GM or DM?

I’ve been working my way through the Pathfinder Gamesmastery Guide. The first couple of chapters won’t come as any surprise to experienced GMs, of any game. They cover the absolute basics of getting started and running the game. The advice is perfectly good. It takes the form of short sections devoted to specifics such as Tone and Setting or Where to Play. This advice is pretty generic, certainly not solely of use to D&D gamers. The focus zooms in and out alarmingly fast. On one page is a discussion about player absence, and then there’s a discussion about what you do with miniatures when the monster dies. It’s almost dizzying. Once all this is done and dusted, the book turns to the science of GMing, and that’s where the rules of Pathfinder start to rear it’s head.

Under the heading of GM considerations, there’s a chapter that causes a raised eyebrow. Specifically, it deals with the notion of game changers. These are spells, abilities, powers etc that have the potential to add difficulty to the campaign. Here’s what the book feels necessary to call out as prime offenders:

Lie/evil detection
Remote viewing
Portents & omens

The general advice given is to allow these things in game, but not to let them get out of hand. Well, yeah. Imagine that advice spread out over a couple of thousand words though! I couldn’t help but think, why not just play 4e? I know, I know, the differences are greater than just that. Still, this simply doesn’t come up in the DMG, because the game has made the problems utterly disappear.

I don’t bring this up merely to carp, it’s actually to see if the GM job is still as it was in 3.x, and by the looks of this chapter I’d say it is. Which scores a strike against me wanting to run Pathfinder.


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6 responses to “GM or DM?

  1. Why not just play 4e? Perhaps because while you want to limit the “game problem” aspects of things like invisibility, flying, teleportation, you don’t want to “nerf” them nearly as much as was done in 4e? 4e and Pathfinder really seem to be aimed at different styles of play. Their rules and DM advice reflect that.

    • Sure. They are by now very different games. However, PF seems to believe these abilities are worth picking out for special attention. In fact, some of the advice given comes close to being what some might call a nerf.
      Don’t forget, PF could have changed these if it wanted. It didn’t. Yet it still has issues with its own mechanics. That’s an odd situation.

      • True, the Gamemastery Guide advice could be considered close to a nerf, but it’s just advice that those who don’t have problems with the abilities can ignore. I’ve been running D&D with such abilities since 1975 and have never had any major problems with them. I don’t appreciate rules that nerf them just because some campaigns and some playstyles do have issues with them. On the other hand, I think advice on how to nerf them if they cause problems your campaign is great.

  2. That is an odd list.

    Certainly invisibility, flying, teleportation and remote viewing are powerful abilities but they weren’t broken in 3.5 so I cannot see why there would be a problem in PF.

    Lie/evil detection and portents & omens are both areas that can be very difficult to GM, or to at least GM fairly, because they are subjective.

    Advice on these sort of things is common within all the pre-4 D&D editions. In those games the GM was expected to decide some things themselves. In 4e they simply took out all these gray areas in so they could have a system where everything is reduced to a simple mechanic.

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  4. I second RandallS that these sort of abilites are troublesome largely depending on the players.

    If your group is a bunch of munchkins who want to “scry and die” every quest they’re given from the moment they are able to, then it’s going to be a big problem.

    That’s not to say the problem is not with the Pathfinder rules. It is, simply because the rules allow it as an option.

    Personally, I agree with Baz. 4e jettisons the problem areas of 3.5, but keeps all the cool. Obviously that’s a matter of opinion.

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