One of the great things about the tabletop RPG is the tales that players tell of games past. Today I will tell you about how my recent experience in restoring the world to its rightful balance as the almighty fog cloud got me thinking about the time investment we make in those games.
I had the distinct privilege of being invited to a one-night Pathfinder session away from my regular group. I played a pre-generated Kitsune sorcerer. It’s a standard practice for “one-shots” to have pre-generated characters rather than sitting down with blank character sheets and rule books. I value character customization quite a bit when it’s practical, but for a one-night scenario it’s just not practical. We could easily have spent more time generating characters than playing them. So we got a choice of four characters: a sorcerer, a rogue, a fighter, and a cleric. I was excited to find that nobody else was in a rush to claim the sorcerer. I enjoy spellcasters in general, and especially the sorcerer in editions of Dungeons and Dragons which use Vancian spellcasting.
This affected my experience in very specific ways. Vancian spellcasting refers to rules about magic in games based on memorizing spells which are “forgotten” upon casting rather than having a “mana” or “energy” pool which can be used to cast any known spells. The sorcerer, unlike the standard wizard, does not conform to this Vancian system. They have a spell list and a number of spells to cast per day. What this means: more versatility in what my character can do in a day. More room for experimentation with less need for preparation. If this was a longer campaign, I might not have chosen “fog cloud” or “ghost sound” as spells that my new character knows. And even if I did, I would not necessarily have memorized these ones in particular just in case there was a need for a distraction. But as a sorcerer, I had them on the list that was handed to me. And so, when the big bad evil cult decided to lay waste to the innocent village our party happened to be passing through, I had what it took to make a snap decision: enter the mighty fog cloud.
I spent more time summoning a fog cloud and trying to intimidate enemies with a booming voice like a vulpine Wizard of Oz than I did doing the usual D&D stuff: magic missile enemies to death and loot their bodies. Of course I did some of that, including turning a water creation spell into a weapon against fire elementals. Yeah, the ones I would soon find out were born of sacred fire and were actually there to rejuvenate the local temple. Oops.
So, what’s the point here? I enjoyed myself immensely without investing very much time at all compared to a full campaign. With a great group and a fantastic DM, I was able to take an assigned character and make it my own, complete with a sassy personality and a sense of kinship with actual foxes. While I do think that being involved in a longer story is a matter of getting what you give, it’s not a linear relationship. Playing a little bit, even just a single session, can still yield a tale to tell.
Whenever we engage in a finite game for recreation, we expect a return on the investment of our time. Whether it’s Dungeons and Dragons or cribbage, it hardly seems worth playing if we have to spend a lot of time to get a small amount of enjoyment. What really made this one-night Pathfinder session work for me is that despite the need for pre-generated characters and a simple plot to make it possible to complete in one night, I was able to put my own spin on the character that wouldn’t be the same as another person playing the same character in the same scenario. The amount of time spent on rules was minimized and offering choices to players was maximized. A diverse array of actions were available to me and allowed me to do things that would not be possible in any other sort of game. Pathfinder‘s rules are relatively streamlined, especially in the hands of a good DM. Everything worked out just right in a way that highlights the potentials rather than the pitfalls. It was among the best two hours I have ever spent on games. I hope that the next adventure I run can hit as many of those points as possible in order to make the time spent by the players worthwhile.