Passing the Torch in Pathfinder Society

Yesterday, I sent the following e-mail to Mike Brock, the head of Pathfinder Society.

After thinking long and hard, I have decided to step aside from the position of Venture-Captain of Finland and name my successors.

It has been a fun couple of years, but I have held it as a guideline in my volunteer work to never overstay a position. There comes a time when the challenge is gone, the work becomes routine, and a sense of complacency sets in. This leads to sloppiness and poor performance.

This is coupled with some changes in my life situation, leaving me with less time to dedicate to fostering the Pathfinder Society community than it deserves.
Rather than stick around and enjoy the perks and privileges, I feel the responsible thing to do is give the position over to someone who can tackle things with a greater motivation and a fresh set of eyes on how to do things.

To this end, I would promote the Helsinki Venture-Lieutenant Mikko Rekola to the position of Venture-Captain, and name the longtime Tampere game master Atte Kiljunen as the Tampere Venture-Lieutenant. They’re capable and active, fair-minded with a sense of responsibility, and get along with people probably rather better than I do.

I’m not going anywhere, and I will still be around as a game master, font of wisdom, player and organizer of my home convention.

It has been fun. Thank you for making it so.
So, no longer my bailiwick, and I won’t be seen wearing those bright red polo shirts at conventions anymore.
But yeah, it was fun. One just needs to know when to move on. I need to graduate some day, and I have actually paying (such as these things go) game design and translation work to attend to.
Next week, Archipelacon!
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Ropecon 2014 – The Same Old Song and Dance

Last weekend’s convention, with a fortnight of breathing space (yeah right) after Finncon, was Ropecon, 21st of its name.

This year, I’d taken on a lighter slate of duties, refusing a con committee position in favour of focusing on Pathfinder Society. In practice, this resulted in organizing and supervising a 34-table slate of Pathfinder Society games, including overseeing an eight-table Siege of the Diamond City special, and participating in two different presentations. I was still less busy than during my con com years, though.

The kill list of the weekend's Pathfinder Society games. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

The kill list of the weekend’s Pathfinder Society games. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

Friday was the busiest part of the con for me. I had to get the Pathfinder Society games going with seven GMs starting in the beginning slot, do both my presentations and in general get attuned to the convention.

The first part of that was the easiest, really. The GM desk, under the leadership of Arttu Hanska, was helpful and energetic in a way that I can only hope it was under my management, and made its new placement in the Takka-Poli-Palaver corridor work. Had to do some wrangling and one game started late, but all the first-slot games eventually went off, all the GMs got their paperwork in order and I could head off to do some final planning for my first presentation.

Well, I say my, but in reality, there were three of us. Along with Teemu Korpijärvi and Joonas Katko, we had a 105-minute talk about the British Empire, its reasons and history, and how those elements might be adapted for use in roleplaying games, titled “Guns, Germs and Tea”. Teemu talked about exploration and seafaring, Joonas talked about warfare and famous battles, while I discussed colonialism on the ground and how “the evil empire” is really a tautological phrase. It apparently went rather well, we got a lot of positive feedback, and it should be up on YouTube at some point for you to enjoy and me to curse every pause and “um” that I mumbled into the mike. Here’s a link to our slides. They’re in Finnish, but the bibliographies at the end should be useful for everyone.

Following on the heels of the British Empire, there was our presentation about the next really evil empire poised to dominate land and sea, Myrrys.

Myrrys

So, last year I started working with the small Finnish game publisher Myrrysmiehet. Myrrysmiehet is the outfit behind such games as the pirate-themed storygame Hounds of the Sea, the concept games LGDS and Swords of Freedom, last year’s Lands of the West (Lännen maat, written by Risto Hieta) about the Egyptian afterlife, and the most recent and ambitious project, Children of Wrath (Vihan lapset), a bleak, dystopian science fiction RPG about a world taken over by totalitarian aliens, who keep the population illiterate and easily controlled. It runs on the Flow system used by Stalker. This year we also released another one of Risto Hieta’s games, The Agents of Mars (Marsin agentit). In addition to myself, the Myrrysmiehet were Ville Takanen and Jukka Sorsa.

Then there was this another Finnish small game publisher, Ironspine, comprising the gentlemen Miska Fredman and Samuli Ahokas. They are responsible for making such games as the space opera Heimot, the occult action game ENOC – Operation Eisenberg, and the fantasy parody Legends of Generia. Most recently, they produced the frankly gorgeous family RPG Astraterra that got everything it asked for and more in its recent IndieGoGo and is, in my view, the prettiest role-playing game product to have been released in Finland.

There’s also this third outfit called Ironswine, guilty of The Fly (Kärpänen) and most recently the most awesome RPG in the history of awesome RPGs, Strike Force Viper. It’s a postapocalyptic action RPG set fifteen years in the future, after the Fourth World War, in 1999. The relationship between Myrrys and Ironswine is hard to define and slightly embarrassing for all concerned, so I’m not going into that right now.

Anyway, it so happened that the gentlemen of Myrrysmiehet and Ironspine alike took a weekend retreat to brainstorm games and playtest new material last winter, and the idea was floated that we should merge.

No, not like that, you perverts.

The idea was deemed to have merit, and looked good even once we’d sobered up. Our philosophies in game design are similar, there was a history of cooperation, and surely five guys can get more done than two or three. We then spent a while drafting plans and talking a lot, and made the final announcement at Ropecon.

Purveyors of fine role-playing games and terrible humour.

We also discussed our upcoming products. We have plans to release everything in both English and Finnish, starting with the Astraterra English translation which I’m raring to get my hands on and should be out in time for December. Also upcoming is Robin Hood, another family RPG, which is another short-term goal. There’s also a bunch of long-term projects whose priorities are subject to change as whim and mood takes us, but among those are Ville’s deckdrafting card game The War which is beautiful and atmospheric and has solid mechanics and just needs a crapload of playtesting so that the damn Conclave stops winning all the damn time, the second edition of ENOC which Jukka Sorsa and I are provisionally focusing on once Robin Hood is done.

There’s also those Ironswine dudes who are kinda suspicious and I really don’t trust, but they’ve got a game called Sotakarjut that I’m really, really tempted to translate as War Pigs, and Strike Force Viper, which has been pegged for further development.

More information forthcoming as stuff gets done. Once we have something to sell in English, we’ll be opening a DriveThruRPG storefront.

The Rest of the Convention

The last of my real duties at the convention was overseeing the Siege of the Diamond City Pathfinder Society special scenario, which we ran for eight tables. The job of the overseer GM in a special is easier than it sounds – it is just about keeping track of time, calling act breaks as they occur, and tallying results as they come in. It did require me to stay in the game room for the whole of the third act, though, which was slightly inconvenient and I must remember to draft myself an assistant GM for next time. The sweltering heat, associated requisite fluid intake and the resulting bathroom logistics were a thing. Fortunately, at least I had the foresight to request a microphone. Last year’s module had me shouting myself hoarse.

Siege of the Diamond City in full swing. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

Siege of the Diamond City in full swing. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

I must say, I thought the scenario went quite well. In my view, it is thus far the best of the multi-table specials released for the campaign, featuring interactivity between tables and level ranges, a suitably epic plot, and a chance for every table to affect the outcome. As it stood, the valiant and resolute Pathfinders emerged overwhelmingly victorious against the demonic horde.

Well, I thought that was the last of my duties. Remember that Finncon report from two weeks ago? The one with the dancing? Well, the editor of Conteksti, the Ropecon conzine, was in the audience, and decided to do a comic strip. The strip, for those of you unable to read the lines of anyone except Jim Raggi, features a bunch of Finnish game designers and publishers discussing the state of the horse, interrupted by the appearance of an Astraterra crowdfunding backer benefit of a flying galleon and my song and dance show.

Note: This is not an actual Astraterra backer benefit, nor will it be.

After it was printed, there was only one way things could end. I expect the video of the closing ceremony will be out around a year from now. That is the length of my reprieve.

All in all, I deem it a very successful Ropecon (as does the treasurer – at 3,933 visitors, we fell 13 short of breaking the record). I had fun. I met all the old friends I never see anywhere else. I got some books. I even had time to play games. I got my ass kicked in a sumo suit.

Me in a sumo suit, during a rare upright moment. Photo by Peksu Järvinen.

Me in a sumo suit, during a rare upright moment. Photo by Peksu Järvinen.

However, as all good things, it had to come to an end, and as ended Ropecon 2014, so ended the convention’s time at Dipoli. Probably. The Dipoli conference centre, famously described by guest of honour Jonathan Tweet as a building designed by Cthulhu, has been the home of Ropecon for over fifteen years. The convention has taken on the shape of its venue, and the surrounding businesses have adjusted themselves to accommodate us and profit from our presence. Seriously, the grocery store next to Dipoli has a clause about working nights solely because during Ropecon, they’re open around the clock.

And now, they’re renovating it. The renovations will begin sometime next year and will likely take it off our hands for the next two years. After that, we are not sure if the venue is still suitable for our needs or if changes will be wrought. It is time to look for a new home. We do not yet know where it will be, but we do know that it will be somewhere. Ropecon will happen in 2015, and 2016, and all the years to come.

And now for a smattering of links.

What I did not have time to do was talk a lot with the guests of honour, Privateer Press’s Jason Soles and Luke Crane, he of Burning Wheel and other roleplaying games. Fortunately, for that purpose we had interviewers and intrepid cameramen. The GoH interviews were the very first things from this year’s convention to be edited and uploaded to our YouTube channel. The noise in the background is the convention’s afterparty.

 

Pathfinder Society in Finland Post Up at Paizo.com

Just making a quick note here that a blog post written by Venture-Lieutenant Jussi Leinonen and I has gone up at Paizo’s blog, as part of the series where the Venture-Officers of different areas tell about how they’re doing and what’s it like running Pathfinder Society in their area.

It’s probably already the most widely-read blog post I’ve ever written. So it goes.

Mind you, it’s also the best-illustrated, with Daren Bader’s awesome cover for Irrisen – Land of Eternal Winter.

Yeah, Finland at winter. Captures it perfectly.

Ropecon 2012, Saturday and Sunday—36-Man Game Sessions and Heavy Metal Musicals

As stated, Ropecon Saturday was a far better day than Friday. Most of my critical duties had been discharged, so I could kick back a bit and actually enjoy the convention.

The biggest thing for me on Saturday was probably Blood Under Absalom, the 30-player Pathfinder Society event. It’s a feature peculiar to organized play campaigns, these big convention events with many tables running a single game session simultaneously. We had five table GMs and the overseer GM, Stefan, and the tables were packed. I think we could’ve accommodated one more table GM, at least. Something to consider for next year. Unfortunately, I had other duties and could not participate, but I popped in now and then to see what was up. Only three character deaths in the entire session, for some reason. They, at least, were some of the high-level Tampere characters who occasionally need to be reminded of their mortality. They all got raised, of course.

My view on PC death in organized play campaigns is that 1st-level characters are cheap and especially the iconic pregenerated characters, Valeros, Merisiel, Kyra and Ezren, are utterly expendable and even the softest GM has no need to play nice with them. First-time players are an exception and especially inexperienced ones probably shouldn’t be slaughtered in the first encounter, but nobody should be immune.

Personally, I netted 15 permanent PC kills in my first month as Venture-Captain, all levels 1-3, including two TPKs. I swear I did not do it on purpose.

In the evening, I moderated a panel on alternate histories. I am still not sure if it was good or not, but I hope people were entertained. I only knew two of the five panelists personally, and it turned out rather more academic than I anticipated. I know it was recorded and it will make an appearance on YouTube at some point in the indeterminate future, so we can see if it’s actually coherent.

After the panel, the auditorium was taken over by 1827 – The Infernal Musical. It was a heavy metal musical that ran in a theatre in Turku last year to packed audiences, and we were treated to a DVD recording on a big screen, telling the tale of the Great Fire of  Turku. The musical uses classic metal and hard rock songs instead of original compositions (well, there are two of those, one by Mr Lordi), so there was no fear of the soundtrack being ass. Personally, I’m a great fan of metal and a sucker for musicals, so I was an easy audience.

Remarkably, 1827 also has a good book, the most underrated part of a musical. I saw Rock of Ages last night, actually, which provides a perfect point of comparison, being another musical that uses classics instead of an original soundtrack. Indeed, the two even utilize some of the same bands. The film worked well as long as it didn’t try to have a story, because it was inane even by the standards of a genre where the plot is generally regarded as an afterthought and an excuse to belt out a couple of power ballads. 1827, by comparison, was, you know, actually written, instead of just sort of invoked from some sort of morass of the generic. Okay, I guessed the ending twist well in advance, clued in by the fact that it was a Mike Pohjola work (the reason we got the screening in the first place), but I had great fun on the way there, even when there was no Iron Maiden playing.

There were nods towards Finnish history, including the obligatory send-ups of famous Finns of the time (such as Archbishop Tengström of Turku, who turned out to be one of the villains of the piece and a Satan-worshipper, who at the end of the first act sacrifices the Russian Commandant Sinebrychoff to his Dark Lord; and the evangelist preacher Paavo Ruotsalainen, played as a Yoda-like figure). There were roleplaying game references (one of the heroes of the piece is basically a D&D barbarian). There were puns (including the obligatory joke about the fact that the fire started at the Hellman house).

Unfortunately, that probably was the last time the entire musical will be seen anywhere in public. A novel is in the works, but it just won’t be the same.

After the musical, I went to play my only gaming session of the convention. At this point, it was around 1 a.m., and I kept falling asleep during We Be Goblins!, as one by one our hapless goblins died. Full TPK, but I am told it is not unusual in that module. The bits I remember were fun.

Sunday, then, was mostly just wrapping up the convention. I didn’t really have anything to do besides handling the Game Master loot event and wander about for something to do. This was unusual, since traditionally my Ropecon Sundays have been hectic and panicky because of the scenario writing contest and determining and announcing the winners. This year there was no contest, so no panic. I could relax and sort of not completely stress out. It was refreshing.

After that, it was just the Guest of Honour dinner, the Monday afterparty and the con was a wrap.

We’ll see about next year, but I’m probably handing over the GM desk to a follower and moving on to other challenges in con organization. What they will be remains to be seen. It’ll be the 20th Ropecon. Big deal, that.

Some Paizo Fanboyism

I’ll do all the Paizo fanboy stuff in a single post.

First of all, the Pathinder Online project is moving forward. They put up a Kickstarter to raise funds for a tech demo, which would allow them to raise the kind of funds that are difficult to get by crowdsourcing and are needed when developing a MMO. They got the $50,000 they were after in about 24 hours. They’re now looking to just up the number of pledges – money is no longer the main thing, but the number of fans. This is to show investors that there’s a solid playerbase for this kind of thing.

Personally, I’m cautiously interested, but I have enough things vying for my attention that I can survive without another MMO. I still threw in $50 for the Thornkeep book. (Incidentally, the LotFP IndieGoGo project got the main goal fulfilled and is now heading for the Ken Hite module.)

Also, Paizo just supplied one more thing to vie for that attention. As of two days ago, I am the Pathfinder Society Venture-Captain for Finland, which is a really long way of saying that I’m the regional campaign coordinator, which in turn means that I’ll be doing much the same as I have until now, except LOUDER!

Additionally, this means increased support for Pathfinder Society at conventions. This means I can offer all kinds of help to game day organizers. I’m still figuring out all the stuff that’s in my power to do, specifically, but getting free module PDFs for GMs at public game days and conventions is on the menu.

I’ve already appointed Jussi Leinonen as the Venture-Lieutenant for the Helsinki region, which is also pretty much making official what the man’s doing already.

I’m now looking for Game Masters in the more distant cities of Finland, like Jyväskylä, Oulu or Turku. My “work” address for this stuff is PFSFinland@gmail.com.

Also, I probably should clarify that this does not make me an employee of Paizo. I get some swag and they taught me the secret VC handshake, but I’m still just a campaign volunteer. Also, PFS is not getting preferential treatment because of this at Ropecon. The PFS Game Masters get treated just as well as any other Game Master, and if there are special circumstances, it’s because it either makes things easier for me as the Master of Game Masters or because their games require special circumstances (such as if we end up running Blood Under Absalom, which may end up taking the whole room for itself).

The Dawn of a New Year

In what is apparently forming into a tradition, I hereby post about the last year several days into the new one, after every other blogger has already done their recaps. Like last year, I also blame World of Warcraft, and also Steam for selling me Mass Effect for a little under four euros and a pack of LucasArts adventure games from the early 90’s for a bit under two.

My tauren druid is now level 80, finally. He’s totally awesome.

This is how you know it’s a gamer blog. The normal people would blame the delay on the hangover after New Year’s. Had that one, too, though. Several, actually.

Aaanyway, let’s take a look at what I wrote a year back about 2009.

Well, to start with, The Dresden Files RPG did not materialise. However, it’s not vapourware yet and Evil Hat is aiming for release at Origins 2010. I feel they’re being realistic and refreshingly honest about their chances of hitting a definite release date. Still looking forward to this one. I’m a huge fan of the novels – not so much the TV series – and I feel they will translate rather well into a roleplaying game. Indeed, they were strongly inspired by RPGs in the first place.

Adamant Entertainment’s and Cubicle 7’s Tales of New Crobuzon has also failed to appear. I do not know the status on this, though Adamant is still apparently up and running. Their site is going through a redesign and is inaccessible at the time of writing. Cubicle’s site contains no mention of the game, though they do seem to have announced the playtest of an unnamed licenced fantasy RPG back in September. I think we can definitely say that Tales of New Crobuzon may or may not be coming out at some point in the future. Then, in this industry, release dates often do have that Xeno’s Paradox effect going on. We’re still waiting for Sinister Adventures’ Razor Coast, too.

However, there’s one product that I can pretty confidently say is dead, and that’s Kahriptic Knights’ Deliverance. Their website hadn’t been updated for six months by the time I last posted about it, so it doesn’t come as a great surprise that they still haven’t updated it after that. Well, it wasn’t a game I was overly interested in, anyway.

But then there was the stuff that did come out, and boy, is it pretty. As predicted, we got Rogue Trader, from Fantasy Flight Games. I haven’t yet digested my copy wholly, but will probably be posting about it if I ever get around to reading the thing entirely. We also got another big, fat science fiction RPG, Catalyst’s Eclipse Phase. I’ve read the setting stuff in the book and it is awesome, easily worth the price of the PDF by itself, but have yet to start on the rather impenetrable thicket of the ruleset.

I’m pretty bad at reading rules, to be honest.

Eclipse Phase is also notable for being licenced under a Creative Commons licence, making the PDF freely distributable. It’s a bold thing they’re trying and I wish them luck with it. I bought both the PDF and the hardcopy.

There’s also that Starblazer Adventures thing, but I already bought two 400-page science fiction RPGs last month.

In addition to Rogue Trader, FFG released the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. It seems to be dividing opinion, and looking at the components, it is certainly unlike any RPG I’ve seen before in its presentation. The price tag is too much for me, though.

And then we got Pathfinder RPG, which was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I currently have two active campaigns, though both have been on a holiday break due to the players in Rise of the Runelords scattering to the four winds for December and the DM in Legacy of Fire being a lazy bum and not getting anything done about playing the game during the Christmas break. The bastard.

Pathfinder Society in Finland seems to have sorta dried up and whithered away, likely because it never attracted sufficient DMs to keep the game running on its own momentum. Also, were I to compile a Top Ten list of the weakest products released by Paizo, it’d include every dungeon crawl they’d released for PFS up to Drow of the Darklands Pyramid, which is the last module I am familiar with. I stopped keeping up after that. It seems the last PFS game in Finland was played back in October.

That said, there are some outstanding modules in there. I’d name Frozen Fingers of Midnight, Perils of the Pirate Pact, Tide of Morning and The Decline of Glory as the best of the bunch.

The most awesome thing last year, though, was the RPG course I took at the university. For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the records.

This year, Ropecon is on the 23rd-25th of July, at Dipoli, in Espoo. It’s gonna be awesome. Tracon will be a two-day event in the summer, from 3rd to 4th of July, this time in Tampere-talo, where Finncon was back in 2008. It will also be awesome. Then there’s the con in Turku, Conklaavi, from April 10th to 11th.

I don’t see anything of magnificent, mind-blowing awesomeness in the future, but Paizo is coming out with the GameMastery Guide in May and the  Advanced Player’s Guide in August. The APG is in open playtest and the six new character classes can be downloaded from the Paizo website. I’ve been busy so I’ve yet to take an in-depth look at them, but hope to do so at some point, preferably before the end of the month when they stop taking playtest feedback.

I also remember hearing that indeed, Fantasy Flight Games will follow the original game plan laid out by Black Industries about releasing three Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games. Two down, one to go, and that last one will be Deathwatch, about the finest of Mankind, the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. I can’t find a source for that, though, and don’t know if it’s slated for 2010 or 2011 release.

So, that’s what 2009 looked like and what can dimly be discerned in the mists of the future. Let’s see how it all works out in practice.

A Compilation of News

There have been all kinds of new things happening that I meant to blog  about in the last couple of weeks and then didn’t because I didn’t have the time or the energy. Now is the time to take back some of that. Some of these probably are no longer exactly news, but they’re still Relevant to My Interests, and this is my blog, dammit!

First of all,  RPG Geek finally opened. It’s like BoardGame Geek, except RPGs. This means there’s all sorts of nifty features and stuff you can do with it that I haven’t yet had time to explore. However, there’s one reason above all that I think this is awesome. Behold. I can keep a listing of my RPG library online for bragging rights.

I’m currently in Espoo and their listings are still incomplete, so I haven’t been able to put up my entire collection. I’m going  back to Tampere, where my bookshelves lie, on Sunday. Then I can start really working on it. Meanwhile, if someone  could enter the Paizo product catalogue into the database, I’d be grateful. I’ll probably have to do the Finnish RPGs myself.

On the Pathfinder side of things, the Guide to Pathfinder Society Organized Play 2.0 came out during Ropecon. It’s an update of the campaign rules to PFRPG rules and will become live on the 13th when the game comes out. However, I wouldn’t print it quite yet – it’s been suggested that 2.1 is on its way, now that the ravening hordes of fans have had a chance to pick the 2.0 apart for errors.

Overall, though, I like it. The changing of faction feats into traits is welcome, and they’re all more or less fixed, too. Once the game comes out, I can start converting my dwarf ranger, Absalom Dzhownz, into PFRPG… Need my books for that, too, though, since now they’re allowing all sorts of things from the Pathfinder Chronicles books.

Also, it seems the release date didn’t really hold. Someone leaked, and now there’s a five-star first impressions review online at Chad Perrin: SOB. Interestingly, Pathfinder RPG was sold out on the strength of pre-orders alone. While this does include the copies bought by game stores and we’re unlikely to be left bereft of our rulebooks, it’s still pretty cool. They haven’t released numbers, but Erik Mona has stated that they don’t consider a printing of 10,000 copies “hugely ambitious” as this printing has been described, so I’m guessing 15,000 to 20,000 copies at the very least.

Moving on, the Diana Jones Award shortlist has been released. It’s nice to see jeepform nominated. The Vi åker jeep guys have visited Ropecon several times and their games have proven popular. Not quite my cup of tea, but far moreso than D&D 4E, which is so very excellent that if they ever lose their trophy, they can torch a PHB and make a new one.

There was also ENnies voting, but that closed already (I can understand that someone might think the 4E PHB is worth reading instead of using as a doorstop, but what the hell is King of the Trollhaunt Warrens doing there?). You can still vote for next year’s judges, though.

News Update

Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news first: Keith Baker is not coming to Ropecon, after all. Considering his travel schedule, it’s not a surprise that burnout is threatening, and he’s got a deadline three days after the convention. It is understandable but unfortunate. We’ll try again next year.

The good news, then: Paizo Publishing has announced that the Pathfinder RPG PDF will be selling for $10. In real money, it’s about €7,1, or about 1,3 beers at O’Connell’s down the street. There’s no real excuse at this point not to buy it if you’re even mildly interested in the game. It’s 576 pages long, and will be released on August 13th.

I’m spending the weekend in Tampere and had the occasion to run Pathfinder Society for Thanuir of Cogito, ergo ludo. He posted his feelings about the adventure and the campaign to his blog. It’s interesting to read players’ accounts of games I’ve run, and his opinions are even more interesting since his usual gaming style is very different from mine.

Also, apparently BoardGameGeek.com is working on a sister site for roleplaying games. I can’t find an ETA for the finished product, but once it’s done, it ought to be all kinds of awesome. The ability to track my RPG collection online holds a certain interest for me and my ego. I measure my worth as a human being by my bookshelf.

Pathfinder Society – A Long, Hard Look

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.

The Modules

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.)

The People

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Last PFS Open Call, Dollhouse Interactive Drama, Stuff

Okay.

Who the hell came to this blog from a porn site?

WordPress is a lovely blog base. It gives me all these funky Big Brother tools that I can use to keep an eye on where people come from to my blog, what search engine terms they’ve used, what links they’ve clicked, and so forth. It even draws me these really cool graphs about my visitor figures.

Usually, they spike whenever I talk about 4E and/or the Nazis. That damn review got me into a flamewar on fucking SomethingAwful eight months after I’d written it. Never, ever try to discuss anything with a goon. Life is too short.

So, a couple of days ago, someone came to the blog from a porn site. No, I’m not gonna link it. It was a paysite, anyway, and I couldn’t get in to dig out the link. Only a single hit, anyway, but it does make one curious.

Also, there are funky search engine terms. My favorites from the past few weeks are:

hate living forgotten realms

pathfinder is sticking it to wotc

suck it dice

mudsex logs

Only one visitor each, fortunately. The last one really creeps me out for some reason.

However, I had something actually interesting to tell you!

Paizo is holding its last Pathfinder Society open call until next September. It’s also their last open call under the 3.5 rules.

Instructions in the link above, deadline for the 750-word outline on February 20th. The concepts they’ve got laid out there look pretty juicy and even though I’m swamped with essays, corpus analysis, writing assignments, exams, stuff for the department club, stuff for Ropecon, and trying to hold up the feeble illusion of a social life, I might take a shot at one or both.

In other news, the Finnish game designer and gods know what else Mike Pohjola is working with The company P and Fox TV on some sort of interactive drama tie-in with Joss Whedon’s new series, Dollhouse. These are the guys who picked up an Emmy last year for Sanningen im Marika. Check it out at http://www.rprimelab.com/

Of course, since this is Fox TV, if it’s actually good, it’ll get canned before the end of the year. I never could wrap my head around the concept of a television company that’s actively opposed to making good television.