To kick off this review, Frags and Beer has an exciting announcement, which also inspired the timing of this review. This year will be the first year ever that I attend Gen Con, the role-playing, fantasy, and gaming convention in Indianapolis, formerly of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. On a whim I signed up to get a press pass for the blog, to see if anything would come of it, and wouldn’t you know, we got approved! That’s right readers, family, and friends, Frags and Beer is officially considered a press guest for Gen Con Indy 2012! There’s lots of planning, and hopefully lots of posts to come out of this. We will keep you updated with anticipated interviews, meets, and information for our trip to the event. Maybe next year we’ll go for the entire 4 days.
Well, onto the review. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I dislike Wizards of the Coast, and there’s a whole post of reasons why so I won’t go into that. What they did with Dungeons and Dragons is relevant however, so I’ll give a brief summary. I am not ashamed to admit that I was an early adopter of 3.o, otherwise known ast 3rd edition. I have been playing D&D since it was being sold as 2nd edition, right after the change from 1st. I had also played Magic the Gathering from WoTC so I should have known what I was in for. Unfortunately I adopted 3.0 before I got my head on straight and then I dropped MtG because it was obvious that Wizards was just interested in milking as much money out of their fans as they could rather than delivering quality and long-lasting content.
Anyway, when they announced 3.5 I was well within my dislike of Wizards, for one very good reason. In over 20 years, the previous publisher of D&D had put out 3 editions, basic, 1st, and 2nd. In less than 5 Wizards was scheduled to release 2, and we would later find out another edition quickly followed, 4th, and now they are announcing 5th. Why does Wizards do this? They know we are collectors, us gamers. We like to have it all, as many books, maps, pictures, and swag related to whatever it is we like. They can slap D&D on anything and there are people out there that will buy it just because of that. When I was sure that Wizards was turning my favorite RPG into nothing but a cash-cow with no love for the actual game, I determined they would get no more of my money for it.
Now, why Pathfinder has become my go-to game…well it goes back to 3rd edition. Like I said, I was an early adopter, and 3rd edition was great. It had some marked improvements over 2nd. Easier system to learn, faster to get into the actual role play, with less roll play. It was also broken. Instead of fixing it with 3.5, they broke it more. The open license thing was great, lots of source material for this great game, from lots of other companies, but then 3.5 manage to make a lot of that material obsolete or inaccurate. Then a few years later 4th edition is announced, totally new system, new books, new rules, no open license. Players are pretty much told, too bad, convert or be stuck with no new material. All in the course of a few years Wizards had managed to take a great game, update it, improve it, break it, and make it obsolete.
Cue Paizo to the rescue! Some of you might remember them as the company that took care of Dragon and Dungeon magazines during their old age, when Wizards pretty much kicked them out to pasture. Now they have come in to revitalize, and rescue a game system that many of us came to love, and felt was abandoned by Wizards of the Coast. With Pathfinder, based on the 3.0/.5 game from Wizards, Paizo has updated, fixed, enhanced, and basically given us a reason to keep playing this system. Everyone pretty much calls this game D&D 3.75, and with good reason.
First and foremost, what caught my attention about Pathfinder, was the exceptional art. I don’t know about you, but I remember opening up the AD&D Player’s Handbook, back in 2nd edition and being greeted by Larry Elmore’s amazing painting of the adventuring party with the hanging dragon, sort of like a group fishing picture with the trophy hanging in the middle. So many characters were inspired by that painting. Art in these books should inspire players and DMs alike, making them say things like “I want to see that guy in action,” or “I want to make that character, how cool!” I just never got that feel from later works from Wizards, but look at this Dwarven Ranger from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook! Who wouldn’t want to play that?! Along with inspiration, eye catching art is important to sell books. Go into any game store, and the customer is inundated with sourcebooks, games, magazines, comic books, board games, card games, miniature games, and even in some cases video games. When faced with such a daunting task of finding something interesting in that plethora of gaming heaven, good art like this will draw the customer in, and separate you from the competition.
Another major thing that drew me to Pathfinder, and Paizo in general, is their business model. Do you remember when 4th edition was announced, they released a preview book? Yah I remember that, a 30 dollar little pamphlet, I think with all of 20 or 30 pages of splash art, text, snippets of rules and the like. Great huh? A little preview of how Wizards was going to handle this new edition. Here comes Paizo though, and they release a preview book for Pathfinder. It’s a 48 page, FREE PDF, with complete text to see how character creation and combat goes. Heck, you could almost test the Pathfinder system with this Free PDF…did I mention it was FREE!!!! Second thing, about their business model, is how they released the core book. Where, traditionally, D&D has always had three core books, a Player’s guide, a Dungeon Master’s guide, and at least one Monster Manual, needed to play the game, Paizo did something different. You can play Pathfinder by buying two books, the Core Rulebook, and their monster guide. It is actually cheaper, and more effecient, to get into Pathfinder versus the new editions of D&D. Not only that but if you bought them online, order the hardcopy from their site, they threw in a digital PDF copy of the books for your convenience. See anything like that over at Wizards? To cap it all off they have a reference document that is free, online, and gives a lot of info on the game right at your fingertips.
Now, besides the eye candy, and the fact that Paizo just seems to be an upright company, there are some real reasons that Pathfinder is a much improved game over D&D 3.0/5 and newer editions. They took what was good about the d20 system, D&D 3.0/5 and they fixed what was broken, simplified what was mind-numbingly complicated, and updated what just didn’t make sense.
Anyone remember how complicated it was to turn undead in 3.0/5? Crazy amount of math, and completely unintuitive. It just didn’t make sense to anyone in my group. Pathfinder fixes that, simplifies it so that instead of spending so much time decrypting the rules, your cleric can roll his dice and everyone can move on with story. Same with grapple, bull rush, trip checks and the like. Before there was a rule for each and every special attack, and different rolls for all of them. Now, one roll, vs one number, with different results based on what the person is doing. No more complicated math, opening the rule book to see how it worked, or any of that. Attacker rolls dice, checks against defender’s number, succeed or fail move on with story. The game really makes it easy for the group to focus on roleplay and story as opposed to rolls, rules, and math.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can get a multitude of resources on their site, including a massive blog, and forums packed full of questions and answers. I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the d20 system, but doesn’t want to keep catering to Wizards, and wants to support a new company that really seems to care about supporting the gamers.