Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Impressions of Pathfinder: Introduction

I'm going to take a bit of a departure from my normal subject on this blog (D&D 4e) to talk about Pathfinder. First, some background. I started playing D&D 3.0e, which was actually my first experience with tabletop roleplaying. It wasn't too long before I wanted to purchase books of my own instead of bumming off of my friend's, so I picked up the 3.5 PHB (I didn't know that it had that many changes from the 3.0 PHB). It took a little bit of time, but pretty soon my regular group had upgraded to 3.5. Then I went to college, and there was less time for D&D, not to mention the fact that the few people in my school's gaming club that played D&D played a weird homebrew version where everyone had a pre-selected character: either a really powerful, kick-ass dragon, or a dragon "tamer" with a crossbow and short sword. Guess which type of character I had to be? Guess who never came back after the first session...

After graduating, I worked at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a summer, and one of my fellow seasonal workers happened to pick up the 4e PHB. I was shocked, for I had no idea that there was a new edition coming out, and upon examining the book I was even more shocked with all of the changes. "This is blasphemy, this isn't D&D, it's a whole different game! BLAH! But I'll give it a try, I guess..." Unfortunately, my pilot session occurred toward the end of the summer, so it was the only session that we ended up playing. But the seeds were sown, even if I didn't know it at the time. Playing it "felt" more or less like D&D, and my melee Ranger was certainly performing better than melee rangers in 3e had. Plus the Cleric was healing people and attacking them, the Eladrin Rogue was teleporting to advantageous positions, and the Wizard...well, unfortunately the Wizard player wasn't at all interested in the game, and whenever her turn came up just yelled "I cast magic missile!" Which is what low level Wizards in 3.x usually did anyways, so I didn't think anything of it.

When I got back home, I started playing a 3.5 campaign. I didn't really have any strong negative impressions of that edition yet, I just recognized that there was another "version" of D&D out there that I'd played. One day I decided to find out more about 4e, so I spent a few hours on the internet researching it, reading reviews, hanging out on the WotC forums, etc. This went on for a few days, and my interest just started snowballing. The whole role systems intrigued me, even though I'd recognized that it had informally existed in previous editions. But this time you didn't need a Cleric! Any leader would do. But Clerics were actually pretty cool now, they weren't just healbots! But what really struck me was the balance between the classes. Everyone started off at roughly the same power level, and nobody blatantly outstripped anyone else as the levels went on. Given that I love playing casters, and that the vast majority of our 3.x games started out at 1st-3rd level and lasted 2 sessions if we were lucky, balance was important to me. I was sick of being weaker just because I liked casting spells better than smacking people across the head. It didn't matter that casters became godly later, because there was never a later for me. I played 1 game where I was a mid-level Wizard and it was the best game I'd ever played. The class had hit its stride, and I was able to be very creative with my spells and remain effective. Our usual DM (who swears by Fighters, even at high levels, for some odd reason...) made this Frankenstein-zombie boss called Stitches, who I decided to take out on my own when I was separated from the rest of the party (admittedly there were only two players...). I solo'd Stitches and won. Not only did I win, but I mopped the floor with this guy. And this DM is known for subjecting us to some pretty nasty bosses. So this is what it's like to be a high level Wizard...

Too bad it never happened again.

In any case, I don't want to write an entire book about the differences between 3.x and 4e. Some people prefer one edition, others the other. It wasn't long before I became a staunch proponent of 4e. Skills were more concise, balance was much better, casters never "ran out" of spells, Fighters had interesting stuff to do, leaders could heal as a minor action, the power blocks were simple, concise, and easy to reference compared to 3.x spells, and, as I later found out when I tried to convert my old gaming group, this edition was MUCH easier to DM. DMing was actually fun! The monster stat blocks made sense! Monsters had levels instead of this bogus CR crap. And page 42, oh how can't say enough good things about page 42.

And finally, once some more splatbooks were released, if I wanted to play a summoner or a Druid, I didn't have to memorize 5 million stat blocks from the Monster Manual, fuss around with templates, etc. Everything was designed to run smoothly. And I'll pick up here in part 2.

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