A plea for good PR for D&D

I’m not an edition warrior, and edition wars make me sad. I know they’ll always exist, but I hope for a day when they are barely noticeable.

I came to D&D too late for the last edition war. I played a little bit of 3rd Edition in 2002 or thereabouts, but didn’t really get into the game until early 2010 with 4th Edition. Thus, my information about the 3e to 4e edition war has come after the fact, when 4e was already well-established and people had taken sides. I missed the “people forming their opinions” stage of the war and have only personally seen the “cold war” state of things.

It seems to me that there are certainly facets of 4e that people who dislike the game actually dislike. However, a lot of those have become less prominent with the introduction of the Essentials books (for instance the “sameness” of classes and martial classes with daily powers).

It also seems that people who don’t like 4e dislike the way certain things are presented in the books. For instance, they feel that there’s too much emphasis on tactical combat and not enough on flavor, exploration and wonder. A fair criticism, and also something that’s gotten better in later books, but it’s something that’s not an inherent problem with the game itself, just its presentation. A good 4e DM can have plenty of flavor, exploration and wonder in the game.

Thus, I think a lot of people who hate 4e could potentially have a lot of fun playing the game if they wanted to. But they do not want to – strongly.

So why are there such strong negative feelings toward 4e in some quarters, rather than just apathy? If a game doesn’t appeal to me, I generally ignore it. I don’t complain about it.

I think it’s clear that a big source of the vitriol against 4e was the poor public relations (PR) surrounding the launch of the edition. I didn’t see all of the “4e is the new edition” PR when it actually came out in 2008, but I’ve seen bits of it quoted in edition warry forum posts and such.

It was bad. WotC seems to have really alienated a large part of their player base. This isn’t always a bad thing for a company – sometimes you’ll have customers whom you’re not really interested in serving, and it would be better for the company if those customers went away. But I don’t think that’s the case with the customers WotC lost in the 4e transition. I think they screwed up by alienating that many people, and I think they’d agree that they screwed up.

Thus, my plea: Please, WotC, as you move forward with the D&D game in all of its incarnations, whether that’s 5th Edition or something else, please make PR a priority.

Note that I’m taking the term “public relations” at face value here – relations with the public. I don’t mean marketing-speak or alternate reality games or weird PR stunts or anything like that. I mean, think very carefully and put real resources into building and maintaining good relationships with the gaming public as you work on new projects.

To be clear, I think Mike Mearls has done a very good job of this so far. I think the hiring of Monte Cook, clearly a fan of older editions, is probably a step in the right direction (although WotC will need to delicately handle the message here to folks who LIKE 4e; Monte’s columns have the potential to alienate them). But I could see it blowing up, badly.

Stay positive. Don’t bad-mouth other editions of the game or other games (like Pathfinder). Talk about what’s great about your new projects without dwelling too much on the perceived “problems” you’re solving . Think carefully about how your words will be interpreted before you write them or say them in public.

This is not an easy task, of course. One extreme would be to say as little as possible and to make sure that everything you say is carefully vetted. That’s a mistake, too. Openness of communication with the gaming community is a hugely important way of building goodwill. But you have to make sure the people who are doing that communicating have the right attitude.

Be nice. Be welcoming. Develop a thick skin (because haters gotta hate). Acknowledge what’s good about other editions and other games.

Even if you don’t get waves of people migrating to your game, good PR will keep you from seeing waves of people migrating away. And from reading comments online, it sounds to me like a lot of people who don’t currently play 4e are open to the idea of considering WotC D&D in the future, if it’s done well. Bad PR will make sure that those potential customers never give your product a shot. Be positive, open and welcoming.

You can do it. Good luck!

No more Pathfinder for now

I’m officially done with my first Pathfinder campaign after just three sessions. I would have liked to have continued playing, but other things interfered.

The big one is that my wife’s health has not been good, and she just needs me around more. I have to cut back on gaming time, and since this was my newest campaign it was the obvious choice to cut first. I’ve also cut way back on Living Forgotten Realms games, but with the awesome DM Andy having moved to New Mexico, I wasn’t as motivated to show up to LFR as a player anyway.

I ended up missing this past Monday’s Pathfinder game because I had to take my wife to the emergency room Sunday night, and she still needed me Monday evening.

Then, one of the other three players ended Monday’s session by bowing out of the campaign. He decided that he really preferred playing 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and was getting out of Pathfinder and d20 System games entirely. With only three players left, the game was looking shaky; when I bowed out, too, that was the end of the game.

I met with Phil, the incredible GM running the game, tonight at our local game store for coffee and a post-mortem. Why did this campaign fail?

  • Obviously in my case, it was my wife’s health (although I wasn’t passionate about this particular game)
  • One of the players decided that he just didn’t like Pathfinder
  • One of the players was a bit socially awkward and didn’t really fit in with the group
  • We only had four players to begin with, meaning that the game was almost impossible to run if anyone was absent (or dropped out of the campaign)
  • Phil observed that a game like Pathfinder really needs a rules wizard at the table, and we didn’t have one

Some reasons that I would have expected the campaign to make it:

  • We had a fantastic GM
  • The story was engaging
  • Three of the four players really clicked with one another

So, there are some lessons to be learned here for future campaigns.

  • If you’re not playing with an already close-knit group of friends or family, make sure you have at least one more player than you need in order to run a fun session (if you need four, have a party of five or six)
  • Screen players up front; if someone isn’t going to click with the rest of the group, it’s hard to fix that problem down the line
  • Make sure you have enough system mastery at the table – if not from the GM, then from one of the players (this isn’t a concern with a rules-light game, of course)

I feel bad for Phil, as he’s a great guy and a great GM, and I know that he poured a ton of energy into this campaign. The biggest change to make for the future is to make sure you have enough good players lined up before starting the campaign. It may stink to delay the start of the campaign by a few weeks in order to recruit another person or two, but it’s the right choice in some instances.

RIP Father Beren, my first Pathfinder character.

GenCon 2011 Day 3 wrap-up

Sorry for not having an evening post for Saturday; I was gaming late into the night.

After the D&D New Products Seminar, I spent about an hour in the vendor hall. I bought myself a nice mini to represent my beloved bard, Factotum, from Dark Sword Miniatures. I don’t think I’d heard of that brand before, but they had some great options. I love the way miniatures sellers at GenCon display their wares by having glass cases filled with beautifully painted versions of their minis, so you can imagine what they could look like. You find one you like in its finished form, and they’ll sell you the unpainted version. It makes a ton of sense.

From there, I went to a late lunch at Shapiro’s with a couple of friends. This is a huge deli / cafeteria about a half mile walk from the convention center, and I had a delicious reuben sandwich. A nice thing about this place is that it was all Indy locals; I don’t think I saw any other GenCon folks there. If you’re eating where the locals eat, you’re probably getting a good meal. Amusingly, I put up a tweet mentioning this lunch, and then later in the day saw that @ShapirosDeli was following me. I guess they pay attention to social media! I wouldn’t have guessed based on the place itself, but okay.

After lunch was a little more time in the exhibitor hall, then to the 4:00 taping of the Dungeon Master Roundtable podcast. Being the D&D blog and podcast fan that I am, this was something I’d really been looking forward to all weekend, and it was great. Aaron from 4Geeks4e wasn’t on the panel, but they had Tracy Hurley (Ennie-award nominated Sarah Darkmagic – wild cheering, much to her embarrassment), Randall Walker (the “old man” of the group), Thaddeous Cooper (the frequent-talker – and yes, I actually saw him sip from a flask during the taping after his water cup went dry) and special guest Mike Shea of slyflourish dot com slash book. They spent a little time talking about the future of their podcasts (apparently some changes to the lineup of 4Geeks4e – Aaron won’t be in it?) and then basically took questions from the audience for an hour. I had a ton of fun.

Tip for seminars at GenCon (or anywhere, really): Sit in the front row. There have always been seats available in my experience, and dude, you’re there to get close to people you want to listen to! You can even interact (very briefly) during the talk itself if you’re right up there with the panelists. For both seminars I attended (D&D New Products and the DM Roundtable), I sat right in the front and really enjoyed it.

By this point my wife was in the exhibitor hall, so I joined her for some massive dice shopping for herself and for our gaming friends back home (my wife is so thoughtful – I felt like an ass for not having already gotten anything for our gamer friends). When the dealer hall closed at 6:00, we went to dinner at Palomino, which is only a block away. I read some blogs before the convention saying that you’re going to have long waits to get food; we really haven’t found that to be the case. We’ve often gone during slightly off hours, but right when the dealer hall closes on Saturday night is NOT off, and we were seated right away. I’m guessing that maybe cheap eats have longer waits (like Steak n Shake or Noodles and Company right down the street from GenCon), but sit-down restaurants (Palomino, Weber Grill) have been no problem so far.

After dinner, the wife and I checked in to the board games library. For the evening, you pay $6 in generic tickets and then can come and go as much as you like, checking out any of the massive number of board games they have available for no additional cost. The window lasts from 6:00 PM to 3:00 AM. It’s awesome.

My wife and friends got started on the board games while I made my way to the “media meet and greet” event. This was a get-together in a bar that’s below Union Station (it’s called The House, and Google Maps on my phone couldn’t find it). I’m terrible at mingling, but I gave it a go. I talked with Mike Shea for a few minutes, since we had interacted a little bit at the DM Roundtable. I had submitted a question asking about ideas for traps or hazards for the adventure I’m running on Thursday (Descent Into Darkness), and Mike gave me some good inspiration. Thanks, Sly Flourish!

I spent some time chatting with NewbieDM and BrainClouds, and then ended up getting into a conversation about D&D4e and Pathfinder with a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Sarah Darkmagic (Tracy and Frank). I didn’t catch his name, but it was useful to see his perspective on the issue. I imagine he’s a pretty typical Pathfinder gamer, and he didn’t seem especially rabidly anti-4e, but it was clear that he’s definitely the type of person WotC wishes they could regain trust with, and they’re nowhere close right now. They’ve got some work to do, and it’s going to take more than words. I hope they succeed – I’d love to see a more united gaming community, or at least one with less distrust.

At this point, a woman from a local Indianapolis paper came over to the table to chat (she liked my bright-blue Hawaiian shirt). I guess this WAS a media event, but I was still surprised to see anyone from the actual print media there! She said she and her husband mainly came in the (alas, vain) hopes of free beer. Anyway, we mainly talked about Indianapolis restaurant, their Fringe Festival for theater, etc. Nice lady… but wow, did she love to talk! Still, she gave me some good restaurant recommendations.

I left the media meet and greet after about 90 minutes (I wish I’d have stayed – apparently some Fiasco games broke out later) and rejoined my wife and friends in the board game library. We saw a game called Trailer Park Wars and simply had to play it once. Once is the correct number of times to play a game like this. It was really, really funny to us at this point, but I’m sure it would have gotten old. I was tied for second place with 23 flamingos at the end, falling to Ryan’s 24.

After the game I was getting tired, so we decided to play one more quick game. We went with Quo Vadis. I’ll come right out and say that I personally ruined the game right at the start, and I’m sorry! It was described as a political game, which I thought meant that politics was just the underlying flavor. It turns out that this can be seen as a perfectly fine trading game without the political flavor, but I didn’t get that for the first few turns. See, I can’t stand politics. And when Ryan asked if I would vote for one of his pawns to advance early on, for which he would give me nothing directly but the game would give me one point, I couldn’t see how this would be good for me at all, and I basically said, screw it, I’m not voting for people. This totally wrecked the game, and I backed off on that position two turns later once I understood that this was just at trading game, but my early actions had definitely screwed up the play of the game (Ted thought that I’d never work with him, so he never asked, for instance). I finished in last place, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. I just felt like a jerk for having ruined the last game I’d get to play with Ryan and Ted and GenCon. Sorry, everybody!

Now it’s the morning of the last day of GenCon, and it’s already feeling bittersweet even though I haven’t left my hotel room yet. We’re staying Sunday night as well, and I’m sure that Monday will feel surreal. But for now, there are hours of gaming ahead of me, and I’m going to make the most of them!

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.

My first Pathfinder game

Well, it’s official – I’m a Pathfinder player!

No, I haven’t abandoned Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition; that’s still my main game. But I was invited to join an ongoing Pathfinder campaign run by a guy who I know to be a fantastic game master, so I took it as an opportunity to learn a new game.

I’m playing Beren, a human cleric of Desna, the goddess of luck and travel. The way the character came together was sort of funny. I was invited to join a game in a campaign world I knew nothing about. I read through the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and thought that cleric would be a good class for me to play. In looking at the various domains, I liked the luck and travel features of Desna and thought one of her clerics would provide some fun role playing opportunities (she’s very free spirited), so I rolled one up.

Then the GM provided the campaign guide (Rise of the Runelords) and it turns out that there’s a race of humans called the Varisians who are basically gypsies and who commonly worship Desna. Well, that’s an easy fit! So, Beren is a gypsy (although he’s somewhat adrift from his people and has been assimilating into non-Varisian society for several years).

It also turned out that the first session started with a dedication of a new temple of Desna in the town of Sandpoint, so my cleric was very well received. Hey, go with the flow.

The game itself was fun. We fought off a bunch of goblins attacking the town, became known as heroes, went on a boar hunt, got appointed as temporary town guards, and are currently investigating a glassworks that’s been invaded by goblins.

The role playing has been great. We’re all still getting to know our own characters, let alone one another’s, so it’s a slow process, but coming along nicely. The GM continues to be awesome, really bringing the NPCs to life. We made a lot of progress in the adventure itself, with four separate combat encounters already down and the plot beginning to unfold.

Combat is similar in a lot of ways to D&D4e, though there are certainly differences I need to keep in mind. I’ve accidentally cheated at least a couple of times by forgetting that every other diagonal square that you move in Pathfinder costs an extra square of movement. I’ve had to get used to the fact that the cleric’s most useful activities typically replace an attack (doing some healing, making someone’s next attack better) whereas in 4th Edition those things tend to be in addition to making an attack. I’ve gotten the feeling that I’ve probably screwed something up in making the character (he only has 8 hit points at first level, and the other characters seem to have a lot more), but I’m still having fun with him.

So far, I think I’d say I enjoy 4e as a game a bit better, but playing with a great GM is worth it for any system. Pathfinder is kind of fiddly compared to 4e, but it’s more “realistic”. I’ll definitely give it a nice, long try and I’ll have fun doing it. But so far if I had to pick just one game to play, I’d lean toward 4e. We’ll see how my opinion evolves as I get a better understanding of the Pathfinder system and more games under my belt.

ZEITGEIST adventure path for 4e and Pathfinder is here!

I spend a lot of my D&D time over on EN World, surfing the various forums. It was a great resource for me when I was first learning D&D 4e in early 2010, and it’s where I found the players for my long-running Friday night online campaign. EN World also published the adventure path that I’m using for that campaign, War of the Burning Sky (which I’m very much enjoying running).

Thus, I was excited late last year when word started coming out about their next campaign saga, called ZEITGEIST. I was lucky enough to get into a play-by-forum playtest of the first two adventures run by the author, Ryan Nock. Ryan’s a fantastic writer, and his descriptions of our combats were amazing. Since we were really just running through the adventure to help Ryan fine-tune the plot rather than the combat encounters, he just narrated the fights, and yet this was probably even more fun than rolling the dice would have been.

I’ve been pretty geeked about this campaign path for a while, so I’m excited to say that the two-page introductions to the campaign as well as the 41-page player’s guide are now available, both for D&D4e and for Pathfinder. I have no idea what if I anything I’ll ever do with this campaign, since I’m pretty much full-up as a DM right now, but I could see maybe running it for my in-person group in the future if I decide to take another turn in the DM chair for that group.

My thoughts on Pathfinder, based on the Core Rulebook

I’ve finished reading through the bulk of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook in preparation for the campaign in which I will soon be a player, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here. My background with RPGs is:

  • I played a little bit of D&D 3.0 around 2002. I got the core books, read them, loved them, played a session or two, wrote an adventure, never found a good group to play with, drifted away.
  • I started playing D&D 4e in early 2010, and here I am now. I’ve played and DMed a ton of 4e over the past year and a half.
  • In that year and a half, I’ve also had the chance to play one session each of AD&D 1e, GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu.

So, I’m approaching Pathfinder as an experienced D&D 4e player, with some exposure to other games, including earlier editions of D&D – but just a little.


The first thing that struck me about the Core Rulebook is that it opens with some mild politics. I understand that this is about the OGL and such, but it’s really awkward to read all the references to Pathfinder being an evolution of “the 3.5 version of the world’s oldest roleplaying game.” I get it – they don’t own the rights to the Dungeons and Dragons name, so they can’t say the name, but the OGL lets them say a lot of other stuff… it’s very weird.

I love that the single book is basically the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide rolled into one. I’ve really only been focusing on the player sections of the book, but I appreciate that the game master sections are right there if I want them.

The glossary on pages 11-12 is well-placed, too. Understanding things like Combat Maneuver Bonus right up front is helpful. The index in the back of the book seems to be pretty good, too. If you’re going to write a book that aims to be accessible to new players, a good glossary and index help a lot.

“Generating a Character” on pages 14-15 is not as helpful as it should be. I wish this had been an easier-to-follow step-by-step process, but it involves a crazy amount of flipping all over the book. I think an example would have helped a lot.


Not much to say here. I’m fine with the races that get penalties to certain stats; it’s more flavorful. The races generally seem to have more flavor expressed in mechanics than 4e races do, but this isn’t always a winner for me. Some of the flavor is quite fiddly in practice, such as dwarves getting a dodge bonus to AC against giants and a bonus to Appraise checks involving precious metals or gems. I get the flavor, really, but the mechanics seem likely to be forgotten.

One other note: The illustration of the half-elf woman is fantastic. Half-elf males are lucky critters!


I see what people mean when they refer to the Essentials class presentations as being more like older editions. No two classes are alike in Pathfinder. They all have their own progression of different features that come at different levels, and that’s cool. Fiddly, yes, but I think the fiddliness comes from not having a Character Builder with power cards. If all of these special abilities were easy to follow and reference on the character sheet, they wouldn’t feel any more fiddly than 4e characters getting powers as they level up. So, no complaints about the progression of the classes themselves here, just a complaint about the lack of an easy-to-use character builder (though I’ve heard good – and expensive – things about Hero Lab).

It strikes me that Pathfinder seems to be a game that relies more on GM and player interpretation rather than rules – often phrased as “rulings rather than rules”. I’m fine with that, but it’s a meaningful difference with 4e.

Some things in Pathfinder make character creation harder than 4e, which gives each class a key ability score (and yes, there are some V-shaped class builds in 4e that depend on two different abilities, I know). When I tried to build a cleric in Pathfinder, I found myself gravitating toward a high Wisdom score. I then realized that Charisma is pretty important, too. And then I saw that if I wanted to have anything to do other than throw off the occasional healing spell, I’d probably want good Strength to get into melee, in which case I’d need reasonable Constitution in order to have some hit points and not just die in one shot… it’s just very different. If it leads to well-rounded characters, well, great! But it’s a very different approach.

Also, I love the way deities and domains are presented in the Core Rulebook. It’s a whole new pantheon of deities, of course, but I love that clerics pick a deity and then get spells and abilities from two of the deity’s domains. Again, good flavor.

Spells are, of course, one of the areas where D&D differs most from earlier editions and Pathfinder. All spells are “dailies” in Pathfinder (Vancian Magic). I have to say that based solely on reading the books, I prefer the 4e system. Any system where the wizard spends the first four levels of his career hiding from combat most of the time until he can start throwing the occasional fireball doesn’t seem that great to me. Yes, I know that the wizard becomes all-powerful later, but reading through the books does not make me a fan of the Linear Warriors Quadratic Wizards phenomenon. Maybe it will be more fun in play.

I’m also annoyed by the difference between character level, caster level and spell level. I get it, but it’s terribly inelegant.


Again, more flavor than 4e. More judgment calls. More proliferation. More stuff that comes up outside of combat. It’s good, it’s bad… it’s just a difference.


I didn’t read them all, as you might imagine. But this feels like an area where 4e really didn’t change much from 3.5e / Pathfinder. Feats felt very familiar to me.


Again, much like 4e in most respects (at least for starting equipment; I haven’t delved into magic items).

The various weapons confuse me a bit, as there seem to be cases where weapon A is Pareto superior to weapon B… is the difference really just flavor, or am I missing something? The Morningstar, for instance, just seems better than the Heavy Mace. It’s cheaper, it’s lighter, it deals two different types of damage… all I can figure is that dealing two types of damage is bad in some circumstances (such as against a creature that resists piercing damage, even when it’s paired with bludgeoning). I have much to learn, I guess.

A minor innovation that I actually like from 4e is the introduction of the Adventurer’s Kit. I personally think it’s fun to pore over the list of oddball equipment I could buy for my character, but I think it’s a good idea to provide a “default gear” option for players who aren’t interested in that sort of thing.

The illustrations of gear in this book are very nicely done too, in my opinion. Good artwork in lots of places… it’s strange that I’m not seeing artist credits on the images.

Additional Rules

It’s a little weird to me that we don’t see alignment spelled out until this chapter, but I guess there really wasn’t a good place to stick it earlier. I tend to think of alignment as being a very fundamental part of the character creation process. My only other comment on this section is that I find the changes to ability scores as characters age to be annoying rather than flavorful. I guess it’s both… sigh.


Okay, I read this chapter in detail. And I have to say that this is one where I’ll largely need to reserve judgment until I play the game. So many things are fundamentally different about combat between 4e and Pathfinder that I can’t accurately judge it until I try it.

I get that there’s sort of a Standard – Move – Minor action economy in this game, but I also understand that it’s still a different animal. Full-round actions have no clear analogue in 4e, except maybe the monk’s Full Discipline… but you can still take a 5-foot step with a full round action. It’s going to take some learning by doing on my part for sure.

I will say that combat seems a lot more complicated in Pathfinder. The difference between a weapon attack, touch attack and ranged touch attack is flavorful, but harder to follow. Holding a charge on a spell – also flavorful and hard to follow. Saving throws – I think the 4e system of different defenses works much better. Concentration checks for spellcasting seem like a huge pain in the butt. All the options to do things like fight defensively seem overly complicated. The different buckets for lethal and nonlethal damage seem like a pain. And oh, all the tables! It’s going to take a lot of learning for me.


Much like combat, I’m going to have to see it in action in order to really judge. Concentration, counterspelling, the shapes of spell areas, areas that originate on a grid intersection rather than in a square, spell resistance… again, it seems really complicated. More “realism” at the expense of clarity.

The Rest

I flipped through some of the spells. I haven’t touched Prestige Classes or the GM parts of the book. I haven’t delved into multiclassing, though I understand the gist of how it works.

Overall impressions

So far, Pathfinder looks like a game that does a much better job of handling the game world “realistically” than 4e, though at the expense of simplicity. I know that tomes have been written about “gamism versus simulationism” by people who’ve spent far more time comparing and contrasting various systems than I have, so I don’t have much I can add. Until I actually get to try the system out at the table, it will be hard for me to say which (if either) I prefer.

Fortunately, I’m not too worried. I had the chance to meet with my awesome GM, Phil, and I know it’s going to be a fun game. He’s not overly concerned about rules, and he’s interested in us focusing far more on the stories of our characters rather than their mechanics. Having played in his Call of Cthulhu game at Genghis Con, I’m really excited about playing in an ongoing campaign that he’s running. I honestly don’t think the system is going to matter all that much – with good people at the table, I’m going to have a good time.

Free RPG Day 2011 – my San Francisco experience

I live in Colorado, within walking distance of the excellent Enchanted Grounds game store / coffee house. Last year I went there for a Dark Sun game on the morning of Free RPG Day and then went back in the evening because they offered a discount on RPG books in addition to giving away free stuff (I didn’t really know what the free stuff was). This year, however, I’m out of town, on a business trip to San Francisco – so I don’t get to participate in Free RPG Day at my friendly local game store. Frown.

Of course, given that San Francisco is a decent-sized city, you’d think that there’d be at least one store that’s participating in Free RPG Day, and in fact there is exactly one – Gamescape (which does not appear to have a functioning web page of its own, so here’s its Yelp page). I used to go to this store when I lived in San Francisco, although I went for board games (it has quite the awesome selection). I found out that Gamescape would be opening its doors at 10:00 AM Saturday, and since I’d heard that other stores had run out of Free RPG Day stuff quickly in past years, I decided to get there early. It helped that I randomly woke up around 6:00 AM local time.

Thus at 9:15 AM on Saturday, I found myself sitting on the sidewalk in front of Gamescape… all by myself. No massive mob for Free RPG Day, it seems. Five minutes before the doors opened, one other guy got “in line” behind me, though I don’t think he was even there for the “event”.

As it turned out, Gamescape was not running any actual Free RPG Day events, though they did have the standard box of goodies to give away – one item per customer. I was interested in the items for D&D 4th Edition, Pathfinder and Savage Worlds. The D&D item was an addition to the Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond boxed set, which didn’t look especially interesting. Since I’m starting to play Pathfinder pretty soon, I opted for the free Pathfinder adventure (not sure I’ll ever actually run a Pathfinder game, but if I do I now have an adventure ready to go).

I also want to support stores that participate in Free RPG Day, so I browsed through all of their gaming stuff, eventually deciding to buy my own copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (rather than continuing to rely on the copy I checked out from my local public library). Message to game store: You buy stuff to give away for free to me, I spend good money in your store (50 bucks plus tax – which is 9.5% here in San Francisco!).

So, Free RPG Day 2011 was… well, not at all exciting. Had I been back in Colorado, perhaps it would have been more interesting. Oh well; at least I got something for free, and bought something I’d been meaning to buy anyway.

I’m going to play some Pathfinder

Sometimes life gives you a weird confluence of events.

A couple of weeks ago, I checked out the Pathfinder Core Rulebook from my local library. I’ve since renewed it and have been working my way through it. This was just for the sake of curiosity. I love learning new games, and I know that Pathfinder is quite popular, so I thought I’d learn more about it.

Shortly after that, I received an email from the guy who ran the Call of Cthulhu game I played in at Genghis Con back in February. He was getting ready to start a Pathfinder campaign and wanted to know if I was interested. At first I had to say no because he was planning on running the game on Wednesdays when I was already running D&D Encounters (and once the fall arrives, going to my bowling league). Then the game changed to Monday nights… and I have no reason to say no! So I’m going to give it a shot.

I haven’t read the entire Pathfinder Core Rulebook yet, but I’ve read enough to understand the game in general terms (and sitting around the table with experienced players will help, too). The first session is going to be this coming Monday, and it will be a one-shot Pathfinder Society game to see how the players and GM gel together.  The plan is to start an ongoing campaign every other week after that.

So far I’ve tried my hand at putting together a first-level cleric, Beren. I wanted to keep things relatively simple but not “well, you’ve got to play a fighter” simple. Beren is a human cleric of Desna with a focus in the domains of luck and travel. He’s wise and strong and charismatic, though not especially dexterous. He’ll stab things with a starknife or bash them with a morningstar… or, you know, smite them with holy justice a few times a day (though he’ll likely do his best to heal his allies instead). I’ve probably screwed everything up in building him, but I think I should be able to get by.

Incidentally, I used this Pathfinder Character Generator to build Beren. I’ll admit that I’m spoiled by the D&D 4th Edition character builder, and I expected to see even better free tools for Pathfinder. Hm.

I’ll share more about my overall thoughts on Pathfinder in a separate post. But for now, I’m putting out the call for input – what should I be thinking about as I embark on a campaign in a new game system?

I’m starting to learn Pathfinder

Most of my RPG experience so far has been with D&D Fourth Edition. I only started playing in earnest in early 2010, and it’s mostly been 4e home games, 4e online games, and 4e organized play games. I had the chance to try GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu at Genghis Con in February. And I had a little bit of experience with D&D 3.0 about eight or nine years ago.

Pathfinder, as I know, is basically D&D 3.75. I know that it’s a pretty popular game, and that their adventure paths receive a lot of praise, even from people who don’t really play Pathfinder. It’s somewhat popular at my local store, too, though there seems to be far more D&D 4e organized play there. The store owner, Jeff, is a big fan of Pathfinder, and he encouraged me to try it out, offering to run a “learn to play” session sometime if I was interested.

I’m more of a book guy, frankly, so I decided to check out a copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook from my local library. So far I’ve read the introductory chapter, the Races chapter, a little bit of Classes, and most of the Combat chapter.

I want to reserve judgment on the system until I’ve finished reading more of the book, but I know that lots of folks out there probably have some insights to offer me that might help me better understand the game. What should I be looking for? What might not be obvious from a pure rules read-through that would enhance my understanding of Pathfinder?

Just to be clear, I’m perfectly happy with 4e, but I love lots of games and thought it would be fun to learn another one, just for variety’s sake. This is not an edition war – I’m pretty confident that I’ll find something to love about most RPGs out there. It’s all good!