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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

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
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.
I agree with a caveat...

At the time and with discounts, it's fine. LMoP is a great adventure. The kit other than that is only worth about $10 - $15. It doesn't have enough dice (you can't roll advantage with only 1 d20) and it can overwhelm new DMs with the amount of notetaking they'll have to do because those notes aren't already done (see below).

When you combine it with the Essentials Kit (Dragon of Icespire Peak), it's an amazing value. You can get both for $25. Put them together and you get sufficient dice, helpful items like an initiative tracker, item cards, and pregen Sidekicks. And, if you play weekly 4-hour sessions, LMoP with DoIP has at least 3 months of gaming in it. Seriously, WOTC should combine them formally and release them as a hardcover like they did with Tyranny of Dragons.

The Starter Kit was good. Only "good" because it didn't have enough. It shows that a great adventure will go a long way to cover up flaws.
 

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FickleKnight

The Torn
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.

That's the one. I will admit that the color coding and reference cards are nice, but I don't see much actual value there in gaming time. I haven't heard many people complain about the 5E Starter Set like you have.
 

Retreater

Legend
And let's not forget that both PF Beginner Boxes were released later in the lifecycles in their games than the first 5e starter set. It's not the same comparison, the same as the Call of Cthulhu or Warhammer Fantasy sets.
But yeah, if you don't like 5e, it's not going to be a good deal regardless.
 

Wrathamon

Adventurer
seems strangely intentional to have a green dragon on the cover ... like a certain starter set. I liked how the original pathfinder had the black dragon on it.
 

GreyLord

Hero
We played through this as a group over the recent Holidays and more. Gave it a fair shot I think with our over enthusiastic Pathfinder fan in the group. That individual was so eager to try to convert us they even gave EACH OF US OUR OWN COPY OF THIS BOX.

For reference...I said the Original Pathfinder Beginner Box (and I'm not a Pathfinder Fan to top this off) was the best Beginning Players set made (topping the 3e and 3.5 Basic sets, the 4e sets, etc). It was absolutely outstanding. I cannot say the same about the 2e BB.

Sure, it has a lot of junk (emphasis on the junk part in some ways) but a LOT of that junk is not all that useful beyond the box. The original BB had a map as well as a blank grid sheet, you could use that grid sheet endlessly. The 2e box has a map...and beyond that map nothing else. You can't use it for varied play without crafting it to that map.

The Dungeon included is not so great. The first encounter for the party does not glide you into combat so you can figure out how it works...we had a PC die within the first few rounds and it just went downhill from there. If one's idea of a beginner's box first encounter is to have it be challenging enough that your party could die or that players get their characters killed right off the bat...well...

Sure...now they realize the game is deadly...but they also get a bad taste in their mouth for the game mechanics. If this is what the company thinks a beginning introductory encounter should be...what do they feel a normal encounter should be?

Next, it offers 3 races and four classes...which out of the box is not bad. The First one offered four classes and ONE THAT YOU COULD DOWNLOAD so you could have up to five beginner classes. In addition, they all went up to level 5...the 2e box only goes up to level 3 (technically only 2 of which you could play).

The only extended usage of the book I can see is if you want to use the pawns. They are decent. As for the rest of the box...I rate it slightly higher than the 5e D&D Starter set. At least you can make your own characters.

HOWEVER...it ranks lower than the 3e, 3.5, and 4e sets (all of them), and I'd even rate the 5e Essentials Kit FAR better for whoever wants to play the game today. In the 5e Essentials Kit you get 4 races (with 9 subraces), 5 Classes, and can get up to Level 6 AND it's cheaper already than the PF 2e BB. In addition, the adventure in the Essentials Kit is also a better module/adventure. It gets better if you include the Essentials Kit AND the 5e Starter Set (and getting both together still cheaper than the PF 2e BB at the places I get the RPGs).

We ended up playing through the 2e BB module in whole finally, and then some other adventures from the DM (Plaguestone and then another of the DM's making or where ever they came from it) and so I think we gave the BB a fair shake (and more, we ended up using the PDF's from the GM to increase the character levels...but the GM owns the rulebooks and such...not I) and even PF2e a fair shake (all for the sake of that GM...who as I said is sort of a PF fanatic I think).

In regards to the 2e BB...it's better than the 5e Starter (though the adventure in the Starter Set is better) set as a standalone, but that's not saying much. Overall, it's not that great in my opinion.
 

Retreater

Legend
The Dungeon included is not so great. The first encounter for the party does not glide you into combat so you can figure out how it works...we had a PC die within the first few rounds and it just went downhill from there. If one's idea of a beginner's box first encounter is to have it be challenging enough that your party could die or that players get their characters killed right off the bat...well...

Sure...now they realize the game is deadly...but they also get a bad taste in their mouth for the game mechanics. If this is what the company thinks a beginning introductory encounter should be...what do they feel a normal encounter should be?
Yeah. I don't think Paizo understands how to craft adventures for their own system. The defenders of PF2 can talk until they're blue in the face about how players and GMs just "don't get it," but that's ultimately a failure on Paizo's part if - after a year of play and numerous published adventures - it is so lethal as to be nearly unwinnable. Especially in an intro adventure designed for beginning players.

We had a similar issue with Fantasy Flight's Star Wars: Imperial Assault boardgame. Everyone gets together to play and the Imperial player (GM-equivalent) completely trounces the Rebels (all the other players) in the starter mission. There is no way to succeed in it. And while it might be trying to be clever and build a theme, it ultimately failed to make my players want to try a new mission. So much for the "cleverness" - I never played it again and sold it.
 

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
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
No. There are eight more classes, 4 more ancestries, 2 heritages, and a ton more class feats, items, spells, etc. in the CRB alone. The BB is just a stripped down set of rules with an adventure tailored to those rules that introduces players to the game itself. It is not intended to be a separate rule set. It is literally a beginner's guide. To play regular Pathfinder 2nd Edition adventures, one will need the CRB. The Pathfinder Society sessions are all built for the full set of rules as well outside of the BB adventure.

One thing folks might want to consider is building a nice little campaign in Otari using the BB and Troubles in Otari as beginner level stuff and follow it up with Volume 1 of the new Adventure Path - The Abomination Vaults which is also set in Otari. Volume 1 has a lot of information on Otari via a gazeteer. This AP will be 1 of 3 parts, all of them form a giant megadungeon that should take characters from L1 to L12. I've already ordered it and am hoping Roll20 will have it as well. I plan to run this as a year long event at my lodge with my new WizKids 4D Dungeon terrain set.

Here is a link to the product page on Volume I if you are interested in its contents.
 

dave2008

Legend
No. There are eight more classes, 4 more ancestries, 2 heritages, and a ton more class feats, items, spells, etc. in the CRB alone. The BB is just a stripped down set of rules with an adventure tailored to those rules that introduces players to the game itself. It is not intended to be a separate rule set. It is literally a beginner's guide. To play regular Pathfinder 2nd Edition adventures, one will need the CRB.
Just to be clear, we don't need more classes, ancestries, or heritages. And I excluded stuff like feats, spells, etc. from this discussion in my previous comment.

Basically, if I provide my players the stuff the need from their class(feats, spells, etc.), can we just play the game with the rules in BB?
 

Retreater

Legend
Basically, if I provide my players the stuff the need from their class(feats, spells, etc.), can we just play the game with the rules in BB?
Like if you have a copy of the Core Rulebook and use it to completely fill in all the gaps from the Beginner Box? Sure, you could do that. Moreover, you wouldn't even need a Beginner Box to do it. ;)
Point is, the game requires all the feats, spells, magic items, etc. It is extremely player-focused. It's not like 5e where the characters have 2-3 pages of rules to play their characters (maybe a bit more for spells). It is spread out over 600+ pages of a massive rules tome. So if you want to play a full campaign, you need the full rules.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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
I notice you're getting contradictory answers there Dave.

Not having seen the box, I would still guess the answer to the question you're actually asking is "yes" (or "mostly yes")...

You are familiar with 4th Edition so you don't need to be told that this isn't enough to actually play the game for more than a few levels past 3rd. The rules might be there, but you need so much more to actually level up characters: class features, feats, spells, items...

But what these fine people don't seem to be getting is the idea I think you're going for: give your players the rules skeleton, provide all the class details yourself. Your aim would be to considerably lessen the rules load for your players. You're planning on using the game for players who wouldn't enjoy the full onslaught of choice that is the core of PF2. Am I right?
 

GreyLord

Hero
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
Just to be clear, we don't need more classes, ancestries, or heritages. And I excluded stuff like feats, spells, etc. from this discussion in my previous comment.

Basically, if I provide my players the stuff the need from their class(feats, spells, etc.), can we just play the game with the rules in BB?
Yes, you can play a low level game with just the rules in the BB, though you probably would need to buy some grid or other items to position the characters with.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Basically, if I provide my players the stuff the need from their class(feats, spells, etc.), can we just play the game with the rules in BB?
The rules in the Beginner Box are the same as the ones in the CRB, but they’re presented more succinctly or abbreviated in places. A few things are just gone (some of the jankier skill actions/activities like Craft and Create Forgery), or they’re not called out (like the perception state machine), but nothing is really different.

I feel like this is how the CRB should have written. The CRB spends over four pages explaining checks, but the BB does it in less than a page. Skills? Half as many pages. Exploration activities? Less than a page. The game is just easier to understand when it’s to the point.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
I've said numerous times the biggest and most serious flaw and drawback of Pathfinder 2 is it's rules diarrhea. Paizo is entirely unable to keep it simple, making the boast PF2 is much streamlined compared to PF1 quite ironic.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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 5E starter box is quite excellent, and my answer would be yes.

That we have it for the market leader rather than some obscure basement game is just a bonus, since such a quality product is then visible to many more prospective gamers!
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I've said numerous times the biggest and most serious flaw and drawback of Pathfinder 2 is it's rules diarrhea. Paizo is entirely unable to keep it simple, making the boast PF2 is much streamlined compared to PF1 quite ironic.
But the Beginner Box shows that they can actually do that, which makes the state of the CRB all the more vexing.
 

dave2008

Legend
The rules in the Beginner Box are the same as the ones in the CRB, but they’re presented more succinctly or abbreviated in places. A few things are just gone (some of the jankier skill actions/activities like Craft and Create Forgery), or they’re not called out (like the perception state machine), but nothing is really different.

I feel like this is how the CRB should have written. The CRB spends over four pages explaining checks, but the BB does it in less than a page. Skills? Half as many pages. Exploration activities? Less than a page. The game is just easier to understand when it’s to the point.
That is what I was hoping - thanks!
 

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
Just to be clear, we don't need more classes, ancestries, or heritages. And I excluded stuff like feats, spells, etc. from this discussion in my previous comment.

Basically, if I provide my players the stuff the need from their class(feats, spells, etc.), can we just play the game with the rules in BB?
Sure, you can make sessions on your own and only use the BB rules.

Why you would want to cripple your players and limit them to a tiny fraction of the options available to them via the full rule set is your choice. Players would probably get tired of only having four classes to choose from. One of the reasons PF2 is so popular is the amount of choices available to players and GMs.
 

Jimmy Dick

Explorer
I've said numerous times the biggest and most serious flaw and drawback of Pathfinder 2 is it's rules diarrhea. Paizo is entirely unable to keep it simple, making the boast PF2 is much streamlined compared to PF1 quite ironic.
Actually, it is more streamlined. While there are a lot of options available to the players in building their classes, the actual expansion of rules needed to play the game have been fairly minimal. We've seen a new form of archetype introduced, but then again that archetype was pointed out in the CRB as existing. We've seen a new form of heritage introduced via the versatile heritage which has given more options to the players. But we really haven't seen that many rules added to the game. The Lost Omens line has added content, but not game rules. We are going to see some more rules added for troop maneuvers, but those are optional rules that help those who want campaigns that use those type of rules.

I just have to disagree about rules diarrhea. If anything, we see a plethora of choices for building characters and that is actually a good thing.
 

dave2008

Legend
Sure, you can make sessions on your own and only use the BB rules.

Why you would want to cripple your players and limit them to a tiny fraction of the options available to them via the full rule set is your choice. Players would probably get tired of only having four classes to choose from. One of the reasons PF2 is so popular is the amount of choices available to players and GMs.
No desire to cripple my players, but what do you consider the: "full rule set?"

FYI, I've played with my group for 30 yrs and generally know what they like. For example, my players have played the same characters for the past 6 years in our 5e campaign (and we are only lvl 15), so I am not worried about them needing a bunch of classes, races, etc.. They typically chose fighters, and occasionally a rogue or wizard. My players prefer to play rather than build characters. Heck, I think they would be fine if the only choice the ever had to make was what class they wanted to play. I'm the builder of the group, but that is why I DM!
 
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dave2008

Legend
Actually, it is more streamlined. While there are a lot of options available to the players in building their classes, the actual expansion of rules needed to play the game have been fairly minimal. We've seen a new form of archetype introduced, but then again that archetype was pointed out in the CRB as existing. We've seen a new form of heritage introduced via the versatile heritage which has given more options to the players. But we really haven't seen that many rules added to the game. The Lost Omens line has added content, but not game rules. We are going to see some more rules added for troop maneuvers, but those are optional rules that help those who want campaigns that use those type of rules.

I just have to disagree about rules diarrhea. If anything, we see a plethora of choices for building characters and that is actually a good thing.
I am pretty sure @CapnZapp is just talking about the rules in the CRB, not rules bloat.
 

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