Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paizo Blues

I was working on a long post, trying to put it in a form that I could send to Lisa Stevens, outlining what I see as problems with Paizo's Organized Campaign.  It's turned out like a lot of things that I start to write - I get about one to two thirds into it, and then I say "meh - this isn't working out."

I like playing Pathfinder.  I really really do.  I like the setting.  I like the 3.75 rules set - skills, feats, racial and class features, magic, combat, the whole thing.  I have fun making and playing characters for Pathfinder.  I like the scenarios that Paizo has published.  I've only run across a few that didn't thrill me, and part of that could just be put down to the style in which the GM ran the scenario.

What I don't like, and what seriously reminds me of Wizards of the Coast's Living Forgotten Realms campaign is the way in which it is run.  Here's the problems that I see.

1) Rules.  I like rules.  I mean I really enjoy figuring out what the rules are, and how they work, and how to make a character work within the rules.  Some people might call it power-gaming, or optimaxing, or some other word, like that is a bad thing.  I'm not sure I see it that way.  When I program, I look for shortcuts that increase the efficiency of the program.  When I drive, I don't take the longest route to my destination, I take the most efficient in terms of time and gas-expenditure.  I do the same thing in games that I play.  If I can do something to make my character more efficient, it seems logical that an actual individual living within that world would take the more efficient path.

Okay.  So I look for how the rules work, and pick what I think is the most efficient use of those rules.  I do this in Hero System, in Deadlands, in Shadowrun, and in Dungeons and Dragons.  I'm not talking specifically combat.  I'm saying that once my character is set upon a path, be it cleric, bard or fighter, or whatever, he's going to be the best that he can be.  But this depends on knowing what the rules are.  And this is where my problem occurs.  We're two years after product release, and while most of the game rules are nailed down fairly well, the Organized Play campaign is still in a constant state of flux.  (Not the good card game type of Flux, but flux as in "a state of change".) 

Season's 0 and 1 of Pathfinder Society were run by Joshua Frost.  After he left the company, Hyrum Savage and Mark Moreland have been running PFS.  And with that change, came a shift in the rules.  Suddenly one cannot replay modules with different characters from different factions.  Whether or not this a good thing is not really central to the point.  What bothers me is that it is a change to rules that affects the players.  We are also seeing changes to game rules that are leaving players looking to rebuild as choices that they made are no longer valid.

And what we're hearing is that (paraphrased) "Pathfinder Society is new.  Next season we should see the rules settle out."  But this is currently the third season of the program.  If you can't come up with a stable rules set in two and a half years, something is really really wrong.

There are also several rules changes that are done in the form of messageboard posts, rather than as changes to the rules document.  This is a personal peeve of mine.  The rules document is supposed to tell the player what the rules are.  The player should not be left hunting for additional rules.  I'll even go so far as to say that messageboard posts could be a valid method for implementing rules changes if the rules document describes them as valid sources of new rules, and gives a central location where one could find these changes.  But this doesn't happen.  In fact, one of the biggest changes to Organized Play was made as messageboard post several months ago, and has yet to be reflected in the official rules document.

Further irritating a rules junkie like me are rules that specifically do not do what the written rule states.  The most glaring rule that irks me is the Boon Companion feat from Seekers of Secrets.  As written, it is arguably overpowered.  The problem is that I've yet to meet an organized play judge who would let a player play the rule as written.  What the player is supposed to know is that the author posted on the Paizo Messageboards somewhere, sometime, that he intended the feat to work in a different manner, and that everyone is supposed to play as if that is the real wording on the feat.  There's a word that is used when words in a document are to be disregarded in favor of different words. The word is "errata", and Paizo seems loathe to actually issue any for their products.

Instead, what we see is posts buried within threads saying the author intended X, so even though the rule is written as Y, players should use X. 

I talked with a couple of game players about why Pathfinder Society and Paizo irritate me so much and other games do not.  What was suggested to me is that Paizo has a messageboard where these rulings occur, where other games do not.  Shadowrun is generally entirely by the book, and there are errata issued for rules that needed updating.  Deadlands is an out-of-print game, so what's in the rulebook is the rule, subject to DM interpretation (as are all rules).  Hero System is friken complete.  And you just don't see things that are unbalanced that the book itself doesn't alert the GM to the imbalance.  Call of Cthulhu is GM driven, with a small rule set.  Nobody argues interpretations of "yep, you are insane - make a new character".

So in an effort to reduce my irritation level with Pathfinder, I'm finding that I visit the messageboards much less, and have given up posting entirely.  If I ever run into a situation where the DM says that the rules in the book are not valid for play, then I'll remember I always have the option to stand up and walk away from the table.

I walked away from 4e Dungeons and Dragons because I was fed up with their rules changes and their "ruling by twitter" attitude.  And I have been much happier in my gaming ever since.  I just hope that I don't have to do the same with Pathfinder.  I'd miss the setting a lot.


  1. for the most part though, you have good GMs that seem to have the same mindset you do. I don't know all of them, but the ones I know are good guys with a mind for fun rather than crappy messageboard rulings.

  2. Oh, for certain. This is why the problem lies with Organized Play, and not the game itself. Pathfinder Society is designed around having a portable character that you can play at any PFS event anywhere. So you get GM's of all kinds. The intention is that there are no house rules other than those mapped out in the Guide to Organized Play. Which is why my frustration is with Paizo, who publish the guide, and not with the GM's who are simply running a game with the house rules that Paizo lays out.

    Organized Play takes a lot of power out of a GM's hands to fix or adjust things as needed. Which is why the responsibility is Paizo's to have a stable rule set for GM's and Players to use.

  3. Just out of curiosity, did you decide on sending an e-mail to Lisa about your concerns? I know she'll read it, I just can't say that she'll act on it.

  4. I've started writing it, but I don't know that I can write it without it sounding like anything other than whining. And as much as PFS annoys and irritates me, it's really because I'd like it to succeed and grow and be something that I can enjoy for a long long time, and not something that I want to walk away from.

    I'm not certain how to put that into a letter to Lisa, whom I have never met and talked to face to face.

    So I vented here, and whether or not anyone ever reads it, it's probably enough for now. I'd really not want to just be another email in the stack of cruft that I'm sure Lisa wades through every day.

  5. Hi there,

    I'd love to talk to you about your PFS frustrations. Feel free to email me at Plus, keep an eye on the blog this Monday. We're starting the process of outlining the future of the Society, including why we haven't updated the Guide yet and when that update will happen.