I think it’s safe to say that over the last four decades D&D has gone through changes great and small. As each different edition has been created and refined, it’s designers have stamped their own individual mark on the game. While 1st Edition AD&D and Pathfinder both flow from the same wellspring, they are markedly different games.
Obviously, the two games are mechanically different. But more importantly, I think the style and intent of the game has changed and evolved over the years.
(And at this point, I feel compelled to point out and acknowledge we all have our favourite editions of D&D; I’m not here to bash any particular edition. I don’t care what version of the game you play or which is your favourite; if you are having fun, it’s all good).
That said, a question occurred to me several months ago that has been clattered about it my head ever since: Is Pathfinder too Adventure-ocentric?
What do I mean by that?
Well, I think it’s a pretty simple question. It seems to me the prevailing style of play has changed over the last four decades. In the good old days (warning, I’m wearing my goggles of rose-tinted Gygax appreciation +5) it seemed the adventure wasn’t the be-all and end-all of the game. Sure we spent loads of time battling orcs, slaying dragons and looting ancient tombs. But we also spent a lot of time exploring towns, consulting sages, dodging taxmen, recruiting henchmen and–if we were lucky at higher levels–running our fief.
Almost all of that seems to have fallen by the wayside. (Clearly, the Kingmaker campaign is somewhat of an exception to this). If you compare the number of pages devoted to designing and running the wider campaign–as opposed to mere adventuring–in the 1st Edition DMG (surely the greatest gaming book ever published) against those dedicated to the same thing in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Core Rulebook you’ll see what I mean.
It seems to me that 1st Edition characters had much more of a life outside the adventure than the current crop of young Pathfinder whipper snappers. (Imagine, I placed a smile face here). In 1st Edition, time was another resource a wise player had to manage and what happened outside the dungeon’s or adventure’s bounds was important; it often got significant table-time (at least in my campaigns) and could spell the difference between success or failure in the dungeon.
For example, ask yourself, when was the last time a Pathfinder character actually consulted a sage? Don’t get me wrong, I love the inclusion of knowledge skills in Pathfinder–they empower the PCs–and help speed up play but consulting a sage can spawn all manner of fun role-playing moments or side quests.
In Pathfinder, it seems to me that anything happening outside the dungeon or adventure is little more than an annoyance or hindrance which should be dealt with as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get in the way of the fun. Witness, for example, the differences in how the two editions deal with making magic items; one could form the basis of an entire session as the procedure and various items needed are researched and hunted down while the other is little more than bookkeeping. (I suggest you use the method you enjoy the most; personally I’m somewhere in the middle.)
Now, of course, you could say that a lot of these changes have been made to remove the barriers to fun. And you’d be right. But, as the game has become more mechanically robust and complex the temptation is to use these self-same mechanics as much as possible. Combat is fun! Searching for a sage or convincing someone to make you a magic item isn’t!
But in merely focusing on the adventure and the pursuit of XP are we not missing out on some of the stuff that makes the game such a rich, engaging and—above all—social pastime? As GMs by forcing/cajoling or incentivising the players to engage with the campaign world outside of the dungeon or adventure we are in turn forcing ourselves to design more of that world; to design more cool stuff with which the PCs can interact.
That’s good as far as it goes—most GMs are creative types after all—but it has one other far more important result. Characters “forced” to interact with a richly detailed world themselves become more interesting, detailed and rounded. They become more than just a collection of statistics, skills, feats and combat manoeuvres or spell selections. They develop actual personalities and social ties to the campaign world. They have hopes and dreams. They accumulate obligations, favours, friends and enemies. They leap from the page. They live in our imaginations.
Our current obsession with character builds and mechanics is a direct result of our unconscious myopic focus on the adventure as the be-all and end-all of gaming.
Widen your focus. Go beyond the adventure. Your game will be better for it.
What Do You Think?
Agree? Disagree? Let me know, in the comments below.