We spent 11 months and 2 parts of a 6 part Adventure Path playing Pathfinder before I started to dread running the game. I don’t think that’s a statement on the quality of the adventure path or the quality of the rules system, but Pathfinder is basically a refinement of the d20 System, i.e. D&D 3.X, a system I played for most of the last fourteen years. When D&D 4E came out, I was weary of D&D 3.X. I had seen its flaws (which don’t bother some players) and while Pathfinder fixes some of those, is it just as complex as that system is, and the complexity made it a chore for me to game prep. There was a time when complexity didn’t bother me because game prep was my primary leisure time activity. The older I get and the more variety I inject into my leisure time, the less time I want to spend on complex prep for a game I only play every other week.
In short, my preferences have moved on.
I’m not the only one at the Doctor StrangeRoll table who has grown tired of Pathfinder. Several of the players have expressed a desire to try out systems with less complexity. My main beef is that as characters grow in power, running the characters become largely an exercise in mathematics, from a mechanical perspective, and certain tasks become trivial. That can be good and bad. The math, frankly, bores me. That tasks become trivial, well, I have mixed feelings about that. For experienced character, some tasks should be trivial. I believe every task (at least, dramatically appropriate tasks; I’m not talking about things like opening an unlocked door, riding a horse down to the village square, or mundane things like that) should have a chance of failure. No one is infallible, and sometimes failures can create good drama and character-defining moments. With Pathfinder (and d20 systems in general), I feel like players are encouraged to optimize and specialize to the point that their characters become little more than collections of stats rather than characters. This can be mitigated, of course, by the GM writing all of his own material so that the challenges they encounter are tailored to them exactly. I realize it is impossible for published materials to cater to everyone, but I have neither the desire nor the energy to devote to a 100% custom Pathfinder campaign. The game no longer fits my preferred GMing style.
In the last two years and three months, my group has played three variations of D&D: Basic D&D (which I defined WAY back in 2012 in this post), D&D 4E, and 3.X/Pathfinder. AD&D is all that remains for the core Doctor StrangeRoll experience. I’ve deviated from my initial purpose a bit, since I have not revisited any of the adventures we played at the beginning with a different system, but I still think we’ve gotten a good taste of what each system has to offer. As it stands right now, I’ve enjoyed Basic D&D most. My players, of course, probably have different opinions, but it seems to me that the role-playing was stronger when the mechanics were less complicated.
That’s not to say one cannot have really good role-playing with complex mechanics, but I’ve noticed that many players have trouble moving beyond the mechanics when they are complex, the players are busy and tired when we game (we game on Friday nights, after everyone has had a week of work and 3/5ths of my group are raising kids, too). Other people have noted that when a game’s mechanics concentrate on tactical combat, it takes special effort to have games that are more than tactical combat. We’re all busy, we’re spinning many plates at once, and I think rules light is in the future for the DoctorStrange Roll group.
Good thing AD&D is able to be more rules light than d20 and more modern versions of the game.
So, what does all this mean for the Licktoad Goblin Pirates and the Skull & Shackles adventure path? Based on the brief conversations with some of my group, it’s likely the goblins will enjoy being wealthy after selling their booty in Port Peril and will create a colony of goblins at Tidewater Rock. They’re semi-respected pirates now, but their futures will be written by others (maybe me, if I ever get to write a Pathfinder novel for Paizo). Most players in my group don’t want to recreate the goblin pirates in a different system. I understand. Being a stabby, choatic anarchistic goblin can be fun in small doses, but most players want more complex characters than that and find it hard to identify enough with a goblin to make them transcend who they were born to be.
For the next several sessions, we will be playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, specifically “Beyond the Rim.” Blog entries describing that game will likely have spoilers galore! Consider this a warning. I’ll also be nice and include a spoiler warning at the top of each post…if I remember.
After “Beyond the Rim,” we’re probably going to do a few one shots. I want to introduce the group to Fate, and one of my players expressed an interest in running another session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (in which I play Dr. Cornelius Constance, a time-traveling scientician from the 19th century). One of the one shots will definitely be AD&D though (either 1st or 2nd edition) so that I can finish my analysis of D&D through the editions. By the time that happens, I’m sure D&D 5th edition will be available. I don’t know if I’m going to incorporate that or not. Right now, I have no desire to play another edition of D&D. Between Basic D&D and AD&D 2nd Edition (the edition my most formative years were spent playing), I don’t need a different edition of D&D for anything. I am tired of the edition treadmill. I miss the days when we could mix freely between Basic, 1E and 2E and it more or less worked because the systems were that similar. Since 2000, a new edition of D&D (I do not count 3.5 as a separate edition from 3.0) is basically a new game. Some trappings are the same, others are different. If I want a different fantasy game I can run Savage Worlds, or Dragon Age, or HackMaster, or Dungeon Crawl Classics.
No one edition of a game is going to be all things to all people. Is there a perfect game for you? Perhaps. Maybe you’ve already found it. What is my perfect game? I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I’m not sure I want to. Trying new games is too much fun.