Thursday, December 18, 2014

12 Games of X-Mas 9: "Nine Ladies Pathfinding"

So here come the big ones to round out the list.  First up is possibly the biggest of them all, Pathfinder.  For anyone who somehow hasn't heard of it, Pathfinder is the spiritual successor to Wizards of the Coast's take on Dungeon and Dragons 3.5 Edition.  In the five years since its publishing it has taken the throne of top dog in the table top market surpassing that game it was modeled after.

The Good:

  • Filling the Void
    • For anyone who doesn't know pathfinder was born directly out of the vast changes to Dungeons & Dragons between versions 3.5 and 4.  Many gamers were expecting an update to the existing rules they had already invested so much time and money into learning.  When 4th Edition proved to be a completely different game it left droves of gamers asking why and looking for more of what they already knew.  This is when Pathfinder came blazing onto the scene, created by a publisher already mired in writing for the now pushed aside favorite they started putting out a game that found a way to feel both new and rooted in what came before.  Let's face it, some of us aren't the biggest fans of changes, especially not drastic ones, and Pathfinder was willing to see that.
  • Much Needed Improvements
    • As I said Pathfinder did make some much needed improvements.  Adding Archetypes to classes so an entire party can play the same class while everyone being completely different added dozens of new character options without completely relearning what was tried and true. Traits added a new level of depth to character mechanics and story while not being cumbersome or in the way of existing mechanics.  Even the unique world of Pathfinder felt evolved with the inclusion of black power weapons and new classes such as the gunslinger.  In every aspect the game felt like a logical progression from it's D&D roots growing and expanding.
The Bad:

  • Showing Your Age
    • D&D 3.5 came out in the year 2000 and even though Pathfinder didn't hit the shelves till eight years later it's still so entrenched in those core mechanics that it feel about as dated.  This is a game for people who didn't like too much change from what they were used to and because of that is some respect it suffers.  The game itself is currently sever years old, but because it is more of an update than it's own game it feels considerably older.  Now being an older game in and of itself isn't a problem, the issues come when we've been fairly spoiled in the last decade or so with game designers finding new ways to smooth out the rougher corners of of their war-gaming based forefathers.  Combat drags and many rules feel arbitrary requiring constantly either checking exact rule wording or constant house-ruling just to speed things along.  For those of us that are years deep into the hobby most of that isn't an issue, but new gamers have a lot more options than we used to with a much smoother and elegant systems offered.
  • Power Gamer's Paradise  
    • Some people love optimizing characters, making builds that blow anyone else out of the water. I am not one of those people.  The systems started in D&D 3.5 already lended themselves to such building and tweaking, but Pathfinder took it into high gear.  Almost all of the improvements made to the existing systems also game more knobs and levels to tweak to maximize bonuses and  find loopholes to the rules.  I'm all for characters shining in their respected niches, but when one character is ten times better than anyone else as half of the game just because they figure out X+Y with the option of Z completely break mechanic 32C that's not a game I'm looking to run.  The other issues with a game that supports optimal build to such an extreme is it becomes more a game about what numbers you have on a sheet far and above what character you are looking to play and to me that feels like a step back towards its war-gaming roots rather than an evolution into something more.
Final Thoughts:
I know I've done a fair bit of bash on a game many people love, but that's simply a difference in preference.  I have loads of gaming friends that love this sort of game and honestly I think Pathfinder is the perfect version of it.  It has been tweaked and play tested to near perfection for what it is aiming to be.  I would never suggest it to a new player as it can be an intimidating entry into gaming, but for anyone looking for more crunch and tactics in their games I can't think of many that do it better than Pathfinder.


  1. Pathfinder has a lovely Beginner Box, though, with lots of stand-up two-sided cardboard figures, prepared character sheets, well-organized tables of information, especially about character classes and what to add when you advance in level.

    We need this stuff to attract "new blood". The Dungeons & Dragons 5th-edition Starter Set also came out, but it is plainer (and no figures or counters in it). They seem to be going with more of an "imagination game" approach, describing things "in your head" with less reliance on combat-map grids and such.

    On the science-fiction side, STAR WARS has more than one kind of beginner box. I'm partial to classic Traveller, and you can still download the rules for that at a price, but it's old-school and a real read, not as helpful as the starter sets.

    1. ...Oh, and SHADOWRUN has introduced a starter-set (cyberpunk science-fiction infused with semi-human races and magic).