Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Paizo

Dear Paizo,

Greetings! It’s been a long time since we last communicated and we’ve both gone through many changes since then. You’ve left the shadow of Wizards of the Coast to pursue your own efforts to produce enjoyable game products for one of the more fickle recreational audiences imaginable, while I’ve gone back to the roots of this hobby and rediscovered my love for the simpler, and often times rougher, systems of the past. We’ve both been quite successful in our endeavors and this has put some distance between us. I nevertheless understand you’re doing well.

I’m writing you today to bridge that distance. The occasion for this is that I recently purchased one of your products. I admit that I’ve not be a supporter of your efforts financially in the past. Previously, I purchased your Classic Monsters Revisited after reading a positive review of that book (and I concur with that review), and some months ago I purchased your Pathfinder Core Rules thanks to a large discount and a gift card from the now-defunct Borders Books. I’ve paged through one or two of your Adventure Paths, but these were loaners, not purchases.

My impression from these books was that your designers are obviously very passionate about the game and world you’ve created. Your artists do a wonderful job of breathing life into this setting (even if I do find the occasional rendering of a barbarian with a sword the size of her own body more laughable than cool) and more often than not I find an illustration that really leaps out and says “Don’t you wish your character encountered/did this?” So, although I’m far from a rabid fan, I do appreciate your hard work even if Pathfinder itself is a bit bloated for my tastes.

Make no mistake—it is bloated. You did a good job cleaning things up from its predecessor, but when my preferred game systems have rule books that number between 64 and 128 pp., it’s a little difficult to get excited when confronted with a rulebook the size of my local telephone directory. As interesting as I’ve found Pathfinder and the adventures you’ve produced for it, rules of that length are simply a deal-breaker for me.

That brings us to my recent purchase: the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Like Classic Monsters Revisited, I heard a few surprised murmurs amongst my colleagues regarding this product recently. And, finding myself confronted by the box at my local Barnes & Noble with a gift card in my wallet, I decided to pays my money and takes my chances. After exchanging $38.00 and change (tax included), I took the box home. Hours later, I opened it.

Perhaps the greatest compliment of my own I can give you is this: I’d play this game. Hell, I’d even run this game! After even a brief overview of the set I could see that you fine folks at Paizo really, really get it. This product is obviously created by gamers with a love of gaming. Folks who at least had some familiarity with old TSR boxed sets, even if they weren’t the gateway into this hobby for all of you. Having seen the Dungeon & Dragons 4E “Red Box,” I can say that the Beginner Box is a vast improvement in comparison.

My immediate impression was that of the old Holmes’ basic set. While the Pathfinder Beginner Box (a name of which I approve of) is not a complete rules set, neither is it “crippleware.” Obviously, it serves your business model to steer newcomers to the game towards the more complete and pricier Core Books, but you’ve nevertheless packed enough material into the Beginner Box to not only allow gamers to extract a sizeable amount of enjoyment from the set, but, for the mad homebrewer or those who prefer a “rules lite” game, you’ve provided a solid skeleton for these types to build their own worlds upon. You deserve both accolades and respect for that. A truly, excellent, excellent job.

A suggestion: If you were to release an Expert or Intermediate Box in a year’s time or so, one that covered levels 6-10 and introduced 3-4 new classes along with new monsters and spell, I think you’d have another hit on your hands. I for one would gladly purchase such a product, as would some of my compatriots amongst us older gamers. You’ve certainly generated some goodwill with the Beginner Box and, given its “Pathfinder lite” rules, may even win some converts from those of us who enjoy simpler and smaller game systems—ascending Armor Class notwithstanding.

Paizo, you stand at this moment the king of the roleplaying heap. You’ve wrested the title from your former masters simply by understanding your audience and respecting them while still turning a profit. The Beginner Box is another step in the right direction and your exalted position in the eyes of both the gaming community at large and the industry is yours to lose. As a friend and a fellow gamer, I offer you this heartfelt advice:

Do not fuck it up.


Michael Curtis


The Bane said...

Where is the [Like] button?! I have not gotten the Basic set yet but intend to, as I fall into the same mold as you.

I like the older rules light rules of days past, but tried Pathfinder Core because it is professional supported and the setting/art is nice. But, I found it too exhaustive. Basic Pathfinder, or Beginner as it is named, is what I hope it is.

I was going to wait till after Christmas to get Basic Pathfinder, but I don't know that I can now!


Greyhawk Knight said...

I’d play this game. Hell, I’d even run this game!

Is that a hypethetical "'d" (as in, ...if I didn't have my favourite game already), or a statement of intent?

Do you really switch systems regularly? Inside the same genre?

That's my problem with all those nice OSR games out there. I really like Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Original B/X, Pars Fortuna, and Spellcraft & Swordplay, and I guess I would like that new Sword & Sorcery adaption of S&W that endet its kickstarter phase recently (forgot the name) as well.
But I have only one group for regular play, and if we change systems we change genres as well. (Say, d6 Star Wars, or CoC.)

Michael Curtis said...

Call it a hypothetical for the moment, but if people wanted to go the Pathfinder route, I'd run the Beginner Box with a mixture of home-brewed goodies and pieces cherry-picked from the Core Rules.

As for changing systems and genres, I've come to believe that if you're switching rules you are in effect changing genres, even if the distinctions are subtle.

In the past two years, I've run Labyrinth Lord, B/X D&D, DCC RPG, D&D Gamma World, Star Wars d6, Call of Cthulhu, GORE, and Vampire: The Masquerade. Even when I've run games that are within the same genre (LL, B/X, DCC), I've found that I make changes within the genre to better accommodate the rules I'm using. My LL game is much more dungeon hack, my DCC RPG more sword & sorcery, and B/X was more traditional fantasy. Pathfinder would be something else entirely.

Greyhawk Knight said...

As for changing systems and genres, I've come to believe that if you're switching rules you are in effect changing genres, even if the distinctions are subtle.

I guess you are right. I never thought about it that way.

Because most of my games are with the same group of players and characters, and in the same sandbox/playground.
Even if the modules have no connections (being one-shots from magazines, for instance) I would not change systems. Not even if the module was written for a different iteration of D&D/clone. I'd rather convert the stats. We had to do it all the time when we played Basic D&D modules from Imagine with AD&D.

Sometimes I use Paizo's adventure path modules (usually taken out of context) but I never thought of switching to PF then, even if the beginner box seems to be quite close to B or B/X in scope.

Maybe I will give the box a closer look.

Dangerous Brian said...

Wonderful sentiment, well expressed. I'm 100% in agreement with everything you say.

Digital Orc said...

Interesting. I bought the D&D new red box out of curiosity. My tastes run now otherwise and so, I'll avoid a similar Pathfinder purchase until enough of my friends make the crossover.

That said, based on what I've seen, I totally agree with your assessment towards the clarity of love and detail given this starter set. Just the professionalism and dedication are enough for me to think twice...

JasperAK said...


I like the beginner box so much I have already started tinkering with the classes to match the sandbox I have.

Eldrad Wolfsbane said...

What I would like is something no more complicated than Basic D&D but with all the MANY options of Pathfinder and it's ilk. I guess I will have to go out and write a game like that. WAIT! I already did. Just finishing up a few loose ends. To be released soon for free with a later option of a dead tree copy.

Justin S. Davis said...

Thank you for this. I had been on the fence about the product, but you sold it by addressing every one of my concerns.

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same way. My group played the beginner box, with the pre-gens over our holiday session and had a blast. I want to convert T1-4 Temple of elemental evil on the fly using pathfinder basic.

Anonymous said...

im Isaac and have a blogger aswell. check it out....
eye of zeus publishing,its a 3pp for Pathfinder!

David Key said...

After reading this it looks like I will give this a shot. I was already considering it. I really want to like Pathfinder but found the core book alone far too big for my tastes. But if the found a way to condense all of the important rules into a tasty bite sized morsel I may reconsider running this in the future

Anonymous said...

Just ordered my copy of Stonehell Dungeon and found your blog. I agree with what you wrote here. The lack of a new basic game has been very frustrating. When I finally made it to Gencon in 07, the guys at WOTC were talking like that Starter Set was going to be it. Big disappointment.

From what I've heard, Paizo nailed it with this Beginner Box. Five levels, streamed down game. Not all of us want or have time for all the rules, and Moldvay/Cook and BECMI were perfect. I simply don't understand why a game like this hasn't been out there for years.

It's been a while since I've been to my local game store, and when I returned recently I noticed Pathfinder has the same amount of shelf space as D&D. That's another subject, but the BB is their attempt to get new players. People are calling it the best since the old red box.

The problem is Paizo says they don't want to do an Expert Box for five more levels and even go so far as to say the two rpg lines are what killed TSR. I believe the only way they will change their tume is if sales are up. One can only help. Old Basic sold very well, and I believe the money is there in the long run if they even just do Beginner and Expert. That would still be plenty to game with.

By the way, the youtube videos are what led to my purchase if Stonehell Dungeon. It looked like fun. Keep up the good work.