PF2E new pen and paper player experience


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

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Hi

First post, and I apologize for the length of the post. But as completely new player when it comes to pen and paper RPGs I have maybe a unique perspective on the game. And hopefully someone here can help me or cause improvements in future books. I don't expect answers to the questions in the following text, most of them are rhetorical anyways. Just help me with the overall points of critic and how to avoid them myself, if at all possible.

My friends and I are hardcore strategy board gamer, as a matter of fact we learned from the Pathfinder RPG because we played the Pathfinder adventure card game. Long story short a group of well educated (we all have PHDs) fantasy nerds want to try this RPG thing and these are our expectations:

1. Interesting decisions, high decision density and the decisions have to matter. (This is a necessity for all our games)
2. No artificial boundaries due to game mechanics. (This is The selling point for RPGs for us and for us the main difference to board games)
3. Robust fantasy framework and world building. (The world has to make sense, given the new fantasy elements. It should feel organic and should have a closed intrinsic logic.)

Our plan was to start with 2 or 3 sessions around xmas this year. To learn the game and how to gm a game, I played PF2E since the play test. Up to now I played under 4 different GMs (mostly to learn different stiles) and in 5-6 groups and my experiences are:

1. The game is boring.

I know harsh critic, but this is my reasoning. From my point of view the decisions of the player don't matter at all. Most choices regarding my characters have nearly no influence. Just an example what can a 18 strength char do, what a char with 16 can't?
What it boils down to are tiny numerical advantages, which don't matter most of the time. Yes you do 1 damage more with 18 strength but this only matters if the evil guy would go down exactly due to this 1 point difference. Otherwise you have to spend another action just like the 16 strength char. Feat choices are even worse from my experience. For me there are three categories of feat “choices”: 1. necessary, 2. niche and tiny numerical advantage, 3. improved action/spell economy. None of these are really fun or interesting decisions, because all of them don't really change what your char can do. Its just more of the same or you have the feeling “I need a feat to do this trivial thing, really?”

Than you have the combat part of the game. In one group I play a 2-handed fighter. I'm level 6 now and my combat is: attack/attack/move. That's it. The times when it was useful to use other actions are in the low single digit percentage and even than dictated by the adventure path. In another group I play a sword and board fighter and despite having a different setup it boils down to nearly the same: attack/(attack or raise shield)/(move or raise shield). Also the versatile classes (aka caster) are extremely predictable. Which is not only repetitive but also causes the feeling of “this game is solved a trained monkey could do this”. In addition you cant really fight together, enabling new and unique actions and “comboing of” what some else did. If at all, it boils down to boring and tiny numerical advantages.

Then we have the out of combat decisions. In my experience, it doesn't really matter what you do our what your background is. The game itself dictates how much wealth, exp, cohords you will have at a certain point in the story. One of my fighters is a whoring drunkard, raised in an orphanage and the other is a son from a rich, no-drama mercantile family. The later is impossible to play and in constant conflict with the wealth limit of the game, access to items and the adventure path. While the drunkard fits rights in, because he doesn't have his own agenda or ties to the world. Yes the GM has a lot of influence and can try to make it “work”, but the game doesn't make it easy for him/her. And the solution feels most of the time like a cube in the triangle part of the puzzle.

For me it boils down to: follow the adventure hook to the next fight or skill check; then roll dice; then die or go on to the next adventure hook. While the inter party banter on the way can be fun, ultimately I'm not the one who makes the decisions. The author of the adventure path or the GM made most of them a long time ago.

2. The game is/feels unfair or trivial.

The variance in the game is by design extremely high, which doesn't lead to good story telling. Just two examples. After a headed discussion about dwarven ale. A fight breaks out. The dwarven monk looses initiative against all 3 low level opponents. After 9 attacks (incl. 3 crits), where the monk player could not do anything, the monk goes down. Second example. Paladin in heavy armor leads the group into a cavern. We spot some “lizards” and they us, initiative is rolled, 4 lizards are first to go and charge the paladin because she was in front. Some lucky crits later and the paladin is dead. Non of us could do anything to prevent this. The bad part is there was no player mistake, if we would run the last encounter several times in nearly all of them the player would easily win. What the sudden death experiences achieved, is that we are all now extremely risk averse. Which starts a very sad cascade. Because we don't want to fight or do anything remotely dangerous the GM has to force us due to even more dangerous plot consequences. Now gang pressed into a decision we just roll the dice. Of course the GM can mitigate the “dying” problem by essentially cheating but at this point the player win by default and their decisions matter even less.

3. Immunities are bad game design

Most likely immunity against XY are in the game because it “makes sense” or to give flaws to some strategies. But in reality its just bad game design. Just for the discussion sake lets take my rogue (thief) poisoner. In the last 4 sessions this char had to fight against monsters who are immune to: sneak attack or critical damage or precision damage or piercing damage or poison or paralyze. Every! single! creature! had one or several of these immunities. The GM apologized, he only read the first 2 books before the campaign began and only in book 3 the “immune to rogue” started. In my opinion, this is not the GMs fault. The game should provide alternative strategies to overcome or circumvent such obstacles. But there are no such options. I had to take all my feats and wealth just to be able to attack with poisoned daggers. With only 3-4 feat choices you cant really diversify your combat strategies. The only reasonable approach for a player or GM for this adventure path would be to not play or let play a rogue. Which just relegates the -circumvent the immunities part- to outside knowledge before the campaign even starts. If for example, no one in the party uses poison (because the GM warned the players) the line “immune to poison” has 0 relevance. So what did the immunity mechanic achieve in diversifying strategies or allow interesting decisions in game?

4. The rules and character sheet are to abstract

As I understand it up to now. The rules are on purpose very abstract to allow fast game play and avoid unfun game states. Nothing wrong here, but the abstraction level is just to high for the story telling part. As a beginner, game actions often don't make sense or the immersion is constantly gone. Together with the points above I have most of the time the feeling as if I play a bad dungeon crawl board game and not a role playing game. Just some examples:
1. Combat is so abstract, as a fighter you just stand in the same spot and attack. It doesn't matter if your enemy is a gargantuan sized T-Rex or a wolf.
2. No GM could explain what the short cut “hit points” represents in the game world. Why can a char fall down from 300 feet, survive with 1 HP, and then go on and run a marathon in record time.
3. Similar is the short cut “experience points”. Why can a char go in a cave, shank some goblins, and come out speaking and writing perfect Japanese and guzzling down a vial of poison he would have died to before, just because he “leveled up” and his HP pool increased.
I don't want to make fun out of the game design. My point is -as a new player- I have to constantly reverse engineer what the game wants to tell me and it doesn't help that the game terminology is contradictory or confusing. For example HP -according to GMs- should be a short cut for the “combat functionality” including luck, ability to reduce a fatal blow to a miss, stamina and the ability to take some bruising hits. According to GMs - HP has nothing to do with wounds or injuries and a loss of HP means nothing until explicitly caused by an attack ability (for example bleeding). Also an increase of HP does not mean that the character can tank now several fatal hits. The first fatal hit is when you go to negative HP.
Given that, why are we rolling -to hit- and than -damage-? Implying a player hits and gets hit and takes damage. Why does a cleric uses spells like -cure critical wounds- or -heal- to reload the HP bar. When according to the explanation my char is not wounded or needs healing. How do -temporary HPs- fit into all of it? Is my character in game aware of his current HP pool status?

5. No robust fantasy framework.

To play Pathfinder you have to accept that magic, wizards and monster exist. Just like in any fantasy movie or novel. But the artist must provide a framework for the audience so they can achieve -plausible denial of disbelieve-. Or more simply the story just have to makes sense. In a collaborative story telling game the framework must go one step further and must be robust. As audience you accept that A leads to B and action A was a good plan because the hero just did it and the hero was successful. If you play the hero you have to know all the options and the consequences, to be able to choose action A instead of B or C. The Pathfinder RPG does a very bad job explaining the framework of the game in game. The game just assumes that you have this kind of knowledge.

Another really important characteristic of a robust framework is a closed logic. Lets take as example dragons. So in our world dragon exist. We establish some simple facts what dragons are: T-Rex size or bigger, flying, fire breathing, the source of fire, life cycle, intelligence, food requirement than run a “simulation” with your fantasy setting up to now and let the inhabitants react to the new thread. Than you take the result and let the dragon side react and so on until both sides are in a closed and balanced ecosystem. The final step is to take this ecosystem and explain it in your lore.
The end result is the GM and players have the same framework to play with. Player can make deductions, GMs can explain why something is the way it is and most importantly allow for creative game play without the feeling you are cheesing the game.
But not only monster have a bad framework. Magic itself is a complete mess. Especially Golarion lore is self contradictory regarding magic, its use by players, the protection against magic, use of magic or magic items, availability of magic items, crafting of magic items, economy or market share of magic services / magic items and influence of magic on everyday life. And all of this in a single small town like Sandpoint.
Gods and religion are in a similar state. You can literally talk to gods, ask them questions and they answer. The same is true for plants, animals and even water or stone. And on top all of this you can visits the afterlife and bring deceased back to life. The sad part of all this is, all the new possibilities are not in game for interesting philosophical questions or a radical fantasy framework. Nope 100% of the time they are used for cheap adventure plot hooks / solutions.

Last characteristic of a robust framework: If it is fundamentally different, make it fundamentally different. In Pathfinder, if a wizard, sorcerer, druid or cleric cast fireball it is 100% identical. Why does the sorcerer whose magic is impulsive, improvised, spontaneous use exactly the same spell as all other. Why does a cleric of Sarenrae (very strong healing theme) grant a spell which harms allies in a battle. Why does she not grant a variant which heals allies and damages enemies of the faith?
If you have a multiclass wizard, druid, cleric, sorcerer. It would be possible to learn Fireball from 3-4 different sources. Is the character aware of the differences? Your char sheet is clear because you have several spell pages/lists but in game the differences feel superficial. Also the limitations on spellcasting feel artificial. If such a multiclass char had access to 8 level 3 fireballs why can't a normal wiz not achieve such a feat. Other example, lets just take multiclass sorc/wiz. The char starts out as an improvised caster and later goes to study under some master wizard. Shouldn't the sorc/wiz just improve and refine his raw talents and not learn spellcasting new or parallel? From the game lore he just makes the exact same thing twice.

The bad framework is also the sole reason one of the sandbox / free form stile campaigns imploded after a couple of sessions. It came down to a “mother may I” game, which was not fun for all involved. Maybe my expectations are to high but frankly a good framework is why I would pay for an RPG. As an amateur I could come up with a bad framework myself a good one needs professionals.

6. Constant rules discussions

All of the points above cause a lot of “rule discussions” in the groups I play. The discussions are for me very annoying, the end of a lot of groups or campaigns and most likely the end of my RPG experience. At its core all discussions start because someone wants to preserve the tiny advantage a feat gives. Or the player wants to try something out of the box but the game framework is just bad and what you think happens or is possible is miles from what the GM thinks is possible. And by design of the game the GM “wins” such discussions by default. But this leaves an interesting philosophical question. If I present the GM infinite possibilities and ask what can I do, and the GM says -only this one- who made the decision and ultimately is the player of the game?

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Looks like D&D and its offshoots are not for you. Or rather any RPG isn't for you, unless you can find one that simulates the impact on ecology of t-rexes and dragons sharing the same ecosystem.


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Gorbacz wrote:
Looks like D&D and its offshoots are not for you. Or rather any RPG isn't for you, unless you can find one that simulates the impact on ecology of t-rexes and dragons sharing the same ecosystem.

Hey I'm not the one putting T-rexes and dragons in the game. And I don't want to become this a contest who can be the most sarcastic.


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Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
trischai wrote:
Hey I'm not the one putting T-rexes and dragons in the game.

Take out anything that you don't like.

Change the rules that you don't like.
Tell any story that you want to.

Pathfinder is explicitly a customizable game. There's a whole Homebrew and Houserules forum where people chat about the changes they've made.

And, in January, the Game Mastery Guide for PF2 will be out. There are sections in that book that tell you explicitly how to change the rules.

You aren't required to use Paizo's world. World-building guidelines are contained in the GM guide, with some ideas in the Core Rule Book. People play in their own settings and tell their own stories, sometimes for decades. Your group can do the same.

You aren't required to use published stories. Write your own. You aren't confined to the imaginations of the writers Paizo hires. I was, for example, playing a character in a game about the last king of Ireland, where the setting and the events were based on history.

You aren't required to use any of the beasts, monsters, or NPCs that Paizo provides. Create whatever opponents you want. The GM guide will give you suggestions for how to do that.

If you're too busy to build your own world and tell your own stories, then you can fall back on the published adventures. Heck, you can even use pregenerated characters if you want to.

No one is forcing you to play by the constraints of the rules that offend you.

The only limit is your own imagination.


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trischai wrote:
And I don't want to become this a contest who can be the most sarcastic.

Good. You'd lose.


Each and every RPG provides a framework to help the GM and players achieve the three points your looking for.

1) Decisions - do you mean story arc related, in combat, interactions with NPCs, building you character etc?
For PF2 combat, the feedback from my players has been that the three action economy makes it feel like the choices they make in combat matter. Any campaign related decisions are influenced by the GM and players learning how they want to tell a shared story together, not the rule set of whatever RPG system to choose to use.

2 & 3) Boundaries and a Robust Fantasy framework - As I said above, while most RPG systems provide players with a default "house setting" that world isn't brought to life by the books. The real meat and bones of any setting comes from the GM and players working together to create a shared experience with the rules there to provide guidance and support.

It really sounds to me like your fledgling RPG group is simple experiencing the learning/growing pains that every GM or player whoever picked up a polyhedral die has felt at some point in their gaming history.

I suggest you folks talk to each other in a safe "no blame assigned" debrief discussion after each session to build on what when right and learn from what went wrong. Trust me, this hobby is worth that effort.

Just two coppers worth from an old gamer.


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CrystalSeas wrote:


The only limit is your own imagination.

Just to give this a little context. I have a family and work 1.5 jobs. I don't have the time to make my own world.

Also me friends and I don't have a shortage on imagination. Like I wrote "the anything goes" is the main point why we would try RPGs.

But my experience is you don't have much freedom. Just look at the feat choices and how limited they are.

Just to give a few examples of character ideas I wanted to play but are not possible or the gm said no.

1. Pure lighting based fighter aka everything is lightning.
2. Dwarven fighter who can summon his "ancestor spirits" to form a shield wall
3. Sorcerer with 100% his own spells.
4. Wizard with a kind of random spell book. He would still prepare spells but every one with a slight and most of the time comedic effect. Because every day his spell book would be in a different size and language and he would make therefore just tiny mistakes.
5. "Time wizard" on a quest to lay the seeds to nudge the future in the right direction. For example giving the apple pie recipe to "old hanna" when she is still 20. But with no regard to the main plot because that was only a foot note in history.


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Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
trischai wrote:
are not possible or the gm said no.

Work with the GM.

All those are possible in a home game, as long as the GM agrees.

If you or the GM needs some help figuring out how, ask in the Homebrew/Houserules form. There are a lot of experienced gamers there who will be glad to show you.


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trischai wrote:
Gorbacz wrote:
Looks like D&D and its offshoots are not for you. Or rather any RPG isn't for you, unless you can find one that simulates the impact on ecology of t-rexes and dragons sharing the same ecosystem.
Hey I'm not the one putting T-rexes and dragons in the game. And I don't want to become this a contest who can be the most sarcastic.

I don't think Gorbacz was being sarcastic. I'm no expert but it doesn't look like your group will enjoy TTRPGs. Most of your complaints are well considered and pretty much spot on. I don't think you will find a D&D derived game that has the rules structure you are looking for. There are games with much lighter rules but those come at the cost of requiring the players to impose what ever internal consistency there is.

Richard


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Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Some of your mechanical problems regarding the AP (see the Immunity paragraph) might stem from the fact that you're obviously playing an AP not written for this rule set (you mentioned Sandpoint which does not feature in the only existing second edition AP). Maybe the conversion your GM applies is less than ideal.

Regarding the game being unfair: it seems your GM is rolling "group initiative" for his combat participants. That is not the intended way to do this, exactly because it can lead to what you are describing, i.e. a bigger group of opponents rolling luckily and then ganging up on a single character.

In the end, though, I think RPGs are not for you.


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Quote:
Just an example what can a 18 strength char do, what a char with 16 can't?

Carry 14 bulk worth of gear.

If there would be more examples it would start to violate your expectation No. 2, wouldn't it?
It can also do several things better than the Str 16 one: carry 9 bulk of gear, wear plate armor, crit in melee, crit succeed at or against Athletics checks, avoid crit failures on Athletics checks.
Compared to ACG, in the RPG an individual choice matters less but there are more of them to make over the life of the character.

Quote:
“I need a feat to do this trivial thing, really?”

Let's look at the level 6 fighter feats since you provided this example. you can: learn to use an advanced weapon with a previously unavailable combination of traits; learn a strike that combo's with a condition inflicted by others or one that sets up a combo for others to exploit, learn to disarm huge creatures, gain a big bonus on follow-ups after Power Attack that often enables crits, two ways to get a chance to negate hits on allies, use your shield to block magical attacks, attack and mark invisible creatures, and make three shots in two actions. Can you honestly say all of those are trivial things the characters should automatically get or boring things which don't change the flow of combat for the group?

Quote:
The game itself dictates how much wealth, exp, cohords you will have at a certain point in the story.

I am not sure what to make of this, sounds like a GM problem. Maybe you could expand a bit more how the rich background makes a character impossible to play? Generally speaking good GMs don't treat AP as a railroad and allow players to dictate pace and attempt detours. It is a bit of an art, I am not too good at this, for example, but I think the vision of the game is that GM should enable player-driven narrative to some extent.

Quote:
What the sudden death experiences achieved, is that we are all now extremely risk averse.

Maybe your dice are very bad on you… or maybe your GM runs all monsters on the same initiative count? If so then you ran into the danger of this approach. In this case a good GM would not gang up on one player since this situation was enabled by his house rule.

I have played PACG on my phone and I found that there is quite a bit of variance there too. This game has randomness by design and it's meant to enable sudden twists in the emerging narrative. There are other RPGs with less uniform dice or even completely diceless, perhaps these could work better for you.

Quote:
Immunities are bad game design

I think everyone agrees with you here, which is why PF2 cut down a lot of immunities compared to PF1! At high levels you are supposed to have more ways to counteract the remaining ones. Sorry to hear Book 3 (of Age of Ashes I assume?) was so harsh on the rogue, I haven't read or played it yet, but I wouldn't rule out GM error either.

Quote:
The rules and character sheet are to abstract

Okay this is where you start losing me. Aren't PACG or any board game rules MUCH more abstract? What the hell is 'blessing pile' supposed to mean for a character?

Quote:
as a fighter you just stand in the same spot and attack

I am not sure what you expect here. I guess you refer to the fact that PF2 doesn't have facing rules. I find that despite this you still have to move around quite a bit to set up or avoid cover and flanking, threaten the right enemies, etc. Other than that, a lot of combat is playing out in the narration, e.g. when you trip an opponent nothing happens on the board but a lot happens in the game.

Quote:
No GM could explain what the short cut “hit points” represents in the game world

Again you say this as if what the "deck size" represents is any clearer :) I have tried to rationalize this before, specifically in PF2 world, as the accruing pain or numbness from flesh wounds or hematomas. When you reach 0 HP the damage to the body becomes too much to bear and you pass out and gain a permanent wound, like internal hemorrage or contusion. If you gain a few of those you die forever. Note that in PF1/D&D HP were treated somewhat differently. There was also a house rule with accruing penalties for HP loss, maybe the Game Master's guide for PF2 will have it too. But while this rule made sense in theory, it had some negative effects in play.

Quote:
Why can a char go in a cave, shank some goblins, and come out speaking and writing perfect Japanese

I feel like you're describing PF1 here. I don't think PF2 has such a mechanic. Unless you are referring to getting spells at level up in such a roundabout way? Some GMs restrict this to actually having to go to town and learn the spells from a book or NPC (albeit for free). But this may cut down on player fun for the sake of verisimilitude.

Quote:
guzzling down a vial of poison he would have died to before

Well this actually makes sense, doesn't it? After the character spent time surviving in harsh conditions and battles, their body becomes tougher.

Quote:
why are we rolling -to hit- and than -damage-?

I think this is a good question and the real answer is legacy. But then many games have mechanics for damage avoidance and absorption (see all Blizzard games I guess?) so it's far from unusual. Also, dealing damage by hitting AC is only one way, characters can also target saving throws. This helps to differentiate strong and weak sides of creatures.

Quote:
Is my character in game aware of his current HP pool status?

Vaguely. Other characters are not unless they ask or use certain ways to be.

Quote:
No robust fantasy framework.

This is highly subjective and I disagree. I dare you provide an example of a robust high fantasy setting. Out of several I know, Golarion is by far the most robust one in my opinion.

Quote:
If such a multiclass char had access to 8 level 3 fireballs why can't a normal wiz not achieve such a feat.

Because having access to feats enhancing top-level spells is better than casting one low-level spell per round over and over. A wizard learns a fireball precisely at the level he means to ;)

Quote:
Shouldn't the sorc/wiz just improve and refine his raw talents and not learn spellcasting new or parallel?

No. Most of this paragraph is your highly subjective worldview which doesn't make a lot of sense to me (no offense). I can draw a parallel with artists, for example Dali was expelled from art academy because their teachings were at odds with his natural talent. I guess the point is, it is up to the gamers to find a way to narrate certain aspects of their characters or the setting. I suggest to read the "ask James Jacobs" thread for the insights on how the lore is tied together.

Quote:
Constant rules discussions

This bugs me a lot, too, and was the bane of my PF1 games. I am still hopeful that PF2 will tone it down to a bearable level - precisely because 16 or 18 don't make or break a character anymore.


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trischai wrote:


Just to give this a little context. I have a family and work 1.5 jobs. I don't have the time to make my own world.

Also me friends and I don't have a shortage on imagination. Like I wrote "the anything goes" is the main point why we would try RPGs.

But my experience is you don't have much freedom. Just look at the feat choices and how limited they are.

Just to give a few examples of character ideas I wanted to play but are not possible or the gm said no.

1. Pure lighting based fighter aka everything is lightning.
2. Dwarven fighter who can summon his "ancestor spirits" to form a shield wall
3. Sorcerer with 100% his own spells.
4. Wizard with a kind of random spell book. He would still prepare spells but every one with a slight and most of the time comedic effect. Because every day his spell book would be in a different size and language and he would make therefore just tiny mistakes.
5. "Time wizard" on a quest to lay the seeds to nudge the future in the right direction. For example giving the apple pie recipe to "old hanna" when she is still 20. But with no regard to the main plot because that was only a foot note in history.

Do you want all of those to come online from level 1? This would require some heavy work by the GM... but I wouldn't call them impossible. Let's see:

1) the easiest way is to say that all damage you deal is electric and instead of energy enchants use slashing/piercing/bludgeoning enchants. Then instead of AC target Ref DC with your attacks. PF2 actually works better for it than PF1 because of the unified proficiency. But there are no written rules for this (yet), your GM will have to improvise. You may also want to look into blue/bronze dragon instinct barbarian.

2) Spirit instinct Barbarian gains the ability to deflect ranged attacks at level 6. Multiclass into caster for the shield cantrip from level 2, narrate as spiritual energy.

3) you'd have to make sure your spells are balanced with existing ones but I don't see why not otherwise.

4) This feels like a purely cosmetic choice, come up with a table of 20 negative and positive effects, most of them cosmetic, one or two actually powerful on a level of a crit or fumble, and roll every time. GM has nothing to do except veto it for balance one time.

5) This feels like a purely narrative choice; I don't understand what's it to do with the game system unless you planned to exploit it somehow.


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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
trischai wrote:

Long story short a group of well educated (we all have PHDs) fantasy nerds want to try this RPG thing and these are our expectations:

1. Interesting decisions, high decision density and the decisions have to matter. (This is a necessity for all our games)
2. No artificial boundaries due to game mechanics. (This is The selling point for RPGs for us and for us the main difference to board games)
3. Robust fantasy framework and world building. (The world has to make sense, given the new fantasy elements. It should feel organic and should have a closed intrinsic logic.)

So, if I'm reading this right, it sounds like you want your tabletop RPG to

1. be structured like a board game so that every decision made has a chance to make or break whether you "win" (whatever that means for a game of Pathfinder),
2. not be structured like a board game so that you can create whatever character and make whatever decisions you want, and
3. in addition to the above, also have a narratively rich and consistent setting in the world.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure any product could live up to those expectations. Your three criteria are, if not directly contradictory, at least making competing demands that will require compromises to achieve. Game mechanics by their very definition are going to place limits on what characters can do, and without limits it's hard to create a situation where interesting decisions can be made.

As for a "robust fantasy framework" with internal logic, well, as has been pointed out that's highly subjective. But going with your dragon example, if you want a realistic depiction of how many Level 15+ apex predators a world can support, there aren't going to be enough to actually build an adventure for a high-level party. Both the quality of the gameplay and the narrative are going to suffer if that level of internal consistency is demanded.

It sounds to me like you and your friends were pitched the idea that Pathfinder is a perfect fusion of deep strategy board game, extended fantasy series, and freeform narrative creation. It certainly draws elements from all those, but it can't possibly beat all of them at once. Tabletop RPGs don't replace board games or novels; they're an entirely different medium that offers their own experience and a unique set of strengths and limitations. As long as you keep that in mind I don't see why you and your friends can't find a way to have some fun with it.


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if you dont mind the math, complexity, and bad editing at times, Shadowrun 4th and 5th edition will pretty much fill your needs.


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I, myself, am not very pleased with a lot of the world building in the game and how paizo didn't take the opportunity to try to make something new out of magic in their new system. They picked the completely basic, and archaic, option and only clipped its wings.

Regardless, OP definitely should be looking up different RPGs. Pathfinder, D&D and its offshoots aren't for you. They all share the same type of abstractions and inconsistencies.

If you want to check out an RPG that is fantasy, you can definitely seek out The Witcher RPG. It's designed by R.Talsorian games, which were the guys behind Cyberpunk 2020. Their combat style is very well known to be realistic (minus some abstractions and other choices for ease of play) and from what I could tell the Witcher RPG had its combat system based on their Interlock system (the name of the system featured in Cyberpunk).

As for world-building, consistency and everything else... Well, it's the Witcher world. It doesn't require an explanation!


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Lord Bowser wrote:
competing demands that will require compromises to achieve

Great statement - competing demands are a common problem whenever a group of people gets together to play an RPG.

The time and effort spent on finding good compromises that work for both the GM and the players are what creates the campaigns you'll talk about for years.

Other folks have suggested trying different RPGs, which could help. But ultimately your enjoyment of any game/system will still rely heavily on the shared experience the GM and players create.


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trischai wrote:

1. The game is boring.

I know harsh critic, but this is my reasoning. From my point of view the decisions of the player don't matter at all. Most choices regarding my characters have nearly no influence. Just an example what can a 18 strength char do, what a char with 16 can't?
What it boils down to are tiny numerical advantages, which don't matter most of the time.
Otherwise you have to spend another action just like the 16 strength char. Yes you do 1 damage more with 18 strength but this only matters if the evil guy would go down exactly due to this 1 point difference.

Let's give a mathematical example. I picked a random level 1 precision ranger calculation I made. With 18 Str, he averages 12.08 on the sample R1, 12.67 on the sample R2. With 16 Str, he averages 9.99 on the sample R1, and 9.99 on the sample R2 - because the to-hit bonus on the third attack is so low that it's not physically capable of hitting. In this example, that's almost exactly a 20% difference in average damage.

trischai wrote:
Feat choices are even worse from my experience. For me there are three categories of feat “choices”: 1. necessary, 2. niche and tiny numerical advantage, 3. improved action/spell economy. None of these are really fun or interesting decisions, because all of them don't really change what your char can do. Its just more of the same or you have the feeling “I need a feat to do this trivial thing, really?”

Let's take some easy examples of Cat Fall and Kip Up, literally off the top of my head. Both of these are skill feats. Thinking a tiny bit harder, let's take Widen Spell, a caster class feat.

Which do these fall under?

trischai wrote:
Than you have the combat part of the game. In one group I play a 2-handed fighter. I'm level 6 now and my combat is: attack/attack/move. That's it. The times when it was useful to use other actions are in the low single digit percentage and even than dictated by the adventure path. In another group I play a sword and board fighter and despite having a different setup it boils down to nearly the same: attack/(attack or raise shield)/(move or raise shield). Also the versatile classes (aka caster) are extremely predictable. Which is not only repetitive but also causes the feeling of “this game is solved a trained monkey could do this”. In addition you cant really fight together, enabling new and unique actions and “comboing of” what some else did. If at all, it boils down to boring and tiny numerical advantages.

I'm honestly too lazy to address all the ways in which this is incorrect..

To start, if your combat as a level 6 fighter is all attack/attack/move, then you're literally using 0 out of your 4 fighter feats. And that's really not other peoples' fault.

trischai wrote:


Then we have the out of combat decisions. In my experience, it doesn't really matter what you do our what your background is. The game itself dictates how much wealth, exp, cohords you will have at a certain point in the story. One of my fighters is a whoring drunkard, raised in an orphanage and the other is a son from a rich, no-drama mercantile family. The later is impossible to play and in constant conflict with the wealth limit of the game, access to items and the adventure path. While the drunkard fits rights in, because he doesn't have his own agenda or ties to the world. Yes the GM has a lot of influence and can try to make it “work”, but the game doesn't make it easy for him/her. And the solution feels most of the time like a cube in the triangle part of the puzzle.

You also say you want:

> 2. No artificial boundaries due to game mechanics. (This is The selling point for RPGs for us and for us the main difference to board games)

Take two characters. Give one of them 20x the wealth of the other and access to 20x the resources. Change nothing else.

Which character is going to end up completely and utterly irrelevant as a result?

Grand Lodge

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
trischai wrote:
Just to give this a little context. I have a family and work 1.5 jobs. I don't have the time to make my own world.

You just described more than half the people here. You're not special in this regard.

-Skeld


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Most of your complaints aren't unique to PF2, though some are. Your issue with the game being simple and "solved" is pretty solidly PF2 for instance, and Paizo's Golarion, when compared to other game worlds, has much less internal consistency and acknowledgement of the fantasy mechanics.

Your core issue, wondering what each abstraction means, isn't terribly useful. I'll concede that PF2 leans on abstraction in a way that makes most of the things on your character sheet unimportant to the game's narrative, but those are there mostly for arbitration rather than for narrative purposes. You express concern over the GM's primacy in officiating rules debates as an issue, but express similar concern over whether defined minutia. You need to sit down and figure out where that line is for you. In your case, you may find the game more enjoyable if you don't interact with the rules directly and find a GM that will determine the actions you're taking based on your stated intent.

Searching for a narrative purpose to game balance is also a unique problem for PF2. They haven't established a progression of power within the game's narrative, and the progression of power seems irregular within the themes from which each class draws. You could develop a system where each power increment was explained, and the method to achieving each increment explained, but it's unlikely that you'd have players outside of the same class that could participate in adventures at the same pace. It sounds like a fun project, but I think you'd have some players playing generations of a family, while others were immortal by necessity.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I dont think I can find a game that would satisfy your competing desires but I might suggest you take mage 20ths rules and apply them to a fantasy setting? The way magic works in that game enables pretty much any concept I could ever think of and about 50% of the book isn't mechanics but a discussion on the mechanics and narrative


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Yeah I have the feel you've got the wrong game here. You're specifically mentioning PF1 spells and elements, this is about PF2... Common mistake if you're new I suppose.
Unless you have previous experience. I mix up things too, sometimes :)


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Ediwir wrote:

Yeah I have the feel you've got the wrong game here. You're specifically mentioning PF1 spells and elements, this is about PF2... Common mistake if you're new I suppose.

Unless you have previous experience. I mix up things too, sometimes :)

I am glad I was not the only one thinking this. Especially the feat section . That entire section is pretty much PF1 complaints

Honestly it is a mark of this community that so many people are indulging the OP

The way I can see it is the OP has come in and complained and denigrated about almost every underlying aspect of the d20 system that people on here love

On top of that has demonstrated an utter unwillingness to learn anything about the game (I have 1.5 job and family comment + the combat section demonstrating that they didn’t bother to learn the feats that their fighter could do). Almost no one plays this game full time. And very early on most GMs modify as written content

All whilst claiming the whole group have PHDs as if that means something? Is the suggestion “this game isn’t good enough for well educated people because it is too boring and limiting” or something like that. Maybe it is because I am messaging at a bad time but I find the whole thing quite insulting

And that is not mentioning the well trodden point from above about the OP wanting two different things from the same game without awareness that they clash and a compromise is needed . 100% Delivery of one of the aims would lead to non delivery of the other

And on top of all this the post doesn’t seem to have a reason on top of berating the game whilst trying to sound clever at the same time. It is quite frustrating and I am not sure why it is even necessary

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Well, the OP isn't unique in the "I have a PhD part", too.


Sorry cant reply to everyone.

Just to clarify a few points.

Combat:

The Pathfinder Kingdom PC game was much more how I expected combat to work. In the PC game you see a caster starting to cast a spell and can react by moving, or disrupt the mage. Even if you lost initiative! Also if you started to cast fireball yourself the battlefield could massively change until your are finished. Also if I send the rogue to back stab someone, it could be, that the target is dead before he arrives. This makes the fight dynamic and adds tactical depth, which I enjoy immensely. In comparison, the TTRPG system feels very stiff as if you are frozen while everyone else moves.

Out of Combat:

Lets just stay with the Pathfinder PC game. The biggest weakness of the PC version is that you can't really make your own choices. If I wanted to invade Chiliax, I can't. Even if they send hellknights my way and insult my kingdom. But this would only be an excuse, the real reason is I need more land to expand because my char is power hungry and driven to impose his will on everyone.

As one of my GMs said I want the RPG to by a grand game with geopolitical reach, but the game is better played as small group of heroes safes the day. But quite frankly I can get this experience in every dungeon crawler board game / PC game or in better words this niche of game play is already filled in our group.

Final thoughts:

In summary its most likely a case of impossible expectations meets wrong target audience, as a lot of you have already written.

But damn it was really, really close.


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I can't see any reasons that Pathfinder (first or second edition) can't be a grand geopolitical game. It requires that all the players and the GM be on the same page when it comes to that, but as long as no one decides to be a murder hobo, you can have world-spanning, world-changing political epics. You just have to put in the work. A 6 book adventure will probably never be that.

Silver Crusade

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The way OP describes, there are two kinds of pen and paper RPGs that could work:

- very rules-loose narrativist games (FATE, Dungeon World, Amber) where rules take a second seat and a lot depends on how do players and GM craft the narrative collaboratively and where imagination is literally the limit (within some bounds) with HOW you describe your Wizard using clockwork time magic determining what it does;

- a super-rules-heavy stimulationist game where physics, economy, biology and society aren't left to suspension of disbelief. My personal experience is that such games inevitably trip over their own legs and lead to absurdities where somebody games their systems OR happens to have more knowledge on, say, how T-rexes interact with dragons than the authors did.

Anyway, D&D/PF is neither of those.


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Gorbacz wrote:


- very rules-loose narrativist games (FATE, Dungeon World, Amber) where rules take a second seat and a lot depends on how do players and GM craft the narrative collaboratively and where imagination is literally the limit (within some bounds) with HOW you describe your Wizard using clockwork time magic determining what it does;

Thanks, I will try these next. From the description it sounded more like what we are looking for.

For the game world it doesn't have to and should not be a simulation. Game of thrones is also not a simulation, just to give a positive example of a good fantasy framework.


I sincerely hope your group finds an RPG suited for you! Trying out some different ones can be a good way to find a playstyle that suits your table.


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Well, the Kingmaker PC game is based on first edition rules. But more importantly, it features real-time combat while the tabletop RPG game is turn based.
Managing real-time combat without a computer would be a true mess.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
trischai wrote:
Gorbacz wrote:


- very rules-loose narrativist games (FATE, Dungeon World, Amber) where rules take a second seat and a lot depends on how do players and GM craft the narrative collaboratively and where imagination is literally the limit (within some bounds) with HOW you describe your Wizard using clockwork time magic determining what it does;

Thanks, I will try these next. From the description it sounded more like what we are looking for.

For the game world it doesn't have to and should not be a simulation. Game of thrones is also not a simulation, just to give a positive example of a good fantasy framework.

I will throw in Open Legend as a recommendation for a system that might fit more your sensibilities and ideas what an RPG should be like better.

In terms of fantasy worlds, it sounds like you just prefer low-fantasy settings instead of high-fantasy ones, so you and your group should probably stay away from those if they impede your enjoyment of a campaign so strongly.


trischai wrote:


As one of my GMs said I want the RPG to by a grand game with geopolitical reach, but the game is better played as small group of heroes safes the day. But quite frankly I can get this experience in every dungeon crawler board game / PC game or in better words this niche of game play is already filled in our group.

This sounds like a misalignment between you and the GM/selected adventure path.

Kingmaker is unusual in terms of adventure paths (APs), it’s true, but that’s mostly because pre-written material like that has a hard time accounting for the creativity of players when in a true sandbox. I mean even in a ‘normal’ AP often players do things the books don’t account for, even when they are the exact kind of characters the AP expects.

That said, find the right GM and a home brew game and you could get exactly what you are seeking [in the paragraph quoted above].

That said, as other commenters have replied, your other comments suggest you might enjoy a more narrative based RPG instead, such as Fate. You won’t have so many ‘interesting decisions’ in the euro game sense of those words, but you will be able to make any character you can dream up.


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trischai wrote:
But my experience is you don't have much freedom. Just look at the feat choices and how limited they are.

Then make some of your own. One of my players is playing a druid raised by a bird away from civilization. He has trouble interacting with people (Charisma 6) but deals very well with animals. He asked if he could use his Nature skill instead of Diplomacy for Wild Empathy, so I created a new feat for him to do this.

The strength of RPGs is that if they aren't quite what you want them to be, it is easy enough to make them so. Pathfinder 2, being feat-based, is an especially easy system to adapt to your character's needs.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

You may also want to look at character less systems. If you are mostly interested in exploring a world of possibilities with your friends, dont want it to be dictated by a GM and want low to zero time commitment, I suggest looking at Microscope. Takes half an hour to read, maybe ten minutes to teach and then gas 0 prep.


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It's interesting to me that the Kingmaker PC game feature of real time combat is what the OP cites as their expectation, but that feature was what killed the game for me.

I couldn't even start playing that game until the Turn Based mod came out.

It definitely points in the direction of flexible, rules-light games for the OP. Trying to do real-time dodging and spell directing would end up a nightmare without a simple hand-wavy system.


Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I have a hard time imagining how to do real-time tabletop combat.


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Zaister wrote:
I have a hard time imagining how to do real-time tabletop combat.

Yeah nearest I could get is larp, which keeps the rpg but gets rid of the tt.

Now there are non turn based games with stuff like scions incremental initiative (ticks) so maybe a system like that would appeal to the op.


As to PC game style combat, you might try flipping initiative or games that do. Earthdawn for example splits initiative so the person who rolled worst declares their actions, once all actions are declared they are resolved best initiative down so lower initiative combatants may no longer have valid actions and have to abort to a less effective option.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber

This has been a good thread on reddit about how there is much more to do than hit/hit/shield

https://www.reddit.com/r/Pathfinder2e/comments/dkms0o/what_do_nonshield_use rs_do_with_their_third_action/

I discovered from it that scroundrel can use Deception (CHA) to feint and can often crit getting flat-footed for sneak attacks into the next round rather than just that round to the point that CHA can replace STR.

The flurry ranger can just keep on hitting, the animal ranger gets an extra hit in with their pet. Fighters can do more physical things like trip and shove with selected weapons. And everyone can shield so always nice if you cannot find something to do, but I rarely use it always something better to do.

This is a game changer to both D&D1-5 and PF1 that has this much freedom of action economy - every other edition restricts greatly what action you can do when. So you will find little agreement that PF2 is boring combat.

As far as the lopsidedness? That is a houserule to save the GM time by rolling group or side initiative. The CRB warns to not use it because it makes things lopsided. The game is optimized so a boss can lopsidedly focus fire their attacks and take you down, making it so all the minions can join that dog pile on their turn is not fun and is boring.

If you want some randomness - pick up the crit hit/fumble decks. Something for spells on every card.

Just these above three things (third action, mixed initiative, crit hit/fumble) will change the game from boring.

The game can be about world changing and walking amongst gods and changing geopolitical landscapes, but first you have to kill the rats in the cellar (or just start at lvl 15). There is a reason every CRPG has that trope, it comes from D&D that started this entire genre many decades ago.

Grand Lodge

trischai wrote:


Out of Combat:

Lets just stay with the Pathfinder PC game. The biggest weakness of the PC version is that you can't really make your own choices. If I wanted to invade Chiliax, I can't. Even if they send hellknights my way and insult my kingdom. But this would only be an excuse, the real reason is I need more land to expand because my char is power hungry and driven to impose his will on everyone.

As one of my GMs said I want the RPG to by a grand game with geopolitical reach, but the game is better played as small group of heroes safes the day. But quite frankly I can get this experience in every dungeon crawler board game / PC game or in better words this niche of game play is already filled in our group.

This is all up to you and your GM to provide that. Some GMs prefer railroady adventures, because it's easier to run and, to be honest, some of them do not want to spend hours of their week to craft and build that's out of the book just because one of his players want to do something way off the scope of the adventure.

Still, there are some of us (GMs) that gives the players the ability to go full creative with the narrative. I GMed Curse of the Crimson Throne to two different and distinct groups and the adventure came out DRASTICALLY different for both of them, even though I was using an adventure path. By the end of book two, both groups had a total different mindset of Korvosa, it's rulers, it's political biased system, it's flaws and it's economy. One groups became the rebels and formed a resistance within the city sewers, denying any help from important NPCs. They figured things out and I had to adapt a lot. I allowed them to do so, because I saw reason on that. The other group played by the rules while working with the NPCs to change what was wrong with the city. Both groups handled most situations in a very different way and approach. By the end of the adventure path, both groups had different outcomes for their characters.

What happened in our game sessions was cannon for both groups, even if they don't know each other. They changed Golarion, but just because I allowed them to do so. Of course, it does require more working and writing. The fifth book didn't work at all for one group so I never ran it. I had to adapt and learn with them, which made me step up in my GM skills and waste way more time than intended preparing the sessions, but it was all worth it.


Zaister wrote:
I have a hard time imagining how to do real-time tabletop combat.

I'd try using less specific actions. "I move in to attack the creature prioritizing preventing it from approaching my allies." and "I'll use area magic to block off most of the room preventing the enemies from approaching. It doesn't need to last long." Then the GM would determine final placement and specific actions taken. You'd need a rule set that wasn't focused on targets and actions per turn, and you'd need resources to be less specific as well.

Either that or get extremely specific and break the game down into action points with small enough increments that players can react in real time rather than with reaction action types. That seems like it would be hellish to manage with more than a few moving pieces.


WatersLethe wrote:

It's interesting to me that the Kingmaker PC game feature of real time combat is what the OP cites as their expectation, but that feature was what killed the game for me.

I couldn't even start playing that game until the Turn Based mod came out.

It definitely points in the direction of flexible, rules-light games for the OP. Trying to do real-time dodging and spell directing would end up a nightmare without a simple hand-wavy system.

There is a turn based mod? I guess I am being really dense but how big a change does that actually make? Are there other games that are turn based as a comparative point?


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Lanathar wrote:
WatersLethe wrote:

It's interesting to me that the Kingmaker PC game feature of real time combat is what the OP cites as their expectation, but that feature was what killed the game for me.

I couldn't even start playing that game until the Turn Based mod came out.

It definitely points in the direction of flexible, rules-light games for the OP. Trying to do real-time dodging and spell directing would end up a nightmare without a simple hand-wavy system.

There is a turn based mod? I guess I am being really dense but how big a change does that actually make? Are there other games that are turn based as a comparative point?

There is a turn based mod! It's super good!

It fundamentally changes the feel of combat, the balance of classes and options, and radically alters the difficulty.

I wouldn't even consider playing without it.

The impact it has on spellcasting alone makes it a massive game changer.

It plays pretty similarly to Divinity, and feels a whole lot more like actual Pathfinder.

It's also far less slow than people try to portray. Since you are more in control, you can avoid wasted spells and actions, and can cut through difficult encounters with fewer losses, meaning less down time. If you're fighting easy encounters, you can always turn off the Turn Based mode and let the AI go at it.

In my opinion, it's the way the game always should have been.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber

Big fan of Dvinity Original Sin I and II. Instead of being 2.5D it is actually 3D but with the camera restricted to god view. It is also multiplayer and has a GM mode. The devs studio just got the contract to do D&D Baldurs Gate III, and I really hope they stick to their turn based roots but Baldurs Gate was real time with pause.

Pillars of Eternity II Deadfire just did an update to retrofit turn based into it, and it is pretty good at it. But I did not like their attribute system (STR becomes MIGHT so spell casters need it - yet they did not tell the writers who wrote skill challenges as strength check). Even their lead dev said their bolted on turn based ship combat should not have been in the product, but that in general he prefers turn based play over real time with pause.

Turn based allows for much more strategic tactical play and makes the games much closer to feeling like tabletop combat, I hated the Real Time with Pause systems and their fiddly AIs of past CRPG. One person cannot manage an entire party in real time.

I never understand the complaints about turn based being slow, compared to actual table top where one combat takes an entire session and it takes years to finish a campaign.

I hope Kingmaker being ported to 5e and PF2e maybe the CRPG version will support alternate turn based rulesets.


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I recommend Cypher System by Monte Cook Games.

Grand Lodge

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Gorbacz wrote:
Well, the OP isn't unique in the "I have a PhD part", too.

I didn't want to be critical of OP/OP's group for their lack of education.

-Skeld

Grand Lodge

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I can tell you from first hand experience that players can have a doctorate or master's degree and enjoy Pathfinder quite well. We are regularly playing with players still in high school, in college at all levels, and working in the workforce in practically any capacity. The education level is not the issue in my experience. It keeps coming down to the individual perspectives and expectations every time.


Barnabas Eckleworth III wrote:
I recommend Cypher System by Monte Cook Games.

will be too restrictive for the OP imo.


The Gleeful Grognard wrote:
Barnabas Eckleworth III wrote:
I recommend Cypher System by Monte Cook Games.
will be too restrictive for the OP imo.

Oh, you think? Hmm. I was just thinking because it's so open, with the system where the GM simply applies a DC to everything, and you roll 3 times the number on your d20.

I can only speculate on the OP, like the other posters. It seems one of two things might be true. Either
1) RPGs aren't for you. Or
2) You might just be against premade scenarios. So maybe try an open ended campaign. Maybe it's more your style?


Barnabas Eckleworth III wrote:
The Gleeful Grognard wrote:
Barnabas Eckleworth III wrote:
I recommend Cypher System by Monte Cook Games.
will be too restrictive for the OP imo.

I can only speculate on the OP, like the other posters. It seems one of two things might be true. Either

1) RPGs aren't for you. Or
2) You might just be against pre-made scenarios. So maybe try an open ended campaign. Maybe it's more your style?

It's a tough post to reply to. I wish I could form as articulate response as the poster wrote but as you read, there seem to be a lot of contradictions that make it tricky to make suggestions. As you stated it may be the issue of pre-made adventures, but at the same time they called out that they don't have time to do up home made scenarios.

It is an interesting read and I wish there was more I could chip in to help them get in to the Table Top RPG hobby but most things they call out as 'problems' with Pathfinder weren't pathfinder specific. They are elements found in just about all rpg's.

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