Playing Pathfinder

I’ve spent the last nine years of my hobby discussing, designing and playing independent role-playing games. I published three stand-alone games in that span, and who knows how many hours jabbering away — mostly online — about RPGs. In fact, I got started on that road after playing D&D 3E and becoming frustrated with playing, and especially running, that game.

But, lately, I’ve spent my game time playing Pathfinder. I had two separate requests from pals, whom I met because of my involvement in indie RPGs, to explain why I play Pathfinder. Here’s a long overdue post to answer Keith and Judd.

A bit of my gaming history

For starters, I’ve got to explain a bit about my own RPG history. If you want to get right to the specifics of Pathfinder, skip this post and wait for my next update.

Mercifully, I’ll keep this brief. I basically have two gaming groups with a bit of overlap between. Each has its quirks, which is to say it’s a pain trying to get everyone together these days.

One of the groups is a bunch of guy friends from my home town, where I still live. While the fellas and I have dabbled in other games over more than 15 years, we’re basically still a bunch of guys who really like fantasy RPGs, especially D&D. This is the crew I’m playing Pathfinder with now. We’ve dabbled in Burning Wheel and a one-shot of 3:16. But, D&D play still tops the charts.

My other group’s interests in RPGs are more varied. We’ve played some indie RPGs, including some steady playtesting for my game 44: A Game of Automatic Fear. But, I don’t consider the group devoted to indie RPGs or anything.

The Nostalgia Factor

Over the last year or so, busy real lives, crazy job schedules, and parenting resulted in basically no actual play. Despite repeated attempts, game sessions rarely materialized. When they did, they quickly disintegrated into distractions. But, last fall I managed to get several of my guy pals together for a day off from work to play some board games and hang out. We spent the morning eating and talking about how we never get to play RPGs anymore. A couple of us had, independently, picked up the Pathfinder book, and we all chatted about it.

The enthusiasm for Pathfinder was obvious. So much so, I found it a little surprising. They were not only pawing over the books, their interest was vocal. My friends said things about gaming I never expected to hear from them. Things like how much they missed it, how much they loved all the bits and pieces of the D&D experience. These were things I took for granted, or even a handful of things I had dismissed for various reasons.

I’m often the organizer of our game sessions, and I had tried to stoke this kind of enthusiasm for years, in many ways. I tried different games, including D&D 4E. The responses were mostly quiet.

Somehow, Pathfinder struck a nerve. I think it had two main causes. First, it was reaction against D&D 4E, which I discovered my friends unanimously found disappointing. Second, they saw in Pathfinder an appealing mix. It combined their comfort zone of 3rd edition with enough new, exciting twists to try it out again.

Good times

So, a few phone calls later and we had organized a monthly game night, literally in ink on the wives’ calendars. That was at the end of December, and attendance has incrementally grown each month since. The old group is excited again.

And, the game sessions are the most fun I’ve had in a long time, precisely because everyone’s enthused. We had a bunch of 2nd level characters fighting 4 tieflings. As GM, I figured this would be a quick and dirty warm up for the brief adventure I had planned. I’m still scratching my head on why exactly it turned out to be the most dramatic, fun, and tactical combat span we’ve played in years. Maybe it was just a drought of play. But, everyone was talking how much they had that session, and the fight was by far the most memorable.

Oh, the sessions are brief, which I find a bit challenging as a GM. How do I create just enough material for these relatively brief session (3 hours, maybe 4)? Pathfinder provides a couple useful tools for that, actually. But, still, it’s a thick and complicated game. I worry our short sessions won’t let us get to the real meat of the game as the players progress.

Pathfinder and trailblazing

So, we’re learing as we go. The current “campaign” is doomed. We’ve already agreed to reboot with a new campaign setting of our own making. Players are coming up with mind-blowing ideas for that already, and I’m having fun designing both setting and new game concepts for it. We’re aiming to kick it all off this summer. Meanwhile, no one’s feeling odd about their current characters, destined for mid-level greatness at best. The group’s enjoying the sessions as they come, and looking forward to a steady game group back in action.

I’m not sure I’ve answered any of Judd or Keith’s questions. Or, my own for that matter. For now, this will have to do. I’ll share more about the game sessions and our new ideas as they come. I have to at least post the new “Name levels” bit of nostalgia we came up with! That’s too much fun to pass up.