I really didn’t know what to expect when I downloaded this book. Usually a product goes out of its way to describe what you’re paying for, but the product description page didn’t really present much to go on. Curious, I checked out what Van Graaf’s Journal of Adventuring had to say about what your PC should be doing when he’s raiding dungeons and fighting dragons. The results were an interesting mix of insightful and obvious. Let’s take a closer look.
Before anything else is said, one thing must be pointed out: the page count given in the product description is wrong. This PDF has 142 pages, not 256. Worse, there are no bookmarks here, which I consider to be unforgivable in a book this size. With any luck, these problems will be quickly corrected.
Van Graaf’s Journal of Adventuring takes a somewhat simplistic tone in its visual presentation. The pages have a plain white background, with small borders along the top and bottom. Some black and white illustrations break things up every couple of pages. This isn’t anything that would break your printer, so there’s no fuss there.
The first of the book’s four sections is dedicated to (non-magical) gear. I personally found this section of the book to be the best, as there was a lot of great ideas and new materials here. The book talks about what sort of equipment you’ll likely have/need in various environments and situations, presents a system where you can make a check to determine if you have some incidental item on you (that is, it’s an answer for when your player says “oh come on, I’m sure I’d have an extra bowstring! I’m a ranger! Do I really need to writing EVERYTHING on my character sheet?!”), along with a list of some of the more likely items and what their game effects, if any, are.
Some space is then given over to what classes (from the Core Rulebook only) would use what equipment, how to transport equipment and under what circumstances (e.g. are you going for speed and stealth? Or is this a long trip where you can be weighed down with a lot of gear?), various containers, and how items are carried on the body. This last one deserves special mention, as it’s my favorite part of the book. The authors cogently note that very little attention is paid to how a character stores the gear they’re carrying, and there’s only a basic rule for how long it takes to draw things. To rectify that, they present a system of charting exactly where a character’s items are stored on the body, including how many items can be carried and where, and how long it thus takes to draw various stowed gear. It’s a slightly more complex system than standard Pathfinder, but only slightly, and it adds a level of verisimilitude to the game that I quite liked.
This first part of the book was, as I said, the best part of it, at least for me. Here we got a lot of down-to-earth overviews of things that aren’t usually thought of in the abstracted world of an RPG, even one as relatively-intricate as Pathfinder. The new uses for equipment, along with systems for checking for mundane equipment and personal storage, where very innovative. Groups that enjoy a low-magic, more gritty style of play will adore what’s here.
The book’s second section is where things become disappointingly prosaic. It analyzes the various party roles (e.g. healer, face man, magic offense, etc.) and the various classes in terms of their combat and non-combat roles and how they relate to other classes. Issues of party leadership (not the feat) are discussed, and then things start to get a little better where issues of marching order and party movement are discussed. Keeping watch is given some coverage, along with combat tactics. It’s after this that “tactical templates” are presented, which are various team-based moves that can grant a minor bonus in combat. These take time to learn, but once trained in them a group can pull off some interesting maneuvers. For example, training for 2 weeks in the Flash-Bang maneuver lets you, if you get the drop on an enemy with a bright and loud attack in an enclosed space, keep them flat-footed until the round after the surprise round, instead of just the surprise round.
A fairly lengthy assessment of various terrain types and battlefield condition follows, along with new rules for various party synergies – little bonuses that PCs can gain for using complementary tactics (e.g. if you have 5 ranks in Bluff and are flanking a target, your ally gains a bonus to feinting Bluff checks). The section closes out with a hard look at identifying enemies, defeating them, and dealing with them once they’re defeated (e.g. the logistics of taking prisoners).
This section wasn’t quite as inspirational as the first one, mostly because the beginning part dealing with combat roles and the strengths and weaknesses of various classes is fairly intuitive, and veteran players will automatically know what’s here. A refresher never hurt anyone, of course, but it still comes across as something that everyone already knows. Conversely, the elements covering more tactical aspects, such as marching order, setting up watches, keeping prisoners, etc. were much more inspired, because they take place in the parts of the game that – in my experience – tend to be glossed over; these put elements that are typically background parts of the game firmly in the foreground. I had mixed feelings about the new tactical templates and synergies, however, as while they’re a great way to make the group a more cohesive entity rather than a collection of individuals, I wasn’t sure I liked how these were another way to pile on bonuses (something I don’t think PCs need any more of).
The third section is called “Intelligent Spellcasting” and takes up just over a third of the book. It opens with discussions of spells in broad themes (e.g. healing spells, direct harm combat spells, transportation spells, etc.) and includes lists of the Core Rulebook spells that fall into each category. It then discusses the party roles that spellcasters can play (e.g. defender, spy, booster) and – and this is the biggest space-eater in the book – presents spell lists for each of the spellcasting classes in the Core Rulebook based on each of these party roles.
How much you value this chapter will depend on how you view pre-packaged spell lists by (non-)combat role. This chapter is, unfortunately, weakened simply by the fact that a lot of Pathfinder’s magical utility has been expanded, both in terms of spells and spellcasting classes, by the Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and even Ultimate Combat. Even considering the Core Rulebook-only presentation here, if you’re not interested in the best way to make a healing-focused druid, for example, you won’t have much use for this section.
The last section of the book is “The Home Base,” and primarily focuses on where the adventurers hang their hats. This doesn’t need to be a permanent place to set up kip, but rather is where the party will be resting and generally storing their gear, licking their wounds, and operating out of for a period of time.
This section cogently starts off by noting that the first thing to be considered for a base of operations is provisions, for which it introduces the new Provision Rating, along with various modifiers for said rating. Rules then cover stockpiling provisions, what happens when your provisions are cut off, and rationing food and water.
The book then talks about how to conceal your base, how to erect various defenses (e.g. trenches, fences, etc.), how to guard the entrances, and storage and alarms. A larger section is given for guards and sentries, as the book wisely details the various issues that come with employing such people (e.g. supplying them, paying them, modifiers to their discipline and priorities, patrol routes, etc.).
Temporary settlements are given several pages, examining the different types (such as a gathering of tents, abandoned buildings, basic shelters in the wild), along with permanent bases ranging from manor houses to ships to castles to underground fortresses and more. It’s worth noting that none of these cover costs of construction (it keeps referring the reader to Van Graaf’s Journal of Strongholds and Dynasties, which at the time of this writing doesn’t seem to have been released yet) but rather focuses on the practical implications that such domiciles entail. The book then closes with several pages dedicated to running an institution wherein you handle training students (e.g. if you’re running a thieves’ guild or bardic college).
This last section was much more to my liking than its predecessor, simply because it again focuses on taking some of the elements of the game that are assumed and puts them front and center. The practical considerations food and water, keeping your guards paid and disciplined, choosing where to set up a base and more are all smartly discussed and commented on, with various mechanics given as needed. This is another part of the book that will be irresistible to those who want to delve into the nitty-gritty details, rather than cast a spell to create a personal demiplane and magically bind a few planar creatures as guards.
Overall, I found Van Graaf’s Journal of Adventuring to be a mixed bag, but one which hit more often than it missed. The book does have some not-inconsiderable strikes against it, such as its lack of bookmarks or how it sometimes belabors the obvious of the various class roles. But the considerations it places on the all-too-often ignored practical aspects of adventuring are highly evocative, and make the details of a campaign seem exciting for how fleshed out they are. Sometimes given game mechanics and sometimes discussed solely in terms of the impact on the game world, there’s a lot here for those who want to paint a very holistic, vivid picture of what goes into adventuring beyond the raiding and killing. As the title says, this is a journal of adventuring, with all that that entails.
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