Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Day Of Firsts

— Matt Harris @ 3:44 pm

I have been playing role-playing games since I received the Basic Dungeons and Dragons blue boxed set for my birthday in the late 1970s. With over 30 years of RPGing behind me, I don’t get to do a lot of things for the first time anymore. Despite that, yesterday I managed to do three RPG firsts (for me). It was my:

  1. First time playing a tabletop role-playing game online. I have played online computer games and MUDs, but never a game designed for face-to-face tabletop roleplaying.
  2. First time playing Pathfinder. I bought the core rulebook in September, but hadn’t played a game.
  3. First time playing an “Organized Play” game. I have played some convention games using pre-generated characters, but was never part of the RPGA or other such organization, until I joined the Pathfinder Society.

Some general comments about all three “firsts” follow:

Online Gaming
I was a little leery about online play, as I didn’t think it could match up to the camaraderie and bonding of face-to-face gaming. I was very pleasantly surprised; I had an excellent time. The game was played using TTopRPG for the chat room and gametable, and Skype for audio chat. While I couldn’t see the other players, the combination of audio chat/visual gametable gave seemed to make up for the lack.

The Dungeon Master and other players were skilled gamers and the game went very smoothly. One of the things I found amazing is that this game would have been nearly impossible to do in the real world, due to the geographic dispersion of the attendees. I was in southern California while the DM was in Athens, Greece. The other three players were in Canada, Michigan and New York, respectively. The pre-game setup (getting & confirming players & times, etc.) was also done online, via the Pathfinder Society Online Collective, a new Google group set up for that purpose.

A quick note on the technical aspects. TTopRPG is a wonderful gametable, at least from a players perspective. It was very easy to use and made things very smooth. A nice laniape was that Pygon, the programmer of TTopRPG was one of the players. The only technical difficulty I noticed is that the Dungeon Masters audio occasionally broke up (like a bad cell call). I could hear everyone from North American very clearly, however.

Pathfinder RPG
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first time playing the Pathfinder RPG, a new role-playing game from Paizo. When Wizards of the Coast decided to abandon the 3.5 version of D&D in favor of the vastly reworked 4.0 edition ruleset, Paizo, which had been the publisher of Dungeon and Dragon magazine, decided to create a compatible game by forking the 3.5 rules (which had been released under the Open Game License).

The result was the Pathfinder RPG. I think they did a wonderful job on it as well. Pathfinder (rules free online in the Pathfinder Resource Document) is essentially compatible with 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, but has had some of the rough edges smoothed away. One of the things I noticed when playing yesterday is that everybody always seemed to be able to be involved in the action; there were only a couple of times when anybody took a Delay action. In the past 3.0/3.5 games I had been in, there were a lot of Delay actions, when players couldn’t find anything for their characters to do. In the Pathfinder game I played yesterday, the action was continuous.

Pathfinder Society Organized Play
I had considered joining the Living Greyhawk campaign by Wizards of the Coast, but since I don’t attend conventions, it seemed kind of pointless – I would never get a chance to play. When I was that the Pathfinder Society would allow home games and online play, I decided to give it a chance.

Yesterday’s module was PFS #7 – Among the Living. It took about 5½ hours. Since the set run-time is supposed to be four hours, I am guessing it could be quite rushed in a convention setting. I found it very enjoyable although it was very combat heavy. There wasn’t any real need for role-playing, although the group did so anyway :-). The faction quest my character had was quite easy.

After the game was over, I bought the module to see what “behind the curtain”. We basically covered everything in the 21 page module. I did note that most of it seemed to be monster stats. As the module was designed to be scalable for parties between levels 1-7, each encounter had 3 different sets of monster stats. The net result is that there was one page of maps, a couple pages of background text, another page of player handouts, the cover and credits pages, and the open game license. The rest was statblocks.

After reviewing the module, the Pathfinder Society rules and my experience yesterday, I have come to a few conclusions. One, organized play ala Pathfinder is fun. Two, it won’t replace regular home gameplay. Character growth and development is a lot more rigid and constrained. The ability to affect the developement of the gameworld via character actions seems totally lacking. On the plus side, it allows a lot of different people/characters to share and interact in a continuously changing groups of PCs while still maintaining some sort of character continuity.

While I think I prefer “standard” gaming to “organized” play, I did have a blast yesterday and hope to play again in the near future.

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