So, not long ago I wrote about five things I love and five things I don’t love about D&D 5e. Overall I think it’s a great system, and certainly my favourite edition of that game since second edition AD&D. That said, it isn’t the only system I play or enjoy, so today I will do the same with the other 500 lb gorilla in the realm of fantasy RPGs: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (henceforth PFRPG) by Paizo Publishing.
I had no prior history with Dungon or Dragon magazines, so I discovered PFRPG mostly by chance during its open beta while looking to file off some of the irritating edges in the D&D 3.5 system. Seeing that the document had already addressed some of my issues, and being wooed by the spiffy Wayne Reynolds cover and artwork, I gave it a read and subsequently purchased a copy of the final release. At this point, I may have run more sessions of PFRPG than any other game… and I’ve been running games a long time. Now that my history with PFRPG has been , let’s get into the meat of this article with five great things about PFRPG:
- You already know how to play it. While I imagine there are indie RPG enthusiasts out there that have never played a derivative of D&D 3rd edition, every gamer I know personally has. Getting buy-in from players for a PFRPG campaign is easy in my experience, since there is already a familiarity with the basic system, even if some of the specific details are different.
- It is adaptable. PFRPG is a fantasy game per its default, but it is actually adaptable to other styles without too much heavy lifting; I have been running it as a modern day Supernaturalesque action horror game quite successfully for some time. We will get to see how adaptable it is in Paizo’s hands when they release the science fantasy Starfinder Roleplaying Game in summer 2017.
- It is well supported. Paizo releases several books each month to support their RPG, including their flagship Pathfinder Adventure Path. Every month sees the release of one sixth of a campaign, with supporting material, which is a godsend to busy PFRPG gamemasters. At this point, I think more books, if not more pages, have been released for PFRPG than for D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 combined. Additionally, there is official errata and FAQs on Paizo’s website to clarify and correct the rules.
- Third-party support. If Paizo’s first-party support isn’t enough, there is an active communityof third-part creators producing all manner of content to fill the gaps in the “official” ruleset. Whether it’s the quirky but complex classes released by Interjection Games, or Dreamscarred Press’ updates to the 3rd edition psionics, or Raging Swan Press’ awesome dressing, or the neat tweaks to the system coming from Rogue Genius Games, you can find nearly anything you could possibly want from a third-party vendor. If you will allow a shameless plug, our own Dire Rugrat Publishing offers nice (and not nice) taverns in multiple game systems to introduce to your campaign right over here.
- The Community. More than maintaining a customer base, Paizo has done a fantastic job building a thriving and involved community on their website. You can ask questions on the best way to build an uber-barbarian, find people to start your next campaign with, or discuss anything from politics to tv. Best of all, you might have access to the people that write and design your favourite products.
So far so good, right? But what is the dark side of PFRPG? Let’s see…
- Rules, Rules, Rules. PFRPG may not be as rules heavy as, say, Rolemaster, but it has a lot of rules. And more rules elements are added with each new hardcover release. There are a lot of things for a player, let alone a gamemaster, to remember which can lead to a lot of slowdown. This also leads to…
- Combat is a slog. You would think that a game that has such a strong focus on combat would let you make it through several of them in a session. You would be wrong. I’ve clocked a fight between a party of four 1st level characters and 6 goblins at over ninety minutes of real time. It gets worse as you gain levels, to the point that, in my gaming group, once the PCs were at level 8 or above, we could have a combat or we could roleplay in a four hour session, but we certainly couldn’t do both.
- High level play. In addition to slow gameplay, high level PFRPG introduces the reality that the PCs become super powered to the point that they couldn’t be defeated by Superman and his team of super pets. Perhaps its my own deficiency as a game runner, but I find playing PFRPG beyond 8th level largely unsatisfying.
- Golarion. Plenty of people love Paizo’s campaign setting of Golarion. I don’t. It doesn’t make sense to me. Its focus on strongly thematic regions makes it seem more like an incoherent jumble than a logical, believable place. All of this would be fine if Golarion didn’t worm its way into the supposedly setting neutral system rules, but it does. All goblins are illiterate and fear written language… since it was decided to include that little bit from the Golarion specific Adventure Path line in the Bestiary. All undead are evil, since the creative overlords of Golarion don’t like the idea of non-evil undead. I can ignore things like this, but I shouldn’t have to dangit!
- Player’s Expectations. This is something that I found originated with D&D 3.0, but carries through to PFRPG. The players expect you to play “fair.” This is to say, they expect CR appropriate encounters. They expect that the gamemaster will adhere to the suggested Wealth by Level. They expect that every encounter will yield to the use of their swanky combat tricks, spells, and feats. And they get cranky and accuse the GM of being unfair when they don’t. I have found, even while playing with the same people for nearly twenty years, that my players just aren’t as creative in their problem solving while playing PFRPG as they are while playing other games.
So there you are. If there are things that you love or loathe about PFRPG, sound off in the comments!