This is part 4 of my review of the Pathfinder Playtest from Paizo. You can see part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. In this part of the review, I’ll finish up my comments in this series with Game Mastering through Appendices.
If you’re interested in reading along with me during the review, you can pick up the free PDF of the playtest rulebook at Paizo’s site: http://paizo.com/pathfinderplaytest
The section starts off with six bullet points to give overall guidance to the GM. I think the guidance misses the mark a bit, but it’s a good start. Unfortunately, the advice given out in that brief segment makes it appear as if the bulk of the work for the world, characters, events, and storytelling land firmly on the GM’s shoulders. This is, to some extent, true. However, I feel that this was a grand opportunity to let the GM know that they are not the driver in the storytelling effort, but a participant with the players in the storytelling. The advice given is solid, but the tone here sets the stage for making new GMs think they are in charge. Any veteran GM will certainly tell you that this is not the case once the players start rolling with their own ideas.
Starting a Session
The segment that covers how to start a session is fantastic! I hope to see this expanded a bit in the final book, but this is a wonderful set of advice. I even learned a few new tips and tricks in this area. Well done, Paizo!
Adjudicating the Rules
This area gives great advice about not looking up specific rules and gives guidance on how to “wing it” when necessary. This is something every “core” rulebook for every RPG should have.
This section is given in a brief sidebar. I have a problem with this because quite a few readers of RPGs will skim those areas thinking they are not important. This is a perception thing because if it were important, it would be in the main text, right? I think the six bullet points I mentioned above could be combined with this sidebar to create a new approach to collaborative gaming that excels at great fun and excellent storytelling. Merging these two concepts, I think, would lead to a more powerful statement.
Modes of Play
Just as a refresher, modes are split up into encounter, exploration, and downtime.
The encounter section is too brief. This is the most technical part of the game, and this can lead to it being the hardest to adjudicate properly because of the number of rules, feats, spells, skills, powers, items, monsters, and characters involved. I know. I know. Many books (and articles!) have been dedicated to this very topic, and I don’t expect Paizo to replicate what’s already been covered. However, I think a deeper dive into encounters would be best.
The exploration and downtime modes are covered very well. These two sections are lengthy and solidly give the GM the right information to execute what is a new concept for Pathfinder. The guidance and tips found within these two sections will make running them go very smoothly for an experienced or fresh GM.
Now that I’ve read the entire “Modes of Play” section, I think I figured out what is bothering me with the encounter section beyond its brevity. The encounter section was written for experienced GMs. The exploration and downtime sections were written in a manner that targets new GMs. I feel that Paizo needs to take a fresh look at the encounter section and rewrite it (and expand it) as if they were attempting to teach a brand new GM (as in, brand new to RPGs, not just Pathfinder) how to run an encounter. If they revisit and expand the encounter section with this in mind, I feel it would be a much stronger contribution to the GM section of the book.
I’m going to be brief here. These three pages are well thought out, clear, and give some great examples on how to come up with target numbers on the fly or apply adjustments where necessary. Paizo’s team did an excellent job on this section.
I’ve been looking forward to hitting this section ever since I learned that each level requires an even 1,000 XP to obtain instead of an upward-climbing slope of more experience points for the next level than the current one.
Unfortunately for me, the “kill a monster” XP is listed in the supplemental bestiary, which I haven’t taken the time to flip through the PDF yet. I guess that’ll be next on my list of reading (but not reviewing). On the flip side, the XP awards for minor, moderate, and major accomplishments are laid out as 10, 30, and 80, respectively. Even though they call it “group XP” it’s not divided between all the characters. If the group accomplishes a moderate goal, then all the PCs involved gain 30 XP.
There’s a sidebar for “Story-Based Leveling” that is in this section that calls for the GM to decide if and when the characters level up. This puts a sour taste in my mouth. It’s a personal opinion here, but I really don’t like these approaches at all. The players should see the steady gain of XP for their characters (even if they don’t level yet), so there is a sense of accomplishment in that area. Having the GM suddenly decree, “You go up a level.” feels too much like the GM is controlling things. Of course, this could just be me and my experiences with GMs wanting to have too much control. Your mileage may vary in this area.
There are several pages dedicated to terrain, climate, and hazards. While the lists aren’t complete (I’m assuming they will be more comprehensive in the final, larger book), what is listed there and how the various environmental conditions impact the game are well stated. I like what I see as a set of building blocks toward more content.
The hazards section is very well done. A hazard is the generic term for traps, pits, dangers, and magical effects that can harm or impede the PCs. There are ways to find, trigger, disable, destroy, and/or dispel various hazards depending on their nature. The playtest book came with a sample of three hazards. I had kind of hoped for a few more, but I’m assuming they didn’t want the playtest book to bloat up too much. I’m looking forward to seeing what the final product (and the various expansion books and adventures) have along these lines.
The loot! We’re finally at the gold and shiny and magic and wonderful stuff portion of the book. Yeah, I’m a little excited here because I’m interested in seeing how things change up in this section, if at all.
This section opens up with the usual text explaining what they’re going to be talking about, teaching some keywords, and generally laying out the approach to treasure.
After this comes all sorts of tables outlining (almost proscribing) what treasure different level parties should (must?) receive for a fair and equitable game to be run. The fact that the treasure allotment is so heavily proscribed makes me extraordinarily sad.
No more random treasure.
Yeah. You read that right. There are no more dice rolls involved in generating treasure with Pathfinder. This breaks my heart, to be honest. As a GM, I always loved rolling up treasure because it would spark new ideas, thoughts, plot arcs, and cool stuff in my brain. Yeah, if I happened to roll up a majorly disruptive magic item for a low-level group, I’d probably shift things around a bit (or re-roll). However, randomly creating magic items for folks to find is gone. I’ll be over here in the corner shedding a tear for days gone by.
Okay. I’ve had my cry. I’m mostly better now. Looking at the new approach at handing out treasure is fair and balanced. It will assist new GMs from overloading their group with disruptive items while keeping the party well-equipped for future challenges. This is super helpful for new GMs, and I can appreciate this approach at handing out goods. I just wish they’d kept gems, jewelry, and/or artwork as a form of gaining wealth because those can, once again, inspire stories and side plots, not just a gain of wealth. Now, the party will just gain some gold from the hoard and move on.
If I ever run this version of Pathfinder, I’ll most likely break out my 2nd edition AD&D treasure generators (or the first Pathfinder versions) and run with those. They’re more fun than hand-picking treasure, to be honest.
After the list o’ treasure tables ends, the book delves into materials, which is one of the best write-ups of “non-normal” materials I’ve ever seen. Excellent job here. Obviously, the list isn’t complete, but I expect it to expand in the final version.
While flipping through the treasure section, I hit the sections for snares (crafting, detecting, triggering, etc.) and I was baffled here. I’m not sure why these were listed here under treasure, instead of above with the hazards. Did the wrong pages get dropped into the layout in the wrong place?
After snares, comes the alchemical items. This is a cool section. I highly encourage everyone to check this part out. There are oodles of examples, tons of ideas, and great information about how they play in the game. Loud applause for you here, Paizo.
Runes come next, and this is the part of enhancing weapons and armor with special powers. I love how weapons and armor must now be etched with cool-looking runes to become super special. This adds flavor to the world and storytelling options (as well as some neat intimidate/perception uses when someone wearing a well-etched suit of armor walks in the door) to the whole feel of the game.
Last come the details of the various magic items that don’t fall into “weapons and armor.” This comprises the bulk of the treasure section, and I’m not going to detail each item or neat thing. I do want to say that I really want to play an archer (preferably with the elven ancestry) with an Oathbow.
This is probably going to be my shortest write-up of any of the sections in the book. The appendices simply are: traits and glossary.
The traits are all of the capitalized keywords (such as Strike) used within the book. The glossary is a good collection of phrases, terms, and things found within the book that may not be readily known to every player.
I think the most telling part of “is this a promising product” would be to answer the question, “Would J.T. play this game?”
The answer is, “Yes.”
This is a good foundational book for what promises to be a pretty cool system. There are some rough edges (as there are with any playtest document), but I figure Paizo is wise enough to listen to the feedback sent to them (and hopefully this series of articles) to improve the game.
There is another question looming, however. That question is, “Would J.T. play this version instead of the original Pathfinder?”
The answer is, “No.”
There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that I’m already heavily invested with knowledge, money, habits, and familiarity in the first version of Pathfinder. I have too much “edition inertia” going on to abandon Pathfinder 1.0 for Pathfinder 2.0. If the shift were more subtle between the two, I could see picking it up. However, everything will require major conversions to get from 1.0 to 2.0.
The second is that I’m extremely concerned with the lack of random treasure. Yeah. It’s that big of a deal. I feel it’s a departure too far from the “source material” that was created way back in the 1970s. I don’t like that one bit.
The third is that I don’t see anything drastically improving the game that much. There are tons of incremental improvements and quite a few major changes in the playtest document, but none of them really blew my socks off. There are some new concepts and ideas in here that I think I could shift back into a Pathfinder 1.0 game, but that now leaves me with Pathfinder 1.0 and some house rules (which I already have).
Final question is, “If J.T. were completely new to RPGs and presented with both versions, which one would he pick?”
I’d probably go with the playtest version, to be honest. It’s a better game, and my prejudices built up from playing RPGs for decades (and my Pathfinder edition inertia) would not be a factor in choosing which game to go with.
I know. I know. I’m giving a mixed message here, but there are different angles to look at things.
Paizo put out a solid effort here. I’m impressed with the amount of thought, care, effort, and experience that went into developing this game. They’ve certainly evolved the game. There are some high points in the evolution and some low points as well. I think the high drastically outweighs the low.
I’m very much looking forward to the final version of the game. I’ll take a look at it then and reevaluate things at that time to determine if my stance on moving forward to the new version will change.
Thanks to the Gnome Stew readers out there that stuck with me through these very long articles!