The recent release of the Pathfinder Beginner Box is having another effect within the Pathfinder community: voices have risen calling for simplifying the Pathfinder system.
Pathfinder RPG’s complexity has been a long-running complaint about 3.x rules (which includes D&D 3.0 and 3.5 and Pathfinder). Sure, the system is flexible and robust and allows for an infinite amount of options for characters and it does a decent job at simulating “reality” (given of course that RPGs deal with fantasy).
But as the characters and monsters they encounter grow more powerful at high levels and have an ever-growing variety of powers and options, the game system’s engine starts to rattle. (I myself don’t speak from personal experience, but base this on discussions in the forums.) Some abilities break the game’s balance. The amount of calculating increases: for example, fighter-based classes (and later other classes) get extra attacks per rounds. Combine this with dual-weapon wielding and melee starts to get complicated pretty quickly. Monsters start to get spell immunity, and NPCs have more and more magic items that affect all their other statistics, making creating a high-level NPC time-consuming and complicated.
This massive statblock for the (spoiler after the link) climactic encounter in the Age of Worms adventure path singlehandedly made me start to doubt whether this system is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Oy vey.
Currently my preferred system is Pathfinder RPG, but I do not know (yet) how unmanageable it becomes for a GM in those higher levels. Heck, I’ve only guided my band of heroes to the glories of Level 3. But I reserve judgment. I like to think of myself as highly efficient, organized, and capable, but, well… I don’t know if I should work so hard to play a game.
In the meantime, the Beginner Box’s debut is spurring interesting discussions among fans about how to reorganize and re-present the core rules of Pathfinder (not change the rules themselves) in a revision of the Core Rulebook, and about coming up with a simplified ruleset that builds on the Beginner Box’s foundations.
What do others think about the complexity of high-level play in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder? Do you like it the way it is? As for me, I really would like to see it toned down in Pathfinder’s next iteration — whenever that may be, probably several years from now. But is that even possible without sacrificing or losing some of Pathfinder’s core strengths?