The recent fiasco by Wizards of the Coast (who owns Dungeons and Dragons) has left me pretty bitter toward 5th edition1 and the company that owns it. If Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes wasn’t frustrating enough (“buy your $50 book again!”), this was the final straw.
I decided it was time to try Pathfinder again.
Again, you say? Allow me to explain.
Aeons ago, circa 2016, my coworkers and I played an after-work campaign of Pathfinder, 1st edition. The campaign lasted about 2-3 months but it was a miserable, stressful experience for me. The DM pushed us to optimize (e.g. “min-max”) our characters for awesome battles, using lots of custom 3rd party content, feats and builds that made really confused even as I was still to wrap my head around the basic rules. The DM knew the rules and feats like the back of his hand, but frankly wasn’t very empathetic to new players, and just wanted to host cool battles. Looking back, I believe the issue was more with the DM than with the game.2
I gave up, but I always felt someday that I should give it another try … someday.
Enter Pathfinder, 2nd edition (Pf2e): a major update to Pathfinder that came out in 2019. It streamlined and updated a lot of challenges with 1st edition, and includes a lot of good introductory material to help new players ease into this. A prime example is the Beginner Box which I ordered direct from Paizo.com after my local game store already sold out (believe me, I am not the only one locally who is mad at WotC).
My goal was to learn Pathfinder 2e properly, and at my own pace, so I could avoid the unnecessary stress of learning a new system, and actually keep things fun.
A week later, my box came in the mail:3 🎉
The Beginner Box contains everything you could possibly need for both a DM and a group of players to start from scratch:
- a self-contained adventure (more on that later): Troubles in Otari.
- a full set of dice, color-coded to match the symbols on the character sheets
- pre-made character sheets with very easy to read stats, plus blank sheets if you still want to make your own. These look really nice by the way.
- step by step guide adventure guide for Troubles in Otari.
- fold-out adventure map for Troubles in Otari.
- a separate, slimmed down guide to Pathfinder 2e rules in general and how TTRPG’s work.
- monster stand-up cardboard “tokens” for map, both a variety of player characters and all the monsters necessary for the adventure.
- laminated “action cards” to help players decide what they can do during their turn
My kids, experienced 5e players, were a bit hesitant to try Pathfinder since the only game system they knew and grew up with was D&D 5th edition, and as a busy parent I didn’t have much time to prepare Troubles in Otari either. So, both the kids and I essentially went into this first adventure blind.
I let my kids each pick from the pre-made character sheets for now, and I ran any character not chosen (Valeros the Fighter in my case) to ensure the party was rounded out. I read over the adventure guide for a couple minutes to get my bearings and off we went.
As a stand-alone adventure Troubles in Otari is a good, classic dungeon crawl. What makes it genius though is how each encounter teaches you another aspect of gameplay, each one slightly more advanced than the previous.
The adventure guide for Troubles in Otari walks you through each step of the way: what happens if players do X, what happens if they hit a skeleton with Y, etc. Experienced DMs can gloss over if they want, but it helped me a ton in making the mental transition from 5th edition to Pf2e and keep things running along. I hand-waved a few spots for pacing, but what DM hasn’t?
My kids loved the “3-action” combat system, the change to perception rules, and the pre-made character sheets. Pathfinder 2e, as a whole, was familiar enough for kids who’ve played 5e to quickly adapt, but also fresh enough to keep their attention. The cardboard tokens were also popular as they made the combat fun, without investing a ton in figurines that I may or may not have.
We completed most of the 1st floor of Otari in about 2.5 hours before we got tired and took a break (my teenager also had homework to do). We will try to finish next weekend, and the kids are already looking forward to generating their own characters using the Core Rulebook (which I purchased at the same time, and will review separately).
As an introduction to Pathfinder, this was a pleasant experience and a useful teaching mechanism to myself and my kids. It was a far cry from the stress-inducing experience I had ages ago and a fresh start to Pathfinder, as well as a great alternative to 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons.
Even if you are a pretty experienced TTRPG player, it really helps to have a nice hand-holding tool like the Beginner’s Box, to help with the mental transition in rules. Also, the materials included are re-usable in other contexts as well, so it’s not a one-and-done investment either.
P.S. Basic Liches did a really nice review of the Beginner Box here too, and it pretty much lines up with my experiences as well:
1 My kids had to talk me down from selling most of my D&D 5e books to the local used bookstore. It was a sunk cost, and doesn’t do much good to sell now, as we might still play in the future. Instead, we agreed that we’d buy no more D&D products for the foreseeable future. In any case, One D&D doesn’t interest me anyway, so I see little point in that either. My D&D Beyond subscription has already been cancelled too.
2 The same DM also took us through a D&D 5th edition play-through of the Mines of Phandelver, which started out well enough but eventually spiralled out of control too. So, there might have been a pattern.
3 Given that I live about 45 minutes by car from the Paizo headquarters, it’s quite amusing to watch my package go through an elaborate, Byzantine series of handoffs with one carrier to another before it finally arrived. In theory, I could have driven down to pick it up myself, and saved a week of waiting. I don’t blame Paizo for this, but I do blame the amazingly inefficient shipping process. Also, to be fair, I did pick the cheapest shipping option, and well, you get what you pay for…