Today marked the end of the principal storyline we’ve been following through the campaign thus far (meaning that next time when Travis takes over the game-mastering duties, he’ll have to take the campaign in a new direction). We finally worked our way completely though the caverns we’ve been exploring, facing off with a series of enemies culminating with Nuelia, the half-human, half-demon troublemaker behind the whole goblin scheme we’ve been dealing with. As such, this was a fairly combat heavy session, and exposed us to some new mechanics we hadn’t faced previously.
The most interesting of these was facing an enemy (some sort of bat-like flying creature) that could turn itself invisible. Implementing such a situation in a tabletop game like Pathfinder is obviously not simple to do (if it’s going to be fun and interesting, at least), and caused us a fair amount of confusion. Not surprisingly, combating an invisible creature is dependent on being able to detect where it is, which is of course related to the perception skill. But it’s not a simple matter of getting a good roll on the perception DC. Passing a DC 20 perception check only lets you know that an invisible creature is somewhere in a 30-foot radius, and pinpointing its exact location is “practically impossible” according to the rulebook, requiring a “+20 DC” perception check (which I must presume means 20 on top of the 20 required to just sense its presence, though this is unclear in the rulebook). The 700-plus words the rulebook dedicates to explaining combat with invisible enemies go on to itemize a series of modifiers to the required DC (e.g. -20 if the creature is speaking or in combat, +15 if its behind an obstacle, +1 per 10 feet of distance between the PC and the enemy, etc.). Some of these modifiers don’t make a whole lot of sense, however. Consider, for instance, that the reduction in required DC for an invisible enemy is the same when it’s running or charging as when it’s in combat or speaking; doesn’t it seem like the latter case should entail a more forgiving DC? The really surprising (well incoherent and ridiculous might a more accurate description) thing, however, is that if the DC reduction if the invisible creature is not moving is -40! If I’ve understood things correctly – I and I read through this section of the rules several times – this means that a stationery creature can be pinpointed with ANY perception check. How does that make any sense? If a creature is invisible and holding perfectly still, that seems like the MOST difficult circumstances under which to localize it.
I realize this digression on one very specific rule may be tiresome, but it really highlights the price of designing a game that attempts to give players freedom at the level of Pathfinder. Much like when designing a sandbox videogame (like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, for instance), the designer is faced with finding a balance between gameplay that becomes redundant (making the sense of ‘freedom’ very hollow) on the one hand, and dealing with contingency after contingency on the other. Pathfinder has taken the second route, it would seem, and it has led to a bloated rulebook that is often difficult to make sense of.