Digital Tabletop: Find Your Path

After a break of a few weeks, I’m back with a slight change of pace from the MMO scene to talk about something else I’m heavily into – table top role-playing games. It’s a bit of a dying art with video games and MMOs having replaced many of the people who used to play at the table almost exclusively, myself included. I’ve both had the chance to run Star Wars under West End’s reign, Rifts from Palladium Books, Vampire the Masquerade and Dark Ages form White Wolf, Shadowrun when FASA still had it, Battlelords of the 23rd Century, Star Wars when Wizards of the Coast snatched it up, Mutant Chronicles, Babylon 5, Star Trek, and then the grand-daddy of them all, Dungeons and Dragons from Second Edition and onwards. While Rifts was my favorite to run, my wife prefers Dungeons and Dragons as she’d been playing it since she was fourteen, so I ended up having to adapt a bit.

To be honest, Dungeons and Dragons took a bit to grow on me. The adventures were fun, but I was used to Rifts system of skills and combat and D&D 2nd Edition seemed a bit backwards to me. And then I really got into it, especially since we had the Core Rules disc which made it a breeze not only to run but make characters and keep it all straight for everyone. After years of playing this way, Wizards of the Coast came along and bought up TSR, and suddenly we had a new edition out there. I wasn’t fond of Third Edition when it came out. There were huge holes in the rules and people would take advantage of them, and if I wanted a book of house rules to play against I’d have written my own RPG long ago. I have this standing rule, if I have to house rule more than a page of notes to make the game run smoothly for my players then it’s time to play something else.

We tried Third Edition as it was several times over and ended up going back to Second Edition every time. Until they put out 3.5. While my wife still prefers Second Edition, I grew to like the revised Third Ed rules. There were still some issues but I could work with them. It had been awhile before we tried 3.5 and just as we got into it, they dropped another bombshell. Wizards of the Coast was moving to Fourth Edition. I looked over the rules and gave it a shot, and while I like Fourth Edition, it’s not my cup of tea when it comes to playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I know many people who think the same way. I think it’s great that they moved on to make something a bit simpler, but I’d just gotten settled in with 3.5 finally and wasn’t ready to take another plunge with my pocketbook into a game system half the remaining people I had at my table wouldn’t play. Then Paizo came along with their own bombshell. Paizo wasn’t moving to Fourth Edition either, and they were going to start publishing their own RPG using the 3.5 ruleset, but revising them so they were more in balance not only with each other but with the power creep that had popped up in the plethora of other 3.5 material that had been released to that date. Enter Pathfinder.

Pathfinder uses a revised version of the 3.5 rules that is as close to what I’d wanted done to 3.5 rules as I could have hoped for. Running a full campaign for the game I’d only had to make two house rules. Two. It was beautiful, functional, and to add honey to the pot it worked with little changes to any of the other existing 3.5 material out there. Of course it meant adding to my 3.5 library with new books, which was actually quite small, consisting only of the three main books for D&D at the time. Pathfinder combined the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide into one with their Pathfinder Core Rulebook. The Monster Manual is out there as well as the Pathfinder Bestiary. Not all of the monsters are the same, some have gotten some nice adjustments, and both of the Core books have some of the most amazing RPG and fantasy artwork I’ve ever seen.

To add to their credit, Pathfinder started off as a campaign setting itself for 3.5. It came about through Paizo who hires some former writers of Dragon and Dungeon, both former magazines that had adventures and campaigns for both 2nd and 3rd Edition D&D in the past. It has a very Forgotten Realms feel to it, and it’s very comfortable to not only play in, but to GM for as well as most of the standard D&D tropes apply, but each area has its own history as well. One of the other things Paizo has going for it is their Adventure Path series which is a monthly release that has a 6 volume campaign as well as world information and new monsters for GMs. I’d actually ran The Curse of the Crimson Throne series to introduce my players to Pathfinder’s slightly changed game mechanics and the world itself, and with a few exceptions, they’ve loved it. The game captures what I’d loved about not only D&D 3.5 but also Forgotten Realms and puts enough of a twist to it that makes it seem fresh and exciting.

There are player guides as well, and a Companion series that helps expand on the growing world, all optional of course. Paizo wasn’t content with just their Core rulebooks, and have added another set of must have books over the past year, the Advanced Player’s Guide, Bestiary 2, and the Gamemaster’s Guide. Now, you don’t need these to play, but they all give new options for not only the player’s but the GM will find much more in there to torture players with.

The Advanced Player’s Guide is packed with options for existing classes but also includes some new classes that are take-offs of existing ones that had appeared before in 3.5 releases, but they’re tweaked so they fit in with what Paizo had done with the Core rules. To adjust for power creep, a standard Pathfinder character will actually be STRONGER than a standard 3.5 character would be out of the Core rulebook. Instead of making more powerful classes in the APG like we might have seen in 3.5, they are more like alternate classes, each with drawbacks and strengths and completely in line with what is in the core rulebook. Bestiary 2 is more monsters to play with, not repeats from the first and a nice variety just like the first Bestiary. And the Gamemaster’s Guide, while providing information an experienced game master might already be aware of, has some nice easy to find and use tables that make on the fly encounters a breeze and make the experience with your players move that much faster.

Could Pathfinder be too much of a good thing? Not really. It does have its drawbacks. Since it is a major revision of 3.5, you’re not looking at a whole new game here, despite the label. It’s more like 3.5 advanced. Some of the information that pops up in the GMG and the Bestiary’s have been printed elsewhere by Paizo either in their own campaign’s and guides or by Wizards of the Coast in the 3.5 supplemental materials and been re-purposed in the books under the OGL which is how Paizo is able to continue 3.5 as a new game in the first place. While the Adventure Path’s are great, many of the older ones are out-dated with the change to the new game as they were written for 3.5 and the new classes will simply overpower anything in those books as written without some serious editing by your GM. If you’re just starting out, you really have to watch for that, and I’d recommend sticking to Adventure Path’s that were written for Pathfinder if you’re just starting out as a GM in the game. For me the setting can be one of the more interesting parts to the game and you only get a brief touch of it in the actual core rulebooks, and up until February of this year, the original Campaign Setting had not been updated for the Pathfinder rules. What’s interesting is that instead of simply calling it the Campaign setting, they’ve retitled it as the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea World Guide, which the original really was, but it illustrates how much the game world has grown in just three years since the original setting was released. My only real complaint with the setting is that instead of one or two big volumes, they’ve chosen to release smaller ones the detail specific monsters or areas, which is great, but a broader overview is sometimes easier to play with and far less detrimental to back pains from lugging around a big bag of books.

You might be thinking, is Pathfinder really all that much better than 3.5? Yes. It has better artwork, better layout, some of the broken classes have been fixed and rules that would have put a rules lawyer player into a rage because you had to change them to not screw everyone else over at the table really help as well. Am I saying drop everything and go out and buy this, no. But I would definitely have a look if you’re looking for that Dungeons and Dragons feel and don’t want to play Fourth Edition just because everyone else is. Say you don’t want to shell out Fifty for a hard cover, you can pick up the core rulebook PDF for only $10 off their website. That’s a bargain. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, Paizo has had so much success with their new game, they’ve got two new books coming out in the future as well, Ultimate Magic which is due out this month and you can bet I will be picking up, and Ultimate Combat due out in July. Both have some great rules and additions and Ultimate Combat is bringing us a Gunslinger class. Oh yeah, a Gunslinger in a Fantasy setting. Let the “bring a sword to a gunfight” jokes commence!


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