Roll Initiative #1 An Intro to Pathfinder

You may have noticed a theme here, what with all the dice hanging around the blog and the constant references, but we here at Sword of Nerdom are big into Tabletop RPGs. Some of you out there are already in the know- you’ve rolled initative, you’ve confirmed a crit or two- but it’s all Greek to the rest of you. So what the heck is all this about?

Tabletop Role-Playing Games - RPGs, if you will - are a unique sort of social gaming, something along the lines of communal storytelling crossed with a board game. Dungeons & Dragons is the original tabletop RPG, and it is undoubtedly the most well-known; it’s a household name, even if most people outside the gaming community have no idea how it works. It’s no stretch to proclaim D&D as the granddaddy of all RPGs, but it’s far from the only one out there. Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer, Vampire, Cyberpunk… There are hundreds of RPGs to choose from, covering every different genre and style imaginable. My game of choice is Pathfinder. More on it later.

There are exceptions, but in most RPGs, the setup goes a little like this: there are two types of people involved in playing the game, the “players,” and the “Game Master (GM).” The players create characters to control in the game, and have complete control over any actions their creations take.  The GM, meanwhile, does pretty much everything else- he controls the story, acts as any other characters in the game world other than those controlled by the players, and sets up the challenges the players must face (often in the form of enemy monsters to fight). He also acts as the final word regarding rules in the game- the GM’s word is law! Think of the players as the main actors in a film, while the GM is both the director and the supporting cast.

So… why play a tabletop RPG instead of, say, a video game? If you’re craving fantasy adventure, you can easily boot up some Skyrim and play around in that sprawling digital sandbox. If you’d rather hop online, there’s always World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and the dozens of other MMORPGs out there. What would compel a gamer to roll dice and do math when a video game could do all that work for them?

The answer: imagination.

In a video game, all the creative bits are already done for you. Depending on the game, you may have a variety of ways to progress the story or interact with the game’s world, but in the end you’ll always be limited to the scope of the game designers’ imaginations. Not only that, but the character you play as is either already made for you, or a blank slate with limited personality. In a tabletop RPG, your character is truly your creation, from the ground up. Their backstory, abilities, and appearance are only the beginning- you are in control of their every decision, every action. This creates a level of immersion far deeper than any video game. It also creates an emotional investment in the fate of your character and the world it inhabits.

That emotional investment leads the players to think hard about their characters’ actions, to strategize and use teamwork to overcome challenges. Since character death is often permanent in tabletop RPGs (and can happen far more easily than in most video games), the players have a much stronger motivation to ensure one another’s survival.

Besides, you’re playing around the table with friends.  Beer in one hand, dice in the other.  Snacks and music are often involved. There’s laughter, there’s excitement, and there’s a kind of comradery around the table that you just can’t find in front of a TV screen. It isn’t always an easy hobby- scheduling a four-to-five-hour game night can be a terror for a group full of adults with full-time jobs, and it’s a lot of work for the GM, but when you find the right group, and you get into your groove, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Finding the right type of game can be tough, too, but there are plenty of good options out there. As mentioned previously, for my group, Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder is the game of choice.

So why Pathfinder? What makes it my favorite RPG? Well, for me, it’s a combination of several factors.

When I was first getting into tabletop roleplaying, I knew I wanted to tackle a game built around the traditional fantasy-adventure genre. For that, the biggest and best options at the time were Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. D&D itself was, at the time, smack dab in the middle of its fourth iteration, and after reading a great many reviews and asking around for recommendations, it sounded like a lot of people weren’t happy with how video-gamey D&D 4th Edition was. A lot of those reviews suggested either sticking with an older version of the game, or making the jump to Pathfinder. I chose the latter.

Pathfinder is an evolution of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons (or, technically, version 3.5), which makes it a direct descendant of the world’s oldest and most beloved RPG. Some refer to Pathfinder as “D&D 3.75,” and that’s not exactly inaccurate. It refines and streamlines certain elements of D&D’s gameplay, while simultaneously adding tons of options for customization, further supported by Paizo’s constant stream of high-quality supplemental products. Its Bestiary books have put fresh spins on some of the most classic creatures in the fantasy genre, from its wacky, rabble-rousing Goblins to the terrifyingly psychotic Bugbears. Pathfinder books typically have excellent quality in both writing and art, and while the game system can be complex, like all RPGs, some of the more complicated stuff can be handwaved by the GM if need be. Is it a perfect game? Well, probably not, but it works great, and my group loves it.

This series, in however many parts it turns out to be, will go into a bit more detail about the Pathfinder game, why I dig it, and how it works. We’ll cover the basic rules and game flow, creating a character, getting a group together, and how to make the whole thing awesome. As I am currently GMing two separate campaigns, I’ll touch a bit on the fine art of GMing and what I’ve learned in my experience thus far as well.

Welcome to the table.

Map of Golarion by Rob Lazzaretti & Pazio Publishing