Pathfinder Society – Playing With Friends You Don’t Even Know You Have

I’m pretty familiar with the core rules of Pathfinder. I played and ran D&D 3.0 and 3.5 for more than a decade. When I found out that it was going to continue under the hand of Paizo, a company that I knew from years of Dragon and Dungeon magazine knew what they were doing, I was excited. I’ve circled the Pathfinder Society organized play for a while. The idea of having characters that I can simply carry around with me and drop in wherever I am, and that have an acknowledged existence in a larger universe is fascinating and appealing to me. But, until recently, I’ve been getting my D&D fix through my local gaming group. The last year or so has been pretty rough on that group, though and it has essentially broken up in all but name. So, I finally got my Organized Play act together and recently actually played a Pathfinder Society event.

I was running late and my friendly local gaming store is really crazy on Saturdays. Really crazy, actually. Madness Games and Comics, here in the DFW area, may be the epitome of how to run a gaming and comic store. Over the past few years, it has moved twice, each time taking up more floor space and this last time, ending up in what was once a grocery store. There are nicely spaced rows and rows of board games, role playing games, comic books, tabletop war games, and assorted geekdom. Everything is clean and well lit and, the staff is friendly, helpful and available. Unlike all too many stores in our hobby, Madness is run like a business and unlike many stores run like a business, they remember that a big part of our hobby is the relatability of being fellow geeks.

On this particular Saturday, there was a Magic tournament going on and I think the 5e organized play group was there. There were people playing Space Hulk and other board games as well as collectible miniatures and war games. I wasn’t at all sure who I was looking for in all this activity so I approached the group that looked like they were my people. They confirmed but were a little frosty about it so I went to look around the store while they were getting ready. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Organized play event or not, I don’t expect D&D players to be overly friendly and I’m pretty sure that this group has been playing together in the Pathfinder Society world for a while so I was an outsider.

When I got back, they were ready to start. There were 2 tables with the same number of players so I picked the one with the other middle people. I was quiet at first because…you know…strangers and see my comment above about D&D players, but it didn’t take long to get into the groove. My fellow players were welcoming and, by the end of the session were even friendly. There’s little more bonding than finding a bunch of people who share your odd hobby.

There was much more actual Roleplaying in the scenario than I expected. These were supported by a lot more diplomacy checks and what not than I expected, so it’s not like there were no rules around the playing but I expected a lot more combat and a lot less talking in a shared play event. We actually only got into 2 fights and talked our way through the rest of the game. I played a ranger and he doesn’t have any of the social skills available in Pathfinder so I didn’t do much in those parts. Then again, I didn’t do much in the combats, either.

The first only went 1 round and my Ranger build is a thrower. He’s got Quick Draw and 2 Weapon Fighting and all of his weapons are throwable but he missed with both javelin and dart in his opening volley.

In the second combat, he got put down before he got to do anything. He went in to check out some kind of Revenant thing because he didn’t know that’s what it was and it looked interesting. It wiped him out while he was still flat footed. In fact, it had a cold aura and kept doing damage so he was literally 1 round from certain death before the rest of the party got him stabilized. That might sound disappointing, but it was pretty entertaining watching the discussion and careful timing with the rules to get him stabilized without being hit by the aura again when he died. Perhaps the people at the table simply liked the challenge of keeping me alive but I like to think that they wanted to welcome me and give me a good experience. Oh…and he failed every single Fort save to resist the cold.

Much as I know about the source material, every game and group, even ones where everyone is supposed to be playing exactly the same has its own quirks and there were a few things that made me feel like a Noob.

First, I know pretty much none of the fluff of the setting. While I know the system from way back (when it was created by a different company,) I’ve only read two of the Pathfinder books and have designed my characters out of it. At the opening, one of the NPC’s asked my character about himself and I had nothing to tell her. Like…I don’t even really know where he’s from. Fortunately, there is a pretty extensive Pathfinder Society Wiki out there so I’ll be able to bone up before next time.

Second, apparently, it’s just a known standard operating procedure to carry around a wand of cure light wounds. I guess that makes sense because you never know if your table’s going to have a healer and even if it does, said healer may be a jerk or run out of spells. Everyone else at the table took it as a given and it hadn’t even occurred to me. I was playing a Ranger so my character can use such a wand, but I’m pretty sure it would have to be on one of my log sheets for me to buy one and I definitely didn’t have enough money for one.

Third, I had no idea that it was going to be so role-play-y. As mentioned, I expected an organized play event to be much more of a kick down the door sort of adventure. I hardly bothered listening to the opening and didn’t write anything down since I expected to be railroaded more. I’m glad we weren’t, it made things more interesting but I lost some of the proper nouns at one point.

Fourth, I hadn’t read the Season 7 rules, yet, so I didn’t know about the Faction Journals. While I’m not normally a rules lawyer or maximizer, there’s something about Pathfinder Society that makes me want to get all the rewards I can. Maybe because they’re like achievements and, though they’re mostly arbitrary and often not that effective, something just feels good about getting those little bonuses.

Fifth, I’m not entirely sure how to fill out the Inventory tracking log. There are a couple numbers on there that I’m not sure what to fill in. I’ll have to ask someone the next time I go.

Despite my personal failures, overall the group was successful fulfilling both the primary and secondary goals so I got all the boons from the adventure.

While Pathfinder Society will never replace the camaraderie and shared world building I enjoy when playing with a constant home group, the convenience of being able to drop in on a game at the drop of a hat cannot be denied. And, the system is certainly more robust than I expected it to be. There is a lot to learn but the people involved are clearly happy to help newcomers out.   For anyone who doesn’t have a gaming group or who wants to expand their gaming, Pathfinder Society organized play isn’t just a viable option, it’s an inviting option.

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