What I Like About Pathfinder

From Rise of the Runelords:

Exceptional Stats (Ex) Karzoug was destined from birth to become one of the greatest wizards of his age. As a result, his ability scores were generated using 32 points, rather than the standard 35-point elite array. Additionally, he has much more gear than standard for an NPC of his level. These modifications increase his total CR by 1.

The real reason for the character’s stats is probably balance, as writers knew as far back as Dungeon’s print run that solo mages in D&D 3.5 are defensively underpowered for their challenge rating. You can see this in Touch of the Abyss (by Wolfgang Baur, Dungeon #117, December 2004), where a wizard is possessed by a malevolent spirit to raise his ability scores and makes especially optimal use of spells and terrain to survive.

What I like about this statblock though is that it explains the character ability with an in-setting context. It evokes the sense of something in-setting, rather than something mechanical.

A movie character might shoot someone because it’s dramatically appropriate at the end of act two of the main plot, but that’s not how the audience is presented with it. They’re engaged in the story and the motivations of the characters and the conflict, not the nuts and bolts. Even if some film student understands a movie on a mechanical level, as a game designer or dungeon master might in his game, he’s also watching on the level of the fiction that everyone else sees.

What makes Dungeons & Dragons engaging, for me, is the connection to a malleable, coherent, fictional world. If you’re just playing like a miniatures skirmish game, then for me, that’s missing the point. Aramil the dwarf isn’t just a collection of fighter feats, and the places he adventures to aren’t just encounter sets. I think the biggest advantage of tabletop RPGs over video games is how you can go beyond the depiction of graphics and experience a world which, although fictional, is coherent and interactive and interesting all the same.

Comments (5)

Noumenon (December 9th, 2010)

Is there a typo in that? 42 points would make much more sense.

Castle Whiterock did the same sort of thing with its giant-touched orcs. Better stats and more individuality.

TheClone (December 9th, 2010)

The extraordinary ability is pretty cool stuff. Not having to accept certain things because of balance and other out-game reasons is much more fun.

Chris (December 13th, 2010)

I like a lot of things about Pathfinder. To me, short of some massive change of thinking at WotC, it represents the best available game system for an old schooler like me.

I daresay I’ll never be buying a new WotC D&D product, which saddens me. I’ve been buying since 1995 :-(

Philip Kendall (December 13th, 2010)

Pedantically, shouldn’t this be titled “what I like about Paizo”? Rise of the Runelords was a D&D 3.5 product, after all :-)

Jonathan Drain (December 13th, 2010)

Philip: Pedentically, the title is still accurate, as Rise of the Runelords was a Pathfinder adventure series before the release of Pathfinder RPG. :)

That said, you may be right. I liked this attitude even before Pathfinder, during Paizo’s run of Dungeon magazine. It’s certainly a feature of Paizo’s style rather than their RPG rules in particular.

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