In class Monday we briefly discussed how, in games with complex rulesets, players will often spontaneously settle on a simpler ruleset as they begin to play, gradually incorporating more rules as they learn the complexities of gameplay. This this in the context of Command and Colors: Ancients, but I find it happening in Pathfinder, as well. One look at the games massive core rulebook is enough to see that mastering the rules in their entirety is a monumental task, yet our relative lack of familiarity with the rules has not been a serious detriment to our playing the game and learning it as we go.
As an example of this, only at the end of our last play session (our fourth), did I realize that I had not been taking advantage of a valuable strength of my character, namely having a favored enemy. To elaborate, the storyline our GM has us on so far has centered around an unlikely truce between several tribes of goblins (it would seem someone is pulling their strings, but we have yet to figure out who). Needless to say, this has resulted in a good deal of combat with goblins, and it turns out that, as a ranger, I get a favored enemy type against whom I receive a hefty +2 bonus on both attack and damage rolls (so, not only would I be more likely to land blows with my weapons, they would deal significantly more damage). And wouldn’t you know that when I created my character, I selected goblins as my favored enemy?
I felt rather foolish for not taking advantage of this feature of my class, especially after facing our most elaborate combat encounter so far in the campaign (a complex battle in a glassworks, with a large number of goblin enemies and environmental dangers/obstacles), but the important thing to note here is that my not being aware of this aspect of the rules did not seriously impede my ability to play the game. I can’t say how deliberate of a design consideration it was, but Pathfinder is structured such that it allows players to jump right into gameplay with a rather cursory understanding of the ruleset (at compared to the breadth of the complete rules). It’s an impressive design feat to build a game that can both accommodate novice players and provide a challenge to experts under the same rule structure.
I presume this is largely due to the freedom Pathfinder gives to players. Unlike most videogames and simpler board and card games, players literally create the game as they go, and it is therefore very flexible to rule manipulations (or simple oversights, like mine.) We’ve discovered similar problems throughout gameplay, such as Mark realizing that reloading his crossbow requires a standard action, meaning he cannot move, reload, and attack all in the same turn, or discovering that our party had been taking unnecessary damage in an encounter with ravens and rats, which we had been treating as if they were standard-sized enemies. As tiny creatures, they have a reach of zero, which means they can only attack if they occupy the same square as their opponent. By extension, they must provoke an opportunity attack any time they force their way into one of our squares. Needless to say, the encounter would have been much easier for us of we had fully understood the implications of facing off against “tiny” creatures from the get-go.
In any case, it’s a rewarding experience to go through the game, learning lessons such as these while still being able to progress through the story and build up our characters. Even when we discover that we have made serious oversights, there is no sense that we have had a play experience that is somehow “empty”.