Paizo Advanced Player’s Guide Reivew

Let’s not beat around the bush. Ever since those “Meet the class of 2010” ads started popping up at the end of Pathfinder supplements, the Advanced Player’s Guide has been a highly anticipated item. The product of another Paizo mega open-beta, the main drawing point was the inclusion of six new classes. However, that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of content: the book is big, and crammed to the brim with new character options.

You might remember my quick glance at the GMG from back in the summer, which was a little less than flattering. (I stick by it; the GMG is cool and useful, but not a must-have.) The APG (and, from the looks of it, Bestiary 2) are the reasons why the GMG isn’t as necessary if you’re on a budget.

Chapter 1 – Races

Each core race gets a slew of new options, in the form of more racial traits, and favored class options. The racial traits are pretty basic, of the same type and power-level of other existing traits, though fine-tuned for each race to take advantage of its archetypes. Most are purely stereotypical, like Halflings reducing the penalty for using Stealth while moving, and dwarves receiving a +2 bonus on all Craft of Profession checks relating to metal- or stonework.

A good number of them aren’t quite as traditional as expected, though: elves can tap into the power of sleep and dreams, improving their divination and sleep-effect spells, and allowing them to cast dream 1/day. Another example is the gnomish “Pyromaniac,” replacing their gnome magic and illusion resistance traits with a bevy of minor fire-based spell-like-abilities and a boost to casting spells with the [Fire] descriptor. All of the traits make sense, which is good; it’s nice to see some rather creative entries instead of the traditional stereotypes we’ve come to expect.

One of the draws for the Sword & Sorcery 3.5 Advanced Player’s Guide was a class/race system where races get minor bonuses for taking a specific class choice. The Paizo APG goes hog-wild on this theory with favored class options. Instead of the +1 HP/skill point bonus for favored class, you can take one of these, depending on a race’s proficiency in specific classes. Many of them are solid +1 bonuses; for example, dwarven barbarians can get an extra rage round per level, while elf and half-elf fighters can get a +1 to CMD against disarm or overrun maneuvers. Others are fraction modifiers, meaning they require multiple levels before the bonus is applied. For example, a Halfling ranger can add a +1/3 dodge bonus against favored enemies, meaning the bonus increases by for every three levels of ranger.

Not all races have favored options for all classes, only for classes which a given race has a connection with (however loosely). Humans have the longest list, incorporating every core and base class, while the halfbreed classes have fairly long lists as well.

Chapter 2 – Classes

Probably the main reason to consider buying the book are the new base classes: six 20-level classes, featured in last year’s big open-beta extravaganza. Nearly all of them cast spells, use d8s as hit dice, and have standard BAB progressions. They are as follows:

  • Alchemist: A spellcaster who works without casting spells… instead, they use extracts, literally “spells in potion form.” The extract list is varied, reaching up to 6th level, including a lot of buff and cure spells. For offense, alchemists have bombs, which (much as they sound) are thrown explosives that deal up to 10d6 at 19th level. Lastly, they use mutagens, boosting their physical prowess and armor class, while lowering mental stats and leaving the alchemist nauseated. It’s a nice Jekyll-and-Hyde touch that can make an alchemist quite interesting, a risk/reward tradeoff with some good roleplaying flavor. Their other big ability is multiple Discoveries, which modify things like bombs, extracts, mutagens, poisons, potions, etc., and function largely like alchemical versions of rage powers/rogue talents. Needless to say, they also have a ton of abilities related to brewing potions and throwing things. For a spellcaster that doesn’t actually cast spells, I’m a big fan of the alchemist.
  • Cavalier: A throwback to the AD&D days, the cavalier is a knight. They involve those things which don’t fit in dungeons and die constantly (mounts), though they have several abilities to keep their mounts alive. At low-level, they can issue challenges, getting bonuses to damage if they go mano-a-mano with one target. At higher levels, they get paladin-style leadership abilities, giving allies who can see their banner minor bonuses. In between this, they get tactician abilities, usually teamwork feats (see below). Each cavalier must also choose from one of the six orders, with edicts to follow, extra class skills, and other abilities, focusing them a little more. For example, the Order of the Cockatrice is interested in being a self-serving braggart, while the Order of the Sword is into knightly chivalry. The cavalier isn’t a bad class, but has always come across to me as a slightly different flavor of paladin, one trading clerical abilities for more medieval knightly, mounted-combat, leadership stuff. On the other hand, I think that makes for a more interesting paladin than the core paladin.
  • Inquisitor: Not quite the Spanish Inquisition and more Vampire Hunter D. These are holy bounty hunters in the style of a ranger-paladin, only made more interesting. They also cast divine magic up to 6th level, with a surprisingly strong spell list, and the ability to select one domain. Their big thing is Judgments: much like rage powers/rogue talents, these are minor abilities usable X/day, with decent range. The Smiting judgment overcomes types of DR, while the Healing judgment gives the inquisitor fast healing. All of them can be chosen at any level—what’s important is the number of times used, not the type—though they do improve as the inquisitor progresses. The class deals a lot with teamwork feats (again, see below), can detect lies, adds both Wis and Dex modifiers to init, and gets a form of favored enemy with Bane (translating to bonus damage). It’s a lot more focused than a ranger-paladin build, with much stronger spellcasting, and decent high-end combat abilities against chosen foes. The downside: average BAB and a d8 HD, and like paladins, can become fallen if they stray too far from their tenants.
  • Oracle: Another divine spellcaster, with a number of interesting twists. Oracles channel raw divine power through themselves, and like the alchemist, this can take a toll. (Think of how psanctioned psykers channel the Warp in 40k, only for D&D divine magic.) Oracles start out cursed, with a strong classical Greek vibe: blind, deaf, speaking in tongues, etc. All of them eventually give a benefit; a blind oracle gains darkvision 60’, blindsense 30’, and blindsight 15’ by the end. Oracles are full casters, spontaneous-casting from a limited spell list like a sorcerer, but instead of domains they get mysteries: the divine inspiration which channels through. Mysteries include all the basic archetypes, including battle, life, waves, and wind, very classical in its divine-and-elements options. These mysteries give bonus spells every even level, some bonus class skills, and a list of 10 special abilities to choose from called “revelations;” again, these are very much like rage powers and rogue special abilities, and an oracle will end up with 5 of the 10 for each mystery by 20th level. Like most spellcasters, the oracle is fairly complex: there are plenty of choices to make here, even if you don’t have to worry about preparing spells.
  • Summoner: The first real arcane caster, the summoner is pretty self explanatory. They get Summon Monster spells as they progress (up to Summon IX and Gate) as spell-like abilities 3 + Cha modifier/day, and start out with an Eidolon, a linked outsider which is a supercharged familiar. You choose an Eidolon’s form and type, upgrade it, and “evolve” it with evolution points, giving it new abilities or features. Summoners can summon and eventually bond with it, merge with it at the upper levels, and eventually copy the Eidolon’s shape. Like most classes in the APG, summoners only cast up to 6th level, and feature a decent blend of druid and wizard spells. Their offensive spells are negligible, though, relying more on buffing the Eidolon and summoning monsters.
  • Witch: The other full-9-levels spellcaster in the book, and an arcane caster to boot. The witch has a “connection to a powerful patron” and gets their mystical powers through their bond with their familiar… not a bad outlook, considering the stereotype of witches and black cats. The witch’s main “choose one from this list  every 2-3 levels” special ability is Hex, which runs all over the map in following traditional witch powers: cursing an enemy with the evil eye, brewing potions (the Witch’s Brew?) and gaining boosts to craft (alchemy), healing minor injuries (cure light, and then cure moderate), a pretty powerful charm mechanic, comprehending languages, and giving out protective wards. These get more powerful as the witch advances; the high-end hexes can put a creature in a permanent slumber, forcing a creature back to life, or seize a creature’s heart, causing it to die. In terms of spells, the witch spell list is just plain odd, blending druid, wizard, and cleric spells, having some powerful options; their patron spells are all very flavorful, but I see everyone taking Elements to get fireball and other offensive spells. Blending flavor and power, the witch is one of my favorite classes; its abilities are weird, but very witchy, and while it lacks a lot of the flashier spells offered to clerics, druids, and wizards, the class blends some of the best aspects of all of them.

The rest of this chapter adds in a bajillion new features for the existing core classes in the form of alternate class features. Class Acts was one of my favorite sections of Dragon magazine, and this part of the APG reminds me where Paizo came from. The list isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, but it is incredibly useful in giving individual classes enough wiggle-room to differentiate characters. Because of its Class Acts feel, giving core classes enough options so the two party rangers aren’t identical, I love this section.

For the most part, it’s the standard “moremoremore.” More rage powers, more ranger combat styles, more rogue talents, more domains, more bloodlines, more arcane schools. The last three aren’t completely new, as the domains and schools are sub-groups modifying the existing ones, while the new bloodlines include things like Protean and Dreamspun. For the rest of the classes, it’s variant class abilities replacing existing ones. Druids now come in all terrain flavors, replacing “woodland stride” with “icewalking” or “mountaineer.” Monks have new philosophies, including drunken master, ki mystic, weapon adept (cough kensai cough), zen archer, and more. There’s a lot of interesting options here: bards can become detectives, fighters can focus down on one style of fighting, barbarians can become pugilists. All of the classes except cleric, sorcerer, and wizard get the variant class treatment; while I feel bad for the spellcasters getting gypped, they’re already the most powerful ones in the core book.

For wizards, it’s worth noting that some of their new sub-school groups are elemental schools, similar to the way wu jen are elementally focused. It’s not quite enough to make a true wu jen, but I can see it becoming a lot more useful when the Tian Xia setting comes out.

This section also includes the anti-paladin: a true anti-paladin at that, not just the cleric-based blackguard. It’s a mirror image of a paladin custom-built for evil NPCs; as a GM, this is loving amazing.

Chapter 3 – Feats

A billion million new feats. Of note are new teamwork feats, which give bonuses when multiple people with teamwork feats are acting together on the battlefield. This brings us up to three types of feats (combat, metamagic, and teamwork); while I’d like to see existing types like tactical or wild feats return, I have those already, and besides, they’re WotC IP. The new feats include extra everything, including rage powers and rogue talents, and everything introduced in the APG (bombs, hexes, discoveries). There’s a lot more feats for dwarves and half-orcs, more improved CMB abilities, and over a dozen metamagic feats. Lingering Performance finally sees an appearance, and Extra Traits is reprinted.

The feat list is incredibly chaotic, spreading everywhere at once. There’s still a lack of feats for some specific classes, namely druid and rogue, though rogues always have their talents, and spellcasters have few options that aren’t metamagic. And the emphasis is still heavily on combat feats, presumably so fighters will always have decent options for their freebies. That said, there’s a bunch dedicated to specific races (and even sizes), a number of interesting ones involving spells, and several which use shields. At the end of the day, there’s a ton of variety here, and a lot of good options; however, since they’re more focused than those found in the core book, they’re notably less utilitarian.

Chapter 4 – Equipment

Another smaller chapter, including a number of useful weapons and armors from the Adventurer’s Armory; I don’t have the AA, so the redundancy is fine with me. Total, there’s maybe 20 weapons and 6 armors. There’s also an impressive list of goods and services, namely those little doohickeys like kits, blankets, tents, clothing, alchemical items, and mount harnesses that no player I know wastes gold on unless they’re required to.

Chapter 5 – Spells

Much like feats, I hate reviewing new spells. Since the core book contains all the basic spells you’ll use on an everyday basis, all other spells tend to be narrow-focus, thus, not something your average player is going to bother preparing (or choosing for their sorcerer). As much as I love my Spell Compendium and Complete Book of Eldritch Might, they just don’t have things to compete with fly, cloudkill, dimension door, or mirror image. New spells are almost niche in focus, and the APG is no exception.

For the new classes, the spell lists are great, fitting both the flavor and scope of the class. Alchemist spells include a number which interact with extracts, and the slick elude time, putting you in suspended animation. Bards get a sonic damage spell every level or so, and a lot of interesting combat tricks: one stuns three enemies for a round, another paralyzes creatures listening to your song, while another teleports a target 30 ft. in any direction. Druids get a stack of new spells, some higher-level ones, a few solid damage spells, and a lot of interesting buffs. For the most part, the cleric and sor/wiz spells are hit or miss, though it includes a lengthy list for the elemental wizards. Inquisitors, summoners, and witches gain some spells related to their spell flavor, while rangers and paladins see their Paizo spell lists about double.

Chapter 6 – Prestige Classes

Paizo’s trend has been to move away from presclass bloat, which is a good thing; so far, they’ve either been very specific applications of one class (assassin) or combinations of multiple classes (arcane archer, mystic theurge). The APG continues that trend.

  • Battle Herald: A cavalier/bard combo, this class gives their allies bonuses through their power of command. Some of the abilities, like the ability to forced march without penalty, are geared for combat games outside the dungeon-delving scope. All told, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Good fit for a battlefield campaign.
  • Holy Vindicator: For the paladin or fighter/cleric, this class goes for combat over religion, and it shows. Their healing is increased, they can blow Channel attempts to give a bonus to AC equal to the number of Channel dice, and they can curse targets they hit with a crit. They also have a lot of abilities which involve the words “while his stigmata are bleeding,” so this class isn’t for the squeamish.
  • Horizon Walker: Are you a ranger interested in terrain? What about gaining abilities based on the favored terrain you previously chose, and will choose from again roughly every level? This is the class for you. That’s really all it does, gaining an impressive number of favored terrain, and then gaining permanent minor benefits based on the favored terrain previously chosen. Note that those benefits are permanent in that you don’t have to be in the given terrain for them to apply, and they range from Cold Resist 10 to +4 on Stealth checks to tremorsense 30 feet. It’s an interesting class, if you like terrain and choosing from lengthy lists of terrain benefits.
  • Master Chymist: Taking the Jekyll-and-Hyde of the alchemist to its logical extreme, this class becomes so horribly mutated through use of mutagens that it gains two alignments, gaining an alternate form while using mutagens, and gaining a ton of new mutagens and mutagen powers. It exists solely to amp up the alchemist class, and does a damn fine job doing so.
  • Master Spy: A high-espionage class for a diplomatic rogue or rogue/bard, with sneak attack, and a nice selection of abilities to deceive and infiltrate. They can also mask their alignment, their thoughts, gain nondetection, and shift their own alignment, and at the end, take over another persona, switching her aura with that of a target. I see a good home in intrigue games.
  • Nature Warden: A druid dedicated to protecting the wilds, which slowly beefs up their animal companion’s bond. They also get abilities to speak with animals and plants, can use wild empathy on all sorts of creatures you normally can’t try it on, and can designate specific areas as lands under their protection, gaining favored terrain bonuses while in that area.
  • Rage Prophet: While most of the classes above have been pretty standard, this one is awesome because of its ingenuity: it’s for an oracle/barbarian hybrid. As the rage prophet levels, he can utilize spellcasting while raging, such as casting heal spells on himself, and later, spells with the personal descriptor. They can also give up spell slots, adding a number of rounds to their rage duration equal to the spell’s level. Compared to the rage mage of 3.5, this one wins almost hands-down; it doesn’t get the quickened-spellcasting-in-rage abilities, but what it does get is useful and cool.
  • Stalwart Defender: The dwarven defender, slimmed down for all classes to use. A presclass for fighters, this one turns you into an immobile object: you get DR (that doesn’t stack with other DR), bonuses to AC, and a long list of defensive powers to choose from. While in the defensive stance, the defender trades offense for defense, and the powers allow you to make some nifty actions while defending. For example, intercept has the defender struck instead of another target, while halting blow stops enemies struck by attacks of opportunity. It’s not quite a gallowglass, but it does a great job as the defensive lineman; if that’s who you want to play in an RPG, look no further. It also has a d12 HD.

The 3.5 conversions are pretty solid, and the new classes are great ways to hybridize existing core/base classes. Another thumbs up.

Final Words

For players, this book is a giant treasure trove… like most APGs are. No matter which class or race you’re going for, there will be things in this book to interest you, and to top that off, there’s a bundle of new base and prestige classes, all of which are pretty slick. The feats and spells are pretty mishmash, all over the map, which leaves them interesting but not as cool as the inherently useful racial traits and character options. While it doesn’t add in any new systems or mechanics, the book expands the existing ones by miles. All told, I can’t see any reason why a player wouldn’t find enough to like in this book.

For a GM, there are a few notable inclusions; having a true anti-paladin included was the best, and I can’t wait to use that thing. To be honest, most of the material is aimed for player characters. That isn’t to say you can’t use it for NPCs, villainous and otherwise, but I have a hard time seeing the new base and pres classes used as antagonists: they’re just too heroic. (The alchemist is the exception, with its Jekyll/Hyde schism mechanic.) Of course, there’s still a wealth of options in here to include when doing up villain stat blocks, but keep in mind that the book is the Advanced Player’s Handbook, and YMMV in its utility.

All told, this book is incredibly useful, even moreso than the 3.5 Complete series which I adore. If you liked the Class Acts section of Dragon, you’ll love this book. If you like new character options and player material, you’ll love this book.  If you love modifying characters and love shopping for options, you’ll love this book. For any player interested in variety, this book is essential, and despite any shortcomings I can’t rate it highly enough.

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