The Advanced Class Guide for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a huge helping of additional character options, leading off with 10 new base classes. If you’re looking for more Pathfinder character options (and, really, who isn’t?), then this is one of the top couple of books to start with (along with the Advanced Player’s Guide). Note that the Advanced Class Guide is available in the traditional hardcover and the softcover pocket edition that’s only $20 MSRP.
The Advanced Class Guide leads off with those 10 new base classes. In theory, each of these new classes is a hybrid of two existing classes. However, how much relation they have to or feel like the ‘parent’ classes varies wildly. To me personally, this context is borderline irrelevant – these classes must stand or fall one their own. The 10 classes (and their parents) are:
Arcanist (Sorcerer/Wizard): Essentially a wizard variant that’s a pseudo-Vancian caster, the arcanist uses a spellbook and prepares a certain number of spells per day per level, but specific spells are not tied to specific slots. If a character can prepare two third-level spells a day and cast two third-level spells a day, then they can cast either spell twice, or once each. The arcanist also has an energy pool to cast arcane exploits (which are this class’s ‘choose from a big list as you level up’ feature).
Bloodrager (Barbarian/Sorcerer): A barbarian with a bloodline selection and very limited spellcasting.
Brawler (Fighter/Monk): The brawler is an unarmed combat expert who does not have the monk’s emphasis on order and mysticism, and fills a nice niche for players who want a different sort of unarmed combatant.
Hunter (Druid/Ranger): The hunter is a pet class focused on a superior animal companion, along with many nature-focused features drawn from the druid and ranger.
Investigator (Rogue/Alchemist): The investigator has a sneak attack variant, alchemy, and an inspiration pool that initially provides limited boosts to die rolls. Selecting investigator talents can allow broader uses of the inspiration pool (e.g., ignoring the flat-footed condition, confusing enemies), increase the size of the boost, and/or allowing the use of the boost without spending inspiration. The capstone ability allows the investigator to increase every single skill check by 2d6 without expending any inspiration at all.
Shaman (Oracle/Witch): The shaman is a full spellcaster with its own spell list, and also bonds with a particular spirit that give them additional abilities. The shaman also gets to pick a hex every few levels. Each spirit adds spells to the shaman’s spell list, opens up additional hex options, gives an ability to the shaman’s spirit animal, and gives the shaman successively more powerful spirit abilities at several levels.
Slayer (Rogue/Ranger): The slayer has a full base attack bonus progression, plus a sneak attack, so there’s a lot of opportunity here for just stabbing things. Slayer talents can be chosen as the character levels up, and this is a small custom list plus the ability to choose a wide range of rogue talents and class features from the parent classes.
Swashbuckler (Fighter/Gunslinger): Lightly-armored melee combatants, swashbuckler use panache points to accomplish deeds such as increasing some skill checks or getting an extra five feet of movement, and then additional abilities that function whenever the swashbuckler has at least one panache point left (at least for me, these become always-on abilities, because I’d have to be pretty desperate to spend that last point).
Warpriest (Fighter/Cleric): The warpriest feels like a customized fighter/cleric, giving up some of the cleric’s spellcasting power in exchange for enhancements to a sacred weapon (including extra damage, plus enhancement bonuses or custom abilities) and a lay on hands variant. Each warpriest also selects two blessings from their deity, which grant a (very) minor power at 1st level and something more useful at 10th.
Of course, where there are this many new classes, there must also be a plethora of class options, and the Advanced Class Guide does not disappoint on that front. This includes around 105 archetypes (that number is so big you might think it’s some sort of clerical error, but there really are that many new archetypes) plus various discoveries/rage powers/orders/dares/arcana/combat styles. These options are skewed towards the new classes. There are way too many archetypes to go over, but a handful of the ones that stood out to me were:
- White Mage (Arcanist): The white mage can spend points to cast healing spells, but this is here mostly for Final Fantasy reasons.
- Empiricist (Investigator): A master of logic and observation, the empiricist uses Intelligence for skills such as Sense Motive and Perception and gets bonuses versus illusions, at the cost of some poison and alchemy-related abilities.
- Spell Warrior (Skald): The spell warrior can interfere with enemy spellcasting.
- Sniper (Slayer): When you want to see how much damage you can inflict before combat really starts, the sniper’s abilities will allow sneak attack damage from quite a bit a way.
- Eldritch Scrapper (Sorcerer): The eldritch sorcerer is an arcane caster looking for a fistfight. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the most effective move, but it’s entertaining.
The Advanced Class Guide also includes over 100 feats, 30 pages of spells, and 35 pages of gear and magic items. The feats are mostly ‘normal’ feats (weighted heavily towards those that improve the abilities of the new classes, or that give other classes minor versions of the abilities of the new classes), but also include style and teamwork feats. Similarly, the gear features a lot of things like magical properties that enhance abilities of the new base classes. Some things I found interesting:
- Blessed Striker: I know Align Weapon isn’t exactly a powerhouse spell, but having every attack I make be Lawful and Good (or whatever) is rather appealing. And not just because we had to buy a scroll with a bunch of copies of Align Weapon the other week. They don’t always pack enough utility to be worth it, but I am fond of this sort of always-on effect.
- Heightened Awareness: This 10/min a level 1st level spell (that appears on seven spells lists) grants bonuses to Knowledge, Perception, and Initiative checks. An extra touch comes from the material component of the coffee bean.
- Collapsible Trampoline: Continuing my trend in this review of highlighting things that aren’t power picks, the collapsible trampoline (mundane gear), which provides a boost to Acrobatics checks to jump, is included here just because I would love to see a low-level rogue (or similar) figure bounce up to some high ledge.
- Restful: The restful armor magical ability allows the character to sleep in armor without penalties, and only requite two hours of sleep a night. My younger self would probably have loved this, as I remember many D&D sessions with specific planning for who could sleep when while still maintaining watch and restoring spells, and then inevitable night ambushes when no one was armored up. However, that doesn’t really seem to be a thing anymore. Alas, restful armor, ye came too late.
- Amulet of the Blooded (Aberrant): The amulets of the blooded grant the character some abilities from a particular sorcerer bloodline, at the cost of vulnerability to attacks that target the particular creature type. The aberrant version grants (among other things) extra reach on melee touch attacks. While arcane types are not lacking in ways to deliver spells via attacks these days, there’s still a lot you can do with just a bit of extra range and standard touch attack spells that anticipate the wizard needing to be a little closer to peril to make use of them.
Finally, the Advanced Class Guide has a section on designing classes and archetypes, although it runs only ten pages, and is amost entirely qualitative in nature. This section is probably of minimal use (especially since Pathfinder is already loaded with classes and archetypes).
Ultimately, some might disparage all of this as rules/option bloat, but a plethora of character options is the sine qua non of Pathfinder (and it’s predecessor Dungeons & Dragons iterations), so from where I sit there isn’t really such a thing as “too many” character options in this system. The Advanced Class Guide lacks a thematic component, if you’re looking for that. But to my mind books like the Advanced Class Guide (along with the Advanced Player’s Guide, which also has racial options, which this book does not) are the distillation of the mechanical essence of Pathfinder, in all it’s glory. If you’re expanding a Pathfinder collection, the Advanced Class Guide is one of the first books to get.