Actually, I’ll start with the Table of Contents.

Sixteen Chapters, about 572 pages to the index; compare GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition at . . . 569. Coincidence? I think not!

The first chapter is preceded by the Introduction, which is about what forces led to Pathfinder as a game. That’s an interesting read, and speaks to the difficulties and opportunities in tweaking an established game into a new form.

Un-named: Introduction to Roleplaying and Needed Stuff

After that, the Getting Started chapter starts into the inevitable and useful discussion of what is roleplaying, what you need to play, and a few tie-ins to some merchandising: flip-mats, miniatures, and a link to the Paizo website. I’m all for this – I think game books should tie in to other products, both as a good one-stop source for “stuff I want to have fun more easily” but also to keep game companies solvent. Perhaps this is less true for the 800-lb. Ogre of the game world (D&D and its derivatives), but we don’t exactly play in a hobby with weekly outlets as popular and pervasive as the NFL.

So, having armed yourself with dice, character sheets, friends, and if you’re the GM, perhaps a small assortment of other books – the game says the GM must have the Bestiary, and might want modules or adventure paths – you can get to it.

The game explains how to use the dice; and the roll-high concept.

[Edit: at this point, my daughter has asked me to write: OTTO. That’s her fish.  It is pink with white stripes. Otto. The fish. We now return you to your regularly scheduled read-through.]

It touches on character advancement, and then hits up Rule Zero in two forms: above all, have fun, and the rules can change to fit your needs. We’ll see if Pathfinder is as attached to “optional” rules as GURPS is; I doubt it, since the Pathfinder game/genre is not required to be as mutable. Still, the game gives the nod to house rules, the importance of communication, and cooperation to enhance the fun for everyone.

One interesting note: boy is it nice and convenient to have genre assumptions be relatively fixed. Slipped into this very first section (not sneaky, just assumed) are references to:

  • Noble knights, powerful evil, and conniving rogues
  • Rampaging dragons and lowly goblins
  • Advancement by gaining gold, magic items, and experience points; 
If you don’t know knights, rogues, goblins, dragons, and magic, you soon will. Not a bad thing, but the fact that the system is designed around a set of assumptions allows a level of specificity that is probably one of the reasons GURPS Dungeon Fantasy does so well.

Using This Book

At this point, the book goes into a text description of each Chapter. After Getting Started, we get four or five (if you include Equipment as part of character creation) chapters on character creation, plus another – Chapter 11: Prestige Classes – which is tucked between Spells and Gamemastering.

Combat is given one chapter, Magic, Spells, and Magic Items get one each. Gamemastering, the Environment, and NPCs get a solid wall of text for three chapters.  Finally, the appendices cover special rules and conditions, recommended reading, and a bit more marketing.

Tucked into the chapter explanations is a bunch more genre information. Races tells you that the relevant use of the word race includes elves, dwarves, humans, and gnomes, rather than the way we use it conventionally (a good thing). Classes are defined by ability differentiation and specialization. Skills are broken out to their own chapter, as are special rules-exemptions, often but not always combat-related, called Feats.

Chapter 7 seems to blend the last bits of character creation with how the character interacts with the game world, from alignment to movement to visibility.

Chapter 8 is Combat, which has always been a core bit of DnD and it’s spawn. Or, rather, it has always been a core bit of damn near every RPG ever,with a few exceptions to prove the rule.

Common Terms

Then three pages of Common Terms, a glossary of technical language used throughout the book.

One thing to note: I am reading this as a PDF, and throughout the book, it makes extensive use of cross-referencing and links. In the glossary entry on Ability Score, each of the six scores is linked to its section in the book, and another link to the section on determining and assigning Ability Scores, which is right there later in Chapter 1. Score 1 for electronic books. This is a great feature. Sure, you can get there with Search (and that’s how I do it in GURPS, plus having written for the system, I’ve memorized key page and section locations). But adding links to the Basic Set would be a nice bonus.

It’s here in the glossary where certain concepts hit you for the first time, so you’d better read this more than once. Combat rounds being six seconds long? It appears twice in the entire book – once is here in the glossary, the other is appropriately placed on p. 178, in the first sentence of the section The Combat Round.

This is also where you realize that you’re going to need an entirely new technical vocabulary to play the game. Actions seem to contain something like either eight enumerated, or maybe as many as fifteen or more types of things to do, which hopefully when we get to Chapter 8 aren’t all special cases with non-overlapping concepts.

Also tucked into this chapter is the notion, which is mentioned in the bit on Bonus as well as explicitly called out in the definition on Stacking, that many (but not all) bonuses do not stack together. I can see this being pretty contentious in play, at times. Either that or a commonly and happily ignored rule: stack ’em up. More bonuses = more fun. On the other hand, while bonuses are noted as not usually stacking, penalties are noted to usually stack. I love it when Murphy’s Law is codified in game mechanics. Talk about verisimilitude!

As noted earlier, it’s important to really read through and understand (or have these three pages on hand for reference) the Common Terms. They are key, lay down important caveats that will be assumed for most of the book, and are abbreviated occasionally in many places (AC, DC, Su, DR, Sp . . .).

Example of Play


The example of play is heavy on mechanics, pointing out the die rolls and targets and other things. It does successfully showcase the rules, choices, and special cases that can crop up (piercing rather than bludgeoning damage on skeletons, for example).

One thing that does pop out, but only implicitly, is just how high bonuses can get. “Harsk” fires a crossbow at a skeleton, rolls his d20, and adds 9 to his total in the example.

The example also ends with one PC declaring that he’s getting the hell out of combat (“RUN!”). Or attempting to. It’s a good place, early in the book, to note that all encounters aren’t “stand until dead.”


Generating a Character


Scores, race, class, skills and feats, equipment, details, done. This is where class- or template-based systems can really shine. Limit beginning choices, and get to the game faster.

Ability Scores


The book gives you five different ways to generate your key ability scores, which will define a lot of your bonuses that get tacked on to your d20 rolls, damage rolls, etc. It’ll be challenging to start with the old classic “you cheated” standby of “I rolled all 18’s!” using some of the options – especially the ability purchase option. Unless the GM gives you a lot of points, the best you can do on even “epic fantasy” level is a single 18, one 15, and one 11, the rest 10’s . . . unless you nab a dump-stat or three. For broadly above-average, you can wind up with Low Fantasy averages of 11-12, or Epic Fantasy averages of 14-15, enough for decent but not shattering bonuses (which top out at +4 in the range we’re discussing anyway).

After this, you hit a definition of each of the six key ability scores, and what they effect. While one may quibble with the assignments (your ability to hit and do damage in melee combat is based only on STR . . . except when it’s not for certain Feats), the definition of what impacts what is clear.


Ballistic’s Summary

Overall, the Getting Started chapter is quite well executed. All the basics are here, and enough reference is made to advanced concepts that you know they’re coming. Good use of the digital medium in the PDF file is made for cross-referencing, though I did find myself wishing I could travel backwards to where I’d just come from. That’s user-issue if that feature does exist in Acrobat Reader, though. Might not be a fault of the book.

Otherwise, you’ve got stats, basic concepts defined, and a decent sense of the game mechanics: roll some dice, add bonuses, and exceed a Difficulty Class, of which Armor Class can be considered a subset. Higher DC or AC is harder; higher bonuses and higher rolls are better. The universal applicability of “higher is better” has been asserted here; we’ll see if it’s true, but it would be  a fairly trivial thing to arrange for most mechanics. GURPS has “roll low for skills, roll high for effects,” which is a tweak, but a good one given the mechanics involved, since you roll directly against a skill which is a target. Possibly confusing? Meh. Not very.

Next post will move into Chapter 2, talking about Races.

******

Link summary:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be reading through the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and making comments. This serves two purposes – a very long series of blog entries, which since I like to post something fresh every day or so, is nice to have a go-to source for something to write. Also, I’ll be comparing it to GURPS a lot, since that is, and given my experience with Pathfinder thus far, will remain my system of choice.

Still, it will also help me learn Pathfinder, and since I play in +Jeromy French ‘s game, that can’t hurt.

******

Forward-looking links:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Today I got to play in +Jeromy French ‘s +Pathfinder Roleplaying Game  Pirates campaign.

My character is a third (now fourth after today’s session) level Rogue-based piratey type. My background for him was that he was a fairly neglected half-elf, whose father was a wandering Sea Elf (or some such). He fell to no good fairly early. He’s a bowman, rapier specialist, and does fairly well with a dagger, thrown or stabbity.

Important skill levels include Stealth +13, Perception +12, Disable Device +9, Appraise +8, and Sense Motive and Professional Skill: Sailor both at +7.  He’s also got 6 ranks in Merchant, Slight of Hand, Acrobatics, Bluff, and Escape Artist. Plus some onesy-twosies here and there.

I thought of him as going ashore in advance of his crew, locating departing ships, appraising whether their goods were worth stealing, maybe sneaking aboard or bluffing his way on as a passenger, and then helping to disable the target from the inside. Fouling sails at the last minute, cutting cords on ballistae and crossbows . . . that sort of unwholesome behavior.

He’s turned into the bowman of the group (duh, elf-kin) and while not exactly a front-line fighter, he holds his own. Well, when the dice don’t hate him. Which they do. A lot.

Anyway, Pelagiyel (he goes by “Pel”) got coshed on the head and stuck aboard a ship with a Big Important Pirate Captain, and a bunch of lesser thugs. We captured another ship, and were part of the caretaker crew with some really sadistic officers from the original ship.

Naturally, we mutinied, killed our former tormentors, and are now budding pirates. Arrr!

*****

The game is played over Google Hangouts, using webcams for telepresence. The game aid is +Tabletop Forge , and it seems to do a credible job, though I’ll admit I like +RPTools ‘ MapTools better for the game interface.

I really enjoy the face-to-face (or electron-to-electron) aspect of it, combined with the computer interface where everyone has access to the Evil Die Roller From Hell, we can all throw up links and jokes in the Chat window without disturbing the flow of the game directly, and it’s VERY hard for the GM’s cat (notional cat; I’m not sure if Jeromy has a cat) to jump up on the table and disrupt the tokens.

I do miss the beer and pizza sharing.

It’s a fun game, and a great group.

******

If only the game engine were more polished.

I’m a relative novice at Pathfinder. I’ll admit my last real experience with Dungeons and Dragon was a single session (maybe two?) of DnD 3ed from 2000-2005 or so (yes, it’s likely been that long), before that was probably a single game in 1997 before I finished grad school, and then before that I was a teenager or even a pre-teen.

Anyone who thinks GURPS complicated really needs to do a bit of a reality check. 🙂 Coming from decades of GURPSiness to Pathfinder, I find it a fairly bewildering set of special cases. The class/level system is off-putting, and the characters are pretty low-powered. The tendency to metagame is large (“What level is our pirate captain, approximately? Level 10? So basically he can wipe the floor with all of us and not break a sweat, even if we can sneak up on him? OK. New plan.”) though I’ll admit it’s a great shorthand for relative power level. Since combat skills go up level by level, it’s useful for understanding threat in a way that GURPS points usually are not.

The thing that really gets me, though, is the 1d20+X skill test system. The flat-distribution system is not my friend, and I don’t ever really feel that I have a good notion for what Pel can accomplish. It doesn’t help that the dice have been wickedly not my friend in this campaign. (No, really. In today’s game, it actually became perhaps the first group in-joke.)

That being said, if you treat the dice as a narrative rather than simulation aid, (though again, the old WEG d6 system is better for this than Pathfinder or GURPS) it helps a bit. I find rolling for initiative quite fun, and there is inherent satisfaction to leveling up.

******

I don’t think I’d choose to RUN a Pathfinder game, though I’m sure I’d have an easier time finding players than for GURPS. But my experience here has reinforced an old bias:

It’s who you play with, not what you play, that drives the level of fun.