcover is thick and the cover is well-glossed, probably quite spill-resistant. Opening it up greeted me with the smell of freshly printed paper. This beast of a book is built to last.
One place where Paizo skimps sometimes is in artwork — not by getting low quality art (mostly, it’s fantastic), but by reusing art between products. This is not an exception. I keep recognizing art in it from my Adventure Path subscription. Some of the new art isn’t quite up to the same standards of elegance as some of what’s being duplicated from other products, unfortunately.
I found a couple of the illustrations disappointing, especially the illustrations in the section on races near the beginning of the book. The Alpha and Beta test versions had roughly the same setup for the race illustrations as in this official release version, right down to the genders chosen for each race. The poses are similar, too, though they don’t strike me as being conscious attempts to copy the original poses. Unfortunately, it’s not the same art, and both the SigO and I had the same reaction; it’s not as good.
One of the things we both tend to look for in RPG book art, particularly in illustrations from the character creation section of the book, is pictures that make us think “I want to play that!” The race illustrations in the test versions did an excellent job of that. The new race illustrations in the hardcover, however, don’t really do that.
Chapter Start Pages:
At the beginning of every chapter is a lavish illustration of an epic scene of iconic fantasy fare, with a short column of narrative fiction that explains some of what might be going on in the image. Of the five of them I read, one was less than stellar.
Chapter 1 seems to be pretty well written, though I only read it in snatches and pieces. I was particularly struck by the fact that the example of play didn’t include any “move four squares” talk — didn’t, in fact, imply that miniatures were present for the hypothetical example game at all — which I think is a definite win. It also provided some good references to an in-character justification for how and why the game played out according to the rules the way it did. It’s a small thing, but I liked it.
I have only skimmed the book as a whole, and read a few choice parts in depth, so don’t expect an exhaustive review here. I’ll hit some points that really jumped out at me.
Paizo has completely changed the way Half-Orcs are handled now. They’re more like the other hybrid race — the Half-Elves — in that now they’re more versatile, and less easy to pin down to a particular stereotype.
Wizard School powers and Sorcerer Bloodlines have been tamed and toned down slightly.
There are some new feats in here, including one or two that I’m definitely going to have to house-rule. Disappointingly, one of them actually reads quite a lot like a 4E power, giving the character who possesses it a mystifying ability to do something that seems illogical, without any explanation for why or how. I speak of the Deafening Critical, which allows you to permanently deafen an enemy when you get a critical hit unless the enemy makes a Fortitude save. Some of the other Critical Focus Feats may also have similar problems, but I was skimming this section and only paused on this one example because it caught my eye.
I’ll keep the Feat in my games, but I’ll say it only applies to one ear at a time, because it’s caused by actually doing physical harm to the ear in question (or where appropriate perhaps allowing an effect like cupping a hand and nailing someone in the side of the head, over the ear, which in the real world can burst an eardrum). If you get hit in the ear with a sword, I suppose you could easily lose your hearing permanently in that ear, so it makes sense — but complete and permanent deafness in both ears seems ludicrous to me (and maybe a bit overpowered, at least in campaigns where healing magic isn’t cheap and plentiful).
The Pathfinder Prestige Class, as far as I know originally printed in the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting book (we have a copy here), has been updated for PRPG and included along with the same lineup of Prestige Classes that were in D&D 3.5’s DMG. A few Prestige Classes from the DMG are missing, though — probably for a combination of reasons of space (the book’s already HUGE) and lameness (some of those original Prestige Classes are far underpowered, and some others were just poorly conceived). The missing classes include:
- Dwarven Defender
- Horizon Walker
- Red Wizard
Of course, the fact that Red Wizards of Thay are particular to the Forgotten Realms, and not released under terms of the OGL, is why the Red Wizard is not included here.
The Environment chapter appears at a glance to be fairly comprehensive, covering a wide range of subjects in enough depth to be useful without laying it on thickly enough to make this chapter too large:
- planar cosmology
- siege engine modifiers
- survival checks
- terrain hazards
- urban adventuring
Yes, there’s a whole chapter about creating NPCs.
Throughout the book, stat blocks appear to be well-formatted and clearly marked so there’s no wondering where one ends and the next begins — an obvious improvement over some stat block presentation in D&D 3.5 core books. Tables are clear and feel spacious, despite the compact typeface, matching the quality of those in the 3.5 core books, but have a somehow more elegant feel to them.
It’s a $50 book. It has about as many pages as the 3.5 PHB and DMG put together, and costs $10 less, so it’s a slightly better value in terms of the quantity of content, as measured in a number of dollars. Meanwhile, the 4E DMG is almost 100 pages shorter than the 3.5 DMG, and the 4E core books cost $5 more each than the 3.5 versions, so you’re looking at getting almost 100 more pages of content for about $20 less than 4E. I’m not complaining about the 4E price — if you like 4E, that’s probably about right, taking inflation since the 3.5 publication date of 2003 into account. I’m just pointing out that the staggering $50 price for a single game book (about normal for a programming text) is actually kind of a steal, all things considered.
That’s cover price. Expect it to be cheaper at Amazon, if you’re inclined to do your shopping there.
I’m elated. I didn’t bother going into detail about a lot of things that are essentially the same as in the Alpha and Beta test versions, and like I said, I haven’t really read through it in depth — I mostly skimmed so far. It’s day one; don’t expect me to have read all 576 pages with painstaking care.
It may already be time to check your FLGS for copies of this book, if you didn’t have them reserved or ordered in advance. I suspect the game store we used here (the same place I get my comic books) just opened up the box and stuck them on the shelves immediately when they were “supposed to” wait until the 13th, but I don’t know exactly what kind of agreements they may or may not have with distributors.
Damn, this book is huge. I’ll have to make room on a shelf. I guess that’ll be easy, though, when I pull the D&D 3.5 core books and stick them in the “we don’t really use these any longer” area currently reserved for D&D 3E core books.
The minor disapointments I mentioned only got mentioned because they’re disappointments, and they’re exceptions to the rule. No game book is perfect, of course, but this one is damned close so far.
I give it five bullets out of five.