No more 3.5/Pathfinder
Written by M. A. Packer
Having recently completed a year long 3.5/Pathfinder campaign (rather prematurely I should say), I arrived at a decision that was quite a long time coming. While I will always appreciate 3rd edition D&D as the first system that I was introduced into the hobby through, it is time for us to part ways (I know, melodramatic). But that’s how much I hate it: casting it away as one of my go-to systems is like removing a bulky tumor from my brain. I’ll try to keep this brief.
As stated above, the rules bloat is unbelievable. The problem with creating a system that tries to cover every base is that eventually your rules contradict each other. For example, if you are drowning, the rules say you start at 0HP and lose 1 HP each turn until you die at -10. This is problematic because, let’s say you were already reduced to -7 HP and are still dying. Well, your party can dunk you into the water and, if you’re one of those special people who takes the rules too literally (like half the 3.X players out there) this means your wounds vanish and you’re reset back to 0, gaining you more time.
As if the sheer volume of rules wasn’t enough, there are veritable mountains of splat books that push these problems into the stratosphere. Theoretically if I could just stick with the core rulebooks, I could tolerate 3.X. The problem is all the purchase addicts out there who have to own each and every book that Wizards and Paizo vomit out every month. This is material that has not been play-tested enough or at all. This means there are virtually endless combinations of broken and overpowered characters just waiting to ruin your campaign. Again, if I could stick to the core rulebooks this wouldn't be much of an issue since the core rulebooks were tested years in advance before they were sold to the public. But the difficulty here is that there are so many players who blast their diarrhea all over you if you tell them they can only pick from the core classes. They simply lack the imagination to work with the basics and feel like they’re missing out if they can’t use every damned option out there, officially published or home-brewed.
The feats really piss me off. This is technically part of number 1, but I feel it deserves its own category because of how much they ruin the game. Essentially feats are little rules exceptions to help flesh out and make a character special. You don’t need that, especially when they break the game. There are feats that literally allow you to funnel everything onto one ability score, meaning you can dump everything into, say, Intelligence, and if you dig through enough splat books, you can find feats that let you stack all of your skills and attacks onto an Intelligence roll. This defeats the purpose of having attributes at all and makes the character incredibly powerful (Batman anyone?)
Another issue with feats is the fact that so often they make no sense. For example, a club is in the family of Simple Weapon Proficiencies and a great club is a Martial Weapon. It’s a damn club for crying out loud, there’s no special trick to using a weapon that only requires you to smack it into someone really hard. If a great club is a martial weapon, why isn’t a quarter staff? Quarter staffs are far more complicated to use than a club as they are such versatile weapons, similar in use to a greatsword.
Another example of feat nonsense is the circumventing of rules in such a way that the “rich get richer.” The best example of this is the fact that a mage can take feats that allow him to wear armor and cast spells, to say nothing of the feats that make their spells virtually invincible. This is insane, especially when wizards and sorcerers already stand out around 5th level as the most powerful classes in the system. Now you have armored tanks that can shoot empowered and silent fireballs as free actions.
Power gaming. The words really stick in my craw. I know, power gaming is as old as the hobby itself, but 3.5/Pathfinder really open the flood gates for this type of vermin to infest and spoil your games. These idiots are everywhere, and their actions bog down gaming like nothing else. On average they spend more time than the average player, describing their characters’ actions and plotting their next turn while everyone sits, clenching their jaws and waiting for their own chance to come in.
They really don’t make sense when you think about it. Let’s use a real-world example: let’s say there’s a guy who is really good at filing taxes. That’s his career, and he loves it to death, at the exclusion of everything else. This means he would have been born to file taxes and everything he is about is filing taxes. He could care less about any other skill set out there, he just wants to file taxes and be the best at it in the whole world. Is it possible for someone like this to exist? Possibly, under the right circumstances, but what a boring character. And what happens when you bring him into a non-tax-filing circumstance? He’s useless in every situation except for that one area he has focused all of his powers. This is not a good component to a well-rounded party and isn’t a well-rounded character. It is boring. It gets old very fast. We get it, your character is optimized to disarm opponents’ weapons, but don’t complain when you’re attacked by a monster that doesn’t use hand-held weapons, and DON’T YOU DARE ASK if you can SOMEHOW disarm the monster’s CLAWS. (More on this later).
When dealing with power gamers, rules lawyering is pretty much par for the course. I mean, that’s what we’re all here for, so we can listen to you spew all of your knowledge of every rule in every book. Even if the DM doesn’t fully know what she’s doing, her rulings are final, and when you pull out the rules and shove it in her face just to prove you were right, you slow the game down and the only thing you’ve accomplished is make everyone uncomfortable and make yourself look like a jackass.
Granted, it is the DM’s responsibility to at least understand the mechanics behind the system being used, but they also have to make the game fun and maintain the pace so you don’t get bogged down in trivialities. If you have a problem, if the ruling was totally wrong and unfair, bring it up after the game. Bring it up after the game. Bring it up before the game? Just don’t be a pushy jerk.
How is this specifically a problem with 3.5/Pathfinder compared to earlier editions of D&D? In AD&D there were several options, meaning it was pretty much up to the DM to pick and choose whatever worked with the group he was running for. This did create a lot of confusion as people would go into a new campaign with a new DM and didn’t quite know what to expect, and sometimes the rules were so vague that the DM had to construct a list of house rules for clarification. So D&D 3rd edition came around and decided to come up with one decisive set of rules for everything. Period. This had a lot of flaws, so they released 3.5. This had a lot of flaws, so Pathfinder took up the banner and tried to “fix” everything while still claiming to be compatible with 3.5. None of it worked very well and you had two camps consisting of people who wanted to fix the rules themselves with their own house rules and people who wanted to follow the rules verbatim. Both sides had their merits, like Republicans and Democrats, but as with politics, they polarize against each other easily, forming endless feuds at the table while the rest of us are stuck in the middle saying “I just wanted to fight some monsters tonight.” Hands down I encounter this problem in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder far more than in any other system, including GURPS!
This ties back in with power gamers somewhat, but it also branches out into an area I have had a huge problem with, and that is characters that are either complicated or stupid niche concepts that get boring/annoying really fast. They come in so many forms: there’s the guy who only wants to disarm (as stated above), the guy who thinks it’s cool to only use shields as weapons (because I made a pact or something), the one-armed, blind mage who uses a whip even though he’s not proficient with it and who never casts spells or helps out in combat because the player says “doi, my character’s a coward” (if he’s a coward, then why the hell would he join an adventuring party that deals with scary things all the time?)
Problems like this are connected to the splat book issue discussed above: there are so many options out there that we really don’t need and that very few have even asked for. We have the “flaws” rules, which were originally intended for players to make more interesting characters. Instead we get power gamers who use them to further snub one area to bolster another, gimp characters who just want to be broken because their players think it’s funny, and so on.
Races. I hate anything beyond the core races, because it forces you to make the dynamics of your setting way too complicated. Oh, minotaurs are bloodthirsty, dangerous monsters, but when a player wants to play as one, he expects all of the NPCs to have the attitude of “well, that one’s okay, we just don’t like every other minotaur.” A player wants to be a drow or a tiefling? Everyone is terrified of those guys because of their evil lineage, so what a fun, edgy anti-hero concept. Except that everyone and their dog wants to be one of those and I’ve had too many parties consisting of like, three tieflings, two drow and one dwarf. But what if a player wants to play a giant or a centaur? Good thing every building and dungeon in the realm is designed to accommodate their size, because the only other option is to dry out the scenario of them not fitting and having to squeeze through every door.
Next there are stupid campaigns like ghostwalk, where you can play as a ghost character, or settings geared towards aquatic adventures, or planar adventures. If I were planning a campaign based on these, they would work, but they get tired really fast. Eventually you want to leave the underdark and adventure at sea or in the frozen north. But the biggest problem is that these weirdo campaign/character concepts have appeared in regular games and pretty much demand that you railroad the entire campaign to that character’s idiotic character choice. We can’t adventure into the desert, because Ralph’s merman priestess of the seas can’t survive on land, let alone a dry, arid wasteland. Ted’s pure drow and Sasha’s vampire can’t come out to play because the sun is still out and they want the party to cater only to their needs.
Well, you can ban these, right? Yes, and I do, but when I ban stupid garbage like this I get wave after wave of potential players who chew me out and accuse me of being too restrictive for not allowing every single rules option from every single splat book and magazine article ever published.
Now let’s rant about some of those campaign settings I mentioned above. Too much, too unrelatable. We have these big, explosive anime-esque worlds of extremely high magic, where you can play as elemental talking furniture and cast spells that blow up the world, because bigger is better! Nope. It’s boring. There’s no immersion because everything, setting and characters, inevitably turns into just a dick-measuring contest to see who can blow up the planet bigger than the other guy. Nobody wants to interact with NPCs or get down and gritty in politics and espionage among the larger than life NPCs presented (and I’m including Forgotten realms, how far it has fallen). Every campaign turns into an endless roller-coaster of bigger and crazier battles on giant buildings in the middle of a hurricane during a cosmic storm.
Well maybe you’re not trying hard enough to get the players to immerse themselves into the setting? Wrong! As mentioned in the examples above, the players only want to play as big, power-smashing warmonger murder hobos. You give them a mission where they have to cleverly find their way into a noble’s manor to steal evidence of his wrongdoing? No finesse, the players just barge into his house and blow up everything in sight, but that’s okay, because the setting tells you that this noble has a house packed full of traps and elemental monsters. Because talking and sneaking are boring, you need to tap into your characters’ many video game powers to beat the NPC villain’s video game powers. And at the end, you turn in the now burnt and chewed evidence to another NPC who gives you a huge wad of cash.
In short, there’s no room for role-playing in Eberron or Golarion, whose kitchen sink approach to creating a backdrop tries so hard to give you everything but they forgot to make it…fun.
Something I really hate about these systems, (which shouldn’t matter but does) is the art. It sucks so much it gives me diarrhea just looking at it. Don’t get me wrong, there are anime I enjoy watching, but modern fantasy has been tainted by the overly colorful, abstract teen pornography versions of Anime. The kind that all the great Anime masters consider non-artistic garbage. The art is just ugly, unrealistic, superhero trash that makes it impossible for proper immersion. It's incredibly superficial, objectifying and juvenile, from the giant phallic swords to the anorexic women in bikini armor. I can understand that this is a marketing gimmick to draw in younger players, but it has done irreparable damage to the quality of players you currently find. Nowadays I get one or two players who use decent art to represent their characters while the majority of 3rd edition/Pathfinder players use nauseatingly anime-esque character portraits. This is akin to that time when you were ten and were playing at your friend’s house with his marvel action figure characters, and his little brother barged in on the fun with clunky, overly colorful Playskool Toys.
The greatest challenge I face repeatedly with 3.5/Pathfinder is the ability to create new content. Even the supposed “professionals” behind the system struggle to maintain cohesion in their creations and have failed numerously in creating monsters appropriate to their challenge ratings. The rules actually tell you that, when creating your own monsters, you pretty much have to figure it out for yourself, because they’re stumped. Just run simulations until you can narrow down an appropriate challenge rating. Yes, because every DM has the time and desire to test their monsters for hours just to figure out what challenge category they fall in. What a joke.
Let’s compare this to earlier editions of D&D: just figure out the Hit Dice and compare it to an experience point chart. Next, add experience points to the total for every special ability you give it beyond the usual benefits for HD. Next, give it a hoard class and you’re done. No testing, no guessing, just straight up create your monster and write some fanciful descriptions and lore.
Even if it were easy to create your own elements for the game, there’s a huge obstacle that stands in the way of implementing them, and that is the players themselves. If it isn’t published in a splat book or magazine article, they will crap bricks over it until you regret ever bringing it in. This has happened in every campaign I ran without fail, and it is faulted to both camps of home-brew players and rules lawyers who feel the inexhaustible need to sit there with the Monster Manual in their lap during combat encounters.
This is it, are you ready? The biggest, fattest problem I have with 3.5/Pathfinder is naturally the players themselves. I know, this sounds like a blanket criticism, and…it is. The problem with 3.5/Pathfinder players is that you just can’t nail down one that doesn’t exhibit one or all of the major problems I’m about to describe. Maybe it’s the system, maybe it’s the fact that most people introduced to the hobby through 3.5/Pathfinder are in this Millennial generation. Not that all Millenials have poor qualities, in fact I would wager that at least one third of Millenials are outstanding individuals with qualities and potential to surpass the previous generation. But at least one third more of them have embodied sentiments of entitlement, laziness and lack of motivation.
These players simply want you to hand everything to them and don’t want to be challenged. Everything from whining about not enough starting gold to outright demanding that I let them start a new campaign at level 20 with access to all spells and magic items. They simply will not stand for any kind of challenge. Where do I begin… in 3.5/Pathfinder I’ve had players drop out of the game when their characters took minor damage in combat (literally, one gal lost two HP and absolutely freaked out). I’ve had them sit with a book open and cheat by looking up the stats of every monster the group encountered, they’ve outright cheated by not marking off which spells they cast, they’ve given themselves extra spells, they’ve given themselves extra experience points, which we always notice when they level up ahead of the entire group. They write up characters with Mary Sue backstories and demand that I and the other players cater to their personal quests. I had one yell out “screw the other players” when I told him I couldn’t rewrite the campaign just for him as it wouldn’t be fair to the others.” I’ve had one join my campaign only to tell me it was boring and demanded that I run HIS campaign instead. Right off the bat, hadn’t even started character creation. My favorites are power gamers who cry and complain whenever I set them up against monsters that their characters are not “optimized to deal with,” like a cleric who focused on turning undead only wanting to go against undead enemies. And finally, combat takes too damn long. Four people against just two kobolds has taken me twenty minutes to resolve because the players were too busy dick-measuring and using their mondo, insane powers.
It’s insane! I’ve never had this much trouble in any other edition of D&D, even in 5th edition, which you would think would have a lot of players like this.
Please tell me if I’ve missed anything, because there is so much more: enough to write an entire set of encyclopedias worth of bad experiences. But you may be asking “what will you use instead?” I answer with the question: what won’t I use?” Let’s look at the merits of other editions of D&D (note that there are other RPG systems beyond D&D I prefer even more!):
Sometimes it’s fun just to stick with the basics and the classics. Yes, many players think these systems are too limiting, but frankly that’s because they’re 3.5/Pathfinder players, and they don’t know how to play right anyway. Fewer options and fewer rules means you have so much more to flesh out as a group. This is where house rules are at their best, because they’re building on something that doesn’t totally inhibit your choices or creativity. The lack of so many super-powered special abilities means you also get to focus on your character’s character. Build up their personality into something actually fun and interesting, and you have a deeply immersive experience.
AD&D 1st Edition/OSRIC
My favorite of them all. Like an AK-47, this system has stood against the tests of time and continues to rely on its class and style. Drawing upon the greats of pulp fantasy literature and real world mythology, 1st Edition D&D is all about true, high adventure, allowing players to take many approaches to the adventure, from gritty dungeon exploring to kingdom-building and political intrigue. What is more, it’s easily customizable and I have successfully used it to create a wide array of campaigns that incorporated everything from sticks and stones to space ships.
AD&D 2nd Edition
The last great edition of D&D before being turned over to the monster that is Wizards of the Coast. AD&D 2nd edition went to great efforts to streamline 1st edition and provide bountiful options for DMs to customize the pace and feel of their campaign. Sadly, this requires a lot more work, and because of the pressure from certain panicked individuals, it removed a lot of its flavor in place of something a bit more mild. While not as fun to me as 1st edition, I would rather play this one than no edition at all.
Pathfinder 2nd Edition
This one is up in the air. I haven’t heard enough about the changes they’re bringing to Pathfinder, but I honestly don’t see them fixing the problems I mentioned above. There is hope that they may streamline it and simplify it like WotD did for D&D 5th edition, but I doubt it. And you can be sure there will be an avalanche of splat books following its release.
D&D 4th Edition
I know, a lot of people are wondering why I would choose this one over 3rd edition. Because it’s streamlined and fun. No, I don’t treat it as a serious role-playing game, but every so often I get in the mood to play a strategic battler and this one is a thousand times more appealing to me than Warhammer, which requires a billion dice, dozens of books that each weigh more than a dog, and at least a thousand bucks worth of miniatures to play.
D&D 5th Edition
Now, I do have problems with 5th edition. I don’t like the political agenda they infused into the system and the settings that are currently under way. It was in extremely poor taste for them to suggest how players select their characters’ sexual preferences. Frankly it’s none of their business, and if they want to be inclusive, why didn’t they recommend players exploring different cultures and ethnicities within the human race? I allow gay players, I allow gay characters, but I do not indulge in sexual fetishes in game as it totally changes the flavor and the dynamics of the campaign (like when you loan money to a friend, it just makes things weird).
What 5th edition does well: the game is streamlined and simple. Rather than all the silly hit modifier tables in 3.5/Pathfinder, it simply narrows the field down to “do you have an advantage” or “do you have a disadvantage?” This is awesome. This works and it cuts the rules lawyering down to a minimum. It also returns to a lot of the classical elements of previous editions. I’m not a fan of the teifling, dragonborn or warlock class being added in as core, but I can always ban those >:D
Well, there’s my rant. If I offended anyone, I just don’t care. Learning to handle offense is a part of life: character is achieved through adversity after all. So, I bid my final farewell to 3.5/Pathfinder. I would say it was fun, but from the 3,900+ words I sunk into this document, it’s obvious that I don’t hold that sentiment.