It's unlikely you'd ever catch me playing Paizo's Pathfinder RPG. Roleplaying being what it is, I can't say never: social will always trump system. But as the natural heir to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, Pathfinder holds little allure for me.
It's the granularity. Like its cousin DnD 4.X, character generation and development is far too detailed, and i'm predisposed to viewing Pathfinder RPG as too much determined by character skills, scores and abilities; too little by player skill and role-playing.
So, given my obvious pre-disposition and therefore lack of interest in this game system, why bother purchasing and reviewing the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box? Two reasons. First, the shallow one: with certain exceptions, I really like the art of Pathfinder. I am a big fan of Wayne Reynolds, and the stable of other Pathfinder artists seem to maintain the same high standards. Second, I wanted to see if this Beginner Box set would moderate my pre-disposition against the Parthfinder RPG.
The Pathfinder Beginner Box retails for $35, compared to $20 for the DnD 4E Red Box starter set that was published by WOTC roughly a year ago. The Pathfinder box is 9" x 12" x 2.5" deep, and includes a one-page welcome page, a single-page advertisement for Pathfinder RPG and Pathfinder Society, a 64-page Hero's Handbook, four pre-generated characters (corresponding to the four characters pictured on the side of the Beginner Box), four blank character sheets, a 96-page Game Master's Guide, a 24" x 30" fold-out battle mat, a complete set of polyhedral dice, and 90 cardboard monster and character stand-up pawns.
Considering the breadth of contents, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box compares very favorably to the DnD 4E Red Box Starter Set. Add to the above the following: the Pathfinder set allows you to go from levels 1-5, while the 4E set only allows you to go to level 2; Pathfinder includes another 64 pages of gaming material; Pathfinder includes stand-up, rather than flat, pawns; and the Pathfinder box is sturdier and more visually interesting.
With 64 pages of game material in The Hero's Handbook, Pathfinder goes into far more detail than Red Box regarding character creation. Paizo provides a solo pick-your-path adventure and an example of play in the Hero's Handbook.
The game mechanics suffer from the same malady as 4E: too many rules and too much dice-rolling. On the other hand, the art is amazing, and there's so much of it that it almost becomes a distraction from learning the rules. Paizo has gone all out here, though I couldn't say whether some or all of this art is recycled from other Pathfinder products.
Four pre-generated character sheets are included in the Beginner Box: Ezren, Valeros, Kyra and Merisel. The Beginner Box includes four cardboard standup pawns for those characters, but you can instead buy a set of pre-painted miniatures, which, at $12 for the complete four figure set, has higher production values and is more modestly priced than any pre-painted plastic figures heretofore produced by WOTC.
The 96-page Game Master's Guide delves into areas completely ignored by the equivalent Dungeon Master's Book found in the 4E Red Box. Most startling is significant page count devoted to gamemastering, building your own adventures, environments, magic items and random encounters. Pathfinder is noted for its prolific publishing of pre-scripted adventure path products, so devoting page count in the Game Master's Guide to building your own adventures is laudable. Like the Hero's Handbook, the Game Master's Guide is heavily illustrated: I will hazard to say that every page has some manner of illustration.
The Pathfinder battle mat is superior to the 4E Red Box effort. It feels heavier and is plasticized to stand up to more wear. And the cardboard pawns in the Pathfinder Beginner Box can be slipped into round plastic bases so they stand up. The Red Box equivalent are poker chips with pictures on them.
If you are playing DnD 3.5 or 4.X and looking for something just a little bit different, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box may be just your ticket. This is good value for $35. Indeed, the gorgeously illustrated cardboard pawns are almost worth the price of admission alone.
For those that prefer old-school gaming, there is little here to convert you to the dark side. But if you're like me and have more money than sense, or want to support the underdog, you might consider buying the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. While i'm unlikely to play Pathfinder, I don't regret this purchase.