Wednesday, November 15, 2023

On Wrapping Up A [Pathfinder 2e] Campaign: Revisiting Some Thoughts on Gaming Philosophy

 Almost exactly one year ago, I released a post titled "On Running Very Different Types of Games." I started that post by admitting that 

I used to spend far too much time, not too long ago, trying to figure out my 'perfect game system.' You know, that one, elusive RPG rules-system -- whether about to be published, somehow already published but not on my radar, or the pending product of my intensive house-ruling and hacking -- that finally would usher in a blissful millennial regime of perfectly satisfying game-play. Yeah, um, about that...I'm pretty sure gaming doesn't work that way... 

I went on to talk about my growing recognition of the value of different game systems for different niches. This included my coming to terms with running a game for a time for what it can offer, and not demanding that it perfectly check boxes it wasn't designed to fill. 

It was in that spirit that I'd recently launched a Pathfinder 2nd Edition (PF2e) campaign. Already, a year ago, I could tell that this system -- MUCH crunchier than I was accustomed to -- had much to offer, and also posed real drawbacks:

Right now, the slower pace required by the more detailed, crunchy combat mechanics and turns in PF2e is pushing me to focus on designing memorable, interesting encounters, but at the cost of flexible, more open-ended play. I feel like a technician instead of an artist: checking moves, maintaining order, applying rules, tracking mechanics (and that's even with a willingness to just make rulings when I can't find the 'proper' PF2e way quickly). I'm really missing the playful, creative sense of surprise that I get when GMing a less crunchy and more open system. 

So...hmm...what's a GM to do?

An earlier version of me would probably be screeching to a halt already, deciding that 'this isn't THE system, after all', and moving on in search of greener pastures. But the shift in my thinking in recent years, as described above, has me looking for a different solution. PF2e is a GREAT engine, FAR better than many other games I've run at doing certain things. But it's also slower and more cumbersome when compared to many other games I've run.   

Instead of jumping ship and looking for 'something better', I'm trying to focus on celebrating what we are gaining from using this system at this time, while thinking clearly about what else I might like at an appropriate - and maybe other? - time. 

So. It's a year later -- and that PF2e campaign is now, finally (oh my heart, finally, finally!!!) coming to an end. My players have prevailed (well, except for an unexpected TPK to a Black Pudding, after which I advanced the setting clock by thousands of years and had them build new characters). But now, a story that begain with The Evils of Illmire and The Black Dragon of Brandonsford (using Knave) before switching rules to PF2e is coming to its end: only a single BBEG boss fight, as the Leviathan Chaos Dragon tries to force its way back into the material realm, remains. 

I joked to my players that between their travel schedules and PF2e's rules, we'd be able to wrap up that last combat encounter over the next seventeen weeks. I laugh (weakly), but there's a grain of truth in the joke. Our last fight took two sessions, with several travel weeks interrupting the sessions. That means we spent two evenings, about 4-5 hours in total, to resolve five rounds of combat. 

In PF2e, one round = 6 seconds. So, yeah, that's almost 5 hours of real-world play to resolve 30 seconds of action. 

That math should explain why I am so, so thoroughly done with PF2e for now. I'm so burned out on crunching numbers. I need to get back into running games that really invite me to be creative, rather than precise. 

And yet...

I'm really glad I persevered to the end of this campaign. I don't think there's anything wrong with canceling a campaign before it ends, if the GM or players just aren't enjoying it. This has been different; the experience has been enjoyable (especially for my players). It's seen some great times together. And I still see PF2e as a truly excellent combat simulator. But we've filled that niche for a while, now, and I'm ready to run something like a PbtA game. If PF2e is solving engineering problems, PbtA is writing poetry. 

I would be genuinely unhappy to keep running PF2e for the season ahead. But I feel oddly satisfied and content for having pushed through to the end. It was really helpful to make a deal with myself: commit to finishing this campaign, and then run whatever you really want to run next. A year ago, I mused:

...maybe the right approach now involves being aware of the different kinds of play that I like, celebrating the ways I'm getting some of that, and waiting patiently and flexibly to try other styles at the right time.

The patience has paid off. The PF2e is coming to a healthy end, for now. Up next is a campaign of ROOT, the boardgame-based rpg that is basically Mouse Guard but through a PbtA lens. Therein, I'm fleshing out some of the faction-heavy-sandbox work I've mused about here and there in recent months' posts. 

What am I trying to say here? Maybe it's a little embarrassing to admit this, as a 40-something professional, but I feel like I'm growing up a little more, as a person, through this process. Learning to accept voluntary limits and constraints so that I can actually see, actually recognize, actually enjoy the blessings that are right in front of me -- not always abandoning the present to chase some ideal across the horizon. 

It's a silly thing to be learning by way of paladins, dragons, and fireballs, but I'll take health and maturity as it's offered. 

Peace, Blessings, and Happy gaming. 



  1. I came to 5e and Pathfinder 1 from GURPS & Runequest. Really combat is one of the least interesting things your player can be doing and there is this vast gulf between the casual player and the "professional" players who have encyclopaedic knowledge of all the feats and buffs and other stuff that can be used to create megadeath characters.

    1. No doubt - though that kind of *profound* system mastery isn't something my players or I were looking for.

  2. What level are your PCs at? I assume combat has gotten slower as they leveled up.

    1. They're now at level 14 (leveling up to 15). Yeah, advancement does slow things down a bit, though I'd cautiously agree with statements that PF2e can handle higher levels pretty well (along the continuum of its rules always being slower and crunchier than many other games, regardless of level). Combat already seemed very slow when they were level 10, too (PC advancement goes up to 20).


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