It’s exciting to think about, but we are currently living through a new golden age of tabletop RPGs. Though Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition will receive a fair amount of credit, it was the team at Paizo who have been flying the flag with Pathfinder for a number of years. However, with this new atmosphere, it was time for Paizo to re-invent themselves in the fantasy RPG space. Coming off the heels of the widely successful Starfinder, a beautifully designed science fantasy game in its own right, the team followed up with Pathfinder 2nd Edition in August of 2019. Releasing two core books, the Rulebook and Bestiary, players have just begun to adventure in this new world. Receiving widely positive reviews (one of which being myself), it appears the Pathfinder team is charging ahead to once again be a key innovator in the community. That being said, the strength of Pathfinder has always been player choice and its system’s flexibility. Yes, sometimes it broke, but that choice is fundamental to the inspiration of play, and the value far out-ways any negative side effects. Though, that choice did not come overnight. It was built, book-by-book, adding player/GM options, and so I’m excited to dive into the first core release since the Pathfinder 2e launch: The Gamemastery Guide.
Traditionally, game mastery releases are not regarded as required material, but simply offer guidance and additional rules/options. By taking one look at the index, it’s clear that the team at Piazo have dedicated many hours of hard work in organizing and teaching GMs how to use all of the tools at their disposal. I was extremely excited to see the NPC gallery make a return in this new edition, as developing characters on the fly always bogs down a game, and the inclusion of this chapter makes pulling a few stat blocks super easy. Though, i’m getting a little ahead of myself, lets take a look at the intro chapters first.
Game Mastery Basics / Tools
The first chapter covers the basics, and it’s just that. Many experienced GMs will skip over this section, which is fine, but it has immense value for new players that have just entered the hobby. I’m sure for a team with the experience of Paizo, it can be rather difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a new player or GM. It’s for this reason that this chapter is so important in order to grow the tabletop RPG community. From running a session zero to encounters, exploration, and downtime, this chapter is well organized and provides tips for first time GMs. I wouldn’t limit this section to new GMs either, as I found solid advice for pacing, item rarity, and resolving conflicts, topics of which come up regularly in Q&As from experienced GMs. This shows that there is a desire from the community of existing players that could still benefit from this sage advice. All of these things go a long way in creating a safe environment that encourages narrative collaboration. This first chapter does an amazing job of creating that mindset and providing the GM will guidance on simply running the game before opening up the tool box.
The Tools chapter has to be one of my favorites; it’s the toy box. With sections for building monsters, hazards, and magical items, what else could a GM ask for! There are many tables containing DCs or bonuses for challenges at a given level. All of which can be used for quick reference, but in addition, this chapter builds on those basics providing us with intelligent items full of interesting quirks, as well as, some with mysterious curses! One of the more intriguing aspects of this chapter was the sections detailing Relics and Artifacts. These things sound similar, but fill a very different roll at the table. Relics are magical items that grow in power with a character over time. Perhaps allowing the player to customize the item to enhance a narrative bond. While Relics are wondrous items of legend. One of a kind, and iconic, items like the Deck of Many Things fall into this category. This chapter rounds out with sections for world building, with everything from nations to whole other planes. So as a GM, once you’re comfortable with the basics, the tool box is the place to play!
Subsystems and Variant Rules
Now that we have our building blocks, we can now get into the more optional rules. These chapters will most likely be used by more experienced GMs that want to further customize their play. We start with Subsystems which are optional add-ons to your game. Maybe you want to reward your players with Victory Points or utilize vehicle combat in your game. We also get systems to guide our players sphere of influence or the success of their research. None of the rules listed in this section are required, however as a GM, if you want to build out an aspect of play that your group will utilize, then here you go!
While subsystems are optional, the Variant Rules fully replace an existing rule set with a new one. These are things like alternate ability score or alignment rules. There are a number of others, but the one that stuck out to me was the option around the Proficiency Bonus. Normally for skills, you use the character level + the Proficiency Bonus, however, if you want to lower the power level in order to create a more gritty game, you can do away with adding the character level and simply use the Proficiency Bonus. This flattens the curve a bit, and brings the math down to a very tight level, which in turn, creates a more threatening environment. It’s also worth noting that the additional rules for duel classing are also contained in this chapter, and I know will be a fan favorite. After finishing the chapters up to this point, I got the feeling that Pathfinder 2nd Edition has been crafted with Player/GM choice at the absolute center, and inspires me to try and adopt a few of these options in my own game.
I said it before, but the NPC gallery in 1st edition was the section I got the most use out of, and I was excited to see it return here. With everything from nobles to criminals, we get stat blocks and options for NPCs at various levels. Including brief advice on altering the NPC levels and what intriguing plots they may be employed, this chapter has a ton of value. I know I praised the Bestiary for the same thing, but it’s continued here, and that is the unique flavor of abilities given to these NPCs. More than just a stat block, for example, the Spy has an ability called Hidden Blade, which allows them to use a concealed dagger to make a strike against the target using the targets flat-footed AC. Rewarding sly tactics that feel natural to a spy, I feel GMs will be inspired to pull some of these abilities and utilize them for other monsters. Even a player can use a concealed weapon this way, adding a cool bonus to your players who role-play this concealed attack. That is the power of inspiration which can be found all over Pathfinder 2nd Edition and the Game Mastery Guide.
For my final thoughts on the Game Mastery Guide for Pathfinder 2nd Edition, I have to say this is a well crafted book. It teaches you the basics, taking you through the different tools at your disposal, and finally providing the GM with options in which to customize their game. What else could you want? I didn’t even touch on the amazing art contained in this book, and what is probably my favorite Wayne Reynolds cover, but also the intuitive page layout. So, though the content of this book is not required, the Pathfinder Game Mastery guide will be of great value for it’s well designed systems and inspiring ideas.
What do you think of the new Pathfinder Game Mastery Guide? Have you moved your home game over to the new edition? Tell us in the comments about all your thoughts and adventures!