What It is that I’m Doing Here

PaizoCon 2012 LogoI recently had the good fortune to attend Paizocon, held here in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve always wanted to attend a gaming convention, but until now never made time to do so. Which is insane, because there are half a dozen awesome conventions in Seattle every year. For its part, Paizocon is small. I think there were five rooms being used by the con. But there was still a lot of cool stuff to see and do, which I’m sure I’ll be mentioning in at least a couple upcoming posts. But first I’d like to talk about something a little more personal.

My outlook on tabletop gaming has changed a lot in the last year, largely influenced by blogs such as Hack & Slash and Untimately. I’ve started to see the many ways in which my fundamental assumptions about RPGs have been wrong. It wasn’t so long ago when I fully embraced everything Pathfinder had to offer, but as I’ve experimented and learned, I’ve become much more critical. Among other things, I’ve dropped half of the skills from my games, and even concluded that the entire skills system is too fundamentally flawed to be salvaged.  I’ve have always maintained, and continue to hold, a great deal of respect for Paizo as a company. I think they’ve made a lot of good decisions in how they’ve chosen to handle the 3.5 property. But I knew even before I left for the convention that I didn’t fit into the Paizo community as well as I would have when I first bought the tickets.

There were times when I felt as though I was visiting an alien culture. I spent several minutes talking with a representative of Louis Porter Jr. Design. A very friendly fellow who was absolutely flabbergasted by my aversion to using skill rolls unnecessarily. I was likewise baffled by my inability to express the benefits to him–though I like to think that if we’d had a longer time to talk we might have come to an understanding. Unfortunately his booth was rather busy. I did end up purchasing his supplements “Dangers and Discoveries,” and “Debatable Actions: The Non-Combat Resolution Sourcebook.” Both of which I hope to learn from.

This was typical of many of my interactions at the con. I briefly sat in on a few smaller workshops while waiting for things I was more interested in to start, and was often frustrated by the assumptions made there. Obviously the official rules were used, as one would expect at an official function. But, as an example, one speaker made an off hand comment about how it is highly undesirable to run a game where the players are using characters of vastly different levels. I wanted to point out that some of my best games have been run with characters that have large level gaps between them. Though I didn’t, because it would have been rude to interrupt a lecture.

I don’t want to paint a terrible picture of Paizocon. I did very much enjoy my time there. Some of the seminars I attended were incredibly informative. In particular the two I attended dealing with terrain building. Sean Reynolds taught me more in two hours than I think I could have learned in two months of watching YouTube videos. I even met a number of other attendees with whom I had some very pleasant conversations about Pathfinder’s mechanics, their failings, and alternative choices. None the less, the whole experience has left me wondering where I fit within the Pathfinder community.

This has never been a question which really bothered me before. I do my own thing, and I do it my own way, and that’s what keeps me passionate about my work. I don’t have any intention of changing that outlook, but I wonder if I should change how I describe myself. In particular the fact that Papers & Pencils is often billed as a Pathfinder blog. It’s true, I play Pathfinder, it’s the system I’m most familiar with, and many of my views are informed by years of playing it and D&D 3.5. But I’ve never bothered to read up on Golarion, or participate in the Pathfinder Society. I think I have a grand total of 3 posts on the Paizo.com forums. I don’t think I even have a very wide readership amongst Pathfinder players. Most of the websites which link to me are, amusingly, OSR blogs. As are most of my biggest influences.

So where, exactly, does that put me? I play Pathfinder, and love the game for all the things it does well. But, I approach gaming the same way I approach everything else: with a critical eye. I believe that if it’s worth my attention, then it’s worth my criticism as well. I’ve been heavily influenced by people who reject the new-school ideologies of the game that I play, and other Pathfinder players feel cut off from my writing because of that. So when a person asks me what my website is about, what can I honestly tell them? What is an apt description of this blog?

This is Papers and Pencils. I like games, and I write about them. You probably won’t agree with what I write, and that’s okay with me.


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6 thoughts on “What It is that I’m Doing Here”

  1. Not that I have any authority to do this, but welcome to the OSR my friend. Or at least the OSR as I understood it. Though the OSR has primarily been about bringing back the older editions of D&D and their play styles, I think there has always been an undercurrent of getting back to gaming as a hobby, and away from gaming as “Serious Business”. Of hacking apart our games and building the game we want to play from the pieces; and of returning to the days when the rules really were more like guidelines. There’s nothing at all about the OSR that precludes you from being a Pathfinder player or blog any more than it precludes C&C players, T&T or even D&D 4e. I’m sure you will find some people that consider that statement to be heresy, but that sort of thinking is what brought about the “Serious Business” mindset, and is what made old D&D “irrelevant” in the first place. If you’re playing the game, you’re having fun, and you can connect with your fellow gamers, no matter their source material, then I think you’re doing exactly what the OSR was supposed to do.

    1. I appreciate the welcome! Though I’m pretty sure everybody agrees that the O and the S stand for “Old School.” I don’t think it would be fair to represent myself as an OSR gamer when I play one of the newest and most popular games on the market. =P

      None the less, it’s nice to be welcomed. I’m really fortunate that a few well timed links gave me so much of a readership amongst old schoolers. I’ve learned a lot from their comments and discussions.

      1. I think “old school” is a mindset, rather than a point on a timeline. After all, when you stop and think about it, all the OSR retroclones are as new if not newer than Pathfinder. Sure, some are as close as possible legal clones like Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC, but others are house ruled bundles like Swords and Wizardry. Some even still are alternate reality games, like Adventures Dark and Deep, which tries to imagine AD&D 2e as if Gygax had never left.

        Like I said, my interpretation of the OSR was beneath the adoration for Gygaxian D&D, lies a desire to get back to gaming as a hobby. For too long, people bought into the publisher encouraged mantra that “Newer is better, and all the old stuff is ‘Badwrongfun’, so buy the new stuff”, and I think the OSR grew up in part from people becoming fed up with that idea. In fact, you could argue that Pathfinder blazed the first trail into this wild world of ignoring mainline D&D for older editions.

        Of course, I’m no official OSR historian, nor founding member, just some guy who found a community of gamers that resonated with him, and hasn’t stopped enjoying it since. Am I OSR? Are you? I think the whole big point of OSR is that no one can say that but you. If you’re playing your game, and you’re having fun, and you’ve rejected the ideas of other games and playstyles being “badwrongfun”, then what more could the OSR really ask of you? What more could you ask of yourself.

  2. I think you managed to get something positive from the experience because you learned something about yourself, even if what you learned could be seen in a negative way. And if the con wasn’t for you, you say there’s plenty of others. If you like gaming, it’s only a matter of time until you find a community that you want to spend more time interacting with.

    Hell, I’ve never played pathfinder, but still like reading your blog, so there’s always that…

  3. Hi! I’m just now getting back into D&D gaming, after last playing back in early 80’s (pre-AD&D). Daughter, 11, is interested in PnP gaming and while I have kept up with GURPS and HERO systems, I figured it’d be nice to start her off here. After several months of research last year, I’ve settled on Pathfinder (Core Rules last month) and I’ll admit, it’s been pretty confusing. Finally broke down and picked up their Beginner Box last weekend. It’s all starting to gel now.

    Anyways, am enjoying your blog and it’s deeper reflections on gaming. One thing; my friends have always played were the rules were more suggestions, than hard law so makes sense to me, being less than enthused with skills concept, to not use it.

    1. I like rules and mechanics, but it’s up to the individual group and GM to decide what works and what doesn’t.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. My posts have been a little meandering lately, but I should get back to my ‘deeper reflections’ soon enough. Good luck introducing your daughter to the hobby! Pathfinder does have a lot of rules to remember, but it’s a solid system to start out with.

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