Finally, the wait is over. I have been reading the Gamemastery Guide now for what seems forever. Technically it was so I can truly go full speed on the design for my new campaign. Non-technically it was so I could review the last major book for the game on the website. After all, I am trying to bring regular content to you all now. I have been away for a while, but writing here is enjoyable, and I want to do it more often. So now to the review, of what for me was the most highly anticipated book, of the Gamemastery Guide.
Expectations were high
There is a bit of a story around the purchase of these books that I will not share here – maybe in a future post. The short of it was I was uncertain if there was a Gamemastery Guide until I did some hard research. It was the last of the books that I bought (along with Bestiary) and it was, the Core Rulebook aside, the most expensive. In Australian Dollars, the Core Rulebook cost me $125 and the Gamemastery Guide was somewhere between $105 to $110. When I got it in hand I was disappointed with that cost. It is by far and above the slimmest of the rulebooks I have and I thought the cost was excessive,
But then my brain kicked in and told me that the content MUST be where the value is. never judge a book by its cover (price)!
I read through the start of the guide and I have to say, I was smiling. The introduction promised me exactly what I was after. It offered clarification and tools to assist me in translating the rules of the game into a setting that I wanted to run. There was a segment of Gamemastery Basics to get through until I reached what I was after, the Tools section, that offered me customisation for my game. The bits and pieces to turn my imagination into life. It was all looking very promising after reading the introductory portion of the guide.
The GM Basics chapter was pretty good. Sure, there are things in here that are red flags to me all tied up in modern game design. The idea of balance and encounters having to match a formulaic structure. My players know that I do not roll that way. I am fine with encounters as they stand. They hear that Ember, the ancient red dragon lives in Willowtop Volcano. Do the players figure that they can waltz in as fourth level characters in my game because the encounter will be balanced? They get eaten and the game path ends there if they do in my game. They should realise an Ancient Red Dragon is not something they want to mess with. Sure, let them work toward it. Those red flags taken out of the equation of the first chapter it is pretty good advice to be found there.
Then the Tools, Subsystems and Variant Rules chapters happened
I honestly would have finished this guide in a week if I did not then get ambushed with a gazillion more rules. New systems for this, that and the other. Heaps of pages are based on how to make magic items and monsters and all sorts of ephemera. The amount of times I am going to think, you know what, I need a new magic item and need to spend hours going through minutia of how to achieve it is ZERO times. The Tools chapter promised to be my inroad in making the game mine. Instead, it just spouted words in the form of rules at me until my head ached, and at times my eyes bleed.
These three chapters are the biggest waste of space that I have ever come across in this style of book. Instead of helping you bring the setting to life, it teaches you how to kill the setting. The advice in subsystems sometimes borders on moments where you think a breakthrough is going to come only to have them kill it in the next paragraph. I honestly wish I could get all the time I spent reading these pages back. There are literally too many things wrong with these sections to dive into examples. I literally have no idea where I would start, and if I did, if I would ever have time to get this post out. They made me deeply wonder how this system is going to play. Among reading in these pages I sent a message to my players saying:
If you are playing this because you want to try Pathfinder 2E, I am not sure the campaign will be using those rules.
NPC Gallery softened me
Then I reached the NPC gallery. I remember in the first edition that these templates were really useful. Looking over them all in this edition, I will say that they will equally make the grade. But what a slog to get to these. Because of this, I was able to claw back from total despair and am willing to give this system a chance at the table.
Conclusion for the review?
This book is a poop sandwich. It is good at the start and good in the end, but the stuff that is in the middle is pure poop. What makes it worse was how expensive it was and how sure I was that it would bring everything together for me. I can’t lay it any clearer than that. Sorry for those of you that love this edition of the game. I have been getting very strong feelings that this game is going to feel like D&D fourth edition to me. That is totally ironic as I left that game and found Pathfinder First Edition and felt welcomed by a good system. Actual play may save it? You will have to wait for some game reviews when we get underway. Keep rolling.