The Realms fell victim to misunderstanding by the higher ups. There is a big difference between having a narrative rich setting and a bloated game system. There is no such thing as story bloat: What an author writes about has no more effect on a GM's game than the goings on at a neighboring game table.
Plus I'd say the real problem with Pathfinder isn't rules bloat so much as changing standards. Pathfinder wants to become something different, but also wants to stay true to its goal of being backwards compatible. So it tries to be many different things, and by its nature that means there are best options. Only those options are buried in a mountain of not so good options, and the rules tend to tell you what you can do rather than being a way to express yourself.
Coming back to Pathfinder as a player after a long hiatus, I was tasked with making a sixth level wizard. Many years ago I would have been happy with my options, but I just can't make the characters I want to make with Pathfinder's system anymore. The options appear to be there, but it takes incredibly high stat roles combined with very specific traits, racials, and options to do it. Some of them don't even make sense, like taking "Find your Kin" just to get more skill points instead of taking appropriately flavored background traits. I have to power game just to make a mercantile mage.
The area of Pathfinder I'm most familiar with is the magic system they have employed. The current state of the vancian magic system is akin to my old neighbor's basement from when I was a kid. All the kids would come over to play, but no one would ever clean up. Every five feet was like moving through a square of plastic caltrops, and no one could find what they wanted.
There are just too many spells. Some do the exact same thing as a lower level spell of similar name with a magnified effect, others do something very similar to a different spell, and some spells are misleadingly named (i.e. "Circle of Protection" spells do not work the same way as "Protection From" spells do).
Then we have the ever shifting scale of spells going from useful to useless and vice versa as players advance in level. Sleep is great at low levels, but then you might as well erase it to make room for a useful spell past character level 6. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have things like burning hands whose damage is so low at 1st level there is no reason for anyone to cast it.
When tallying up all the changes needed to make the magic system work consistently across all levels, especially in conjunction with the classes using it and the magic item creation rules, an almost complete revision is necessary. For instance, allowing upcasting of spells to higher level versions of themselves is a fine idea, but when you make the entire system work that way lower level spell slots eventually become useless. You'd need a magic point system for it to truly work.
My opinion on the matter is that Star Wars is one of those settings that potentially get people into playing genres of gaming they haven't before. The d20 system just isn't an entry level system. Its incredibly convoluted and difficult to learn by comparison to other options on the market.
Fantasy Flight Game's Star Wars RPG products are easier to get into than d20, and something like the FATE system or the Numenera system are even easier.
First rule, the dragon never fights PCs in his lair. He doesn't want to damage his precious treasure. This influences not only his lair design, but also the area surrounding the lair.
Second rule, they will exercise air superiority, attacking from a distance whenever possible, even waiting for their breath weapon to recharge if they see no reason to dive attack. They will only do dive attacks if the PCs possess sufficient firepower to make waiting for his breath weapon to recharge a less attractive option.
Thirdly, they will not just attempt to hit PCs in a dive attack. They will attempt to scoop up particularly troublesome targets so they can drop them from several hundred feet.
Fourth, since they are fighting the dragon in or around his lair, expect that he has countermeasures built into his lair on top of his already impressive abilities. Usually these lair features will play into the dragon's capabilities, such as his massive strength. A dragon might set up a bunch of boulders in such a way that he can trigger an avalanche on intruding player characters.
In conclusion, fighting a dragon in its own layer should require a great deal of planning on the player group's part. It is far more than simply showing up with swords and spells to kill a big winged lizard.
I love dragons.
This is a product that feels like it needed more play testing before release.
1. Elemental damage is something to be used as a tactical consideration, as evident of enemies having high resistances or total immunities. The kineticist's focus onto one element is easily comparable to playing a Fire Mage in World of Warcraft back at its release and attempting to run Molten Core. Fire does not work well on fire elementals. On the other hand, the physical blasts bypass almost every form of damage reduction, and the damage reduction scaling is far more forgiving than elemental resistances. Plus, an intelligent antagonist with access to magic is definitely going to be stocking up on resistance potions for his minions should a kineticist rely heavily on an elemental blast.
2. Negative emotional effects really shouldn't require more than a concentration check to allow the psychic caster to use his abilities. It is fairly easy to be afflicted with the shaken condition, and intelligent antagonists will play to a PC's weaknesses should they know about them. Telling psychics to bring potions of remove fear is not the answer: It only points to how severe the affliction is in the case of psychic casters.
3. The psychic is great except their spells tend to affect only a single target, which makes them notably worse than sorcerers who have access to both area of effects like grease, clouds, and pits, along with equally powerful single target control spells. More importantly, sorcerers can target a wider swath of saving throws and can select spells that effect all kinds of creatures equally, whereas a psychic has to expend phrenic pool points just to effect undead with a will saving throw, arguably any undead's best save.
The more I read of 5e, the more I'm starting to think that Pathfinder will need to go through an edition change of its own. While Pathfinder does address many of the issues of 3.5, it is a compromise between a new edition and backwards compatibility. As a result, some of the solutions are more stop-gap than ideal. Take 4e skills vs Pathfinder skills. I'm making a guess that the designers probably wanted to do at least as much consolidation as 4e (or some similarly sizable change to skills), but had to settle with less in order to maintain backwards compatibility. If 5e does end the edition wars, my guess is it won't be to Pathfinder's benefit. To be honest though, Pathfinder has a strong narrative, and I want to see it continue to succeed. It's a very strong IP, and could stand on its own even if a new edition of Pathfinder came out. I actually don't use any of my old 3.5 products anymore and only use Pathfinder.
The lawful deities demand that it be done in a very systematic process. "First the subjects in question must take off their clothes, neatly fold them, and put them into a pile organized by color. Then they must position themselves so that their formation is symmetric, except that some asymmetric positions are perfectly acceptable. Please consult your deity's manual on the subject to know what positions are acceptable and which are a big no-no."
Just adding to my last post, I'm not saying that I think every party is going to wipe itself out from playing S&S, but I do think that additional information needs to be given to the players before beginning the adventure. The players will act based on their presumptions of what their characters are capable of doing in a given situation. If they start out knowing the following 3 things, most games should start out just fine.1) That they are being press-ganged into a pirate crew as part of the beginning of the campaign.
2) That it is "common knowledge" in-game that people who are press ganged into pirate crews must work their way up from the bottom rungs and won't be immediately trusted.
3) Pirates are not bumbling buffoons. The people they send out to press gang others into their crew know how to judge a target's capabilities, and they wouldn't have captured the PCs if they were not close to 100% confident that they could defeat them in a fight. More accurately, the pirates are absolutely certain that it would take a massive stroke of luck for the PCs to have any hope of defeating the crew aboard the ship.
With those three things, the players will know that the immediate objective is to survive and learn what they can about the ship and its crew before deciding on any further course of action.
Environmental dangers could do the trick. They are obviously very well off combat wise, but how would they deal with fighting around obstacles like dead falls or fighting on a sleek surface that threatens to make them lose their balance if they try to move at their full speed? Or perhaps there is a time limit to a fight because poison gas is slowly creeping into the room. I wouldn't use environmental dangers for every encounter, but it could raise the tension in key fights.
And anyone stupid enough to put themselves in this hypothetical situation probably deserves it. :)