Inside Paizo's 'Pathfinder Beginners Box Set'

I like to consider myself an avid tabletop role-playing game player. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with the original 1983 “Red Box." I played through college and now run a regular D&D game at my local gaming store.

But I'm always excited to try out new games. My group does this every other Thursday. Not only do we get to learn new gaming systems but I think it keep us from getting burned out on the campaign we are playing by taking little breaks. So I was excited to get a copy of Paizo’s latest product, the “Pathfinder Beginners Box.”

I knew about Paizo from the other table top products they sell, like maps and source books. I’d seen their RPG “Pathfinders” on the shelf at my local gaming store, but didn't know a lot of the about the game or its history. Paizo Publisher Erik Mona was happy to fill in the blanks.

Mona explained to me that “Pathfinder” is essentially an offshoot version of the 3.5 edition of “Dungeons & Dragons,” produced under the Open Game License (OGL).

When Wizards of the Coast (which owns D&D) decided to develop a new rule set for D&D with the release the 4th Edition “Dungeons & Dragons," they also decided to back away from the open license that allowed other publishers to support their game.

Because the OGL is perpetual and irrevocable, Piazo knew that it would be possible to continue publishing D&D products under the OGL, but that it would be hard to make them for the 4th edition of the game.

So they announced plans to produce the "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game," a new iteration of the 3rd edition D&D rules in 2008.

Pizao published the rules of the “Pathfinder” RPG in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, a 576-page tome, in August of 2009.

So after learning more about how "Pathfinder" fits into the D&D universe, I was ready to dig into this box.

The box art looks great. But once I opened the box, I was disappointed to find ads for other "Pathfinder" products strewn around the bottom of the box.

Aside from the "Pathfinder" spam, the rest of the box looks great. I have to say it all looks well laid out; it’s very visually pleasing. It comes with four pre-generated characters, a nice double-sided map and 80 full-color pawns to represent your characters and the monsters on the board.

One my complaints (and I hear this from other players as well) is that the pawn pieces have the same illustration on the front and the back. Which means you can't tell which way they are facing - not that it really maters for game play, but it seems to matter to game aesthetics.

Both the 64-page “Hero’s Handbook” and the 96-page “Game Master’s Guide” are well presented, with lots of good images and, I believe, easy to follow instructions.

Both books lay out their text in small blocks. That really makes it easy to read as you play - along with good charts and images that keep the game master (GM) and players moving steadily through the game.

Paizo throws in a usable set of dice to play the game. I do wish there were two sets, one for the GM and one for the players. It's not a big deal, but it would have been a nice touch for first-time groups.

It was fun to unpack the box, but I really wanted to see how the game plays. So I asked some players from my regular D&D game if we could give the beginner’s box a try, and they jumped at the chance.

Paizo estimates gamers can figure out how to play the game and start playing  within 15 minutes of opening the box. We started a timer to see if that was true.

I handed the players their pre-generated character sheets and started to read the GM’s book.

About 12 minutes in, we all felt that we had enough information to start playing. I should note that two of the players had already played a single session of “Pathfinder,” but the other two and I had never played. In three hours we got through about five of the 10 encounters in the box.

Don’t worry; I am not going to give you a play-by-play of the game. No spoilers here. But I will say the group and I enjoyed the game. Some of the old-school D&D players said it felt like they where playing the D&D they grew up with and I have to agree. "Pathfinders" is absolutely reminiscent of the games I played in the 80’s.

The game mechanics and vocabulary are different enough from D&D's 4th edition that it's clear you are playing a different game. Any D&D or any fantasy-based RPG gamer should feel right at home. Even inexperienced RPG players could have picked it up quickly.

And it seem to me that Paizo wants to keep the fun going: They've created a bunch of free content on their site for players to pick up where this box leaves off.