Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Pathfinder is My Game of Choice

I've rarely met an RPG I didn't like, but despite the variety of games I've played over my career as a gamer, Pathfinder sits squarely in my default spot. Why? Well, part of it is that Pathfinder is one of the most popular games on the market, so it's easy to find all the books for it, and to find fellow gamers with experience. It has a great setting, and a lot of content that I can use to improve my games by doing something outside the box.

All of that said, though, what puts Pathfinder above many of its competitors for me is that it offers me mechanical backup for the story I'm creating.

I sense you want me to elaborate?

There Are So Many Options... And That's The Point

When I hear players complain about Pathfinder, the main complaints are that it has too many rules, and too many choices. You can't just pick up and go; you need to crunch numbers, read the books, and take an intro course just to twat someone over the head with a sword. While I'm the first to admit that Pathfinder is a game that requires a bit of numbers-fu, it is not a difficult game to learn. Even players who are totally new to RPGs can usually pick up the rhythm within a few sessions. Those with good teachers, and a supportive group, can get the hang of it even faster.

As to the sheer variety of options, well, I'd argue that's sort of the point.

If you want it, there's probably a way to do it.
Pathfinder has such a breadth and depth of options that it's possible for you to bring a huge variety of concepts to the table. It's the whole reason I have a Character Conversions page, with entries like Luke Cage, Tyrion Lannister, and even Abraham Lincoln. No matter how ridiculous, out-there, or unusual your character concept is, there's likely a way you can fashion it to work in a Pathfinder game.

More importantly, though, you aren't just re-skinning a mechanic and calling it something different. Your mechanics genuinely support your specific story, and allow you to create a truly individual concept.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Say you're playing 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, and you want a character who is descended from storm giants. There is nothing in the game stopping you from playing a character who is over seven feet tall, and who has an unusual blockiness to their appearance. You could say that's where the power of your barbarian Rage comes from, or use it as justification for a maximum Strength stat on your fighter. However, that's just window dressing. Pathfinder gives you the option to take the feat Racial Heritage, which makes you descended from another humanoid race mechanically. So if you take Racial Heritage (Storm Giant) you could then take the storm giant exclusive feat Storm Soul, making you immune to electricity damage. You are considered a storm giant for the purposes of wielding magic items, and if there's a storm giant prestige class you want to get into, you have the option as long as you meet all the other prerequisites.

If you want to play a character who has a Jekyll and Hyde-style transformation, it's perfectly possible to do with a story re-skin. A barbarian who can't control his Rage, and whose thirst for battle is unquenchable until his normal side returns is one way to do this. But what if you want more than that? You want a mechanic that lets you physically alter bodies, becoming a different person with different goals, wants, and abilities. Again, Pathfinder provides options for that through the Master Chymist prestige class.

There are a dozen examples of this. You want skin hard as steel? There are races, classes, and feats that grant it to you. Do you want to be able to walk straight through fire without it so much as singeing you, Danaerys Targaryen style? There's a way to do that, too. Do you want to sling spells and steel with equal aplomb? Have a plant companion that follows you like your own personal Groot? Drink poison like it was apple juice? All these, and more, can be done within Pathfinder's rules.

No DM Favors Necessary

It's true that RPGs are only limited by our imaginations. If you have a cool idea, and there's nothing in your game that lets it work as-is, you can sit down with the DM to craft a fitting solution. Or, sometimes, you can make a case for the DM to give you special dispensation, and to let you play with toys that are normally not allowed on your side of the DM screen. Or to bend rules specifically for you.

Treat it right, that's relic armor you're wearing.
With Pathfinder, though, you never really need the DM to come to your aid. Because no matter how ridiculous your concept sounds, there's probably a way to do it using the rules as they exist. It requires a bit of system mastery (and you may have to post in a forum asking for help on how to achieve certain results), but it's rare for something to be outright impossible. It might take you 10-15 levels to really hit the sweet spot of your character build, but it's still possible.

The level of customization, and the ability to bring your concepts to the table without a special permission slip or dispensation from your DM, is why I love Pathfinder so much. Because any game where I can play a gun-toting, molotov-flinging renegade special forces soldier from the land of eternal winter, and then turn around and play a paladin who has literal divine and infernal forces tearing his soul apart as he tries to do what's right in a frontier town assaulted by goblins, is a game I will never run out of ideas for.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully folks enjoyed my thoughts on my main game. If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep fresh content coming to your screen, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a tip in my jar? $1 a month makes a big difference, and it helps me keep making fresh new articles for you, and your gaming groups. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, what are you waiting for?


  1. I think the same... in fact i wrote something like this... i really like Pathfinder. and all younsay its true.

  2. Well written, well argued and these are all valid points.
    Personally I gave up running PF a year ago and switched to its polar opposite in the little OSR gem Beyond the wall and other adventures and I have never been happier.
    No more leafing through books to look up rules at the table yet all the characters are individual and interesting. As an added bonus the game makes my players take part in the world creation which makes my job as GM both easier and more interesting. There is something to be said for simplicity too.