What Pathfinder gets right, part two

I’m still recovering from a rather nasty chest infection (among other things), so we’re going to deviate from our scheduled programming to hand over to the good Dr Bull for this post. He kindly emailed his thoughts about what Pathfinder gets right to me, and they are reprinted below. My own comments are below each entry, prefixed GW.

Here’s Part One.


CMD & CMB – awesome simplification of the rules

GW: I agree. Pathfinder’s Combat Maneuver system does a terrific job of unifying almost every alternate combat action (trip, disarm, bull rush, overrun, sunder, etc) under a single game mechanic. Making them simpler to understand means they’re far more likely to be used in-game, and don’t slow down the action when they are. Gone are the days of having to look up exactly how Sunder works mid-combat. For we GMs it means you can give your monsters exciting things to do (“The Orc disarms your Fighter with his cleaver!”) without having them explicitly called out in the statblock. That’s a huge win in my book.


The fixing of broken spells

GW: By which I’m guessing you mean Harm and the like, which could dominate an encounter if over-used. Yep, they’re fixed.


Bestiary – amazing art, excellent layout.

GW: I love Paizo’s artwork overall. What it does well is invite a story to be told, and that’s exactly what good role-playing art should do. Goblins aren’t just Goblins – they’re Goblins going somewhere. Monsters have battle scars and wear the spoils of war, It’s evocative.

I do think that Pathfinder suffers from the same statblock bloat as Third Edition D&D (does a Giant Crab statblock really need to take up a quarter-page? Honestly?), the overall layout of the Bestiary integrates them well with the rest of the text. They’re not as “in your face” as Fourth Edition’s MM statblocks, but are still plenty clear enough to use at the table.


MUCH better writing than WOTC

GW: It depends what you compare. The Fourth Edition DMG I think ranks up there as one of the best DMGs ever written. It’s just a shame that they didn’t save some of those words and put them in the PHB :)

Paizo’s quality of content is consistent, and that’s what matters. I’ll happily buy a Pathfinder supplement blind and know I’m not going to regret it. That’s a testament to the high standards they put themselves.


Less ‘power creep’ than 3.5

GW: Yes. While it’s not perfect (what system is?), the newer classes mesh well with the core classes without overshadowing them in any way. They have also avoided the ludicrous explosion of Feats, something which has blighted both Third and Fourth Edition D&D. I pray to the nine gods that the Next Edition of D&D puts a serious cap on new Feats. Enough, already!


One CORE rulebook and a bunch of optional books (when I DM, I only allow the CORE rulebook and the Bestiary)

GW: Paizo managed to deliver an excellent tome with the Core Book. It’s weighty but is still a pleasure to read, and contains all the rules you need to play right from the start. I would still love to see a single book version of D&D which contains everything you need to run the game, including Bestiary. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia (praiseitsholyname) did it with style back in the day, so why can’t modern designers do the same? I think they’re far too fond of their 36 point funky headings and green bordered tables to know what good layout looks like.


Paizo writes excellent adventures (tons of material)

GW: Again, it’s down to consistency and quality of writing. The fact they’re all set in a shared campaign setting also gives them a sense of place. Even if you use your own world setting they are neutral enough to adapt, and the Adventure Path series of linked adventures means you have a ready-made mini-campaign for the taking.


Once you’ve mastered the rules, the rules get out of the way

GW: This is what every good rules system should do. Fourth Edition D&D manages it by putting all the rules on the character sheet or in the monster’s statblock, whereas Pathfinder does it by making the rules easy to understand.

I do feel that Pathfinder has a similar problem to Third Edition D&D at higher levels where monsters and major NPCs demand lots of cross-referencing to look up spells and special abilities, and this is an area I would like to see improvement in the next edition of D&D.

Thank you, Dr Bull!

Next: What AD&D gets right

4 Comments on “What Pathfinder gets right, part two”

  1. CMB & CMD also give you a quick way to figure out how to do something unexpected. For example, if you wanted to do a Zorro and mark and opponent without harming them, use a combat maneuver. Plant a “kick me” sign? Splash a mug of beer in their face? Steal a kiss? Combat maneuvers give us a base to start from.

  2. Pathfinder is my favorite system bar none, but I definitely agree that high-level play is a problem. I wished they had spent a bit more time on that.

    Monster stat blocks are too long too. It would have been nice if they had a “figured” stat block. For example, if an Orc has a +5 to hit melee with a battaxe that does 1d8+4 damage, you don’t see that it has an 18 str and a +1 BAB. You just get the Orc with the +5 melee. I thought of playing with an Excel spreadsheet to create stat blocks that would eliminate redundant information.

  3. Hey, just wanted to say that I hope you feel better soon and I am enjoying this series immensely. I check this site every day at least twice for the next “what X gets right”.

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