Pathfinder Beginner Box – Gameplay Review

So, a week and a half ago, we did an unboxing of the Pathfinder Beginner Box and were all very impressed with the contents.  This week, after recording the Podcast, we actually sat down and played the pre-written adventure included (shocking, I know).  Aside from actually playing a game we have purchased and perused, I felt it was necessary to not only shake of some GM rust, but let everyone else re-familiarize themselves with the d20 system.  None of us being particularly huge fans of pre-written modules, everyone was game to use the pre-rolled heroes and have at it in an old-school dungeon crawl.  The results were… interesting, to say the least.

With Robert as the fighter, Ramses as the wizard, Karen as the rogue, and myself pulling double duty as GM and the cleric, our group of miscreant adventurers delved into Black Fang’s dungeon in search of treasure, violence, and more treasure.  Being the roleplay-heavy group we are, we felt a little disconnected from our characters, and pretty much played each more as a caricature rather than a character.  For beginners, however, the pre-rolled characters are decent enough in order to get the hang of things and the included backstory for each one can really help a new player get their feet wet in the roleplaying department.  Us, being the salty veterans we are, approached the module as more of a rule-set hack and slash test and saved the character development for our own creations.

We made quick work of the dungeon, particularly when facing down Fat Mouth the Goblin King and his warriors.  I prompted the group that diplomacy was an option (and later told them it could have helped, A LOT), but I think it had been close to a decade since we as a group had it out with some iconic fantasy monsters and the bloodlust was rampant.  When it came to our final encounter with the dragon Black Fang, the dice turned against us in the worst possible way and we all shared in the misery of our first (and admittedly unintentional) TPK.  Black Fang proved victorious, despite my attempts to make him flee in accordance with the suggestion from the module.  Wiping out the fighter and cleric with a breath weapon in the first round then biting the rogue in half on the second, however, really didn’t point toward a tactical retreat.

Oh, look! Lunch arrived!

After playing through the module, I found that the pros of the overall game set far outweighed the cons.  The module and condensed rules serve as a great introduction to new players and GM’s, and it is definitely something a 14 yea old version of myself would have greatly appreciated.  The players guide was simple and succinct while the game master guide provided plenty of tools, monsters, items, and plot hooks for a new GM to get a solid, if limited, campaign off the ground. The restructuring of the iconic classes in the Pathfinder incarnation of 3.5 gave the character’s a lot more options, particularly the magic users (Detect Magic at-will?  Don’t mind if I do!)  While the wizard class felt underpowered, it felt more true to the old AD&D 2nd edition wizard with his mighty 4 HP who can be killed by a goblin sneeze.  The Hand of the Apprentice power was a nice touch, feeling very Gandalf vs. Saruman, and the Channel Energy skill of the cleric proved useful many times.

The only notable drawback was having a young dragon as the final encounter.  Had the dice not turned against us, we may have survived, but the simple fact that that dragon’s breath weapon was more than capable of killing the entire group at once (and essentially did), it seemed a touch overpowered for a 1st level party.  That being said, a little more planning and a lot less recklessness on our part as the PC’s probably could have resulted in a different outcome.  For new players or as a fun pizza and beer one-shot, I highly recommend the box set.  Next time, I’m making a dwarf…