I know I'm gonna regret blogging with a rum and coke buzz, but here goes.
Today I began my first Pathfinder game with a new second group, playing the "rules as written." I'm doing it mostly just to learn the ruleset everyone uses who follows the Pathfinder evolutionary branch of D&D, rather than the 4e evolutionary branch, which I have no interest in. It's a very new experience, because my main non-Pathfinder group is a weird animal. It's my brother and myself, who have played together for 26 years, and a couple friends. Me and the bro have houserules, some of which are detailed in the bard campaign guide (upper right of blog), but we have several times more houserules than listed, because we just know each other and agree on a certain playstyle. We don't even articulate them all, nor would we be able to if asked. They are basically just understood between us. The other guys we play with aren't rules lawyer types, so they don't really care what we do.
That odd playstyle and house-ruleset, and its difference from mainstream 3.x/Pathfinder play, became apparent during my inaugural Pathfinder game tonight, and in discussions leading up to the inaugural gameday. I am playing Pathfinder with 4 other guys I had never met before we decided to play as a group. We all met via email before we got together in person to play. So, in that regard it is a very new experience to me as well. I've never NOT played with my brother, other than with the classmates in 1983 who got me into D&D in the first place. The others I have played with over the years are just a small handful of people. These new guys seem really cool though, and have a lot of gaming experience, though when I told one of them I had been playing D&D for 26 years, he said he hadn't even been potty trained for 26 years. :)
I can't describe my thoughts on Pathfinder without a bit of an intro as to where I am coming from in my regular long-term game. My regular non-Pathfinder group's game can best be described as 1e/early 2e, with some skills and feats from 3.0. We basically took the 3.0 rulebook, used the d20 system and spell descriptions, and then proceeded to take a battleaxe to all parts of the game that did not exist in 1992 D&D. Hence, for example, no DR, no ability score increasing magic items or spells, no attacks of opportunity except as comes up during narrative style combat, no mini's or grids, no prestige classes, no special attacks like bull rush or grapple---basically we just swing heavy sharp metalic objects at people and blast them with fireballs, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.
The other weird thing we do is basically ignore the rules unless it makes for a good book. Let me explain. Basicially, we all play D&D as if we are writing a book together. If we would think either the dialogue, the scene, or the action taken by our characters is cool, and would be really cool to read in a book, we do it. If we don't think it would make a good read in a book, we don't do it.
An example of how that comes up in gamelay is as follows---a guy in my new Pathfinder group told me that in his high level 3.x campaigns his character had upwards of 20-30 buffs/effects on his character at any one time. Though we use the 3.0 rules as a base in my main group, and the rules provide for it, we never buff like that. In fact, we rarely buff at all, though the rules allow it, and even assume we do it. Why not? Because when was the last time you read in a book 3 pages of the main hero spending time getting buffed before a combat? It would make for a sucky read, and take away from the heroic action.
I am the main guy who buffs, because I am a wizard, and I get mocked for it by the rest of the group, even though I do the basic mage armor, blur, and mirror image buffs before the big bad guy. It's become a running joke that my wizard is a coward because he buffs. But I guess that's one reason we don't have a 15 minute adventuring day. We have plenty of spells left after each encounter because we don't waste them on buffs. Since we don't use a formal xp system, and just level whenever the dm feels like it, it doesn't matter if we are underpowered as compared to monsters we are "supposed" to be fighting at our level.
Playing the Pathfinder game "rules as written" is like playing 3.0 for the first time. As such, I have no meaningful review of Pathfinder, as my experience is not really one most people share. The review would be meaningless. As for the 3.x system in general, I can say I like aspects of it, like certain skills and feats which help you differentiate your character from others of the same class, but overall I like it less than earlier editions of the game, because of its gradual morphing into a tactical combat game, whose morphing seems to have been completed in 4e. I prefer a narrative combat style of game. So, there's my belated review of 3.0 and 3.5, which applies by default to Pathfinder. I can't compare Pathfinder to other editions, because I never really played other editions as written since early 2e (we never bought or played the latter 2e stuff, which incorporated early incarnations of prestige clases, skills and feats from what I've heard.)
That being said, on our walk back from the game tonight, when describing my regular game, one guy asked why I didn't just play a narrative non-D&D ruleset, and he named several games for me. I guess the reason is that I like D&D and all the elements that make up the game. I have a certain list of elements in my head which to me represents D&D. The further one gets from those elements, the less it is D&D to me. Those elements are probably more limited for me than for others because I have basically never played any other role playing game (other than a very brief stint with MERPS for my brother). Ever. Just D&D. It's the only one I ever wanted to play. I never felt the need for another. I don't consider myself a RPG'er in the larger sense of the phrase. I just like to play D&D, and to the extent the game I play is like the game I played early on in the 80's, the more I like it. I also don't consider myself a gamer in the general sense, as I don't play any type of card games, board games, or MMORPG's or computer games. I have sporadically in the past, but never really got into it that much. I'm just a guy who likes to play D&D.
When the new player asked me about 4e, I told him I didn't like it. He asked me if I played it, and I said no. He wondered how I could form that opinion. It's basically because it doesn't contain the elements I consider to represent D&D in my head. Compare it to pizza. My favorite is hawaiian pizza, which comes with ham and pineapple. But I'll still eat and enjoy a pepperoni pizza. And I recognize all pizza's as pizza because I have it in my head what properties pizza has. To me, 4e is lacking certain elements I associate with D&D. It's not pizza. It may be a meal, but it's not pizza. To others it has those elements. Others consider it to be pizza. Everyone has their own elements. (Yes, I have pizza on the mind, as I skipped dinner and Dominoes is closed, damnit!) To each their own, as long as they all enjoy their game. Bottom line, we all roll dice. Have fun, roll dice, kill stuff, and take their shit. Lather, rinse, repeat. :)