You know I’d like to search the internet for Pathfinder just once and not have the shitty film come up.
I’ve been contemplating writing about the Pathfinder system for some time on this journal but find myself at a loss for what to say.
Now, on the surface that’s weird considering I’ve spent more money on that RPG system than any other I’ve owned, I run a weekly session in that same system using a full six part adventure path module and it is the top selling pen and paper RPG system being the first (if I’m not mistaken) to knock Dungeons and Dragons from the throne.
So why don’t I know where to start?
Well, let’s try some history.
Pathfinder is, largely, the result of the massive split in the RPG community when Dungeons and Dragons created a 4th edition of their own rules. 4th Edition was designed to be more welcoming to new players and did so by simplifying many of the rules, boiling down the classes to being virtually identical, and generally pissing away a lot of goodwill.
They also, literally, scorched earthed the Forgotten Realms, arguably one of their most iconic settings.
So there was some bad blood all around the park.
At that time a publishing group known as Paizo had a pair of magazines called Dungeon and Dragon. When 4th Edition was announced Paizo had the inside track on what the new system was and decided to take a look at the old 3.5 edition rules.
I can’t define the ambition and madness that was required for Paizo do to what they did.
You see Dungeons and Dragons had something called the Open Gaming License. In essence this allowed people who weren’t Wizards of the Coast (the makers of Dungeons and Dragons) to produce supplements and materials with their rules system without requiring Wizards to publish it.
There is more here and it requires a lot of legalese to understand it all fully.
Now the Open Gaming License (OGL) as it exists applied purely to all iterations of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. Back in the day it basically amounted to some second hand supplements. Some shitty, some great.
But when Wizards created the equivalent for 4th edition known as the Gaming System License. Many found it to be more restrictive then the OGL.
Paizo, at that time got the idea to stop running their two long time magazine publications and not only start publishing adventures for the now defunct 3.5 Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, but also create a new system that took the 3.5 rules and fixed the classes, core mechanics, overall problems with the system in general and let the entire internet have it for free.
That last part has no freaking embellishment on it.
You see, to ensure they were doing the best possible improvement of the 3.5 rules they handed all of their tested work to the internet and challenged the myriad of D&D fans online (many of whom we can assume were raging about 4th) to break their rules and help improve the system.
What came back was created into the Pathfinder RPG as we know it today.
To this day a good portion of the core books are online in their entirety. Which, you can argue, goes a long way to discourage piracy.
Cause… you know… it’s just right there.
Also it takes a weight off of player groups who require access to the rules but don’t want to shell out the funds for individual copies of the Pathfinder core book and all supplemental core books.
It’s worth noting that Pathfinder’s first published products weren’t the core rules but the adventure modules instead. Since their inception Pathfinder has created series of six modules of a story arc allowing players to take characters from creation to around level seventeen or so. Each of these six part modules is set in the world of Golarion, also known as the Inner Sea. From what I’ve gathered, each one is set in a different area within that world and, thus, takes on a different known fantasy setting.
As a result the idea is to give the players as much variety as possible when choosing a set of modules or when going from one module set to the next if you are a subscriber. They’ve done the traditional fantasy adventure, gothic horror, Winter Fey, Egyptian Mummies, Arabian fables, Pirates and Giant Robots.
Correction, the storyline with the Giant Robots is forthcoming.
And I will buy it. Because I am weak.
This is in addition to the single modules which anyone can pick up and play and the Pathfinder Society which run long seasons of adventures.
So why is Pathfinder such a success?
Pathfinder, I think, did a bunch of right things at the right time. As RPGs are now there is a massive overflow of simple RPG systems running around in the market. These are systems designed for open ended roleplaying and to minimalize the need for stats and dice rolls and focus more on roleplaying. Now that’s perfectly fine, it’s always good to have those systems to introduce new players and encourage imaginative world and character building. At the same time there is now a deficit of strong rules systems which hurts a lot of long time players as well as players looking for a system with more meat in it. And since the Pathfinder corebook is basically an inch thick you can’t get more meat then that.
Delicious, delicious meat.
On top of that it allowed a lot of classic Dungeons and Dragons players a modern system to take a lot of their old adventures as the world of Golarion is not a mandatory part of the system. In fact there are a lot of rules in place to help players make their own worlds and setting within the corebook as well as supplements.
So those are all good reasons why everyone else likes it. Why do I?
I considered myself, for the longest time, part of the demographic of RPG players who hated heavy rules systems and preferred books that allowed more versatility in roleplaying. I had a few Dungeons and Dragons experiences and they were all bad, by and large.
The thing I’ve come to enjoy that it’s incorporated a modular and adaptable rules design. If you take the core rulebook, you have enough within to run any variety of campaigns. The additional rules and even the setting are set up as optional add-ons to be used as you require. I love that modular nature and I’ve always felt that RPGs need to strongly highlight just how well they implement that.
I like the fact that each Pathfinder class is designed with something new for the player to use at each level, thus making it feel much more rewarding when you do so, especially at higher levels.
On top of that, I’ve found at least three of the adventure paths that I legitimately want to own. Granted one is a pirate one and one has giant robots but that still leaves one that doesn’t play to my immediate biases.
And I think a lot of it is because of the fact that I see so many new players now who have so little confidence in themselves. They don’t seem to think they can wrap their heads around a large, heavy rules system and that’s just not the case. I’ve seen too many players get sucked into a bad RPG system like the Marvel Heroic RPG or, in many cases, 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons because they’ve convinced themselves that they don’t have what it takes to handle something more.
I really think that’s not right.
Despite whatever stereotypes exist about the more extreme RPG systems out there it really boils down to having a good, understanding GM and a group of players that synch up well. People shouldn’t be afraid of something like Pathfinder just because it might be more then they can handle. In the end, there is something to just having a well-made system that you run with friends. At that point it isn’t about the fear of death or the rules.
It’s about what’s beyond the horizon.
And so too does this work exist.