Receiving near-universal praise in the RPG community is the inclusion of 80 “pawns” in Pathfinder’s new Beginner Box.
Their genesis in the public imagination was Paizo’s official announcement of May 5, 2011 that the Beginner Box would be released. In the product description, they touted the inclusion of “80 full-color pawns.”
People were puzzled. Were they plastic miniatures? But then why not call them “minis”? Or maybe they were the punch-out cardboard tokens you get in 2010’s D&D “Monster Vault”?
The actual result surprised fans, however, because it was something new within RPGs.
One can definitely see why they would be included within the Beginner Box: it allows people to run the game “out of the box.” Also, it has that “Whee!” factor when kids open the box and I’m sure almost immediately start putting the things in the plastic bases and bop them around and fight battles.
But the clear utility of including pawns within the Beginner Box just may have inadvertently heralded a Quiet Revolution within tabletop gaming.
First of all, it must be stated that nothing quite beats 3D miniatures. Although I don’t get all tingly thinking about painting the damn things, nothing quite conveys “adventure!” and “excitement!” and dramatizes a tabletop battle better than high-quality 3D miniatures. I relish the day, for example, when I heft this baby out from the under the table to strike fear into the hearts of my 20th-level players.
But the problem is this: they’re Expensive. And while you might be able to plunk down some money to get miniatures to portray your PCs, there are so many different monsters that have been imagined in the D&D/Pathfinder universe that it is a substantial investment to cover even the basics. And it’s often hard to get exactly what you want — you might purchase a “monster chest” and find that you have only 2 miniatures that look like orcs, when you need 5 orcs to run tonight’s battle. Sure, you can perhaps put some goblins on the table and say “Pretend they’re orcs”, but (1) hey that sorta sucks and (2) how do you adequately substitute for one of D&D’s/Pathfinder’s really strange creatures? How to represent the beholder or the otyugh?
At the other extreme, you have the punch-out cardboard tokens in the D&D Monster Vault. They have the distinct advantage of giving you many, many more monsters for your money. The D&D Monster Vault is only $20, and you get close to 300 tokens, ranging from Medium to Large, with “expansion” rings to convert Medium tokens into Large and Large tokens into Huge. And all of these come with an accompanying monster book with statblocks — an excellent, complete product for that price.
However, flat tokens don’t have the “cool” factor that minis do, and because they decided to print the same image on both sides to allow for D&D to convey the “bloodied” condition, you don’t quite know what monster it actually portrays if the picture is confusing. (I think this was a mistake — better to include separate counters to show whether creatures were “bloodied” as well as “marked” and other important conditions that affect play.)
Also, tokens don’t work well next to 3D miniatures: players will find their 3D heroes rounding a corner and taking on an entire hall of… coasters. And the 1-inch diameter (this is less than a square inch) provides little opportunity for the picture of the creature to evoke power and mystery, no matter how great your artwork is.
But the Beginner Box now introduces the “pawn.” The pawn is actually not a new invention — these things have been prevalent within board games for a while. But it is the first time they have been introduced as an alternative for RPG 3d minis. These pawns just might launch a new mini-industry within the industry. (For a lot of high-quality photos of the pawns, look here.)
The excellent review at ENWorld spends a lot of word count on the pawns, and rightfully so. Technically speaking, it is simply a new take on tokens — instead of lying flat, the cardboard pawns are rectangular so that they can be inserted into plastic bases that make them “stand up.” Thus, they can be viewed from around the table (well, at least by most of the people around the table, if it’s facing you sideways you’re outta luck), and they hold themselves relatively well next to 3d minis. Also, you can pick them up and move around, just as you would a mini.
The pawns are also made of satisfyingly-thick cardboard and will likely hold up for years of use. And, because the pawns now “build up” like skyscrapers, this gave the creators freedom to to lengthen the rectangle and allow more room for artwork, as well as a name describing the creature which also eliminates confusion.
And the Beginner Box’s pawns can be expanded upon to allow for more creatures in future “expansion sets,” at pretty much the same cost that would be required to produce tokens. And most players would not need to go beyond the 20 plastic bases unless they are planning very large encounters. (Having large, huge, and even greater-sized bases would be great idea for the future, by the way.)
Fans are clamoring for more, and Paizo has responded to the enthusiasm and strongly hinted at a new product line.
Here is my wishlist for the product line:
1. A complete set for each of the Bestiary books. This would also include Large and bigger plastic bases.
2. A complete “PCs and NPCs” set to portray PCs. The Beginner Box has pawns to portray every combination of sex, race, and class in the Beginner Box, which is 24 PC pawns, plus 4 portraying the iconics. This set would have all the Core Rulebook possibilities: 2 sexes * 7 races * 11 classes = 158 pawns. This would also include 50 more pawns portraying different NPC characters: kings, queens, barmaids, tavernkeepers, crazy hermits in the woods, etc.
3. A complete “More characters!” set. portraying all the additional base classes contained in the Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Ultimate Combat. 2 sexes * 7 races * 9 classes = 136 pawns. It would also include 50 more pawns portraying NPC characters. By the time #2 and #3 are released, we will be able to portray all the NPCs provided in the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide.
4. A set to go with each Adventure Path. Adventure Paths have been Paizo’s best-selling items. This would also accommodate the prevalence within certain Adventure Paths of certain monsters. (I’m looking at you, goblins and tieflings.) Also, each important NPC would have a pawn! And it would be great if less-important NPCs could have their own pawns, too, so that having a pawn doesn’t flag to the players “I’m really important!” too early.
These would seem to be economically viable: they will have market appeal to non-Pathfinder gamers as well. And Paizo already has rights to a lot of the artwork they would use.
Just One Gripe
My only gripe is that it’s time to move away from the 1 square = 1 inch rule in a lot of flipmats being produced today. The pawns, when crowded together on the flipmat, make it hard to lift one piece without knocking the others over. Also, whether you get a good view of a creature depends on what direction you’re looking at it from, you’ll be tempted to turn the pieces around a lot, which again might knock over their neighbors.
Requiring that every unit of measurement within the rules be equal to some standard measurement is a holdover from tabletop wargames, and also from when people often played tabletop RPGs without grids. The precision that began with D&D 3rd Edition, in which differences of 5 feet became decisive for the first time, has meant that grids are now far more widely used. But now that grids are the norm, having each square equal one inch is no longer important.
When using pawns, I would like to have larger squares (1 1/4″? 1 1/2″?). Sure, Chessex produces mats that have larger squares, but Paizo’s Gamemastery product line and most other RPG companies all have 1 square = 1 inch.
Just a personal wish — people’s tolerance my vary from mine, of course.