Thursday, May 5, 2022

GURPS and Pathfinder 1e

It is interesting as I float between different sets of rules for my solo game, and I suppose I should know what I am looking for before settling on a system of rules for the long haul.

I played two scenarios so far in my game with Pathfinder 1e:

  • A survival-oriented adventure in the arctic north.
  • A stranger in a town during a pirate raid that ended up being very social and dipped into town building and kingdom management.


The survival adventure in Pathfinder 1e worked well with a solo play system, and I have yet to replay this using Dungeon Fantasy. There are survival-focused spells in Dungeon Fantasy (DF), so I expect these will see some use - where my Pathfinder 1e cleric was level 1, she will be a hero-level character in DF, so the scenario will have to be much more challenging.

She normally comes from a cold climate, so I bet I will be pre-buying a few skills that will help her get by. One of the problems of point-buy and solo play is designing a character that will perfectly match the challenges you expect them to be in. When doing point-buy, keep character background and history in your mind, and stick to the character's life experiences as a guide. That is a massive strength of point-buy over systems with classes; I can write a character history and use that as my shopping list during character creation. With Pathfinder 1e, a level 1 cleric is just that, and I really only have control over skill and spell selection (in Pathfinder 2e, that changes hugely).

The Level 1 Adventure

I did feel myself rolling back the difficulty just a little in Pathfinder 1e to match a "level 1 solo adventure" style of play. It may be nice to play at a 250-point hero level since the difficulty curve in GURPS/DF seems more gradual from 250-300 points (20% more power) than the Pathfinder's power ramp from 1 to 5, where hit points can multiple by 5, powers start coming online, to-hits can go up by +5, you have three feats (five for a fighter), an ability score bonus, wizards have their first 3rd level spell unlocked (fireball), and you have five hit dice. It does feel like a 500% power curve, but in reality, it is probably closer to 3 times given monster difficulty.

In Pathfinder 1e, I find myself nerfing challenges for level one characters, and it takes a bit to get used to the power level as it quickly ramps up from level 1 to 5. As a result, my survival adventure felt massively toned down for a level 1 solo experience, and I had to cut things short. I do not like that feeling where I have to purposefully put a "town nearby" as hit points drop and exposure sets in, and the character feels less heroic and more helpless and in need of GM fiat.

It is a strange feeling, I think I would like a slightly more heroic game starting level, just because the challenges are easier to manage and I am able to "throw" more at a character and have fun.

I suppose I should have started her at level 5 if I wanted the "hero experience," but there is the magic of a level 1 to 5 run that other games can't match. The downside of that is the level 6-9 grind, where the changes do not feel as dramatic or interesting. And then level 10 which is the beginning of the end of the campaign.

There is a part of me that really loves leveling in a video-game style of enjoyment, and another part of me feels it detracts from the solo play where I want to worry less about an incremental grind and more on story and worldbuilding.

GURPS Power Levels

With Dungeon Fantasy, you are on the GURPS power level scale and starting at the 250-point hero level. The next levels are legendary at 500-points, and godlike at 1000-points. You can do lower-level 50, 75, and 150-point games but those are a bit more difficult in Dungeon Fantasy without a low-level supplement such as Delvers to Grow (an excellent book, BTW). It feels like for every 250-points in GURPS is about 5 levels in Pathfinder 1e.

XP rates in Dungeon Fantasy are 0-5 per session, with a 5-ish point bonus for mission completion. A lot of these are modified by different parameters, so check the book and apply the XP modifiers as needed. At 50 points per Pathfinder level (-ish), this puts advancement on one Pathfinder-equivalent level per 3-5 sessions.

Experienced GURPS players say the really hardcore characters start at 400-points. These are characters that GMs find it hard to find and balance challenges for, so these would be the true survivors. For a solo game, I bet this will a lot easier to manage since I am only dealing with 400 points of character rather than 400 points for each character (1600 total on average).

XP for RP and Journaling

One thing cool about Dungeon Fantasy is they frequently tie XP to roleplaying, if you say "I roll for traps" and find a trap, you do not get an XP for that as a feat. If you are poking with a dagger, actively searching, and roleplaying the action - you can get a +1 point bonus for experience. Apply this rule to everything - even solo - roleplaying, survival, social skills, technical skills, and everything else. Yes, you feel a little silly sitting there and telling yourself, "I cut branches off trees with my ax and build a fire with a piece of flint and the edge of my blade. I shelter it from the wind with my hands and let the smoke build before the flame builds and I have a fire."

But that keeps you from sitting there solo and rapid-fire announcing skill rolls to yourself, "Survival for fire, survival for shelter, survival for keeping warm, wait until morning, break camp next day." Where is the fun in that? So, zero XP for a recital. Another thing I do is XP is only awarded for journaled items, so I write every choice, encounter, and action down.

Starting Soon

I am looking forward to the Dungeon Fantasy playthrough, and I should be starting this soon and comparing the adventures. I want to focus on survival first since the challenges are one-sided (person vs. environment compared to person vs. person). The town-playthrough feels fun too, but that will dip into social situations and also a bit of kingdom management, so I want to get the base game of survival plus combat mastered.

Am I giving up on Pathfinder 1e? No, I have too many books and fun support materials to use, and this is my go-to sort of AD&D-style game. But Pathfinder 1e is a system that gives you tons of options and gives you strictly defined classes, in essence, it is a system of structures and limits. With Dungeon Fantasy you have a lot more freedom, you have template builds but you are free to expand from there. This is a system with infinite options.

As a power user and doing solo play, a point-design character system works for me very well.

In a group, I probably want something with more structure, like a 5E or Pathfinder. For new players, even B/X is a great choice, since you can focus on the environment rather than the rules.

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