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Friday, August 21, 2009

Pathfinder RPG: Chapter 1: Getting Started

The introductory chapter to the Pathfinder RPG is brilliant. The reason it's brilliant though may not be readily apparent though because it has absolutely nothing to do with the game itself and everything to do with writing skill. This chapter manages to accomplish several incredibly difficult things right at the start, in a genuine, earnest effort to have the widest possible appeal to a diverse audience, without being obsequious (not to mention in an era of roleplaying game fragmentation). That in itself is an amazing accomplishment.

Imagine, and I mean really screw up your eyes good and tight, and really imagine, what it would take for you to communicate the bare bones basics of a roleplaying game, and its key underlying concepts, to the widest possible audience in just ten pages. I mean let's face it, the book is going to present familiar information so you've seen this information before if you've played any D20-based game at all. How does one, as an author, present this same data again without boring the hell out of experienced players and alienating the uninitiated? This chapter does it and that, my friends, is its brilliance.

The chapter assumes a tone of gentle authority whilst being brief. The balance is a delicate one and has the potential to appeal to every range of experience with roleplaying games without any condescension or jadedness whatsoever.

In practical, plain language, the chapter quickly establishes the roleplaying game concept, what materials are needed to play and how the game is played in general terms. This information is clearly for the beginner but the chapter doesn't assume anything. The paragraph following this is something that even experienced gamers, myself included, forget from time to time: that the rules the book is about to present are not cannon. The book promises to be a guide; the game belongs to its true creators: you and your GM.

The next section is also refreshing yet follows a common practice in technology books today, such as those on computer programming, by describing each chapter that follows in brief and general terms. The chapter presents a short glossary of terms so that, once again beginners are not slammed with a bunch of new terms they may not know, yet isn't so long as to bore experienced players. A traditional example of "the dialogue of play" follows and is just long enough to deliver the gist of the idea, without the tedium.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to character generation, ability scores and the requisite ability score bonuses which brings me to the most interesting part of the chapter: generation methods. Keeping in mind what I said about the book promising to be a guide, the Pathfinder RPG presents five generation methods, and not the traditional ones. If you want an "old school" set of stats, then there's a generation method. By the same token, if you want to kick it up to epic, there's one of those too. So you and your GM get to pick your style of play in the first chapter.

Is any of the information new? Maybe or maybe not. I'll leave that for you to decide. But the delivery is very definitely is. Gone is the voice of the staid and jaded mega super corporate team of "professional designers" telling you where the dragon sits.

True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the C├Žsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!

- Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873)

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