Category Archives: Tabletop 101

Tabletop 101: How to Build an Effective and Fun Pathfinder Character

By Mike

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder with a few of my friends via Skype and Roll20. In that time I’ve assembled some observations about how to effectively build a character in Paizo’s answer to Dungeons and Dragons.

One of the challenges of building a character in this game is the sheer number of options that are open. At time of writing the game has more than a dozen character classes, hundreds of feats and character traits that you can add to a character, not to mention dozens of spells per each level — and that’s only the tip of the iceburg. While these options are part of the core appeal of the game, allowing players to create characters very organically and find some way of making any aspect of a character into a tangible aspect of gameplay, they’re also overwhelming to deal with. There’s an infinite variety of ways to build a character, but only a handful of those options are actually worth pursuing.

The key to dealing with this challenge is realizing that Pathfinder, while descended from the same stock as D&D 3rd edition, is not D&D 3rd or 3.5. While of the same spirit as Dungeons and Dragons, it has clearly and distinctly re-defined itself as its own unique game, in that none of the intuitive conventions of 3/3.5 for building a character apply in any remote sense. Once this is understood, the game is INFINITELY more interesting and more workable, and you’ll begin to realize that any concept you can imagine is viable as a character — just not necessarily in the way that you’d think. For instance, multiclassing is, while easier to do than it was in 3e, almost entirely displaced by other options. Races have a stunningly strong influence on the viability of certain character builds, and the difference of allowing Traits and not allowing Traits can mean life or death for certain types of characters.

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Tabletop 101: Sci-fi vs. Fantasy — A Problem of Abstraction

By Mike

I’ve been working on designing a tabletop RPG in my spare time for a little while now, based on an original sci-fi setting I’ve been working on for the past few years. In the time since I’ve started working on this system I’ve found that sci-fi has some odd bumps in the road compared with a fantasy RPG. The main issue at hand is abstraction.

A fantasy RPG is very easy to run and develop, mainly due to the conceit that a fantasy game will typically take place in a setting that, apart from concessions made for magic, is less advanced than our own. The idea behind a tabletop RPG is that if players can think it, they can do it, and 90% of people can most certainly think of most of the possibilities at hand in a medieval setting.

By contrast, sci-fi demands abstraction, owing to far future technologies and complex knowledge bases that players, in all but a few rare cases, can’t be expected to understand. It leads to a lot of knowledge and skill rolls in place of the players actually understanding what their characters are doing or thinking. Someone does an engineering roll — is the ship fixed? Yes/no. Someone does a piloting roll — did they dodge another ship? Yes/no. Someone does a biology roll — can they identify that animal? Yes/no. Making the game feel exciting is a big problem, and it’s easy for all too many things to feel like a coin flip.

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