Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pathfinder RPG

The big news in the RPG industry this week was the announcement by Paizo Publishing (formerly the publishers of Dragon and Dungeon magazines) that they will not be switching to D&D 4th edition and will instead be developing the Pathfinder RPG, which will be based on the D&D 3.5 rules. I have to admit that I was in a state of shock when that announcement hit. I think that WotC, and most everyone else watching the industry, assumed that the 3rd party publishers were going to adopt the 4th edition rules under WotC's new Game System License (GSL) and run with it. There are a couple of problems with that assumption, however. First of all, WotC has yet to produce the GSL, and second, all indications are that its going to be much more restrictive than the OGL was. For starters, Green Ronin probably wouldn't have been able to do True20 under the GSL. There's also the possibility that companies may not even be able to translate their old material released under the OGL to 4th edition compatible versions.

Paizo has the additional problem in that they are producing a hybrid product. Their Pathfinder series is a series of linked adventures presented in book format, however, they ship on a monthly schedule. So the physical form might be that of a book, but in almost every other way, they're magazines. Since Pathfinder is all about series' of linked adventures, they can't afford to sit around and wait for WotC to give them the license they need to keep producing their monthly book. They're currently shipping the second adventure path and they're probably finalizing the third or even the fourth of these right now. If they want to be 4E compliant by the end of the year, they need the GSL and they need the rules prior to now.

Be that as it may, other than the publishers that this affects, who are the winners and who are the losers of this decision? The customers! Those customers who decide not to switch to the 4th edition rules (and from what I've been reading, there may be a fairly large number of them this time around) will have a ready source of 3rd edition (kind of) material. According to Paizo, they won't need to buy the new Pathfinder RPG to keep playing the Pathfinder adventures. Better yet, if they do decide to buy into the Pathfinder RPG, they'll be able to play old adventures and use old 3.5 accessories with the new books. So other than the rules upgrades, which will serve to streamline things a bit and solve some of those problems people complain about with the new edition, thjis is really just a way of keeping the 3.5 rules in print.

So those are the winners. Who are the losers? Those who switch to 4th edition will be the ones who lose out on this deal. A lot of people like having printed magazine like things to keep their games going. WotC will still have Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazines, but they'll only be online, and they'll require the use of a printer and a subscription that will cost $10 to $15 a month. Actually, people like me will appreciate this because it means that material wil only be printed out as needed and it won't require a lot of bookshelf space. I don't really see the downside, but for many, this will be a big deal.

So what's my final analysis? I fully intend to do design work for 4th edition, and I intend to play the game and hopefully like it. From all accounts, it sounds like it will be a much easier game to design for. However, from what I've heard, it will also not appeal as much to the power gamers as 3rd edition did. In a sense, it's going to be like the old days when we had Basic D&D which ran alongside Advanced D&D. The difference here being that these games will be supported by different companies. While I fully intend to be onboard for 4th edition, I have to admit that I am a fan of the complexity and internal consistency of 3rd edition. I don't want to even think about liquidating my 3rd edition books, nor can I imagine never playing that game again. In other words, I'm thrilled that Paizo is doing this. I'm extremely happy that people are keeping the 3rd edition game system alive.

A final thought is that WotC may have shot themselves in the foot when they released 3rd edition by creating the OGL. Sure, up until this point, 3rd party publishers haven't been able to take much more than a small chunk out of WotC's loyal fan base, but who knows how long that will hold true? The OGL used the open source movement as an inspiration, touting that it would lead to advancements in game design, and in truth, I believe it has. There's also a lot of talk comparing 4th edition to New Coke, but I have another comparison that, should it come to pass, should be scaring anyone at WotC who is committed to the D&D game: IBM.

In 1981 IBM released the personal PC along with its open architecture, which made industry standardization possible. When Compaq came along and started using this to build IBM Clones, IBM fired off a bunch of cease and desist letters, along with several lawsuits. I don't think they intended for other manufacturers to use the open architecture to create their own PCs. Unfortunately for IBM, Compaq understood the implications of what they had done better than the parent company that had done it, and we all know how things turned out. Of anyone who might be reading this, are any of you reading this using a computer manufactured by IBM? Didn't think so. While IBM managed to hang in there through the mid-90s, often marketing their machines as "premium" or "original," the truth was that they became just another competitor in a crowded market.

Now, in looking at WotC and their wonderful "Open Game" upon which so many standalone games have been created, one has to ask whether or not its really in anyone's best interest to switch? 4th edition is really just an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle, then throw that bottle into the ocean and hope that nobody finds it. Good luck with that. Instead what is happening is that Paizo is out there in scuba gear, retrieving the bottle, shining it up quite a bit, and strapping it to the hood of their Pathfinder SUV and driving it a lot farther down the road that WotC expected them to. And you know what? Good for Paizo! I hope that the 3rd edition game is around in one form or another for decades to come, regardless of what ends up happening to D&D.


Anonymous said...

First off, I found your "Anyone reading this using an IBM PC? I didn't think so" line funny, because I'm on an IBM Thinkpad at the moment. ^.^ From back when IBM made them, instead of Lenovo.

Second, the different between true Open Source-ness and the OGL is that OGL games still rely on the D&D books. You can't print character creation info or the rules for levelling up. So in reality, it's the people who got into writing OGL games who got the short end of the stick! I think ...

Darrin Drader said...

Well, that's true to an extent. There's actually very little character creation stuff that you aren't allowed to use. Pathfinder and other standalone OGL games have gotten around this by creating their own systems to replace the ones that weren't allowed.

Anonymous said...

Sort of ... if you look at the fine print, a d20 game isn't allowed to discuss how to generate ability scores or "apply the effects of experience to a character." Mongoose's reprints of the SRD couldn't, and neither could the d20 Babylon 5 RPG. The only one that could is Star Wars, and that's because it was made by Wizards of the Coast.

Pathfinder only gets around it by dispensing with the rules altogether. It's not a "true" d20 game; it's a fully OGL-licensed game that just happens to play a heck of a lot like d20. You can't copyright rules systems in the United States, only artistic presentations thereof, and that's a stipulation that Paizo took full advantage of.

Thanks for replying to my comment, by the way. ^.^ This is Murrquan's LiveJournal account.