The Saving Throw
Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook 09.07.2009
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Overall Review
published by Paizo Publishing reviewed by Martin Drury
576 pages, 2009, $49.95 (print)/ $9.99 (pdf)
Core Handbook 5
Character Generation 5
Game Rules 4.5
Intelligibility 4.5
Review Scoring

   With the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, many wandered what would happen to the 3.5/d20 ruleset. Into the void left by Wizards of the Coast's departure, Paizo Publishing threw their behemoth, 576 page, Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. With a pedigree that included Dragon and Dungeon magazines, Paizo Publishing has a lot of experience with the previous ruleset, but just how will this new version pan out?

At a first, causual glance, it's hard to see what exactly has been changed between 3.5/d20 and Pathfinder RPG. Compatibility with existing products was one of the core driving forces behind the development of the new version, and on this point the designer has performed admirably. The fact that so little appears to have changed on the surface, combined with the cost of the rulebook might turn some gamers away, but a deeper look will reveal so much more.

The most drastic changes to the game mechanics are in the classes and races. Each race now has an additional +2 bonus to one ability, including humans. For some races, this bonus is set, but humans, half-elves and half-orcs can put the +2 bonus in any ability. By far, the majority of changes are in the classes. Each class has new options, such as spell casters being able to cast an unlimited number of 0-level spells per day and bloodlines for sorcerors. Fighters learn bonus armor training, weapon training, and the new bravery class features. Another power boosting feature is the increased frequency of gaining feats, which are now received at every other level (odd numbered).

Intially, race and class changes appear to make player characters more powerful under Pathfinder rules, but several other changes balance out the afforementioned power boosts. First, the number of skill points for classes have been lessened and the max number of ranks in a skill can now no longer exceed a character's hit dice total. Class skills automatically get a +3 bonus on skill checks, negating the need to distribute the 4x skill points received at first level in 3.5/d20. Another balancing change is that the Pathfinder rules provide three different experience points required to level rates, from slow to fast, but even the fast chart is a slower progression rate than the 3.5/d20 progression. With the Bestiary not coming out for another month, it is difficult to know what changes have been made to monsters to balance the increased power of player characters, but some changes are almost inevitable.

Pathfinder RPG adds several new spells to the list of classics, including the new "form of the dragon" spells which polymorphs the spellcaster into a selected type of dragon. These spells also function as class features for the Dragon Disciple prestige class. Other new spells are peppered in as well, adding some new twists and options for those who like spell slinging classes. One of the changes more frequently mentioned by the designers is how grappling is handled. Combat manuevers, such as grappling, tripping, disarming, and bull rushing are handled by Combat Manuevers Bonus (CMB) and a Combat Manuevers Defense (CMD) system. Now, combat manuevers are handled more like attacks, in that a player rolls a d20, adds his character's CMB, and compares it to the opponenet's CMD.

In recent years, large publishers have went from source books with large amounts of text on plain or nearly plain backgrounds to featuring lots of color images to break up the text. The presentation in Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook puts it at the top tier for nice looking sourcebooks. This makes reading the text easier, but makes the book larger and more costly to print. Some computers will have trouble with the single file PDF because of all the heavy images as well. While most gamers will take the trade-off for a prettier book, those with older computers thinking about buying the PDF version might want to consider the one chapter per file purchase instead of the single large file.

Of course, when it comes down to it, what gamers want is a well thought out, well presented, easy, and most importantly, fun to play game system, and that is where Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook really shines. With this release, Paizo has clearly demonstrated that they are ready to pick up the torch tossed asside by Wizards of the Coast and carry the popular 3.5/d20 game system into the future.

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