[float=left][/float]When Wizards of the Coast moved on to Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, I was certain that D&D 3.5e was doomed to a slow, painful death. I foresaw that publishers who were previously releasing products under the 3.5 SRD and OGL (Open Gaming License) would see their audience vaporize in favor of a new and shiny system. The 3.5e enthusiast, I thought, would be consigned to a play a stagnant system with a bookshelf full of books that weren't even remotely compatible with the newest version.
But, in March 2008, Paizo made it their mission to keep the third edition alive, announcing their intention to create the Pathfinder RPG that would expand on the SRD and OGL and would continue to be the official system for their now burgeoning Pathfinder Chronicles and Adventure Path products. To be honest, I wasn't certain how I felt about this at first. At first it seemed awkward—perhaps even blasphemous—for a company other than Wizards of the Coast to publish a core rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons, but then again, WotC wasn't the original publisher of D&D, either. So, a year and a half later, I am pleased to say that Paizo has really delivered.
Weighing in at nearly five pounds and spanning over 576 pages, the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook combines all of the rules that were previously split between the D&D 3.5 Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. It is everything that you are going to need to play except for the Pathfinder Bestiary, which is not scheduled to be released until October 2009. Until then, you'll need to break out your old 3.5 edition monster manuals or use the monsters in the d20 SRD. You can download the SRD for free over at wizards.com, or for an easy to use online version, check out the Hypertext d20 SRD online at www.d20srd.org.
The Core Classes of Pathfinder
Paizo put a lot of effort into spicing up all of the original 3.5e classes with new and exciting abilities. Many of the classes now have multiple paths that a player can follow to help make distinguish their character from the teeming masses of other adventurers of the same class. This is very reminiscent of what Fourth Edition did, and it is one of the things I really liked. You'll especially see this featured with the druid, cleric, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard classes.
I was also impressed by how much the game rewards the player who sticks it out and levels his character through all twenty levels of his core class. In the past, there has often been very little incentive (or sense in some cases) to do so. With Pathfinder, not only does your character receive an extra hitpoint or skill-point every level just for leveling in his favored class, but the game does an excellent job of providing all kinds of cool abilities at the highest levels. Many of the classes have awesome payouts for making it all the way to twentieth, including:
- For Barbarians there is "Mighty Rage," which gives them an impressive +8 morale bonus to Strength and Constitution while they are raging.
- Bards are able to give a performance so stirring that they can cause their target to simply die from overwhelming joy or sorrow using their "Deadly Performance."
- High level druids are no longer fettered by their natural forms, and can transform themselves at will with no limits on the number of times per day.
- Fighters gain "Weapon Mastery," with one weapon. Thereafter, whenever using his chosen weapon, all critical threats are automatically confirmed, their critical multiplier increases, and the fighter no longer has to worry about being disarmed – ever.
- The monk eventually ascends to the point of becoming a magical creature, gaining a healthy damage resistance (10/chaotic). Oh, and he'll now be opening that can of whoop-ass with seven attacks per round with an attack bonus that nearly rivals the fighter's.
- Paladins who stay the course of righteousness become "Holy Champions" of their gods, gaining a substantial damage resistance and the ability to possibly banish any evil outsider who is his smite opponent. (By the way, if you haven't read about the paladin's new smite and mercy abilities already, you'll want to check them out. This is one of the classes that they really spent a lot of time on, and they have succeeded at making the paladin an extremely valuable asset to your team!)
- The twentieth level ranger isn't someone you are going to want on your tail when he achieves the status of "Master Hunter." He'll now be able to track his favored enemies while moving at full speed, and when he does catch up with him, her, or it, he can execute a single attack that has the chance of slaying his target outright.
- Meanwhile the rogue gains "Master Strike," which allows him to possibly put his target to sleep (if he's feeling nice), paralyze his target (if he's feeling not-so-nice), or assassinate his target on the spot (if he's feeling really pissed off).
This only begins to scratch the surface of the enhancements to the core classes in the Pathfinder RPG. However, if you're interested in reading more, I'd recommend checking out the previous below from the Paizo blog.
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #2 - The Fighter
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #3 - The Sorcerer
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #4 - The Ranger
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #5 - The Cleric
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #6 - The Paladin
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #7 - The Bard
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #8 - The Druid
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #9 - The Monk
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #10 - The Barbarian
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #11 - The Rogue
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Preview #12 - The Wizard
Overall, Pathfinder plays and feels like classic Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. There are a few subtle, but very helpful enhancements to problematic and hard to remember rules. The simplification and rebalancing of all of the rules surrounding grappling, tripping, sundering, and bull-rushing into one unified system, for example, means no more having to flip open the book to figure out how to resolve these actions every time they come up —while wishing hellfire and brimstone upon the head of your player's monk, no doubt.
Skills have been cleaned up, consolidating some and completely removing others. This will make it much easier for your character to focus on a core set of skills that really matter to him.
Spells seem relatively unchanged from their previous versions with a few notable exceptions, such as with polymorph being split into multiple distinct spells. The biggest difference I noticed was cleric domains, which got a very nice overhaul. Oh, and cleric fans, your new group heal class feature is going to let you actually be able to use more of your spells for something other than healing even at low levels – "Divine Favor" anyone?
Using Pathfinder with Other d20 Products
Although there have been a lot of enhancements to the classes and tweaks to the rules, the Pathfinder RPG remains compatible with other OGL/3.5 supplements. This is a big selling point for Pathfinder, as there is already an extensive library of supporting products. The core classes in Pathfinder are a little more powerful than their third edition predecessors, so if you're using monsters from other sources, you may need to adjust their challenge ratings down just a smidge. There are no specific guidelines in the final rules, but the beta version suggested adding a few extra feats, powers, skills and hitpoints to your villains; adding more monsters to your encounter; or otherwise building encounters as about one challenge rating level higher. I suspect this advice still holds true.
There are a couple of other on-the-fly changes you will need to make when using third party sources. Some skills have been combined or changed, so you'll need to be familiar with the new skill list and determine the equivalent skill in Pathfinder. The rules for grappling and other maneuvers such as tripping, bull rushing, and sundering have also changed. This means that you'll need to determine the Combat Maneuver Attack and Defense scores for any 3.5e creatures you use. Luckily, these statistics are pretty straightforward to figure out.
Artwork and Print Quality
Cover to cover, this is a visually appealing book, with all of the artwork presented in full color. The inserts between chapters are especially amazing; I would love to have some of these as posters in my gaming room. Flowing watermarks swirl around the edges of each page, giving the book an ornate feel without obscuring the text or making it difficult to read. The binding also feels sturdy, which is necessary for this many pages. Out of curiosity, I gave the text a good rub to see if it shared any of the notorious smudging problems of Fourth Edition, and I was relieved to find that it did not.
The one thing that I think this book really could have been improved by was more callouts. As a longtime player of Third Edition, I tend to want to skim over the parts that seem familiar and go straight to the changes. I started to do this with this book, and found immediately when I made my first character that I had missed a well-hidden rule that explained how first level hitpoints were generated. It had been tucked away in the terms and definitions section which I had been quick to skip over. With so many subtle changes to the rules, callouts that pointed out key changes from 3.5e would have made jumping into this new edition a lot easier.
Nonetheless, after having played a couple of sessions using the final rules, I could scarcely be happier with what Paizo has done. The rules flowed nicely, and most importantly kept out of the way until needed. Combat was also quick and easy, and the Pathfinder RPG has made it easier than ever to keep the action flowing without a lot of downtime. This system is an excellent choice for any fantasy setting, and I am confident that if you enjoyed Third Edition, you're really going to love what they've done with this game.
Want to hear more about Pathfinder? Check out these other articles:
- Pathfinder RPG: Session Notes - Character Creation
- Pathfinder RPG: Session Notes - Level One ... Fight
- Gnome Stew - What Pathfinder Brings to the Table