We’re now 14 modules into Paizo’s organised play campaign, Pathfinder Society. I think this is as good a moment as any to take a long, hard look at where the campaign is now, where we’re coming from, where we’re headed, and what must be done so we get there instead of, say, Turku, Albuquerque, or the fourth circle of Hell.
There will be a lot of comparison with Living Greyhawk, since that’s what I’m familiar with and that’s where it was done best.
At the heart of an organised play campaign are the modules. While the campaign rules offer the framework that holds up the campaign, the adventures are the reason it all exists in the first place. I shall address these first.
Of the 14 modules that have come out thus far, I’ve read and either played or run 13 (with the exception of #14 The Many Fortunes of Grandmaster Torch). The quality has been all over the board. Some, like #4 Frozen Fingers of Midnight, #5 Mists of Mwangi and #8 Slave Pits of Absalom are very good indeed, but then there are modules like #12 Stay of Execution, which was two hours too short, and #10 Blood at Dralkard Manor, which apparently suffered in editing and turned into a bit of a party killer.
None of the modules are at the level of Living Greyhawk’s best.
The problems with the modules come in many shapes. Stay of Execution is too short. Blood at Dralkard Manor is too lethal and has rewards that do not actually appear on the scenario chronicle. Eye of the Crocodile King has a map that makes no sense for what it’s trying to depict. There are also persistent faulty stat blocks. The usual stuff – miscalculated hit points are the most common, I think.
I think the root of the problem here is the word count limit. All of the above modules have great potential that could be realised if it only had been possible to flesh them out more. In short, they are too short. Stats take up a lot of space, especially considering you may need to stat up the same characters for several level tiers. Also, most of the modules we’ve played were over far quicker than the four hours they should fit into. Three hours is the norm, with Stay of Execution clocking in at two hours. We tend to play full tables of six people, and we are fond of our off-topic. Really, the modules could do with an additional encounter or two.
I would also note that there’s been a certain lack of continuity, but that, we are told, will change.
A point of note in comparison to Living Greyhawk: LG was much more free in handing out favours and other interesting entries in their adventure records. I think they are much more interesting than +2 longswords, and would like to see more such things in Pathfinder Society. I feel they bring depth to the setting and the adventures (as long as we’re also given later opportunities to actually use those entries), which makes it easier to really make an investment in the campaign.
It’d also be nice if there were actual rewards for completing the adventure objectives themselves. As it stands, the characters get rewards for accomplishing faction missions, but doing what they were sent there for is not profitable. Since the Society doesn’t pay its members, this would be a good place to put favours and such.
And please, give us wands of cure light wounds! We’re getting murdered in here!
The Campaign Rules
Changing the rules of the core game in some ways is a necessity of the format. There are some things that simply do not work or are too much work to make function properly in a centrally-administered global campaign. The rules document, I feel, should also function as an introduction to the campaign without needing to purchase the setting book. The PFS campaign guide still reads a bit like a raw draft. It’s missing several things I consider rather important.
I am ambivalent about the levelling speed of the campaign. For those who do not know, the campaign scraps the normal XP system (and as a result, all Item Creation feats). Instead, in every module you play and survive, you gain 1XP. You level every three XP. This makes for very fast advancement. The level cap, I think, is at level 12. However, this isn’t spelled out anywhere in the campaign guide, which it really should.
Other changes and additions I think the campaign needs:
The subskills of Knowledge (local) need to be listed. I prefer the Living Greyhawk system, where different regions were lumped together into only six different subskills of Knowledge (local). There was a point to taking the skill.
Clear, concise rules concerning animal companions, familiars and purchased animals in the campaign. To my understanding, these will be in the next revision.
One would also hope that the exception of guns from the list of allowed Pathfinder Campaign Setting gear be added. It’s another thing that a ruling has been given on in the forums.
Finally, I wish they’d make a definitive ruling on what to do when a module and an official sourcebook have contradictory information, such as in the case of #2 The Hydra’s Fang Incident and Guide to Absalom. It’s not usually a big deal, but it is possible a situation will arise in the future when it matters.
I think that in general terms, it’s a good idea to take a look at how Living Greyhawk did things in the last few years. They had seven rules revisions, and each one was mostly an improvement. (The campaign cards were unnecessary doping, though, and the inclusion of kobolds was a short-sighted and ill-advised move.)
This is the one area where PFS is doing far better than Living Greyhawk. The campaign staff and writers hang out on the forums, are active in conversations, and are nice people. Also, the Paizo forums’ discussion culture is healthier than on the WotC community, that D&D-playing lovechild of SomethingAwful and the RNC.
Paizo’s guys also react to complaints and have issued updated modules very swiftly. With the RPGA, I don’t recall seeing any module receive errata or be updated after release, despite being, for example, completely unintelligible.
I have no real complaints here.
It’s a promising campaign, but not quite there yet. There’s steady improvement, and I have trust in the writers. They are open to feedback, which is important.
The major issue, with me, is the module length. They start and then they’re over. They need more flesh to their bones. I don’t think there’s much cause to be so wary of the four-hour time limit. A better option would be to write a longer adventure and include advice about where it can be safely shortened if it seems to run long.
I will revisit the topic next summer, when the rules change rolls around and the campaign goes Pathfinder, and see where we’ve come.