|Jiggy RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32|
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But I am surprised that today most players expect no character death
You and I have different experiences then, because I don't think I've met a single player who "expects no character death". In fact, when the subject has come up in table-chatter, there's almost always talk about how the possibility of death needs to always be there, so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment upon success. (And for reference, that includes players of all experience levels, and ages from teens to near-grandfathers.)
and all encounters must be strictly CR balanced.
That's not a "today" thing, that's a "narrative" versus "non-narrative" thing.
In a narrative-focused game, the goal is to tell a story about how these characters accomplished XYZ and saved the day (or whatever). And although there are ways around it, this typically requires fights to be winnable the vast majority of the time, because otherwise the story can get weird.
In a non-narrative game, things are different. For instance, part of the fun of a sandbox campaign is threat assessment and determining what you should and shouldn't try to take on. Unlike the single-narrative-thread type of game, this requires out-of-your-league challenges.
You're welcome to enjoy your sandboxes, but don't hate on others for liking stories.
Traps can no longer kill
Traps are in a tricky position. They're often seen as a "save or X" effect. Lots of folks (myself included) dislike "save or die"/"save or suck" effects in general, which leaves traps as nothing but "save or damage", which feels a bit limp.
I don't like where traps ended up, but I also don't want them to be save-or-die. Not sure what the solution is.
and a player can demand a certain magic item be available because his build depends on it. What, no sabretooth sabres here in Lothlorien? what kind of crappy city is this?
You can thank the 3.X/PF model for that. It's hard-coded into the system that "the gear build" is part of your character identity and progression, every bit as much as XP and level/feat selection. In 3.PF, "you can't buy X in this town" is sort of like "you can't gain feat X if you level in this town".
If that bothers you as much as it bothers me, I highly recommend a switch to 5E. 5E's progression is all about the character, and magic items actually feel special. :)
I am concerned the search for consistency such as that promoted by PFS has stifled creativity.
Because there's nothing creative about finding all the different classes, archetypes, feats, spells and magic items that you can assemble together to craft a unique representation of your concept, right? "Creativity" is when you make yet another stock character who is so undefined that you can passively accept whatever happens to come up in the game without any friction or narrative tension or character interaction, right?