Pathfinder Beginner Box - Teaching New GMs


Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 31 October 2011

In my last post, I wrote a bit about what's in the new Pathfinder Beginner Box for players. However, my favorite part of the box has to be the GM stuff, especially the Game Master's book. While I love anything that helps new players try out the game, I'm especially interested in products to help new game masters. We need new players in the hobby for sure, but to be honest, it's rare to find someone who wants to play a tabletop RPG who hasn't played a video or computer RPG in the past. Sure, there are differences between the types of RPGs, but if you've played a video or computer RPG, you can probably pick up the basics of a game like Pathfinder pretty easily, especially if you're given a pregenerated character. However, the game master position is unique to tabletop games. There's rarely an analog in the digital world; the computer generally acts as the game master.

Adventure Awaits

The adventure starts on page 3. I love this because it makes the adventure feel more approachable. I happen to love GMing and I spend a fair amount of time convincing others to give it a try. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don't know the rules well enough. As with the Hero's book, the rules are given as needed. So, in the first encounter they describe how initiative works and the parts of a turn and round in combat. The next three encounters focus on exploration, with instructions on how skill checks, traps, and the like all work. In many ways, the adventure provided works like the intro quest of many video game RPGs. Each introduces a new concept or two and then they build on each other so the GM and players learn the basics of the game.

In addition to providing a great beginner adventure full of what I consider to be iconic beginner monsters (all it's missing are some rats), the included flip mat is wonderful. One side of the mat has a dungeon complex, the same one used in the adventure. However, not all of the features in the adventure are on the map, so the GM gets some practice adding things to a map on the fly. The other side is a basic tan mat, ready for whatever the GM thinks up next.

Speaking of what's next, the adventure ends on page 15 with a list of ideas for future adventures. The adventures themselves are an exercise left to the reader.

Introduction to Game Mastering

After the adventure is a great introduction to game mastering. It defines common terms, outlines the duties of the GM, and discusses how to adjust a prewritten adventure for your group. After that, it explains the details of creating your own adventures, everything from drawing maps (common map symbols are on the inside back cover), types of encounters, types of adventures, and simple world building advice. Then it provides an adventure seed for an adventure of your own design, based in the same area as the included adventure and using the town of Sandpoint as the basis. Sandpoint itself is detailed in the back of the book. Finishing that section is information on the types of environments for an adventure, such as dungeons, forests, cities, and the like, along with traps, terrain, and other tips for each.

Additional Tools

After the introduction, the book gives a few more tools for new GMs. Magic items, a mini bestiary with 45 monsters, and a write up of the town of Sandpoint along with some more adventure seeds, are all included. The magic item section details some of the intricacies of potion, scroll, staff and wand use as well as how a character identifies a magic item. in the monster section, the book provides a guide to reading the monster stat block, pictures for each monster, and tables for building random encounters by environment type along with instructions on how to create them. An easy to read conditions table can be found inside the book with the more common conditions on the back cover. With all of these tools and the reusable map, I think new GMs will find a lot to love in the Beginner Box.

Thoughts

Overall, I really love the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I think they did a great job taking a complicated and complex game and boiling it down to something a new player will find more approachable. They also sprinkled lots of advice throughout the book, which is particularly helpful to those of us who don't have an older sibling or cousin to teach us the game.

One thing I hope they do is produce some instructions for the next step, helping new players transition from the beginner box model of the game to the full version. Obviously, with just 64 pages for the Hero's Handbook and 96 for the Game Master's Guide, not everything in the core rulebook made the jump. Existing players and game masters welcoming in players who learned the game through the Beginner Box should have an idea of what parts of the game rules they might not know. But, overall, that's a relatively small matter.

Great write-up! I could see trying out the beginner box if I wanted to GM Pathfinder in the future.

My favorite part of the post: "There's rarely an analog in the digital world." Oh Sarah Darkmagic, with her clever turns of phrase (whether intentional or not). :-)

That one was intentional. :) I know my audience, and I love leaving little Easter eggs like that in there for them.

Nice post. It looks like this product really hits the spot with you.

I especially like the bit about teaching the rules as you go along. That way you pretty much learn them in order of importance. This is something that isn't obvious when you read, for instance, the combat chapter of a rulebook. I've used quick start rules to jump start learning a new system before by dropping straight into a game. It gives you the feedback to see how much you enjoy the game and gets you interested in ploughing through the rulebook.

We've just armed our only player with no GM experience with the nWoD QSR and Adventure from this years Free RPG day and he isn't noticeably intimidated by it. Had we given him the core rulebook and asked him to choose between Hunter, Werewolf, Vampire, etc read all the rules and then design or buy an adventure I think he would have hidden under the table. Now I think he'll run the adventure and if he likes the game he'll go out and get some books and we'll look forward to rolling more d10s in the near future.

Wonderful review! I am a newbie GM (although in a totally different system) and am always looking for ways to get my feet wet. This looks like something I may have to try as soon as we wrap up our current campaign.

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