Since the Imperial Destiny campaign ended, I haven’t been doing much gaming really; not even computer games (ok, ok, I did play a little of Vampire Wars on Facebook, but that is so mindless, it scarcely counts). This past weekend, I got to play the new Pathfinder RPG from Paizo Publishing (you know the folks who used to do Dragon and Dungeon magazines).
I give this well-crafted and thoroughly playtested game a solid 8 out of 10 (4/5 style and 4/5 substance). It does what it set out to do. It got me excited about playing D&D again.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Pathfinder RPG (as opposed to Paizo’s Pathfinder Setting/Serials), Pathfinder (or 3P) as it is coming to be known is a game designed off the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 OGL. It is a straight faced rejection of D&D 4E and is intended as a way to continue supporting the discontinued D&D 3.5 (hence, 3P….some people need to be clever). The production value of the book (which includes both Players and GM sections into one volume…..Bestiary will be issued separately) is quite high. It’s hardcover (though a pdf is also available), there’s 575 pages, the art is fairly good (and more of a throw-back to older editions of D&D, which I think many will like), and includes both a Table of Contents and a fairly thorough index.
The design theory was to make a game that is compatible with D&D 3.5, while fixing some of the stuff that didn’t work that well (grappling comes to mind). They also wanted to enhance and re balance the core-classes so that they were comparable with D&D 3.5 Prestige Classes. They essentially wanted people to continue to be able to use their 3.5 materials in a 3P game…..which is nice, considering the thousands of dollars that many people have invested in that system.
Now I’ve read both the Alpha and Beta versions of Pathfinder and am almost wishing I didn’t. Between the 3.0, 3.5, 3.26 (3/3.5 version that we used for Imperial Destiny), 3P Alpha, 3P Beta, and the 3P Official Release, I’m bound to forget what is actually in the 3P game. I was disappointed by some of the things that were in the Beta that didn’t make it into the Official Release, but I suppose the year-long beta play test bore some of these out. Some of the changes from 3.5 include:
1) Streamlining the skill system (they’ve given a standard +3 to class skills in which a character has ranks rather than giving L1 characters 4 times as many Skill points and differing maximum ranks for class and non-class skills).
2) Giving a player who takes a level in their Preferred class a bonus skill point or a bonus hitpoint (players choice) – a reward rather than the 3.5 XP penalty.
3) Changing the hitdie for some classes (e.g., Wizards and Sorcerers are now d6, Rogues are d8, etc.).
4) Cleric Domains, Wizard Specializations, and Sorcerer Bloodlines all give interesting and useful abilities that put vanilla versions of these classes on par with PrC’s in 3.5
5) Arcane Bond can be with a familar or an object (kind of like a spell focus item).
6) Magic items no longer require XP’s to create.
7) Lots more feats (~50% more that D&D 3.5’s core books)
8) They changed Cleave – It now is for adjacent defenders but with a -2 to AC until your next turn (oops, I think we forgot about that -2 during our playtest).
9) Grappling was simplified
10) Cantrips & Orisons – Each day, primary spell casters (Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard) can chose a number (3 at L1) 0-level spells can be as many times as you want. This means that spell casters always have something they can do that involves magic. No more of this L1 Wizard casting their Sleep spell and then taking out the cross-bow as a third-rate archer for the rest of the session.
etc., etc., etc. They’ve taken a lot of the more obvious problem areas and fixed them up. In general, I like their fixes. They also made some decisions I like less (why do only Halflings and Gnomes get a Charisma bonus?). Most of these, thankfully, are cosmetic enough that they can be easily changed by any group wishing for something slightly different.
Here was our rundown of six characters: Human Fighter (Greatsword-wielding badass, played by Elrond Hubard), Half-elven Rogue (with aspirations of Arcane Trickster), Elven Ranger (Archer Track), Human Monk (kind of surly), Elven Cleric (Good and Sun Domains), and a Human Wizard (Evoker, with Divinations and Necromancy as restricted schools played by yours truly)…all 1st level. All in all, a pretty balanced party…..I thought we might be a little light in melee, but we’ll see how that works out over time. This is a new campaign…I’m guessing we’ll play like once/month and I’ll try to add updates as to our progress with the system here.
Anyway, here’s a synopsis of the first session: Our group was hired by the local authorities to investigate a hobgoblin attack on a nearby community. We brought them a wagon load of relief supplies, exchanged pleasantries and info with the maligned townsfolk and started following the hobgoblin trail. Upon discovering their lair, we were spotted by two sentries who ran in and warned their compatriots. Following tradition, we stormed right in and kicked some righteous goblinoid ass.
Given the fragility of first-level characters in D&D (any edition) and the boldness of our unplanned assault, I was surprised that none of our party were killed and only two of our number were incapacitated (Rogue who was stabilized by the Cleric’s “Energy Channeling” and then the Cleric who luckily auto-stabilized). Everyone had something that they could do every round (except the downed characters, of course…they just bled).
I’ve never felt so useful at L1…..and as a Wizard! I didn’t even make it through all the uses of my specialist ability ( 3+ Int Bonus = 7 uses of a semi-hobbled magic missile ….It works the same at L1, but only gains +1 damage every two caster levels instead of another d4 of damage every two caster levels….what a cool way to solve the L1 Mage problem).
The Cleric’s Channeling to heal those in radius (friends and foes alike until he picks up the feat that lets him distinguish who to affect) was fantastic and allowed him to actually, you know, use his spells for things other than healing.
The Archer was irritated by the -4 penalty for firing into melee….this was expected to be a frustration. I’m betting she’ll feel better about her character once she picks up precise shot next level. Again, this is a frustration that continues from previous editions for me – the lack of support for the Archer-trope in D&D. To a certain degree, unless you’re swinging that big-ass two-handed weapon, as a primary fighter, you’re just kidding around.
So in summary, Pathfinder is essentially D&D 3.5. It plays essentially the same. It still has many of the same warts….though thankfully, some of the uglier 3.5 warts have been surgically removed or at least smoothed over a bit. If you’re interested in continuing to play D&D 3.x but want to play a game that is still supported, then Pathfinder may be your cup of tea…..while still remaining 95% compatible with your existing collection of D&D 3.x books. If you didn’t like D&D 3.x, you probably won’t like Pathfinder either.
~AoB, High Adventure Games