A Path Well-Tended

Um, not that there should be any confusion, but we are not discussing the Nissan Pathfinder.

Indulge me in an extended metaphor.

3.5 is a dusty, forgotten tome penned in an archaic language. After some research, a scholar realizes the book is an atlas. The scholar spends months translating the language and grammar of the book to its modern parlance, she reconstitutes the maps so that their borders are cleaner and easier to follow, and she reproduces the content of the pages in a more vibrant format. This labor was needed, for while the book possessed viable maps, enough new information and fresher ways of looking at cartography practically demanded the useful content within the dusty tome be updated and revised so its information could reach a broader audience.

However, at the end of the day, this new atlas still led you to the exact same locations that the original copy did.

The new copy is the Pathfinder RPG.

(I’m 689% sure there was an easier way to write that . . . ah, well, the fingers type what the fingers type . . .)

The above means that any true or deep ‘flaws’ you believe were inherent to 3.5 are likely to be found in Pathfinder. Yes, grapple confusion was addressed, dead levels were effectively nixed, class options were increased, and so forth. However, if you worried about The Christmas Tree Effect, unwieldy statblocks, save or die spells, laborious NPC creation (Whether these are issues or problems, I will leave to your opinion, dear Reader.).

As I addressed in my last piece, I saw some of these issues, or was persuaded to see some of these issues as problems with 3.5. Pathfinder, with varying degrees of success, attempts to mitigate them. But at the end of the day, especially with 3.5 compatibility being an underlying feature of the system, the game plays remarkably similar to the previous version of D&D.

I don’t want to address mechanics beyond that. What I do want to say is that regardless of your feeling on mechanics, Pathfinder is a great system for one particular reason. SUPPORT

Paizo approaches this support in three discernible ways:

Community: Paizo has a very vibrant Organized Play and convention system. Hell, they even have their own convention, Paizocon. I can’t speak to either of these items in too much depth, but what I really want to focus on is the transparency.

One area that I feel comfortable criticizing Hasbro/WotC is in this regards. Paizo has a solid system in place. It has actual Product Lines (Fiction, Rules Books, Campaign Materials, Adventure Paths, Modules, etc.) that come out on a REGULAR, ORGANIZED schedule. Every month an installment of the AP, for example. Compare this with the sometimes confusing shifts in direction by WotC (An Essentials line that ultimately changes the face of 4e you’d been presenting, the sudden cancellation of books you’d hyped only 5 months ago, the cancellation of the Dragon/Dungeon). I don’t begrudge WotC’s choices or their right to do as they will with their IP. However, it sometimes seems like they are operating without a set plan for the future. That everything is mutable to a fault. I think a lot of gamers want to play something supported. Paizo makes that easy by sticking to a regimented schedule of released material. No sudden shifts.

Additionally, Paizo staff do their best to maintain a high-level of visibility. Regular podcast appearances, daily discussions on their forums, popular contests that involve their audience in design work, weekly online chats – being available to your audience on a regular basis reinforces a sense of community amongst those who play your system, and it allows a voice for the disgruntled. Answering those who are upset with some direction of a system, especially if that answer comes not only from the designers but is backed by a chorus of community voices, helps assuage worries and keep people in the fold. Or at the very least, it lets them know their concerns are being heard.

Playtest: If community is one aspect of transparency, then allowing your content to be tested by everyone who plays your game before publication is another. Can you imagine WotC releasing the Fortune Cards as a PDF on their website to see if they got it right? How many players of RPGs are tinkerers and know-it-alls at heart?

Response to this has been overwhelmingly positive.

And while not directly related to playtesting, Paizo’s openness extends to a very generous fan and 3rd party license. They are doing everything they can to let people enjoy their game, to play in their world.

Building A World: In D&D, the mechanics stand separate from the campaign. Thus, WotC releases rules in one book, then campaigns that help you incorporate the rules into a setting. Ostensibly, Paizo does the same thing. Rules in one product line, Campaign material in another. However, Paizo only backs one setting – their own, Golarion. And boy do they back it. Adventures paths, modules, player guides, maps, etc. . . . These books are fluff-heavy, and often times, that fluff is well-written.

People are not buying into a ruleset when they support Paizo; they are buying into a singular shared fiction. A brilliant stroke in my mind. Paizo creates excellent (if a bit convoluted) adventures. These adventures are not only decent fictions in their own right; they build up the world, adventure by adventure.

It can be difficult to create a thriving community out of at-wills, thac0, and dice pools, but good, consistent, engaging flavor text can easily do the trick. Think about it. People don’t fall in love with two-weapon fighting; they fall in love with a Drow who turns his back on his people. They don’t fall in love warforged mechanics; they fall in love with a world where an epic war threatens to breakout at any moment. It is not breakable weapons or defiling that draws Dark Sun fans together, it is the story of survival and oppressive sorcerer-kings.

Likewise, it is not CMDs and Rogue Tricks that make Paizo’s community what it is; it’s dealing with the gypsies of Varisia or the Hellknights of Korvosa . . .

Man, this post got away from me. Look, last week I said I was going to view a few viable alternatives to 4e for my gaming group. Pathfinder is one of those alternatives. It has a very familiar system to us, and a bucketload of support. I know at times above, I may be casting PF against 4e to make a point, but I’m not saying one game outshines the other. I am saying, however, that the thriving community, the transparency of the staff, and the engaging world they are building are very enticing to a gamer despite the fact I once quit 3.5 for reasons that are still there.

Then again, have you guys seen Fantasy Craft? Now that game (to be continued next week).

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).

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About Matthew A. C.

Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).
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