HAHAHA. Sorry...sometimes I amuse myself.
This post comes c/o reader "Mach," who emailed me the following:
I was reading your blog about the various editions and I found a bit where you said you didn't think pathfinder was suitable for the type of long term campaign play you had in mind. Could you expound on that please? Reason I ask is because I'm a little worried and mainly curious, I've run a fair bit of pathfinder and I'm worried there might be something I'm missing or a cliff somewhere at higher levels or some such. Or maybe it causes players to drift away to other games, or some such more subtle issue.
I sent Mach a response (as I tend to do when folks write me questions like that). Mach, for his part, appreciated my answers and suggested I incorporate it into a blog post "so that I'm not the only one that will benefit from it."
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My thoughts on the unsuitability of Pathfinder to long-term play is based on A) my experience with the D20 (3rd edition) D&D system on which PF was based, and B) my thoughts on just what entails "long-term play."That being said, I will readily admit that I have no experience playing Pathfinder, and I haven't even read the latest edition of PF, nor do I have any idea of the changes to the system with the new version. Perhaps, PF2 is more suitable to (what I consider) long-term play and I am simply ignorant of the fact.The issue I have with D20 (which colors my perception of PF) is that, over the course of playing, the inherent complexity of the game scales in a way that makes the thing untenable. D&D is a game that begins simply...even the third edition...and adds complexity as the game progresses (i.e. as characters gain levels and access more content). More information needs to be mastered by the players of course, but far more information by the DMs. But the mechanical complexity of D20 is such that, over the course of play:
- it becomes extremely cumbersome for the DM, such that they quit or end the campaign (I've seen this personally on two occasions), AND/OR
- the DM begins discarding "excess" rules, or ignoring rules that make running the campaign "burdensome." But D20 is a mechanically complex game, fine-tuned to an extreme degree, and easily thrown out of whack when rules are bypassed.Sure, there are probably some DMs may have a higher capacity for the minutia of running a D20 campaign at mid- to high-levels (I've seen DMs throw up their hands as early as level 7; I've seen DMs try running adventures for 15th level PCs (pre-gens) that gave up after a single encounter). But are the rules conducive to long-term play? Do they facilitate it?In comparison, AD&D (1E) is a robust system that provides depth without the added complexity/fiddly-ness. Monsters operate on a different scale than players. PCs, for the most part, "plateau" after reaching "name" level: their abilities increase but not in the same exponential capacity. There is less information to juggle; more attention can be paid (by the DM) to the campaign world, as opposed to making sure encounters are properly balanced and the various mechanical t's are crossed and i's dotted. In this way, 1E is more conducive to long-term play...in comparison to 3E/PF.3E (again, the basis for Pathfinder) had a LOT of material written for it...including high level material (the Epic Level Handbook and whatnot). In THEORY the game will function at high levels...[why do I continue to bring up "high level" play? Because over time...i.e. over the "long-term"...characters progress, gain x.p. and become high level. High level play is a part of long-term play]...in THEORY the game functions at high levels. It has the rules, the mechanics, the support to make the game function. The practicality, however, makes it (in my opinion) cumbersome. Because long-term play is MORE than just having the content to fulfill the needs of a 12th or 14th level party.To run a long-term campaign, you need to build a world: a world of sufficient depth to provide meaning to the (imaginary) lives of the PCs. They need to be able to do more than simply plumb the next dungeon or go on the next quest...such adventures will, in time, inevitably PALE, if they have neither meaning nor relevance to the game world.And so you need to build a world. But in a system where one must have level 12 citizens and level 3 artisans and level 9 nobles and monsters with six stats, skills, and feats...in that type of system, the burden of creating a deep world is IMMENSELY cumbersome.Whereas, in a simpler system (say AD&D) I can say "90% of the people in this town are 0-level and possess d6 hit points." I can stat out the duke or burgormeister or tavern owner or stable boy with the roll of a D6. Rather than having to worry about the excessive mechanics, the minutia, I can focus on their personal goals, their relationships with other NPCs, the various things they might have to offer the PCs, etc.I don't have to worry about how feats and skills interact with the environment when there are no feats and skills. See?
And then...what? Start over again at 1st level? What's the endgame here?"Long-term play" is not about reaching an endpoint. It's not about getting to a particular level...though (as I said) played long enough, characters will reach high levels. It's about having a perpetual game, a dynamic world, that players get to dip their toes into and experience...and live in for a time. The game aspects (the systems, the mechanics) are part of it...part of the game, part of the fun...but they are not the End All Be All. The WORLD you are building...and the legends the players create within the world...are the thing that's important. And that takes a fine balance: a system (or "rules") that have depth and complexity but not so much that it's overwhelming...just enough to model what needs to be modeled, to model those bits of reality that require rules.So that the game can last. So that YOU (the DM) can fully engage your imagination and yet still run the game in a practical, functional fashion.You can do "long term play" with ANY edition of Dungeons & Dragons (I think)...but some editions make it easier to do. And some make it harder.
There...something for Friday afternoon musings.