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PF1E The Pathfinder Experiment, Part I: Tide of Evil


Greetings, ENWorld fellows. I thought I'd share my little "experiment" with you all. The motivation behind this little project is to address some criticisms and concerns regarding how well Pathfinder addresses its design goal of compatibility with the D20 3.5 rules. As stated during the run up to Pathfinder, backwards compatibility is not the only goal. Improving the game and adding options were also stated goals. Goals such as these tend to run counter to the goal of compatibility.

I've heard many suggest (online and in meatspace) that Pathfinder's compatibility with D&D/D20 3.5 material would be poor at best; I had some concerns myself how this would pan out. I have also heard many exasperated rants that the Pathfiner rules really couldn't hope to fix anything and remain compatible.

I didn't play with the beta rules a lot, but when I received the actual product, I was pleasantly surprised at how close it held to many important central assumptions behind the D20 3.5 rules. But how well would it really handle material written for D&D 3.5.

One can argue on forums about how you think it will play all day long. But the best way to tell for sure is to play it.

This brings us to The Pathfinder Experiment. The idea is fairly straightforward: over the next few months, whenever the opportunity arises (at game days as well as in off weeks with my home group), I will run an adventure written for 3.5 using the Pathfinder core rulebook.

I want to keep the parameters for this experiment simple. I won't be doing a full pathfinder re-write of the adventure. Any tweaks I do to the adventure will be limited in scope to what I would do at a home game for an impromptu session. As a general guideline, there wont be more than a page of typed (or scrawled) notes.

Upon completion, I'll type up a report summarizing how the session went, with special attention to difficulties encountered, steps needed to make the adaptation work, as well an any impact of new rules and options. I won't assume the use of any other products (e.g., the Bestiary), but if I such a product is used, I'll note it in the writeup, along with an assessment of any additional impact it had.

So with no further ado, here's the summary of my first such game. I hope that this is enlightening for anyone considering whether to use Pathfinder for their fantasy gaming.

Adventure: Tide of Evil, part of Goodman Games' DCC #48, The Adventure Continues
Recommended Level: 4-6 characters of 4th level
Actual Characters:
"The Sorcerer": Halfling Sorcerer 5 (Air Bloodline)
Fegli Stonecutter: Dwarf Cleric 5 (of Torag)(Healing, Sun domains)
Agrist the Cleaver: Dwarf Fighter 5
Ferra: Halfling Rogue 5​
Other Rules/Products Used: Paizo GameMastery Critical Hit & Critical Fumble decks.

This first game I ran in "The Pathfinder Experiment" came about when I was running a game for an "off-day" for our group (i.e., most of the regulars were missing.) It hadn't really been my explicit intent to make this a Pathfinder Experiment game; I had intended to run the first of these in a near future gameday.

However, I had given the 2 players in attendance a choice of playing Pathfinder, Starblazer Adventures, or a Fantasy Craft adventure set in Freeport. They leaned towards Pathfinder.

We had to decide what level to play. I sort of left it to the players if they wanted to play 1st level or "higher". They said higher. I picked 5th, and I figured this wouldn't be too hard to make characters for, but would give us a better look at some of the class changes in Pathfinder.

So, I pulled out DCC #48: The Adventure Continues, a hardback compilation of adventures for 4th-6th level characters. I picked out Tide of Evil pretty arbitrarily, to discover after reading the fine print that it was really for 4th level characters. That's okay: DCCs have pretty good scaling notes. I planned on upping the entry trap and the nastiness of the merrow barbarian.

Character Creation

The players made a Halfling Air-Bloodline Sorcerer and a Dwarf cleric of Torag. The sorcerer player caught on to his new features quickly. The dwarf player took a little more time to explain what channel energy is and the deal with 0-level spells.

They took a long time to pick spells, so I drew up two additional characters to round out the team (this is a Goodman DCC: a round party is a good idea.) I pulled out Temple of the Death Goddess by Green Ronin and converted two of its pre-generated characters to Pathfinder. (Side note: I WAS considering running Temple of the Death goddess, but I actually didn't want to nix the Cleric's new ability the moment he tried to use it, which you'll understand if you own the adventure.)

For the characters I made, I started with the characters as-is magic item wise (yeah, I know they changed some body slots and that sort of stuff. No time to worry about that.) I mostly re-picked the skills, added 1 extra feat from the new progression, and added the new class abilities.

One nice thing about the new skill rules came to light. The adventure recommends some players have swim skill. I devoted one point to swim for both the fighter and the rogue. With just one point and their stat mods, they had some pretty respectable modifiers right off, which sort of illustrates the impact of the new skill rule.

We had a bit of a discussion at the table about the new favored class rules. For those who don't know, favored classes are not a race element anymore; the player chooses a favored class. Further, you aren't penalized for multiclassing outside of your favor class outside of missing out on the minor kicker of 1 hp or skill point per level you take in your class.

At first, divorcing race and favored class sort of bugged me. I liked that the flavor of fantasy races was built into the rules in 3.5. However, the way that humans get a roving ability bonus and specific races get +2 in two specific stats and -2 in a third essentially does the same thing: it makes it so humans are reasonably competent at a variety of classes, but races are good at the classes that can best use the boosted stats.

The Adventure
(Note: Spoilers to Tide of Evil in DCC #48: The Adventure Continues follow)
I gave the halfling rogue to the player who made the halfling sorcerer, and gave the Dwarf cleric player the Dwarf fighter to run.

The adventure involves a seaside village being extorted by a trio of hags and tribe of merrows (aquatic ogres). The village got fed up and hired a party of adventurers to deal with the problem. In the back story, I reasoned that each was from a village of their race that traded with the village of Sandyshore, and decided to team up to take on the contract and return the area to livelihood.

The dungeon itself lies in an outcropping of coral reef. The PCs made their way there. There was an enhanced trap at the entry, but all the players made the necessary saves and the spear failed to hit.

Some of the early encounters were with undead aquatic creatures of various stripes (the reef is partially submerged at low tide and fully submerged at high tides.) This turned into an immediate boon for the party, because the stinking sorcerer took Command Undead! Command undead isn't all that potent when your main targets are 1 hd skeletons, but this adventure had multiple high hd undead aquatic creatures. It was sort of a theme. So as the adventure wore on, eventually the group had a troupe of undead scrags, seacats, and sharks with them.

After the party had accumulated a few undead toadies, they were in a fight with a merrow barbarian. As advised by the scaling notes (and so I could play with the new rules, too), I added 2 levels of barbarian to the merrow leader and picked out some rage abilities: quick reflexes and increased damage reduction. The quick reflexes did allow the barbarian to erode some of the party's undead advantage.

Now, the party had taken out a merrow earlier, but failed to take out two in the adjacent room. I'm not one to run my dungeon in a "sit and wait" fashion, so I decided that the two merrows they left at their back would come and explore when their neighbor showed up dead. So, they hear a combat from down the hall, and head that way. With little warning, the halflings were bushwhacked by two merrows. One merrow inflicted a critical hit on the halfling Ferra; using the critical hit cards, it pinned one of the her arms.

The sorcerer used grease on the assailing merrows, which initially was a clever move, and did suppress attacks for a few rounds. However the merrows had reach, and moved back, which made trouble for the players trying to attack them across the grease when the Agrist arrived.

When Fegli arrived, he managed to stabilize the rogue. He wanted to try out his shiny new channel energy ability, but none of us quite had the full story on how it worked. The fact that you can (must) choose to affect living creatures or affect undead slipped past us. The sorcerer's player advised him that if he did his channel energy there, it would zap the undead dealing with the merrow barbarian. So he opted to just heal the rogue, when he could have been boosting the whole party.

There was a battle with a giant lobster. As the group was traveling with its undead entourage, they were never in any real danger from the lobster. However, this battle and the squid in the next battle did give me a chance to play with the Pathfinder grappling rules first hand. Reducing everything to a CMB vs. CMD roll makes grappling operate pretty much like any other special ability or spell.

The final battle was a showdown in the lair of the sea hags. There was an item planted early in the adventure that served as the hag's eye, so the hags had time to see how the players dealt with threats and prepare. And they saw how effective the undead scrags were proving. Now I don't like forcecage because it's an utter killjoy of a spell (and giving it to a low level monster is sort of dirty pool), but I was more than happy to expend it to trump the sorcerer's ace card--the hags immediately used the forcecage to trap the remaining undead brutes.

The party had some difficulty seeing through an illusion the hags put up, but eventually managed to locate them and put the hurt on.

I pretty much ran the hags as written, with a few tweaks. One of the hag's collective abilities called for them to use polymporph on one of the hags to assume an Orca form. I replaced Polymorph with Beast Shape III; applying the mods for a huge creature was pretty quick and simple, with the exception of not having a convenient bite damage table, so I just used the bite listed in the adventure module.

Eventually the party prevailed. The rogue got some licks in, and once fighter was able to get at the hags, their 19 hp didn't last long.
The sorcerer summoned dolphins and a squid to deal with the orca. As I don't have the bestiary yet, I just used porpoise and stats in the D20 SRD.

In addition to the Channel Energy gaffe, one thing came up in the "didn't realize that it had changed" department: it totally slipped by us that cleave and great cleave had changed. Ah well... it's not like we've ever had a player use the "bag full of rats" tactic the change seems to be aimed at solving.


The game went well. The only thing that made it unusual at all was the happenstance of how very well the sorcerer's choice of spells worked for this particular adventure. I really didn't get to see the channel energy in play due to a misunderstanding of how it really worked.

The much ballyhooed (and poo-pooed) grappling rules? After one lobster and one squid, it seems like it works as advertised. Reducing it to a simple roll vs. fixed DC to get an effect puts in pretty much on the same plane as most other abilities, and invoking the rules during play didn't seem like it brought everything else to a halt.

As stated, I like the skill rules. I already liked them before I got a chance to make characters and play, mainly because it eliminates the need to sample certain classes before you pick up certain prestige classes. However, this game brought a few other elements of the skill system to light. It highlighted how easy it is to get reasonable competence with minimal investment.

Further, the skill purchase convention has an interesting synergy with the favored class rule. I originally thought that allowing you to benefit from class skills of all your classes might be abusive. But I soon came to realize during our discussion that this is counterbalanced to some degree by the favored class rule.

Speaking of "synergy": for those who didn't notice, skill synergies don't appear in Pathfinder rulebook. This was one of those changes I did bother to look up until it came up in the game. Although I like the intent of skill synergies, they did entail some complication and potential for abuse.
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First Post
Great stuff! Thanks for posting this, in a detailed and informative way. It's very interesting, and relevant to me atm, because I'm not totally sure about Pathfinder at this stage (I tend to be quite cautious when it comes to RPG systems), and well, my frickin' book hasn't arrived yet. :rant:

Looking forward to further updates! :)


Extradimensional Explorer
This thread is a really great idea! I look forward to more, and, if I have a chance to run something soon, maybe I'll post one too.


I would like to share several impressions which might be of interest to you in the future:
- do not be afraid to try maneuvers. They are quicker to resolve and bullrushing is fun.
- do try poisons. Especially, some slow fancy stuff tends to make players move fast.
- do not be afraid to throw more lower level opponents than encounter EL would indicate - most characters have options to deal with a number of weaker opponents (maneuvers, new cleave) and the players seem to like showing off.
- try to avoid single BBEGs. Pathfinder new options (at least during BETA playtest) allowed for opponent ability shutdown (Step up, Lunge) and subsequent massacre.
- at low levels Barbarians with their Rage make for great maneuver users.



Psion, thank you.

I've just started a Pathfinder game so I'm just kicking the tires on the RPG but I really, really like it thus far. Since I tend to prefer OGL games (and more swords-n-sorcery with less X-mas Tree Effect) over core 3.x, adapting modules is hardly new ground for me. However, I know many, or at least a vocal percentage, of the EN World community opt for official WotC-only sources (save modules). I appreciate seeing the specific examples of backwards-compatability and ease of adaptation -- the proof is in the play as you indicated.

Too many of us, myself included, opt for debating/posting from ground of "in my opinion" rather than "tried at the game table". Thanks for the effort and the reasoned analysis.

Please keep us posted as the experiment continues!


Not trying to state the obvious, but if Psion's efforts aren't worthy of some EN World XP, I don't know what is.

XP awarded.


First Post
Who's asking? :)

Yes, Caesar Slaad is the handle I use for some younger forums.
It's just that I saw this thread pop up on different forums, posted by "Caesar Slaad", and having read you here for some time, I actually never thought both handles were one and the same person! :)

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