Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pathfinder in review

My Pathfinder roleplaying campaign is winding down and we have only 1 session left to go.  Now that I have seen the game played from level 1 through level 10 I have a fairly good idea of what sorts of things work in the system and what don't.  The big thing I have learned is that the numbers and systems in Pathfinder are mostly complete garbage.  There is very little there that I feel like has any real merit from an objective standpoint and the real reason that Pathfinder is so popular is that it is just an extension of the previous system which everyone is familiar with.  Granted Pathfinder is better than DnD 3.5, which is fine and all, but honestly if I was building a system from the ground up I find very little in it I would emulate.

I played a couple of purely tactical DnD 4th edition campaigns with no roleplaying and tons of combat over a shortly time span and I think I can safely say that although 4th lacks some of the flavour and nostalgia of Pathfinder it is a massively superior system in terms of numbers.  Classes are far more balanced and ridiculous and terrible combat situations come up a lot less.  In old school DnD it is entirely normal for specific character types to be nearly useless in many fights, or in fact in all fights, and for optimized characters  to be as powerful as four regular characters and in 4th those things are brought back into line.  There are some common issues that go across both systems though that I would like to see addressed either in DnD Next or in a system I design myself.  In no particular order:

Figuring out your plus to hit should be easy.  Endlessly adding up bonuses and penalties to hit from seven different sources trying to figure out if you missed by one or just barely hit is annoying.

Calculating the results of your actions should be fast.  People want to spend time coming up with fun actions and making interesting choices not doing tedious arithmetic.

Healers shouldn't be pigeonholed into spamming "Heal" for entire fights.  Playing a healer should involve interesting choices and let you heal people as part of that, not doing one thing over and over.

Feats and other static player customization should be reasonably balanced.  I should not have to scour enormous databases to discover 'mandatory' feats that are necessary to be remotely competitive.

Players should have the correct number of power choices.  If fighters only have 'attack' then their game is boring.  If they have 16 different powers the game is overwhelming for new players.

Magic items should not be so powerful that characters are helpless without them.  I want to be a hero, not a vehicle for equipment, nor a merchant trying to haggle my way to greater combat prowess.

One thing that makes me hopeful is that DnD Next actually solves a couple of these issues.  We don't yet know much of what it will be like when we see the whole system but it sure looks like the arithmetic concerns I talk about are much better and the characters won't be overwhelmed with combat options like they were in 4th edition.  I think I will get back to working on SkyRPG and see if I can get some of my ideas into some concrete sort of form.

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