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Pathfinder’s new Beginner Box is designed for players with zero experience

The box is heavy, but the barrier to entry is paper-thin

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A blue dragon guards his hoard from a group of adventurers in the key art from the Pathfinder second edition. Image: Ekaterina Burmak/Paizo Publishing

If you’re lucky, getting started with a new tabletop role-playing game is as easy as falling in with an already established group. For others, it can be a lot harder.

Maybe there’s no one in your life playing these kinds of games, or perhaps social anxiety makes you wince at the thought of learning rules live at the table. Paizo’s new Pathfinder Beginner Box solves some of these problems, making the barrier to entry into the popular RPG paper-thin. At the same time, this starter set is also a dense little box of goodies that can help newer groups enhance their game.

The most intimidating aspect of modern tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) is the character sheet. Experienced players can scan one and discern a particular character’s strengths in an instant, whereas newer players just see a jumble of numbers that makes no sense at all. The Beginner Box Hero’s Handbook solves that problem by adding an introductory dungeon that doesn’t actually require a character sheet at all.

A selection of blank starter sheets and pre-generated characters. A set of colorful dice sits on top of the stack. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Just read through the Choose Your Own Adventure-style text entries as you go, jotting down a few simple notes marking your success or failure. There’s little in the way of high drama, but it gets the job done. It even encourages players to run through the dungeon multiple times, letting them discover new pathways as they go. It’s a quick, low-stakes way to introduce concepts like hit points, damage, ability checks, and even character death.

Best of all, it allows new players to fail privately, and to learn at their own pace.

The Beginner Box Game Master’s Guide takes a very different approach, more or less throwing newbie GMs (game masters) right into the thick of things. After just two brief pages describing the key concepts of TTRPGs in general, it’s off to the races with roughly 20 pages of action right there at the beginning of the book. But it’s all shot through with sidebars and expository instructions designed to help GMs keep things moving.

Just as in the introductory adventure, information is delivered on a need-to-know basis. The copy itself is both uplifting for players and encouraging for new GMs, with a focus on faking it until you make it through your first few sessions.

That doesn’t mean that this Beginner Box is thin on introductory content. Both the Hero’s Handbook and Game Master’s Guide are robust game manuals, coming in at 72 and 88 pages, respectively. It’s just that the “game” part of the product gets precedence over the “manual” part. Paizo clearly wants people to start playing as soon as possible, and I think the entire package benefits from that approach.

A selection of cardboard tokens, 124 in all, with plastic standees. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

When compared to the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set or the Essentials Kit, the Pathfinder Beginner Box is packed with value. The Hero’s Handbook contains everything you need to play characters from three different ancestries (dwarf, elf, and human) and four different classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard). The Game Master’s Guide includes plenty of advanced rules, as well as maps and adventure hooks to boot. There’s also a set of color-coded polyhedral dice, quick-reference cards with key concepts printed on both sides, four pre-generated character sheets, and six blank ones. Like the books themselves, everything is printed on heavy paper or card stock and in full color.

Finally, Paizo also throws in some gaming aids for players able to meet together in person. There’s a double-sided battle mat, perfect for using erasable markers, and 124 cardboard miniatures — including pawns for player characters. All together it’s a very generous set with a $39.99 retail price.

The Pathfinder Beginner Box is Paizo’s newest starter set, released late last year. As such, it’s fully upgraded and compatible with the game’s second edition ruleset. You’ll find a nearly identical treatment in the Starfinder Beginner Box, but with a ruleset tailored to Paizo’s science fiction setting.

The Pathfinder Beginner Box is available now. The product was reviewed using a final retail copy provided by Paizo Publishing. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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