50 Games in 50 Weeks: Pathfinder Arena

Sep 03 2012

'Slaying the Dragon' by fireflythegreat on Flickr

‘Slaying the Dragon’ by fireflythegreat on Flickr

I have a difficult time reviewing this without getting snarky. So I’m going to get a bit snarky.

While I was at PAX East 2012, a friend and I walked by a table the size of a Mini Cooper. It was ringed with miniature walls and its surface sprayed with a sandy finish, so it looked like a miniature gladiatorial arena. Beautiful work.

We approached the two men who stood nearby and asked them what it was. They explained it was designed for an ongoing gladiatorial game they’d designed using miniatures. Anyone at the con could walk up, pick up a character, “enter the arena,” and fight until their character died.

We agreed to join, and asked about the system. Here’s where it got weird.

The referee explained that they had designed their game around D&D 3rd Edition and Pathfinder. They made it clear they had not used 4th Edition, which they hated; they had taken Pathfinder/3E and adapted them for this. Then they handed us our character sheets and explained their system.

Now, my friend and I played a lot of 4th Edition D&D. As these two men talked, my friend and I glanced at each other, our eyes full of meaning.

Every single change made to this system was a 4th Edition change. This game looked almost exactly like 4th Edition.

The prime complaint about 4th Edition was that it made D&D feel like a war game. And this revision did exactly that: it adapted 3rd Edition for grid-based tactical combat.

I don’t say this to shame the designers; I do this because the game worked extremely well. Combat moved quickly, and we had a few useful choices at any given time, while combat remained unpredictable. The designers made the right decisions, which made their game almost exactly like the 4th Edition they claimed to despise.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the name they gave their game, so I call it Pathfinder Arena. As a minis-based arena combat game, it works very well.

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