1st-level Pathfinder characters are already the masters of a considerable range of skills and knowledge. The Genius Guide to Apprentice-Level Characters shows you what those characters knew before they hit first level.
The Genius Guide to Apprentice-Level Characters is a short PDF (priced slightly below SGG’s regular price point for PDFs, presumably for exactly that reason) that gives rules for playing 1/2-level characters. The rules are simple and complete for what they cover, though I’d like them to have covered a few more options (as discussed below). The rules cover how to play a character that is only halfway to 1st level, allowing campaigns to start earlier in a hero’s career, or for a 1st level character to begin play multiclassed rather than waiting to 2nd level to do so. I like the idea, though a little more discussion of when you might wish to allow this would have been appreciated.
Technically the book matches SGG’s normal high standard.The landscape layout is very nice for use on a computer screen, and the layout is crisp and easily read. The (presumably) stock art doesn’t distract at all and is good enough, though I confess it also doesn’t help the product much. I’d have liked to see squires, initiates and acolytes as clear examples of apprentice level characters. Instead we get pictures of typical PCs who just can’t afford good gear yet. It’s fine, but not great.
There are some editorial oddities in the book. Apprentice-level characters are referred to as both 0-level and 1-2-level characters. Some issues (hit dice, skills, feats) are given their own heading while other potentially critical issues (experience points) are simply mentioned in running text. The rules seem to assume apprentice-level characters will roll their 1/2 hit dice for hit points, even though the Pathfinder rules assume your first hit die is automatically maximum. None of these make the product less useful, but they do make it slightly more work to find and understand the rules as presented.
One of the great things about this book is that it includes apprentice-level rules for the new base classes SGG has introduced in their Genius Guide To… line of PDFs. It would be cool if they would include apprentice-level rules for subsequent class releases, like the inquisitor and the templar.
There’s no discussion of how to handle archetypes, either the kind in the APG or the ones SGG has introduced in its own line of books. While not everyone would use such information, without it a GM has to make ad-hoc rulings about any class with an archetype. If The Genius Guide to Apprentice-Level Characters had at least included a section discussing how to make such a ruling I’d be placated, but as it is there are entire character concepts that get no support here. Similarly there is no mention of apprentice levels for NPC classes, which might not matter to a player, but could easily be important for a GM running a 1/2-level campaign.
Even so, the book has more than enough to cover such a simple concept. The 1/2 classes themselves are limited, but not so much as to be impossible to build an adventure around. Issues like spellcasters’ access to 1st level spells and how to downgrade things like a single die of sneak attack damage (it starts as a d4 for 1/2 level rogues) are well handled without introducing a lot of new rules. And while there might be a few balance issues (I’d rather be a sorcerer than a wizard under this system) no game is going to stay at 1/2 level long enough for them to matter.
The book is good, but not great. I give it a final score of 7.5 out of 10, with a note that coverage of archetypes and NPC classes would easily bring it up by a point-and-a-half to almost-perfect. You can download it from RPGNow.