John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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Pathfinder, and 4E Stuff That Doesn't Suck

Well, having looked it over, there's a lot to like about Pathfinder, and if I can get either HeroLab or PCGen working the way I want, I'll probably go ahead and make the switch. I particularly like the way Pathfinder handles skills: you can put ranks anywhere you want (up to your level's worth in any given skill), but having ranks in a "class skill" gives you a +3 bonus with that skill — and pretty much any skills that would give "synergies" before have been merged into a single skill (as well as things like Hide and Move Silently, which should have been a single Stealth skill from the beginning). This gives you something that's very close to the quick-and-dirty simplicity of Saga/4E skills ("+5 and you're done") but also allows you the flexibility of skill ranks. I also like that it can work with the "XP Budget" model of encounter building.

On the other hand, PfRPG still has some inherent bits of clunkiness that you really can't get away from without a complete systemic overhaul ... buff spells and iterative attacks, I'm looking at you, here. This would be easy enough to fix by moving to an all-paper game, but I really prefer using electronic utilities, especially for character sheets. I know for a fact that my math is questionable at best, and I don't want to have to "audit" the players' character sheets.

The biggest stumbling block with Pathfinder is having to add closed content back in to whatever utility I end up using. In the "OMG Giants" campaign, for instance, jamesbarrett is playing a Weapon Master from Oriental Adventures/Sword and Fist. Using E-Tools and 3.5, that's easy enough, it's already in there. But for Hero Labs and Pathfinder, I spent several hours on Friday trying to kludge the class in, and even with the help of the Hero Labs main developer on their forums, I was only marginally successful and ran out of time before I could finish the job.

The second-biggest stumbling block with Pathfinder is the complete lack of a robust monster utility. E-Tools enables me to create 3.5 monsters from the ground up, whereas all of the Pathfinder utilities I've found simply add classes or templates to monsters that already exist. And since I use a lot of non-standard monsters (e.g., replacing monster levels with class levels so the "ogre adept" is a true 8th level adept instead of a 4th level ogre/4th level adept), this is an issue. I suppose I could build them in E-Tools and then convert, but that rapidly gets us into the realm of diminishing returns on how much "utility" I'm actually getting.

There's No Minotaurs In That Labyrinth!

In other gaming blather, I recently purchased (yes, deliberately, with real money) the 4E adventure module Thunderspire Labyrinth. This is the second of the 4E modules, intended to more or less pick up where Keep on the Shadowfell left off, and has some very tenuous links that you can use to tie the two together, or ignore completely, and I picked it up because at the time I was considering running it as a sequel of KotS, which sirfox ran for us a while back.

As a 4E adventure specifically, it's kind of problematic. It appears to have been written while the rules were still being nailed down — there are no minions anywhere in the entire book for example — but unlike KotS, this one has an actual storyline instead of simply being a bunch of recycled Miniatures Game maps strung together with cheap thread. That said, I think it's better for it, because it didn't have to buy in to all the badly-written 4E setting junk. There isn't a lot of blather about "the shadowfell" or "the feywild" here; the core of this module is a hub in the upper crust of the Underdark, where a cabal of more-or-less Lawful Neutral mages have set up an underground plaza of enforced peace, where halflings, humans, drow, and duergar live and do business in relative (if touchy) peace. Think "Moria meets Casablanca," and you're on the right track. The main thrust of the adventure is that one of the cabal members has gone rogue and the PCs are tasked with shutting him down before he brings the whole setup crashing down.

In other words, Thunderspire Labyrinth uses the 4E ruleset in a very "classic D&D" setting, and to that extent, it's very cool. I could happily convert this adventure back to 3.5 or Pathfinder and run it as written, and it would be a nice, solid adventure with some very cool moments. If more of 4E was like this, I'd like it a lot better!

Although after 3-4 levels' worth of wandering around a labyrinth covered with minotaur-themed decor, the players may very well begin to wonder why there isn't a single actual minotaur to be found...

-The Gneech
Tags: dungeons & dragons, gaming
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