27 April 2013

Pathfinder - My Friend and My Foe

Today I ran my Pathfinder campaign again.

I do love Pathfinder. I like feeling connected to the long, amazing history of the world's first role-playing game. I like owning many beautiful hardback volumes of intriguing rules, monsters and whatnot. I like the wealth of material available, from full settings to adventure modules. I like playing with miniatures, it's a nice change of pace from the usual role-playing games I play. I even like the ubiquitous clichés, sometimes it's just cool to get down to the basic themes of old-school gaming.

I do love it, but it's really a kind of love-hate relationship. I won't lie to you, preparing for a Pathfinder session can be stressful, more so than most RPG's.

It's a game with a fairly steep learning curve, it must be said. The core mechanisms are actually quite simple, but there's so much more to master, particularly as a GM. The subtleties of combat, unique abilities of different monsters, the abilities of each character class, the myriad feats and spells and magic items... Where does one even begin learning it all? After a couple years I still feel like a total noob.

Of course it doesn't help that my group hasn't been able to get together all that often lately (we've only had a dozen sessions since summer 2011, with sometimes even half a year passing between sessions). And every time you feel like you're almost starting from scratch (not entirely true, of course, but it's not like you can remember everything for that long). I know people to whom complex rule systems like (modern) D&D or GURPS seem to come entirely naturally, like second nature. This doesn't exactly help, as I am clearly not one of them. I have lots of trouble remembering details.

Knowing all this, picking up those thick rulebooks begins to feel like a chore, and patience is not one of my virtues. You feel like you're never going to be good enough, no matter how hard you try. So you procrastinate. And you procrastinate. And then you beat yourself up about not preparing enough.

There's no such thing as a perfect RPG session, of course, regardless of system. There will always be important rules you forget. There will always be flaws in your plans. The players will always do something unexpected. There will always be plot holes you don't realise until the players stumble upon them. It's something you have to live with as a GM. Just try to forget about it and have fun. But when you add relatively complex rules to the equation, those feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness easily grow manifold.

But it's not like you can quit, either... Who'd want to do that? It is, after all, one of the most important, awesome games in the world...

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