The Red Box Diaries

The Red Box Diaries
Out of the D&D Closet

Rowan Kaiser | 14 Sep 2010 12:30
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I almost used Icewind Dale II to create my character. I'm so used to a videogame doing all the dirty work, letting me know what feats are available and what feats aren't, etc, that I was lost when confronted with just a rulebook. I realized that Icewind Dale II, with its D&DM 3.0 rules, was probably not going to work, but a quick Google search led me to a free character generator for the Pathfinder game. Ironically, I still needed a computer for my first experience with tabletop roleplaying.

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I managed to get involved in two D&D sessions. Both were Pathfinder games, aka D&D 3.75. The first session was a long-running campaign, with a core group of players who were used to playing with one another. There were no more seats at the table the night I attended, so I was only able to observe. The second session was a Pathfinder Society game.

Pathfinder Society events are large, regular gatherings in gaming areas - usually game stores - which anyone may attend. Players are divided according to their character's level, and are given a standard set of modules to play. The same dungeon that I traversed with my character and party was also plumbed by hundreds, if not thousands, of other characters all over the country that week. The gold rewards are standard, as is the amount of experience (every session gives a single experience point, with three experience points leading to a new level.) You're also encouraged to register your character with the official Pathfinder Society website.

The regulated nature of the Pathfinder Society game allows very little room for getting to know your fellow characters, and the Dungeon Master is constrained by the module. For example, the party encountered a non-player character from a previous adventure module in the series. When the players whose characters hadn't encountered him before asked those who had if the NPC was trustworthy, one responded affirmatively. Another immediately joked that while he agreed with that assessment, he had no idea how they had both had the same experience yet never adventured together before!

The whole situation felt more like a pick-up-group running an instance in World of Warcraft than some drastically different form of gaming. Some players had played the adventure before but with different characters. Others were experts at this mode of gaming and happy to give advice about how to play, both solicited and unsolicited. Some - the tank and healer - were significantly more experienced and better-equipped than the other players, which made the dungeon far too easy.

Playing in the Pathfinder Society game felt mechanical - we were there to do a dungeon and we did it. As one of the other players put it, the module seemed to be based entirely on alternating combat and dice rolls to check each player's skills. There was little room for improvisation or anything other than just rolling the dice and hoping for the best. My little halfling Min was fairly useless, and his character had no particular in-game effect, with the exception of wielding a crowbar. If this had been my only tabletop experience, it was virtually no different from playing Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights, except that three hours would have netted my character much more than a mere third of a level.

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