Monday, August 30, 2010

Prep Time Woes

I've got a big Pathfinder RPG gaming session coming up this weekend with some first-time players. In the interest of giving them a pleasant gaming experience, I'm creating their character sheets for them. I asked them for names, races, classes, and back stories, but I'm doing the rest myself to keep them from getting bogged down in the minutiae of the character creation process. So last night I built two of the characters, and it took me three and a half hours.

I know this isn't an issue with all role playing games. With some games you can be up and running in minutes (I'm hoping that's the case with Savage Worlds, which I ordered late last week). Not so with Pathfinder, or with D&D 3.5e before it. It's a long, involved process. There's no way my kids could do it, not yet anyway. Or perhaps they could do it now, albeit incompletely.

Not that this problem is unique to Pathfinder or D&D, but these are the games I'm familiar with, and I'm already deeply entrenched in a Pathfinder game . So I looked into ways to help speed up the process. With D&D 4e, there's this awesome tool called the D&D Character Builder. It's free with your not-so-free paid subscription to D&D Insider. Sadly, Pathfinder RPG does not have such a tool available. Word on the street is that Paizo Publishing (creators of Pathfinder) are partnering with HeroLabs to make one. HeroLabs already has an MS Excel builder available for $29.95, but unfortunately it doesn't work on Mac OS X. There are a few other spreadsheet tools available for free online that do, but my experience is that they're every bit as complicated and difficult to navigate as the core rulebook itself.

If I was running things at Paizo, I would develop a web-based tool for building characters, and I would make it available for free. They'll probably never do this, fearing people would no longer buy the books, but they could always make certain exotic features unavailable via the program, or have more advanced features accessible with a paid subscription. If they're like other companies, they may also be of the opinion that there's no good reason to do work for free. This is all pure speculation, of course, and they may pleasantly surprise me. They should talk to the creators of some of the more popular open source software on the market today. In the meantime, by making the core application free, they would be putting forth a very strong argument to folks who are on the fence between choosing D&D and Pathfinder. But what do I know? I'm just a caveman who was frozen in the ice for 10,000 years...

The impact of all this extends beyond character generation. In preparing the adventure for this weekend, I've decided that my BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy...the enemy you face at the end of an adventure) is an NPC (non-player character*) of a specific class. The class I've chosen is very cool and relevant to the campaign, but it's one of the more complicated character classes in Pathfinder. So that's just one more character that's going to chew up at least an hour and a half of my time to create, and for what? The characters kill him/her in five to seven rounds at the end of the session, or leave frustrated if he/she escapes to fight another day (sorry, spoilers here!). Is it worth it?

Part of the problem I'm having is that I let myself get dragged down into the rules. For example, I know what capabilities I want my BBEG to have, so why should I even bother sweating the details to make sure he/she is a valid build (as they say in the hobby)? I could just give him/her some random hit points, armor class, and a few spells, and no one would be the wiser come game time. I know this, I understand it, but when I start writing everything down, I quickly find myself bogged down in details in the core rulebook. I'm not even sure how or why it happens. It just does. Is it because I'm afraid the players will start to question the internal logic of my adventure? If the BBEG has a specific ability that he/she normally wouldn't, will some rules-savvy player demand an explanation, or perhaps insist there be a magic item that imparts said ability that they can take from the corpse of the slain NPC? I don't really have those kinds of players, so why am I so worried? Definitely something for me to ponder.

Don't get me wrong, I think Pathfinder is a wonderful game, and apparently I'm not alone as Paizo walked away with the 2010 Gen Con EN World RPG Award (or "Ennie") for Best Game and a host of other awards. To me it feels a little bit more like the D&D I grew up with than D&D 4e, which feels like a card game to me, kind of like Magic: The Gathering. So I'm not trying to slam Paizo here (but maybe I am slamming Wizards of the Coast's D&D just a tiny bit). You just have to know going in what you're in for. It's a game that gives people who prefer a lot of detail exactly what they want, and with that detail comes a degree of complexity that may be off-putting to the uninitiated. As the GM, it's my job to manage those details and abstract them from the game experience to keep sessions exciting for the players. It's not the easiest gig in the world. It sure was a lot easier back in the days of AD&D.

Looking forward to this weekend though.

* Note to self: create an acronyms entry, or at least one with a link to a page with common RPG acronyms.


  1. I ran across your blog a few days ago, and I like what I've seen so far. In response to this post, I found a link to an online character generator for the PFRPG:

    It looks like it might do what you need it to. =)