Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Straying From the Path

I have been surprised with how much I've been enjoying Pathfinder. As I may have mentioned before, I've never really been a D&D player -- because, you know, Call of Cthulhu is better -- and I'd parted ways with the gaming hobby during D&D3's lifespan, so all I had to go on was stories of how popular the third edition was, how annoyed people were by the seemingly-opportunistic move from D&D3 to D&D3.5, and how the whole thing got a bit unwieldy under the increasing pile of rules supplements.

So when our group made the decision to move from D&D4 -- hereafter referred to as The Unmentionable -- to Pathfinder, I was wary, but I thought it was only fair to give it a try and see what it was like for myself.

The Pathfinder core book is a massive thing -- bigger than Rogue Trader, which was intimidating enough -- and the rules have a lot of working parts, and yet it remains quite fun to play. I suspect that this is because I've been playing as a monk, a relatively simple class; the two players who chose spellcasters are often wrangling with specialist rules and long periods of spell list preparation, all of which would be beyond my feeble mind. It's also perhaps significant that we've been playing for a while now -- we must be coming up for a year -- and we're still getting rules wrong, so it's fair to say we haven't mastered the game. Even so it has been fun, and I have no complaints, whereas by now I was ready to mutiny in our The Unmentionable game.

Paizo have just begun publishing a new Pathfinder campaign -- sorry "Adventure Path" -- called Carrion Crown -- I feel there should be a definite article there -- which owes more than a little to the old TSR Ravenloft setting, and as a horror fan, it did pique my interest just a tad. It was suggested that once we finish the Kingmaker cam... Adventure Path, we move on to this new one, and furthermore that I run it. This seemed like a fair idea.

Then I ran Carrion Hill.

What I discovered was that while I enjoy playing the game, I do not like running it in the slightest, as there's far too much stuff in there. Now, one might say that you don't have to know or use all that stuff, and that's true to an extent, but there is an undeniable feeling of obligation when you know that the rules are there, just waiting; what you get as a result is a tendency -- despite the best of intentions -- to pore through the massive four-billion-page Pathfinder rulebook to discover the correct procedure for applying fire damage to pickled gherkins, and then the game falls over dead. In other words, you could concentrate on getting the core mechanics of fighting, skills and magic right and just handwave the rest, but you'd know you were doing something wrong.

As such, while I would like to run (The) Carrion Crown, I would rather run it with something simpler like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord -- the difference between them and D&D3/Pathfinder is more one of detail than mechanics -- but alas I know my group would never go for it, not in a month of Sundays. Not that I would use S&W -- for example -- as is; I'm quite fond of the options Pathfinder characters have, so my ideal situation would be to use the simpler game as a frame for all the major mechanics -- gherkins burn on a d6 roll of 5+ -- but front-load the complexity into the characters, perhaps even use the Pathfinder classes as they are, with minor tweaks for compatibility. I've even entertained the possibility of completely bespoke characters, so while there's no dhampir race or rogue class in S&W, I could build a one-off dhampir rogue for the player who wants one.

This would be the best of both worlds for me: lots of options for the players to mess around with, but the minimum of fiddly bits for me to wrestle with as a GM, so I can get on with the plotting and the silly voices. At the end of the day though, it's all theory and wishful thinking, as I don't think it'll fly with my lot. On the plus side, it means I get to play in (The) Carrion Crown; I'm considering a wererat barbarian or -- if I can get away with it -- some sort of zombie.


  1. Just so long as I don't have to play a Good character again...!

  2. I totally dig the idea of Pathfinder and I've been running a D&D 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder campaign since May 2001. We never "officially" switched to Pathfinder because we're mid-campaign and it would be kind of a hassle to overhaul everything. So, what we do is a mish-mash. I let the players choose if they want to adopt the new changes in Pathfinder or leave their characters as-is. I do mention that switching to Pathfinder will make their characters slightly stronger, with a very few exceptions. But, I just don't worry about it. The underlying mechanics are basically the same.

    My secret as a DM,though, is that I don't use all of the Pathfinder rules. It's pretty much what you were talking about. I run the game pretty much how I used to run games using older editions of the game, and just wing it a bit. I look to the Pathfinder rulebooks for inspiration and ideas, but not for hard-and-fast rules any more. Chances are I wouldn't be able to find the exact rule I was looking for when I needed it anyway. We've move to an Initiative system of "players go first, then monsters, unless the players are surprised. Then the monsters go first." I let the players figure out who among them should act first. It saves a lot of die-rolling and speeds up combat. We've dispensed with the battle mat for all but the most complex combats because, again, it saves time.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see Pathfinder and the Paizo folks getting some support. They're a great bunch of people and I really do like most of the products they put out, even if I don't use them 100% in my game.

  3. Thanks Martin! I really do like Pathfinder a lot, and it's certainly a favourite with our group; if I could get away with running a Pathfinder Light, I would.

  4. Ben here (Kelvin's PF GM!)

    Stuart doesn't want to play a good character?? (Can't think why!)

    You actually like a game! ;) and it's crunchy!!!

    Well - Pathinder light is coming out soonish with the Basic set! :) Why not give that an airing!

    Maybe running it for a longer period would help you settle more into the role of GMing PF - afterall, like Martin above, I haven't got a grasp of all the rules either. Blag it, ask Manoj for the answer. Heck, sometimes you know the answer! (as rarely as I do admittedly!) So yes- we have often all been 'teaching' as you term it (heretics! ;) - but at least we have been having fun. Even shopping is fun & normally I hate shopping - but being involved as a GM in your shopping escapades with 10,000s of Gee-Pees is an entertaining sideshow. :)

    Well - I tried to subvert you into running the darn Campaign with PF - so now I am! lol! I do think the easiest thing is to run it out of the tin, so to speak, having had plenty of experience of converting games (Iron Kingdoms tweeked with Unearthed Arcana rules; 3.5 modules run with True 20 system; Iron Kingdoms (3rd edition rules) run in 3.5 edition in the Ptolus setting, but rejigging Ptolus into a city in IK called Cerwyl, thus changing the Ptolus players Guide into the IK players guide.... running the 1st 2 modules of the Rise of the Runelords in the Unmentionable Edition, rather than 3.5 etc etc.....)..... lots of hard work, and often for scant real reward. All signs of my insanity. Now I try to mask my insanity by only playing a game in the system it was written in. But I guess I am still running games...... But only once a week at least!! (and not prepping every night anymore -just.... F-it - well - normally once a week - but being on skool holidays, every day -but - hoodihoo - I do enjoy it! ;)

    Am gibbering again. Gag me now someone!

  5. and what is it which makes you gravitate to playing the most insane pc concepts? You current one, the Tengu monk, is relatively sane!! But previously there was a goblin, in a setting which was beset by them (thus making your pc potentially get lynched for showing his face!), and now the interest in playing a zombie (in a gothic horror game), followed by a priest who channelled negative energy (also for the Carrion up the Crown game)! ;) Is it the desire to play something totally counter-cultural to the setting, a pc who would jar with the usual conventions/ tropes in the game setting just to see what happens? I am VERY curious! (esp given my social scientist background!) Do tell!! :D

  6. Well, the goblin was originally a halfling and he only changed when you suggested a miniature, as I recall. The zombie was a joke, and I misunderstood the nature of the campaign when I designed the cleric. The fighter I have now built for Carry On Up the Crown is quite normal and by the book!

    As for running Pathfinder, I really don't think it's for me. There's too much stuff in there.


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