#pathfinder   #actualplay  report, as promised. Biased. Warnings: long post.
I am somewhat sceptical toward Pathfinder as a system, but there are certain points it does way better than D&D 4, too. I will focus on these points, too.

The Group
Our group consisted of:
- elf magus (melee magician)
- gnome oracle (divine caster, healer)
- human witch (arcane caster, many control spells, not much damage)
- human (or half-elf?) fighter (martial, melee, specialized on ranged combat)
- human ninja (rogue, skill-class, can sneak attack and do nifty eastern-movie style tricks) - that last character is mine
Starting level is 3 for us, on the second evening, we will be level 4.

First evening, plot
In a village we want to further the goals of the Pathfinder Society. In order to gain some renown we take a traditional quest for the village, a ritual where we have to travel to a nearby crypt, collect an everburning flame and return.
Before we start we visit the local magician, who will send us on the way. When he does not show up, we go to collect him, finding him in his house, apparently slain by a group of orcs (!)
We fight the orcs, discover they are illusions and that the magician was disabled by a magical backlash when casting a scrying spell (he was coordinating the preparation of the ritual test we were about to take).
With some magical equipment from him., we travel through a wood to the site, taking the described path for the quest ritual. It is not really dangerous, the only issue we encounter is a pack of hungry wolves (which is a bit strange, since there is plenty of food in the woods).
We reach the crypt, have to climb a little, the crypt has been defiled. There are skeletons about, we defeat them, press on to free villagers preparing the site, and finally face a vile necromancer. Then we return.

The Good
We did really manage to do a lot. Fight against orcs, wilderness travel, explore a whole crypt, 5 (or so) fights!
The speed is amazing, no way you can do this in 4e. (No way you WANT to, there is so much exploring, travel, talking. 4e only does battle well)

The Bad
Combat was mostly boring. So boring that I even doubt a battlemap is making any sense.
Basically it is just: Walk up to the enemy and whack it. Often it didn't even make sense for me to get behind the enemy to sneak, sneak, sneak attack.
And in that one occasion where it made sense, I think storytelling could have handled it quite well. That's not the kind of tactical combat I enjoy, but at least it is some action.
I also dislike that even as soon as level 3 casters can appear very, very powerful, way more so than noncasters. The crypt battles were utterly dominated by our oracle.

second evening plot

During our exploration of the crypt, we did find some interesting things: Apparently there were two parts of a seal or amulet in the crypt, which were stolen and that was, what caused the dead to rise in the first place. A letter pointed us to a temple in a nearby city.
To travel there we took a boat, encountered the messenger of a sea hag, but decided against taking action against her.
We researched the temple and religion, watched and followed people around, did quite some research! And then we infiltrated a temple to find something that would expose them as the evil cult they are. We robbed their treasure, disabled guards, evaded a trap narrowly, set off one deliberately, fought elementals. Our gnome got high and was "dazzeled" for half the evening. We got hold of one of the bosses in the temple, whom we questioned, but seemingly deliberately leaving out the important questions, so that when we wanted to capture the current leader of the temple, we set off a final trap, had to fight a weird construct made out of masks, and finally almost were overwhelmed by all the cultists. I grappled the leader though to force him to give up. We found the evidence we were looking for, exposed the cult for what it really was.

the good
Our magus and witch could disable almost any guard for a short time. We were careful and successful in sneaking and exploring the temple. Again we managed to do amazingly much in one night.
A real highlight was, when we faced the weird construct, the DM Described how its eyes were glowing, and allowed for aimed attacks at just the eyes, which would temporarily disable the construct for a moment.
Grappling the enemy boss worked, despite the fact that I was struck for even attempting to grab him. Grappling lead to pinning, pinning lead to sneak attack, and that to  a successful attempt at intimidating the boss into giving up.
For me it was cool to see how my ki pool and ninja tricks allowed me to get out of almost any difficult spot at least 6 times a day. (+20 on acrobatics makes tumble really easy)

the bad
Just with their at will spells ... umm... cantrips? Or class-specific supernatural abilities (at will) our casters were able to defuse most dangerous situations. It is cool, but it so simple a complete solution, that it really makes things utterly easy. This is scenario-dependent, though.
Again for the most part, the battlemaps in combat was not needed. There was maybe one situation, where the precise position of opponents and partners was really necessary. Mostly combat was still just whack an enemy. Only for our casters it was way more interesting.
I also dislike how in the final fight our oracle was reduced to a healbot. Basically he did do nothing but heal, heal heal. One of the thigns 4e did really well was, make sure that that didn't happen - BUT the player didn'd mind it.
I really disliked the amount of research we had to spend, in order to make things good for us.

general things I learned, good and bad
Speed is really important, the game flows well, much better than 4e.
Good research helps. Helps a lot. There are a lot of very complete solutions to many obstacles. I dislike this, because it means you have the person who has the complete solution (for example: Magic Missile -> Shield. Minor Undead -> Cleric, Trap -> Rogue) and all the other characters have to do is enable that character to do his thing.
That's also where save-or-die comes from, I guess. Kinda like a convoluted of rock-paper-scissors. And that's why research is so damn important.

Some mechanisms in D&D actively discourage you from doing cool stuff. Like, when I need to tumble into backstab position, and might get hit for that, I first consider the resources it might cost and try to determine if the outcome is worth that. Resource management. But not all players think like that ... but it is surely not just me:
The primary reason we did not tackle the sea hag was, that we decided it was too dangerous, and the reward was not worth it.

Sometimes you wanna do something cool, and get punished for it. Or have to jump through loopholes to do it. Like hiding when you are in battle: Ceate a diversion, then hide. Roll twice, means two chances for failure. Same goes for casting while in melee, as our magus player learned.
Or in the end, when I needed to grapple the enemy in order for us to even have a shot at ending this. Several loopholes. Grab -> Attack of Opportunity, then pin (another check). Then sneak attack. THen intimidate. (Of coruse the system does not dictate the last two points)
And the opponent would only have needed one action to escape from the grab (he decided calling forth two hellhounds was the better idea.)

I dislike that I need to examine every single skill to determine if I just need to learn the skill, if I need to max the skill, or if I likely do not need the skill at all. (In all these decisions I also factor in what I imagine the character to be like. In my case for example it makes no sense at all to only HAVE acrobatics, I need to maximize it, otherwise sooner or later I will not be able to tumble past an opponent. But it is perfectly to only HAVE use magic device, when I only want to use wands in non-critical situations. We have 3 casters, after all)

I do like, how the whole play experience is more wholesome than in D&D 4, how skills have a greater impact, and how you do not need a power for everything. (Well. You don't NEED it in 4e either)

I am starting to like certain things about Pathfinder again, and I am understanding the game better than before. I try things I would never have tried before and hope the adventures actually create situations where you can do cool stuff and it is worth it.
And I think it would work even better, if the system tried to set less things in stone. Feats, so many class features, spells, magic items, hell even skills. Which is about 180° from my opinion two years ago.

My main problem is, that I am looking for a different play experience than Pathfinder / D&D offers me, a game that actually encourages excitement and danger, rather than looking for the safest way to deal with a dangerous situation. But I can arrange myself, and who knows what else I learn (again?) along the way?
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