Feb 14 2012 1:00pm

As Dungeons & Dragons Changes, Pathfinder Remains True

Once upon a time, the Wizards made a Golem, which served them well for a time, tending to their Dragon and their Dungeon, until the Wizards finally set the Golem free. These Wizards had also made a Grimoire, full of all their secrets, and left it open so anyone could use their spells. The Golem learned the magic of the Grimoire and soon grew to rival the Wizards.

And that is the story of Pathfinder, the roleplaying system that seems to be falling through the cracks in a lot of this discussion about the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Paizo (whose logo is, of course, a golem) was licensed by Wizards of the Coast to publish the Dungeons and Dragons periodicals, Dragon and Dungeon, and then pulled the plug on that licensing agreement when they decided to pursue an online pay-wall strategy with Dungeons and Dragons Insider. The grimoire I mention is the Open Game License and the System Reference Document, that wonderful tome that defined the Third Edition, and ushered in a golden age for the hobby. The OGL let third parties write their own sourcebooks for the Dungeons and Dragons system, and the d20 ruleset flourished.

When Wizards of the Coast decided to release their Fourth Edition, Paizo published Pathfinder, which enshrined the SRD. Backwards compatible with the Third Edition, Pathfinder has been called “3.75” — a call back to Wizards of the Coast’s “3.5” tweaks. Pathfinder was in the center of the “edition wars.” Though Paizo didn’t take sides, it never the less provided a convenient flag those who found the Fourth Edition lacking to rally around. The third party publishing agreement for the Fourth Edition — the Game System License — didn’t help matters. It had a “poison pill” clause that prevented anyone using it from publishing under the old license — effectively forcing anyone who wanted to publish third-party Fourth Edition supplements to stop publishing anything compatible with the Third Edition. Wizards of the Coast ended up removing a lot of the more restrictive language in the end, but the damage was done.

In all the chatter about DnD Next, I don’t see anyone talking about Pathfinder, and that strikes me as quite an oversight. Well…that isn’t quite true. I see lots of people talking about Pathfinder...in the comments sections. All that stuff I said before, that quick history lesson, people played the game — Third Edition, Fourth Edition, Pathfinder, Old School Renaissance, whatever — through that. This is a work in progress for people; edition changes aren’t monolithic. Just because a company starts publishing a new line of books doesn’t mean your old books vanish from your shelves, or the rules suddenly stop working. It is all there, ready to play…and Pathfinder takes advantage of that. You can use all your old stuff…and you can buy their stuff, so your Third Edition supplies continue to be vital tools for you, if you want them to be.

And you will want to buy their stuff. That is the hook, you see: they produce quality output. That is the glowing angler fish lure that they’ve got dangling. Just a glance at the art direction ought to give you a good idea why; there is a diversity in the covers and internal illustration that goes to the heart of things. I’m bored of seeing heroes with scrunched up tough guy faces, which have really come to dominate in some quarters, and Pathfinder covers a range of emotions and styles. Not just that, but the characters pictures aren’t all white men — you’ve got a wide swath of skin tones and hair colours (from light to dark to neon, even) and a parity of genders. Hey, inclusive representation counts for a lot. Paizo’s Pathfinder output is a mix of “crunch” — rules options and mechanics — and “fluff” — setting and philosophy. New classes like the alchemist, who mixes a sort of Doctor Jekyll/Bruce Banner mutagen drinking, Hyde/Hulk class feature with a bit of bomber tossing or the literally “sword and sorcery” magi, who mix swordplay up with spell-slinging. Fluff-wise, you get new locales, like Irrisen, a Grimm’s fairy tale nation ruled by Baba Yaga, locked in ice like the White Witch’s Narnia; Cheliax, the decadent nation who holds up Asmodeus as the Lord of Law and Numeria, which basically makes a whole region out of the adventure out of the old “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” adventure, where your adventures stumble across a crashed spaceship. Then you get the best parts — when the fluff and the crunch align. Like monster design! The cover of their recent Bestiary has an undead knight alongside a feral Cyclops and a bunch of kung-fu kappa. If that isn’t eclectic (and awesome), I don’t know what is.

All this is likely preaching to the choir. If you’ve read this far, you probably know what Pathfinder is. I guess the core of my point is — why are they being overlooked in this conversation? In large part, I think it is because “Dungeons and Dragons” is a sort of shibboleth amongst gamers, especially among outsiders. It has become shorthand for “when I say roleplaying I don’t mean World of Warcraft, I mean pen and paper.” Besides that, it has always been the face of the hobby to outsiders. It has dominated the market — occasionally being overtaken by the hot new kids on the block, but it is the monolith, the standard. Pathfinder, indie games, the Old School Renaissance, they all show that there are other paths out there. Alternatives — big ones, in the case of Pathfinder — to the Edition Wars, to the notion of being chained to each successive iteration of Dungeons and Dragons. I for one have high hopes for DnD Next but I take comfort in knowing that other options exist.

“I’m a Dragon” and “Pathfinder Goblin” illustrations by Andrew Hou

Mordicai Knode is 65,000,000 years old. The name of his fictional band is “Crown Me King” and his highest level 3rd edition character was an epic tiefling psion in an Planescape game. You can yell at him on Twitter, if that is your sort of thing.

1. Kingtycoon
It's correct that Dungeons & Dragons be the gateway game, the one that pulls the people through the door, the famous name. And it is correct that it be a narrow-footed giant, billowing up until it falls over under its umbrellalike ruleset. That's what D&D is supposed to do - bring you in, give you access to the hobby and then - importantly - find the weaknesses. Gaming is a still open field, and it still strongly encourages the hobbyist-inventor. A perfect game can't be - every game must change for the players, and players have so much to bring to the game. For every campaign that lasts a year or more a volume of notes, ideas, adventures far in excess of the rules is created.

In this I commend D&D for goading its players to seek out new directions and new options. And bringing new people to the hobby to become dissatisfied and therefore - shoppers, looking for the new and the next game. It is a shame that Wizards has chosen to try and make the next game themselves rather than stoke the Monolith, and it's fine enough that Pathfinder has taken up that mantle, the titan of rules and the includer of everything, the baseline behemoth that leaves players wanting more, and better. But I say it is a problem that Pathfinder is not called Dungeons & Dragons because for better or worse, the whole vast span of the hobby is still called by that brand-name.
2. frabjousdave
While I happily sit out the edition wars, I'm more excited about Pathfinder than similar games because of the reliable excellence of the Adventure Paths. The art, maps, and recent minis are icing.
James Whitehead
3. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Don't really care much what WoTC does with its new iteration of D&D; although the publicized desire to be all things to all gamers doesn't instill one with much confidence. I tried 4e & found it to be lacking.

I have not tried Pathfinder yet, mostly 'cause real life doesn't leave much free times these days; much easier when I was 15 with 'no life.' ;-)

I have, however, heard good things about Pathfinder. Not just the fact that the game continues to support the previous edition of D&D but the fact that Paizo seems to understand how to run a company that produces a role-playing game product.

Joseph Kingsmill
4. JFKingsmill16
I own hundreds of D&D books from the begining editions all the way to 3.5. When I realized that Wizards had stopped supporting 2nd ed in Dragon Magazine and seen the changes they intended to impliment with the 4th ed I stopped buying anything they put out cold.

Two and a half years ago my friends got me to start playing Pathfinder and I haven't looked back. They sell pdf copies of all their books so I can have them on my iPad. The artwork is beautiful. The world is new and interesting and reminds me of the glory days when Forgotten Realms was new and unexplored.

Pathfinder will most likely be the only d20 style fantasy RPG I will play for the rest of my life. I wish Wizards of the Coast luck because they are going to need it.
5. Ajay Pollarine
Agreed, with everything being hyped by D&Dnext I think some people are forgetting everything available to them from the boys and girls at the Golem. I'm really excited to see the Ultimate Races Guide, and the re-release of Rise of the Rune Lords.
Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
Kingtycoon, for me, I start to wonder when "Dungeons & Dragons" goes the way of "Kleenex" & becomes more all inclusive as a term-- it already is for outsiders, yeah?

Frabjousdave, I too am not a participant in the Edition Wars; I run my campaign on the World of Darkness sytem. That said, I do like me some minis & I just LIKE gaming books, even if it isn't the ruleset of my main campaign.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
Kato; I think 4e missed the mark on some things, but brought up other good things-- either way, I think "5e" has every chance of being good. I mean, I wasn't a 2e player-- I didn't like it-- so I thought 3e would be bad & well...it was wonderful. Maybe WotC will surprise us! I will say that yeah, I find Paizo's corporate culture in tune with what I want from a gaming company.

JFKingsmill16, I'm glad you've got what you want! Which is what I mostly am saying; the game of yesteryear isn't gone. We still have it on our shelves!
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
Ajay Pollarine, I'm super excited about their "Visions of WAR: the Art of Wayne Reynolds."
James Whitehead
9. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@7mordicai, I see your point I guess 4e just reminded me a little too much of a video game. I didn't create an individual character so much as a cog in a party.

I do think you're correct and I hope that D&Dnext is good. It's just that I keep remembering that old phrase about trying to please everyone. ;-) WoTC's margin for error is very slim. There are far too many other options out there for their demographic for them not to truly focus on building on what they got right & correcting what the got wrong.

Joseph Kingsmill
10. JFKingsmill16
@mordicai - You are absolutely right. We still have to old games on our shelves and a ton of source material both official and unofficial floating around out there if you are willing to look for it.
My issue is with Wizards themselves. Their simple refusal to support any backwards compatibility with the earlier editions just puts a bad taste in my mouth.
Mind you that I now 41 and our gaming group will be lucky if we even find the time to have 10 sessions (including the 2 we've already managed to have) this year. Maybe I am just to old and set in my ways in how I like to game.
11. Evan J.
The above article clearly is written from the POV of a rabid Pathfinder fan. That's fine, but it should also be stated that while Pathfinder is the more popular system, it really has done nothing new with either system development or setting design.
Had PF been released during the deluge of 3.5 product it would have been just another system and/or setting. So the real question that players should be asking is Pathfinder's success really due to it's design? Or has it become the most popular game due to poor reception 4.0 was given?
12. James M.
The trick with Paizo is conducting business and producing products in a way that makes you actually WANT to pay for them. Take my money, Paizo! It's all for you. In response to Evan J: Pathfinder is explicitly an attempt to continue a product that was abandoned by its publisher. In many ways, 4th Ed is the design fork, not Pathfinder. If it had been released during the 3.5 deluge, it probably wouldn't have made waves. But, then, the point of it is that it was conceived and published post-deluge.

But I don't think it's a zero-sum game (of games). Everyone wants D&D to succeed as a brand. And everyone wants Paizo to succeed as a company. Both things can happen.
13. Eugene R.
Considering how likely it is that I may find myself "xeroxing" a document on a Canon copier, I wonder if we need to have a "flagship" or "brand name" RPG that is still viably published. With the decreased popularity of table-top (or face-to-face) roleplaying, and the lack of alternative brand awareness among non-gamers, I suspect (along with Kingtycoon, @1) that having a new Dungeons & Dragons game will help to recruit new players. However, with the wrangling over intellectual property rights (material developed under 3e's Open Gaming License running smack into 4e's "poison pill" Game System License) and the proliferation of "indie" games, I doubt that we will ever regain having a "lingua franca" game system like d20.

That being said, I have been through many "edition wars" in games past, and the results are generally discouraging, such as watching the one-time flagship sf RPG, Traveller, re-invent itself to death. Talk about your Shattered Imperium! So far, I have seen one play-test session report on D&D Next, and it is full of the same enthusiasm that I saw from D&D 4e playtests. The one D&D 3.5 campaign in which I play used Paizo Adventure Paths, and both referees have switched to Pathfinder for subsequent games. One ref is still active with the RPGA and its events, so he plays 4e, but he has no motivation to run it.

For the most part, I wish WotC luck in keeping the brand name alive. More table-top gaming is better than less. My first RPG was not D&D; it was TSR's 2nd published game, Empire of the Petal Throne, and I do not regret having to learn D&D as a "second language". I hope that other people have the chance to do so, as well.
14. Steel_Wind
Pathfinder outsells D&D on Amazon and it outsells it in Hobby and Game stores.

There are no guarantees that 5E will succeed, either. Pathfinder's brand is strong, its products sophisticated, and its stranglehold on a large swath of gamers with the most disposable income in the hobby is also enviable.

It’s worth noting that Paizo's success is entirely the result of a self-inflicted injury by WotC. WotC's business choices turned its single largest licensee into its direct competitor -- simply by not giving it any other choice but to become its direct competitor.

Moreover, Paizo itself is a spin-off of Wizards of the Coast. Paizo's President and founder was WotC's first employee and Paizo was bankrolled with the money paid by Hasbro to buy WotC in the first place. All of Paizo's initial staff was hired from WotC's periodicals department, lock stock and both smokin barrels. WotC licensed Paizo the Dungeon and Dragon magazine brands. Indeed, Paizo improved the magazines so markedly it thereby appropriated to itself the legitimacy as the "real" caretakers of the game. That's what happens when the two monthly columns to readers for five years are not written by WotC employees -- but by Paizo's. Soon enough, the reader starts to recognize the licensee as the legitimate caretaker of the game and NOT the licensor.

WotC now competes with its own IP that it gave away for free, in a circumstance where many of its core writers now work for Paizo. As one brand goes down in popularity - the other has gone up. WotC announced the end of their pre-painted miniatures line last year. Within six months, Paizo and NECA/Wizkids announced the commencement of a new Pathfinder line of pre-painted plastic minis.

There is no guarantee at all the 5E will even be successful. Indeed, as matters currently stand there is little reason to believe that Paizo will falter as its business model is remarkably sound. It has a unique subscriber base developed over a course of ten years -- using the magazine subscribers it inherited from WotC. Paizo's weekly e-mailed sales flyer reaches more gamers' eyeballs in the hobby than any other form of advertising to gamers ever has in the entire history of the hobby since 1974.

Paizo's hardcover rulebooks are perfectly priced and ideally suited for sale via Amazon.com. Paizo's game accessories sell well in hobby game stores. Meanwhile, Paizo's ability to sell its adventure products directly to gamers, together with cross-brand support, ensures that almost every product it ships is in the black before it even leaves the warehouse.

At this stage of the game, while D&D may be the better known brand outside of the genre, only a fool would bet against Paizo. Their product is (currently) superior, their direct goodwill with customers is carefully cultivated and maintained, and their business/subscriber model is a unique. They even have the electronic PDF side of the business locked down as well.

No matter what happens to 5E, success or failure -- Paizo is not going anywhere.
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai

I guess my thought is-- well WotC does seem to be listening, from the hubub swirling around DnD Next...they aren't even calling it 5e, you'll note. So don't give up hope entirely, but even if they do drop the ball...we'll have options & choices.
Mordicai Knode
16. mordicai
Evan J: I don't know about rabid; as I mentioned above, my campaign isn't Pathfinder OR 4e, so I don't really have a horse in this race-- I like 4e as a skirmish game, & I had hopes for it, though those never materialized (a "Big Book of NonCombat Options" for instance, or a "Big Book of Low Magic Options").
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
Eugene R: It is my fondest wish that this "reprint old edition" thing results in a Petal Throne reprint; M.A.R. Barker is so incredibly under appreciated.
18. elucidarian
It's good to bring up WotC and Paizo outside their product identities. Most people chalk up the edition wars to differing rules and play style. Anyone who has paid attention to the related companies' business practices will see a different set of arguments. That said, I am a player and GM (designing for purely personal satisfaction at this point) and am better equipped to debate the merits of what happens at the table.

I started with the 2nd edition, 5 years prior to Wizards' acquisition of the big brand. Most of my friends moved with judicious enthusiasm to 3rd edition (with one exception claiming it was a money grab and would stick to his THAC0). I tried 4th edition, after already getting hooked on Pathfinder, and it didn't work for me. Every RPG has to decided where it falls on the scale of flavor crunch. As one of my miniatures gaming friends admitted, D&D became more his style with 4th. While Pathfinder still included strategy and combat scenarios with it's storytelling and character building, he preferred rule-playing to role-playing.

I'm ready for the the tribal aspect of the edition wars to end, with people offering biased justifications rather than objective critiques. A game can be bad, but a game style is to each his or her own. D&D may yet again lure me with the blend of components I so crave. If not, I'm comfortable leaving it to those whose acumen agrees.
19. Eugene R.
Mordicai (@17): Ah, the world of Tekumel! The amazing creation of Prof. M.A.R. ("Phil") Barker, it has gone through an incredible number of editions, systems (professional and "home-grown"), even game companies. I have one friend whose mission in life is creating Tekumel scenarios under just about every rule system he finds; his current projects are using Cold City and Burning Wheel. I ran a campaign a few years ago using FUDGE as the system, the Sourcebook from Swords & Glory (the 1983 game of Tekumel), and the spell lists from Gardasiyal (the 1994 attempt). Some of these books stay on our shelves for years and years and years, I agree!
20. Sword, DM
Why is it being overlooked? Simple. It's not doing a major edition change. With every iteration of the book printings, the errata gets worked in, meaning that each new printing can almost be called an edition in and of itself. No fanfare. No press announcements. All because it's something they really WANT to go unnoticed. After all, Pathfinder's biggest achievement is being legally distinct from the OGL.

Edition wars are. Regardless of what a company produces, no matter how strong, robust, or well-balanced, someone's going to pitch a fit. I just take solace in the fact that, while stubborn, Fantasy roleplay fans are not bloodthirsty like the World of Darkness holdouts.
21. Dudemeister
Pathfinder has a solid future ahead. Between the minis, the video game, the comic and the novels brand awareness is only going to increase among the community. People are talking a lot about D&D Next, but when the waves settle the Pathfinder brand will still be there.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
Steel_Wind, it is worth noting, as James M does, that it doesn't have to be a zero sum game; there is room in the world for a range of publishers!
23. elucidarian
@Eugene R.
"the decreased popularity of table-top (or face-to-face) roleplaying"

I've got to argue this one. If you mean there is increasing ratio of video game to tabletop roleplaying, then the numbers probably support you, however misleading. It's not a valid comparison. You need to exclude from the equation anyone not playing a table top game, and compare numbers over time.

I've only seen an explosion of gaming conventions over the last decade. They're everywhere and they're bigger and more commercially viable than the previous 2 decades. That can't be denied. Not all of them are table-top exclusive, but many sure do spotlight that form of play.

If you're still stuck on how much more popular video games are, think of it this way. Let's say there are exactly one million role playing gamers, overall. If the percentage ratio of table top gamers to MMOers is, say a measely 10/90, the actual numbers would be 100,000 to 900,000. So what if there are 800,000 more people people playing on a computer or console? That's still 100,000 people sitting down, face-to-face, on a regular basis. Does today's unknowable number of players compare with 1990 or 2000? I get the sense it doesn't.
Matthew B
24. MatthewB
"D&D Next" is stupid marketing speak. Show them that you know how to count and just call it 5e.
25. Edward Brennan
I will believe that WOTC is actually truly refocusing on the players when they actually start reading and commenting on internet sites and threads that they do not own. Right now they are asking for what people think- yet if they pay attention those same people have been doing that all over the place since well before the internet. Instead of asking people to come lose all control to WOTC walled garden, maybe it is time for WOTC to go on an adventure to engage those players.

DnDnext makes me think- give us all your ideas for free, so we can sell them back to you under our copyright. Sorry not sell back, but just provide an online EULA for.

People should be talking about Pazio. At least the open source base helps.
26. SteveP
I liked 1E

I liked 2E

I liked 3.5

I like and play Pathfinder. I spend most of my gaming dollars on this game.

I do not like 4E as D&D. As a board game its pretty fun. It strikes me as a MMO/WoW on paper.

Overall I don't care for WotC. When they were aquired by Hasbro, they lost touch with their player base and the excellent customer focus of pre-Hasbro WotC went the way of 2E.

WotC - if you're reading this, you can win my gaming dollars back, but you have to stop sucking (making a poor product, alienating your existing customer base by trying to recreat WoW on paper, you know, that kinda shit) and step it up. Paizo is in touch with their player base and knows how to market to us.
27. GP
I want Dungeons and Dragons to succeed. I grew up playing it, met many friends though it, and always had a great time.

I started with 2E and loved 3E/3.5E and have since come to enjoy Pathfinder. Largely for the reasons that Mordicai and others have clearly spelled out here.

With that said, I found little to like about 4E. Its not that I didn't have my fair share of fun with it, but I found it too restrictive and incompatible with my gaming style. It had a bunch of great ideas but in every case I found them to be implemented poorly. Also with the seemingly constant major rules changes, I wondered if they did any playtesting or actually had any significant feedback from anyone outside of the company. That combined with the poor corporate culture of WotC (DnD insider, restrictive gaming licence) made me put down my 4E books and search other avenues of game play.

The DnDnext forum on the surface seems exciting and relays that WotC might listen to what its consumers actually want to see for 5E. But as Mordicai points out there seems to be no input on ideas from other d20 sources. In my opinion Pathfinder has many great ideas that should be part of 5E - and 5E should have a license compatible with Pathfinder to allow mix/matching and combination.

Additionally, other systems should be looked at for the development of 5E. For example, Fantasy Craft had many great ideas. One of its best was a "fix" for the classic gluttony and reliance on equipment in D&D, not to mention trying to balance character wealth. 3.5E and especially 4E were horrendous for equipment glut, as in 4E you needed to have a +X appropriate bonus for your level in your three major equipment slots or be ineffective. Instead, Fantasy Craft had reputation scores and hands out xp like values for reputation gained from feats and adventures to spend on magic items, minions, property etc. You can't have any more magic items than you can spend in reputation points.

Again, I hope D&D succeeds and I will give 5E a shot and play it, and likely buy it as similar to Mordicai I like gaming books! I just hope that WotC does actually open up a bit more and provide an open-ended and well playtested version that is enjoyable to a wide range of people.
Bill Stusser
28. billiam
My roleplaying started with AD&D, where I was a player since I was younger, and moved to 2nd edition.

I played a lot of different RPGs after that and then started DMing my own games with D&D 3rd edition (&3.5 when it came out). Not sure if it's because I was running the game or not but 3rd edition became my favorite edition.
My group stopped playing after we all got married, had kids, etc. We played some NWN online since it was based on the 3.5 rules and it was easier than getting together in person.

About a year ago (after somewhere between 5 & 10 years away from table top gaming) I started playing 4th edition with my brother and a group of younger guys that he works with (and our kids, lol). My first impression was that it was WoW on paper and that hasn't changed. I really don't like the game very much.

D&D 4th edition isn't made for RPing or making individualized characters. I don't like my chars to have to fit a certain role. Just because I'm a fighter doesn't mean I want to be a tank and I don't want my ranger to just be ranged DPS.

I haven't played PF but the new group I've been playing with has talked about trying it out (The DM has some of the books but hasn't actually played the game). It definitely sounds interesting especially considering that I liked 3/3.5 so much.
29. James M.
I wonder if we'll ever really know what exactly went wrong internally with D&D 4e. I think it was a bunch of great ideas that failed to appeal to its built-in audience and never attracted enough of a new audience. Everyone sort of speculates on the influence "corporate" had, etcetera.

Maybe nothing went wrong-- maybe it's just time to release a new product. 4e had a shorter lifespan than 3e, sure, but what does that mean? It seems somehow unlikely to me that 4e ever met Hasbo or WotC's expectations, though, except maybe in the initial batch of products, and I think something real interesting probably happened internally leading to Essentials.

This thread isn't a 4e post-mortem, but I think it's important to understanding why Pathfinder is, by all accounts, a smash hit.
Sol Foster
30. colomon
First, I'd like to say thank you for the explanation of what Pazio is. I knew that Pathfinder was an extension of 3.5 and lots of people were playing it, but that's all. The more complete story is fascinating.

The thing that befuddles me about new editions is why so many people throw so much of their (apparently very!) disposible income at them. I've been GMing Amber Diceless since 1992. While it would be great to see a second edition of that game published which tried to address the numerous flaws in the original (long since patched around by most Amber GMs), the lack of new material is not any sort of obstacle to running great games. And I've found the simplicity has completely spoiled me: I don't ever want to GM a game system that has more than 100 pages of rules. Frankly, for the last 15 years I've used home-brewed rules when the Amber rules do not seem appropriate, and I find that 5-10 pages of rules is plenty to support long-running games I am extremely proud to have GMed. Thus I find the idea that if I don't buy ten new rulebooks every five years my gaming life will be incomplete to be very, very odd.

That said, I have played in a Star Wars Saga game, and more briefly in the new Gamma World and D&D 4e, and I've had a good time each and every time. The SW Saga system had some obvious brokenness, and didn't seem to be much of an improvement over the previous edition, but never-the-less the game we played in it was really fun. I've seen nothing yet to convince me that 4e can't support great games just as well.
Jack Flynn
31. JackofMidworld
Just wanted to throw a digital high-five out for giving Pathfinder a little love. Totally agree that D&D was my gateway to role playing (followed swiftly by Car Wars and Star Frontiers) but, yeah, I gave up on 4e, and the few people I know who actually tried it never seemed excited enough to try and make me want to play it, so PF became my go-to for fantasy RP.

On a side-note, the one game that I really wish was coming out with a new version is Palladium's Rifts. Beautiful game setting but the rules are so cumbersome you really have to love the game to play it without getting so frustrated that you toss the book under your bed and walk away.
32. DigitalMage
I am really struggling to see what point was trying to be made in this article. Why should Pathfinder be mentioned in the D&D Next debate? Even if it should be, why should it be mentioned over and above games like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or Castles & Crusades?

It almost comes across as though a Pathfinder fan having got used to Pathfinder getting a lot of attention is suddenly shocked that D&D seems to be getting more spotlight time now. Of course it will get more spotlight time now - it's in the process of creating a new edition, and not just that but a version that will hopefully be able to recreate the playstyle of all previous editions!

I play 3.5, 4e and PF (though the latter only for Pathfinder Society) and each offer something different that I like. The idea of a version of D&D that can enable me to build the mashup of 3.5 and 4e I want sounds great to me.

For those who like PF - it is a strong enough system to survive whatever D&D Next turns out to be (it should be, as it is built on the years of work Wizards of the Coast put into the 3rd edition of D&D) so there is no reason to worry. If you're interested in D&D Next get involved, if you're not then just keep playing Pathfinder and leave the future of D&D to others. Simple! :)

The one thing I wish WotC will take from Paizo as an example is how to run a popular organised play campaign - make the scenarios easily available for a modest fee and let anyone run them, at cons, game stores and in home games.
Mordicai Knode
33. mordicai
MatthewB (24)

I don't know; if their aim is TRUELY to make the new game edition compliant & modular, maybe it WILL be a paradigm shift, making "DnD Next" an actual thing. You're probably right though, that it will be a 5e. I guess I'm an optimist?

SteveP (26)

I have a hard time saying I don't like WotC-- they ARE the ones who made 3e, after all, & even thought I'm not a Magic: the Gathering player, I find the MtG blogs to be fascinating, rife with good art & good world building.
Mordicai Knode
34. mordicai
GP (27) & billiam (28)

I think 4e is a lot of fun as a tactical skirmish game. I think it...fails when it doesn't try to be that. It isn't World of Warcraft on paper so much as it is...well, Warhammer on paper. I think it is REALLY old school, going back to the wargaming roots of the hobby. It doesn't suit my style of running a game-- the PCs in my game go to more fancy parties than they have fights-- but I like playing it. The paywall & the closed license...yeah. Those burned a lot of potential goodwill.

James M. (29)

I have read elsewhere (EN World) that a big part of what is going on with WotC & Dungeons & Dragons is that Hasbro has a $50 million benchmark for "core" & "non-core" & that this has all been a lot of hustle to try to crest that threshold.
36. James M.
Digitalmage (32)

Because the success of Pathfinder and Paizo's business model says a great deal about what the audience for WotC's products wants and how they want it. Or at least the vocal, forum-visiting audience-- I DO think Pathfinder probably hasn't been as effective an introductory drug to roleplaying as 4e was, even if 4e failed to meet expectations overall.
37. Doug M.
"Why should Pathfinder be mentioned in the D&D Next debate? Even if it should be, why should it be mentioned over and above games like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or Castles & Crusades?"

1) For a lot of people, Pathfinder is D&D.

2) Pathfinder sells more than all the games you mention combined. In fact, to a first approximation the tabletop RPG market consists of 4th edition, then Pathfinder, then everything else combined.

3) 5th edition is, to some extent, a response to Pathfinder.

Wizards made a number of huge mistakes with 4th. Not just design mistakes (though there were plenty of those, goodness knows) but stuff like cancelling Dungeon and Dragon, D&D Insider, the unsuccessful MMORPG, botched attempts at online content delivery, botched licensing, withdrawal of support for third party developers... you name it. As a result, they ended up losing a huge chunk of market share to Pathfinder. How much is an open question (a lot of the data is not public), but you can just glance at the shelves of your local gaming shop and see that PF is very roughly equal to 4e.

5th edition is Wizards' attempt to come roaring back and reclaim that. First, second and third editions all lasted around a decade or so; 4th is getting the axe after less than five years, thanks to Pathfinder.

So, yeah, it's definitely part of the story.

Doug M.
38. Doug M.
@36, James M., you got it. While Wizards did so many things wrong with 4e, Paizo did so many things right with Pathfinder -- good design choices, quality product, the Adventure Path concept, Pathfinder Society organized play, support for third party developers, support for the shrinking-but-still-important local game shop market, the annual design competitions, you name it.

Also: Paizo is a closely owned small business that has a very stable staff -- almost nobody gets laid off or fired. Compare this to Wizards' infamous "we fire a bunch of people every December, just because" policy. Paizo is run by the same folks who founded it back in 2002, and has a design staff that's pretty much the same people as five years ago in 2007. Wizards, on the other hand, is completely unrecognizable; there are only a handful of people left from even five years ago, never mind ten, and almost none of them are in key positions. While keeping the same people long-term may have some drawbacks (stagnation, groupthink, yadda yadda), there's no question that it's helped Paizo build a base of loyal fans and customers. I mean, you can go to their forum, post a question for chief editor James Jacobs, and within a day or two he'll respond. That doesn't happen over at Wizards.

If the Wizards folks are smart, they'll look hard at Paizo's choices, because most of those choices have been pretty successful for Paizo.

Finally, I agree that PF has not been as successful as a gateway drug. That's a problem for the industry generally, mind.

Doug M.
39. DigitalMage
James M. (36)
You make a good point and one that the article didn't - so the point is that the discussion should be mentioning Paizo, the success of Pathfinder, the business model used etc?

I believe the actual system of Pathfinder probably doesn't need discussion as part of the D&D Next debate - if WotC are trying to make a system that can replicate the feel of a D&D 3rd ed game, that pretty much covers the feel of Pathfinder by default. Maybe in regards to adventures the Pathfinder APs should bear consideration, but that is something the D&D Next discussion haven't really got to yet.

Doug M. (37)
Seeing as how maybe the point is to discuss the business model of Pathfinder and not the system, then yes I can see how those other systems (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or Castles & Crusades) need not be talked about; although D&D Next is trying to recreate the feel of all the editions those clones are based on (including PF), its the success of PF that is the point not the system.

Basically WotC should perhaps be learning from Paizo's marketing effort and business model (and maybe they are, hence the open playtest plan), and on that point maybe they could also look to other RPG publishers on how they handle a transition of editions (White Wolf with Old & New WoD and the mistakes made there for example).

Also in regard to edition age, 3.0 lasted 5 years, so did 3.5 and by the time D&D Next comes out 4e will have lasted as long. Although I agree that D&D Next is likely in response to the mediocre reception of 4e, it is also in response to the usual edition cycle.
40. Nojh
I take exception to your characterization of the OGL period of tabletop gaming as a "golden age". There are perspectives of that time that do not look at it fondly. The OGL allowed for qualities creators to create adventures like Pathfinder setting, true. It also created a glut of d20 "trash" that had a negative impact upon the industry as a whole, particularly for new players and gaming retailers. I was not surprised when the GSL came about which gave WotC more control over branding, in order to keep stuff like from happening again.

Also correct me if I'm wrong but the point of your article is: "Pathfinder is good so consider it when considering the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons." with the subtext of "Pathfinder is better than D&D but D&D is more popular." Personally I agree that designers of all tabletop games should look at what has come before when designing something new but I don't expect a company to actively discuss a competitor's product during the playtesting of their own newer edition. It would be rather bad business and as much as I'd like tabletop gaming to be a big happy community, for companies like White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast, it is a business before it is a community.
41. jollygood
I quit playing D&D shortly after WotC bought the company. Well, let me clarify, I never played third edition. I'm a second edition fan. Always loved the simplicity of it and was never much into miniatures.

That said, I recently started playing Pathfinder. I was very critical of it the first night but have come to appreciate it mostly because of the modules, which are extremely well done. I always did enjoy the adventures that came out in Dungeon, and Dragon, magazines. Continued to buy those even after the third edition rules. Makes sense that the people that did those created Pathfinder.

It seems there's a lot of old school D&D players that've started playing Pathfinder, and WotC's decision for fifth edition definitely stems from Pathfinder being the leading RPG in sales over the past several quarters.

I'm done with D&D for the foreseeable future, but might take a look if and when Paizo makes a 2nd edition of Pathfinder. I think it's going to be a long while before they do. They seem to enjoy building upon what's been established, and that's the way it should be.
42. Doug M.
"maybe the point is to discuss the business model of Pathfinder and not the system"

Well, I think both are relevant. However, discussing the game system gets us into another endless 4e sucks / no it doesn't discussion, and nobody wants that. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, we can almost all agree that certain of Wizards' business decisions were horrible (MMORPG, licensing fiascoes) while some of Paizos were inspired (3PD support, Adventure Paths as flagships). You may or may not like the Adventure Paths; I do myself, but some people don't. That's a question of personal taste. But objectively speaking, they sell like hotcakes, make a stupid amount of money, and are effectively tied-in to other Paizo products in a way that makes it all too easy to spend a lot more money on Pathfinder stuff. So from a business perspective, they're a huge success.

""Pathfinder is good so consider it when considering the next edition of
Dungeons & Dragons." with the subtext of "Pathfinder is better than
D&D but D&D is more popular.""

Well, Pathfinder -- which was founded as a labor of love by a small company with a dozen or so employees -- is now roughly as big as "real" D&D, which is owned by a large gaming company worth a couple of hundred million dollars (Wizards) which in turn is owned by a huge gaming company worth several billion dollars (Hasbro). So, obviously Paizo has been doing some things right.

-- jollygood, Paizo is being understandably tight-lipped about Pathfinder 2.0. But it's clearly still some time away. They're sensible businessfolk, so it looks like they'll wait for NuD&D to come out and then decide how to respond.

"I don't expect a company to actively discuss a competitor's product during the playtesting of their own newer edition."

Um... nobody suggested that was going to happen.

Doug M.
43. Eugene R.
As a general comment, I think that having a table-top RPG on the market that can, for the first time, equal, if not surpass, in sales the venerable Dungeons & Dragons is certainly a cause for wanting to compare the newbie to the Ol' Faithful, especially if the founding game is reacting (at long last) to a serious challenge.

elucidarian (@23): I intended to speak about table-top RPG popularity in more overall terms than in relative ones. My impression is that the overall number of table-top gamers and gaming sales has declined from a peak in the mid-to-late 1990s. In the article on the "crowdsourcing" of D&D Next in the New York Times, Ryan Dancey of Goblinworks (and formerly of WotC) claims that the table-top market peaked in 1999-2003 and since 2005 has declined. Shannon Appelcline ("Designers & Dragons" column, RPG.net) reported that 2010 and 2011 were both bad years for table-top RPGs, with sales decreases.

On the other encounter table, GenCon has had record attendance in the last 2 years, hitting a high point of 36,000 in 2011, which brings it back to the previous high points (30,000 in 1995). So, maybe gaming at conventions is picking up, perhaps as an alternative to more expensive vacations. I am happy to hear any good news for table-top RPGs.

colomon (@30): My biggest objection to new editions is less the outlay of money than of time, i.e., having to read over another set of rulebooks to find the changes to my old rulebooks. Can't we encourage RPG publishers to put out "conversion kits" in addition to the rules tomes to help us established refs/players to make the transition less painfully?

Rules complexity is also one of the reasons I moved toward less "crunchy" systems. I have not played Amber Diceless in a while, but I enjoyed it when I did. Hope you are gaming well! Awesomest Amber Diceless anecdote that I know: sf writer Walter Jon Williams, in his introductory essay in Power & Light: the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, talks about his Amber Diceless campaign ... and how he nearly got Roger Zelazny to join! My mind reels.
Mordicai Knode
44. mordicai
The "Gateway Drug" aspect of the hobby is something that has really been on my mind; there needs to be a products, a playable version of a fantasy roleplaying game, that an eleven year old can play in an afternoon. The new DnD red box didn't cut it & the new Pathfinder box is great but pricy.

Nojh, no? I admit the post is scattered-- I guess the point was "why aren't people in the mainstream media talking about other games when they talk about RPGs," & to sort of take the temperature of the room. For me-- a guy who never runs a pre-existing setting, who cobbles together rules & ideas from all over, who looks at the game as a toolbox-- the glut of products was great. I don't need someone to be "on brand," so I'm happy to build a homebrew Prestige Class using the WotC "Book of Vile Darkness" & the Pathfinder "Ultimate Magic" & AEG's Rokugon, & Blizzard's "Warcraft the Roleplaying Game." I do see your point about retailers having a hard time of it; I wonder how the rise of the Print on Demand industry will have things evolve, going forward?
Joseph Kingsmill
45. JFKingsmill16
If sales have been down and the fan base appears to be fractured I think you really don’t have to look any farther than comparing the difference of the books WotC have put out from 1990-1999 to 2000-2012. During the 90’s we had just 2nd Edition and eventually the rules option books. That was a decade with one system that was fully supported by the company. Then comes the year 2000 and 3rd Edition. In eight years they release three editions were two of which are not backwards compatible and they end all support for everything they’ve done previously. And now with 5th Edition on the horizon it means that WotC will have put out 4 different editions of their flagship system in a little more than a decade. People want some stability. Also, these books aren’t cheap. I think the D&D gaming community has reached a saturation point that they just can’t justify continuously buying edition after edition. My one true criticism of 4th Edition is the fact that the books seem to be a little light on content so they can spread the Players Guide out to three volumes. I feel this also may contribute to decreasing sales.

Pathfinder isn’t perfect, and to be honest, no pen and paper RPG can ever be perfect. But, with our House/Homebrew adjustments, Pathfinder has become the perfect system for our gaming group.
Not to mention the obvious that online gaming has to be taking a huge bite out of sales. Between Halo, CoD & WoW it's a wonder how these stores can still function.
Mordicai Knode
46. mordicai

It is my understanding that online gaming ISN'T taking a huge bite out of pen & paper sales...that sure, lots of people are playing World of Warcraft, but that the same-- or slightly more-- numbers of people are still ("still," like it is obsolete? No!) playing "real" roleplaying games.
Joseph Kingsmill
47. JFKingsmill16
@mordicai - I sure hope so. As awesome as it is to sit down and play elderscrolls it will never compare to sitting & playing a pen & paper rpg
48. EpicPrime
@EvanJ - By saying that Pathfinder has done nothing new shows your own rabid bias. Pathfinder created new streamlined mechanics for Combat Maneuvers. Pathfinder completely revamped many of the existing classes to make them more appealing rather than dip classes. They added capstones at level 20 to give incentive to play to level 20 in a class. It also maintained backwards compatibility to 3.5. They specifically set out to try to maintain as much backwards compatibility as possible, so they didn't make an entirely new edition. Innovations like archetypes, bloodlines and rogue talents, make Pathfinder better.

4th editions main failing was alienating the fan base in a bid to attract new people, pushed by Hasbro executives most likely. They over produced, too many hardback releases. D&D Essentials, which reworked core classes to bring them back in line with the one-upped splat classes. They lost me when they lied about working on 4e at GenCon...then "surprise" 4dventure! The slaughtering of sacred cows and chastising of grognards didn't help. As a gamer since '83, a Gamemaster and rabid purchaser of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions, I felt betrayed. As a genXer, my money went elsewhere.

I agree, Pathfinder isn't perfect but it is fun...more fun when you tweak the rules some.
49. Valen200
I don't realy buy how 3.0 and 3.5 were entirely different editions. 4e fans like to point out the 5 year cycle to say "Yeah, well during 3e a system was launched every 5 years. So 4e is just as successful. It's just game cycle." And D&D Classic gamers like to point it out as a way of showing how long their prefered system lasted in comparison.

I feel that it's really just a matter of conveint symantics. I played 2e and vaugely recall some sort of revised edition to go along with the player options books. Still, for the better part of a decade the rules were largely compatible.

And with 4e, well there was essentials. If revising a system counts as a new system then it is more like 2.5 years 4e and 2.5 years 4essentials. Once again, for the whole 5 year period the rules were mostly compatible.

That is basicaly what happened with 3e. The system was revised but old and new content remained largely compatible. I consider a new system to start when the books are incompatible and new ones must be purchased.

For the record, I like pathfinder. 4e is fun in the encounters form. I like it as a weekly mini session. I don't get as into it as other role playing games, but it is fun when it is doing what it was designed to do. And I am cautiously optimistic about 5e. I think Paizo know more about how to run a buisness and earn good will, but at least Wizards seems to be making an attempt. That counts for osmething in my book.

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