Nov 18, 2008

Grapeshot! Grapeshot for everyone! Or, a Pathfinder RPG Beta review of sorts.

Update: One of my fellow bloggers and sometime commenters has also spoken. While his opinion differs, I request that my three readers refrain from throwing old cabbages at him, or me for that matter.

What I really want to talk about is Pathfinder. Yup, Paizo's little bun in the oven. In interests of full disclosure, I will toss out there that I own two hard copies of the beta playtest, as well as a copy of Chronicles, and a few scattered parts of two different adventure paths. I purchased these with my own money, and have the sore couch-back to prove it.

Firstly, having been an R&D/QA manager for a small company in northern California, I can sympathize with Paizo's position. Our company went out of business due to the patent holder for our most lucrative line of scaffolding gave us 3 months notice that he was selling the patent to one of our competitors. Why does this matter? Read on.

This matters, IMO because my job for the next 3 months became corporate espionage. I was paid to go to work, just to scour the web for other products that could fit into our manufacturing base.

To translate; I was tasked with finding someone else's good idea, stealing it, redesigning it slightly to avoid trademark/copyright/patent infringement, then shopping it to our manufacturers. Ironically, I also ended up training the guy who replaced me for $6 an hour less to boot. Sound familiar?

For all of you who are pissed at WotC for the horrid abortion that was the GSL, look no further than Paizo publishing. Hell, look no further than some of the awful third party products that assisted in the death spiral of 3.5. While some good products have come out of the mix, there have also been some that have made me ashamed to share the hobby. No naming names - you know who YOU are! Can you really blame WotC for wanting an airtight licensing agreement this time? While it was good to (some of) us, it must have been tough being the guy who championed it - now that it is being used as the proverbial broomstick of hindsight (emphasis on the HIND). Kinda like giving the neighbor's wife a handgun for Christmas, and having her shoot YOU with it eh?

So their generosity to the gaming world has come back to haunt them...As PFRPG has a fairly dedicated group of soon-to-be grognards (I wonder if they realize that!), and a messageboard that is mostly empty of 4E players. See, they all left when they got tired of being trash talked on their own boards...Ironic considering how "good" the moderation for the playtesting boards is.

Pathfinder is the result of the exact same process my soon to be unemployed ass went through. They found a product they were knowlegable with (d20 SRD), that was free, rewrote enough of it to be eligible for copyright and trademarking, and repackaged it for sale to folks who just can't live another day without gaming like it's 1998. And the end result is that you will now spend a bunch of money repurchasing a "re-imagined" version of the same one you already have been playing for 8 years - only now with a bunch of "fixes" playtested by a bunch of the samer folks responisble for breaking the damned game in the first place! The added incentive of a credit for their mostly schlock ideas has inspired a true nerd frenzy of stupidity. Don't believe me, go look for yourself!

This just...bothers me. It just feels dishonest to me. If I were to take ANY other product, change a few names, add new artwork, and re-sell it as my own product, would I be a genius? Or a douchebag? Evidently it depends on A. The product to be thefted & B. Whether I can get all the other thieves out there to back me up.

Anyway, as to the product itself. It's a reprinting of the same core books you have already likely bought twice now. The d20 SRD has been reformatted, with some flashy new formats, and new art from their herd of stock artists. We have the vaunted "Re-Envisioning" of the venerable(?) 3rd edition of D&D. Seeing the horrid monster that 3E has become, IT is a little like trying to use plastic surgery and high fashion to make grandma look like a totally fuckable 20-something again.

In that aspect, they have mixed success. They have re-tooled the classes in numerous ways, by making them different enough to be "new" and yet more complicated - yay. So now I not only have to re-learn all of the core stuff that is still MADDENINGLY similar to 3.5, yet juuuuust different enough to be a new beast. Great. Let's keep save or die because sometimes the DM just wants to say FUCK YOU to his players, right? After all, why should they have any fun? Then we have the big fundamental changes...Where they just polled the community to find out what they liked about 4E, then cherry-picked it in.

  1. Consolidated skills...check
  2. At will powers for spellcasters...check
  3. More HP at first level...check
  4. New takes on old classes/races...check

Considering how much hostility there is on their boards toward 4E in general, I am surprised that they integrated so many "controversial" and "Edgy" parts of it. Well, I guess that even if the baby is deformed, at least the incest part was fun :/

There are more, but I am getting ready for lunch - and I'm not your damned researcher. I came, I saw, and I went home halfway through the feature. It was too reminiscent of any Friday the 13th movie from vol.3 to about 8 or so. Same old crap, repackaged for a NEW and TRENDY audience that will hopefully forget for a few minutes that it actually IS the same pile of crap, because OMG! IT HAS MONTE COOK INVOLVED!!! Seriously, the only thing missing is a lengthy introduction about how "Uncle Gary" would have preferred it this way. I just ended up feeling like I slept on the couch for two nights for no good reason. At least 75% of the changes made are simply the integration of houserules WE have all spent years developing to offset the various problems I have seen at every table I have had the privilege of playing at since 1992.

Now...all is not woe and despair. If you are one of those oddballs that will never leave the comforting womb of 3rd edition, there are some goodies there. The whole Polymorph / shapechange thing has been fixed. The classes have been "balanced" a little better between themselves (No 4E and they have made significant changes to the classes themselves (though you'd be a fool to play a non spellcaster for the long haul - JUST LIKE BEFORE!!!). The feats have been reworked, with several being tossed completely. The wording of many spells have been repaired. I will refrain from pointing out how another newer RPG has already done all of this...oops!

So is this the future of gaming? Where game design comes down to who has the best cut/paste skills? Every time I chat with my friends who play PFRPG like it is the personal hobby game of jesus his-fucking-self, I can't help but remember growing up in the midwest, and driving by the their horse drawn buggys. Kind of a sad feeling.

So that's it. My thoughts about an overhyped product scavenged from the d20 SRD, in a blatant abuse of everything WotC was attempting when they pushed the OGL out into the world in the first place. If that's your bag, then you will find many more hours of fun still to be had rattling 3E's bones. If not, then try something else. d20 is not the end all game some tout it to be.

Comments? Insults? Random anger and bile? I don't moderate, or delete comments. This is my opinion, and you are welcome to disagree : ) Last thing, here are some silly pictures...look at them before you comment.


trollsmyth said...

Meh indeed. ;)

It's not like Paizo promised brand new gaming mana from heaven. They told everyone up-front that they were going to make 3.75, and that's what they're selling. If it says "horse poop" on the box, and there's horse poop inside the box, you can't really claim they've cheated anyone.

Granted, while 3e isn't my game, I do know a lot of folks who love it, and I certainly expected to when I first read the rules. I see little difference between Paizo's Pathfinder fans and those of us revving up Labyrinth Lord campaigns. Yeah, it's the same old game we've known for years, with the same problems and the same challenges. That's part of the point.

- Brian

Anonymous said...

Well said! You get an honorary Paizo Watch badge with the Strike Witch of your choice on it ('cept Shirley/Mio, since they're the ones I use.)

Donny_the_Dm said...

Greetings Brian, and agreed - I give them high marks for not trying to push it as a new paradigm of 3E goodness, horse crap being what it is :)

I've just put enough miles on it to feel I have formed an opinion. Add my restless and somewhat snarky mood today, stir in access to the Intardnets, and Voila! Angry post about 3E grognards...well, kinda angry.

Personally, I felt a bit cheated when I saw how much they were coddling the backwards compatible angle...If it's broke, you fix it right?

They were within their rights to do what they did...the American way and all that, it just feels...wrong. Tough to explain.

For what it's worth, I am still playing in a PFRPG game. It started out decent enough, but I have begun to dread it as the dead time to wait through until the next 4E game.

Thanks for your feedback!

Donny_the_Dm said...

Wyatt! Snuck one in while I was busy blathering :)

I am unfamiliar with this strike witch that you speak of. Whom would you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Strike Witches is the anime that I go through on my blog, about a team of young witches who are part of a military squadron to fight against an invasion of aliens called Neuroi who have pseudomagical abilities. Shirley is the girl on my avatar almost everywhere. I don't have all my marbles in a row right now, so I don't really know which to assign to you...maybe Erica, since she's mischievous but pretty well-spoken.

David said...

To be honest, it seems like a lot of content created by the gaming community at large is simply old stuff rehashed. How many retro-clones are there of OD&D or AD&D? How many 3e 'supplements' that are just thinly-veiled copies and hashes of a couple of WotC splatbooks? How many 4e-compatible supplements are just hacks of old 3e splatbooks that are designed to hold over desperate players and DMs until WotC releases an "official" one for them to complain about?

Now, of course, there are things that come around from time to time that are genuinely new or innovative. Of course those things exist. The problem is that they are diamonds in the rough. The deep rough of piles upon piles of derivative junk.

That said, I don't know anything about Paizo or their latest offering, besides the basic "It's a 3.5-sorta-thing that dodges what a lot of people complain about 4e" I can't comment on Paizo's stuff directly. But that's my take on the community at large sometimes.

Donny_the_Dm said...

@ Wyatt - I will defer to your superior anime judgement :)

@David - I agree. RPG gaming has brought recycling tropes and themes to a near art form. Problem is, people get so comfortable playing "their" game, when something unique or interesting comes out, it is shunned as being too far from the norm. Hence the millions of free and low cost RPG games out there.

For nerd elite, we sure are an incestuous bunch aren't we? Wouldn't be so bad if the sister in question wasn't so old and bloated :)

As to Paizo, I stated in the post that while I understood the necessety of what they are doing, but that doesn't make it right(?)

I suspect that while they have a good following now, as the 4E line becomes more robust, PF will slowly bleed out, untl ever rising production costs doom the line. Meh.

Maybe it's just some left over nerd rage, I HATE having to repurchase a book - much less three or more! Add the astronomical costs involved, and it's a trifecta of suck for anyone with issues concerning 3E in general.

I dislike the product, the company can live...for now :)

Josh Dills said...

really though comparing systems is almost pointless.

No one truly thinks that the xbox360 is a better system for playing video games than the playstation 3, but it features better games, and a better price.

as long as paizo keeps coming out with superior material, (Which they have, their adventures and supplements far surpass any of the almost rift like source books of 4th edition, where it's a little fluff and a ton of new weapons.)They'll be just fine.

I actually do think that 3.5 is a superior system to 4th edition, i'm one of those fools who feels the overtly modularized nature of 4th ed takes out a lot of the fun.

PS I sort of worry about the future of 4th edition for you guys. if sales don't start picking up it's likely Habro would cut their loses and shut down that part of WotC 2-8 years from now. Lucky for us Paizo geeks they don't have an over barring parental unit waiting to cut off their allowance at a moments notice.

Donny_the_Dm said...

@ Josh - It's the internet, so I will make no assumptions about the tone of your comment. That said,
would you mind sharing the link for your 4E sales source?

I am not alone in being curious about that, as WotC has kept that information private.

As to PFRPG, Afte tasting the simplistic beauty of 4E, I would sooner blow a mule than go back to that godawful 3.5 shithole.

I was not kidding when I said I had e-bayed off all of my 3.x crap.

In any event, thanks for commenting.

Paranitis said...

My personal gripe about 4E is they left out specific classes and races I liked messing around with (Gnome Barbarians?) in their PHB.

I am one of those who liked 3.x the best because it was complicated. It took longer for me to make a character. It meant I had to actually make meaningful decisions.

The longer it took me to make my character, the more my character actually mattered to me.

The difference to be between 3E and 4E is hardcore vs casual. Take World of WarCraft for an example here.

3E to me is like getting together 40 players consistently, to smash into the original Naxxramas..which was the hardest instance in the game.

4E on the other hand is like grabbing 10 random schmucks in the LookingForGroup channel and clearing the WotLK version of Naxxramas. I mean it kinda has the same feel..but it's just not the same.

Everyone can group up and beat New Naxx (4E), but only the ones who were good, and cared about the game could group up and raid Old Naxx (3.x).

Donny said...

Hmmmm.....interesting comment.

Being a WoW guy myself, I don't completely agree. Mostly out of reflex due to your clear preference for 3E, but I digress.

Aside from a few cosmetic similarities, WoW and PnP gaming couldn't be any more different if they tried.

Your analogy is also a bit confusing, and it is difficult to draw a corollary from it. How is 3E a guild raid vs. 4E being a LFG raid? I understand describing nagging feeling is difficult, but you gotta give me a little more :)

Maybe you should check out my newest post...but in any event, thank yo for dropping by, and I hope to see you again!

stebehil said...

To each his own, as they say. I had a passing look at 4e and decided that it was not what I am looking for in D&D gaming. *shrug*

I don´t see what is so fundamentally wrong about improving an old system vs. inventing a completely new one- the old one has its well-known bugs, the new one probably has new bugs ("is it a bug or a feature?").

I appreciate the effort paizo takes in making it backwards compatible, as I can continue to use the old stuff I gathered on my shelf, 3.x with no problem, and older editions with a little work.

Were I to invest into 4e, I would have to buy everything new again, with the knowledge that I would be better off selling my 3e stuff completely, as it is not really compatible anyways (so I´m told).

The ugliness that were the 4e boards at paizo because fanbois on both sides of the table could not behave were disgusting, and I avoid these parts to this day. Paizos "moderate lightly" policy failed miserably here.

I openly admit to being a paizo fanboi, the consistent quality I percieve in their products convinces me time and again. WotC was not as good back in 3.x days, can´t tell about today though.

Were I to encounter the chance to play 4e somewhere, I would try it, but I won´t go the extra mile for it. I love my 25+ years D&D gaming tradition, and 4e goes against that IMO. Again, YMMV.

Much of it ends up as being a matter of personal taste in the end. And taste is not to be discussed.


Daniel said...

Well I have to say that I also prefer 3.5 to 4E. Eventhough I
gave 4E a full chance. I bought all
3 core books and the first two modules. Even played the first one, which is terrible btw. Keep on the Shadowfell. Hobgoblins giving plot notes in common to other hobgoblins when the party comes charging in. An endgame encounter which is much too tough and just waits there no matter how long the characters take. An interesting spy in town but with no real motivation or chance to catch him earlier etc.

My qualms are the usual ones.
All 4E characters feel very much the same to me at least and the system is much more geared to tactical hack and slash than roleplaying. If you have very sterotypical characters due to the character generation then that automatically leads to stereotypical roleplaying. It is a different new game its not D&D, if they had given it another name and continued even at a lower level with 3.5 I would have no qualm with it. Probably a great system for young roleplayers who are afraid to really roleplay and like to stick more to the tactical rules aspect of the game.

Btw I also heard that 4E is not selling so well and atleast in Germany it seems as there willbe no translations beyond the core rules books which is a strong indicator.

Sebastian said...

Donny, Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.

I have played 4e from Release til about 6 months ago after first getting into DnD in the mid 80's (yes, I have grey hair).

Try instead of "reprinting" think "evolution", Paizo took a product that was being discontinued and found a response for it in the marketplace.

4e is a different game, it's very simple and easy to learn but for me it just doesn't have the depth of more adult system.

Enjoy gaming guys, look forward to seeing you round the table.