Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Some Thoughts on Pathfinder

This morning I was reading the most recent interview with +Erik Mona and I noticed something that's been pestering me ever since. The section that bothers begins shortly after Mona is asked about the current RPG market:
. . . Of course when 5th Edition comes out, presumably this summer, there’s definitely going to be a lot of competition for people’s attention in the traditional sword and sorcery RPG realm.  We’re aware of that and we are doing the best we can to keep people focused on the game they’re playing currently, which in many cases is Pathfinder.

We’re taking a three-pronged approach to make sure that we have something of interest to current Pathfinder players wherever they fall on the spectrum of dedication and interest.  There are a lot of different reasons people enjoy playing fantasy roleplaying games, so we try to do something that appeals to you no matter what interest is primary in your mind . . . (Paizo's Erik Mona: The ICv2 Interview)
Mona is, of course, being sly in his comment about Dungeons and Dragons as we all know that it's coming out this summer. What's important here though is Paizo's approach in how they're trying to keep hold of their leading position in the industry. 
. . . in August, we’re going to be releasing the Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide, which is a hardcover rules expansion that will introduce ten new classes to the Pathfinder game.  The idea is if you are a very dedicated Pathfinder player, the kind who is super-excited every time we put out new rules (emphasis added - Charlie), or maybe you’re someone who feels like they’ve seen it all already, we’ve got ten brand new classes in the Advanced Class Guide.  Those were put through a rigorous public play test this winter so there are tens of thousands of people who have tried those classes out and are looking forward to the final edition that will incorporate some of the changes suggested from our play testers . . . (Paizo's Erik Mona: The ICv2 Interview)
In recent months I've seen comments in forums and blogs - even in the comments on my own blog - where people are already complaining about the increasing bloat in the Pathfinder system. That's an incredibly dangerous trend to be occurring in a game that's six years old, especially when a major competitor is getting ready to release a new edition of the old standard. So why is Paizo adding to the glut? Why are they feeding the Rules Lawyers and the Min/Maxers?

44 comments:

  1. I might just have some Pathfinder-related news of my own tomorrow.

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    1. And now you have me all a twitter good sir!

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  2. Paizo’s strategy with the Pathfinder RPG has been to continue the 3.5e direction. This seems perfectly in line with that. Besides, the people who complain about the bloat will simply not buy it. (When my group plays 3.5, we deal with the bloat by sticking to the core books. Still a bit bloated for me these days, but the group likes it.) I think it is clear there are people who like the bloat. Paizo will still have adventures and accessories to sell to the “too bloated” camp.

    Not that I’m endorsing their choices, but I’m not surprised. ^_^

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    1. That may be but I remember the big selling point when they were first publishing Pathfinder was that they were cleaning up 3.5 and making it better. Adding more and more rules just puts the product back where it started.

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  3. The "bloat strategy" with the new book is to offer ten classes that are actually hybrid classes built by combining two other core classes to create a new one, or so I have gathered. This book will appeal to my players, who are always looking to try out new things. As a GM I am nonplussed and desperately hoping D&D 5th is the lifeline I need to enjoy a modern iteration of the game that is dirt simple to GM but still offers enough variety for my players to enjoy its range of options. Four more months...

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    1. Less if you plan on picking up the starter set

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  4. Maybe it's because min-maxers and rule lawyers or rule addicteds ;-) actually buy every single book about pathfinder..

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    1. Hm, that could be; but if you're feeding those guys then the game will eventually become so bloated with rules, rule exceptions, and the like that it will become incredibly difficult to play.

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    2. “...the game will eventually become so bloated with rules, rule exceptions, and the like that it will become incredibly difficult to play.”

      But the point here is that additions such as this one are modular.

      Consider Rolemaster. They published every optional rule anyone ever thought up. You couldn’t play with all of them if you wanted because some weren’t compatible with each other. We cherry-picked the things we liked to make a game that was as complex as we wanted at the time but no more complex than what we could handle. GURPS is similar too. Arguably the OSR is the same thing as well, just not unified in a single company.

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    3. "New Classes" is not the same as "New Rules". They added new rules last year in the form of Mythic Adventures and Ultimate Campaign - completely optional sets of mechanics that run alongside the core rules without interfering in them. As a DM you can use either, neither, or both, depending on how you want your campaign to go. Adding more classes to the game really only impacts someone playing that class and maybe their fellow players in that particular party - that's not really bloat. Having a few more options at character creation is fine, and Paizo's been pretty good at keeping power creep under control. IMO Pathfinder is game expansion done right.

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    4. ""New Classes" is not the same as "New Rules"."

      I absolutely do not agree with you here. New classes are one of the biggest ways new rules come into the game. It was new classes that helped usher in the quick and swift moves in Third and it's through class abilities that often times broken abilities are brought into the game. The problem is that classes tend to introduce additional complexity into the game.

      "They added new rules last year in the form of Mythic Adventures and Ultimate Campaign - completely optional sets of mechanics that run alongside the core rules without interfering in them"

      I think that we can both agree that every rule is optional until your players decide they want to play with them.

      "Pathfinder is game expansion done right."

      In my opinion Paizo is a game company done right.

      (Sorry I missed this comment the other day or I would have responded earlier.)

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  5. I follow Pathfinder since its first stirrings, that when he was a proposal to be discussed on their forum and what could be done to improve the 3.5, and I have always appreciated the efforts of Paizo to engage its "customers" on their choice in the production line.

    To tell the truth I know Paizo from before, that is when they took over the reins of the two historical TSR magazine, "Dungeon" and "Dragon", and I must say that they have always done a good (almost excellent) work.

    About this supplement, expected in August, it has already been made ​​available to anyone who wanted to download and playtest it and, as already mentioned by Nicholas Bergquist, inside it you find 10 classes that are the combination of the core classes . For example, the Arcanist that is a cross between sorcerer and wizard.

    Having said that I agree that they released a bunch of stuff, remember not just for the rules, but how you think a company of this size can survive, commercially speaking, if not constantly churning out new material? And the average of these products can be easily defined good.

    Leaving aside the right discourses related to min-maxers and rule lawyers, no one is obligated to buy everything, but having a very wide choice you can buy only what you are interested in or actually strikes your curiosity. Moreover, one must take into account that they have a great free SRD online where you can find most of the rules material.

    Sorry, I don't want to be an advocate of Paizo, not even pay me, but after the damage Hasbro has done to D&D, hats off to what Paizo has done all these years. :)

    My two cents.

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    1. I absolutely think that Paizo is a great company, I just think that they would be better served concentrating on adventures than on creating more rules and classes.

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    2. “...how you think a company of this size can survive, commercially speaking, if not constantly churning out new material?”

      Creating products to support the size of your company is the wrong-way-’round. You size your company to the market of your products. Otherwise, you’re going to be creating products that nobody wants to buy.

      Which is something I think Paizo understands. So far, they seem to be doing it mostly the right way.

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    3. Paizo is run by some really smart people and I have a lot of faith in them as a whole.

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    4. Charles, surely your argument is valid, but probably part of their public also asks for new rules, and I prefer it rather than having a company that every few years do a total facelift and you're "forced" to buy again everything if you want to keep up. Instead in this way I can decide whether or not to implement the new rules, because the core rules are always the same. (Any reference to things and people is purely coincidental!) ;)

      Robert, you are right a company must be structured according to its market and the needs of it. Probably my no perfect English did not express well the concept that I wanted to say. :)

      Also share "Which is something I think Paizo understands. So far, they seem to be doing it mostly the right way."

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    5. "I prefer it rather than having a company that every few years do a total facelift and you're "forced" to buy again everything if you want to keep up."

      I'm not particularly a fan of new edition after new edition either. Ideally I would like a system that was mostly static with a huge volume of adventures, settings, and the like sold to support it.

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    6. "I just think that they would be better served concentrating on adventures than on creating more rules and classes."

      You know they put out two new adventures every month, right? One AP and one standalone module? The latest Adventure Path installment is #80. I can't think of another game that is as well-supported in the adventure department as Pathfinder.

      They put out 3-4 hardcovers per year, period. The two we know about for 2014 so far are "Inner Sea Gods" (mostly setting material) and the Advanced Class Guide.

      I'd say they ARE concentrating on adventures, plus setting material, with some rules/class ,material thrown in too. They don't seem to see it as an either/or choice.

      I've mostly been a 4th edition guy the last few years and Paizo's output in quantity and quality is just amazing. I don;t see any sign that this is a negative at all.

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    7. "You know they put out two new adventures every month, right? One AP and one standalone module? The latest Adventure Path installment is #80. I can't think of another game that is as well-supported in the adventure department as Pathfinder."

      I both knew that, and agree with you. In fact, my entire point was that they do such a great job with their adventure paths and modules that I think they should focus on that to the exclusion of introducing new rules and classes.

      "I've mostly been a 4th edition guy the last few years and Paizo's output in quantity and quality is just amazing. I don;t see any sign that this is a negative at all."

      Where I see the problem is in the difficulties that arise with additional class features, new feats, and rules. We saw the problem become really apparent with Third Edition where new classes introduced concepts such as swift and quick actions.

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    8. And because I have a high amount of faith in Paizo I worry that they're heading that same way.

      (sorry for the split comment, my son hit publish before I was through)

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  6. Because they need to sell something. A business model that is unsustainable in the RPG niche.

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  7. Well my first response is that no one is obligated to use anything beyond the core rules--and even then you can always modify those as you please. I don't see this as bloat, I see it as an all-you-can-eat rules buffet. Take it or leave it. Paizo's ideas and products are high class stuff and I'm always interested to see what they will come up with next. With 5th edition D&D may be on its last legs, and what other major game can fill the role of the popular face of the hobby.

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    1. " With 5th edition D&D may be on its last legs, and what other major game can fill the role of the popular face of the hobby."

      That's got me thinking . . .

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    2. I think both Paizo and Wizards nailed it when they said there is room for both games. If you think about it, there really is. Pathfinder continued on with 3.5, improved it, and have added a ton to it, be it classes, rules, adventures, gazetteers, whatever. Sure, you can just pick up the core book, a bestiary, and run with it, but their target are the core 3.5 players who loved 3.5, but were fed up with Wizards. To really enjoy Pathfinder, you have to love a shit ton of options, crunch, rules. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not for me.

      Now, with 5th edition D&D, Wizards has latched on to the "simpler is better" mantra that so many other game companies have embraced and been very successful with. I'm sure that with their "modular" approach, they'll be adding crunch and rules and such, and that's fine, but the core of the game is a much simpler d20 system compared to Pathfinder.

      So, basically, I think they're both going to do fine because they are both feeding separate niches within the hobby. "Do you really dig on options, detailed rules, lots of crunch? Then Pathfinder is your game." On the other end of the spectrum, "Do you like your core game to be rules lite, a bit more story-driven and options coming that don't add to the rules overhead? Then D&D is for you."

      There's room for both. Hardcore Pathfinders will stick with what they got as long as Paizo keeps putting out great material, and those of us who don't want the crunch and bloat will be more than happy with the new edition of D&D, if they follow Paizo's adventure path model and put out some seriously good supplements.

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    3. “So, basically, I think they're both going to do fine because they are both feeding separate niches within the hobby.”

      I would agree, but if Wizards were satisfied with a niche, they would’ve stuck with 4e.

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    4. "I would agree, but if Wizards were satisfied with a niche, they would’ve stuck with 4e."

      Wizards is most definitely not satisfied with being in a small niche. Their whole goal is to expand Dungeons and Dragons into new areas and open up the entire RPG market to new customers.

      I really hope they're successful because the more people who come into this hobby the better off we'll all be.

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    5. "with 5th edition D&D, Wizards has latched on to the "simpler is better" mantra that so many other game companies have embraced and been very successful with."

      And thank god they have! I'm fine with complexity but in order to teach the game to new players I need something I can bring them in without spending six hours explaining the damned thing to them.

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    6. "Their whole goal is to expand Dungeons and Dragons into new areas and open up the entire RPG market to new customers."

      In about 35 years I cultivate this hobby, you want to know how many times I have heard this statement? TSR>Wizards>Hasbro ... and after 35 years this hobby is again for niche. :)

      I hope that this time they have found the magic formula.

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    7. "In about 35 years I cultivate this hobby, you want to know how many times I have heard this statement?"

      True story.

      "I hope that this time they have found the magic formula."

      Their CEO, Greg Leeds, has put forth a pretty ambitious plan that really has some legs under it. Just look at how they've been doing the Sundering and you can see how they're going to do it this time; by integrating books, board games, encounters, video games, comics and the like.

      I really like Leeds, he's not satisfied to just do 'good enough.' He wants more and intends to do everything possible to get it. We need someone like him at this time because there is such an opportunity for Dungeons and Dragons to make the big break with this generation.

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    8. I hope you are right, Charles, and I'm rooting for this to happen. More people are playing the RPG and the easier it is to find new players! ;)
      In addition, I am extremely convinced of the potential psycho-pedagogical inside RPG, which can also help people to learn and express himself better.

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  8. "I would agree, but if Wizards were satisfied with a niche, they would’ve stuck with 4e."

    I have to disagree. I think the bad blood with Wizards making the "unkillable" system, and then them trying to kill it with 4th doomed 4th from the get go. Sure, lots of people love 4th, but there was a ton of backlash over them even ditching 3.5, and Paizo snapped up those who were disappointed with Wizards over that whole fiasco. And 4th didn't accomplish what they intended for it to accomplish, which was to pull computer gamers in, and to reign in the huge glut of 3rd party products hitting the market with the OGL.

    Now don't get me wrong, Wizards wants their top spot back. Who wouldn't? They knew they couldn't do it with 4th after Pathfinder hit its stride, and they had no choice but to go back to the drawing board. Of which, I'm really glad they did, because 3.5 drove me away, which means that Pathfinder kept me away, and 4th did nothing to bring me back because it was more of same, just presented differently and radically different than what simple-minded guys like me enjoy. Hell, one could argue that 2nd edition started to drive me away with everything they were coming out with that added crunch and bloat to the system.

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    1. I think what really hurt 4e was when Wizards made a ton of promises that never materialized or that fell far short of expectations. They're not doing that with 5th so at least they've learned from that mistake.

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    2. Jim Haltom you are sure of this statement "Sure, lots of people love 4th,"?

      Both personally and through forums, blogs and social I know a lot of people that dislike 4th, or at least prefer Pathfinder/3.5.

      Try to get a ride on online gaming platforms (eg Roll20) or PbF or PbC or PBEM and looks at how they use Pathfinder/3.5 and how many 4th and you will realize it even more. :)

      This is definitely not my own crusade to defend Pathfinder, far be it from me to such an idea, but a simple observation of what I perceive from the world of RPGs.

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    3. Sure thing Giuseppe! There are tons of blogs, podcasts, websites dedicated to 4th edition. Now, is it as popular as Pathfinder? Not by a long shot. Paizo did it right and made a solid version of 3.5 and they captured the top spot. But it has been my experience that there is a very large 4th following as well. And this comes from someone who can't stand 3.5 or Pathfinder or 4th by any stretch of the imagination. Now, Pathfinder's presence has been bolstered again by 5th being announced, and the fact that Wizards hasn't released anything new for 4th in over a year.

      I agree with you that there is a tremendous dislike for 4th, and those that hate 4th play Pathfinder. It makes sense, because Pathfinder puts out good, consistent product, have great online support, and is put out by a stellar company. However, I think the game is going to change again when 5th comes out. :)

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    4. I think that Wizards responded to the new edition by doing the same thing they'd always done and that's contract their outward presence as they focused on the future. It usually produces great content, but on this occasion it allowed Pathfinder to supplant them.

      I wonder how successful they will be in bringing people back on board?

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    5. Only time will tell. If the playtest is any measure, they have a legitimate shot at retaking the title. It's going to be a good fight though, even if both companies are saying there is no fight. Yeah right.

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  9. “Now don't get me wrong, Wizards wants their top spot back. Who wouldn’t?”

    “I prefer it rather than having a company that every few years do a total facelift and you’re ‘forced’ to buy again everything if you want to keep up.”

    “Their whole goal is to expand Dungeons and Dragons into new areas and open up the entire RPG market to new customers.”

    Right there, I think you can see the strategy Wizards ought to be pursuing.

    Wizards will never “beat” Pathfinder with D&D alone. (Although beating Pathfinder is really just a milestone along the “expand their market” road.) If they want to expand their market, D&D isn’t enough. They need to use the D&D brand to get people into the tent. (A D&D that can appeal to all sorts of RPG players.) Then they need to have other RPGs representing different styles—not just reskins of D&D—to help those people find the styles of RPG they enjoy. With a family of products, they’d not only increase their “addressable market”, but there’d be less pressure to pump out more and more products within any one line.

    Plus there’s leveraging the D&D brand in non-RPG products, but they seem to have gotten that message.

    (I also think they have to recognize that RPGs are fundamentally different than their other products. Steve Jackson doesn’t expect GURPS and Munchkin to bring in the same amount of revenue. If the RPG part of the company is expected to be as profitable as other parts, it is doomed.)

    “In about 35 years I cultivate this hobby, you want to know how many times I have heard this statement? TSR>Wizards>Hasbro ... and after 35 years this hobby is again for niche.”

    If Wizards made D&D into something with general appeal, that’s as good as D&D dying to me. Bringing more people into the hobby means nothing to me if it isn’t my hobby. ^_^ The thing that the D&D brand can do is ensure that nearly anyone who would enjoy this niche hobby would find it. In my experience, D&D under Wizards’ stewardship has instead turned away a lot of those people.

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    1. "I also think they have to recognize that RPGs are fundamentally different than their other products. Steve Jackson doesn’t expect GURPS and Munchkin to bring in the same amount of revenue. If the RPG part of the company is expected to be as profitable as other parts, it is doomed"

      From what I've seen they recognize that D&D is not going to be as profitable as Magic at this point.

      "In my experience, D&D under Wizards’ stewardship has instead turned away a lot of those people."

      Wizards brought about Third Edition when it was recognized that Dungeons and Dragons was dying under Second Edition (there was a video with Mearls, Cook, and other big names in the industry talking about why they felt like doing the OGL was necessary and how D&D was in danger of being boxed up back around 2000 that I was going to link but I haven't been able to find it). They helped usher in a whole new generation of players into the hobby - myself included. So let's just say that we disagree on this point.

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    2. “So let's just say that we disagree on this point.”

      Fair enough.

      I’m certainly not defending the incompetence of TSR in its last days. And certainly Wizards has done a lot that is good. I’m just saying that I’ve seen a significant number of people turn away from the hobby because they didn’t like 3e, and they assumed it was representative. Some of them I was able to convince to give the hobby another try; some I couldn’t. (And considering that 4e appealed to an even smaller niche of our little niche, I can only imagine that it fared no better.)

      But...you know...anecdotal evidence. shrug Too bad this industry is so insecure that that is the best we have to go on.

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    3. "Too bad this industry is so insecure that that is the best we have to go on"

      True story.

      So many questions about the state of our hobby and about our own insecurities associated with it could be answered by allowing us to know more. I mean the industry is becoming more open - the open playtests speak to that - but there are still so many people who are afraid that if they tell their sales numbers some dark god will come in and eat their souls . . .

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