Or “How I Learned to Stop Playing 4e and Love Pathfinder”
So it seems I am not along on my trek across the desert to the promised land of “plagues, floods, and pillars of mother@##$%ing salt“. By this, I mean my departure from the 4e ship and boarding the good ship Pathfinder. Come with me, if you will, on a trip down memory lane….
There was a time, many a year ago, that I was initially hooked on the game that was D&D. Basic D&D mind you. The good old 5 box sets (Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortal) were my friends and many an adventure was had by the neighborhood kids that I ran games for. Hooked into GMing so young, running the game became my lot in the long RPG history that is part of my life. But I didn’t care. It made me feel just a little bit bigger growing up relatively average. Like an imaginative god that can whip dragons at folks on a whim.
As we played, I began to hear about this AD&D 2nd Edition game coming out by the same folks that put out my beloved D&D (I didn’t have a huge circle of gaming friends so we kind of missed out on AD&D when it was first hitting the shelves). My initial introduction to these new and, at the time, wonderful rules (I ❤ THAC0) came in the form of the City of Splendors box set put out back in ’94. I got a copy from a friend and was immediately pulled into the world of Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms. To me, compared to Mystara, the Realms were the bike you got to ride after the training wheels came off.
Basic D&D was put aside and I began to devour 2nd edition AD&D. and my friends came along for the ride. We loved it. they had more options to play with for their characters and I had new and exciting monsters to throw at them, new magic items to hide, and a new world to read up on. It felt like the best evolution possible and was also my first foray into the oncoming edition storms that followed.
I remember my introduction to 3rd Edition like it was yesterday. It wasn’t some grandiose event like, say Gen con. But rather, a cold, rainy day in a large pavilion tent in a part somewhere in Madison. I can’t say I recall if this was something Wizards was hosting themselves or a local gaming store had set-up, but under that tarp were numerous tables with a mini-encounter created to introduce players to 3E. I played and, well, enjoyed it for what it was. But, like the loyalists we were, we stuck it out with out beloved 2nd Edition. But, somewhere along the way, out gaming group at the time made the change without myself and a friend and liked what they saw. Several of them took the reigns of DM for a bit and 3E became the flavor of the month.
Somehow, I was able to avoid the desires to purchase 3E books until 3.5 was released. I remember being in my first apartment with a friend as we were debating heading to our local anime club on a snowy winter night. I had a coupon for Borders Books and a work bonus in my pocket. Not long after, the 3.5 box set was mine. And 2nd Ed joined it’s brethren in the tubs of storage they called home.
And yet, we had no qualms about the change. We enjoyed 3.5 like we did 2nd Ed (By that point my circle of games had altered radically). we found a new group of gamers at anime club while talking D&D between shows and a new group was born. And it was grand. In fact, it was with 3.5 that my first wholly successful campaign took place. for years, I had single group of adventurers brave the breadth of Faerun and bring their tale to a satisfactory conclusion (rather than peter out like so many past campaigns did). During the end of this is when Pathfinder was coming out and the last thing I was concerned with was getting into yet another edition of D&D. I invested a lot into 3.5 and didn’t want to get swept up in what I thought would be another flood of rulebooks (Boy was I wrong on that one).
So 3.5 continued on…until 4E’s announcement. By this point, I felt a certain “brand loyalty” to WOTC but was still financially apprehensive about a new edition of my beloved game. And when details of 4E hit the interwebs, I laughed. All I could think was “You got your MMO in my RPG! You got your RPG in my MMO!”. I wish I could say I never gave 4E another thought. But something lingered in the back of my mind. A gamer’s curiosity for the new and shiny and different. And actually, thinking back as I write this, this is where things must have gone wrong.
I can remember being at a friend’s house when I got the copy of the City of Splendors, where he lived, and how nice of a day it was. I can remember the orange streetlights on the snow, the bitter cold of the winds, and climbing into my car with geekish glee, 3.5 box set in my grubby little hands. But I cannot recall when it was I got into 4E. No fond memory. No vivid picture. I remember why we converted. But not when i actually bought the set. Yet, somehow, there I was with 4E box set in hand pouring over what I eventually thought would be the next best thing in gaming. And, when it came time to jump start a new campaign (a sequel with new characters to my old 3.5 campaign), 4E was there to take the reigns and lead us on what I thought would be the best journey ever. And for a short while it was. We’d run some smaller 4e games previously so, by the time a new campaign was to kick off, I was fully integrated into the 4E machine.
Now, for those of you who play MMOs, you’re probably familiar with a certain kind of burnout that comes with the repetition that playing those games has. When I ran Basic D&D, 2nd Ed, and 3.5, I never once hit any sort of a burnout on the game itself. Sure, I hit creative burnouts at times. Being mostly a GM over the span of 20+ years. But I never burned out on the rules. And that was something 4e started to do to me. The change from 3.5 to 4E was a radical one and it eventually hit me that some of the things I liked about being a GM in previous editions was missing. There was a certain flavor that came with designing adventures in previous editions that seemed to be lacking in 4E and, eventually, I started to lose interest. Running a game of 4E began to seem more tedious and even caused an undue amount of stress behind the scenes. When trying to keep that feeling running previous editions gave me, I had problems with 4E and could never quite recapture that feeling.
And so, the inevitable hit me. I started looking into Pathfinder. I would sit in my local Borders Books and peruse the shelves of Pathfinder material, which was surprisingly sparse (compared to 3.5) given how long it had been out already. Eventually, with the closing of our local Borders, I abused whatever discounts and rewards I could and got myself a copy of the Core Rulebook.
And I could not be happier.
This was what I was missing. This brought about that euphoric feeling of gaming nostalgia and GM giddiness I missed for so long. Pathfinder was the fix to some of the problems 3.5 had as well as ‘fixed’ that which killed my previous 3.5 game (Which is what led us to 4E). I don’t know why I failed to see it in the past, but looking through the rules and all of the corrections Paizo made to what 3.5 was, I felt like I was home. And apparently, so have most of my players. When I decided to abandon 4E (As a general rule set, I do enjoy running Encounters for folks on Wed nights), I told my group this and for some, there was much rejoicing. However, one player expressed her desire to continue with the story I was running in my 4E campaign. Even more glee was had by me when they even agreed to switch it to Pathfinder with a best as possible conversions for their characters (She’s the one 4E supporter left in the group, which I respect BTW. I’m not an edition warmonger. “To each their own” I say.)
So, my 4E books went to a better home at Noble Knight Games and here I stand; a proud Paizo supporter. And apparently, I’m not alone. While their reasons are not necessarily my own, and vice versa, it seems folks like Tycho & Gabe, Mark Meredith at Dice Monkey and Brian Patterson over at D20 Monkey are also making that switch.
So a big thanks to the crew at Paizo for such excellent products that have jump started what was a dying GM battery.