Review: Pathfinder Strategy Guide

What ho, adventurers!

I recently got my hands on the Pathfinder Strategy Guide, a 159 page hardcover book Paizo has put out to assist folks with the game. It’s funny - this book is what I’d always pictured the D&D Player’s Handbook to be.

Let’s get this out of the way:

  • if you are super familiar with how Pathfinder works this book isn’t for your
  • if you’ve played a ton, gone through many characters and know the ins and outs of the game (either as a player or as a GM, this book isn’t for you

This book is for you if:

  • You’ve been playing the Pathfinder Beginner Box and are looking to move on to the main game
  • If you have a bunch of players at your table who are new to the game
  • If you’re new to running Pathfinder in general and would like some helping having some of the game’s concepts broken down for you

What’s Inside - Find Your Class

The first thing the book provides is an interesting “find your class” guide that helps unsure players zero in on the type of character they want to play. It asks you a bunch of questions in the same style as an online survey might.

One thing that’s interesting about this is that while the end result ends up pointing you to a class (it’ll say things like “Go to page 96 for the Sorcerer class”), the characters the book ends up showing you are not the default classes found in the rule book.

Having played and run the game a bunch, at first I found this sort of confusing. After going through the survey to find my class I ended up at Angel Born (I just followed random questions to get there) but Angel Born isn’t an actual class. The thing about this is that they’re not really helping you find a class, they’re helping you find a concept. Once you have that, they point you in the direction of the actual class.

What’s Inside - What to Buy

One of the things new players struggle with is spending their gold as they always want to get the best bang for their coin. Every single class outline found in the book has a sidebar that details what a character should have starting out.

What’s Inside - Level Up!

Maybe the best thing in the book, the Strategy Guide has a guide to levelling up characters that covers every single class level up to 20, breaks down exactly what perk you get at each level. It also takes the time to describe what a power is best designed to do and what taking it actually means. On page 56 under Cleric, level 11 when talking about spells the book says “The big gun for healers is - not surprisingly - the spell heal. Its reversed form, harm, is a strong option to drop on your enemies.”

This part of the book is excellent. It actually seems like Paizo is your GM here and you’re sort of getting “tips from the pros” or something. I really like they way they spelled this section out and how they offer ideas and snippets of info to players.

What’s Inside - Combat

Combat, one of the most important parts of many games can also be one of the most confusing. Things like attacks of opportunity (which I’ve removed at my table to keep confusion and time-wasting down) can be difficult for new players to grasp.

To this end, the book has an entire section at the back that covers things like how combat works, how to survey the battlefield, attacks of opportunity, big hits, and even a section called combat tricks that helps you get the most out of your attacks.

Who’s This Book For?

I would recommend this book to anyone just starting out playing Pathfinder. New GMs would benefit from having this to read between games if they feel like they’re not sure how to help players get the most out of the game as well as to get an insight into how best to make the game interesting for the PCs.

The book is also invaluable for new players. Like I said before, this book is what I’d always pictured the Player’s Guide to be before I got into it. I think they should have renamed this book The New Player’s Guide. Not that the book is newer than a past one, but that it’s really designed for new players.

Getting It

The best way to get this book is to suggest all your new players go together and pay for it. At $30, it’s could seem a bit pricey for 159 pages but if players go in on it together it’s definitely worth it. For example, at my table there are 8 people and it would be easy to convince each of them to throw in $4 to buy a copy.

The Pros

The way the book is laid out is excellent for new players. Content is easy to reference and it’s written in a way that’s easy to follow and encourages players to read on.

The tables and flow of the information (especially the “find your class” tool and levelling guides) are really well done. It’s easy to figure out what to do next and it’s hard to get lost in pages and pages of data.

Like I said, it also seems like Paizo is talking directly to the PCs. It really seems like they are helping you our from their HQ. This is a great touch.

The combat section is excellent, especially the area that covers what PCs could do on their turn. It helps people unsure about combat know how to make the most of their turn.

The section on character death is great too, esp the “death isn’t always the end!”

The artwork in the book is really nice. Only the cover is by Wayne Reynolds though so if you’re really into his art (like I am) you might feel disappointed.

The Cons

The “find your class” tool is a bit confusing, especially having seen battle priest in there. Having been looking at War Priest for a while I momentarily got them mixed up and couldn’t figure out where the other classes were.

The book only covers classes (and races) from the core rule book. There are no tengu or kitsune so be ready for that. :)

At just 159 pages, the book seems like it’s skimping on content. It’s very thin and very light and coming from other Pathfinder books, it might throw you off.

If you’re experienced with the game, it’s not really for you. there might be some interesting stuff in there you didn’t know but that’s about it.

The Final Word

So, is the Pathfinder Strategy Guide for you? If you’re new to playing the game or have some questions about it but are sort of embarrassed about asking them, yes this book is for you. Especially if there are a bunch of new players at the table. Going in on a copy of it and sharing it between games or at the table is something I’d strongly suggest. I’m going to be giving this book to my team and have the read it between games to get the most out of their turns.

If you’re an old hat at Pathfinder, and/or have played a bunch before and are looking for some insider tips on how to maximize your character, you probably already know the things in this book.

If I ran a gaming shop, I would have the beginner box on a shelf and then next to it have the core rule book and this book under “NEXT STEP”. It’s honestly perfect for new players.

I hope this helps you decide whether or not this book is for you! Having 6 brand new players (and 2 relatively new players) at my table, I’m definitely going to be sharing it with everyone the next time we get together! 

- Mo!

7 causes of habitual sin

One of the toughest things for us to deal with in our walk, are those habitual sins we just can’t seem to shake. Here are 7 important factors we need to control to keep that cycle from happening again and again. [These are notes from a recent sermon that I was asked to share online]

1. Emotional overload. When your emotions get to a certain level, you will kick back and say, “well that’s it, I need to do a little something for me now.” You might even find that you sabotage yourself, by constantly running your emotions right near the red line. Solution: seek and receive peace from God, and make note of when that peace leaves you.

2. Physical exhaustion. When you’re tired, you’re vulnerable, your guard is down, and you can find that resistance that was good enough to do the job earlier today, is now nowhere near good enough. Solution: get your rest.

3. Guilt games. The enemy will get you wallowing in the guilt of what you’ve done in the past, and nothing will drain your drive to move forward faster than the idea that it’s already too late. Solution: to recognize that God make it clear—as long as you’re on the green side of the grass, it’s never too late, and EVERYTHING is forgivable. And when God forgives, He forgives COMPLETELY.

4. Shame over the past. It’s just as difficult to move forward when you think you’re doomed because of your past. You’re marked, and damaged, and you should be ashamed!  Solution: recognize—when God says He takes your sins away, as far as the east is from the west, and washes you white as snow, He means it.

5. Self pity. If you have any addiction, any kind of deeply rooted insecurity, then self pity should be treated like poison. You can’t ignore your negative emotions, that would just lead to an overload (see #1), but you need to avoid feeling sorry for yourself. Solution: Realize that you are not pitiful, so you have no use for pity. Sympathy, yes. Understanding, by all means. But pity, no.

6. Fear of the future. Most people don’t take the first step in a journey, until they know what the last step would look like. Making changes is scary. Will you be able to cope without your favorite habit? Will the future be a nice and comfortable place to live in? Solution: Remember, the Bible says, “we are not like those who shrink back and are destroyed, we are those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39).

7. Wounded pride. If you see yourself as “almost there” in your spiritual journey, if you find yourself saying, “if I can just fix this one thing, I’ll be pretty much there”, then you’re likely to be shocked and massively disappointed to find yourself capable of committing one of those big, fat, hairy sins you thought were beneath you. Solution: pride itself is a sin, confess and repent of it, and grab a great big ol’ bucket of humility. The kind of humility that agrees with scripture: I’m a sinner, I was born that way, and I’ll die that way, but if I’m honest about how much it’s in my nature to sin, then I can develop a much better plan to attack it.

A “cingular” strategy for attack and defense

We often make quick strategic decisions to attack an opponent or defend our position, yet how we make them is not well understood. Now, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have pinpointed specific brain regions related to this process by examining neural activity in people playing shogi, a Japanese form of chess. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study shows that two different regions within the cingulate cortex—one toward the front of the brain and the other toward the back—separately encode the values of defensive and offensive strategies.

Like a tennis player who makes split-second decisions to either approach the net or back up, decisions to attack or defend are often made before we can evaluate all our options. Continuing their research into how our brains guide intuitive thinking, the team led by Keiji Tanaka investigated these types of rapid strategic decisions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. As this technique requires people to be still, the team focused on shogi—a game that also has moves that can be clearly categorized as offensive or defensive—and measured brain activity while high-level amateur players quickly decided the optimal strategy—attack or defend—after viewing specific board configurations.

As an experimental control, half the time players were told to attack or defend, and did not have to make the decision themselves. Instead, they were asked to choose the best possible move from a short list. This manipulation allowed researchers to separate brain activity related to decisions about what move to make from those related to which strategy to take.

They found that three brain regions were more engaged when choosing the optimal strategy than when choosing the best move once a strategy was given. Tanaka notes, “We were surprised that the brain activity in two regions depended on which strategy was chosen. Choosing to attack,” he added, “was associated with greater activity in posterior cingulate cortex, while choosing to defend was associated with activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex.” They also found that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was equally active for both strategies.

Further statistical analysis showed that the activity in these regions was actually related to the offensive and defensive strategy values of the board configurations, not simply the ultimate decision to attack or defend. When researchers calculated the value of attacking or defending in each case, they found that the amount of activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex correlated with the defense value and that activity in the posterior cingulate cortex simultaneously correlated with the attack value. They also found that dorsolateral prefrontal cortical activity correlated with the difference between attack and defense values, indicating a possible role in comparing these values and directing the ultimate decision.

Researchers next looked at how well the players performed. They found that people were much better at choosing the optimal strategy than they were at choosing the best move, and that making the strategic decisions took considerably less time.

The quickness and accuracy of strategic decisions, and the correlation of brain activity with attack/defend values indicate that when high-level amateur shogi players choose to go on the offensive or defensive, they do so in response to a heightened perceptual awareness of the pieces on the board—their intuition—and not after reasoning out the best moves. Tanaka reflects that, “Understanding the neural basis for these types of strategic decisions can help researchers develop better models for intuitive thinking. This knowledge could have several applications, such as guiding decision-making in sophisticated artificial intelligence.”

Combining impactful cards in mono black engines (EDH multiplayer)

In this article, I’ll try to share my thoughts on my (unpretentious) attempts to merge two of the main EDH deckbuilding concepts: the use of cards that can be impactful and relevant on its own and the insertion of several potential engines in a singleton decklist.

My examples are tied to the color I feel more confortable playing (black) and to the deck I tested the most (click for the list), but players with different profiles may be able to adapt them to their color combinations of choice.

Individual impact vs. synergy

“The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” - Kurt Koffka

One of the first concepts EDH players need to adjust before moving from 1v1 to multiplayer deckbuilding concerns impact. What does it mean to impact the board when mana curves are higher and in-game variables are multiplied by the number of players and biased by its political implications? Another important point to be considered is how could newcomers find the right consistency when moving to a singleton format, as it drastically affects the deck’s potential synergy. But how many cards sharing the same functionality should be added without making them redundant? Reaching all those balances require familiarity with your decks. Playing them with different opponents will reveal most of their weaknesses, but finding the right solutions also demand critical analysis.

Improving a deck means you have to discover what is loose inside it, in order to be possible to create new space for well-adjusted inclusions. Experienced players usually ask themselves lots of questions to decide if a card will be included in (or will be taken from) a deck. Some of these questions can help us think about how to balance “EDH’s need for impactful cards that work individually” with “poweful engines that become almost combo-like when assembled”. Those questions include, but are not limited to, the following.

  1. Is this card helping me reach my main strategic goal?
  2. Would this card’s effect escalate in multiplayer games?
  3. Could this card stand on its own and, at the same time, integrate an engine?
  4. Did I notice anything in my meta that alters my perception of this card? 

Let’s explore each one… from the most obvious to the less ones.

Keep reading

Strategy Lessons From Bill Gates, Andy Grove, And Steve Jobs

What can we learn from these three tech pioneers about successful strategy?

1) Look Forward, Reason Back

2) Make Big Bets, Without Betting the Company

3) Build Platforms and Ecosystems—Not Just Products

4) Exploit Leverage and Power

5) Shape the Organization around Your Personal Anchor

Read more

Level UP! Level 0: Introduction

Hello, my name is Sam, and I’m a mid-level Magic: The Gathering player. I’ve been playing the game since fall of 2009, right as Zendikar was being released. Since then, I’ve been playing at various levels of competition, ranging from completely casual to Grand Prix level events. Through out this time playing, I’ve learned some important Magic strategy elements that I feel have made me in to a much better player.

I’ve also become fairly well accustomed to the rules of Magic, so every week on Tuesday, I like to look through /r/magictcg’s “Tutor Tuesday” thread, a thread dedicated to people asking any question they might have related to Magic. These questions can range anywhere from simple rules questions, to financial advice, to complex strategical questions. This is my favorite thread on the entire subreddit, because I love helping and watching people get better at something they’re passionate about.

One of the issues I’ve noticed, however, with the format of Tutor Tuesday is that there are a significant amount of people who have questions about complex Magic concepts they want answered. These are very legitimate questions, and deserve to be answered, but they’re questions that require in-depth responses, and Reddit’s commenting system doesn’t really encourage the long form responses that I think these questions deserve. 

But you know what does? A blog.

So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to use this blog I had as a space to write down my thoughts on more complex questions people might have about Magic, and to start a series in basic strategy for Magic. 

I don’t presume that I’m good enough to provide good advice on advanced strategies, but I do know the fundamentals of Magic strategy, and I feel that I can articulate these concepts well. So I hope that anyone who had been wanting a “Magic Strategy For Dummies” series might find these series of articles useful.

First, I plan on discussing Deck Building. We’ll talk about different deck archetypes, what they’re looking for in spells, how to construct a mana base, the spell make up for different archetypes, and then some more subtle concepts, like striking a balance between threats and answers. Finally, we’ll finish this leg of the article series on Sideboards: How to construct them, how to change them, and the different things to take in to account when selecting cards for a sideboard.

I’m excited to get started with this series, and hopefully it’s found to be useful!

If there were a Mount Rushmore for technological innovation, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs would be the faces looking outward. The longtime CEOs of Microsoft, Intel, and Apple have done more than anyone to popularize the modern-day personal computer, and in doing so, also created three […]

The arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, those of mercenaries, or auxiliaries. The arms of mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous, and if anyone has a state founded on the arms of mercenaries, he will never be stable or secure.

Mercenaries are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; bold among friends, among enemies cowardly; without fear of God, without faith in men; and your ruin is deferred only so long as the assault is deferred. In peace you are plundered by them, in war by the enemy. The reason for this is that they have no love or any motive that keeps them in the field other than a bit of salary, which is not enough to make them willing to die for you. They are quite willing to be your soldiers as long as you are not waging war, but when war comes it is either retreat or run away.

Auxiliary troops, the other kind of useless army, are those of a power that you’ve asked to come and defend you. These troops can be useful and good in themselves, but they are almost always harmful for the man who calls them in; for if they lose you are undone, if they win you become their prisoner.

Therefore, avail yourself of these forces because they are much more dangerous than mercenaries. For with them defeat is assured, since they are all united, and all obedient, whereas with mercenaries, once they have won, they still need time and a good opportunity to injure you. Since they are not a unified group and have been hired and paid by you, a third party whom you’ve made their leader cannot quickly acquire enough authority to harm you.

To sum up: with mercenaries, their inaction is more dangerous; with auxiliaries, it is their prowess.

—  Machiavelli, The Prince