GEN CON ’08: When is D&D not D&D? When it’s Pathfinder

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beta coverGen Con, the annual convention of fantasy gaming companies and enthusiasts, is going on this weekend in Indianapolis. Last year’s buzz was centered around the announcement of the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which is now in stores and on gamers’ bookshelves and tabletops. But that event created a schism of practically religious proportions, and much of the attention at this year’s Gen Con is focused on the result: The new Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

When 4th Edition was unveiled, many players and the third-party publishers that had supported the popular 3rd Edition and its revision (known as “3.5”) were torn. Adding to the frustration for many fans who did not want things to change, D&D owner Wizards of the Coast (part of Hasbro) chose not to renew its license with Paizo Publishing, a Wizards spinoff that had for years published the beloved Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Wizards brought those publications back in-house and relaunched them as e-zines to headline a suite of online tools to enhance the game, which they dubbed D&D Insider.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Female Barbarian art (Paizo Publishing)With the magazines gone, Paizo focused for a while on publishing its Pathfinder brand of adventure modules and other supplements for D&D. Ultimately the company elected to skip the 4th Edition bandwagon and keep using the 3.5 rules set, taking advantage of the game’s open-source license to create the Pathfinder RPG.

It “fixes” many of the cumbersome rules quirks that evolved over 3rd Edition’s eight years, while remaining backwards-compatible with hundreds of sourcebooks from a variety of publishers.

Pathfinder easily won the many hearts that 4th Edition failed to capture. It not only reimagined rules, but has a bold new look that defies many fantasy stereotypes. And, in a public relations coup, Paizo made the game’s alpha and beta testing open to the public with free PDFs. This week at Gen Con marks the first hardcopy release of the beta version ($24.99); the free PDF is available now at Paizo’s online store. The final playtested edition ($49.99) is set for release at next year’s Gen Con. Unlike the official D&D line, the Pathfinder revision (dubbed “3.75” by many) will be contained within one rulebook, not separated into distinct volumes for players and Dungeon Masters.

Paizo Publishing images

Nevertheless, there are already many Pathfinder supplements detailing fantastic worlds and adventure scenarios that add to the game. Additionally, 3rd Edition organized play will continue on the convention circuit with the new Pathfinder Society, also launching at Gen Con.

So if you want to play D&D, but don’t want anyone to know, just stay cool, try to look mysterious, and tell them you play Pathfinder instead. Just keep your dice bag and miniatures out of sight when you do it.

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