5 Reasons Pathfinder Outsells D&D (and 5 Ways it's Still Less Good)

By David N. Scott in Daily Lists, Gaming
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 6:00 am


1. Useless Crap

Along with all of the fun options, there are a lot of options that can basically sabotage your character. First, there are different views of the ever-cherished 'game balance'. Paizo seems to think that only things that make your character better than other characters is a problem. Anything that makes your character sort of suck are fine as long as they have amusing aspects. In order to combat this disinterest in not torpedoing your character, fans make things like handbooks that color code all options so they can help you know if it sucks. Obsessive? Maybe. But it's a public service.

Now, somewhere someone is wagging their finger and saying that making handbooks is trying to "win" at role-playing, which you should not do. Fair enough. However, there is a difference between not trying to make the most powerful character EVER and just trusting the game company to not give you actively bad options. Pathfinder routinely allows you to trade useful class abilities for completely useless ones with no warning.

For instance, Vow of Poverty. This is a vow that keeps your Monk from using more than one magic item. This is, frankly, nonsense, as the game is built assuming each character maintains a certain amount of "gear", including and especially items that help you actually hit things and resist being hit. Going without them is basically suicide. However, when confronted about this, the lead designer for Pathfinder said the following: "Pathfinder lets you make suboptimal choices, or even poor choices, and it doesn't reward you for making those poor choices. Because rewarding poor choices is dumb." So don't bother showing up if you don't have enough system mastery. Or just break into those color codes I mentioned before.

Of course, there are always players like THIS.

2. Wizards Rule

Paizo's official gaming enterprise, the Pathfinder Society, retires characters at level 12. There are probably a lot of reasons to do this, such as lowering the range of adventures people are expecting support of, and also the fact that higher-level characters can be expected to do bigger things and disrupt the game world more. However, there is another reason, a problem with the old D&D 3rd system that Paizo did not fix.

That problem is the caster/warrior disparity, which at high levels means that your rogue can sneak across a hallway and climb a wall really well, or the wizard can just go invisible and fly over it. That is, if she doesn't just decide to go hang out in another dimension or destroy the whole building. This is not great for the rogue. Basically, no matter how good you are at what you do as a rogue or fighter type, the god-like powers available to high level casters make you look bad. Your fighter might spend his whole career working up to slaying 3-4 enemies per turn. But the wizard can do the same thing to tens of foes with a well-placed fireball.

Wizard: Go on ahead guys. I've got this

Oddly, this problem was largely addressed in the old days with the addition of the Tome of Battle, a massive book entirely devoted towards making martial warriors that could go toe to toe with arcane casters. Despite the fact that the book was massively successful at the time, Paizo has carefully avoided releasing a version of it, perhaps in order to coast on nostalgia and people being able to recognize the old classes. Another, simpler solution was the old style D&D approach of making casters need more experience to level, thus prolonging their awkward adolescence. This is also not used in the new game, where one level of wizard costs the same as one level of fighter. Overall, it is just disappointing to ignore a problem this large that has always been there in the background.

3. Confusing/Conflicting Rules

This is a personal issue. I have a sort obsessive/compulsive thing with organizing and charting, which helps a lot in the corporate world, but with the number of moving bits on a Pathfinder character sheet it can make things pretty painful. As mentioned, you can have multiple classes, and you can customize each class multiple times. Astute readers will note that I said this was fun before. And it is. But the thing is that it can also be confusing.

It is easy to understand you can either be a Rogue Acrobat or a Rogue Scout. But can you be both? The rule is that both versions of a class cannot change the same feature. The problem is reading through both entries and noting what changed and making sure there is no crossover. This can be surprisingly difficult as both entries will have long entries of what a new class feature does before what it replaces is listed. This site here is what I usually use to save ten minutes of my life.

It gets more confusing when you add Prestige Classes and Roles to the mix. A Prestige Class is a special class that can only be taken at higher levels and has qualifications a character needs to meet to take the class. A Role is an archetype-lite that has few mechanical effects and is instead a list of already-existing class features and abilities. When combined together these will make a class seem like a specific version of that class from the setting. For instance, your Fighter could be a Hell-Knight if you focus around Intimidation and the Morningstar. This doesn't change your character at all, it is just an interesting bit of background.

What gets confusing is when they cross over - I have a book of knights for Pathfinder that lists Roles for classes that also have a Prestige version. So are you better off using the Role or the Prestige version? This happens with Archetypes, too - there is both a Fighter Archetype and a Prestige Class called Aldori Swordlord. What does it all mean?

My office while making Pathfinder characters, except with supplement books instead of Christmas ornaments.

4. Everything Is a Feat

This is an inherited issue for Paizo, and maybe well outside of their mandate to keep things familiar, but fresh. But, fairness aside, let me complain for a moment about feats. Feats are level-based benefits you get periodically as your character adventures. They can do almost anything, and they tend to go in chains. (For example, to get the Greater Blind Fight feat, you would first have to acquire both Blind Fight and Greater Blind Fight.) The problem with this is lazy design. If the Pathfinder world is expanded in some way, odds are there will be a feat chain (or two or three or ten) to go along with the expansion. When Ultimate Combat was released, they added martial arts styles. A great idea, maybe even a little overdue. But, of course, it took the form of three feats.

Now, you only receive about ten feats in your character's career, which is a best case scenario as it assumes a brand new character you are designing to use whatever new feat chain is being introduced. If you are already a level ten character and thus have half your feats already, you are in even more trouble. But either way, you now have to change the way you wanted your character to work to allow this new resource. Here are the feats presented in chains, scroll down to Improved Trip and you can see Paizo has about a dozen feats revolving around tripping people, enough your entire character could be devoted to it.

Marília Almeida
No, not that kind of tripping.

Really, the main book already offers plenty of feats, dozens of them. It is more than enough for most characters. But if you click over here, you will find there are hundreds of feats now. And you still only have maybe 10 slots to put them in. And every month there are even more. For all that I praise Paizo for having a relatively relaxed release schedule, the "relatively" part is important as you are still piling more and more feats on top everything else, so many that the most devoted fan in the world will still never get to try them out as there are just too many.

5. It's a Lot of Work

All of this forum-searching and resource-checking and book gathering and reading... so much reading. The fact is that Pathfinder is based on a game engine created back in the mid-90s that was intended to reconstruct everything in massive detail. And, since they started with this engine, most of Paizo's work has resulted in more complication instead of less. The amount of data one should be familiar with to have something approaching system mastery is pretty disturbing, even as the fan community works to contain the amount of data expansion.

This is part 1 of 5. 5!

This is at a time when games like Fate Core seem to be leading the way to an RPG future where the paperwork is much lighter and characters are a few paragraphs instead of being pages long. I still personally play and enjoy Pathfinder, and some other heavier systems like GURPS, with World of Darkness being a midpoint between light and heavy. But there are times when people seem to be migrating more and more to systems that can make things easier. Certainly the new D&D Next (the game Wizards of the Coast hopes will surpass Pathfinder upon release) is going much, much rules lighter.

On the other hand, some of the new expansions to the system, while complicated, have been really solid and fun. Ultimate Campaign adds systems for giving your characters goals, a detailed background, and town building. I loved all of it. Though that may have worked because the complication added in that book was a little more organic. The main issue with Pathfinder is the frontload. You have to do a lot of work on your character before you can play. For example, we are currently trying to get a home game off the ground, and we've devoted two potential sessions just to character generation so far. At the end of the day, Pathfinder is based on the old 3rd Edition D&D system, which was system heavy already. That is not going to change. Originally it was a big pull from people looking for a nostalgic experience. Whether it will become a drawback in the long-term remains to be seen but right now I think I can see it coming soon.

Previously by David N. Scott

Five Games Masters and Players You See at Every RPG Con

Eight Reasons You Should Care About the World of Darkness Reboots

Ten Things We Learned Attending L.A. By Night: The Grey Ghost Masquerade

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