Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and Complexity

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and ComplexitySo, you may have heard that in the past week or so that Paizo has just announced the playtest for the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with an aim to publish the new edition in 2019.

I admit I’m not that clued up on all the details but I have been reading what others have posted who seem to have rather more of an understanding on what is happening.

One of the changes would appear to be a lack of backwards compatibility between the second edition of Pathfinder and the original rules, which could prove to be a mistake. After all, lack of backwards compatibility between D&D 4 and 3.5 was probably one of the factors that led to Pathfinder’s success in the first place. Paizo got a lot of players from D&D 3.x who didn’t want to move to the 4th Edition.

In the decade since then, some of Paizo’s customers will have purchased perhaps thousands of dollars of official material from Paizo (given the various subscriptions) that may not be compatible with the second edition, never mind third party content. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to have that all written off. So this could cause the Pathfinder market to fragment.

However, that is not really why I am writing this post. One thing I have taken note of is that, according to more than a few comments, Pathfinder Second Edition seems to have quite a bit in common with D&D 5E, in terms of reduced complexity. So, perhaps the system is being simplified to regain market share. 5E may have taken some players from Pathfinder.

Now, after I admit I have no idea how many official rulebooks, the Pathfinder system was getting a bit bloated, and perhaps impossible to keep on top of. I have stated more than once that Pathfinder is at least as complex as Rolemaster. So, if Paizo is shifting towards a less complex format with the second edition, such as seen in 5E, that does not exactly bode well for complex systems such as RMU.

Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems and, if so, what does this hold for Rolemaster? Will it remain an extremely niche game system even after the release of RMU?

10 Replies to “Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and Complexity”

  1. Personally, I love the detail and complexity of Rolemaster.

    I can’t comment on 5E but I didn’t like the over simplicity of 3.5 (although it got very convoluted with extra books) – the core mechanics were a little too arbitrary for my taste

    1. I don’t think I’d personally describe 3.x/Pathfinder as simple. Despite having played BECMI D&D, AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition (up to that essentially becoming 2.5) my reaction to 3.x/Pathfinder was essentially “Huh?” Massively more complicated to understand than the others to me. I’m still not sure I grasp the mechanics fully, especially for combat. There is a market for added complexity of course; I have seen extensive critical systems designed to add to Pathfinder. I’m just not sure whether the larger market is that interested.

  2. “Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems … ?”

    In a word, YES, though on my blog I wrote about how I considered “simple” a bit of a misnomer when considering, specifically, the OSR.

    I think what has been increasing in popularity is this sense of “Do It Yourself.” I have run a fair bit of 3.5 and Pathfinder in my day. I haven’t read all of 5e yet, but what I understand is that that rules set made a move towards “modular” — this term to be understood as a description of streamlined core rules and additional “options,” discrete rules sets that can be plugged into the core rules if greater “crunch” or some kind of specific emulation is desired.

    The problem with games like Pathfinder was that changing one aspect sometimes changed the whole — some pieces were reliant on others, and removing one component sometimes nullified character options elsewhere. There were other problems, too, but I need not rant on that game here.

    I’m a relative noob to this community, but I recently started playing my childhood game, MERP, again, but this time with some features of RM2 added in. I’ve glanced at later iterations of RM and have shied away. I would rather have a central engine. Anything else I might need I believe I can “make up.” One of the bloggers here mentioned how some RM users are going back to the smaller, perhaps “simpler,” MERP charts. This tendency seems to be a feature of the FRP community in general.

    Two more things: I had thought that Pathfinder 2e was intended to be backwards compatible. And I had supposed that RMU was supposed to be “simpler” — at least in the sense that it was meant to bring all the diverse and disparate elements together under one systemizing “roof.”

    1. Regarding the backwards-compatibility, I’m basing that on what others have said, who I think understand the system better than me. To me, it seems a massive problem (mistake) if it isn’t. Not only has Starfinder only just been released, but some third party publishers are creating Pathfinder material that’s better quality than Paizo’s own.

      The Pathfinder core rules certainly need streamlining, as there are now so many official optional books that it puts RM2 and its companions to shame. A modular system would definitely be better.

      RMU; I think one prime reason for it is to create a RM system that has no potential problems regarding IP.

    2. I am the blogger that advocates smaller/simpler RM systems.

      I think RMU is definitely simpler than RM2/RMC and RMSS. It is, in my opinion, very different which makes it appear more difficult to play but that is just because we have to relearn how to play a game we already know.

      The biggest simplification in my opinion is in the skill system in that it is now much more coherent and there are far fewer mechanics in play. In RM2 it seemed like every third skill had a unique way of working.

      Of course RMU is not yet a fixed set of rules, it is still in perpetual beta, but Hurin’s interpretation of the 4+1 Action Point combat round ( feels simpler than the MERP/RM2 phased round.

      The biggest faux pas in RMU had to be the ‘normalised’ monster stats where at first glance a dog had more hits than a giant. People need to be able to flick to a page and be able to use a monster off the cuff, not need to ‘roll up a monster’ before every encounter.

      1. Yes, the discussion about the RMU round in that thread you posted above Peter is ongoing. I was in fact also very heartened to read the article by the Pathfinder director on why PF is going with a three-action round, and treating movement just like any other action. He was basically making the same argument I’ve been making on the RMU forums for over three years now. If you are interested in his reasons why (and I highly recommend it), here is the link:

        In short, it seems that PF2 is going the same way as RMU: a more streamlined combat system that is more user-friendly. The new PF2 round of ‘three actions and a reaction’ looks a heck of a lot like the RMU round I’ve been using for I think 3+ years, which is four actions and a reaction (and a free move!).

        I think the move is towards simplicity when it can be achieved without limiting options. The problem I had with DnD 5e was that it simply refused to define its rules clearly, which left it up to the GM to try to sort things out. DnD 5e to me was a terrible mix of fuzzy rules and pointless complexity. I would prefer to see simpler rules and complexity only where it is necessary to provide options (Occam’s Razor, if you will).

        That issue with the hit points in RMU — i.e. a dog having more hit points than a giant — has now been fixed. I know you know that, but some people reading your post might not have understood that.

  3. I think one can have detail without complexity. The fact that Rolemaster uses d100 for everything is less complex than having to use a d4 sometimes, a 3d6 at other times, a d20 quite often and then 2d8+2 at other times.

    To be honest if you rounded Rolemaster skill totals to the nearest whole +25, the skill system is basically a 1d4 system. 1-3 = fail, 4 = partial success, 5+ = success. Casting that as a percentage and you get the 76+ partial success and 100+ for success which certainly looks more detailed.

    I have perceived a very strong trend towards simpler mechanics and if you imagine a scale with extremely detailed simulation at one end and narrative/story teller systems at the other then the trend for new systems is more towards story teller systems than simulationist systems right now. I personally put my tastes slightly on the narrative side of centre.

    Looking at the systems released in the past two years the other strong trends seem to be favouring iconic settings as the systems USP rather than universal mechanics. I am not saying that universal mechanics are not popular but I am saying that the setting is the primary selling point. There are a multitude of FATE/Powered By The Apocalypse/Savage Worlds games out there using the same core mechanics but really strong/iconic settings.

    The second trend is for single rule book editions. Most new systems seem to be in the format of a single 250-400 page volume that covers everything needed to play. I can see the appeal of that. An initial investment of $30 is worth a risk or more likely with GMs they would spend that on a whim just because they like to collect game systems. Spending $120-$150 before you can play is a bigger ask from people who are not already invested in the game.

    1. I’m not keen on the far end of the storyteller curve, where it can range into creative BSing contests between GM and player (my impression of FATE to a large extent). Certainly, less different types of dice is useful (oddly, I seem to have only three d10s).

      Single rulebook games, or ones with lite or starter versions, are I think a good idea. It doesn’t look like a path that RMU is going down though.

      1. I am definitely not keen on the storyteller end of the spectrum, but I don’t think you would be on the Rolemaster Blog if that was your gaming style.

        I think ‘lite’ editions of games were very popular last decade (2000-2009). More recently I have noticed them being replaced with Quick Start rules where you get half a dozen pregen characters, a quick run down of the core mechanics and a starting adventure. The other key ingredients to a Quick Start book is drop dead gorgeous artwork and a really compelling world that just grabs the GM and makes them want to run this game for their players. Sort of “Love at first fight”.

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