Friday, July 30, 2010

Greetings and the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide

Hello, my name is DeathQuaker and I am a gamer geek. Like many of my fellow gamers, I like being able to mouth off about games and other things I like, and thus this blog has come to be. My hope is to use it to publish occasional thoughts and articles on my gaming experiences and reviews of game products I've enjoyed (or not, as the case may be). I do have a livejournal (DeathQuaker Has an Opinion) but decided to put my gaming materials over here specifically.

And to start off with a bang, I received my .pdf of Paizo's Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide this week! And WOW is it amazing!

By way of prologue: I have been playing the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game since its open beta, and loving every minute of it. I was one of the gamers who loved D&D 3.0/3.5 but agreed it needed some tweaking--but at the same time, I was disappointed by the direction Wizards of the Coast chose to take with 4e. Paizo made the changes I was particularly looking for in its Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a revision of 3.5 that focused on boosting and re-leveling core race and class power, rebalancing and adding new feats, and overhauling the skill system to make it even easier to build the fantasy characters I envisioned. By no means will I say Pathfinder is for everyone, but the system serves particularly my fantasy gaming needs extremely well, and I've been delightedly running a high-level Pathfinder game over the past year.

The Advanced Player's Guide is Paizo's one-book answer, in many ways, to the "Complete" series of 3rd Edition. Overflowing with alternate abilities and builds for races and classes, new classes, new prestige classes, feats, spells, and other mechanics, it allows experienced Pathfinder players to take their game to an even higher level of character customizability and complexity than even what the core rulebook provides. I think this is the first time I have found that the advertising copy didn't hyperbolize the content of a gaming supplement--if anything, the marketing understates what is in this book, if only because describing how very much is in this book is very difficult to do.

Most Pathfinder players are already aware of the six new classes in the book, as Paizo ran an open playtest of the Alchemist, Cavalier, Inquisitor, Oracle, Summoner, and Witch classes presented. The final versions take the originality of the beta classes and have successfully polished them to an effective shine--they are potent classes on their own, and will work well in many settings along with the core classes; they also help fill niches for more exotic fantasy settings where, for example, your pointy-hat wizard seems out of place, but a pact-magic witch would do just fine.

I have to say though, that the new classes are the least of what I'm really interested in for the APG (well-written though they are). My current campaign works with the core rules and the new classes don't have much of a place in my homebrew setting for right now. However, the APG spends a great deal of time taking what is core and also throwing it into all kinds of new directions, which is both more useful and very interesting to me. Every core race gets alternate class abilities (your campaign world has dwarves who war with elves rather than giants? Swap out "Hatred" for "Ancient Enmity" and be done with it). This allows for a bit of customization for campaigns and concepts without needing to rewrite whole new races. It also helps overcome some of the minorly annoying issues I've had with some of the standard racial abilities--for example, while I love that half-elves are good at multiclassing because of Adaptability, but what if I want to play a single class half-elf? There's a racial feature that's no use to me--the APG fixes that by offering a number of abilities to trade for that one.

Likewise classes get a number of alternate paths, trading a few class features for whole new ones. While the overall feel for the classes are unchanged, this allows trickier concepts to be built--without unnecessary and overwhelming class bloat. Want to play a swashbuckler, but the core Fighter/Rogue/Duelist didn't cover it for you? Both fighters and rogues have finesse and swashbuckling paths that make that a lot less fiddly. Want to play a monk of the "Drunken Master" style? Done. Want to abandon the disciplined monk entirely play a powerful brutish pugilist? There's a barbarian path that's perfect for you. Those who wanted to see the bard turned into more of an arcane warrior will be pleased, as will those who have been begging for an antipaladin. My only "problem" (and it's not really a "problem") is that I'm very tempted to call these alternate paths "kits" (if you don't get that joke, then you're probably much younger than I am).

I am disappointed by a few of the core class adjustments. While many of the classes get myriad new paths, Clerics and Wizards get left a bit in the dust. Perhaps that's only fair--they're pretty powerful and somewhat adaptable classes to start with. What they DO get is pretty neat--subdomains and subschools. Both of these swap in specific themed abilities into standard domains and arcane schools--for example, a cleric in an ancestral worship religion with the Repose domain can take the Repose "subdomain" of "Ancestor," swapping out one of the standard Repose abilities for the ability to speak with the dead. I like these, but these subdomains are all they get. Particularly for clerics, I would have liked to have seen some alternatives maybe for channeling energy. It would look less out of place, if, say, Barbarians only got new rage powers, but Barbarians get both new rage powers AND new alternate paths. Regardless, all the stuff that IS included is really exciting.

The APG also introduces several new mechanics--new combat maneuvers, like the dirty tricks maneuvers; Hero Points, which work a little like d20 Modern's Action points; and Traits. Well, Traits aren't exactly new--Paizo has used them in their campaign products for a long time now. The APG brings Traits officially to PFRPG--basically, they are "mini feats" that help customize your character further according to their history, religion, and home region. They aren't powerful, but are great ways to help reflect a character concept more thoroughly and effectively. On top of that, there are new feats, spells, and magic items I've only barely been able to pore through--many of which are to provide extra support for the new classes and alternate abilities presented in the book.

The only part I'm really disappointed in are the Prestige Classes. While I am not one of those people who wants a billion prestige classes, I do like to have a few meaningful ones to choose from when it seems appropriate. Prestige Classes help fill niches, and I'm personally not especially interested in the ones many of the APG PrCs provide. We have the Battle Herald, the Holy Vindicator, the Horizon Walker, the Master Chymist, the Master Spy, the Nature Warden, the Rage Prophet, and the Stalwart Defender.

The Horizon Walker is an update of the 3.5 core PrC--a class I'm not sure anyone needed an update; they beefed it up a little but the terrain mastery that is iconic to the Horizon Walker still seems very circumstantial. Likewise, the Stalwart Defender is a race-free update of the Dwarven Defender, and while statistically, it rounds out the class nicely, it's a little redundant to abilities available elsewhere. The Battle Herald is a Prestige Marshal, sort of a battlebard, which is cool, though again, I could probably build a Bard or Cavalier that does much of the same thing (indeed, I think the real purpose of the Battle Herald is to have something for the Cavalier to Prestige into, which seems antithetical to Pathfinder philosophy--base classes should be cool on their own, and you shouldn't need a prestige class for everyone). Likewise, the Master Chymist is just a prestige Alchemist and has no broader purpose.

I am most disappointed by the Holy Vindicator--it's a "holy warrior who is not a paladin" Prestige Class. It could be cool, but its key feature, stigmata--the class literally bleeds its powers--are a bit off-putting to me. Maybe it's just because I've never been able to find the perfect PrC for my Fighter-Cleric of the Goddess of Love, maybe I'm just taking it a bit personally. Or maybe it's that it's evocative of a particular religious imagery I'm not comfortable seeing mixed into fantasy. I'm not sure, to be honest; all I can say it sets me the wrong way.

The Nature Warden and Rage Prophet on the other hand are pretty cool, and allow for some unusual character types. My favorite of all of them by far is the Master Spy, which accomplishes what many roguish PrCs tried and failed to do: make a great infiltrator/investigator PrC.

What is also blindingly disappointing is that there are still very few prestige classes for sorcerers, wizards, and clerics that want to focus on spell casting, but want a little more flavor/specialization than the standard single class route can provide. I assume they're saving those for their PFRPG Magic book I know is in the works, but it would have been nice to have one or two things in the APG, especially as more are likely to buy the APG than the specialized Magic book (or maybe that's just me). And especially in place of lame ducks like the Horizon Walker.

All that said, the book is astoundingly full of wonderful things to learn and try, and is probably the best RPG purchase I've made this year--and I say this as a GM who tends to prefer "fluff" far more to "crunch"--but I think I even like this more than the Game Mastery Guide.

I do have to make one huge caveat--which is not a complaint, mind. The Advanced Player's Guide is called that for a reason. While the options offered are astounding--they are also massive, many, and overwhelming. I do not recommend this book to people just starting PFRPG, especially if they're relatively new to d20-based systems in general. It is a lot to take in, and I warn GMs to review it thoroughly before they decide to incorporate it into their games. Again, this is not a negative thing in and of itself--complexity is good and I am sure many Pathfinder players will delight in the new options the APG provides. But just be warned to take the title fully into account before you dive in.