Huh…for some reason, I find it somewhat intimidating to actually sit down and type up a post on the new site. Which might have something to do with breaking 100 hits in a single day for the very first time, largely thanks to a link from Hack & Slash. Hello new readers! Hope you’re enjoying yourselves.
I’m Pathfinder player and a Paizo fan. I think that much has been made pretty clear on this site. I am also a firm believer in being open about criticism. Criticism drives improvement. If we don’t criticize the things we love, then any changes made to what we love will be based on the criticisms of someone else. Besides, no one who is genuinely interested in creating something they can be proud of ever shies away from good criticism. On the contrary, it’s a highly sought upon treasure. When I ask someone to critique my writing ninety-nine people out of every hundred will tell me it’s “great.”
I know it’s not great. I want it to be great. That’s why I asked you to tell me why it’s not great.
Last week, I criticized modern game developers for failing to include any time management in their games. A criticism which ended up going on so long that it spawned a follow up post that same week. In the past, I’ve also criticized modern game designers for the lack of information on hex mapping. These are just two amongst a sea of criticisms I have for Pathfinder and the various modern iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The common thread which connects these two criticisms, though, is that both of them used to be part of the game, but were dropped for no cogent reason I can discern.
Unfortunately, there are numerous game elements like this. Mechanisms which have, for whatever reason, fallen out of use. I’m sure it always sounded like a good idea at the time, and that’s okay! Elegance of design is important, so if a game’s developers thought they were streamlining gameplay by dropping superfluous systems, then good on them. But in many cases it seems to me as though they were wrong, and ought to start reversing their mistakes. I’ve already written on the topic of time management and hex maps, here are a few other gameplay mechanics which RPG designers used in the old days, and which modern RPG designers really ought to be talking about.
Have I mentioned I like rogues? Because I like rogues. I play so many rogues, that the one time I didn’t play a rogue, I had to multiclass into rogue, because my GM was conditioned to fill his adventures with opportunities for sneaking and lockpicking. I’m trying to branch out into other classes, but rogues will always have a very special place in my heart.
Part of the reason I love rogues as much as I do is their reliance on a large variety of skills, most of which are not well suited to combat. At least not face-to-face, even-steven, Combat As Sport style combat. Rogues function best when you’re not quite sure what they’re doing. If they just ran behind a tree, you don’t know if they’re trying to lure you into a trap, retrieve a hidden weapon, disappear into the bushes, climb the tree so they can leap down on you from above, or something entirely different which you haven’t even considered. Any class can play this way, but it is a rogue’s specialty. And it’s a play style which is severely hampered by D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder’s “360 degree field of vision.”
Characters in these modern incarnations of tabletop RPGs are not considered to be “facing” in any particular direction. They are always looking all around them at all times. No matter where you’re standing relative to a character, you are in that character’s full view, unless there is something between you. The idea was to simplify combat, which seems rather silly, since D&D 3rd edition added a number of largely superfluous rules.
In fairness, combat facing has not been completely neglected, but an optional rule in a supplemental book is not good enough. This should be part of the core combat system, no question.
Wizards Learning Spells at Random
A couple months ago, I wrote a post about an alternative to the current methods by which Wizards learn spells in Pathfinder. I’ll freely admit it’s not one of my better posts, but give me a break. I was severely sleep deprived and wrote the whole damned thing in a rush before work. My hope was that by removing the Wizard’s ability to automatically learn two new spells upon leveling up (and placing a larger emphasis on other methods for learning spells) we could partially overcome the vast power gap between casters and non-casters which has plagued this generation of games. I still think it’s a solid idea, but shortly after posting it, -C of Hack and Slash informed me that balance was less of an issue in older editions because Wizards didn’t get to select which spells they would learn, but rather, learned new spells at random each level.
I hold to my initial reaction upon learning this: that it doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds incredibly awesome. On the one hand, it seems silly to me that a Wizard would ever not be aware of what he or she was studying. Wizards (or “Magic Users” in the more traditional terminology) are scholars, they learn magic through something akin to the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, theorize. So if a spell which a wizard has mastered is a “Magical Theory,” shouldn’t they figure out which spells they’re working on in the “observation” or “experimentation” stages?
That having been said, there’s an undeniable charm to the idea. Being thrown a completely random grab-bag of spells, and then being forced to figure out how to use them most efficiently, sounds fun to me. I doubt future incarnations of Pathfinder will revert back to randomly determining spells. Nor do I think they should. But it’s certainly something which we should be talking about. Maybe as a house rule, or perhaps something which we could use for the sorcerer, to further differentiate it from the Wizard.
Incidentally, there’s an entire post about this issue over on Hack & Slash.
Monster Activity Cycles & Diets
These are extremely minor, which makes it all the more strange that I even need to talk about them. In old editions of Dungeons and Dragons, each monster had both an “Activity Cycle,” and a “Diet” listed in their stat block. The purpose of these is pretty simple. The activity cycle let GMs know when a creature was active. If it was nocturnal, the GM knew not to have it attack during the day, if it had an activity cycle of “any,” then the GM knew it didn’t matter, and so on. In most fantasy books or films, night is a particularly dangerous time when particularly vile monsters are on the prowl, so it makes good sense for GMs to be aware of when monsters can be active. The diet of a monster is, of course, what they eat. Also useful, since herbivores are unlikely to try and eat adventurers, yet may still pose dangers for other reasons.
I wouldn’t say that either of these rank high enough on the “usefulness” scale to qualify Pathfinder as severely flawed for lacking them. However, I can see no reason not to include them. If the choice is between knowing when my players are in danger from trolls, and knowing which feats a typical troll has, then I would much rather know the activity cycle.
Experience Points based on Gold Pieces
Now, personally, I’m a fan of my Simple XP system. It has improved my game by an immeasurable degree. But if we’re going to be using large experience point rewards, why not use the original system wherein 1 gold piece granted a character 1 experience point? I’ve never personally played with this system, nor have I researched it in great detail, but on the surface it seems simple and logical. If experience points are a measure of the useful experience your character has gained, then why do we only really receive it for defeating monsters? If the goal of adventuring is to find treasure, then we should reward equally all methods of acquiring that treasure. The group who cleverly sneaks around a monster, or convinces a less intelligent monster to give them the treasure freely, deserves just as much credit as the group who kicks down the door and stabs everything around them until there’s nothing left between them the shiny shiny gold.
More Supplements for Game Masters
Looking over the various first edition Dungeons and Dragons stuff I’ve got, I notice that very little of it is aimed towards players, most of it is aimed towards GMs. Whereas when I look at my extensive collection of D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder books, I notice that most of them are geared primarily towards players.
It makes good business sense, really. For every GM, there are what? An average of three players? Four? More? There are more potential customers for a player’s handbook than there are for a dungeon master’s guide. I’m sure the shift in priorities has made a lot of money for the developers of these games, and that’s cool with me. I would never ask a company to focus on a less-profitable demographic simply because it is my preference. Though I would question whether or not it is a more profitable demographic. In my experience, Players own the core rules, and mooch off the GM for everything else.
But even if it is more profitable to market to players, I’d like to see more books for Game Masters out there. Pathfinder has taken a step in the right direction with their excellent Game Mastery Guide, which is easily my favorite Pathfinder supplement thus far. I’d like to see them take it further with a Game Domination Guide, then perhaps a Game Supremacy Guide.
Remember this, Paizo: the collective of Game Masters are 100 times more effective than any marketing department. We’re the ones who find new players, and draw them in. The better we are at running games, the happier our players will be, and the more likely that they’ll purchase your products.
Are there any other oldschool game mechanics you’d like modern game developers to be learning from? Let me know in the comments! If nothing else, I can better educate myself.