Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Roller Coaster Ride: Me and Pathfinder

The first thing I will say on this topic is this.  I was introduced to RPGs through Dungeons and Dragons.  Class and level based fantasy roleplaying is always going to have a special place in my heart, which is why it is always going to be hard to move on, and why there will always be a certain attraction to the concept.

There are games that make much more "logical" sense, even from an internal consistency point of view.  There are games that flow much more quickly and have much better pacing than D&D and its various children over the years.  That has nothing to do with the emotional attachment that comes from years of playing the game.

The other strange thing is that one of D&D's biggest problems is also one of it's biggest assets.  There are a million different moving parts.  Class features, feats, racial abilities, spells, and magic items are all a nightmare to track.  There are so many more elegant ways to represent the exact same thing.  For example, in Savage Worlds you don't need a separate spell for each type of damage, you pick a spell that damages and describe it's effect.

But despite the inherent illogical basis of D&D and it's children, there is something exciting about being told you can't so something completely logical, but if you wait a level or two, you might be able to do that very thing.  It builds anticipation.  It also creates a million new toys to play with.  As counter-intuitive as it is, every time you think of something you want to do, and can't do it, it creates a new toy in the game that let's you do something you could probably do in another system without thinking about it.

It is completely and totally emotion based.  It makes any arguments about "reality" pointless when viewed through the spectrum of the game.  It also means that since the game is about delayed gratification and having a million toys to fulfill those desires, the rules that tell you what you can do and what you can't do, and the rules that tell you what your various and sundry toys do, must be very clear.

The main point I'm trying to get across is that d20 level based RPGs aren't logical.  They are not the height of the artform.  They are not the most logical extension, nor the best expression to use for many genres.  On the other hand, playing with the rules, themselves, and waiting until you can earn your various d20 merit badges in the form of class abilities, spells, and the like, has a very strong emotional appeal.

The long and the short of this is, I tried moving completely on from Pathfinder at one point in time.  It is not the most logical, fun, or fast moving system out there.  But it's hard to get completely out of your system.  I played in my friend's game because I missed playing with my friend and the others in the game.  But eventually, it starts to gnaw at you that you want to get one more level so you can do X.

This path got me looking at things on the GM side of things once again, and finding some really, really nice products that would be a lot of fun to use from the other side of the screen.  Fire Mountain Games' Way of the Wicked evil adventure path has been a blast to read so far.  I missed looking at the excellent toys for the Pathfinder game that Super Genius Games releases on a consistent basis.

Now, this kind of emotional separation and return isn't new for me.  I go through it with Star Wars and super heroes all of the time.  There comes a time when you have to sit down and figure out what your emotional attachment to something springs from, focus on what you really get out of that attachment, and then not worry about the other stuff that gets on your nerves, or at least get to the heart of that consternation and move on.

Pathfinder is never going to be the "be all end all" of my RPG experience as it was for a while.  I'll always be annoyed that people put Paizo on a pedestal and think that the only way to express their appreciation of a product is to tell everyone at the company that they can do no wrong.  I'll shake my head when I read about edition wars, since every form of D&D and it's children are inherently flawed and illogical, and their appeal is almost completely emotion based.

Understand what you love, and why, but don't be afraid to tell people when you think they have made a mistake, or when their products or directions don't serve your needs.  If you don't, you only have yourself to blame when you realize that the idols of game design that you worship aren't really making a game just for you.  You are a consumer, not a buddy or a pal, and if you don't maintain that distance, eventually you will be reminded of that reality.

Be a fan of an individual product, of an idea.  Not a company or a person.  Companies need to do what they need to do to survive.  People make mistakes.  Once a product is out the door, you know what it is.  Once an idea is out there, it is what it is.  Figure out what you really care about, and cut away the rest.  I'll try to do that myself, but it's not always easy.


  1. This is really powerful. It's very important and I'm really glad you figured it out and know how to deal with it.

  2. Reading a lot of OSR blogs led me to look at a lot of retro clones, which led me to realize that I wasn't interested in a lot of them, which led me to realize that the ones that interested me are the ones that develop their own personality, for lack of a better term.

    For good or ill, things appeal to me that have personality. 40K has grown on me because it has personality. Star Wars and DC Comics have their own personalities that have grown on me.

    Generic systems, no matter how well written or how well they perform what they intend to perform, tend to be devoid of personality, by design. Oddly enough, Savage Worlds manages to be system neutral and still have a lot of personality by having some quirky bits to it that might not be the height of game design, but they make it distinctive.

    I guess it goes back to what I learned about why we remember things. Our mental filing system, as human beings, tags things emotionally. We probably remember almost everything we ever take in, but we only recall what we have emotionally tagged.

    Games with personality create an emotional tag in my brain, so they pop up in my brain when I think of gaming. If that makes any sense.

  3. Every one has their own taste in games. Some times logic takes a backseat to fun. Personally I like what I find to be fun to run. Rarely the "logical choice". Just my 2 cents.