Review: Pathfinder Beginner Box

The Pathfinder Beginner Box is a boxed set from Paizo aimed squarely at new players.  Does it accomplish this goal?  Read on, dear websurfer!

What You Get

The Beginner Box, obviously, comes in a box.  But, you get more than just a rulebook or two.  Oh, no, this thing is packed with goodies.  So, what exactly comes in the box?  The first thing you see is a “Welcome to a World of Adventure” sheet of paper that gives you the basic welcome to the game, laying down a little info and where to go first to begin your experience.

There are two rulebooks in the box; a 64-page Hero’s Handbook for players and a 96-page Game Master’s Guide for GMs.  While I’ll go into more detail on these books in a bit, I’ll say here that the production value of these two softcover books is extremely slick and the products are very, very attractive and pleasing to the eye.  The art within is often reproduced from other Pathfinder products and, as such, is very nice and attractive artwork.  The pages are slick, and the books don’t feel fragile in the least.  Again, I’ll go into more detail, but you might be surprised at the amount of information that is packed into these books; I know I was!

To get you started, the box also comes with four character sheets.  These go extremely well with the Hero’s Handbook as each section on the sheet a letter designation, which goes along with the different sections in the Hero’s Handbook.  Additionally, down the side of the sheet is a handy series of icons show such handy things as what the different die types look like and whether a spell targets friends, enemies or is standard magic.  Again, this goes along nicely with the way spells are shown in the Hero’s Handbook.  Like the rest of the box, the character sheets are of high quality and are graphically attractive.  They are not on thin pieces of paper, either; the paper the sheets are printed on are a heavy grade paper, not quite card stock but not standard paper either.

Making your own character is, of course, cool and everything but sometimes a new player just wants to jump right in and get started.  Paizo has you covered there, too.  There are four pre-generated characters, one for each of the classes from the Hero’s Handbook.  There’s a human fighter, elven rogue, human wizard and human cleric.  Oddly, there are no dwarf pregens and I find this a bit odd since the Hero’s Handbook includes dwarf as a playable race.  These aren’t just one-sheet character sheets either, each is a small booklet.  On the front you have the picture of the character and a “play this character if you’d like to be good at” section, giving new players a great idea of what the character can do even without them being familiar with the class.  The interior pages include not only the front and back of the sheet, but to the sides a description of what each of the sections means and a description of what the character’s special abilities, feats and so on mean.  Additionally, a section discusses what you can do on your turn.  The back of the booklet gives the character’s back story.  These pre-generated characters are very nice, and should get a new player up and running in seconds.

If you are familiar with the Paizo flip-mats, there’s one of these in here as well.  If you aren’t, it’s basically a laminated card stock map and the one in the Beginner’s Box is huge and poster-sized.  The lamination allows you to write on the flip mat with wet-erase markers and clean it off afterwards.  One side of the flip mat is a cavern complex, the other is blank.  The only problem I have with the flip map is that you may run into problems with it laying completely flat due to the fact that it has to be folded up to fit in the box.

The flip mats aren’t that useful without some sort of minis, right?  Right!  And a starting player isn’t likely to have a boat load of minis laying around.  But,t hat’s not a problem!  The Beginner’s Box includes 3 heavy card stock sheets of tokens that you can punch out with a wide variety of monsters and character-types on them.  The obvious comparison would be to the tokens that are included in the Monster Vault products for 4e D&D, and as far as comparing the two while I find the 4e tokens more attractive, the ones in the Beginner Box have one advantage.  The Beginner’s Box comes with a series of stands that you can slide the tokens into so that they stand up more like traditional miniatures.  Very neat, and there should be enough stands for pretty much any adventure.

(As an aside here, I decided to see if I could fit my Monster Vault tokens onto these bases and, while it’s something of a tight fit, it’s certainly something you could do as the tokens are the same thickness)

But…wait…something’s missing.  Something vitally important to the game.  That’s right!  Dice!  Can’t play without dice, right?  Oh, wait..they’re not missing!  There right here!  A full set of polyhedral dice suitable for playing roleplaying games.  Looks like they did include everything you need (except pencils).  The dice are of good quality, and they don’t have to be filled in with crayon, though depending on how nostalgic you are, you may count this as a negative.

The last item in the box is a one-page ad for the main books and the Pathfinder Society.

Now, on to the reviews of the books themselves!

Hero’s Handbook

As I mentioned before, the Hero’s Handbook is a 64-page softcover book, and is aimed towards new players.  64 pages might not be much, but Paizo has managed to cram into this book a solo adventure, step by step guidelines for character creation, three races (dwarf, elf, human), four classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard), a good selection spells, skill descriptions, feat descriptions, equipment, rules for exploration, rules for combat and rules for levelling up.  In addition to packing this book, the descriptions are clear and easy to follow and often include visual references such as pictures of each weapon and piece of equipment.

Character generation should be easy to follow, with each section marked in an easy-to-follow way by matching up the information in the book with the appropriately lettered section on the character sheet.  Spell descriptions are considerably condensed, with each spell taking up much less space than in the core rulebook.  Despite this, however, they are the same spells, and work the same.  In fact, unlike some beginner’s products I could name (but won’t), the characters in here are the exact same as a character generated using the core rulebook.   I would really love to see the core rulebook adopt the format of the Beginner’s Box as it’s considerably more clear and much more concise.

Oh, and you get rules and character info enough to take characters all the way to 5th level.  Beyond that, you’ll need the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, of course.  There are no rules for multiclassing, however.

The back cover of the book includes a handy combat reference. All in all I LOVE this book, and I think it truly sets out to do what it’s supposed to.  I could see this as an easy gateway into the game, even for completely new or younger players.

The Game Master’s Guide

The GM’s Guide follows a similar format to the Hero’s Handbook, being graphically attractive and full of stuff.  It starts with an adventure, something to get the group started.  Additionally, the GM’s Guide includes info on running the game, tips on building an adventure, environmental rules, magic items, monsters, a “home base” city called Sandpoint and a description of the different conditions.

Obviously, there are fewer magic items than in the core rulebook and far fewer creatures monsters than in the Bestiary, but there are still a healthy selection of each.  Like the equipment in the Hero’s Handbook, each magic item in the GM’s Guide includes a picture of the item…even the scrolls.

Monster statblocks are somewhat condensed from the ones in the Bestiary, really giving you exactly what is necessary.  They are easy to follow, however, and they fit 2 to a page, even for creatures like the Black Dragon.  Each statblock contains a rather large picture of the creature in question.  Like the spell descriptions in the core rulebook, I really wish Paizo would adopt this format for their monster statblocks.  There’s a good selection; at 2 statblocks per page and about 22 pages of actual statblocks, you have a good 44 critters to throw at your party.  After the monster descriptions, there are charts and information for random encounters.

The pages with the condition descriptions made me laugh, as each description has a picture with one of Pathfinder’s rather iconic goblins illustrating the condition, pictures that are both humorous and descriptive.

The back cover includes a very simple combat reference guide and a description of six common conditions (blinded, flat-footed frightened, grabbed, invisible and shaken).

Final Thoughts

This is a nearly perfect product in my opinion that sets out to do what it’s meant to do; be a set of rules to ease new players and GM’s into the game.  Not only does it achieve this, some of the improvements on the way things were done in the Beginner’s Box could be beneficial to the core game.  I really would love to see Pathfinder 2 (if it is ever made) use the spell and statblock formats of the Beginner’s Box.  It’s attractive, easy to follow and packed with goodies.  I give it a 5 out of 5!

3 thoughts on “Review: Pathfinder Beginner Box

Add yours

  1. First off great post!

    I completely agree, I love the Pathfinder Begineer box. It does do exactly what it states (and looks good doing it), I’ver never before played a Tabletop RGP but was blown away with this during a family game night.


  2. It’s probably a bit late for me to be commenting on this post, but I really just wanted to say that I completely agree with your assessment.

    While I do own the full on rulebooks for Pathfinder (as well as the PHB for D&D 4e and some other editions), I immediately came to the conclusion that these were not conducive to a simple, fun and engaging mini-campaign with my parents and younger brother for when I come home from school during the holidays. Using the Beginner’s Box has been tremendously helpful, from the simplified character sheets to the straightforward design of the Hero’s Handbook.

    I also have to say that the D&D 4e Red Box doesn’t even compare. Yeah, Pathfinder lacks the retro-cool looks that the 4e box has, but I think the overall experience is far superior (in favor of Pathfinder), just because of the sheer quality of the materials you’re provided with.

    In any case, I figured it’s good to let people know that your assessment is spot on. Thanks for writing!


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