Review: Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide

It’s now been a couple of weeks or so since the Advanced Player’s Guide came out, and I’ve been browsing it, reading stuff, and converting some old NPCs from 3.0 and 3.5 eras I had hanging around on my hard drive. I’ve yet to see any of the material in action with the exception of the alchemist and the summoner in our Lhazaar campaign and the cavalier in my Rise of the Runelords campaign, but overall, it looks a lot like Paizo did it again. This book is 320 pages of awesome.

Let me start from the beginning. The Advanced Player’s Guide is the big hardcover companion to the GameMastery Guide, and the rough equivalent of the Complete series for 3.5 – you know, Complete Warrior, Complete Arcane, Complete Divine, Complete Adventurer, Complete Champion, Complete Psionic, Complete Scoundrel and Complete Mage. This book can be seen as a replacement for pretty much all of them, except Complete Psionic. While Paizo hasn’t stuffed the PFRPG equivalents of quite every option into this book, they’ve managed to squeeze in most of them, and done so with an exemplary economy of space and elegance of design.

New Classes!

What the book has been hyped about is, of course, the new classes, of which there are six. The alchemist is a mix of Paracelsus, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bomberman – in addition to being pretty good at making potions, the alchemist can produce bombs, extracts that are basically potions only he can use, and mutagens, which buff his physical ability scores while penalizing the mental ones. The Jekyll and Hyde thing is taken to its extreme by the Master Chymist prestige class. Every other level, the alchemist makes a discovery, which are a lot like rogue talents, and mostly do stuff like modify or buff his extracts, mutagents and bombs. At 20th level, the alchemist makes a grand discovery, which are things like eternal youth or the philosopher’s stone. The list of grand discoveries is short, and unfortunately not all of them are as flavourful as those two. For instance, the alchemist can also gain a +2 Int boost, which is just bland.

Then there’s the cavalier, who’s your basic knight character. He does mounted combat, has some social skills, and a knightly challenge mechanic that for once does not look like it was copied off a MMO tank class. In addition, all cavaliers belong to an order, of which there are six (at the moment – this is a highly customizable feature and I expect we’ll be seeing new orders in the future), and which act as package deals of abilities that the cavalier gains as he advances in levels, much like a sorcerer’s bloodlines or a wizard’s school. The cavalier also gains teamwork feats as bonus feats. While it quite adroitly sidesteps the MMO challenge problem, the class does have – to my mind, at least – a slight problem in that it is married to its horse. The core book did good in giving all the pet classes an alternative class ability they could take instead of an animal. However, it’s not as nearly as bad as it could be, and the cavalier isn’t going to be dead weight in a dungeon where his horse won’t fit. Still, an alternative would’ve been cool.

The third new class is the inquisitor. A bit of Tomas de Torquemada, a dash of Solomon Kane, a pinch of Abraham van Helsing… or a mix of cleric and ranger, if you will. The inquisitor has limited spellcasting capability and abilities for rooting out the enemies of the church and then wreaking righteous vengeance on their asses. The core schtick of the class is the judgment ability, which is a set bonus the inquisitor can call on himself when fighting foes he has pronounced his judgment upon. Later, he gains the ability to imbue his weapon with a bane enchantment for rounds equal to level every day. I think the whole class is conceptually a bit weak, to be honest, but the mechanical execution seems solid. I’d need to see it in action, though.

The oracle, then, is the favoured soul of Pathfinder RPG, a spontaneous divine spellcaster. Instead of wings and a weapon proficiency, though, the oracle gains a curse and a mystery. The curse is something that’s both a boon and a hindrance, like the clouded vision, which limits the oracle’s sight to ten feet, but gives darkvision and at later levels, blindsense and blindsight.  The mystery, then, is much like a sorcerer’s bloodline or the cavalier’s order, except that it gives the class a much stronger definition. The mysteries are thematic packages of abilities the oracle gets to pick from as they advance in levels. Overall, I like the oracle a lot. It’s an interesting class, thematically strong and infinitely customizable.

The summoner is the one I have personal experience playing. It’s the ultimate pet class, where the eidolon is as much a PC as the summoner himself. The eidolon, or the summoner’s pet, is a monster you build yourself with the rules provided, picking and mixing abilities to produce whateve horrible creature you want. I love it! My own summoner character, Arimo d’Kundarak, had a humanoid eidolon that looked roughly like a dwarf. With the addition of a hat of disguise and some judicious skill point allocation and the skilled evolution, Grimmsson reached Disguise bonus +23 and could quite easily pass as Arimo’s bodyguard. The versatility of the class is just awesome. Also, because the eidolon is the whole reason for the class, I don’t mind the summoner being married to their pet.

Finally, we have the witch, the third pet class of the book. Again, I kinda wished this could’ve been executed with an alternate class ability, but then, the class is presented in such a flavorful and interesting manner that I don’t really mind. The witch’s familiar is a living spellbook, and the witch prepares her spells by communing with the familiar. In lieu of a sorcerer’s bloodline or a wizard’s school, the witch also has a mysterious patron, who may or may not be Nyarlathotep, who grants certain bonus spells in addition to the stuff on the witch’s regular list. The witch also gains hexes every couple of levels, supernatural abilities in the style of Circe, Madam Mim, Morgause and the Wicked Witch. Why, yes, the witch does get a cauldron.

Overall, my favourite classes of this bunch are the witch and the summoner. Paizo has done a good job with them, and its seems they’ll keep doing it, since recent other Pathfinder releases have also included mention of these classes and even NPCs using them. Continued support of this kind is good, and keeps the classes relevant.

However, despite all the hype, the really great thing about this book aren’t the new classes, but the old classes.

Old Classes!

The area where the book really shines is the core classes portion of the Classes chapter, some seventy pages of new material for the old classes, and what I was talking about when I earlier said that this book replaces the Complete series. Every class gets a bunch of alternate class abilities, bags of them, in packages called archetypes. When creating a character, you choose whether to use the standard version in the Pathfinder RPG book, or one of the archetypes, which then replaces certain features of the base class. This is kinda reminiscent of the kits in AD&D 2E, and is a compact way to replace several prestige classes that readily spring to mind from the 3E era. It’s also compact, and the lack of prerequisites for the stuff means you need less planning for level advancement.

Every class gets a crapload of new stuff, so I’m just going to go over my favourites here.

The Barbarian: The brutal pugilist archetype, a barehanded grappler and pit fighter who gets bonuses for combat manoeuvres in lieu of uncanny dodge and trap sense.

The Bard: While I also like the detective, I’d have to say my favourite here is the savage skald, a barbarian bard archetype. Instead of certain types of bardic performances, he gets to incite rage, among other things.

The Cleric: Subdomains, which are modifications on existing domains and replace some of their abilities. I feel it’s a nifty way to tack on new domains without every time needing to specify which deity grants which new domains… or it would be, if they still didn’t need to specify it. There’s pages upon pages of them, too.

The Druid: While the blight druid is also nifty, I must give my vote here to the animal shamans, druids who pick a totem animal and gain certain powers associated with it, such as taking on aspects of the beast or getting more flexible and quicker summonings. By my calculations, at 15th level, a bear shaman druid can not only summon a dire bear as a standard action, but get it with both the giant and advanced templates. Eat your heart out, Akakabuto. While at those levels it’s a glass cannon, you still don’t want to be on the receiving end of its attacks, and the standard action casting time makes it possible for the druid to bring in a whole army of drop bears very quickly. Throw in Augment Summoning and some other summon boosters, and we’re looking at something truly horrendous here.

The Fighter: The fighter’s archetype packages are all centered on a fighting style or specific weapon – the archer, the crossbowman, the phalanx fighter, and so on. They also all replace the armor and weapon training and bravery class features. As my favourite, I’d have to pick the free hand fighter, who wields a one-handed weapon with no shield and gets dodge bonuses and uses his free hand for combat manoeuvres as move and later even immediate actions.

The Monk: Drunken master! The original prestige class always struck me as a bit off, flavour-wise, since the monk default was an ascetic and disciplined warrior, who’d then at 6th level step into this prestige class and become a dangerous alcoholic. Now, the cognitive dissonance is gone, because you get to abuse alcohol from level one!

The Paladin: The paladin gets a couple of archetype packages, and one entire alternate class, a legend of past editions, the antipaladin. He’s literally that, an evil mirror of the paladin class. Instead of mercies, he gets cruelties. Instead of the divine bond, he gets the fiendish boon, which grants him a fiendish servant instead of the pokéhorse. Excellent.

The Ranger: There’s a bunch of archetype packages that emphasize certain elements of the class, like the beastmaster, the guide and the infiltrator, but my favourite thing here would have to still be the selection of alternate combat styles. No longer are rangers limited to bow and arrow or dual wielding, but can also pick from crossbow, sword and board, two-handed weapon (Magic is impressive, but now, Minsc leads! Swords for everyone!), mounted combat, and even natural weapon (Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes!).

The Rogue: Here, we have oodles of new rogue tricks and a big pile of archetypes. The swashbuckler would have to be my favourite here. I’m generally a fan of swashbucklers and wittily stabbing people with rapiers, but was terribly disappointed by the Complete Warrior base class, which was good for precisely nothing until Complete Scoundrel came out and provided a multiclass feat that made it a viable choice multiclassing with the rogue. The archetype here is just two abilities, but it also includes recommendations for rogue tricks that fit the archetype, which, as I mentioned, we get by the bushel.

The Sorcerer: A lot of Lovecraft here, in the new bloodlines. Among them, the aquatic, suggested to maybe originate with creeping icthyic infiltrators of remote seaside villages; the dreamspun, who has touched the farthest reaches of the dream world and can shape the dreamscapes of others; and the starsoul, whose soul yearns to span the black and cold gulfs between the stars.

The Wizard: Elementalists! Finally! For some reason, while the elementalist is a very strong spellcaster archetype in fantasy, for some reason we never really got a proper elementalist wizard in the old 3E. There were several prestige classes and the shugenja class from Oriental Adventures, but that’s it, not a true arcane elementalist, at least from WotC. Now, there is one, and I am happy.

The Rest of the Book

In addition to the alternate class abilities, there’s also alternative racial abilities and each race gets alternate favoured class bonuses for certain classes. This is nifty. I envision certain settlements and cultures of different races having certain alternate racial abilities fitting in their style. I think this is greatly preferable to having thirty-seven different elven subraces.

The rest of the book is mostly standard fare for a new player source book. We get piles of feats, many of them specific to certain classes or races and especially stuff for the new base classes. We get piles of new spells. We get piles of new magic items. I’ve thus far only glanced through these sections, and I’ve never been too good at reading a lot of small rule items like feats and spells, and I currently only own the PDF, which I’m also not very good at reading. We also get some new normal weapons and equipment. I gleefully noticed that among the new weapons are a number of old favourite polearms, like the bec de corbin and the glaive-guisarme. Unfortunately, most of these lack illustrations.

Finally, there are some new rules at the back of the book. A couple of new combat manoeuvres, dirty trick, drag, reposition and steal; an action point mechanic, called “hero points”; and finally, the rules for traits and the list of basic traits, which until now have only existed in a PDF on the Paizo website.

Overall, though I’m not intimately familiar with every little thing in the book quite yet – and I doubt I will be for quite some time – it is an excellent, inspiring book and one of the finest player sourcebooks I own. It’s crunch from cover to cover, though, so unlike the GameMastery Guide, you’re not gonna do much with it unless you play Pathfinder RPG. However, if you do, you really don’t have any reason not to at least buy the $10 PDF version.

Me, I’ll be picking up the hardcover next month.

8 thoughts on “Review: Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide

  1. I got the pdf for both the Game Mastery Guide and the Advanced Player’s Guide and have ordered the hardcovers for both as well. I haven’t read all of the APG yet, but what I have read, I have liked. The same goes for the GMG.
    Paizo put out some of the best 3e material when they were doing Dungeon and Dragon magazines and even after those mag were “taken back” by WotC. So when Paizo decided to carry on with their version of 3e, there honestly isn’t a company that could have done it better. As a 3e fan, Pathfinder is what 3e should have been. Paizo consistently puts out top notch material and they seem much more focused on quality than on quantity.
    I’m looking forward to the Bestiary 2, the revised Golarian Campaign Setting and the rumored Pathfinder Modern books.

  2. Agh, can’t wait to get my copy of APG. Thanks for this review (or something) nice to have some spoilers and read about your thoughts of APG. Hopefully you will write again when you have had enough time to test this new things.

  3. A power-up book for a game that just crammed pretty much every power-up out since the 3.5 core into its core rules, and then some?

    A class that makes a combat maneuver -specializing full-BAB class even better at combat maneuvers?

    A class that gives you the equivalent of the Leadership feat at first level?

    Are you fucking shitting me? Seriously.

  4. Well, first of all, I’d dispute the term “power-up”, as the average power balance remains the same. To get these abilities, the characters must give up something else. I think “options” is a much better word. The book’s central idea isn’t to make more powerful characters, but more versatile characters.

    Yes, Paizo has more or less accomplished in 320 pages what it took WotC over 2000 pages to do with the Complete series, with the exception of a couple of prestige classes. While there’s still some stuff like the multiclass feats and the gray guard prestige class that I’ll be going back to the Completes for, the APG is considerably more usable.

    Also not included in the APG, as far as I can see, are Divine Metamagic and Divine Spell Power.

    Are you talking about the druid or the summoner, there? The summoner’s eidolon is more versatile than the druid’s animal companion, but the summoner is also a lot less useful without his eidolon than the druid is without an animal companion, with his slow spell progression and limited spell selection.

    And really, what did you think this book was gonna be about? Seriously.

  5. Well. Paizo DID claim they would make a better version of 3.5, and steer clear of the mistakes WotC made. I count splat book bloat among WotC’s biggest mistakes.

    Then again, since there obviously is a market for splat books (books full of “character options”), making a book like this (essentially a mega splat book) isn’t really a mistake from a business standpoint. Its just poor game design.

    To each their own, I guess.

  6. I dunno, I’d say that releasing one book that essentially takes care of what WotC needed seven to accomplish is pretty much the opposite of bloat.

    There’s another point of elegance to making all that crap fixed packages of alternate class abilities, which is that you cannot, as a general thing, have more than one, maybe two of them.

  7. Good review; I agree on the relative merits of the new classes. All decent, but the witch, oracle, and summoner are really flavorful and sweet. All the new prestige classes were pretty niche and weak, though, that was disappointing.

  8. After reading your review, I thought I might give you a bit of an update about Inquisitors. In mass combat, against many enemies at once, the Inquisitor is kinda weak. However, against one opponent, Incredibly powerful. Have the rest of the group focus on mopping up the mooks, and have the Inquisitor focus fire on the big guys.

    Outside of combat, the Inquisitor is crazy useful. Being wisdom-based characters and getting lots of class bonuses to skills, the Inquisitor is as good as a Ranger at tracking, with high sense motive, and great perception. Stacked with alignment detection, discern lies, and class-specific spells, the Inquisitor is fantastic at his/her job.

    I built mine using a heavy repeating crossbow, using the new feat Crossbow Mastery, reducing the reload times to a free action, and permitting a full attack with the crossbow. With bane, I was averaging about 40 damage per round at level 7 with just a +1 crossbow.

    Another thing that lends itself well to the class is that as it is largely set up to be a ranged class, Dex is another big stat. Since they can do without Str, Cha, or Int, that leaves them space to put some points into Con, giving them a great boost to all stats.

    Overall, wonderful class.

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