Rules are Tools
Is the title an oxymoron? Yes. Am I also a moron? Debatable. But is my claim also true? I certainly think so. Let me explain why. Pathfinder 2e is a deep game with a bunch of rules, mechanics, and systems. Yet, the way they are implemented makes the game run incredibly smooth. If you use the tools it gives you correctly anyway.
You can find a video version of this article on my YouTube Channel
Images taken from Pathfinder Easy Tools. A fantastic resource for the game.
The Game in Game Master
Picture this very common scenario. You, as a player, want to do something. The GM makes something up on the spot to allow you to attempt said thing. Dice are rolled, people cheer, doves fly, and everyone’s happy. Great right?
Here’s where it gets messy. Three weeks later you want to do the thing again. Your GM is not a supercomputer. They probably have no idea what method they used to adjudicate it three weeks ago. If they remember it happening at all. They will pull something else out of their ass that likely isn’t the same thing they did last time, especially if circumstances have changed.
Let’s say the action in question is to disarm an enemy. There are two outcomes to this situation. The GM’s inability to calculate every detail of every session they have run in their entire life means they are probably gonna have a different ruling. If that’s the case, there is no consistency.
You never have any idea if your character is capable of disarming an enemy until the moment you ask the GM and the GM slaps down some mechanics. Maybe you had a high chance last week and this week maybe you have almost no chance with no real explanation as to why.
The second outcome is YOU do remember how the GM ruled it last time and bring it up. The GM is either going to not remember or rule it differently depending on what’s changed or agree with you and do it the same way.
In that case, you and your GM have just created a new rule. Congrats! There’s nothing wrong with that, but, if it continually happens with a bunch of different fairly basic concepts…What did you actually pay for when you bought the system in the first place?
Pathfinder 2e has a Disarm action, and a Trip action, an action for leaping and climbing, and…it’s a long list. It’s easy to look at that list and scoff. To rant that the system is bogged down with a bunch of unnecessary constricting rules. But you would be completely wrong. The rules are neither unnecessary nor constricting.
They are necessary because if they weren’t there, your GM is going to invent one anytime you want to do an action that the rules don’t cover. They aren’t constricting, because the rules are as much a law of logic in how the game world functions as they are words on a sheet of paper.
Since the Disarm action exists, you can take feats specifically to bolster your character’s ability to disarm. You can rest safely in the knowledge that your character is good at disarming enemies. That it’s always a viable tactic without relying on what the GM says. That’s how the world in Pathfinder works. Predictable, despite the dice.
You can always jump X amount of distance if you have X amount of speed. Drawing an item is always one action. Unless you take something to change that, and it applies to those enemy goblins the same way it does to you. That consistency allows you to account for it, for yourself, and how you approach an enemy.
Now there may be a learning curve, but that’s not the same thing as being complicated, crunchy, or obtuse. The unchanging nature of these actions means that once you or any part of your group learns them, they are consistent. If you can’t remember them, you can always print out a cheat sheet or just reference the rule book.
Do you know what’s more complicated? That rule not existing in the first place and trying to play a character that’s subject to the whims of the ever-changing chaos of a world that exists without rhyme or reason.
It’s trying to remember a made-up ruling that was likely not all that balanced in the first place because the GM made it up on the fly with five billion other things to track while entertaining two to five other people.
A Game Master’s Best Friend
It’s a lot less complicated for the GM too. Adjudicating how the players can attempt actions not covered by the rules is one of the things that makes tabletop role-playing games great. It’s the fact that the players are not constrained by the rules themselves and can try things not covered by them that sets a TTRPG apart from a board game.
But it’s the existence of those rules that make it more magical when those things happen. I don’t need to spend any mental willpower to adjudicate simple common actions like climbing, disarming, or tripping. The game has me covered already.
That frees up my think tank to tackle the more uncommon ideas the players come up with. Since Pathfinder 2e already has an extensive framework of actions, I also have examples of how to make those things happen in a way that’s consistent with the rest of the game.
The fact of the matter is mechanical rules exist whether you have a book full of them, or none at all. If there isn’t a rule for it, the GM is making one up on the fly, even if it’s only ever used once. It’s the same thing, applying mechanics for you to roll on.
Break the Taboo
I know a lot of fans of 2e still handwave or just ignore rules they don’t like or believe are cumbersome. But I think that’s a mistake a lot of the time. That is, unless you have designed a homebrewed replacement that applies to the whole table and game to maintain consistency.
If that’s the case, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a homebrewer myself. But it’s important to understand that the rules aren’t there to bog you down. If you use them as intended it makes the game move along at a much steadier pace.
With the rules. You know how to jump, you know how to engage in diplomacy, you know how to hide in the bushes. There is no question about it, it’s written out for you.
The word “Rules” has a negative connotation, and for good reason. Rules by definition basically mean something that must be followed, a restriction. So it’s easy to think that the more rules a game has, the worse it is, or the more complicated it is. But realistically the “rules” in this case are just simple mechanics that allow you to do what you want, not stop you.
It’s like saying that 2+2= 4 is a rule. You are technically correct, but the rule of mathematics, or called “law” if you’re a normie, allows you to utilize math in the first place. A Bicycle following the “rule,” or law of physics, is what makes it so you can ride it without planting your face on the pavement.
Wouldn’t bicycles be more complicated if you never had any idea what was going to happen when you started peddling? How complex would life be if math was inconsistent or random? What if one day 2+2 equaled 4 and another it equaled 16.
That doesn’t mean every rule in Pathfinder 2e is perfect. It was still designed by fallible human beings. But it was designed by a team to offer you a balanced and consistent system to run your games instead of solely relying on a single overworked fallible human called your GM. Rules are the spinning cogs powering your machine of might and magic.
Rules shouldn’t be a dirty word, embrace them. Otherwise, I’d have to wonder why you’re playing a game at all.