Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Shifting from Pathfinder to D&D 5th Edition in 2014? Maybe...

As the D&D 5th edition public play test winds down (I'm going to start shying away from the whole "Next" reference since even WotC plans on removing it soon) I think I'll be spending more time messing with whatever the final September rules update looks like. I've been thinking about my choice of game going into the future, and while Pathfinder looms large, I concede that it's still a game which doesn't meet all of my own personal needs in a system.

What Pathfinder offers that I like is the following:

Established Player Base - I have more than twenty regular players and every Pathfinder group I run for averages 8-10 players in attendance. It's crazy popular (among players). Can D&D 5E win them over? This is really the main issue, as I see it.....if no one buys into the next D&D, then Pathfinder will stay whether I like it or not.

Metric Ton of Support Material - I can run any game I want within the limits of the D&D/D20 framework and Pathfinder provides the support. Pathfinder is well supported both by Paizo and OGL publishers. I sincerely hope the WotC guys realize that they need to have a decent product lineup next year.

Versatile and full of Verisimilitude - I have accepted long ago that I'm one of those guys who likes a little verisimilitude in my games. I also like a game system which can flex to my needs, and can handle all the kitchen sink nonsense I like to stick in my home grown campaigns. I shy away from game systems which are tethered too closely to one vision of fantasy, or one setting....I don't do published setting, I write them myself. Pathfinder is built for people like me, despite it's Golarion focus in the supplemental material...and Golarion itself is built to be pillaged for content in other settings, to be honest. For D&D 5E, it looks like Forgotten Realms will once again be the primary focus of campaign content, but I am confident the core rules will support my settings. I hope.

Tries to make the GM's life Easier in a 3.X edition - Pathfinder provides quick monster templates, quick NPC generators, loads of pre-crafted NPC stat blocks, and for people who are into it all the adventure paths and such. I personally find the effort to read and prep a published module to be worse than writing my own, but that's only because I try to scrape up premade stat blocks or use services like to help make the process easier. More below on the weaknesses of far, though, this is looking like an easier process across the board with 5E over Pathfinder and 3E combined. 5th is at least taking this hint from 4E in terms of "ease of access for DMs."

Pathfinder Mitigated Nit-Picky Rules - D&D 3E was notorious for (imo) things which were excessive in terms of a "rule for everything." I do not need to know what the alignment of a town is....though I might like to know what the town's actual rulership is like. I do not need seven hundred prestige classes; I have only seen maybe 20 prestige classes in action EVER, since 2000. A lot of 3.5 had nit-picky rules which could freeze up play quickly as people scrambled to remember how to do something right, or debate who's interpretation was correct. Pathfinder got rid of a lot of the really annoying little bits, or tried to consolidate them when possible....from synergies to skill rank calculation to grappling to stacking rules, PF tried to clear some of the clutter up and if not streamline it, at least make some of the outliers less problematic.

For 5E, I see far, far fewer nit-picky bits and this edition if anything seems to be trying hard to avoid that problem.

There are things Pathfinder does not do well for me. These aren't necessarily bad things, they just don't jive well with the restrictions of my time and energy:

Still Too Much Prep Time to Do It Right - D&D 4E did right for DMs. You could build monsters, NPCs and scenarios with some excellent guidelines and some very easy to understand procedures that were not tied to the same processes characters were designed by. This was a throwback to the old 1st and 2nd edition days, except with more structure. Pathfinder tries to do this, but it still pales in comparison; writing an adventure for Pathfinder takes no more or less time than any other edition, but properly statting it out is still excessive in the extreme if you don't try to find shortcuts...and in fact I hardly every bother to do so anymore. I mean....I helped my wife update her old swordmage from 4E to Pathfinder (making him an 11th level magus) and it still took about 3 hours to do this. Yikes.

5E so far shows no signs of this being a problem at all, with the caveat that we haven't really seen any details on customizing monsters or how to make NPCs (outside of making a PC and adding an N to the front).

Not Enough Iconic D&D - Pathfinder is mostly "D&D with a different name," but let's be honest, I like my beholders, mind flayers, displacer beasts, hook horrors, githyanki and grell. D&D 5th will obviously fix this matter, no questions asked. Yeah, yeah...I do use the unofficial Pathfinder conversions of those IP iconics....but I really like the simpler monster stat blocks of 5th.

Only Golarion - I actually do like reading about other campaign settings, even if I don't use them. Golarion is interesting, but it's the only supported setting now for Pathfinder and looks to remain such for the forseeable future. I like that D&D 5th will inevitably bring with it at least two or three additional settings that get supported, especially Ravenloft (I hope), Eberron or even Greyhawk.

Streamlined Rules - Pathfinder did try to consolidate and streamline some mechanics to 3rd edition, and did a great job of it by my accounting. However, it's still hampered by being 3rd edition, and that's a very demanding beast of a system. I am very proficient in running 3.X these days...or at least the PF version of such....but freely admit to wanting something simpler and a little less demanding of my mental fortitude. If I can avoid ever having another debate involving precise shot, or vital strike, or any other number of fiddly feats again...or combat maneuvers, or even whether or not a 12th level monk can wrestle a kraken down....ah, yeah that would be nice.

D&D 5th edition will fail miserably for me if it fails to do the following, though:

No Support Material Out the Gate - they need some modules, and they need enough content out soon to support all the campaigns that contain more than just the core iconic races. I've moved on long, long ago past the point where dwarves, elves and halflings are anything more than three out of many interesting potential choices for players and DMs.

No Skill System - Absence of a robust skill system, something which D&D has had since the mid-eighties, will make me a sad panda. I know there's a division between people on this....a surprising number of the new-school indie-drenched hip gamers frown on skills as limiting, just as much of the OSR community sees skill mechanics as counter-intuitive to Matt Finch's definition of what old school is. Somewhere in the middle of all this is myself and my players, who like skills and feel it adds to the depth of their characters.

So...a few thoughts on this. I think it mostly means that I may take some time to do some actual builds and discussions on what 5E's current playtest offers and how it compares and contrasts to what has come before. Time will tell!


  1. I wasn't aware of this anti-skill sentiment amongst hipsters and the OSR. I wonder if that's why I can't talk anyone into playing Runequest...

    1. Heh....sorry, probably getting myself into trouble with those comments. All of my play testers who tried DDN liked skills when they were there, and didn't like finding out they had been redacted in the last packet. All my Pathfinder players love skills. My old school buddies love proficiencies from back in the day. For some reason, it seems like sentiment at certain sites is strongly against skills in the game. I'll admit, maybe my problem is hanging out at too much, but still....

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  3. I don't think 5th-edition can succeed. 4E already split the market to the point where Pathfinder outsold them. Those who hated 4E went to Pathfinder, other systems, or just kept playing 3.x. Those who liked 4E bought into it.

    The problem with fragmentation is that even if you like 5E and are willing to spend $150 on it... you need to convince all your friends to do so also. People happy with 4E won't pay again. People happy with 3.5, won't switch unless it that much better. And both groups will have a big lack of trust with WotC that they won't get tossed under the bus again, that WotC will make their favourite campaign settings and they won't take the obvious route of publishing lots of expensive core books.

    How good of a job would they now have to do to pull even half their 3.5 numbers back? Convince half the 4E players to switch, then convince half of Pathfinder, Arcanis, Ebberon, old 3.5 players, plus anyone who just dropped the game... etc. to switch over. 5E won't be OGL, nor would any publisher trust a new OGL license, so it won't have any help or incentive for those companies to give up their players.

    Most likely, it will just split the market again. You'll then have one more system.

    I personally don't see the problem with DM preparation in 3.5 or Pathfinder. Combats still take 1-2 hours each. These aren't something you put lightly into sessions and twists (situations, defenses, equipment, etc.) on standard monsters are fine. I don't see this to be nearly as large an issue as the 'feel' of the game, the straight-jacketing of characters, the massive prep-work on DMs from rules with setting specific elements, etc.

    1. I think we're all going to learn just how much market share Pathfinder has permanently captured in about eight or nine months. WotC has a reputation to live down, and online sentiment seems to suggest that despite so much effort at rekindling all editions of the game that not even this will win back some people...though I suspect the most vocal anti-WotCers were never with them in the first place. The real issue boils down to how many people out there play Pathfinder because it's the thing to do right now, vs. how many will jump ship for a chance to play an actual D&D game that feels like the D&D they want. Even though I think 5E is heading in the right direction, from my own local experience I'm having a hard time seeing how it will sway my local gamer crowd to shift away from Pathfinder....unless WotC continues to pander to the audience and give us everything we really want. Will it do it? No idea. Will I be buying it? Yes. For that reason alone it's odds of least in my area....dramatically improves with each dedicated DM who offers buy-in. Because in the end, the local gamers who play with me will be playing what I run, and if 5E is worth running, then they'll be playing it. So all WotC needs to do...for me at make the game worth my time and they've got an advocate.

      Either way, if Pathfinder triumphs and 5E languishes...or the reverse...or both games survive on a split market, I still win.

  4. It is quite entertaining to revisit this post again two years in to D&D 5E's success!