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Pathfinder RPG Alpha Playtest

Pathfinder RPG Alpha Playtest

At first glance, this does not look like a playtest document at all but a finished product. OK, so a lot of the artwork is recycled from other Paizo products, but many publishers do that with things they expect to be paid for! Still, despite the polished appearance, it is what is inside that is important.

We begin with Jason Bulmahn's author's notes on how the project came to be and what he's attempting to accomplish, before diving into detail on the standard races. These are by and large the traditional views on dwarves, elves, etc.; but are clearly influenced by Bulmahn's stated intent to have complete game balance. While this is wise for keeping power-gamers in check, it can make less sense for role-playing although you do want to keep advantages and disadvantages minor. Next comes classes, or at least the core four of cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard (the rest will come in later releases). Again well-balanced and considered, but rather combat-orientated across the board.

We then turn to skills. Bulmahn states in the preamble to this section that they are 'mundane' aspects of a character's capabilities, and the trend is to a fairly prefunctory skillset rather than a wide range of areas of knowledge and expertise that can be used to create a fully-rounded character. Just why being good at Linguistics should enable you to be good at forgery - a quite different skill - is not clear, although the rest of the Linguistics skill is an excellent guide to how language skills can be used. Again, all manner of things have been rolled up into a general Theft skill, so someone who likes the engineering challenge of building and disabiling traps and other devices or who wants to be a legitimate locksmith is forced into being able to sneak and pick pockets as well.

Feats follow, and there is a magnificent selection of combat feats to choose from, allowing you to develop a distintive fighting style to suit your character whatever his class. Even most of the other feats, not in the combat section, are mostly to do with fighting... there is little opportunity to customise your character's other abilities.

Next comes Combat itself. Basically combat works as in the core 3.5 ruleset, with some tweaks to speed it up, make it easier to run and so on. This includes a Combat Manoeuver Bonus which is applied to most of the fancy moves you can do rather than work each one out individually - you roll using this and if successful apply the effects of the specific manoeuvre you chose. The whole concept of grappling has been given a rework as well. There is also a modification to the act of turning undead: it releases a wave of positive energy that has the effect of low-level healing - the aim being to encourage clerics to use their divine magic for wider purposes than just healing the rest of the party... provided they get lots of undead opposition, that is!

The next section is on Spells and Magic. For wizards, schools of magic and the ability to specialise are greatly enhanced, while there is a 'universal school' for those who prefer not to specialise in a particular type of magic. This should lead to the ability to customise a wizard character - although again combat is favoured over any other use of magic in the additional abilities gained through your specialisation. Clerical domains remain much the same, although the Pathfinder patheon is used and there are some intriguing domains to play with: Madness, Nobility or Repose, perhaps? Or a Rune domain for those intrigued by The Rise of the Runelords adventure path. Ths section is rounded out by rewrites of a few of the standard spells to better reflect this ruleset.

Next comes Running the Pathfinder RPG. There is quite a lot of detail on building perfectly-balanced encounters, allowing you to fine-tune the challenge without overwhelming the party... when, of course, that's what you intend. XP are also examined, as the Pathfinder RPG allows you to choose how fast characters advance by setting the XP required for advancement while still keeping the general 'pace' of the game in terms of encounters constant. Although allowance is made for 'roleplaying encounters' in the XP system this is more mechanical than actually rewarding good role-playing, it basically means a non-combat encounter. Some system of tangible reward for those players who really make their characters come to life would be nice. Conversion of encounters drawn from other 3.5 sources is covered, with both a quick and a more detailed method available.

Finally, a section entitled Playtesting describes how to contribute to the further development of this ruleset through the Paizo messageboards, as well as some indication of what will be coming next...

Overall a mechanically-sound and excellently balanced beginning, although excessively combat-oriented. Hopefully role-playing and the development of more rounded characters will appear in later releases.

Return to Pathfinder RPG Alpha Playtest page.

Reviewed: 21 March 2008