Tabletop Review: Pathways #22 (Pathfinder)

Pathways #22 (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Page Count: 37
Cost: FREE
Release Date: 01/04/2012
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

I miss the golden age of TSR magazines. I have every issue of Dragon and Dungeon and I still flip through them, especially in electronic format (thanks to the rare and expensive CD-Rom collection from back in the day). Gaming magazines have taken a hit for a while now though. Kobold Quarterly finally died, The Unspeakable Oath is lucky to get an issue out per calendar year and these days, it feels like black and white fanzines have replaced the monthly or quarterly periodicals of the 80s, 90s and 00s. The good news is that, thanks to Rite Publishing, you have modern day Pathfinder magazines that are high quality and feature some top notch articles. In the case of Pathways, the magazines might be short (this one clocks in at only thrity-seven pages, a quarter of which are ads), but it’s free, and something every Pathfinder gamer should pick up, due to the myriad of articles that each issues contains.

This month features seven articles; four features, an editorial, an interview and some reviews. That’s a pretty nice selection for a free magazine. The question I’m sure you are asking at this point is, how good is the issue? After all, it may be free, but there’s a lot of freebies on DriveThruRPG.com that are pretty horrendous. So let’s take a look at each selection and if it’s worth your time.

1. Editorial. Dave Paul writes up an interesting piece about violence in RPGs in the wake of yet another school shooting in the States. It’s an interesting article, but I did find some thought about the context of the following two statements: “Another way that these topics are related is that the game that we all love and play is, frankly, full of violence.” and “I’m not going to argue for an RPG that gets rid of combat.” Both statements got me thinking about what games actually aren’t full of violence and can get by without combat. I know I’ve run several D&D adventures back in the day where combat never occurred. I’ve seen a few Castles & Crusades adventures where this is possible. Call of Cthulhu is another system where violence is the exception rather than the norm. Of course, these comments were in relation to Pathfinder, which is more hacky-slashy than the average tabletop game, but it was still worth trying to wrack my brain for adventures and systems where you don’t lop off someone’s limbs or shoot them full of bullets.

2. Divine Creature Champion Template. This is the feature of the issue, and it’s an extremely well done piece. Steve Russell has created a template that can be used with just about any creature or humanoid in the game. You get two full pages of mechanics on crafting a Divine Champion, followed by a one page stat block of an Ettercap with the Divine Champion template added to it. Very nicely done, and I’m surprised no one has done something like this sooner.

3. The Mutah. No, Keiji Mutoh has not been turned into a Pathfinder NPC, or has he? After all, this strange aquatic and aerial creature does spew a Poison Mist, with the colours and their effects matching up to the effects in professional wrestling when the Great Muta uses the same style attack. It also has an attack called the “Shining Wizard,” but alas, it doesn’t do moonsaults. It’s a very cute tribute to one of the best wrestlers of all time. I don’t think a lot of people will get the homage/in-joke, but to someone who watched Wrestle Kingdom 7 before reading this issue, it was all too apparent.

4. Grave of the Mad. This is a short little encounter, similar to the ones you find in the Pathfinder comic book, albeit without the map. This particular encounter has players dealing with two poltergeists on the edge of an unstable cliff. It’s good as a quick skirmish for players or as an added and unexpected piece or an adventure/campaign you are already running. It’s nothing you’ll find yourself running to the table to use, but it’s a well written encounter and fun to read even if you never play through it.

5. Sonic Foes. Just like the title of the article states, this piece is about enemies that have aural attacks. There are only two, but each creature gets a full page devoted to it. There is the Screaming, which is an odd little undead menace to plague your enemies, and the Discord, which is a twisted creature of pure sound created by a botched performance role, or a successful countersong. Again, interesting ideas, but nothing the average GM will go out of their way to use.

6. Twenty Questions With Dave Woodson. I have no idea who this guy is, and even after reading the interview, all I knew is that he has a small company called Abandoned Arts. I had to actually look up the company to see what they made, and it turned out it was the “Class Acts” and “Feats of…” series I get sent to my reviewer’s box regularly. I’ve never actually picked one up, due to the sheer number of review requests I get. Unfortunately, the interview doesn’t spend much time of Woodson’s own product line and instead has him talk about Paizo’s core product line, which really doesn’t do the reader or Woodson’s company any good. Only a few of the twenty questions asked are about his product line, and they’re vague, generic questions at best. If *I* was doing the interview, I would have tailored it towards what Abandoned Arts puts out and why the average Pathfinder fan should take note. Paizo doesn’t need the constant plug; it created Pathfinder, after all. Meanwhile, the little indie guys need ALL the attention they can get. The interview just isn’t done very well in my opinion, and Cthulhu knows I’ve had to do a ton of them for various publications over the years. You can really skip this piece.

7. Reviews. Unfortunately, this last piece in the issue is not only the worst, but the longest, coming in at six pages. In my review of other gaming mags, I’ve repeatedly stated that they shouldn’t be doing reviews in these. The quality of the reviews are generally terrible, and they come off as ads more than actual critiques of a publication. It’s really bad here though, with six products being reviewed here – one from Rising Swan, two from Rite Publishing (makers of this magazine!), two from Super Genius Games and one from Jon Brazer. I’m a little concerned about Rite reviewing two of its own offerings. That pretty much comes off as a paid for advertisement. I don’t honestly think it is meant to be, but gamers are a skeptical lot, and when you see a product by Publisher A being give a very positive rating by, well… Publisher A, you doubt the veracity of the claims. A lack of journalistic integrity is something the video game side of gaming is called out for a lot, and unfortunately, by including reviews of Rite Publishing products IN a Rite Publishing product, you hit a very moral and ethical grey area, if not an outright black one. It gets even worse when you realize one of the reviews is for the previous issue of Pathways, and that the reviewer is a contributor to that very issue. That right there is a dangerous precipice for any publication, as well as anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a product reviewer. I probably don’t need to add that Rising Swan also contributed to this issue, and had a review of one of its products as well. That’s, again, not a precedent you want to be setting with a publication. Finally, the reviews are too short to be considered quality or of use (This review of the magazine is the same length as four of the six reviews contained within it, for example. It’s not the fault of the reviewers necessarily, but a space constraint.), and they don’t come across as professionally done. The whole section just comes off tacky at best and highly unethical at worst.

Personally, I’d rather see these six pages go to something more useful. By the time a magazine has come out, you’ll have seen reviews for all of these products, if you want to, via blogs, DriveThruRPG and websites. If you’re going to devote six pages to reviews that come across more as ads (even if they aren’t meant to), I’d rather see that space devoted to, say, previews of upcoming publications. I mean, why not devote a page to what’s going to be in Adventure Quarterly #3? How about a sneak peak of The Secrets of Renegade Archetypes? Perhaps a look at what awaits us in The Toiling of Tears? Previews of future Rite Publishing products would be of far more use to gamers across the board, and it would be time and money better spent by the publisher. Hell, it doesn’t have to be just Rite Publishing products. Previews of any third party Pathfinder products would be great. The indie guys need all the press they can get, and I’m sure they’d be happy to have even a page or two of something that they have in the pipeline featured in Pathways. Come on Rite Publishing, make it happen!

So all in all, the latest issue of Pathways is pretty good. There are a few hiccups here and there, but hey, it’s FREE, so it’s silly to complain. Between the Divine Champion article and the homage to the Great Muta, this is well worth picking up. Throw in the neat encounter piece and you have something any self-respecting Pathfinder fan should be downloading as soon as they finish this if they haven’t picked it up already.

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