On Sunday Vero and I had some people over — Doug and Eunice (Eunice? Is that right? I forget why I don’t use people’s actual first names, I think it was something about respecting privacy) along with, I’m just going to call them James and Amanda, because there are a lot of Jameses and Amandas in the world. The plan: a Pathfinder one-shot. I have this notion of running the Carrion Crown adventure path, which runs one to fifteen or so, and promises around a year and a half of regular weekly sessions, and which is probably way too ambitious, but anyway, we start small, we dip our toes into the system, we try out some Pathfinder one-shot.
The one-shot in question is an adventure from the company that’s been well-reviewed by the community of enthusiasts who post reviews of Pathfinder adventures on the company’s website, “Voice in the Void.” It’s scalable for levels 1 through 7, which is to say, every encounter has a version for level 1 or 2 characters, a version for levels 3 and 4, and a version for levels 6 and 7. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do if the party is level 5. I wasn’t sure at first that James and Amanda would be available/interested, so I planned on running the scenario at second level, figuring the buffer of being not-first-level would ensure no one died.
My original scheme, too, was to create a bunch of pregenerated level two characters, but man, the 4e character builder program (the one that isn’t supported any more) spoiled me, because I got through two and then was ready to give up. I ended up scrapping my characters (an alchemist and a witch) and just printed out the Pathfinder Society Emergency Standard Pregens at first level, and marked them up to second level with a red pen.
Doug and Vero both made their own characters, anyway, being old hands at 3.5. Eunice as far as I know had experienced only 4e, and James and Amanda have (again, as far as I know) only played Dungeons and Dragons Online, which uses some version of the 3.5 ruleset but they weren’t familiar with the tabletop rules. So anyway, yeah.
“Voice in the Void” is a fairly simple dungeon crawl without much in the way of roleplaying opportunities, which is about what I was expecting. There was ample showing off of the differences between 3e and 4e: an encounter with brown mold that nearly wiped the party couldn’t possibly have happened in anything like the same way under the 4e rules, and two of the four encounters we played through (skipping two, in the interests of time) featured some kind of save-or-be-out-of-the-fight situation, once when a yellow musk creeper spat hallucinogens at James’s cavalier and convinced him that he ought to lie down and enjoy a good old-fashioned brain-eating for, in this case, four rounds, and once when the adventure’s final villain caught most of the party in a color spray (DC 15 Will save or be knocked unconscious for, in this case, five rounds). In both cases the fight was over before the effect wore off, and in the latter case it was a little vexing; James and Vero were the only characters unaffected by the color spray, and so Amanda and Doug and Eunice had to sit out the fight with the final villain.
The fight with the final villain went otherwise smoothly for the party, as Vero had worked out a way to make a second-level summoner whose summoned companion had 20′ reach and Improved Trip, which is to say, a giant snake who could reach out twenty feet to grab you by the head and bite you and slam you onto the ground, and then when you stood back up, do it again before you could react.
It’s a neat trick, but it would get repetitive in a long-term game, which reminds me of something else about d20/3e/3.5/Pathfinder: a PC has basically three options. You can be ineffective, which no one wants, or you can have one schtick that you do really well over and over and over and over and over and over again, or you can be a spellcaster. 4e certainly improved on that, by making it possible to be a non-spellcaster who doesn’t do the same thing every round. Of course, some folks don’t mind doing the same thing every round, if it’s effective; a good 3.5 game also has plenty of interesting non-combat stuff going on, which is a whole venue 4e doesn’t even attempt to support.
Speaking of 4e, last night (Monday night) Vero and I headed off to the local gamestore for some 4e. Eunice and Bert and Carla were over at another table, but we were playing with a different crew, doing a module one encounter at a time. I’m not sure which module, but we’re 21st level in that game, so, not a module I’ve played or run before. This was our second time with the group, and after the first time I had a better idea what to expect and how to play at high level, so was able to contribute more.
Our first appearance, I was a warlord multiclassed to wizard with as much power-swap as possible, plus feats and equipment boosting my defenses as much as possible, which as far as schitcks go is two schticks that don’t work very well in play, at least not at this table. So I rejiggered my man entire, making Droppo, the Laziest Melee Warlord on Mars, who didn’t make an attack roll once in last night’s encounter. I also didn’t bother to stand up from prone. Vero played a version of her hybrid psion-wizard boosted up to epic levels, and continued to successfully shut down whole swathes of the battlefield. It was fun, but it was a one-off combat without much context or roleplaying. Encounters-style one-combat-per-evening gaming doesn’t lend itself to roleplaying, so I wasn’t expecting that, and the fight was fun, tense for at least a bit, and I got to use almost all of my encounter abilities. The GM made some different calls than I would have — no charging around a corner, even if every square of movement brought you closer to your target, and more restrictive pushing (directly away, rather than at an angle) but stakes were not high enough for me to object (and besides, proper etiquette is to wait until after the encounter is over to voice any such objection). And it was fun — at one point, I was able to teleport the avenger to flank with the paladin, and then they both got to make free attacks at big bonuses to damage. Which was cool.