Changes: One Month on – Pathfinder

It is roughly a month since I felt a little trapped by the murder hobo style of game that was being run in my Pathfinder games.  I was desperately trying to increase the role playing content of my games and relax the focus of my players from the idea of combat being the quickest and easiest way to gain experience and level up so to speak.  So, how has it gone?  I did report some easy wins but now those changes are old hat in my games – does that mean things have changed?

In Person Game – Skull and Shackles Adventure Path

change made the Skull and Shackles work well
Skull and Shackles is going along quite nicely now 🙂

This was possibly the game that I was suffering from the worst a month ago.  It had become a little old hat and was a guaranteed path to “where is the next fight”.  Role playing always seemed to take the back seat here.  It does not mean that there was no role playing, just that there was a real understanding that encounters were where the experience came from.

To change this I decided on a few tactics.  The first of this was not relying on maps and miniatures as much and dropping back to creating a theatre of the mind at all times.  When a map used to make an appearance all role playing seemed to stop and they switched to battle mode.  This has worked really well and the players are now often the ones that will pull out the boat if they sense a combat coming and that is largely the only real “map” that I have used since that date.  The role playing continues until the very first blow is expected to be struck.

I also changed this game so that the players were told explicitly that they would receive experience not based on combats and the like but on actual role playing and involvement in the game.  This is easily the best decision that I made and it has turned the group dynamic completely on its head.  I am getting to know this cut-throat bunch of pirates from their characters personality perspective now, not from their individual powers and bonuses.  There have been some fantastic interactions with NPC’s and PC to PC that I feel just would not have existed prior to this decision being made.

Finally, I reinstated Hero (villainy) Points in the game because I was sick of saying no, because the rules say x.  I wanted the players to have the ability to do incredible, or even impossible things and so I instigated Villainy Points again and gave them my own spin.  This also has allowed the imagination of the players to flourish and they are fully taking advantage of the situation now.  Tokens (I use Poker Chips) are flying thick and fast in game now like it is a game of FATE, not Pathfinder!

This game has gone from a chore to exactly what I thought it would be those few years ago when I first read this Adventure Path.  It is a swashbuckling good time which the players and I are loving.  The players are really getting into their roles and the setting.  They truly are a motley crew of evil and self involved capitalists on the high sea and they revel in it.  This is truly how I envision role playing and I look forward to it every week now.

Online Game: Reign of Winter Adventure Path

Custom background running in Fantasy Grounds
I made a custom background for my Fantasy Grounds Reign of Winter Game!

I have not really made many changes to this group as yet.  I do feel there could be a lot of improvement here by adding the full functionality of the Hero Point system.  They know they have Hero Points again but I have not really pushed things just yet.  The reasoning behind this is that the group is transitioning from Roll 20 to Fantasy Grounds.  This is a big step but in the long run it is the first step toward the theatre of the mind.  Doing this step is harder in an online environment as players generally have an expectation that they will be dealing with maps and tokens here.  It is why I went the extra yards and created a topical and attractive background for the tabletop.

The fact is though, this transition is not going as smoothly as it could.  We still have one player that is having trouble with his connection and so has not made it in to the game as of yet.  I am a bit nervous about this as it is the same player that could not connect with the recent SyncRPG that I looked at which would be my second choice.  Still, the people at Fantasy Grounds are looking into the situation and hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Once we have made that transition I am almost certain that the attachment to role-playing will improve.  That said, this group has always been pretty good in this regard.  It is really only ever the technology that has gotten in the way.  That said, it was this game that really highlighted the need for me to change things as it was this game that had the  hour combat that highlighted a lot of these problems to me.  Lets hope next game (in a fortnight) has us all able to play!

Conclusions

There is a reason that Pathfinder is one of the most popular role playing games out there.  It is modifiable, has an engaging set of characters and an unmistakable pedigree grounded in the first ever role playing game.  But, like most of the previous editions of this game, you have to modify it to the way that you want to play.  I was trying to play it by the rules and expected them to produce me a game that was weighted with the excitement of combat and the intrigue of learning about characters.  Unfortunately you need to alter the rules, or play a variant of them, to allow the role playing to be something that the players see as a worthwhile thing.  This is a fair compromise because the players want to get more power and ability and so they are going to focus on what allows them to do that.

When you take on a game system, ask “What do I want?”  Once you have that read the rules and setting from that perspective and pay attention to the bit, which is in every game I think I have ever read, that says the rules are a guideline and the GM should use what they want and make any house rules clear to achieve the game that gives you the most satisfaction as a group.  Keep rolling!

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