Since the Big News of the day is the advent of 5e D&D, I thought I’d buck the trend and speak about one of the reasons why Hasbro has been forced in this particular direction in the first place — Pathfinder. (Besides which, Jeff Rients pretty much sums up everything I might say on the subject with his open letter to WotC).
As I have said several time before, I play with a bunch of guys who were introduced to the hobby via 3e. I have split time running campaigns with other guys, depending on who has an itch to run a game. When I first began doing this, the other campaigns we played were 3.5 games. More recently, these games have been 1st ed AD&D. Well, a couple of the guys from our group have been getting the urge to go back to their roots and play a little 3.5.
For the most part, the group wasn’t all that interested. Our table very much likes the fast-paced combat achievable with earlier editions. The amount of stuff that can be accomplished in an evening of gaming using LL or AD&D far outstrips what we did while using 3.5. Thus, the whole discussion was a bit of a non-starter. That is, until someone brought up the possibility of playing Pathfinder using the Kingmaker Adventure Path.
I happen to really like Paizo, their attitude and their relationship they have with the community. I even gave my two cents during the open play test of Pathfinder. Thus, though I have never had occasion to purchase any of their products, I have rooted for them. The closest I ever came to actually forking over part of my limited gaming budget to them was when they published the Kingmaker Adventure Path. It intrigued me to no end — I wanted to see how one would go about doing a sandbox with a complex ruleset like Pathfinder.
So, when one of our guys volunteered to run it, I was actually very interested to see what would happen. Due to life issues, we decided to take a short break from my own campaign to take advantage of my own relatively busy schedule in December and his own relatively light schedule to go all in for the last month with Pathfinder.
The campaign has been relatively successful. Pathfinder does all the things 3.5 does well better. I say this with one caveat. Having had experienced the abstract combat style of LL, our GM has adopted several of the conventions that we use while playing LL. This speeds things up considerably and still allows for some crunch for those that want it (and who needs to pull out maps and figures for most wilderness encounters anyway?) In addition, our GM adjudicates all skill rolls — he either rolls them himself or simply arbitrarily declares success. This has had the wonderful side affect of encouraging more role playing than roll playing.
Unfortunately, Pathfinder still suffers from many of the flaws that 3.5 does. Personally, I would not wish to invest the kind of time necessary to ever run a Pathfinder campaign. In addition, we have averaged one character death per session (something we have grown accustomed to with older editions). The problem is that even when a player knows what they are doing, creating a new character takes forever. We have alleviated this a bit by having NPCs available to play. This strategy, while fine with old-school guys like myself, defeats one of the reasons why some of our group (and a whole segment of gamers) like to play 3.5 & Pathfinder— testing character builds against game conditions.
If I am honest, I can greatly sympathize with this particular mindset because I have spent many an hour doing various kinds of builds to test in game play. The major difference between my own gaming experience and those who enjoy this aspect of 3.5/Pathfinder play is that the major outlet I have had over my gaming life has been through various war games.
Car Wars, Starmada, ARES and Renegade Legion (Interceptor) among others are all games that I spent lots of time making builds and then testing them in game play. I did the same with two what are ostensibly RPGs but more often than not my friends and I used with arena combat scenarios to test character builds — Champions and GURPS. The most common scenario my friends and I ran with Champions was the Danger Room — which is, in essence, a war game. The only original version of GURPS I still own is its precursor Man to Man — an arena-type war game that uses what would become the GURPS combat system.
Thus, that occasional itch to make what in 3.5/Pathfinder are character builds I scratch with war games or RPGs that can be played as war games. It makes me wonder if the cultural divide between 3.5/4th ed players and earlier edition players is in part a generational thing. Guys my age grew up with war games — I had certainly played several different war games prior to ever hearing about D&D. The guys I now play with are all young enough that what I had readily available as board and mini-games had all been displaced by video games. With no real outlet other than RPGs to scratch that character-build itch, is 3+ D&D for many gamers today what war games are/were for me?
In the end, I very much enjoy the campaign; however, if your goal is to play Pathfinder in an old-school style, old school rules do a much better job without all the negatives the complex rules bring with it. Kingmaker is fun, but if I ever ran it myself, I would convert it to LL + AEC in a heart beat.
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