I admit that sometimes I feel a modicum of pressure to get with the system and delve into a more mainstream fantasy RPG. This is not because I am dissatisfied with old school D&D. Indeed, I could happily play homebrewish whitebox or basic/expert set D&D for the rest of my gaming days. Most of the pressure comes from the fact that I quite enjoy gaming with new people at cons, game days, and meetups, but most people at these kinds of events are only familiar with the current mainstream RPGs and not the funky old games I love the most. These days most gamers don't really have a clue what old school D&D is about, and they don't really care.
If one wanted to select a fantasy RPG based solely on popularity there are really only two choices: Pathfinder or D&D 4e. Although 4e is a unique game that's great for what it is, I wouldn't consider getting into it because of how tactical combat drags on the roleplaying. That leaves Pathfinder...
Pathfinder looks interesting on many levels. The community is large and vibrant. There seem to be nearly universal accolades on the quality of the rules, and there are a lot of great authors producing material (including China Mieville...!).
The few times I've flipped through the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, however, my eyes have kind of glazed over. 576 pages it is. I can hardly imagine how any game with 576 pages of rules can actually be PLAYABLE, much less enjoyable.
Seriously, can someone out there help me understand:
1. Do most people actually use most of the 576 pages of rules, or is there a small core of rules surrounded by lots of optional fluff no one uses?
2. Do players have to own and read the rulebook to be able to play?
3. Are the rules as complex as the length of the rulebook implies?
4. Would learning the rules well enough to run a game require a deep thorough reading of the entire rulebook?
Here's a fun lil' Conan video (music by Dan Deacon):