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Pathfinder Beginner Box Review

Hello buckaroos! We return once again from the feet of the golem with a new PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEW! Today we’re looking at the new Pathfinder Beginner Box, Paizo’s latest in a hugely successful line of products for newcomers to our hobby. Spoiler alert: they’ve got another success on their hands. Let’s get into it!

PZO2106 PF2 Beginner Box 1200x675.jpg

First Impressions​

We start off this box review with an initial impression, and the initial impression is good! Bright, colorful, cheerful lettering, and a good heft—all things that say “good RPG thing must buy” to my primal dicegoblin brain. Upon first opening, we see a bag of dice, a bag of token bases, and a handful of small inserts culminating in a page that says READ THIS FIRST.

Of course I do not READ THAT FIRST! I huck the token bases to the side and take a gander at the dice. One each of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20, each in strong, single colors with clear lettering. I’m of mixed mind on these dice. On one hand, I appreciate a grab-bag approach to starter dice: my first starter set in a beginner box had mixed colors, and non-uniform dice to me makes them easier to share. That said, the bright primary colors evoke a handful of crayons, and while beginner boxes are in part meant to accommodate a younger audience and get them excited, I think the color-scheme may be skewing a bit young. The Crayola colors are easily forgiven as soon as you dig past the READ THIS FIRST page and you see the character sheets with delightful reference images for each of the dice—but we’ll get to the character sheets in a bit. I only have a few minor issues left with the dice. This is a bit snobbish, but I consider any dice set that doesn’t have two d10 and four d6 to be incomplete. Also, I’d prefer a resealable dice bag over the disposable one: my first set of dice from my beginner box is down to just five dice from the original ten because they spent their lives rattling around loose in their box.

Now, the inserts! A little postcard lets you know that there’s a custom Syrinscape playlist for the adventure contained within. Neat! The other postcards are player reference cards, which are about the best attempt at getting new players over the fairly steep Pathfinder learning curve I’ve seen yet. That said, there is a bit of a shock when you turn them over and are greeted with a wall of text. Finally, the READ THIS FIRST page is short, sweet, and to the point, laying out how to approach the Box as a solo player or with a group of players.

Character Sheets​

Below the READ THIS FIRST we have the character sheets, and here’s where the Box starts to show its hand a bit. You’re clearly meant to use this with a group of players, as it’s those pregenerated character folios which appear before the Hero’s Handbook which contains the solo adventure. That said, I have quite a lot of good things to say about these character sheets. Cover page features a name, a class, a huge splash art of the character’s portrait, and a quick description to help potential newcomers choose their playstyle.

Like the reference cards, the meat and potatoes of the character sheets can seem like an overwhelming barrage of information, but thankfully a solid half of that text is dedicated to explaining and leading a new player through the rather complicated process of understanding a Pathfinder character sheet. Truly excellent layout design is on display here—little coordinating lettered yellow circles lead the reader easily from explanation to relevant box, and the most-used sections of the sheet (AC, hit points, so on) are boxed out in red to stand out from the regular black. As I said before, there’s a handsome little sidebar displaying each of the dice available and their abbreviations—excellent! Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this on a Pathfinder character sheet before, but these now have a space for personal pronouns! Finally, the layout artist gets a cheeky point from me for putting a few characters of character history on the back page of the folio—literal backstory.

As an aside: Wayne Reynolds' art maintains his high level of technical excellence, but there’s something repetitive about the characters' poses. This all stands in contrast to the cover art for the Hero’s Handbook, done by Ekaterina Burmak. The character posing here helps focus the eye on defining aspects of each character: Kyra’s pose pulls back and up into her holy symbol, shining forth with protecting energy against the lightning blast of the dragon. Valeros pushes forward into his shield, taking the brunt of the blast, emphasizing his role on the front line and the use of his shield in his playstyle. And then, off to the side, we see Merisiel darting in, lines almost blurred with speed, unseen by the dragon, dagger darting forward to the exposed neck. Sure, Wayne’s art is technically more accurate to the adventure—the dragon is green, and on top of one of the massive mushrooms in its cavern—but I definitely like Ekaterina’s art more.

The Hero's Handbook​

The Hero's Handbook kicks off with a solo adventure, a delightful little romp through a quick little cavern with a few nasties and quite a bit of treasure. My advice for those taking their own crack at it? Fortune favors the bold. The rest of the Hero’s Handbook concerns itself with expertly navigating a new player through the process of making a new character, complete with the colorful lettered circles that connect to spaces on the provided empty character sheets. Also, the Hero’s Handbook FINALLY does away with the difference between ability scores and ability modifiers—thank goodness.

The Game Master's Guide​

Like the Hero’s Handbook, the Game Master’s Guide kicks off with an adventure. As a GM and as an adventure designer, I do appreciate the way the adventure designers generally nail one-page sections for each room or encounter. Like with the solo adventure, there’s excellent escalation of challenges: first simple combat, then a combat with some saving throws, then skill checks, puzzles, persistent damage, and some undead to let the cleric shine in an offensive moment. Other nice spots of design include magical boon rewards and defending monsters getting some home turf advantages. Also, it must be said: this features a dragon in a dungeon. Points again!

My only real issues with the adventure was the tired artifact of XP—if we’re going to be doing away with ability scores and modifiers, just take the leap to milestone XP, especially if the Game Master’s Guide later insists all players advance equally anyway—and the climactic encounters seem a little lackluster. Perhaps it’s just a glut of excellent encounter design I’ve seen from other places lately, but I tend to expect a little more action from the environment. That said, this is an introductory adventure, and I wouldn’t want to throw a new GM too far into the deep end.

The rest of the Game Master’s Guide is simply excellent material for a new GM learning the ropes, and indeed is a fantastic refresher for experienced GMs wanting a straightforward and concise presentation of the fundamentals of running tabletop games in general and Pathfinder 2E in specific. My only issue with this section is that there's more ogre art in line with their supposed foul and flabby nature. I can tell this was a deliberate choice because much of the rest of the monster art, specifically that of the orcs, is lifted directly from the Bestiary. I will keep my ogres beautiful and beefy, thank you very much.

The Rest​

What’s left? Well, we have the fold-out maps, which are excellent and which absolutely require a full table to use properly. There are tokens for every monster that appears in the Game Master’s Guide, and even tokens for every ancestry/gender/class combination possible with the limited options available in the Hero’s Handbook. Also, some tokens with action and reaction symbols on them for use with the relevant spaces on the included character sheets.

In summary, the Pathfinder Beginner Box is an excellent introduction to the game for new solo players and new groups, and an excellent reintroduction for veterans looking for a refresh on the game’s core identity. Well worth the investment and guaranteed to be a hit at your table.
 
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Ben Reece

Ben Reece

Ringtail

World Traveller
Naturally I compared it to the 5e set, specifically the Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure. I was a little disappointed by the group adventure. The dungeon included in the pathfinder box is excellent, with traps and puzzles and combat and a few alternate routes, it is just that, a dungeon. You could probably finish in 1 or 2 sessions. LMoP is not just a dungeon, it's a whole adventure, with a town, wilderness, ruins, social encounters and 3 Dungeons! (Of various size.)

However I still think the paizo box is better for including a map and pawns. When I first started playing D&D in high school, I had a handful of REAPER BONES minis (unpainted and unbased) plus a handful of 3e Pre Painted I bought at a con from a bin. Having the minis would have rocked my world. The Troubles in Otari adventure is a better match for LMoP, though unfortunately that's separate.
 

Jeff Carpenter

Adventurer
The 1st edition beginers box had rules for advancing to 5th level. Disappoint this only goes to 3rd level. That box was a great pathfinder basic version.

Overall as said by Ringtail above LMoP is a better adventure and introduction, but pawns and a huge plus.

I bought this to see if I would want 2e and im not sure it gave enough to wet my appetite and isn't as good as the 1e box in my opinion.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
I would be interested in this just because of the solo adventure. Having to do a lot of that kind of thing these days.
 

aco175

Legend
They are still offering this adventure for free as well on their site. I know nothing of how they fit together or how each plays, but it is another Pathfinder2 adventure. It is from 2019 when they were playtesting.
 

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
The 2nd Edition Beginner Box is meant to advance players to 3rd level and then transition into the full rule set. More than anything, it is meant to help new players begin play with Pathfinder. The way the box is set up with the rules, players can begin rolling dice within five to ten minutes. Trouble in Otari was meant to be an adventure for the players to progress in and then move to the full rules. The newest Adventure Path coming out later in January is a three part mega-dungeon set in the Otari area. Players can begin using the full set of rules with that AP.
 


dave2008

Legend
The 2nd Edition Beginner Box is meant to advance players to 3rd level and then transition into the full rule set. More than anything, it is meant to help new players begin play with Pathfinder. The way the box is set up with the rules, players can begin rolling dice within five to ten minutes. Trouble in Otari was meant to be an adventure for the players to progress in and then move to the full rules. The newest Adventure Path coming out later in January is a three part mega-dungeon set in the Otari area. Players can begin using the full set of rules with that AP.
DO you need the full set of rules (other than the player character feats), or could you just use the beginner box rules. I ask because though I have it, I am not really interested in digesting the whole CRB
 



Jimmy Dick

Explorer
DO you need the full set of rules (other than the player character feats), or could you just use the beginner box rules. I ask because though I have it, I am not really interested in digesting the whole CRB
You do not need the CRB to play with the Beginner Box adventure or Troubles in Otari. They have even recommended some of the PFS2 Bounties which are short 1 hour long adventures for use with the Beginner Box. You really will want to move from the Box to the full ruleset to take advantage of all the classes, archetypes, dedications, ancestries, and heritages that Pathfinder Second Edition has to offer players and GMs.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
It seems to me like this starter set feels like something that would have felt right at home next to D&D starter set from around 2005. It doesn't seem to hold up well to direct comparison to 5E's starter set. Not very impressed, honestly.
Are you talking about THIS STARTER SET. Because I had that starter set and wound up giving it away. Value and content wise it was kinda thin compared to both the PF and PF2 Beginners boxes. The D&D starter set felt like they just threw it together as a loss leader and relied on the brand name to sell it. The PF beginners boxes looked like they took their time to create and experience for beginners, people who have never played the game before. Admittedly I'm not really the target audience for these boxes but I tend to buy them anyway because I'm always looking for ways to introduce new people to the hobby.

But yeah having actually owned all three of these boxes the D&D 5e starters box wasnt a bad buy, but compared to the PF beginners boxes? YIKES.
 


dave2008

Legend
You do not need the CRB to play with the Beginner Box adventure or Troubles in Otari. They have even recommended some of the PFS2 Bounties which are short 1 hour long adventures for use with the Beginner Box. You really will want to move from the Box to the full ruleset to take advantage of all the classes, archetypes, dedications, ancestries, and heritages that Pathfinder Second Edition has to offer players and GMs.
I meant play the game past the adventure levels in the box (not withstanding player feats/features at higher levels). I want to know if all the rules I really need to run the game are in the box
 

Aldarc

Legend
You are literally the first person I've seen complain about that product. Not saying your criticisms are invalid, just unusual.
That starter set contains one of the best regarded 5e adventures and enough gameplay content to last months.
Don't let your feelings about PF2 cloud your judgment. As a starter adventure, LMoP is great. As a Starter Box, it's kinda thin and lackluster. The only selling points for the starter set should not just be LMoP and the D&D label on the box.

I know you are not a fan of Numenera, but for a comparatively priced starter box, one gets everything one gets in the D&D one (i.e., dice, 5 pre-gens, an adventure, a slimmed down rulebook) plus a poster map, 10 XP cards, 12 GM Intrusion cards, 1 cheat sheet, and a link to an additional free adventure download.

But then compared to the PF2 starter box? Yikes, indeed.
 

Retreater

Legend
Don't let your feelings about PF2 cloud your judgment. As a starter adventure, LMoP is great. As a Starter Box, it's kinda thin and lackluster. The only selling points for the starter set should not just be LMoP and the D&D label on the box.
Well here are a few other selling points that we sometimes don't consider that made it particularly good for new gamers.
1) The D&D Starter Set had massive reach in retail stores.
2) It was regularly discounted to around $14 on Amazon.
Also it was released before the 5e core books, allowing groups to test out the system before potentially spending hundreds of dollars on a new game (especially after 4e lost many fans).
I don't have the PF2 Beginner Box. I'm sure it's a great product since I thought that of the PF1 Beginner Box. Likely if I were to go back to PF2, I'd probably run a Beginner Box only campaign.
But I don't think the 5e Starter Set should be dismissed as a bad product.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Well here are a few other selling points that we sometimes don't consider that made it particularly good for new gamers.
1) The D&D Starter Set had massive reach in retail stores.
2) It was regularly discounted to around $14 on Amazon.
That's the power of a mass producer like Hasbro rather than any inherit virtue of the box or its contents.

But I don't think the 5e Starter Set should be dismissed as a bad product.
I don't think it's a bad product. I think it's a comparatively mediocre one, and I don't think we should be in the business of celebrating mediocrity from a brand like D&D that has the market backing of Hasbro.

Edit: Let's put it this way, would any TTRPG brand other than D&D be able to get away with making that starter box?
 

dave2008

Legend
That's the power of a mass producer like Hasbro rather than any inherit virtue of the box or its contents.


I don't think it's a bad product. I think it's a comparatively mediocre one, and I don't think we should be in the business of celebrating mediocrity from a brand like D&D that has the market backing of Hasbro.

Edit: Let's put it this way, would any TTRPG brand other than D&D be able to get away with making that starter box?
I think the primary issue that @Retreater was getting at was timing (5e box came out at the beginning) and cost. On amazon the 5e box is less than $13 while the PF2 box is $30-40. They are different markets really. Is the PF2 box worth 3x the cost of the 5e box. Probably, but it stretches the definition of "beginner" box a bit IMO.

The 5e box is, like 5e itself, fairly simple. The PF2 box is, like PF2, more complex. They are good representatives of their game and I think they both have their space and are good products for what they are trying to achieve.
 
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ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
You are literally the first person I've seen complain about that product. Not saying your criticisms are invalid, just unusual.
That starter set contains one of the best regarded 5e adventures and enough gameplay content to last months.

I was comparing it to the PF and PF 2 beginners box and saying of the three that it was the weakest introductory product for the value.

At NO POINT did I say it was a bad product. In fact I specifically say:

"But yeah having actually owned all three of these boxes the D&D 5e starters box wasn't a bad buy, but compared to the PF beginners boxes? YIKES."

I gave the box away because 1) I realized that I had no interest in playing or running 5E 2) A neighbor of mine had a nephew who was interested in D&D so I gave it to her to give to him. He got a practically new boxed set to start his journey with. Last I heard he and his friends were deep into S2 of Critical Role and trying to play games over ZOOM.
 

Edit: Let's put it this way, would any TTRPG brand other than D&D be able to get away with making that starter box?

The strenght of the 5e Starter set is the quality of the module.
The 5e Essentials kit is, by far, a more complete/sexy product than the 5e Starter set (with GM's screen, conditions card and stuff like that) but if i had to choose* i will pick the 5e Starter set anytime. Because LMoP is that good.

I'm the pround owner of the first edition Pathfinder Beginner Box, still one of my all time favorite D&D/D&D-like "basic boxes" but for me the 5e starter set is the number one.

One of my friends DM-ed the starter set with 5 players for en entire year of gaming (17 sessions)...
17 sessions, 6 players, 20 bucks.

* don't choose : buy both ^^
 
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