Review: Pathfinder GameMastery Guide

It may seem a bit strange for me to be reviewing a Pathfinder rule book, since, well, I play neither Pathfinder nor D&D 3.x. Still, when I read a brief synopsis of what was in the book I was intrigued, and a perusal at my FLGS tipped the scales.

In short, this is only tangentially a Pathfinder rule book. It is, rather, a book about how to run RPGs, how to improve the RPGs that you already run, and a tool kit for anyone running a fantasy RPG that even remotely resembles any version of D&D. In fact, I am mildly peeved, as the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide is pretty much exactly how I intended to approach the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Master’s Toolkit. But it’s a good kind of peeved, since this is such a good book.

I’ve not had the chance to read it cover to cover, but as far as I can tell you don’t hit any actual Pathfinder game mechanics until page 81, and even then it’s few and far between. The book is almost entirely generic in content, and I cannot help but think that’s a deliberate (and brilliant) marketing move on Paizo’s part. This is a book that will serve any DM or GM well, whether you’re playing D&D, Castles & Crusades, Runequest, BFRP, Pathfinder, a retro-clone like LL or S&W, or even something as outré as Call of Cthulhu or the forthcoming LOTFP WFRPG.

The utility of the work is manifest from a brief perusal of the table of contents; “The GM as Host,” “Starting Players,” “New Players,” “Making NPCs unique,” “The Role of Rewards,” “World Building” (with sections on geography, culture, religion, technology, society types, the planes, etc.), “Elements of Adventure” (with separate sections on dungeon adventures, wilderness, planes, taverns, urban, etc.), a sort of miscellanea dealing with topics as diverse as fortune-telling and drug addiction, and 55+ pages of NPCs (which, while they are the most rules-intensive section of the book, as they give complete stat blocks for the various NPCs described, is still of use if you trim the mechanics and utilize the background). There are random tables galore, which will especially appeal to many in the OSR, with NPC personality traits and secrets, a name generator for adventuring parties, dungeon dressing, shop names and city locations, scenic wilderness spots, and a ton more.

This is a great book for both beginning game masters and old hands; I’ve been doing this for nearly as long as the hobby has existed, and I found myself glancing through the pages and picking up some good advice on the mechanics of actually scheduling a game and finding players, and being inspired by some of the random table entries. The mechanics are lost upon me, but the real strength and thrust of the book is its system-neutral information, and in that it is a triumph. For $40 bust-out retail ($26 online in various places) it’s a good deal and well worth the investment, even for those who aren’t playing Pathfinder or 3.x.

I give it a grade of A- overall.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “Review: Pathfinder GameMastery Guide

  1. I've done little more then leaf thru it myself, mainly becuase I knw when I sit down with it the day will be lost. This is way beyond Pathfinder. Any GM anywhere or any game can benefit from reading this. I'm away from home for 3 days, and I left it behind for fear it would steal me away for a day 😉

  2. When I found out about those maps, I back-ordered the Dragons they were in, had them laminated at the local Staples, and put them on the wall near my Darlene maps. They are nice, and if they're only going for $10, that's a steal.

  3. If only "Pathfinder" could somehow find its way down the path to a game that was not based on pure s***.

    When I see the name Paizo, I'm always reminded that, as the saying goes, you simply can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. No matter how hard you might try.

  4. Looking forward to this book, A good gaming supplement should be potentially universal anyway. 🙂 Paizo generally means a well made product, contrary to any troll comments.

  5. Oh, Pathfinder isn't that bad of a game, it is not as convoluted as 3.5-the whole idea was to clean it up.

    I run it like oldschool because those stats and abilities, although cleaned up, take getting used to after so much oldschool game running.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I haven't been drawn to Pathfinder–my game of choice is Swords and Wizardry, and I prefer 4e about a million times more that 3.x–but this looks like it'll be worth a couple of minutes to see if it's got my buck.

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