Making a new base class is probably one of the hardest things to design for in the Pathfinder RPG. This is because, more than any other part of the game, a class is the largest part of a PC, and any flaws with it can quickly come to cripple that character (or alternately be so unbalanced that the character overshadows the other PCs) and impact on the player’s enjoyment of the game – it’s hard to have fun when your character is worthless, or making everyone else feel that way about their characters. Making a new class is, quite literally, a delicate balancing act.
It was thus with a sense of trepidation that I looked at Adventuring Classes: A Fistful of Denarii, from Tripod Machine. Having already seen several third-parties come up with new base classes, some of which were great, others not so much, I can admit now that I’d somehow lapsed into the stereotypical (and very unfair) mindset of “the smaller a company is, the more likely they’ll turn out untested drivel.” Given that this was Tripod Machine’s debut product, and that it was presenting not just one or two, but a whopping ELEVEN base classes – equal to the amount in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook – I was very nervous as I sat down to read what the book offered.
As I read the book, however, my worry slowly turned to surprise, then delight, and by the time I was finished, had become mild amazement. This small company had somehow managed to put together a book of new classes that were not only very well-balanced, but were also flavorful and fulfilled interesting PC niches. Perhaps the most delightful part of the book, however, was realizing the unstated theme that all of these classes had. I’ll get to that later on in this review, though, so in the meantime let’s examine what Adventuring Classes: A Fistful of Denarii presents.
From a technical standpoint, the book does fairly well for itself, hitting most of the benchmarks that I have for PDFs. It has copy-and-paste enabled, and clearly identifies what is and is not product identity and open game content (and kudos to Tripod Machine for making pretty much everything here open). It does not, however, have bookmarks, which is something I was disappointed in – when you have a book of eleven new classes taking up over fifty pages between them you want to make ease of navigation a priority; to be fair, though, the table of contents is hyperlinked.
The book is rather spartan where artwork is concerned. The full color cover is nice to look at, but beyond that each new class has but a single black and white image of a character who is a member of that class, with no other illustrations to be found. Similarly, there are no page borders or other decorations either. Even the back cover, while it does have some color, is fairly simple in design. The plus side is that this makes the book fairly easy to print out, and in all honesty I’d rather a book go for less art than use large quantities of poor art.
Fistful of Denarii makes very little introduction, only a single paragraph, before going to the new material. There is a note about identical class features from different classes stacking, something that initially worried me (“recycled material? Oh no!”) but was quickly put into perspective. Each new class has roughly a paragraph of exposition, followed by a paragraph describing their role, before moving on to the class features and table.
The eleven new classes are the Beastmaster, Bounty Hunter, Corbie, Corsair, Gladiator, Hunter, Knight, Martial Artist, Scholar, Scout, and Spy. Each class has a blend of new abilities and class abilities from existing classes, such as how the Beastmaster has power like dominance, bond of blood, and animal majesty, but also an animal companion, uncanny dodge, and damage reduction, among others. While I initially thought that the liberal usage of powers from existing classes was unoriginal, I quickly came to realize that I was looking at it the wrong way. Rather than show a lack of innovation, this blending of old and new abilities is actually an artful way of making these classes fulfill traditional party roles while still retaining a new slant. The aforementioned Beastmaster, for example, is easily substituted for the Barbarian without feeling like a second-stringer.
Interestingly, almost all of these classes filled a very martial niche, but did so without stepping on each other’s toes (though at times they came close, such as the Hunter and Bounty Hunter). The first eight classes, for example, all have full BAB progression and a d10 or d12 Hit Die, and none of these classes are spellcasters.
In fact, that’s part of the theme of this book (the one I alluded to earlier) – all of the classes here are non-magical in their presentation. I don’t just mean that they don’t cast spells, but rather that their class powers and abilities aren’t flashy-superheroic magic in the way that standard Pathfinder classes are, but rather are more subtle and mystical. A Scholar with the Only Mostly Dead advanced secret, for example, is more clearly in the vein of a minor magical-medical miracle than casting a spell to call the soul back from the afterlife. The classes here all evoke a feel that’s Madmartigan to the standard classes’ Neo. This is a book that Gandalf would have approved of.
A selection of almost three dozen new feats and nine new pieces of equipment round out the book, and like the classes I found them inspired. Feral Strike lets you have a natural attack, for example (why shouldn’t humans be able to bite), and partial armor is standard fare for Gladiators. One or two of these seemed suspiciously strong, such as the feat tree that lets your character deal unarmed strike damage as a monk of equal level, but I wasn’t entirely sure if that was too powerful or not.
Ultimately, though, Adventuring Classes is a fantastic resource for your Pathfinder game, quietly and unpretentiously giving almost a dozen new base classes that not only conform to the Pathfinder design philosophy (a class ability at every level, a capstone ability at 20th level, etc.), but each one is also a viable alternative to any of the standard classes, while still having a low-fantasy feel to them (though make no mistake, they function just fine in high fantasy too). This is a Fistful of Denarii that you won’t regret grabbing.
Adventuring Classes: A Fistful of Denarii