The One Thing 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Does Better Than Pathfinder (Or “You’re Saying That Wrong, Part 2”)

November 05, 2011 | | Comments 1

No matter what the critics say, no matter what views people enforce, when you strip the opinions and the judgments, there’s one thing no one can deny that Wizards of the Coast did better with 4th Edition D&D than Paizo did with Pathfinder.

That’s my cliffhanger, now to step back.

Last week, I was interviewed by the honchos over at Gamer’s Haven. What started probably as a short podcast ballooned to ninety minutes, I think prompted by my announcement of Amethyst Renaissance (our Pathfinder edition), not really an announcement but it was new to them. Gamer’s Haven’s review of Foundations became infamous in my circle and in the circles that tune into Gamer’s Haven. The quote that found itself in circulation involved Amethyst Foundations possessing a “3rd Edition mentality”—a thought still hard to properly define. In fact, the boys at Gamer’s Haven, when pressed about it, couldn’t properly characterize that statement either. It was then I made the passing remark that I was expecting them to claim in their eventual review of Renaissance that it had a “4th Edition mentality”. We all laughed.

How odd that three days later, I had one of my playtester imply that very thing.

The issue comes from what I believe to be the two greatest lessons to be gleaned from 4th Edition D&D.
1) There is nothing wrong with giving players freedom to choose without penalizing creativity.
2) Making abilities easy to read by offering them in bullet-form is superior than lumping them into a giant intimidating half page of amorphous paragraphs.

Forgetting my open letter, one of my more successful posts on Living Dice involved the strange and specific vernacular involving 4th Edition D&D. As I’ve been reading through Paizo’s Pathfinder and remembering how D&D 3.0/3.5 was written, I’ve discovered how much the language has changed nearly as much as the rules have. The obvious ones are supplementing movement based in feet than in squares and having someone staggered instead of dazed. I discovered that Paizo had written Pathfinder to slot in nicely between 3.5 and 4.0, as it should be. Sense Motive and Spot were merged into Perception. Jump and Balance became Acrobatics. It’s been easier to take Amethyst backwards from Foundations than forwards from our 2008 D20 book. But one issue I have with Pathfinder is the baffling nature of compressing all the facts of an ability into a hard-to-read paragraph forcing you to sift through the dense collection or sentences to find the one pertinent nugget you need.

So, with Renaissance, I’ve been listing abilities in bullet form in order to make them easier to understand, something like this:

Ability Type: Supernatural
Action: Swift
Attack of Opportunity: No
Requirement: You must be within 5 feet to a tree.
Uses Per Day: As many as your Wisdom modifier.
Effect: You teleport up to 50 feet to another tree within range. You emerge within 5 feet of the targeted tree. The trees must be rooted in the Earth.

So I’m left curious as to why would someone want something more confusing. And there are other issues as well. In Pathfinder, effects can last one 1 round, but I always considered that more confusing than effects that last until the start of your next turn. Pathfinder abilities will cure a target of damage while 4th Edition will have abilities that regain hit points. Both games make skill checks. Pathfinder characters can target opponents while 4th Edition goes mostly after enemies. Both will target creatures. Semantics aside, the issue with layout is a big one.

This was an inherent flaw with 3rd edition which Pathfinder hasn’t done enough to fix, the intimidating and confusing nature of how it present its rules. I mean a half-page of text for barbarian rage powers forcing you to look through all of that for relevant information is archaic. I mean, it IS a power; let’s be honest. You activate it. It lasts for a fixed time. Why not present it in an easy-to-read fashion?

As for giving player’s freedom, I’m still committed in following the “yes” mentality, so that if you pick an Amethyst race, you’re not automatically forced into one or two obvious classes. If you get a boost to Strength, it’s a foregone conclusion that in order to maximize your character, you would elect to be a fighter or similarly fighter-related class. So I intend to keep variable attribute bonuses introduced with the latest 4th Edition errata. The practice of Amethyst to allow its races to swap out their primary attack attribute (introduced in our 3.5 game, I might add) remains, offering more freedom than the basic races in Pathfinder do. From a design view point, I don’t see the issue.

And for those still wondering if there are more strange diction rules for 4th Edition, I just made a huge sweeping find-and-replace for Ultramodern4, removing the word “activate.” It’s only used in reference to auras. So you never activate a power, you can only use it unless the power you’re using activates an aura, in which case, that’s ok. In fact only auras and magic items are activated. But what about stances? Don’t you activate a stance? Oh hell no. You don’t use a stance either…get ready folks. You assume a stance.

You could make a trivia game about this.

Filed Under: 4th Edition Dungeons and DragonsPathfinderRole-Playing

About the Author: Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.