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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

willrali

Explorer
Something as simple as a sorceress using a polearm or halberd becomes a huge resource drain, you can't just use some feat to gain proficiency, you need to devote a lot of resources to it instead. All so it just falls short one or two points from what you could do with a spear, which is still strictly inferior to what the game expects you to be able to do with a cantrip. And these points end up mattering a lot because of the way the math works.

And the same with a lot of abilities that used to be reliable. These now are riders on skill checks, and you'd rather devote resources to max these skills because otherwise you can't do a thing with that ability. I already find 5e restrictive, but it is a lot more flexible and forgiving for my tastes.
Fair enough then. I was ready to have 5e hit my sweet spot but I find it incredibly bland and samey, to the point where character choices are borderline meaningless. (Though I’m clearly in the minority here.) I suppose we pick our poison.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Not giving players more control over their attack and defense proficiencies feels like a major miss to me. Even if you take a martial dedication, you’re still stuck behind the curve. I don’t think “the +2 AC class” (champions) or “the +2 attack class” (fighters) are niches worth protecting.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
Not giving players more control over their attack and defense proficiencies feels like a major miss to me. Even if you take a martial dedication, you’re still stuck behind the curve. I don’t think “the +2 AC class” (champions) or “the +2 attack class” (fighters) are niches worth protecting.

I'm a bit on the fence about this, I like that those classes have that advantage, it sets them apart and gives them a very definite and desirable niche, I do however feel that it would be nice for other classes to get master a little easier, if only in a certain weapon type or group, so something like the polearm sorcerer mentioned above was easier to build and still affective without losing too much or stepping on the fighters toes
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I'm a bit on the fence about this, I like that those classes have that advantage, it sets them apart and gives them a very definite and desirable niche, I do however feel that it would be nice for other classes to get master a little easier, if only in a certain weapon type or group, so something like the polearm sorcerer mentioned above was easier to build and still affective without losing too much or stepping on the fighters toes
I look at it like this: if your defining niche is being +2 better, then that’s a boring niche. However, I assume it’s designed that way to balance against classes doing more raw damage (but with less accuracy), but something’s off. If you multiclass in PF1, you don’t stay stuck at your old BAB progression. There definitely needs to be a way for characters taking martial feats to get better than expert attack proficiency.
 

Nilbog

Snotling Herder
I look at it like this: if your defining niche is being +2 better, then that’s a boring niche. However, I assume it’s designed that way to balance against classes doing more raw damage (but with less accuracy), but something’s off. If you multiclass in PF1, you don’t stay stuck at your old BAB progression. There definitely needs to be a way for characters taking martial feats to get better than expert attack proficiency.

Perhaps niche isn't the best word, maybe pinnacle? I wouldn't want it to be the only thing that defines a class, but in a way it's nice for a fighter to say I'm the most skilled with weapon's, but I agree it should definitely be easier for other characters to get to master level proficiency
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Perhaps niche isn't the best word, maybe pinnacle? I wouldn't want it to be the only thing that defines a class, but in a way it's nice for a fighter to say I'm the most skilled with weapon's, but I agree it should definitely be easier for other characters to get to master level proficiency
One way of doing that might be to let fighters swap class feats more easily. If you’re a sword-and-board fighter, and you find a magical greataxe, you should be able to start cleaving things like you were born doing it. You don’t want to turn fighters into martial wizards, so maybe let them retrain for free (and in no time), but limit the frequency they can do it.
 

transmission89

Adventurer
I look at it like this: if your defining niche is being +2 better, then that’s a boring niche. However, I assume it’s designed that way to balance against classes doing more raw damage (but with less accuracy), but something’s off. If you multiclass in PF1, you don’t stay stuck at your old BAB progression. There definitely needs to be a way for characters taking martial feats to get better than expert attack proficiency.
I think this is tied to the philosophy of the way the designers have built this game.
I would speculate that they were concerned about the number creep and ability of classes to step into others‘ territory and ruin a sense of balance.
Maths wise, the classes and builds are fairly inflexible, a number or bonus here or there, systematically, one character is very much like another. This reigns in number creep and the ability to break what was intended.
Instead, they opted for feat choices effecting what you actually do with those numbers in a given moment (during play) as a way to express individuality and character capability.
obviously it’s down to personal taste if that vibes with you or not, but my reading of the design would suggest looking at the numbers as such is not the best way to examine a character in this edition.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I think this is tied to the philosophy of the way the designers have built this game.
I would speculate that they were concerned about the number creep and ability of classes to step into others‘ territory and ruin a sense of balance.
Maths wise, the classes and builds are fairly inflexible, a number or bonus here or there, systematically, one character is very much like another. This reigns in number creep and the ability to break what was intended.
Instead, they opted for feat choices effecting what you actually do with those numbers in a given moment (during play) as a way to express individuality and character capability.
obviously it’s down to personal taste if that vibes with you or not, but my reading of the design would suggest looking at the numbers as such is not the best way to examine a character in this edition.
Right. You get your vertical progression from class and horizontal from feats. It’s potentially risky to allow players to tweak their characters’ weapon (and armor) proficiencies. However, I don’t think providing a means to get master proficiency in either would result in numbers creep. Those classes currently stuck at expert proficiency would just be catching up with their martial peers.

I’ve been trying to figure out how that would actually work in practice, but the only two options that come to mind either severely change the skill system or reintroduce weapon proficiencies à la AD&D. It may not be a view worth the climb, but it still feels like a missed opportunity (especially since checks are otherwise unified, but two kinds [attack rolls, saving throws] can’t be customized).
 

Campbell

Legend
When it comes the ability to wield a weapon effectively a substantial part of the issue is that there is just no where for a wizard or cleric to go that does not put their skill with weapons on par with a barbarian, ranger, or rogue. I personally would not like to see a situation like 5e where you have ways to build full casters that are as good with weapons as martial characters.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Casters won’t have the differentiation in martial techniques those classes have. They also won’t have class abilities like rage or sneak attack. I don’t think letting them feel like they aren’t falling behind as badly at upper levels (when martials get master proficiency) will suddenly make them as good as martials are with weapons.

And should martials who take a caster dedication should be able to get legendary proficiency? I think I accidentally opened a can of worms. 😬
 

One element of this is that expert prof already covers this niche, provided casters aren't relying on it as their main thing. Martials make a second attack all the time, whereas your first attack is more accurate, so if you're tossing out a saving throw spell (or really any other spell that doesn't trigger MAP) and then swinging with your sword with that third action, your chance to hit isn't that terrible for the role its playing in your turn.

Its a class based game, so its not a flaw for having a casting class be bad at physical combat beyond a swing alongside a spell, i think making master prof an easy pick up would be a mistake. I think theres probably room for things that pull it off, but i think theyre elements for later in the games lifespan and better made demanding-- like a class archetype that makes you give something up in the class's power budget.
 

willrali

Explorer
Casters won’t have the differentiation in martial techniques those classes have. They also won’t have class abilities like rage or sneak attack. I don’t think letting them feel like they aren’t falling behind as badly at upper levels (when martials get master proficiency) will suddenly make them as good as martials are with weapons.

And should martials who take a caster dedication should be able to get legendary proficiency? I think I accidentally opened a can of worms. 😬
This is a very good point. The martial niches in Pf2 are heavily protected. The obverse of having a sorcerer 'nearly as good at spear as a fighter' is having a fighter 'nearly as good at evocation' as a sorcerer.

Why have classes at all?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
This is a very good point. The martial niches in Pf2 are heavily protected. The obverse of having a sorcerer 'nearly as good at spear as a fighter' is having a fighter 'nearly as good at evocation' as a sorcerer.

Why have classes at all?
Yep. Can of worms. If you take it to its logical conclusion, then you end up with a generic system. Part of me wants to tinker with things to make it work, but people here have made good arguments why it shouldn’t be done without tradeoffs. I think @The-Magic-Sword is right about how that might look (trading off class progression).
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Assuming you're talking about gish builds, it simply cannot be done without serious design work (that neither WotC nor Paizo are willing to do).

First: nobody wants magic balanced with physical attacks. (Evidence: 4E)

So the obverse of a sorcerer 'nearly as good at spear as a fighter' is not having a fighter 'nearly as good at evocation as a sorcerer' since that's OP.

In PF2 you can definitely make casters suck less at weaponry without in the slightest having to worry about them overshadowing the actual fighters, since it isn't the specific attack chance that makes you a fighter. It's you ability to survive the front lines that makes you a fighter.

A Wizard has maybe 60% of the hp of a fighter, and worse AC. Moreover, he has probably not maxed out Strength and Constitution.

You don't need to make his physical attacks a joke on top of that. In a system where a fighter starting out with a 16 instead of 18 is a significant cost (because every +1 is incredibly important) you probably can give a Wizard every offense a Fighter gets - his Strength 8 will nicely curtail his physical activities regardless. (Obviously I'm assuming point buy here - rolling up stats is just LOLWUT levels of randomness in the context of PF2)

What I meant at the top was that if you really want the image of a cool "magic fighter" you need to drop the idea this person is also a full caster (with access to the full spell lists).

But really what you want to do is acknowledge that the allure of the gish is honestly the allure of being OP. What you want when you play a gish is to be good at everything. Which is fine, if you drop the regular fighter (make it a NPC class, say).

This is so because the only remaining option is to balance your gish with other fighter subclasses, and now it doesn't feel so good anymore, right? Now your cool magic tricks are just on par with what a non-magical fighter can do in other ways, and that's just not what I want in a gish. A gish wants to be a regular fighter enhanced by magic, or a full spellcaster that somehow is cool in combat too.

And that's just a different game than a game that purports to support classical archetypes as the magic-averse dwarf fighter and the frail old wizard.
 

transmission89

Adventurer
Assuming you're talking about gish builds, it simply cannot be done without serious design work (that neither WotC nor Paizo are willing to do).

First: nobody wants magic balanced with physical attacks. (Evidence: 4E)

So the obverse of a sorcerer 'nearly as good at spear as a fighter' is not having a fighter 'nearly as good at evocation as a sorcerer' since that's OP.

In PF2 you can definitely make casters suck less at weaponry without in the slightest having to worry about them overshadowing the actual fighters, since it isn't the specific attack chance that makes you a fighter. It's you ability to survive the front lines that makes you a fighter.

A Wizard has maybe 60% of the hp of a fighter, and worse AC. Moreover, he has probably not maxed out Strength and Constitution.

You don't need to make his physical attacks a joke on top of that. In a system where a fighter starting out with a 16 instead of 18 is a significant cost (because every +1 is incredibly important) you probably can give a Wizard every offense a Fighter gets - his Strength 8 will nicely curtail his physical activities regardless. (Obviously I'm assuming point buy here - rolling up stats is just LOLWUT levels of randomness in the context of PF2)

What I meant at the top was that if you really want the image of a cool "magic fighter" you need to drop the idea this person is also a full caster (with access to the full spell lists).

But really what you want to do is acknowledge that the allure of the gish is honestly the allure of being OP. What you want when you play a gish is to be good at everything. Which is fine, if you drop the regular fighter (make it a NPC class, say).

This is so because the only remaining option is to balance your gish with other fighter subclasses, and now it doesn't feel so good anymore, right? Now your cool magic tricks are just on par with what a non-magical fighter can do in other ways, and that's just not what I want in a gish. A gish wants to be a regular fighter enhanced by magic, or a full spellcaster that somehow is cool in combat too.

And that's just a different game than a game that purports to support classical archetypes as the magic-averse dwarf fighter and the frail old wizard.
Opinion as fact again. “Nobody wants magic balanced with physical attacks. Evidence:4e”

The fact 4e sold suggests that actually, some people did. Minority or not. That’s not nobody.

Again, numbers aren’t the best way to demonstrate character potential in this edition, look more to the feats. It’s like some pf2 players saying that a fighter can out monk a monk because they can reach higher expertise with unarmed attacks. Which is true. But that’s only if a monk is defined by being able to punch things really good.

It’s almost like you haven’t heard of the magus class? Mixes up combat and magic quite effectively....
 

dave2008

Legend
But really what you want to do is acknowledge that the allure of the gish is honestly the allure of being OP. What you want when you play a gish is to be good at everything. Which is fine,...
Yep, the idea of a true gish is the protagonist of the story who is better than everyone else (unless everyone is a gish). Regardless, the true concept of a gish is that it is OP. Hard to do that and remain balanced.
if you drop the regular fighter (make it a NPC class, say).
However, I don't think you have to drop the fighter (or the wizard for that matter - because the gish should be better than they are too), you just need to accept that gish is OP and throw the idea of balance out the window. Of course, many people these days are not able or don't want to do that.
 



transmission89

Adventurer
But is it balanced with a full magic class or full martial class or both?
I’ve not played the pf2 magus play test myself. I’ll leave that to more knowledgeable folks. however, the pf1 magus was a “workable” Gish of beauty mixing combat and magic. Obviously it wasn’t full caster/ full fighter (as again that would be unworkable at a table as too powerful) but it shows there’s a playable space for the archetype and I’m looking forward to the pf2 version.
 

dave2008

Legend
I’ve not played the pf2 magus play test myself. I’ll leave that to more knowledgeable folks. however, the pf1 magus was a “workable” Gish of beauty mixing combat and magic. Obviously it wasn’t full caster/ full fighter (as again that would be unworkable at a table as too powerful) but it shows there’s a playable space for the archetype and I’m looking forward to the pf2 version.
From my perspective, the bolded part is what a gish wants to be. Anything that is balances with a full martial or full caster is just not gishy enough ;)
 

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