Pathfinder session #2: Fun but fiddly

Last night was the second session in the ongoing Pathfinder campaign I was fortunate enough to be invited to join. As a player who knows D&D 4th Edition well but who’s still learning Pathfinder, it continues to be an enlightening experience.

The GM for the game is awesome, and he’s the reason I jumped at the chance to play (it’s not like I have an overabundance of free time – I’m running a lot of games right now!). We’re playing the Rise of the Runelords campaign path, which everyone tells me is a great adventure (and I agree so far). My character is definitely a real character – Father Beren, a gypsy cleric of Desna (goddess of luck and travel). Kind of a grim hippie. He’s developed in part because of my thinking and writing about a back story and in part because of awesome work by the GM to mention how various things in the game affect him (seeing horrible creatures and places devoted to the god opposed to Desna is repulsive to Beren).

The other players are fun, too – two of them in particular. One is a pensive traveler from afar (a druid with a cat companion) and another is a dwarf with terrible luck who decided to toss his crossbow in the fire at the inn because he was so frustrated with it. Our awesome GM played out a scene the next day where the dwarf went to a weapon merchant to buy a new crossbow. He first swapped a magic dagger for a magical repeating crossbow, but he does not yet have the right feat to use such a crossbow. So, the dwarf asked if the merchant had any regular crossbows for sale. Sure enough, the merchant had just gotten one in the night before… and he pulls out this fire-blackened crossbow that the innkeeper had apparently rescued from the fire after some crazed dwarf had tried to burn it. Classic.

I’m obviously having lots of fun, but it’s due to the other people around the table. What about the system itself so far?

Well, Pathfinder is way more fiddly than 4th Edition. It’s more simulationist while 4e is more gamist. And so far, I think I like my games to be more gamist. The crossbow-wielding dwarf has had such a hard time hitting monsters in part because he’s always shooting into melee, which imposes a steep penalty on the attack until he can take a feat to get around that problem.

Another PC grappled an enemy at one point, which led to a lot of rule lookups. Making and sustaining the grapple wasn’t too complicated (the PC made an attack using her Combat Maneuver Bonus – CMB – against the target’s Combat Maneuver Defense – CMD), but once the monster was grappled we had to do a bunch of searching for the changes to the monster’s attacks and defenses, and oh yeah, there’s a dexterity penalty, so that’s an extra penalty to defenses… or wait, was that already included? Sigh.

I also miss power cards from 4e. I’m not used to using books at the table, but in Pathfinder you have to constantly refer to various books to look up your spells. I suppose you could print them all out on a few pages, but you have a lot more spell choices in Pathfinder. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.

I’ll admit that I’m kind of digging Vancian magic in certain ways. My cleric currently gets:

  • Three first-level spells per day
  • A domain spell
  • Four different orisons (minor at-will spells in 4e parlance)
  • The ability to channel positive energy seven times a day (minor healing or undead fighting)
  • The ability to call on the luck of Desna five times a day (a great ability)

It’s kind of cool to be able to choose those three spells and the domain spell each day, plus occasionally tweaking my orisons. For instance, we encountered a temple to an evil god in which was a small basin of horribly unholy water. Beren wanted to destroy it, but he didn’t have Make Holy Water prepared. So, the next day he prayed to Desna for that spell and came back to start destroying the water. That’s some nice flexibility to have.

I’m also getting used to the fact that I don’t have at-will powers like a 4e cleric exactly. On his turn Beren will either attack something with my starknife or he’ll cast a spell to make his team more effective; not both. I don’t mind playing a support class, because Beren is a pretty great supporter.

I do think that the change to Fortitude, Reflex and Will as defenses in 4e rather than saving throws makes things easier to follow (it’s fiddly to figure out the DC of a saving throw against various abilities), though it leads to interesting situation where ongoing poison, for instance, requires a Fortitude saving throw each turn until you fight it off. Honestly, the 4e saving throw (get a 10 or better on a d20) is a lot simpler and easier to use, though less simulationist. I’m okay with that.

I’m looking forward to continuing to learn Pathfinder and playing with my awesome fellow players and GM. I’m having fun, and I’m reserving judgment on the game until I’ve been playing it for many months and feel like I have some measure of system mastery as I do with 4e. But so far, I think I’m learning that I’m fine with more abstract game mechanics if they make the game go smoothly, and I think 4e does a pretty good job with that.

3 thoughts on “Pathfinder session #2: Fun but fiddly

  1. Agreed. I started playing dnd 3.5 and I thought it was great, but when 4e came out, it just had a lot more structure that I enjoyed. The overabundance of spells- you’re right, both good and bad. Still, having no choice in combat abilities like in 4e for characters is a little more restricting.

  2. OK, if you are using MapTools to play this game, I would suggest using Lindsay’s great FW on the forums. Also, include Wrathgon’s Spell Manager and Aliasmask’s Spell Library and you can basically sit back and run everything quite easily. As for Spell cards google Perram’s Spell Book. It does the same thing as the DDI used to do before it went online( got out of 4E as it is not my game). For the grappling rules, on the Paizo forums there is a really great flowchart one of the members made and makes figuring this stuff out quite easily. I would also suggest heading over to Drive Thru RPG and picking up the SORD for Pathfinder it is indispensable for learning the rules. Hope this helps!

    • Thanks for the tips! To be clear, I’m just a player in this game, not the GM, and we’re not using MapTool or anything like that, just regular pen and paper and vinyl mats and so on.

      I know there are great frameworks out there for lots of different games in MapTool, and if I were going to run a Pathfinder game I might very well seek them out, but I’ve had fun basically home brewing my own “framework” for my 4e game.

      Great suggestion on Perram’s Spellbook – that’s a fantastic tool!

      As for the tips on grappling rules and SORD, those both look helpful. However, my issue isn’t that I can’t figure these things out; it’s that the system requires these things to BE figured out. They’re quite complicated, to the point that fans have put a lot of effort into making them easier to understand. That’s fiddly, and while I’m okay with a fiddly system, it’s not my preference.

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