Of all the fantasy settings I could be playing I most commonly find myself reaching for my Pathfinder books. I run two Pathfinder campaigns, one in person and the other via Google+ Hangouts and play in a third one in person. I find this totally surprising as it was only a chance conversation that even made me aware of the game. Prior to this I had been running a “Play By eMail “ (PBeM) for the Earthdawn system and I also spent some time running in person Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) 3.0 games and was heavily into D&D 4.0 at the time Pathfinder got mentioned to me.
I think the reason that I missed the whole Pathfinder band wagon when it kicked off was that I ignored D&D 3.5 when it came out. I was not impressed with third edition which we had waited for with insane anticipation and rather than seeing 3.5 D&D as an improvement on the system I chose to (foolishly) believe it was another assault on our wallets. So as I was not hugely invested in D&D 3.5 material I missed the transition phase that lead into the D&D 4th edition and the branching path that Pathfinder took. In fact when 4th edition D&D came out a mate of mine and I were ready to give D&D a go again so with blind faith we bought the new books and started playing the tabletop board game with roleplaying elements that D&D had become. But it was a game we had invested heavily in so we persevered.
I live in a small rural town so when my wife and I went to Melbourne (Australia) for a weekend away I went on a journey to the game store that I get all of my RPG mail orders from. I bought a large pile of D&D books to take home with me when I met an old friend for a drink or two. We were talking about role playing at the time and I talked about how ordinary we thought 4th edition D&D was and he asked if we had considered Pathfinder. It was the first time I had ever heard of the game. Two weeks after getting home I had a copy of the main rulebook and I read it in a day. This was the game that 4th edition D&D should have been in my opinion and I soon had my players transferring their characters into Pathfinder having never opened a single one of the 4th edition D&D books I had bought on that trip.
So that is how I came to Pathfinder. I never looked back either and have now sold off every 4th edition D&D manual I had. But what was it about Pathfinder that made me turn away from a huge investment in books and time that I had with 4th Edition (and for that matter Earthdawn and a variety of other games)? In essence I can tell you that it was the fact that Pathfinder rules made sense. They resonated with me and were very easy to read. The emphasis was taken away from what you could do on a map (although there were map rules if you chose to use miniatures) to again being an open ended role playing game. You were free to imagine how a skill combined with a spell worked rather than being locked into a menu selection of abilities that you could choose from.
The benefit of this all was it basically was D&D as well. Thanks to the Open Source Licence of 3rd edition here was a game that felt familiar to roleplayers everywhere. Armour Class, Hit Points, Saving Throws! Familiar creatures were abundant as were the spells. Of course some of them lost their flavour text because it was Wizards of the Coast Intellectual Property and some vanished altogether (like Beholders grrr…) but on a whole it was a system that you felt you understood from the start. And what an impressive start! The core rulebook was where I began, 576 pages in glorious full colour with excellent artwork! It is a big tome of information but it is beautifully presented and professionally laid out.
The main rulebook has all of the races and the classes that you would want to see available! Also the main rulebook contains most of what you need to play. There is a Gamemasters Guide but it is not needed to run the game. It deals with information helping Gamemasters to build their worlds and make their NPC’s appear fleshed out. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great resource and contains some extra material that really enriches the game but it is not really needed to play. The only other book that is really needed to play in a Fantasy setting is the Bestiary. When I came to the game they had just released the Advanced Players Guide which I picked up as well. It contains some great options for the core classes and some great new classes to flesh out the game with and provide all kinds of options to players across the board.
New books continue to evolve the system and setting. Above I have only spoken about the Core rule books (which now include Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Equipment, NPC Codex, Bestiary 2, Bestiary 3 and the Advanced Race Guide) but there is so much more to the game. Each month they release an Adventure Path module, two whole adventure path’s are released in a 12 month period (6 modules per path) and numerous campaign support material books flow out of Paizo making it one of the most prolific, well supported settings that I have ever seen. The official Pathfinder has the core world of Golarion with an established Pantheon and area of play that has a great diversity of adventuring potential for all tastes.
It is not just the materials that Paizo presents for its Pathfinder range but also the third party support for it. Being an open licence system there have been many other games and worlds that have aligned themselves with the Pathfinder Role Playing Game System (PFRPGS) and Paizo manage a store where the third party publisher can sell their own products along with Paizo’s own work. Paizo also freely advertise what they think are great additions to their game in their own products suggesting third party products along with their own if it enriches the game. I purchased a product from a third party publisher purely on the foreword of one of the adventure path modules where the Paizo employee explained how great the product made his game! This gives me the feeling that the people at Paizo are gamers making games for gamers.
Now for the final bonus. In a world that is driven by technology what do Paizo do? They release all the rules and guidelines from the Core rulebooks for free on the internet. No need for a subscription, all you need is access to the internet and a web browser. The complete rules set (less any Intellectual Property to the world of Golarion) is up for everyone to use at http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ which means you can play this game without shelling out a cent for the books. There are apps that turn this website into an offline source of information for iOS and Android phones and tablets also meaning you need not lug all your rulebooks or computer around to wherever you play. I am a lover of books though and the quality of the art and the hardback books is in my opinion well worth the cost. I rarely use the books, relying instead on an iPad App but on occasion I love designing with all the books open around me or showing my players one of the excellent illustrations of a creature that is about to eat them.
So, in this world of Indie developed rules lite games many may call Pathfinder a bit out of fashion. The question also hovers about how D&D Next will affect what is now the most popular tabletop roleplaying game of the moment. I have just signed up for the playtest of D&D Next and from what I have read so far it will be an interesting time as release of 5th Edition D&D comes closer. To my eyes though Pathfinder has provided a wonderful setting backed by an excellent set of rules and a variety of play options. It may be rules heavy, but this aspect of the game never feels overwhelming which to me means they got it right. I just get the feeling that Paizo are going from strength to strength at the moment. They listen to the community carefully and they respond at an individual level.
So I challenge you. If you have not given Pathfinder a look yet, why not? Go to the Pathfinder Reference Document and have a poke around. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
Mark Knights is 39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia. I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games. I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90’s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM. When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules. I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner. When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be. On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.