It has come to my attention that there are people who still play Pathfinder.
I get it, I guess. There are some things I genuinely like about the system. The way it facilitates gonzo parties made up of PCs out of the monster book is kinda cool. The threefold save system is a genuine innovation, even if the rules don't leverage it as much as they could (more on that in a minute).
The core issue with the game, for me, is the crunch. The sheer number of rules creates two problems for me: how long everything takes in comparison to most other D&D retroclones, during character generation, actual gameplay, and DM prep, and mechanics that reward system mastery more than player creativity. The first problem makes the game hard to run, and the second makes it not feel worth it to run.
So I started thinking about how to turn Pathfinder into a Good Game (as arbitrarily defined by me).
Not just like, playable, actually good, like what would it take to turn this into something I would choose to play?
STEP 1. FIX SKILLS
Throw out the entire skill system as written and make the threefold saving throws do double duty. Fortitude still means fortitude but now it also means “stuff fighters are good at” like athletics or horse riding. Reflex maps to thief stuff, will maps to wizardpriest stuff. Now whenever you need to make a skill check, the DM tells you which ability score to add to which saving throw/skill score and you add that to a d20.
You can still keep class skills for the sake of niche protection by assigning advantage to those tasks as a class ability. So rangers, druids, and barbarians get advantage to checks involving nature stuff, bards get advantage to rocking out while everyone else does the work, etc. Rogues would get advantage to thief stuff *in addition to* having really high reflex saves and usually having good dexterity.
STEP 2. FIX FEATS
…by eliminating them.
This would run the risk of nerfing fighters. You can avoid this by letting them use ad-libbed mighty deeds like in DCC, just replace the funky DCC dice chain with 5e-style advantage like so:
fighter pc: i wanna charge the ogre and knock his ass off the cliff
dm: roll two d20s. if one hits, you do normal damage. if they both hit, it does normal damage and also knocks his ass off the cliff
fighter pc: fuck i rolled a 1 and a failure
dm: he sees what you’re doing and steps aside at the last second and your ass goes off the cliff
ex-fighter pc: dammit. oh well at least you adopted those house rules from that blog that make chargen take ten minutes even for drunk noobs. imma be a troll bard this time
what the fuck would a troll bard write songs about
STEP 3. MAGIC ITEMS
Ignore all of the generic magic items in the book and most of the unique ones. They all suck. +x longswords are boring and trying to hide that with extra description or history just makes it worse.
Instead, come up with unique items whenever possible. If you need a random table of semi-generic items like the rulebook provides, recycle the more interesting feats you threw out in Step 2. A scimitar that lets you do a whirlwind attack or a wand that lets you extend or empower spells would both be more fun than the equivalent lower tier magic items in the book. Remember, items that give players new options are always more interesting and fun than items that just make them 5% or 10% better at what they already do.
I FORGOT STEP 0. ELIMINATE ALIGNMENT WITH PREJUDICE
The first thing everyone everywhere should throw out of their game is alignment. It’s terrible as written and I would argue that it doesn’t add anything valuable enough to make it worth keeping.
cons (if run by the book): eliminates interesting gameplay that results from moral ambiguity, can lead paladin types to adopt genocidal attitudes toward creatures listed as evil in the monster manual, prescribes and/or judges pc actions based on an outmoded Abrahamic conception of morality, limits roleplaying opportunities for players that want certain powers (why the fuck can’t there just be a paladin of Tiamat or a drunken master that’s just a regular monk without the alignment restriction you don’t need a whole new class for that shit if you just don't put the restriction in), allows the party or even NPCs to skip situations where they would otherwise need to use roleplaying and player skill to determine if someone is evil or not like why even have investigations and trials at all you know what I mean, probably a lot more but I'm done with this list
pros: uh it makes smite and detect work
You can make smite and detect work without alignment though.
1. Any divine powers like smite evil that are designed to encode crusader-like values into lawful good religions now affect enemies of the PC’s specific faith. What qualifies as enemies is pretty much up to the PC and DM to determine as they go, once the religion has been sort of outlined ahead of time.
2. Any arcane spells or abilities like detect evil are now just called “detect” (for example) and the PC would have to say what they want to detect when they cast it. It’s up to the DM to make on the spot rulings about what sorts of things are too specific or not specific enough to target with the spell, but any of the creature types should probably be fine. Like:
wizard pc: alright we don’t know where the wounded minotaur is hiding so i cast detect evil
dm: good and evil are societal constructs and have no place interacting with a form of magic that focuses on rearranging the fundamental structure of the universe
wizard pc: fine, nerd. i cast detect monstrous humanoid
dm: you sense that the minotaur has stuffed himself into a barrel that kinda seems a little too small for it
or even just:
wizard pc: wait i think this npc is a demon in disguise. detect outsider
STEP 4. FIX XP
The challenge rating system that by-the-book XP is based on is too much damn work. It can make DM prep take forever just to plan out an encounter that, in more rules-light versions of D&D, you’d be able to randomly generate on the fly. It also tends to make it difficult to assign XP rewards for any traps or puzzles that are interesting enough to not fit into the strict guidelines presented in the rulebook.
This is one of those problems that has annoyed so many people so much that there are easily hundreds of totally valid takes on how to fix XP on blogs and social media. I won’t pretend that the way I’ve started handling it is the best for everyone, but this is how I run it in most of my D&D-like games:
-Your PC levels up every time they achieve a set number of challenges. I’ve been going with 13 for good luck. If I ever decide that I want progression to move faster or slower, that’s the only number I’ll need to adjust.
-Valid “challenges” are obstacles that pose a legitimate threat to either the party’s safety or their goals, and require some level of player skill to negotiate. So solving any puzzle door would qualify, and so would figuring out and negotiating a trap, as well as winning any genuinely threatening combat encounter (defined as beating anything with more hit dice than you have levels). Slaughtering a village of goblins won’t give a level 7 paladin any XP unless there’s like a surprise dragon or something.
-I also count spending 100 monies on just partying in between adventures as a “challenge” for leveling purposes to encourage situations in which players must roll to see what their PCs did while blackout drunk.
STEP 5. UN-NERF HUMANS
I just realized that getting rid of skill points and feats kinda fucks humans over since that’s all they normally get at chargen. I say just start ‘em off at level two and be done with it. If nothing else, that should encourage players who don’t care what race their PC is to just pick human and move on.
STEP 6. LET’S FUCK WITH RACIAL ABILITY SCORE ADJUSTMENTS WHILE WE’RE AT IT
Almost all the races in the game (pretty sure this applies to every non-human, right?) get a +x bonus to one or more ability scores and a -x penalty to others. Which I guess is alright, but it’s kinda more fun to interpret those bonuses as extra dice. So like an elf would get to roll 4d6 for dexterity but only get 2d6 for constitution.
I’ll admit that this one is more optional really (all of these are optional dummy). I like it because the whole point of allowing players to role-play as non-human species is to add variety, so any change that accentuates that variety by making differences more extreme is worth making.
Okay now I’m getting into aesthetic preferences instead of just ways to make the game run more smoothly so I’ll just quit while I still feel like I’m ahead.