Yesterday I went to a Pathfinder Society event at Endgame. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have been having a love-hate relationship with Pathfinder Society since Pacificon. I had a terrible time at all the PFS games I played there, witnessed some very bad GMing, and the aftermath has been reverberating through my gamer psyche ever since. But throughout it all the nagging thought has been in my head “A lot of people do this regularly. It’s popular enough that there are multiple weekly events at not one but several FLGS. At Pacificon there were more PFS events than the entire rest of the roleplaying track combined! I have GOT to be missing something!”
So I decided to give it another try. I can’t get to the weekday events due to travel conflicts with Sophie, but this week there was a Sunday event. I signed up for it and off I went.
I arrived half an hour early and found a few people already waiting for the doors to open. It was clear that a lot of these people knew one another, as there were numerous ongoing conversations – mostly having to do with feat combos, published campaigns, and PFS modules that people had run/played in. No big surprise there. Folks seemed polite but a bit distant and I spent a lot more time just listening to the conversations of others than I did participating, but it was clear that these people were really into Pathfinder. I overheard at least one say that he played in three campaigns a week and regularly attended the PFS events at both FLGS and (other) FLGS. They knew the game backwards and forwards it seemed, and mysterious acronyms like BAB and CMD were peppered throughout the conversation.
At 10:00 am the doors opened and we all went in. Immediately I noticed a change in attitude towards me. As soon as I was in the gaming area and it was clear that I was here to play, people became more outgoing. I was suddenly not a random dude standing outside a game store, I was a Pathfinder player. I was in their world. Again, people seemed to know one another and there was lots of friendly chatting and joking around. It was a really good, friendly, cooperative vibe.
My first game (“Trial by Machine”) I was able to play my PFS character, Fijit the gnome sorcerer illusionist. Unlike “Legacy of the Stone Lords” I went into this game with enough gold to get some decent gear and a couple of wands using prestige points. Also, this time I knew what I was getting into – I was taking a gnome illusionist into an adventure that would be chock full of things that were totally immune to illusions. But I had my wand of Magic Missiles and a wand of Cure Light so I figured I could still be useful.
And I was.
One thing about PFS games is that in terms of characters you take what you get. None of this “balanced party” nonsense. For this game we had (as best I can remember) – three fighter types (a fighter, a barbarian, and a gunslinger) and two sorcerers. With the exception of the gunslinger, we all proved to be woefully inadequate to deal with the stuff we were encountering – nobody spoke goblin, nobody had disable device. I’m not sure whether the other sorcerer was as gimped as Fijit, but I don’t think he cast anything but cantrips the entire session. Luckily for us our gunslinger was able to do absolutely ridiculous damage with his musket and bailed us out of some otherwise difficult fights (more about this later). Our half-orc and barbarian had INTs of 7 and were happy to bumble into traps, pull levers, and absorb damage. Everyone was jocular and high energy and just a little crazy in that good, happy gamer way. I was amused to find my sorcerer in the role of party healer, basically reduced to a transportation platform for a wand of “cure light wounds”.
I will say it once again – “Year of the Sky Key” is going to be a rough one for gnomes. Of all the encounters that we had to actually fight, every single one of them was at least partially resistant to my “Color Spray”. None of the fighters in the party was any good at “Bluff” so “Dazzling Blade” also turned out to be pretty useless. Of my six spell slots, I wound up casting only two during the course of the game.
But that was secondary. Everyone was nice to me, everyone helped me when I wasn’t sure about the system, and everyone was sufficiently at ease to crack jokes and engage in the occasional table talk – which the GM did not discourage, frown upon, or lecture us about. We were congenial, we had fun, we beat up some monsters, and we got some treasure.
After a break for lunch, we all came back and I got into a second game. This game was too high level for Fijit, so I had to play a pregen. Unfortunately, I hadn’t given the matter much thought – I figured that I would tale a pregen based on what the party needed, but didn’t count on the GM not having copies of the pregens. In the end I only had two pregens to choose from – a wizard or a ranger. I picked the ranger thinking it would be easier to play and wouldn’t step on the toes of another player who had a wizard.
This. Was. A. Mistake.
I had the same player with the same gunslinger in my party for the second game (he went up a level as a result of the previous game) along with a cleric/priest of some type, a fighter/bard who had a STR of 21, and the aforementioned wizard. The GM, it turned out, was running on about 3 hours of sleep, and started running out of energy in the afternoon warmth of the game store.
At first glance my character seemed kind of awesome. Dwarf, heavy crossbow, able to shoot into melee, did extra damage on crits, could reload as a move action, 1d10+1 damage, badger companion. This turned out to be deceptive however, because… robots! Yes, we were once again facing off against constructs. We encountered two right off, and I dutifully set about filling them full of holes with my heavy crossbow. My badger charged, flanked one of the robots, and lasted about 1/2 a round before being pummeled into the floor. Once again, the gunslinger did massive damage (I think his base damage in this game was d12+4). When the fight was over, the GM informed us that the robots had 10 points of hardness, so any damage roll doing 10 points or less did nothing. My heavy crossbow suddenly looked a whole lot smaller.
Again the group was quite congenial and funny. The fighter/bard in particular was one of those “Hey, ho – let’s go!” types not at all afraid to just blunder straight ahead in order to keep things moving. But the game experience suffered a bit from lack of energy – both the wizard and I were unfamiliar with our characters and took extra time figuring out what we wanted to do. The GM was tired and couldn’t keep up the pace and energy of the game. And there was the gunslinger. On the one hand he was probably the savior of the game – he did so much damage that encounters were shortened considerably, so without him we probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of the encounter. On the other hand – um – talk about making other people’s characters feel irrelevant! The guy with the 21 strength swinging a polearm was outclassed by this character. He generated a 66 point critical hit. He then topped that by generating a 78 point critical hit. There was at least one fight where, by the time I moved into position, the fight was over. I’ll talk about this more in a future post though. For now, let me just say that once again people were helpful, friendly, and funny, and I felt like I was an accepted part of the group from the beginning. In the end we triumphed over our foes and got our XP and gold.
As the event broke up, there was plenty of discussion of upcoming games, various people’s campaigns, convention events, offers of rides home or loans of books, and people pitched in to help straighten up the FLGS before leaving. Everyone was well-behaved and polite. and the whole event closed with a sort of “club” atmosphere that was convivial and made me want to participate again.
The one real negative I noticed was the gender imbalance. So far as I could tell there was only one woman at the event, and she only attended the afternoon session I believe. Things were very much a guy’s club, and I missed the feminine perspective that a mixed game has. It didn’t spoil the experience, but I did wish for more.
In any event, I believe that PFS has redeemed itself in my eyes through this event. While Pathfinder will never be my go-to game, I found out that I can in fact go to PFS events and have a good time, enjoy hanging out with a bunch of other gamers for several hours, and rolling dice in order to kill monsters and get treasure. And that’s fine.