I think we’ve lost our way. Over the last two decades or so there has been a general rush (perhaps even a stampede) toward ever increasing amounts of choice in our games.
While I love Pathfinder and its rich complexity, I don’t want games so stocked full of options I need dozens of hardback books to keep up with the available options. Having that many options is utter madness and leads to choice paralysis. (For more on my take on the Paradox of Choice check this article out).
Do you know what is better?
A good story, exciting challenges and memorable characters.
Of the three, a good story and exciting challenges are fairly self-explanatory.
But what do I mean by memorable characters? Frankly it doesn’t really matter what mechanic you use to slay your foes. To me, as a player and GM, what’s important is the character behind those mechanics. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook has an amazing amount of player options within its covers. With seven races, eleven classes (if you ignore the different flavours of clerics and wizards) and hundreds of magic items, spells and feats I defy anyone to have exhausted the various options within that book. I’ve been running Pathfinder since the playtest and I certainly haven’t. I don’t think my players have either.
As a Player
Instead of focusing (or obsessing) over which new cool feat or spell to take instead spend time on your PC’s non-mechanical aspects (personality, background and personal development). That’s what sets your character apart from a piece of paper with some numbers and a name scribbled on top.
(Incidentally, these aspects of your PC’s design—personality, background and suchlike—are the elements of the game hardest for publishers like me to sell; imagine the sale figures for Complete Personality or Ultimate Background!)
As a GM
From one GM to another: it’s okay not to allow every option under the sun in your game. Sometimes less is more. Stripping away extraneous options allows you to focus on the game’s bedrock.
Focus is a wonderful thing. It provides flavour and clarity; it strips away the “noise”—the unimportant and extraneous distracting crap we seem to be filling our games with these days. It enables us to concentrate on what’s important.
Instead of spending hours going through umpteen books in search of something new the PCs haven’t faced before instead focus on crafting exciting and memorable quests, opponents, encounters and adventures. That’s what will live in your’s (and your players’) memories.
The Design Challenge
Gygax once said that the hallmark of a great player was the ability to think imaginatively and creatively.
If you are a player, here’s a design challenge: take one of the standard, “boring” race/class combinations—for example, a human fighter, halfling rogue or elf wizard—and in a short paragraph describe a compelling, unique and flavoursome neophyte adventurer you’d like to play.
As a GM, do the same thing, but take a standard monster—for example, an ogre—and make him unique, flavoursome and memorable. Make him an NPC your players will remember for ages after the encounter is over.
(And, if you want post your PC or NPC in the comments below!)
Sometimes New Options Are Awesome
That all said, sometimes adding new options to your game makes it more awesome!
Thoughtfully chosen options can add to the style, theme and flavour of an adventure or campaign. For example, back deep in the midsts of time, we played The Savage Tide (a D&D adventure path printed monthly in Dungeon). To complement play, we made extensive use of Stormwrack (a book of nautical options) which greatly added to the fun. Of course, almost all of us died but that’s besides the point.
These are just two examples, of how new options can enhance play. I’m by no means against the thoughtful addition of new options to my game. I am, however, against mindlessly adding new options to the game for no apparent reason beyond “but I own the book” or “someone said it was cool”.
What Do You Think?
Am I mad? Should I be strung up and beaten with nettles? Or am I tremendously wise and sagacious? Let me know, in the comments below.
Want to take the design challenge? Leave your compelling PC or NPC in the comments—I’d love to see what you come up with!