I picked up Pillars of Eternity on sale for cough totally legitimate research purposes. For some reason, the game just isn’t grabbing me.

Pillars is very reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate, with several things cleaned up from baseline D&D (ish, anyway) rules, and several things made more fiddly to reward system mastery. Unfortunately for me, one thing I don’t particularly enjoy is games rewarding system mastery for very fiddly systems. The other problem is that while the game has a lot of original lore, it hasn’t managed to convey it well enough to pull me in.

I’m through Act I so far. The opening tutorial is blessedly shorter than I remember running around Candlekeep in BG1 being, and includes an actual (though small) dungeon that’s far less annoying that Irenicus’ opening dungeon from BGII. There’s also a nice small dungeon in the first town, though a bit of it fell flat for me. There’s a door puzzle that I couldn’t find enough clues to solve, but since I also picked up the key that opened it anyway, I don’t quite understand the point of the puzzle.

One thing I notice is that every map feels very, very small. My memories of BGI are so old as to be unreliable (I haven’t played it since at high school), but I’ve started BGII a couple times in the past many years, and I know that the opening dungeon is sprawling – merely escaping it took about as much play as getting through Act I, with more compelling immediacy to the story’s stakes.

As for the totally legitimate research purposes…

Ideas in Pillars

PoE (an overloaded acronym in CRPGs) “fixed” stats by making every stat potentially viable (or painful to dump) for every class. For example, instead of Strength controlling physical prowess and only being of use to fighting types, Might represents the ability to inflict damage or heal, and so if the goal is to push big numbers then anyone, warrior of mighty thews or puny wizard, wants a good Might.

PoE has also introduced a camping system where a shallow pool of Endurance is rapidly depleted during combat and as quickly healed after, while the full HP are slowly whittled down with (almost) no way to recover them except for resting, which outside of town requires expending one of a limited set of camping supplies. This style reminds me very much of 4E’s short and long rests (though with the resources tied to long rests, instead of healing surges fueling short ones).

PoE also does lots of very fiddly stuff – interrupts and concentration to resist interrupts, damage reduction and weapon/damage type rock-paper-scissors games – that I won’t go into further detail on.

Table Play

PoE embraces a complexity that I would never even begin to try translating – it’s the kind of thing that only a computer can really get away with managing for you. PoE engineered its six attributes to be functional for every class, and to have a way to punish choosing a dump stat. For my game, by way of contrast, stats are thrown out entirely and characters distinguished by choosing one “stat” as a dominant trait.

The game’s approach to character health and healing hit a lot closer to my own, with one largely combat-time pool of health that can be recovered quickly and with short rests, and a separate longer-term pool of health (in my case, Wounds) that can be recovered only using long rests.

As I play more, I’ll look into individual character class capabilities. So far I’ve rolled a rogue, and I don’t see any shortcoming in my game’s ability to approximate the PoE class. PoE rogues start with a boost to Stealth (scouting) and Mechanics (traps/locks), and focus on applying debuffs to enemies, then picking up backstab damage for DPS. At the table, you could put together a Talent (probably, but for major DPS roguery a Warrior) with Thief for sneaking and lock picking and trap disarming, as well as stunting for debuffs or advantage, and a combat art like Assassin to spike damage.

I played a quick druid earlier, the shtick of which is to use a beast form for melee combat, with spells used to debuff enemies or deal direct damage. The higher level talents involve attaching other damage types to the beast form’s attacks. A Magician with Shapeshifting would play closer to the traditional D&D druid, but a Warrior with the same could easily wade into melee with a war form, and either could grab Channel for elemental damage or other arts for direct attacks.

The fighter Edér is tanking for the party right now – in PoE, tanking involves using the engagement mechanic to stick monsters to you, and the fighter has some tricks to stick a higher-than-usual number of them. At the table, Defender would be the closest pick, since it gives some abilities similar to 4E marking. The wizard doesn’t appear to bring anything very new – its casting mechanism is closer to 5E than anything else, and so doesn’t match up well with the assumptions in my system. I do look forward to playing around with the Chanter more (it seems like an interesting bard variant). There could be fun tricks to steal from it for filling out higher tiers of the Entertainer art.

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