Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Vague Criticisms, and Losing the Path
I have been really impressed by Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. While I think they are doing the right thing with the rules, and by having a slower release schedule than the previous two editions, I do think they are a bit lost when it comes to utilizing their campaign settings, and I am concerned about the strategy of taking a famous adventure or series of adventures, making it a mega-adventure, and shoving it into the Realms to be the theme of their organized play for six months at a time.
So I don’t think they are perfect by a long shot.
But this article . . . this article.
According to Feargus Urquhart, D&D has lost it’s way, and Pathfinder is carrying the banner of D&D the proper way even if it isn’t D&D in name. Never mind that his company just signed a deal with Paizo to develop Pathfinder games.
I’d argue that while D&D may not have found the right path at the moment, they are a Hell of a lot closer to finding their way now than they were a few years ago. While I had my problems with “story elements” that changed in D&D, I think the biggest problem with 4th Edition wasn’t the core system. I played in a 4th Edition game, and had fun. The biggest problem was that about every two months a new rulebook would come along that would present clearly better options than what you were previously using, so if anyone at the table was using the new stuff and you weren’t, you looked pretty silly.
“Martial Power just came out, so your paladin can go sit in the corner while I take care of all of the defendering.”
“Well, now Divine Power just came out, so I can out defender you!”
Thankfully, there isn’t a d20 level based kitchen sink fantasy game that still has this problem. Er . . . then again . . .
Obviously, Pathfinder sells. No question about that. But I would argue that sales don’t tell the entire story.
Even with tons of people complaining about 4th edition, it too was selling. The problem is that it didn’t seem to sell as well as parent company Hasbro wanted it to sell, and it didn’t sustain it’s sales for as long as they would have hoped for a new edition. As soon as the line showed signs of weakening, D&D, as a brand, did some odd things.
D&D products dried up pretty quickly. WOTC’s organized play support for D&D dropped dramatically, then returned in the form of running really short adventures on a specific night of the week. They announced a new edition in development way ahead of it’s release, scuttling a lot of their sales of 4th edition products.
Right or wrong, it was much different than the transition between 3.5 and 4th, where WOTC sold splatbooks right up until the announcement, and only had a few months before product was on the shelves. They even had representatives giving less then forthright answers about new editions just a few months before the announcement to keep the splatbook money flowing.
Pathfinder did a very good job of taking a good chunk of market share. They put out attractive products, good adventures, and a compelling setting. They were already well on their way to entrenching themselves in permanent 2nd place and threatening 1st when WOTC pretty much called a cease fire while they were working on their next edition.
Pathfinder Society, Paizo’s organized play, grew as WOTC’s organized play shrunk. Initially, Pathfinder Society was pretty laid back compared to WOTC’s organized play rules, which were nearly as complicated and stringent as the 3.5 or 4th edition rules.
Of course once Pathfinder became the organized play juggernaut, GM ranking, prize levels, special certificates allowing some rules to be used by some players and not others because of where they played a game, constantly shifting errata and rulings, and retired scenarios became commonplace, making it seem not all that unlike WOTC’s 3rd edition era of organized play.
In fact, Pathfinder has continued to model 3.5’s marketing strategy pretty consistently. They swapped out Prestige Class Glut for Archetype Glut, but they still publish little books with lots of feats, spells, and traits (which are essentially little feats) and they publish big books with all of that plus new classes as well.
The odds that your core rulebook fighter is going to get owned by some variation of a new martial class is pretty high, and the odds that that new option is going to get out performed by a new option six months down the road don’t seem that bad either.
Paizo did many things right when they created the Pathfinder line:
- They created good, solid, compelling adventures
- They created a solid setting which allowed for classic D&D tropes as well as a wider range of pulp and sword and sorcery elements than many D&D settings allowed
- They created an organized play system that was more laid back and easy to get into for newcomers
- They reprinted and revised the core rules with some tweaks so thet they ‘owned” their version of the rules, and everybody was on the same page to start.
- They cast themselves as the up and coming small company that wasn’t trying to outsell D&D, just put food on the table and put out adventures that they loved.
- Stated that putting out adventures was always the primary focus, and rules were a distant second.
- Leveraged the people that already had subscriptions to Dungeon and Dragon Magazines as their new base.
- Offered free PDFs and deep discounts if you subscribed to multiple lines of product.
- When they constantly acknowledged that more classes were a problem with 3.5 splatbooks, yet continued to put new classes in new splatbooks.
- When representatives of the company had sated on their message boards multiple times that anything used in adventures outside of the core rulebook would be reprinted in an adventure, then they began to refer people to the online SRD (which is nice, don’t get me wrong). The change wasn’t the problem, the lack of admission that it was a change was disturbing.
- Errata that seemed to only complicate the game, especially in favor of needed feats or spells to accomplish something that seemed to be possible without them previously.
- Drastic changes to organized play that made it more complicated and catered to people that were already on board rather than new people joining up
- The prevailing attitude from organized play that previous rulings that weren’t currently in favor should have been “known” to have been in error and not acted upon.
- Multiple poorly edited books that seemed to have been shoved onto the market to hit a release date of Paizocon or Gen Con (notably Ultimate Magic and the Adventurer’s Armory).
- Products like the Adventurer’s Armory, where almost the entirety of it’s contents were contained in a hardcover that came out only a few months later, which coupled with it’s poor editing made it seem like a “filler” product to hit a release schedule to bring in some cash that quarter
- Staff responses to questions about editorial quality that were actually hostile, despite the fact that some of the editorial mistakes made rules in those products impossible to implement