Pathfinder… on the shoulder of giants…

June 2, 2011 by elromanozo

If you’re into pen and paper RPG, you’ve heard about Pathfinder… That is, if you haven’t been living under a rock for four years. Here’s the latest chapter of a long story…

Once upon a time, Wizards Of The Coast, publishers of D&D, decided that the next edition of the game would be open to everyone. 3rd edition was released under the now famous Open Game License (OGL) so that anyone could sell supplements for the shiny new D20 system… And for a while, all was right in the world. Well, not quite… They re-released an updated set of rulebooks as D&D 3.5. There were grunts and moans, but we begrudgingly complied, because they did correct the most obvious flaws.

Years later, after a gazillion supplements were published under the OGL by pretty much everyone on the planet, WOTC decided that 3.5 had had a good run. They retired it, and published 4th edition… But they backtracked : D&D4 wasn’t OGL, Only WOTC would be able to release material for D&D from now on.

That ticked off a lot of gamers. Many thought there was nothing wrong with 3.5, and that D&D4 wasn’t the game they knew and loved… Harsh words were exchanged, flames were sent, forum were trolled… Even today, it’s a tender, bitter subject.

There are now two heirs to D&D : 4th edition, supported by WOTC, and Pathfinder, owned by Paizo Publishing. Each have their fans, and claim legitimacy. Working under a new OGL of their own, Paizo, after open Beta testing (a welcomed first !) and ironing out all the kinks, has published a revised version of the 3.5 rules… Many call it the 3.75 version.

The miniatures combat system, although less streamlined than the D&D4 version, is a thing of beauty… Combat maneuvers allow for actions which weren’t possible (or useful) under 3.5. Multiclassing is easier, but the main races and classes have been amped up and made more customizable to compete with the myriad of powerful prestige classes available elsewhere. To allow for adaptation, the GM can chose one of three rates of level advancement.

But the key word here is retrocompatibility : Pathfinder also thrives because it works with every D&D3 and 3.5 product ever published… And that’s quite a lot. So, yes, you can still play in your favorite setting, be it one of the official ones (Faerun, Krynn, Rokugan…), one from another publisher (Scarred Lands, Iron Kingdoms…), or one of your own. Almost everything can be made to fit your own game !

If you want a fresh start, Paizo continuously releases a stream of modules for their own setting, Golarion. You’ll find all kinds, from Gods and Magic to Princes of Darkness, about races, magic, people, places… And ongoing campaigns (“Adventure Paths” such as the Kingmaker or the Serpent’s Skull) provide enough material to thrill your players for months.

On Paizo’s website, you can order any of the books in PDF, and even download beta-testing for upcoming supplements, which allows you (yes, you!) to influence the future of the game. Paizo even offers subscriptions to the Pathfinder Society, allowing GMs to report their games and have an impact on the Pathfinder Campaign Setting !

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook, a hefty tome of about 700 pages, contains every rule you’ll need to play the game, and then some. The traditional D&D races and classes are all here, as well as the combat system, the spells, magic items… Everything else. And you don’t even have to buy it. The rules, devoid of fluff, illustrations and a gorgeous book to have at home, are presented in the Pathfinder Reference Document, available for free on the Paizo website !

If you don’t already have a full library of 3.5 material, you’ll probably need to refer to the Bestiary for monsters. You might want to look at the GameMastery Guide, an invaluable tool for GMs containing advice, rules, and a plethora of useful NPCs. If your players need more options, you’d do well to pick up the Advanced Player’s Guide, replete with gold nuggets for your games… And of course, there’s the beautiful and sturdy GM screen.

Sourcebooks are out on a regular basis. The latest one, Ultimate Magic, features, among other things, a whole new magic system, more fluid, that can replace the original one, or be used alongside it ! Oh, and I can smell gunpowder coming from Ultimate Combat, soon to be released…

As usual with Paizo Publishing, you can playtest beta versions of most core supplements and download free samples of them in .pdf format from their website…

You want my opinion ? I say Pathfinder is a great game based on a good one, and so versatile that you can truly make it your own. So if you’re still keen on vancian magic and you long to use those 3.5 supplements gathering mold on your shelf, why not give Pathfinder a try ? You might like it…

And you might also like D&D4. Contrary to what the flamers say, you’re allowed both chocolate and vanilla !

Here are some helpfull links to get you started on your own Pathfinder adventures: