The Golden Path – Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook review

I don’t get to play it as much as I’d like to, but I do love me some Dungeons & Dragons. Many people have a fair few criticisms of the latest edition, though. I’ve heard it described as World of Warcraft on a tabletop, which I have no problem with – I like WoW, and RPGs can be as light or as heavy as the DM makes them. I’ve heard people say that Wizards of the Coast jumped out of the traps too early with the release of the Essentials line which isn’t entirely compatible with “regular” 4th Edition D&D – me, I’ve not read many of the later books, so haven’t got an opinion (yet). One thing I hear time and time again though? People harking back to The Good Old Days of earlier versions of the game, in particular the shining diamond that is version 3.5.

WotC no longer support 3.5, left by the wayside so they could throw themselves totally behind the latest edition, but many long-time D&D players have forsaken 4th Edition and have returned to their well-thumbed tomes. The reigns have been taken up by other companies, most notably by Paizo Publishing, who have essentially taken the whole thing over, streamlined, improved and repackaged it into something new but familiar under the rather splendid banner of Pathfinder. And if you’re looking to get into the game, it’s heartily recommended that you pick up the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, 574 pages that contain everything a player needs bar the dice.

Despite being entirely based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition ruleset, you will not see those words mentioned at all – it’s always referred to as “the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game” throughout, but it’s evident from the outset that the whole game is deeply rooted in Gary Gygax’s legendary creation. Thankfully, rather than just being a rehash, Paizo (under the direction of lead designer Jason Bulmahn) have really worked to give Pathfinder a life of its own. This is no cut-and-paste job – Pathfinder is pretty much a total rebuild of 3.5, a new experience in a different world, albeit on some very sturdy (and recognisable) foundations.

When you pick up a copy of Core Rulebook, the first thing you’ll notice first that it’s massive. Literally every rule you’ll need covering is contained in these pages. Want to know how to roll up your first character? It’s in there, of course.

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Already got some experience in roleplaying and want to take things a bit further? Have a look at the Prestige Classes that are included. Fancy tackling things from the other side of the table? There’s expansive help on how to DM a game (although I will admit that you’ll need something like the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary to get a good array of monsters if you’re looking to create adventures and campaigns). Generally though, this book has all you’ll need in a single (hefty) volume – of course, there are plenty of extra releases available from Paizo should you wish to expand your game further.

Not a lot of art, but what’s there is excellent.

The amount of detail that is provided in the book is impressive – you’ll be able to create and develop your character in whatever direction you want to go, down to the smallest detail. There are a huge amount of Skills and Feats on offer, but a nod really has to go to the Magic and Spells that are on offer should you choose to go down that path; over one third of the entire book is given over to the mystic arts, with huge lists and detailed descriptions of spells that allow you to fine tune your character how you please. Combat is easy to understand (even though it seems to be a bit more in-depth than the 4th Edition D&D stuff that I’m used to) and everything in the book is well laid out and easy to find.

One thing that’s missing though? A standalone mini-adventure that could really show how Pathfinder really works, a way to ease players into the world and get them used to the system, because to a total newbie Pathfinder Core Rulebook could appear somewhat daunting. I’d also like to have seen a few more examples throughout the book – the writers presume a level of experience that not all players will have, so in comparison to something like the introductory books you need to play D&D, this is a bit of a slog. I love the huge level of detail that’s available, but simple things like there being significantly less artwork than your average WotC title matter to me – the focus is definitely on information, tables and numbers, and lots of them.

The sheer size of the book could also be enough to put folks off, but if you’re willing to invest a bit of time and are seeking something a little more hardcore from your roleplaying, Pathfinder may well be for you. I’m not going to say which is the better between this and 4th Edition, simply because I see them as two sides of the same coin – both have their place in the gaming world – but Pathfinder certainly has its advantages, if only in the amount of content out there. The fact that it’s compatible with a huge amount of already-released material (that requires a bit of conversion work should you wish to use it with 4th Edition) is great, as is having all you need as a player condensed down into a single book.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook was published by Paizo – they’re currently on their fourth printing. Available in all good game stores (as well as from the Paizo website), it retails for $49.99 in the US, while in the UK the RRP £38 – shop around and you’ll find it for less though (like on Amazon, where it’s around £26 – well worth it!). Now, where’d I put my dice bag…?