Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pathfinder Beginner Box Revisited and Some Hard Truth

Over the last couple of weeks I have managed to have two sessions with my two teen kids. They have both played off-and-on for a few years now. They've played enough to understand the basics and have a feel for how the game actually plays.

The first session was a quick and dirty dungeon I put together for a Delving Deeper session. It was basic, as in it had the traditional elements of old-school play. Secret doors, pit traps, a teleporting trap, and twisty corridors. We did 3d6 stat rolls, and played it by the book. I told them all about "How we did it back in the day" and how tedious mapping and all weapons doing d6 damage are part of the experience. I told them that they had to rely on description and imagination because the dice couldn't save them. I was really anticipating a game like it used to be.

I was disappointed. Not with DD, which is very well-done. My disappointment was with old-school play. Blasphemous as that may be, there it is. I missed features such as Perception checks, variable damage, and multiple classes to choose from. The lack of tactical options left me flat, as well. It just wasn't very satisfying. I realized that, for me, engagement with the system depends a lot on the dice. Some people are all about role-playing and determine the quality of the experience based on not picking up the dice. I'm not one of them. I do like rolling the dice, as player and referee. Perception checks, trap checks, DEX checks, whatever. Description is great, and I will always encourage it. Rather than it being the only interface with the game, though, I prefer to have it be supplemental, granting a slight bonus if the description is on-point.

Nor am I a dice machine, or a rules hound. As referee I still want to be captain of my game. I don't want the rules to be a cage, or a bludgeon that the players use on me to get their way. I just don't want to have to develop consistent ruling for all these "blind spots". Especially when it's already been done umpteen times.

I will always have fond memories of my old-school beginnings, and I will have occasional urges to play that way for the rest of my gaming life. The Hard Truth, though, is that nostalgia for a particular set of rules belongs with the past that bore it. However, the style of those games, the fast-and-loose feeling, the sandboxy vibe, and the simple joy of playing. Rules that will guarantee me an experience like that from my past is nothing more than a Questing Beast. That sense of joy and plain ol' fun comes not from the rules, but from the play.

In exploring my feelings on all this, I came to realize that some of my fondest memories were played out using rules I didn't particularly like. My best friend for many years was the primary DM for games in which I played. His game was an eclectic mix of 1E, 2E, and his own brew. He also allowed pretty much anything from Dragon magazine. He had an extensive list of Non-Weapon Proficiencies. Too extensive to my mind, because I could never link the character in my mind with the mechanics of his NWPs. There were never enough points to make it work with all the sub-categories.

BUT . . . when the dice started rolling, I had a great time. He knew his world like his own neighborhood and was masterful at immersing us in it.

Which brings us to the second session I mentioned. This one was with the Pathfinder Beginner Box. It was a blast. It was a simple enough little thing, only taking us about an hour to play through. It was the solo adventure from the Hero's Handbook. I tweaked it slightly for an extra player. I loved feeling more engaged with the system. It is one thing to play with a set of rules that "gets out of the way", it is another thing entirely to play with a rules-set that is so nebulous that I feel unsupported.

I posted a while back about using the Beginner Box as an E6-style game. Now I realize just how great of an experience that might be for me. In fact, I've taken the thought a step further. Back in the day, those of us that remember "the day" played using the mechanics from whatever "basic" set we grew up on, whether LBBs, B/X, or Holmes. To that simple engine we bolted whatever bits and parts from 1E that suited us most.

Today my mind turned to doing the same with Pathfinder. Take the stripped-down engine from the Beginner Box, and add the more advanced features from the Core rulebook a la carte fashion. A rules buffet, as it were. Extra classes, monsters, and spells for the most part. Probably still keep it E6, so it could end up being the simpler Pathfinder engine from the Beginner Box. Add to that the full range of classes, some of the spells and feats, and of course, monsters, all from Core. A grittier E6-style game running on top of the Beginner Box engine sounds like a pretty sweet arrangement to me.

PS> None of that is meant as a criticism of Delving Deeper. I love that rules-set and still contend that it is an excellent implementation of the LBBs.

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