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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!

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

Rune

Once A Fool
PF2 lacks the deep feat chains (and taxes) of PF1. There are still some chains, but you can make obvious choices without looking ahead and still have a character that works fine. Additionally, retraining is core, so if you do make a mistake, it’s easily fixed with a bit of downtime.
Is all of that made clear in the beginner’s box?
 

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Out of curiosity, how many of those PF2 level 1 options predetermine other options that will be available or desirable down the road? In 5e, such choices are few. If otherwise, you kind of have to know/understand the future stuff, too, in order to make a character that will remain effective.

yup. Exactly as Kenada said. You can happily pick each one blind if you wanted. The next time you choose, the options presented can also really obviously compliment one of your previous choices, potentially making the decision point easier.
 


Rune

Once A Fool
Why would it need to? It’s a beginner box?
Because if it doesn’t, player’s won’t necessarily know, and, thus, will likely take longer to make their characters. Especially if they have reason to assume otherwise, like experience with PF1.

This may be why some people are claiming that it takes significantly longer to make level 1 characters in PF2 than in 5e, while others are claiming otherwise (as in the post that sparked this line of inquiry).
 

Because if it doesn’t, player’s won’t necessarily know, and, thus, will likely take longer to make their characters. Especially if they have reason to assume otherwise, like experience with PF1.

This may be why some people are claiming that it takes significantly longer to make level 1 characters in PF2 than in 5e, while others are claiming otherwise (as in the post that sparked this line of inquiry).
Why would a beginner box for a game reference changes made from a previous edition? That’s just...It’s knowledge that isn’t needed.

What it does do, and do well (IMO) is give you options to create your character (culled from a larger variety of the CRB) and the tools to level them up to level 3 (again, a reduced amount of options from the crb)
 

You can’t just charge into the fight. You really want to fight both as a team and efficiently (buffing and debuffing, using movement and space, etc). Traditional RPG tactics get you into trouble once you start getting into higher-threat encounters.
I’m talking more about the psychological aspect (for lack of a better term), which is system neutral.

You tell a party that they are fighting a troupe of 4 guardsmen, they are going to react differently than if you tell them that they are fighting 4 giant rats. I think they are more likely to underestimate the rats while assuming each guardsman is about as powerful as they are.
 

Are these intelligent rats? If not, why are we discussing tactics? They may swarm and attack a single target, they may flee when injured or get scared off by fire, but it's preposterous to have them move intelligently, take advantage of cover, move into flanking positions, etc.
If the fight takes place in a narrow corridor, they wouldn’t have to be intelligent to take advantage of cover. The person they are attacking is serving as cover and the party would find it difficult to remove the attackers’ cover.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Is all of that made clear in the beginner’s box?
I thought we were talking about PF2 in general. The class feats in the Beginner’s Box don’t have prerequisites. As you gain levels, it tells you what choices you need to make. If you pick something that looks fun, it won’t break your character.

Short of purposefully deoptimizing, it’s hard to have a non-viable character. Note that is something separate from the impact of tactics on play. Poor tactical play will cause problems regardless of the characters’ optimization.

As for retraining, that’s just in the CRB. The Beginner’s Box only covers three levels, and half the classes only get one class feat, so it doesn’t seem necessary just for Beginner’s Box content. Like I said, I assumed we were discussing PF generally. If the group continues past the included adventure and 3rd level, they’ll need the CRB anyway and will see the retraining rules then.
 

Because if it doesn’t, player’s won’t necessarily know, and, thus, will likely take longer to make their characters. Especially if they have reason to assume otherwise, like experience with PF1.
Just to specify, both @dave2008 and myself, who commented that creating characters in PF2 was substantially longer than in 5e, were using the CRB.

The comments were prompted by a post that was not BB specific.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Why would a beginner box for a game reference changes made from a previous edition? That’s just...It’s knowledge that isn’t needed.
Good question. But, as that isn’t relevant to the point I was making, I’ll just sidestep that question and address what I’m actually talking about.

PF2 BB is, ostensibly an introduction to the system. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that at least some of its target demographic are people who don’t know the system.

One of the design features of PF 1 is that you do (very much) need to consider future options as you build a character. It is not unreasonable for someone familiar with PF1 to assume the same is true of PF2 unless the introductory product clarifies otherwise. Such players will naturally spend longer on character building.

This is an entirely predictable result that Paizo could have accounted for. And if they didn’t, they probably should have.
What it does do, and do well (IMO) is give you options to create your character (culled from a larger variety of the CRB) and the tools to level them up to level 3 (again, a reduced amount of options from the crb)
Cool.
 

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