Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Okay, okay, its finally out, and its huge. Its a good thing that we're looking at a 3rd Edition re-hash, or I'd have a lot to learn, amirite? Content wise, its basically PH and DMG glued together. It starts out with race, classes, feats, skills, etc before moving on to building adventures and campaigns, dungeon settings, traps, and yadda yadda yadda. Same shit, different look.
I'm not going to pull a “Kurt Wiegel” and just say that Pathfinder is shit, and its not a role-playing game by a self-invented standard. I'm not even going to surmise this entire review by stating that, "I got tired of Pathfinder back when it was called 3rd Edition." No, oh no. I'm going to give you actual reasons from a game design standpoint as to why it sucks. Mostly, I'm curious as to see if Paizo fixed the flaws. Okay, I'm kidding: we already know by the previews that they didnt, but lets go through the motions anyway and start things out on a positive beat by checking out the good part.
Art! Its got some usually-okay art. The best stuff is whatever recycled Wayne Reynolds bits they threw on as chapter-splashes, and the rest runs from great to good. The downside is that as far as I can tell its all recycled (like the rules, har har). I'd have preferred it if they added more stuff that was more contextually appropriate for the chapters.
For example, Chapter 1: Races, has a picture of the adventurers running through a drow city...which pertains to race because I guess the characters are using races out of the book? Chapter 3 is the cover of "Hook Mountain Massacre", which makes sense because of...well...I got nothing. There's a fighter there, and a sorcerer! Those are classes, right?
Anyway, points for generally very good art, even if its as rehashed as the game. Otherwise, there isnt much to say about the physical quality of the book. Its big, its expensive, and its for a game that you already bought almost ten years ago.
Moving on to the bad stuff (and by that I mean the rest of it), starting with the races.
Paizo has elected to keep all of the traditional races, with "traditional" being defined as the ones that were in the initial launch circa 3E (and not OD&D, AD&D, 2E, etc). The races all now get a bonus to a second stat, but keep the penalty. Humans and half-races get to add a +2 to whatever the hell stat they want (so hey, half-orcs dont get an Int dive!). They're otherwise identical, except the half-orc who gets a few new racial abilities that make it a slightly more worthwhile racial option to play, but still not enough to make it an appealing choice.
This isn’t a problem unique to the half-orc, as many races lug around cumbersome features that are worthless if you play to type (such as an elf archer-type or half-orc melee warrior of any stripe), and if you play outside of the mold they still don’t amount to anything. Oh, I’m an elf wizard so I can use bows…not that I’m going to bother since my attack bonus is so abysmally shitty that I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if a giant threw it at me while I was paralyzed and enlarged.
Some benefits are so retardedly situational that I would be surprised if players bothered to write them down. Dwarves get a bonus on Appraise checks to identify the prices of non-magical items that also contain metals or gems. I…frankly cannot remember ever bothering to use Appraise. Its one of those strange skill that’s tries to add a layer of immersion to the game that just isn’t necessary, except to randomly allow the players to fuck themselves over by botching the list price of an art object (and forcing the DM to just add more shit to make up the difference).
On the other hand, some races gain features that are only useful to a specific class. Elves get a bonus against spell resistance, and with their Int bonus would make better-than-normal wizards, which is good since they were supposed to make good wizards all along, right? Well, kinda. I mean its handy if they play a class that uses caster levels (which is admittedly eventually most of them), but outside its completely, utterly worthless. Players who opt to make a fighter or similar character are going to end up parsing off a good chunk of the elf’s abilities (especially given that their familiarity is also pointless).
What this means is that ultimately we still have quite a few n00b traps. This is where you present a player with a list of choices, but many are underpowered, useless, or so highly circumstantial that they might as well be useless. The best example that comes to mind for me is a halfling fighter. Halflings are a Small race, and in OGL games they have to use smaller weapons, often get a Strength penalty, and take another penalty on many Strength-based applications (grapple, bull rush, disarm, trip, etc). They also tend to move slower and can carry even less than their Strength score would indicate.
See, a fighter is supposed to be about melee combat and "tanking", where they defend their party from the onslaught of monsters. Aside from the complete lack of scaling and ability to prevent monsters from sidestepping them and mauling anyone they want to death, the halfling’s flaws culminate into a shitty character. They deal about 2 points of damage less overall, but the biggest problems (no pun intended) are realized when you consider that since she is Small and gets a Strength penalty that she takes an effective -5 penalty on her efforts to resist other critters from pushing her around, or just fucking picking her up and throwing her...wherever.
Since she moves slower and her Speed gets reduced even further by heavy armor, it takes her longer to maneuver around the battlefield (and if you are using physical skills, I'm sure that the reduced carrying capacity is going to mess with things even more so).
This is frankly, a trap character. A player might think it is a neat idea and give it a go, only to realize very quickly that you suck. You have no chance in hell of performing the duties that your class cant really do anyway, but even if it mechanically could, you'd still be fucked. Kind of like falling in a pit trap with spikes, only to have ceiling open up and dump acid filled with acid sharks on you: a double-trap! The only people that would get a kick out of this are the mechanic-masochists that think that its “cool” to play a crippled, underpowered character because its somehow more rewarding to succeed when the dice finally fall your way.
Next on the chopping block, classes. Most of the class stuff was picked apart months ago during the previews and tend to follow this trend: cut and paste the old class, add in a few features, and try to pretend the whole time that they dont still suck. For example barbarians can “rage climb/swim” and can pick up a bite attack that wont hit, which isnt that big of a deal since it only deals 1d4 damage anyway.
See, its stuff like that that sounds really badass, but c'mon: -5 to the attack? Half the Strength modifier? Are you fucking serious? I would have allowed the barbarian to make a useful bite attack as a
minor swift action. Its not like she can do it all the damned time or its going to overpower her to the point where no one will play other melee classes. Be reasonable, no one plays fighters anyway.
Other classes, particularly spellcasters, get yet more powerful in the transition. You know, the guys that run the show since 5th-level? Yeah. Apparently Paizo thought that they still needed more freebies to further adorn their palanquin that the rest of the party was carrying them around on. Druids can opt to swap out their worthless animal companion to get access to more spells, and wizards and sorcerers get at-will powers and more magical flexibility. Since, you know, they obviously needed more shit to keep track of even if some of its pretty weak-sauce…*cough* hand of the apprentice *cough*.
The only good part I can see about classes is that Paizo made sure that every level has something to gain aside from hit/skill points. I assume that not all are interesting, but at least its there.
Some skills got condensed, just like in 4th Edition, but Paizo didn’t quite have the foresight to get rid of the useless “simulation” skills that don’t really do anything except make money on the off chance that the DM puts the game on hold long enough to make them worthwhile and let you justify to yourself that its “okay” to make the claim that your character is a farmer. I mean, its not like you could just say that that’s what your character did…right? Just like its not okay to say that your character had friends during her childhood without dumping enough points in the right skill.
Between the shitty races, classes, feats, and skills, what all of this does is cater to system mastery, where you play the game enough to realize what choices work, which ones dont, and leave the crap by the wayside. System mastery isn’t good, especially for new players or people wanted to try out classes that promise one thing and deliver nothing (example: halfling fighters, or just fighters in general).
On one hand, I don’t want to blame Paizo for this. They aren’t game designers, and they really want to peddle their wares to the desperate niche that got left behind when 4th Edition was announced. Pathfinder isn’t a new game, its just an old game with a new paint job.
In other words, its just 3E with a shitload of houserules. The problem is that groups that still want to play 3rd Edition have that. With Pathfinder, its now a matter of cross-referencing the original rules with the new rules and figuring out whats changed, whats different, and if the differences arent great enough its going to cause even more confusion. My group ran into this problem when Revised Edition was released, mostly with spells and feats but occasionally with mechanics and some class features. It was a massive pain in the ass, and since Pathfinder maintains much of the flaws of Yester-Year's Edition, it just compounds the issues I'd have with it. Its quite a bit late to just push out a slightly modified game, charge the full price, and not fix the stuff that needed it.
But hey, its Paizo, and they have their fans that will eat it up no matter what they produce, even if they follow the same business plan as the, "800-pound gorilla," that they desperately want to emulate (push out books that contain more of the same, just with the same system to boot). I used to be a fan, back when 3rd Edition was still in its heyday. I had a subscription to both of the dead-tree magazines, though I didnt use most of it. Hell, I mostly toughed it out for Dungeon since they were running Savage Tide and I thought it looked awesome.
Looking at Pathfinder gives me the same emotional conflict that I get when looking at World of WarCraft: the art is pretty, and...thats about it. It starts to draw me in, but I push myself away once I realize that thats the only thing it has going for it: eye candy. I'm not going to buy Pathfinder. Not the Big Book o' Houserules, not the modules, nothing. If they made an art book I could dig it, because thats the only thing about their stuff that I like. I'd easily pony up $50 or even more for such a collection. Looks good. Looks great. Its something I could easily use for inspiration. I mean, Wizards of the Coast has eye candy, too. The difference is that they have a game that backs it up.
Maybe thats where Paizo went wrong. When they did the open beta, I realized very quickly that they took a lot of the good ideas from 4th Edition and did their best to shoehorn them in and try to pass it off as their own: more hit points, more feats, rogues can SA more things, spellcasters get "at-wills". Lots of stuff like that.
I find it baffling that Paizo is making their own line of game products, and no one is calling them out on being a bunch of money-grubbing corporate wage-slaves. We got a $50 rulebook that everyone will need to have, since its for both players and DMs, a Bestiary coming out later, and a bunch of other shit specific to Pathfinder. I think that just makes it worse: its all specific to their own little homebrew campaign. It'd be like if Wizards just made nothing but Eberron books, which while super-cool, would cater to too narrow an audience.
I guess Paizo is the RPG publisher equivalent of Nintendo. Well, not quite. To be fair, when Nintendo pushes out yet another Mario/Zelda/Metroid game, its usually a mostly different experience aside from the titular character. Not that different is necessarily good.
In closing, Pathfinder is just a 3rd Edition re-hash that tries to take an old, outdated system and shoehorn in some of the mechanics of 4th Edition in order to justify repurchasing a game that you’ve been playing, but not quite enough to make the mechanics work in an elegant manner. The book looks nice, its just too bad that I got tired of Pathfinder back when it was still called 3rd Edition (see, I waited til the end).