Well, I got my Paizo catalog for the next year in today, so I thought I’d go over it much as I went over the White Wolf one. At the very least, Paizo’s catalogs are an exercise in fantastic art design and direction: they take everything that looks great about the products and put them in a tiny little book, jam-packed with art and illustrations. They’re really damn pretty. And they’re printed in the U.S., which is one gripe I’ve seen many people provide about the books. This one’s better than last year: not only does it have a cooler illustration, but it has a clean look from all the white space on the back.
I realize they’ve been listed on Paizo’s website since GenCon, but I’ve been meaning to detail them since, and getting a hard catalog was my tipping point. For those reading along at home, use the Paizo Release Schedule for more information on these glorious releases, as I’m too lazy to link them all.
Since this post is extra-stupid long, read on for more details.
Last Year in Review
So you know where I’m coming from: honestly, the 2010-11 product line was somewhat disappointing for me. The Adventure Paths were better than ever, but the rest of the line didn’t feel as cool as the 2008-09 output. A new world guide is nice, but this is the third time I’ve seen it, pretty as it is. Bestiary 2 was the only hardcover that I’ve bothered picking up so far, and that’s because I love monster books and felt the diversity of outsiders made up for the first Bestiary’s “this is the third time you’ve bought this” Monster Manual 3.75 feel. I like most of UC, but it has the same problems as UM: a drunk and disorderly lack of balance in its fine details, a distinct feeling that Paizo should have taken more time playtesting things instead of aiming for their hardcover deadlines.
The Companion line has never really hooked me, though I do like the regional supplements, so I largely ignore that one. Of the Chronicles/Campaign Setting line, the three books that hooked me were the Book of the Damned II (as I said, sucker for outsiders), and Lost Cities/Dungeons of Golarion. The NPC Guide was a fine idea, but only worthwhile for the shortest levels in the game. I don’t do PFS, so the Field Guide past me by, and while it does update the Guide to Absalom I haven’t used that one to begin with. Misfit Monsters and Lost Treasures didn’t have the same utility value as Classic Monsters or even Dungeon Denizens, though I have to say Classic Horrors and Undead Revisited are on my wish list.
So, only around half the line were books I really liked, hence the disappointment; YMMV. On the bright side, as my finances did a belly flop, having fewer books I wanted to buy didn’t affect me in the long run.
I do have to say, as something of an apology for this micro-rant, that Lost Cities and Dungeons were the surprise gems. I didn’t expect much from them, but their execution was masterful: enough info to run some sweet locales, done in broad strokes so every GM can tailor them to their specifications. The Faction Guide was one of the best books ever printed for the Chronicles line, and I wish Paizo did more self-contained rules hacks like that. Similarly, I wish they’d do more geographical/environment overview books like Heart of the Jungle, which was a main selling point for Serpent’s Skull.
So, the fist big thing: another Bestiary and an Advanced Race Guide.
Bestiary 3 is looking up to follow in the tradition of Bestiary 2; Divs and Oni got me interested, Kaiju sealed the deal. The expectation is it’ll finish off the Monster Manual holdouts, update/compile the monsters from the Path bestiaries from Legacy of Fire through Kingmaker, and add in a bunch of new beasties. The announced monsters include a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern ones: kappa, kaiju, oni, divs, more sphinxes and cyclopses. Kingmaker had loads of fey, so I’d expect those to be in there, along with some more evil outsiders from Council of Thieves and the Persian/Arabian ones from Legacy.
Personally, I’d rather see a specific Tian bestiary, so I could pull that out when running a non-Inner Sea game instead of trucking around a half-dozen books, but maybe that’s just me. I like seeing more foreign-style monsters—Bestiary 3 makes me giddy—and I do realize why Paizo is spreading their eggs about instead of going into a full Tian world guide/bestiary/etc. as was (at one point) announced.
That said, I do like the Bestiaries having themes. Bestiary 2 was riddled with higher-level threats, outsiders, and aquatic monsters, along with plants and some other groups that needed expanding; judging from its example, Bestiary 3 will have a broad spectrum of monsters, but three or five serious focus points. Outsiders will apparently be one, from the divs, oni, and Council of Thieves content; Tian monsters will be another.
As for the Advanced Race Guide… This is why I’ve largely ignored the Companion line, with the expectations/hopes that the ARG includes the important parts from the softcovers. Sort of like how Bestiary 2 includes a lot of monsters from earlier Paths and modules. I’m waiting and seeing here. Some racial class archetypes would be neat, as would specific racial feats/spells, and dare I say… prestige classes? Unless Paizo is doing a straight-and-simple reskin/update of the Companion racial guides, I think it’s too early to tell what all the fine details will be, though it does have my interest.
The Adventure Paths
We’re in the middle of the Jade Regent path, which takes its adventurers into Tian Xia for the first time. What I’ve seen of it looks really freaking cool, though I’m still stuck on Carrion Crown and Kingmaker. The next Path looks even cooler: Skull & Shackles, taking players from shanghaied deck-scrubbers to glorious pirate lords. If that Path was released today, it would be the one I’d be running.
are actually looking up again; while the geographical books have moved into the Chronicles line, the Companions are still focused on the races. Since Goblins of Golarion rounded out the basic racial guides, the other parts of the Companion line are turning in new and interesting directions. Such as divine magic; the Faiths books have made me reconsider the line, though I still hold up Gods & Magic as a superior product. They Faiths books are smaller and still condensed, but they have a tight focus (grouping deities by alignment), and while they’re not Sean K. Reynolds doing Gods & Magic they are still very well done. These very well could become my first Companion purchases since Sargava.
There’s a cheap Dragon Empires Primer to go with the Dragon Empires Gazetteer, most likely following in the Inner Sea Primer’s footsteps to be a toned-down version for players. I can get behind the mindset; the player only needs a rough overview, the GM needs the $50 hardback. There’s also Pirates of the Inner Sea, bringing the Companions into the realm of organizations/groups; I think that concept has a lot of promise, especially due to how awesome the next Path sounds. I’d love to see more Companion books on other general groups or themes, though I’m not sure how many of them would fit a player-centric line.
The Chronicles Line
is now retitled the “Pathfinder Campaign Setting,” which makes organization and differentiating slightly more annoying, so I’ll put on my best grognard imitation and continue to refer to them as Pathfinder Chronicles. Inner Sea Magic is a good start to things; the rest of the line makes up for everything bad I said about last year’s run.
We have yet another Book of the Damned, this time on Daemons. This bodes well for further volumes on divs and oni, though I’d also like to see something on the celestials and other non-evil outsiders. (If wishes were horses…) Revisited books are appearing for Mythic Monsters, which has a nice cross-section of legendary beings, and Giants, which includes cyclopses but not ettins for some sad reason. Both of these are a lot more accessible for the average game, and even though I don’t use them heavily, Giants Revisited sounds pretty slick.
The two that have my money are the two new geographical guides. In one corner, we have the Dragon Empires Gazatteer, the first real look at Tian Xia we’re going to see for some time. It’s about time Pathfinder got its Oriental Adventures setting, and given Paizo’s track record with the Inner Sea, there’s bound to be limitless awesome held within.
On the other hand, there’s Distant Worlds, which has an overview of the planets in the same system as Golarion. I’ve always been curious about how fantasy games deal with astronomy, in a slightly more serious sense than Spelljammer. Paizo populated its planets with plenty of interesting tidbits, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this tome expands upon that. I’m seriously tempted to put these two books in my sidecart, to ship with my next Planet Stories subscription.
Speaking of Planet Stories…
Well, it is kind of hard to sidecart Distant Worlds since it arrives after the last listed Planet Stories book. Where the hell are the Planet Stories updates? I know the line is the least popular and smallest slice of the Paizo pie, but I’m curious what the next releases will be. If anything. There’s been some cryptic hints on the forums and site, but when there’s nothing listed in the catalog for the next twelve months, it makes you wonder about the line’s future. Still, looking forward to being surprised in a good way.
Once upon a time, Gamemastery was the brand through which Paizo’s modules and Paths and all sorts of other gaming utilities were released through. At this point, it’s become something of a red-headed stepchild to the booming Pathfinder lines, if only because books outsell dice, decks, maps, and various props. It’s a matter of simple gaming economy; everyone needs and uses core books, not everyone needs Plot Twist cards or Swallowed Whole battlemaps or fake Dwarven coins.
The Critical Hit and Fumble decks are still going strong; I’m a big fan of them, all the players I’ve had loved them, so they’re something of a pinnacle in card-based gaming accessories. The new Condition Cards look really useful; I’m thinking of picking those up as an accessory for Serpent’s Skull once the game gets off the ground. Chase cards also sound pretty neat, though I’d like to see how they compare to, say, the chase systems in Tome of Secrets or Spycraft before picking them up. The other big deck release is a new set of plot twist cards detailing flashbacks; while I like the idea of plot twist cards, I’m not sold on them yet, so another deck of them is filed under “we’ll see.”
Gamemastery flip-mats and map packs are also going strong with alternating monthly releases. A good chunk of them are in support of the Skull & Shackles adventure path, which is good; I’ve been on the fence about picking up various map bits in support of Serpent’s Skull should that start running well, and I could see doing the same for Skull & Shackles if it pans out now. At this point, there’s enough variety so that between the two, there should be enough maps for your needs.
Personally, I like the map packs for variety of mini-encounters compared to the larger flip-mat set piece locales; again, YMMV, but I’d rather have the flexibility to hand-draw different locales than have one fixed design. The new map packs are utilitarian designs: no more niche products like Swallowed Whole or Extradimensional Spaces; instead, there’s Mines and Palace and Lost Island. The only niche pack is Ship’s Cabins, which is a shoe-in for Skull & Shackles, and that’s an awesome enough Path to earn anything related to it a gold star.