Pathfinder? Not that fiddly at all…

I do understand that the Pathfinder rulebook is super-thick. And I understand the sensation that 3.5 was crazy-big and full of weirdness and rules-corner-nooks-and-crannies. So PF is based on 3.5, it must be crazy fiddly too. I understand, truly I do.

But the funny thing is, I don’t find Pathfinder all that fiddly at all.

It’s funny — I played 3/3.5 during almost its whole life-span, playing from the release day (seriously, we went home and made characters and started figuring it out that day…) until about 2006 when I fell in love with Warhammer Fantasy, 2nd edition and played that for a while — though there was still some 3.5 mixed in during this time.

And then came 4E. Now, I have a very love/hate thing with 4E. It does some stuff I love but after playing for two solid years (again, from release) and then one foray back into it after I quit, I realized that 4E’s parts that I don’t like outweigh the parts that I do like too much to keep playing it… honestly I can only really describe it as a slow burn of frustration that eventually go to be too much to keep going.

But I don’t want this to be an edition war-type post. Anyone out there playing and loving 4E is awesome and should keep on keeping on. My point was, I hear a lot of “Pathfinder is fiddly” when I talk to people about it. Some people like that, some hate it, some are just… intimidated.

The secret is though, Pathfinder is actually really easy. Much improved over 3.5 in subtle, exciting ways. It’s a lot like those 80’s movies where the nerdy girl with glasses and bad hair gets a makeover and suddenly rocks the prom. (oh, god, I just said, “rocks the prom.”)

It took me a while to jump back into Pathfinder. I really have fond memories of 3.5, but since I was playing 4E, it didn’t really register. But now we’ve been playing for a while — I have a party at 9th level and I realized, I really enjoy running this game. And it’s a lot of little things. Here’s a few of them.

1. Combat Scales Really Well
And when I say that, I don’t just mean that encounter design is easy (it really is, try it, you’ll be surprised). I also mean that I can run a combat with a map, with complicated terrain, with multiple spellcasters, and different shapes and sizes of monsters, we can use all the tactical movement and combat options and it runs smoothly. I can run a similar combat with no map, no minis, all in our imaginations, and it seems to work just as well. We might fudge the distances a little more than when the map is out, but the point is, it works. And I can have a very complex combat encounter that we can finish in less than 30 minutes.

2. CMD and CMB
Don’t underestimate the value of this change from 3.5. This is a big deal. It’s made all the fancy combat maneuvers really worthwhile because they don’t require a bunch of complex math during play. Grappling actually happens at my table regularly, and I think the only thing we haven’t tried is Sundering. And with the new addition of the “Broken” quality for weapons, this is easier than ever too.

3. Skills
The skills work so much better than 3.5. It used to be a pain to do skills. My players can level mid-session now and barely worry about skills. And it’s a ton easier for starting characters during PC creation as well.

4. All those “fiddly” bonuses
Well, these are actually a lot simpler than they might look until you really read them. In many, many cases it can be boiled down to a simple +2 or -2 and you’ve done what the book set out to do. It’s funny, but I think this is the one place that I’m still a little disappointed in the presentation of the rules… a lot of the modifiers to things could have been explained from the POV of the acting character and would have been easier to explain and modify. Like size modifiers to a Bull Rush. Instead of being explained as a +1 for the bigger character and a -1 for the smaller, why not simply apply a -2 when the smaller character is acting and a +2 when the bigger is acting? Ultimately though, most of the fiddly bonuses are actually not all that fiddly once you read them once.

5. Choices
I realize that one of the arguments against games like PF is the sheer onslaught of choices. Well, 4E is definitely more of a culprit than PF in this category (which is beside the point…) but again I say, I’m running a party with one player who has a lot of 3.5 experience and no one else with any 3.5 experience, but the sorcerer has no problem leveling up mid-session even when it means picking multiple new spells, swapping out spells, and applying all the new bonuses for her bloodline. I’m actually amazed. Now, to be fair, we aren’t using “EVERY SPLATBOOK IN EXISTENCE.” I limit my players to official Paizo releases (no 3PP) and we do mostly draw from the core rules, the APG, Ultimate Magic, and (now) Ultimate Combat, but we’ve pulled from other sources including other Adventure Paths, some of the softcover splats, etc. Maybe I just have players to be grateful for, maybe, but I think any party could pull this off. Choices are presented in a clear fashion, well-explained, and often intuitive to map from previous choices.

I could go on. Pathfinder is not perfect, I would never say that it is. And there are times that I find myself wishing that a little bit of 4E would creep into my Pathfinder, but I’m a fan. Honestly, it might seem weird to say it, but Pathfinder is my D&D, I’m really happy to be running it, happy that I’ll get to play it soon (I’m a Witch!) and happy that it’s here, it’s good, and it looks to have a long life ahead.

Again, no edition war intended here and please refrain from edition war in the comments, that’s really not my intent (though polite observations about 4E are certainly welcome, even if they represent a negative view). I just felt that I wanted to maybe let everyone know, if you’ve stayed away from Pathfinder because it’s too fiddly, you might be surprised if you give it a chance.

Thanks for reading.

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8 responses

  1. Yes, I agree. PF seems intimidating but once you to relax and read the basics, it flows pretty easily. Especially as a player, as you just need to learn about your class abilities (and maybe a few combat options).

  2. Which books are you using? Currently I only have the base rulebook and am contemplating the Bestiary and GameMasters book. Are there any vital additions that you would add?

  3. Interesting. My main experience with RPGs has been with D&D 4th Edition, but I recently learned Pathfinder. My reaction was precisely that Pathfinder was kind of fiddly compared to 4e! Maybe it wouldn’t have seemed that way if my background had been with earlier editions.

    It’s still a fun game (one of my blog posts about playing the game was titled Fun but Fiddly), although the campaign I was in is over now. I’m sure I’ll play Pathfinder again someday, but I’m okay with only having 4e games ongoing for now.

  4. Sorry for the slow response… the beginning of the semester is an exciting time…

    @SeaofStars
    I used to feel this way about GURPS too. I would talk to people and they’d be like “It’s too much.” But I always found it to be very smooth in actual play.

    @Online DM
    Hey, thanks for responding… I was trying to remember where I’d seen that post, as it had been rumbling around in my brain leading up to this one… it was you! Awesome. Different strokes, man. I’m just glad you are still open to Pathfinder. That’s good enough for me.

    @Paolo
    The books I mentioned in my post are all great. I’m a big fan of the Advanced Player’s Guide. Lots of good options there with only a touch of added complexity. The new core classes introduced are all excellent. Ultimate Combat and Ultimate Magic are both very well done and while not “necessary” are worth a read. The two Bestiary books currently out are both worthwhile monster books and I get a lot of use out of them. The Gamemastery Guide is well written, but honestly, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before — and probably won’t be for you either. It’s a great read, but not necessary at all to run PF. Straight up, you could run Pathfinder with the core book and a monster book (or two) and never really feel like you were missing anything. But if anything, I highly recommend the Advanced Players Guide.

  5. Thanks Mike!

  6. From my play, I feel like PF actually defiddled 3.5 to a significant degree. The last time I played 3.5, I wished that the guys I played with had switched over to PF.

    1. I agree completely — and had the same experience. When I tried a 3.5 game this summer all I kept hoping was that someone would start to use PF. I’ve been suggesting it to all the old 3.5’ers I know.

  7. […] Pathfinder? Not that fiddly at all… […]

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