I find it too hard to die in Pathfinder.
In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, even if you’re hit by a monster and go into negative hit points, unless there’s a Total Party Kill then someone in your party is probably going to heal you. Basically, death only comes if you receive a critical hit and you’re already low in HP, or you face some particularly strong monster.
But, c’mon. In real life, getting sliced by a kobold is no joke — you might slice an artery!
So I yearn for older versions of D&D where death was a little easier to come by. (Perhaps you’ve already guessed that I’m a GM?)
Since my first actual tabletop gaming experience was with Pathfinder RPG with my friends in 2010, my only exposure to old-school-styled gaming is reading veterans’ stories here in the blogosphere, stories about death being a constant thought, poking through dungeons with 10-foot poles, trembling before the Tomb of Horrors. Hearing these tales, there’s something magical-sounding that appeals to me, that promises a grittier and more satisfying experience, of fearing constantly for my character’s welfare, holding my breath when a die is rolled.
So last night I tried to run a little Holmes D&D, and imagined taking a party into the sample dungeon in the back of the manual.
In 1977, J. Eric Holmes edited the original Gygax & Arneson rules from 1974 and created the first D&D boxed set. It is closer to the original D&D than to any other edition, even the other D&D boxed sets that came after it: all weapons do 1-6 damage, your ability scores have only minor +1/-1 effects in play, etc.
So I decided to roll my first character, of course rolling 3d6 straight down the line:
Alright, so my high score is Dexterity, so I decide to make him a Thief. I roll a 1d4:
Hit Points: 1
Yep, that’s right. My first character has 1 hit point. So that means that falling down a 10-foot pit guarantees instant death. I’m already getting a feeling that I’m going to be re-rolling this character soon.
I also roll up a fighter and a magic-user. The fighter has 4 hit points, and the magic-user has 3 hit points. (This is a tough magic-user, you see.)
I (we!) head off to our
The first encounter doesn’t look too bad. Three goblins in a room with treasure chests. There apparently is an opportunity to have a non-combat interaction, but I’m already looking silly here pretending to be three people. Besides, I’m not playing Holmes D&D to talk to myself (there are many other opportunities for that) — I want to test out the combat rules.
So I roll Dexterity for the goblins. (Yes, you rolled “Dexterity” and not “Initiative” back then — and battle order went by who had the highest Dexterity score first.) My thief has the highest Dexterity and so gets a chance to swing at the goblins. I have equipped him with a dagger (which he gets to use twice per round), and he misses both times. Shoot. The magic-user casts Magic Missile and misses (yes, boys and girls, Magic Missile did not hit automatically back then).
The goblins have their turn. The first one swings at the thief and hits. And…
Oh wait, that’s right. I don’t need to roll for damage because the thief’s already dead. With my thief having one hit point, there’s no way I can roll this d6 less than one.
I chuck aside the hexahedron in disgust.
During the ensuing melee, the fighter gets hit. I rolled a d6 and…
Rolled a 1. Phew. He now has 3 hit points.
The fighter gets hit again! And I roll a 2 for damage. He still has 1 hit point.
Amazingly, the magic-user and fighter survive the melee and ship the 3 goblins to their evil Maker. The adventurers then search the room for loot, and find 140gp worth of treasure, which, because treasure equals experience in old-school D&D, translates into 140 experience points. Each goblin was worth 5 XP. And so each character earns from that near-TPK…
77 experience points (before their 10% ability-score bonuses).
How on earth did people actually gain levels back in those days? Did people actually follow the rules as written? Sure, perhaps the treasure haul here was a bit modest, but then again they almost died from three goblins.
Don’t even get me started about the room that came up soon after, when a 31-hit point giant spider jumps on my cleric (yes, that was the re-rolled thief) from the ceiling and bites her 1 hit point away. And if this were a real game of D&D, the players would probably then swing away at the spider, not knowing at all how uber-tough it is. And of course, if they were to get bitten and miss their saving throw vs. poison, the penalty is to die.
How is this even remotely fair? Or actually my question is: how did players have fun? Sure, new players would learn the dangers of exploring dungeons and lessen these dangers through intelligent play. But I simply can’t see how people could reach level 2 — let alone levels 7, 8, or 9 — playing these rules as they were written.
Perhaps I should say more of my thoughts about this style of play versus the modern expectations in RPGs, but I’ve already gone on long enough.
And besides, I should ask my readers: how did people actually play the game?
‘Cause this idn’t it.