Saturday, December 22, 2012

Early Observations: Pathfinder vs DnD

Now that I have four full sessions of Pathfinder play under my belt I feel fully qualified to offer wildly speculative opinions as I relate my Pathfinder experience to my 25 yeas of experience in playing various versions of DnD. I realize there is an aspect of "Version Wars" that still floats about the RPG world in regards to which game version players think is the best. There is a segment of the general RPG population that like and prefer DnD4E, there is a solid and growing Pathfinder contingent, and there remains a flourishing "Old School RPG" (OSR) camp that prefer their pre-DnD3.0 versions of the game as well.

First, as far as the Version Wars go, my answer would be to "shut up and play." Honestly, if you and your gaming group like what you're playing then have fun. It doesn't make any Else's choice somehow inferior to yours, nor does your choice somehow elevate you to a higher level caste. The point is to have some fun with your friends - do that. If you really do find something that is so distasteful in an RPG game that you can't enjoy it then try something else. There are plenty of RPG choices, and besides, just because you don't like something doesn't make that particular product bad, maybe you just preferred something else more.

I have been very lucky. I have been part of a Sunday Night DnD group for 25+ years, and some of the members have been gaming together for 30+ years. A few players have come and gone over time, but I think you could accurately call this a stable group. We played DnD2.0 for my first 20 years with the group, and then migrated to DnD4E when it was released about 5 years ago. A few months ago one of our group approached with an idea - some other friends of his were considering a Friday Night game - would I be interested? I proposed Pathfinder and we have had a lot of fun with it.

Why Pathfinder? I just wanted to try it for one thing, plus one Sunday night this past summer we had spent one evening walking through the DnDNext playtest package when we were short a few players (including the DM). The DnDNext game session really reminded me of our Pre-DnD4E gaming sessions. The encounters were crisp and clean and we got through 5-6 combat encounters in just one night and cleaned out one section of the Caves of Chaos. It was this experience that got me thinking more seriously about Pathfinder. Pathfinder is essentially just a pre-DnD4E version of DnD to begin with, so when the discussion about starting a new game night group Pathfinder was easy to propose.

There is a definite game play feel difference between 4E and Pathfinder, but back to my original point - who cares? Again, the point is to have fun. I enjoy both of my game nights and honestly, isn't that enough?

There is one area where there is a major difference though, and that is Wizards of the Coast versus Paizo. With the DnD4E arc coming to an end there are no new DnD4E products in the works, and in fact the only thing on the Wizards schedule for release next year is a re-release of the original Unearthed Arcana and two different collections of original adventure arcs (here and here). I did particularly enjoy the re-release of the original DnD1.0 core books this past summer (I passed on the re-release of the original DnD3.5 core books), so I suppose there could be more re-releases in the works for 2013. The DnDNext playtest just released their fourth playtest package this past week, but most speculation doesn't have this becoming a finalized product until 2014 - a full year or more away yet. Wizards has been producing DnD related board games and still has several book lines it is producing, but other than that the cupboard is pretty bare for 2013.

On the other hand Paizo is going gangbusters. The Paizo products I have purchased are not cheap, but they are very well written and produced (and you can get updated and errata'd PDF versions as well). They are continuing to produce monthly adventure paths and other support materials and have a full schedule of products on their schedule for the next year. They have a flourishing third party community as well, many of which I suspect used to do the same for Wizards in the pre-4E days. Paizo is currently holding a contest for aspiring writers to write and produce an adventure. You can purchase some Pathfinder game materials in a Barnes and Noble and such, but Paizo does most of their sales through their own website. They regularly run sales, attempt to clean out their closets from time to time if you want to pick something up cheap, plus you can subscribe to different product releases and ongoing adventure paths and receive additional discounts as well.

I suppose you could argue that better marketing doesn't make for a better game, but Paizo has caught Wizards in sales numbers already and is continuing to push their advantage. I can't see this changing in 2013 either. If Wizards doesn't have a product to sell for an entire year what will Hasbro have to say about that? I am confident the new version of DnDNext (DnD5E?) will be released, but I guess it remains to be seen when and possibly even by whom. What will happen to the DDI tools? There is still a thriving DnD4E community out there - will the Character Builder and Monster Builder tools be supported going forward? Even after DnDNext is officially released?

I guess the real difference between the two at the moment is that Paizo appears to have a clear plan going forward while Wizards ... well, there are a lot of questions. I suppose time will sort all of this out as it usually does, but in the mean time let's just roll the dice and play our game of choice.

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