‘Pathfinder Unchained:’ RPG Rulebook Review (When Game Designers Go Wild)

The Pathfinder RPG is now 7 years old and, in addition to the core rules, has had several new books that offer new player classes, abilities, and monsters, but there has never been a book that revisits those initial rules and re-imagines them. That is, until now. Pathfinder Unchained is a compilation of variant rules that allows you to customize your Pathfinder game in unique and interesting ways. To borrow a little comic book lingo, it is not a reboot or retcon of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook so much as it is a “What If?” The designers have taken a critical look at some of the choices from the core rulebook and offered alternatives that seek to ease play, simplify complicated mechanics, or just offer something cool and new that may not have been imagined at the release of the original core rules.

First up, the book tackles a few classes in chapter 1. This section is the one players will be rushing to read and will definitely see use at many game tables. The chapter tackles 4 classes, offering new rules for the Barbarian, Monk, Rogue, and Summoner. These changes don’t fundamentally change the role of the classes, but make them easier to play and will help make the game play smoother. The Barbarian gets an easier-to-implement rage ability and updated rage powers. While the rogue and monk get some of the coolest changes, they actually make them more fun to play and offer some new ways to customize them. (As someone who plays these two classes a lot, I love that they will be even cooler now.) The Summoner gets a thematic change by tying the Eidolon companion more closely to extraplanar creatures such as angels, demons, or elementals. Class options are always a welcome and interesting addition to the game and keep it feeling fresh.

Chapter 2 tackles skills and offers a slew of new gameplay options to make skills more fun in your game. Background skills is a new option that separates out skills that directly affect adventuring from those that do not, allowing players a separate set of skill points just for these background skills. Consolidated Skills allow gamemasters the option of simplifying the skill list from 35 skills to 12 if their players want a simpler system. Grouped skills allow for less bookkeeping at the table. A section on Craft and Professions skills offers new options for expanding those skills and making them a bigger part of the game. The coolest part of this chapter, though, is the new Skill Unlocks. This system expands the skill system by offering new abilities for each skill unlocked at higher ranks with the use of a new feat. The new Rogue from the previous chapter also uses these abilities. This system makes my favorite class even cooler and will definitely be huge for fans of skill-based rogues.

Chapter 3 is going to delight gamemasters, as it has a variety of optional rules systems for customizing your Pathfinder game. If you are the GM who looks for new play options like alternate alignment systems, revised action economy, combat tactics, or wound levels, this will be the chapter for you.

Chapter 4 takes a look at alternate magic and magic item rules. The new magic rules offer cool options such as wild magic, spell criticals and fumbles, and alternatives to saving throws. My favorite parts of this chapter, though, are the new options for magic items. The inherent bonus option gives characters inherent resistance, ac, and ability scope boosts as they level up, so that the players can focus more on using item slots for unique and more interesting items rather than simple stat boosts. The item progression rules allow options for cool new armors, weapons, and wondrous items that get stronger as the characters do, so that players have to switch out items less often.

Finally, chapter 5 delves into monsters, offering GMs new ways of crafting monsters for their game. The new, simple monster creation rule allows GMs to use various monster arrays reminiscent of the class and race options for player characters to quickly craft new monstrous threats for their games. Monster creation is a really cool aspect of gamemastering that I have always felt was a little difficult for anyone but true experts in the system. Now, with these new rules, gamemasters can more easily customize the threats their players face.

Overall, Pathfinder Unchained is a fascinating book; however, it is definitely a book for those already deeply invested in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. If you are just getting started and have yet to fully explore the myriad of options in the core rulebook and supplements like Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat, then you might want to hold off on this book; however, if you are a veteran of the game and are seeking new ways to enhance the experience as a player or a gamemaster, then this book is going to absolutely delight you. It is not often that companies take a critical look at their already successful product and offer a whole book of ways to customize, alter, and improve their own game, but with Pathfinder Unchained, Paizo has done just that and succeeded admirably at their task.

Learn more about Pathfinder Unchained by visiting Paizo.com.

Jason Enright, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor

 

Favorite Superhero: Cyclops
Favorite Animal: Anklyosaurus
Favorite Game: Pathfinder RPG
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