Each book in Pathfinder’s Ultimate series of roleplaying supplements takes different aspect of the game, and expands it, offering new abilities, options, and story ideas to enhance your game. Ultimate Combat looked at battle and the characters that excel at it. Ultimate Magic looked at the spell system and offered new opportunities to weave sorcery into your game. Ultimate Campaign looks at the campaign as a whole and explores new ways to improve and expand your roleplaying game from a series of strung-together adventures into an in-depth look at the character’s life and the adventures that are the highlights of it.
Ultimate Campaign is broken up into four chapters: Character Background, Downtime, Campaign Systems, and, last but not least, Kingdoms & War. Each of these chapters provides new game mechanics, exciting story ideas, and incredible art. All of these sections are presented in a manner that is enticing to both players and GameMasters, and suggests that they work together to incorporate these elements into their games.
Chapter 1: Character Background explores the life of your character before they became an adventurer. This is similar to the character creation section that takes up the first few chapters of the Core Rulebook, but instead of focusing on the numbers that make your character work in the game, this chapter looks at the why and how of your character’s early life. The chapter explores how to craft a character background by breaking it up into early life (family, circumstances of birth, major childhood events), adolescence (types of training, important mentors, how you acquired your skills), and, finally, adulthood by asking what defining moment changed your character’s life and drove them to become an adventurer. The chapter then provides a number of traits and feats you can give your character to incorporate your character background into your character’s gameplay abilities.
The coolest part of this chapter for me was playing with the random background generator. I used it to roll backgrounds for a typical party consisting of a Dwarf Fighter, Elven Wizard, Halfling Rogue, and Human Cleric. What I got was anything but typical. My generic characters now had lively backgrounds full of interesting NPCs, compelling reasons for leaving home, and, in one case, even a criminal past.
Chapter 2: Downtime creates an incredible new system that will help players and GMs explore what characters do when they are not adventuring. Maybe your character wants to open up a tavern, recruit other scoundrels to form a Thieves’ Guild, or do some charity work. With this new feature, players can essentially use their characters in a side game with its own simple, yet in-depth, rules system. This new system really impressed me. as these aspects of the game have been something my players have always wanted but that I have found difficult to incorporate into games without taking away from the core of our campaign. Between this system and the character backgrounds of the previous chapter, PCs are going to become very well-rounded characters.
Chapter 3: Campaign Systems is the grab bag chapter. Here, the fine folks at Paizo cover everything from alignment to investment to retirement. This is a nice summary of a lot of the small rules and systems that get lost in the giant core rulebook. I even found a lot of great explanations of rules systems that always confused me a little. All of these rules, new and old, will help GMs and players create a more robust world to play in.
Chapter 4: Kingdoms and War presents an all-encompassing look at the kingdom-building rules first introduced in the Pathfinder Adventure Path: Kingmaker, which, if you have not played it, is my favorite Adventure Path from Paizo. This system allows ambitious players to found and build their own kingdom, and even go to war with neighboring kingdoms if circumstance calls for it. This system is amazing. My players loved it so much in Kingmaker that they would ask to devote entire game sessions just to improving their kingdom and waging mass combat on their enemies.
The system breaks a kingdom into easily managed hexes and has the players create a council with important positions that can be filled by players and their Non-Player Character allies. As players progress, they can add more hexes to their kingdom, acquire new resources, build buildings in their cities, and even build armies in case they need to go to war. Even better, the mass combat system is very fun and adds a new element to the standard Pathfinder gameplay.
Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign is a beautiful book overflowing with incredible new rules systems, character options, and, most importantly, inspiration to help GMs and players improve their campaign. I could not turn the page without being inspired by something new I wanted to add to my games, or some perfect ability to show to my players. There are a lot of game supplements that offer player options or help give GMs new threats to throw in the game, but very few actually seek to make the overall game experience more engrossing and enjoyable. Ultimate Campaign will truly make your games better and help your players have more fun with their characters. This is a must-buy supplement.