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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

kenada

Legend
Supporter
What are you talking about here? That's simply not true.

The most any GM can do to a PF2 character at any level is drop them to Dying 2. (assuming they crit which puts the PC to Dying 2; any other lethal result which puts the PC to 0 hits (or less) results in only "Dying 1").
If you take more than double your maximum hit points in one attack, you die instantly from massive damage. Outside of falling damage, it’s really only an issue for 1st and 2nd level characters.

For example, an ogre warrior is a moderate-threat encounter for a 1st level party. It does an average of 30.5 damage on a crit. If it gets lucky and does above average damage, it can outright kill a 1st level character because massive damage kills the character instantly (no saving throw, no heroic recovery, etc).
 

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Steel_Wind

Adventurer
If you take more than double your hit points in one attack, you die from massive damage. Outside of falling damage, it’s really only an issue for 1st and 2nd level characters.

For example, an ogre warrior is a moderate-threat encounter for a 1st level party. It does an average of 30.5 damage on a crit. If it gets lucky and does above average damage, it can outright kill a 1st level character because massive damage kills the character instantly (no saving throw, no heroic recovery, etc).
Again. What are you talking about now?

This was a review of the BBox. There is nothing CLOSE to that level of a threat presented in the adventure in this product.

If you are going to restrict it to what is presented in the BB, the average crit damage of an ogre is 27, not 30.5. (1d12+7) x2. So 13 hits or less on the PC.

And there are going to be few PCs with so few a number of HPs to start. I suppose you might have a fairly low Con Wizard with low ancestry HP with 12 or 13 HP to start. But he's not going up against the Ogre (and it is ONE Ogre for a CR3, not a group). That's what the melee classes are for. These are remote concerns.

I'd also add that death from massive damage rule does not appear in the BBox.
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Again. What are you talking about now?

This was a review of the BBox. There is nothing CLOSE to that level of a threat presented in this product.
The thread has gone on for nine pages. The discussion has drifted beyond just the Beginner Box. That digression in particular was talking about the system in general. What CapnZapp said is true: a 1st level character can be taken from fully healed to dead. That the Beginner Box lacks encounters with creatures dangerous enough to involve the massive damage rules doesn’t make the statement untrue or ignorant of the rules.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that groups will eventually transition beyond the Beginner Box. One that runs Torment and Legacy will encounter an ogre warrior in their very first encounter (hence why I used it in my example). Admittedly, I don’t think Torment and Legacy is very good, and there are better adventures they should be running, but I wouldn’t blame them for trying it because it’s free.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
If you are going to restrict it to what is presented in the BB, the average crit damage of an ogre is 27, not 30.5. (1d12+7) x2. So 13 hits or less on the PC.
The ogre warrior’s hook is deadly d10. On a crit, it does 2×(1d10+7)+1d10, which averages out to 30.5 damage.

And there are going to be few PCs with so few a number of HPs to start. I suppose you might have a fairly low Con Wizard with low ancestry HP with 12 or 13 HP to start. But he's not going up against the Ogre (and it is ONE Ogre for a CR3, not a group). That's what the melee classes are for.
The Ezren pre-gen included in the Beginner Box has 16 hit points. Merisiel has 15 (and she’s built as a melee rogue). Unlike Merisiel, Ezren won’t be killed outright on average, but all it takes is a slightly above average crit to take him out. Even Valeros (24 hit points) could be killed by a max crit, but I’m not really considering that case

These are remote concerns.
I’ve had it happen. The character was a rogue with 18 hit points. He took a crit and died outright. It wasn’t an ogre, but the ogre is a convenient example because it’s the first encounter in a published demo adventure (albeit one I consider crappy).

I'd also add that death from massive damage rule does not appear in the BBox.
You are correct (and technically correct is the best kind of correct, right?), but that side conversation wasn’t about the Beginner Box.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
The weapon is not "deadly" in the BBox, either. That property does not appear in the BBox rules set.
Huh. They changed the ogre warrior in the Beginner Box to use a different weapon. It’s probably a needed change. The ogre warrior in core is quite nasty for its level. I stand corrected regarding the ogre warrior vis-à-vis the Beginner Box. However, in the context of discussing core PF2, I don’t think it really negates the point. Even with just a greataxe, both Ezren and Merisiel can be killed instantly by lucky crits. Again, speaking of core.

That the Beginner Box doesn’t include the massive damage rules is probably to its benefit. I wish they hadn’t changed things needlessly, but the massive damage rules in core are pretty bad. Like I said previously, past 2nd level, they’re only likely to ever come up due to falling damage. You need to have a large difference in levels (+4 or more IIRC) for monsters to risk doing enough damage with a max hit (so even then very uncommon).

There’s an argument that the massive damage rules are there to recreate the old-school feel of lower levels being dangerous. That’s what the original conversation was discussing (the deadly style of play and character creation). In OSE, one can roll up a new character very fast. In PF2, you can create a character somewhat quickly if you know the system and have good tools to facilitate that (see: the digression on Pathbuilder). Personally, I think the massive damage rules as written are at odds with the overall feel of PF2 (which is dangerous but with safeguards to prevent outright deaths).
 


CapnZapp

Legend
Kenada: yes, the massive damage rules of Pathfinder 2 comes across as a relic of the past, meshing badly with the rest of the system. Why have a rule that only targets the very weakest and most exposed characters, and then quickly becomes entirely irrelevant for the rest of the game?

It's one in a long line of rules that, if just removed with no replacement, would simply improve the game.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
Again. What are you talking about now?

This was a review of the BBox. There is nothing CLOSE to that level of a threat presented in the adventure in this product.

If you are going to restrict it to what is presented in the BB, the average crit damage of an ogre is 27, not 30.5. (1d12+7) x2. So 13 hits or less on the PC.

And there are going to be few PCs with so few a number of HPs to start. I suppose you might have a fairly low Con Wizard with low ancestry HP with 12 or 13 HP to start. But he's not going up against the Ogre (and it is ONE Ogre for a CR3, not a group). That's what the melee classes are for. These are remote concerns.

I'd also add that death from massive damage rule does not appear in the BBox.
Steel, just pack it up man. You are legitimately wasting your time here. These guys have an axe to grind with Paizo and Pathfinder and there's nothing that you can show or tell them that will promote a civil discourse on this topic. Considering that the thread is ABOUT the BB theyre just going to keep moving the goal posts to prove you wrong and them right.

I've been running a PF2 game for months now and have never, NOT ONCE had the massive damage rules apply.
Hell, I ran a 10 year Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign and only had massive damage rules apply TWICE that I can remember. And in both of those cases it was the PC's that Insta-killed their foes.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Some posters are passionate in their criticism of PF2. It’s uncharitable and does a disservice to those who engage without polemics. However, I agree this thread really isn’t the place for that. Speaking only for myself, I’ve kept my criticism limited to how the Beginner Box does better than the core. I think that’s fair. It’s a credit to the Beginner Box. I also think I’ve been more than civil considering it hasn’t been reciprocal (overall, not speaking about this conversation).

I think you’re being uncharitable in your portrayal of the discussion over the last page. It was regarding a side conversation that was dug up from several pages ago. It was never about the Beginner Box. Keeping responses focused on that isn’t moving the goalposts. It’s how you respond to a straw man.

As far as massive damage goes, I have had it be an issue in my game. My campaign ran for over a year, but that doesn’t make my experience any more valid or anyone else’s less valid. I don’t think it’s a particularly good rule, and core could probably do without it and be fine. If there are areas where it matters, then they can be handled with an exception to the usual dying rules (“Specific Overrides General”).

With all that said, I don’t think there’s anything left in this tangent. If people want to continue complaining about PF2, there are three or four other threads where they can go do that. However, I will say it’s a shame that the threads that have tried to talk about cool things people do with PF2 get far less traffic than the argument threads (or the PF2 deathwatch Amazon sales ranking thread).
 

Really, Enworld doesn't have much of a PF2e community, there's a few people on here, but its mainly people who want to push their narratives about it failing out of some weird desire for vindication about their beliefs concerning the hobby, or to spin their own experiences as a revelation about some kind of objective flaw.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Really, Enworld doesn't have much of a PF2e community, there's a few people on here, but its mainly people who want to push their narratives about it failing out of some weird desire for vindication about their beliefs concerning the hobby, or to spin their own experiences as a revelation about some kind of objective flaw.
Sadly, that seems to be true in general outside of PF2-specific venues. I wish there were the diversity of discourse you see over in the D&D forum here. Long before I decided to switch my campaign from PF2, I’d mostly disengaged with the reddit and official forum communities because there didn’t seem to be space for other ways of playing the game. It felt like at times we were playing a different game because we weren’t doing official adventures, or I had a different perspective on encounter and adventure design.
 

Sadly, that seems to be true in general outside of PF2-specific venues. I wish there were the diversity of discourse you see over in the D&D forum here. Long before I decided to switch my campaign from PF2, I’d mostly disengaged with the reddit and official forum communities because there didn’t seem to be space for other ways of playing the game. It felt like at times we were playing a different game because we weren’t doing official adventures, or I had a different perspective on encounter and adventure design.
Really? I mostly only run homebrew and haven't run into that at all, I'm not saying I disbelieve you though, given how some of the debates hinge on some users overemphasizing the APs. The only thing I feel isn't super well represented on any community right now (and part of why I do come here actually) is the new-old-school style of play, which I specifically find weird because of how well designed the system actually is for it, while maintaining the modern sensibility towards character building.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Really? I mostly only run homebrew and haven't run into that at all, I'm not saying I disbelieve you though, given how some of the debates hinge on some users overemphasizing the APs. The only thing I feel isn't super well represented on any community right now (and part of why I do come here actually) is the new-old-school style of play, which I specifically find weird because of how well designed the system actually is for it, while maintaining the modern sensibility towards character building.
I got some push back on reddit a while back for suggesting adversary rosters and other techniques for making dungeons more interesting. I think it was in a thread on Legacy and Torment, and I was trying to describe how you could make a newbie dungeon that would be more interesting and approachable. The concern, of course, was the balance assumptions that PF2 purportedly makes. 😐

The rest is perception. When the discourse is overwhelmingly tilted in one direction, it’s can feel risky trying to start a conversation or make suggestions that favors a different one. I don’t want to deal with uninformed theorycrafters or being lectured on system expectations. There’s also the feeling of being an outsider when you lack the shared experiences everyone else has.

So some (limited) experience, but mostly an emotional response. However, I do agree about wishing there were more discourse on the new-old-school style. I think there are some gaps depending on how deep you want to go into that style, but PF2 gives you a better framework for building on that than its peers.
 

Cendragon

Explorer
The character classes all say they get a general feat at 3rd level. However, I cannot find where the general feats are located. Can someone help me?
 


I got some push back on reddit a while back for suggesting adversary rosters and other techniques for making dungeons more interesting. I think it was in a thread on Legacy and Torment, and I was trying to describe how you could make a newbie dungeon that would be more interesting and approachable. The concern, of course, was the balance assumptions that PF2 purportedly makes. 😐

The rest is perception. When the discourse is overwhelmingly tilted in one direction, it’s can feel risky trying to start a conversation or make suggestions that favors a different one. I don’t want to deal with uninformed theorycrafters or being lectured on system expectations. There’s also the feeling of being an outsider when you lack the shared experiences everyone else has.

So some (limited) experience, but mostly an emotional response. However, I do agree about wishing there were more discourse on the new-old-school style. I think there are some gaps depending on how deep you want to go into that style, but PF2 gives you a better framework for building on that than its peers.
Damn if I saw I would have backed you up, I used adversary rosters to great success in my campaign.
 

Cendragon

Explorer
Thanks Kenada! I was being spacey and didn't realize those were feats. I just thought they were abilities and the class got all of them. This definitely makes more sense.
 


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