[Pathfinder] Actual Play: We Be Goblins!

Given the continued intermittence of availability among the Star Wars d20 group, I offered to run through one of the modules I’d picked up for Free RPG Day.  The four players who were available were offered the choice between an improvised Backswords and Bucklers session (hope springs eternal!) or the three modules from my last RPG post.  One vote for DCC, with general agreement that it was an interesting idea but maybe not one to go for today, and four for Pathfinder-based Goblin shenanigans.  Goblins it was then.  What follows is partly a play report and partly my initial musings on Pathfinder now that I’ve played/run it for the first time.

Squirrel, who’s old-school to the core and prefers bringing Axe to Face over armchair theatricals, opted for his customary fighter (also the only female character among the pre-gens… he he he) and it’s a testament to the charm of goblin PCs that he worked himself into character a few times, although he wouldn’t sing his goblin song for us (boo!).  Unfortunately, he had to bail quite early in the session, and so Reta was ganked by a giant spider.  Not the sort of thing I’d usually pull, but excusable I feel in the context of a one-shot, and it did lead to a rather touching moment where the surviving goblins built her a pyre out of said spider’s lair.

Reta’s sheet also shows the mechanical things that differentiate goblins from other characters (apart from being small and badly armed and bedecked with all manner of ridiculous equipment) – new feats (funny, but I’m not particularly keen on feats as a mechanic – too crunchy, too focused on pre-planned build optimisation rather than organic evolution of tactical choices as a means of developing characters) and the Goblin Traits, various deformities with minor oddball effects. I really like the Traits – maybe it’s the idea of a physical cue to a character’s character, and the single customisation option that will have a quiet effect on many of the character’s actions.  Almost of them came up in play, both mechanically and theatrically – Hark’s character was forever squeezing boils and shrugged off a few nasty ailments, Jess’ was usually charging ahead in a somewhat tactically inadvisable manner on account of the Goblin Bravery and her playing up her character’s desperate desire to impress his god, and Squirrel’s was peeping all over the goblin camp looking for signs of a set-up.

Jess opted for the cleric option, and I want to take a moment to explore something that I quite like about Pathfinder: the breadth of the class abilities and features. Even as a first level cleric, Poog has quite a lot going on; both of his domains give him a signature ability and the capacity to channel energy covers the classic ‘turn undead’ and ‘lay on hands’ angles pretty nicely. Indeed, I’m not a hundred per cent sure that Pathfinder Clerics actually need spells to do the things that clerics are meant to do, although I do like the idea of granting spells appropriate to domains (maybe a domain spell could be awarded in place of feats, since I don’t care much for feats?). The domains approach could also allow things like Paladins to be defined as cultural variations on the cleric (i.e. a Cleric of a particular faith with the War domain is referred to as a Paladin), with a similar approach existing for variations on the theme of Wizard or Sorcerer via the Legacies in the arcane spellcasting classes.  Hell, something like Regimens for Fighters could in theory allow Barbarians, Scouts (in the Iron Kingdoms ‘Ranger’ vein) and the like to be abstracted into that class if the desire arose.

Simon, who’s pretty experienced with Pathfinder, bagged the Alchemist, which he’s played before and which he displayed a phenomenal ability to bugger things up with (better at firing a crossbow than tossing his bombs around, given how often he missed/hit something he wasn’t supposed to do/blew up the party’s objective by accident). Very useful having him around, though, as he could point Squirrel and Hark around their character sheets and identify mechanics for me when I didn’t know they were there. There was a time when I’d have been wary of having a player or two who knew the rules better than me, but that was long ago, and it was far away, and I was a bit of a paranoid douchebag in those days. Now I see them as an opportunity; they can be rules-monkeys and I can concentrate on making fun things happen.

Whether or not things like the Alchemist need to be their own basic class, in the strictest sense, is something I’m torn over. On the one hand, having them there indicates something about the goblin culture – they don’t do scholarly wizardry of the sort the old-style Wizard or Magic User represents – and thus the class adds flavour and difference to the setting. On the other hand, do they do anything that couldn’t be approximated with a Cleric, Wizard or Rogue and a healthy supply of potions, maybe some ad-hoc rules for brewing same? I’m sure I don’t yet know, but I’m definitely thinking about it.

Hark picked the Rogue, possibly because he had a silly name and spots. She seemed to get on well with the idea of flanking, sneak attacking, dodging around the edges of combats and shooting at things until she was in the optimum place to strike (it’s telling that her highest-level WoW character is a Troll Rogue, now that I think about it), and was the first to dig deep into her inventory and attempt to find uses for the wacky stuff like lucky toads, which she threw out in an effort to deal with a swarm of magical hornets (and it’s an Engineer…). That it didn’t really work is not the point; she seems to have the old-schooler’s instinct to try and use everything for something and apply a bit of initiative rather than looking for a skill roll or feat that can get her out of trouble.

One thing that I did notice about Pathfinder is the temptation not to use your initiative. I know I got lazy a few times and asked for skill checks rather than intelligent exploration of a well-described environment (rewarding good rolls rather then insightful tactical role-play), and I noticed a few moments of silence now and then, as if people were expecting to be asked to roll a die to continue the story. I think I might have to rip out the Skills entirely – just toss them – and just assume that players have the insight to roleplay what their characters can and can’t do, using d20 + stat modifier vs. set difficulty rolls if they’re actually necessary (for things like trying to ride an angry piglet without falling off, where success or failure within a given timeframe is important, or for things like bribing a guard when the player is disinclined to theatrically roleplay).

I didn’t hate it, though.  I’d like to abstract some of the classes into one another and do away with Skills and Feats in the cause of some more streamlined play that rewards intelligence over dice-rolling, but that’s something I’d like to do, not something I feel I have to do to make it vaguely enjoyable.  I’d definitely do some work on the Iron Kingdoms classes, though; many of them would work better as Legacies or similar variants of existing Pathfinder classes rather than as additional basic ones, and I’d happily do away with almost all the prestige classes on principle (there’s another post in that topic, but it’s one for another day) and streamline mechanika away from the “it must fit with D&D spellcasting mechanics!” approach taken by the official documentation.

As far as the Goblins variant goes – it’s fun, and funny, and the group have expressed generally positive responses.  They’re not really a bunch for high, meaningful, artistic drama, and the kind of comedic low-fantasy with a focus on tactics and exploration that the Goblins lend themselves to is very much their bag.  I have ideas that I’d like to develop around the idea of Goblins as Player Characters, so it’s a tempting prospect to run in the future.

4 thoughts on “[Pathfinder] Actual Play: We Be Goblins!

  1. Sounds like a fun game. The thing with Pathfinder I guess is that they built it to preserve the best bits of D&D 3x when Wizards announced the shift to 4th edition. So it’s never very far from that mechanics-wise.

    Have you ever played D20 Conan? I really like the way the magic is done in that book, and it has a little rule that I swiped for other fantasy games where appropriate: At the beginning of each session, every PC’s money is reduced to a few coins (after they’ve bought anything they want). This is to represent the fact that the reason they’re adventuring is that they are adventurous, impulsive people who blow their loot on wine women and song and always need more. Not appropriate for every game of course, but I thought it was cool.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s