Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG is one of the most popular pen-and-paper RPGs around, even challenging the granddaddy of them all in sales and player base: Dungeons & Dragons. There are a ton of different sourcebooks out there for Pathfinder, but all you need to get started is a Core Rulebook. Paizo has done the budget-conscious players a favor and started releasing smaller, less expensive “Pocket Edition” versions of their various RPG books, starting with the Core Rulebook and Bestiary. So, what’s the difference? More importantly, are they worth it? Roll a d20, add your wisdom modifier, and let’s figure that out.
The Pocket Editions of the sourcebooks are the exact same as their hardcover counterparts in terms of content. They are full color, with all the art intact, and have the exact same wording and information. The only differences are in a few factors: the physical size (they are shrunk down, about 60% the size of the original versions), the price (about half the cost of the original), and they are softcover instead of hardcover.
The changes in size and cost really help as a selling point for these Pocket Editions. Chances are, unless you and a group of friends are all starting to get into Pathfinder together, your Game Master (GM) will already have some experience, information, and likely a few sourcebooks to get your group started. Before a game begins, one is all you need. Where having your own Core Rulebook really shines is once you are in the middle of a session.
In particular, the Pocket Edition Core Rulebook should be mandatory for every player in your adventuring party: it can be really useful for looking up combat techniques, spells, item rules, etc. while other players are taking actions. Taking time to pass around the GM’s clunky Core Rulebook can cause huge delays (especially in a game with five or more players) and bog down the entire experience.
The cost helps a great deal with endorsing the Pocket Edition; since you are not getting any new information from your own copy, it can be prohibitive to shell out $40 for something you already have access to. The pricetag is much more reasonable, especially with the convenience of having your own copy right at your fingertips in case you need to refer to some obscure stat or rule. Having your own copy also makes it easier to mark certain pages (use post-its, not earmarks. You monster!) for quick reference, like particularly complicated spells or charts.
One thing the Pocket Edition is not great for is character creation: the small font can make it difficult to read large blocks of text at a time, and it does not stay open when laid flat on a table. That can make transferring stats, equipment, and spells to your character sheet extremely difficult. Again, if your group is serious about Pathfinder, I would recommend one traditional Core Rulebook and each player to have their own Pocket Edition (or at least a few that a couple players can share).
The Pocket Edition Bestiary is an entirely different… creature. The Bestiary is a collection of the various beasts, monsters, animals, and other unpleasantness you and your fellow adventurers will discover on your travels. The GM needs all the information inside the Bestiary. As a player, you do not need it nor should you have it. When encountering some creature in the wild, the players are not supposed to know that it can cause fear with its howl or poison someone with its bite.
As a player, the Bestiary is totally unneeded. You may still want one for a few reasons: the art of Pathfinder is great, and the lore behind each creature is fascinating. I personally like to find each creature my party has encountered and learn more about them to add a stronger backdrop to the world. As a GM, you would probably want the full-sized version so you can set it flat on a table as you attempt to murder the adventurers with fire. For those on a strict budget or who otherwise have their system all figured, the Pocket Edition of the Bestiary can fulfill the role in the exact same way.
Essentially, these two books occupy dramatically different spaces in your Pathfinder adventure. The Pocket Edition Core Rulebook should be an automatic purchase for anyone who does not already own a Core Rulebook. Its smaller size can cause issues on occasion, but the positives of the size and cost are definitely in its favor. The Pocket Edition Bestiary should most likely be reserved for only the diehards: those that want to experience the world of Pathfinder as completely as possible, but are still conscious of their budget.
It seems likely that Paizo will continue to reprint their books as Pocket Editions, which is a good sign for those trying to break into the Pathfinder scene without breaking the bank. If you are just starting a new campaign and want to try something different, check out our review of the Horror Adventures sourcebook. It’ll give you a fresh start with those classic, dice-rolling elements.