It has been a rough few days. I have a medical issue that’s been cropping up throughout 2021 (because this is apparently the year of just constant but relatively low-stakes problems I guess, for me, personally) and it once again reared its head this past weekend, resulting in no blog posts, lots of escapism, and some pretty constant headaches. Not because of the medical issue. No, these are from jaw clenching, actually. Lots and lots of jaw clenching.
My primary mode of escapism has been Pathfinder: Kingmaker. I wrote about it back in 2018 and it turns out I was right! It had the makings of a great game and became one sometime between now and then (I was away from it for a while). Turn-based mode was a game changer (haha), as was taking some of the sting and risk out of the kingdom events that required so much management. It is possible to just play and enjoy the game now, without having to stress too much about managing your kingdom’s finances, stats, or buildings.
What it provides me that I crave in these trying times is a sense of control. I can micro-manage my game so that everything works out more or less the way I want. Nothing is guaranteed without constantly saving and reloading the game, but I can ensure that if I fail in a battle, it is due to bad luck not mismanagement. I’ll admit that all of my time playing 5e has left me feeling forgetful and out-of-the-loop when I go back to this game, but the skills I spent half a decade developing in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder are still there, if somewhat dusty.
This latest playthrough has actually been much more optimized than previous ones, so I’ve got a boatload of magic items and money that make me capable of incredible feats of violence, which seems to be most of the point of the game since there really aren’t that many fights you can talk your way past. You can sneak away from random encounters, but most fights are going to be fights no matter how you handle the dialogue beforehand. Which makes sense on some level.
As a DM, I’ve sometimes pushed exchanges towards violence because the groups the players are dealing with have no interest in a peaceful solution, but that’s a rare thing and usually based in established enmity. Most of these fights, in this video game, feel a lot like bandits from Skyrim running up to the dragonbone plate wearing PC yelling “you never should have come here” with their shitty iron axes and helmets. It just feels pointless and like actual people in the world would know better.
I mean, the conceit of the pathfinder world is that there’s an entire society of adventurers called the pathfinder society that is full of powerful assholes wandering around in search of treasure and problems to get involved in. NPCs in the world make frequent reference to the fact that my character is an adventurer. And sure, most bandits probably prey on weak travelers and local farmers, but why the hell would they attack a group of six people wearing the most magical looking shit in the world, followed by a dog the size of a horse, all while carrying a literal ton of armor, weapons, and rations.
I have a spell now that, combined with a magic item, lets me just instantly kill huge swathes of bandits and goblins and kobolds that attack me as I wander around my kingdom without breaking a sweat or bothering to roll initiative. The game actually struggles as I kill everything with a single action, thus starting combat but also ending it immediately because there are no enemies. I actually crashed the game once, with one of these “combat starts but there’s nothing to cause combat to start” moments (which is why I try to always leave one enemy alive now, to prevent crashes).
It just seems so silly, sometimes. I would be less bothered if they were ex farmers or citizens who hated my guts and wanted to assassinate me because at least then it makes sense that they’d be throwing their lives away. This bandit bullshit just ruins my immersion. Almost as much as I ruin my enemies.