Friday, May 27, 2022

Tales of Organized Play, Part One

 I've been involved with several different "organized play" attempts - two D&D, one Pathfinder, and one White Wolf, plus DCC Road Crew (which only sort-of counts).  There are lessons to be learned from all of these dalliances, so I'm attempting to put down my thoughts in blogpost form.

Organized play is a weird animal in practice, but simple in concept.  You make a framework that increases "interoperability", "repeatability", and "standardization", and (in order to get those things) decreases "DM flexibility" and "player agency".  Given that setup, it could never be my first choice for a gaming fix, but it's nice to have options at a convention.

 My Forays Into the Pathfinder Society

1. The Pathfinder Society tables I sat at, both in game stores and at cons, were universally welcoming, especially considering I was never a "Pathfinder guy".  Folks were always happy to explain crunchy bits and help me make informed decisions in combat, etc.  I blogged about my first PFS experience back in 2014.

2. The Pathfinder Society games I played in online, via play-by-post, were less so.  There was definitely a cultural assumption among many of the players I encountered that characters should be fully optimized in certain ways, and my character - a rogue-leaning bard who would make a solid fifth character in many parties - was not cutting the mustard for some of them.

3. After playing several sessions at a con the first time, I felt it was worth keeping my character around so I could play him in PF events at cons as applicable - and that's what I did.  I don't remember what level he made it to, I want to say it was fourth.  If PFS at the time, three games equalled a level-up.

4. I don't remember which scenarios I played - even looking at some lists - but I definitely had some pirate-themed ones (since they were run at TridentCon), and then the online sessions were ones that involved monks and samurai I think.  I did participate in one multi-table affair that was pretty fun, and my introduction to such things.  PFS calls these "Specials" - other orgs might call it an "Epic" or a "Battle Interactive" or something else, but they all share the common setup of "something to do for low-, mid-, and high-level tables" where everything feeds into the storyline for the night.

5. Observation: While the hardcore players craved the new-season content, many of them had multiple characters and were generally eager to play "old" content as well.  I mention this because it was not the case with D&D Adventurers League.  Also note that PFS, in addition to PFS scenarios, encouraged people to run content from the Pathfinder modules and even the Adventure Paths as well - although I saw less of this in a con/store situation, given the time requirement.

Surprisingly not required.

6. PFS does a neat thing where if you don't have a PC of qualifying level, you can still play the session with an appropriate pregen.  Your PC still gets the credit for having played the adventure, but you can't use the magic item or other boon until you have a PC of appropriate level.  This meant that I could get in on games of much higher level immediately, and also that a short-handed high-level table was very content to have a relative noob sit down with a pregen (more than once was I handed the mid-level cleric as I filled an empty seat).  There was also a time when I played in a session in which everyone at the table was using special pregens - we were elemental creatures or something.  That was particularly neat because nobody was playing their standard PCs, we all had new sheets to learn, etc.

7. PFS had player factions (ie groups within the guild) that probably had secret missions and roleplay effect occasionally, but I didn't play enough to get a good look at it.

8. When Pathfinder switched over to their second edition, the org-play program rebooted completely.  No conversion of old characters, everybody starts fresh.  I can understand why they'd want to do that, but I was a little miffed that my "occasional character" was now out of play for an out-of-game reason.

9. The regular players were hardcore Paizo-heads.  The most experienced GMs had the most STUFF - minis, flip-mats, whatever.  It wasn't cult-like but there was a cultural expectation about grid play with minis, and it was supported by a fan-club acquisitive vibe.  If you have the right swag with you, you get in-game bonuses.  Yes, really.

Kudos to the Pathfinder folks in my area - they kept it friendly, welcoming, and fun throughout.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. That's pretty awesome. One reason I crapped out on 3E (and 3.5) was that I kept running into players and DMs who didn't know the rules and refused to learn tired of it.

    [definitely not the only reason, but a major frustration with the culture back in the early 2000s]

    Your post makes the PFS sound pretty fun.

    Looking forward to reading about your other experiences with organized play. Thanks!