Pathfinder society: Testing the waters

28 June, 2009 at 1:47 pm (actual play) (, , )

I played a game of Pathfinder society (which still used rules of D&D 3,5). Jukka Särkijärvi was the GM. Players were me, Gastogh, Veltzeh and one other person whom I had not met before.

I’ll start with observations on the scenario, local playing style and general anthropology. There’ll be some mild spoilers. For context: I’ve game mastered a fair deal of third edition and played it maybe thrice, but it’s been a while.

I created a first level character (halberdier with some talent in tripping people and making showy entrances). Other characters were a paladin of first level, and a druid and monk of higher level (2 or 3). I entered not knowing anything about the local play culture with regards to, say, optimisation; I just relied on the fact that if you create a third edition character and don’t try anything fancy it will usually work out okay, which it did.

First difference to my usual play was fiddling with all the equipment; not very interesting, IMO. Ready-made packages of standard equipment would be useful and make character generation significantly faster.

My character done and we were slowly starting to play, so I naturally asked what they were playing. Responses were roughly race (if not human), class, ad maybe somethig else. I have very fuzzy conceptions of what the character looked like, except for Veltzeh’s char of whom we had a picture. I did not talk much about my character, either, as it evidently was not the way things were done thereabouts.

The scenario itself worked as follows: The big Pathfinder organisation gives a job and some goals to achieve and then factions give a sidequest each for their members (each character being a member of one faction, I think). There’s also secrecy about the faction goals, which does deter the party hydra phenomenon a bit, but does not create compelling narrative as characters are not allowed to mess with each others’ subgoals, much less fight each other. (The party hydra phenomenon is when all characters act and work as though they were the the heads of a hydra, always having the same goals and wanting the same things.)

My sidequest was to talk to a specific person and do it out of hearing of other PCs (including the elven druid with quite keen hearing, which was conveniently forgotten or ignored in play). I had no idea if I had to actually drive gameplay towards achieving this goal or if I could just loiter along and the prestige award (which one gets for completing faction sidequests) would come for free. Proactivity would have been awfully risky, so I just went along and the prestige award was waiting along the rails. Had I been playing some other (the temptation to write “proper” is strong) roleplaying game, I would have actively reached for the goal and created all sorts of amusing situations, but it did not feel the right thing to do in a D&D game, where the mentality is very much that of players and characters trying to beat the scenario and players guarding their characters from permanent harm.

The scenario was very much a railroad; walk along this path, kill zombies and cultists and priest/priestesses, talk a bit every now and then. The fights were the most interesting part of it all. At the end we destroyed (probably had to destroy) an ages-old artifect, but it had no impact, because we did not see any alteratives. Genre-wise it was D&D fantasy, though the world could easily support sword and sorcery play, too. I don’t think Pathfinder society can, however, due to the inherent limitations of the format.

Jukka (the GM) made a point of describing attacks, hits and misses, for which I respect him. However, they don’t have any further effect on play; not mechanical, not anything else, at least most of the time. The descriptions hence are superfluous, sort of. As a design issue the indie designer Vincent Baker has been thik about something similar: If you can simply say what you are about to do (Attack the zombie) and the roll the dice, hence creating the effect (damaged / falls / miss), the actual details of how the effects come by is extra. It can be skipped. Hence it is very easy to skip. I’d go as far as to say that this is a design flaw in D&D.

All that said, I did enjoy the game and felt relaxed and in a friendly environment. The social dimension and jokes were more important than the game proper, though the game did inform said interaction and gave it structure, as well as killing random potentially awkward silences. There were tactically convenient boxes (one can climb on top of them and use them as cover), priestesses with minion masks that obscured their features and other such amusities (that should be a word if it is not). Jukka, BTW: If negative energy is inherently evil, why are spells using it not so?

I do recommend Pathfinder Society to people who like third edition. From talk at the table I got the impression that the quality and style of the scenarios varies greatly. Great variance between the assumptions of scenarios might make the play less pleasant, as one would have to adjust to fit the given scenario and hope one guesses right. I don’t know if such variance exists. I also don’t know if it bother most players. I just like knowing how I should play in a particular game so as to not be disruptive and to also enjoy the play.

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