As a long time game master I am always on the look out for useful tools to bring to my game sessions that can enhance my players experience at the table and reduce the amount of work required to give them great games. The Pathfinder 2E Bestiary Battle Cards are a new tool for game masters to leverage in their preparation and game play but are they right for your table? By the end of this article you will feel confident that these will either work with your groups or if you should give them a hard pass.
Every group that sits down at a Game Master’s table is different and each will respond differently to the tools of the trade. In this article we will break down the Pathfinder 2E Bestiary Battle Cards features and examine:
- What are Battle Cards
- How to Use the Cards
- Storage and Transportability
- Quality and Care
- Usefulness Across Campaigns and Settings
- Tips to Maximize Effective Use
What are Bestiary Battle Cards?
This game master accessory from Paizo Inc is a stack four by six index cards featuring monster stat blocks as well as illustrated images on the reverse sides. Each monster has its own card and sometimes additional cards depending on the number of abilities the foe has.
Monster stat blocks keep the same formatting and methods used in the Pathfinder 2E Bestiary. Notably for monster types that have multiple variations, the battle cards feature single cards for each type instead of a card for the whole group. The best example of this are dragons. In the bestiary, dragons have a lengthy section for their entries with spotlight images for each type. In the battle cards there is a unique image for each age category as well as type with stat blocks appropriate for the monster.
Missing from the battle cards are descriptive texts beyond game mechanic information. This makes these cards a different type of game prep material than the Bestiary itself. Keywords and action requirements are bolded while effect descriptions and modifiers are in standard print. The basic information of running a monster in combat are included for quick reference.
To keep your cards organized the lower right corner of the card has a card number that you can use to reorder the box as needed.
How to Use the Cards
The purpose of the cards is to reduce the amount of note taking and copying required when preparing for a game session. Instead of copying a stat block into your session materials you can pull the card from the stacks and record any modifications or specific descriptors.
The reverse side image provides a visual tool to show your players their enemy while not revealing the stat block. Sometimes the cuteness or grotesqueness of a monster goes beyond the speedy descriptions used while in game.
Illustrations of the monsters help give players visceral reactions and using the cards keeps the game master from needing to haul their 357 page bestiary to every game. A stack of cards can slide into a pocket binder or in between notebooks making more space in your game bag.
The Pathfinder 2E Bestiary Battle Cards are not a replacement for having the Bestiary. Each card should be looked at as a time saving tool as well as a space saving tool for game masters that travel to their sessions. If you need to know the habits of dragons to plan your next encounter, use the bestiary. Do you have your session planed and need the game mechanic information only? The battle cards are a fast resource.
How Do the Cards Fit on My Shelf and in My Bag?
Branding is included on each side of the box allowing it to be easily found on the shelf. Dimensions for the box are similar to three pocket edition rulebooks but there have yet to be printed Pathfinder 2E pocket editions. Once they are this product could slide right next to that version of the bestiary. Until then this box will quickly contrast against the special edition and standard print edition books.
Since this accessory is a box of specially designed card stock prints it is as heavy as a hardcover rulebook with dimensions less friendly to messenger bags and most specialized GM carry gear. The portability comes from taking the cards away from the container and including them in notes and session prep to reduce the total book load you may have to carry.
How Much Punishment Can They take?
Packaging for the battle cards consists a study chit-board stock with a glossy printed exterior. The cards are a glossy note card type of paper stock that resists moisture but is still susceptible to immersion and drastic bending. Dust or food particles can still stain the cards but the cards have some resistance. The cards feel sturdy in in the hand but accidents happen especially with younger game groups.
To protect the cards from the hazards of the game table four by six card sleeves are recommended. The two most common types are top loaders and soft sleeves from Ultra Pro. You can follow this link to check out their pricing. Soft sleeves will help protect the cards from moisture, particles, and stains with little sacrificed to portability or visibility. Top loaders will provide more travel protection and maybe the best solution for game masters on the go as the rigid plastic will help prevent bending and tearing from bags and backpacks.
The downside to sleeving the battle cards is that the dimensions of the housing box are tight. Leaving your cards sleeved means no longer being able to store them away in their box. Some game masters have found creative solutions to re-boxing the cards while sleeved but reusing sleeves is a more pragmatic solution and will save resources. A single pack of top loaders and soft sleeves can serve to preserve your battle cards for the life of the product as well as new bestiary battle card releases in the future.
Are These Right for my Homebrew Game?
For games set in the Pathfinder game setting of Golarion, the battle cards project the official imagery and feel Paizo wants for its players. Since the battle cards focus on images and stat blocks, game masters for homebrew games can keep notes and short cuts minimal to focus on their own creations.
The cards do not accommodate for physical changes or modifications. Some monsters have so many abilities little negative space remains on cards. One way to side-step that is by using top loaders and dry erase markers. Quick updates can be written on the top loader and be erased without damaging the internal card.
Most game masters should be able to take full advantage of the cards in their games as long as they are sticking to the main themes of the rules system. If you have heavily modified the core functions of the Pathfinder 2E rules at your table, the battle cards are not likely a good fit for your group.
Make the Most of Your Purchase
Tabletop games often need little more than a set of rules, pencils, paper, and a group of friends. When you add accessories like the Pathfinder 2E battle cards you want to be solving some problem to maximize your enjoyment.
Using these in my games I have found player reactions to be more visceral and monster identification easier. Notes and session planning are somewhat quicker but the time savings in prep is eaten up by organizing the cards. If you find organizing your toys relaxing, that is not a bad thing.
I have leveraged the cards to engage my players more by asking them to have their characters describe the monster on the card. This technique can lead to great role play moments.
Theater of the mind style games get a fantastic boost from having the card images available as the illustrations spark the imagination. One caveat in theater of the mind style of games is to be considerate of when you show players the card. Like a great horror movie, the monster is best revealed at a climatic moment.
Do I Need these Cards for my Game?
The battle cards will not make a game master technically more proficient at their craft, but they can reduce the effort of small minutia, so they have free time to work on other parts of the game. Because of this I recommend the battle cards for experienced and time sensitive game masters primarily.
There is a benefit for new game masters to continuously be reviewing the books and their materials so they can become familiar with how the system works. Products like the battle cards reduce how much a game master needs to be in any of the source material and if a new game master has questions or needs a definition, the books are better suited. This does not mean new game masters should not buy the battle cards. When I dive into a new hobby, I like to grab all the cool and awesome tools but some game masters can be overwhelmed with accessories.
For new game masters I recommend waiting until they find their style of game play. This is an avid recommend for experienced game masters and a must have for GMs who are looking for ways to reduce the amount of carry they need for playing games on the go.
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