Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pathfinder: 1st Impressions

 So, I recently got around to reading up a bit on the Pathfinder RPG.  (A short summary for those who don't know:  Pathfinder is basically D&D 4.0 for those who liked D&D 3.5; D&D 4E is quite different.)  I read up on the basics, up through the classes (though I didn't read the details of the skills).  (Also, as a fair warning, I didn't scrutinize it as closely as I would have if I'd thought that I'd actually end up playing it (still no RPG group here), so I might be mistaken in places.)  Here are some impressions that I got, mostly phrased as comparisons to D&D 3.5, since that's what I mostly played before:

    General Stuff:
  • Perception/Stealth:  I noticed that they ditched the separate Spot & Listen skills for a single Perception skill, and similarly replaced Hide & Move Silently with Stealth.  This is more in line with most other RPGs that I've encountered, and is also the first of many places where I noticed a trend of streamlining.  Also, I don't think that this is any great loss, since most races with a bonus to either perception skill had a bonus to the other (and similarly for stealth) and since most classes treated the class-ness of either skill similarly (i.e., a class where Spot was a class skill probably had Listen as a class skill) (and again similarly for stealth).
  • Concentration:  I also noticed that they abandoned Concentration, the only Constitution-based skill that 3.5 had.  While it would be nice to have a Con-based skill, it's not necessary, and that one never made much sense to me.  It also seemed a bit silly, the way that it was described in D&D 3.5, since it was said to be useful for trying a normal skill (i.e., not spellcasting or anything like that) while a distraction is going on nearby, but, as far as I know, nobody actually used it like that.  (It was probably confounded by the fact that so many things that one might want to do in such a situation explicitly said that they couldn't be done during combat, anyway.)
  • Fly:  They actually made Fly its own skill.  I won't say that I blame them for it.  Though it might seem weird for a rogue or barbarian to be able to spend points in Fly, the sorts of rules-gymnastics that one has to do to prevent it.  It looks like the Fly skill will make flying rules much more straightforward.  As for the skill's existence, it seems like a case of "don't buy it unless you'll be able to fly; if you gain a Ring of Flight or similar, then you might want to bone up on this".  
  • The Class Skill System:  This change is interesting, though it's not actually any simpler.  Instead of having 1 skill point buy 1/2 of a skill rank, unless it's a class skill, in which 1 point buys 1 rank, now 1 point always buys 1 rank.  The benefit that class skills give is now that they give +3 to the skill, but only if at least 1 point has been spent (1 rank has been bought).  
  • Feats:  Characters now gain one feat every two levels instead of every three.  w00t!  
  • Giants:  I saw that they replaced the Giant type with a Humanoid (Giant) type/subtype.  I don't know the details, but this makes sense to me, since giants are very humanoid.  D&D seemed to want to make them their own sort of magical creature, like the Fey, which is a perfectly valid approach, but I don't think that they went far enough toward making them truly distinct.  Really, the most distinct Giants that I ever saw listed were Ettins, since they at least have two heads each.  

    Class Stuff:
  • Favored Classes:  No race has a single favored class.  Now, each character gets one favored class at character creation (humans & half-elves get 2).  Also, the favored class rules themselves are quite streamlined:  Rather than some complicated experience point penalty based on the difference between the highest non-favored blah blah blah, it's just a flat +1 skill point xor +1 hit point each favored level.  
  • Barbarian:  Like in D&D 3.5, I read through the classes in alphabetical order.  Thus, the Barbarian was where I first saw what ends up being a major trend.  In this case, the Barbarian's rage is no longer something that lasts Constitution+X rounds and can be used N times per day.  Instead, it can be used Constitution+K total rounds per day, though they don't have to be consecutive rounds.
    Also, it looks like they did a combination of simplifying the power set and incorporating some thematics that people liked to get from source books, in the form of "Rage Powers."  
  • Bard:  In what ends up being a rare twist for Pathfinder, the Bard's "Bardic Performance" actually gains a note of complexity compared to its 3.5 counterpart:  They distinguish between visual and audible components in the performance.  For instance, Distraction requires just visual components, Countersong just audible ones, and Distraction requires both.  Since the various Perform subskills are similarly broken down, this means that a Bard actually has good reason to study at least 2 different perform skills (i.e., sing and dance, or oratory and keyboard).
    The Bard is also where I first noticed what became a trend with 0-level spells:  They don't use up spells per day to cast.  This actually seems fair, since they're weak anyway, and it also is one less thing for which the player would have to keep track.
  • Cleric:  They got rid of heavy armor proficiency, which I don't mind at all.  Channeling energy has become streamlined in two ways.  Firstly, rather than making complex Turn Undead checks (rolling twice against two tables, then having the undead change behavior), it's just an xd6 burst effect with a Will saving throw.  Secondly, it affects the living and the dead equally, though in opposite directions, and still varying by alignment (so now an evil Cleric doesn't have to have undead near him who aren't under his control for this to be useful).
    Domain spells have been retained, but domain powers have been made more awesome, and more are gained as one levels.
  • Druid:  The Animal Companion feature became one of two options in the Nature Bond ability.  Thus, if you thought that companions were silly, or just don't want to keep track of a second creature's stats, then you can choose one of 7 Cleric domains, instead.  (I can personally see this as an interesting thematic option, too.)  Most things were kept the same, or similar enough that I didn't notice, though it does look like Wild Shape got streamlined a bit.
  • Fighter:  The fighter is basically the same as before, except that now he has some added, specific abilities:  Bravery, Armor Training, and Weapon Training.  
  • Monk:  The bonus feats for the Monk got streamlined into a choice of any one from a list at each of certain levels, from the previous "at this level, choose A xor B; at that level, choose C xor D; ...".  Otherwise, the Monk is about the same as before.  
  • Paladin:  Detect Evil got round-counted, like Rage.  Channel Positive Energy got updated here just like it did for the Cleric.  Smite Evil got tweaked a bit, including a bonus for the more iconic targets:  evil outsiders, evil dragons, and the undead.  Mercy was added, which seems to go along with the theme of taking things out of splatbooks or similar and bundling them into the main class.
    Like the Druid's Animal Companion, the Paladin's steed is now one of two Divine Bond options; the other is the much cooler divine-spirit-imbues-itself-into-the-weapon ability.  
  • Ranger:  They kept the idea that the Ranger chooses between archery and two-weapon fighting, but they made a change similar to the Monk's bonus feats:  Here's a list, pick one at each of these levels.  (The old way was:  You chose archery?  Then you get Manyshot now.)  Similarly to the Druid, the Ranger's Animal Companion is now one of two choices in the "Hunter's Bond" ability.  
  • Rogue:  The Rogue continues the trend of streamlining abilities and incorporating optional rules into the main rules.  Options that used to be feats from extra source books - in this case, abilities that allow the Rogue to replace Sneak Attack dice with some effect (bleeding, etc.) - are now among the Rogue Talents.  
  • Sorcerer:  The Sorcerer became awesome in Pathfinder.  The biggest thing is that the vague notion that the Sorcerer gets his power from some sort of magical blood in his ancestry is greatly expanded, in ways that resemble what would would expect from supplementary material:  It can be something besides draconic, and it actually matters.  
  • Wizard:  Finishing the pattern that the Druid started, the Familiar is now optional.  The school specialties now come with special powers, and "Universal" has them, too.  I like how they changed the excluded schools:  Rather than not being able to learn or cast those spells at all, they cost two slots.  
Overall:  Overall, looking at the rules, I like what I see.  Pathfinder seems to streamline things, and gives more and better choices.  It seems targeted at getting rid of some of the annoyances that came up in D&D 3.5 (keeping track of companion stats, six 0-level spells per day, etc.) and incorporating some of the better supplemental rules. One advantage of this is that it looks to be less awkward, since they're not being shoehorned in after the fact.  It would take a bit to get used to it, but like I said, I like what I see.

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