Game Design

The Future of Pathfinder Seminar from Gary Con 2018–An Overview

Gnome Stew - 15 March 2018 - 5:00am

The original Pathfinder roleplaying game beta launched at Gen Con in 2008. At the time, I was one of the volunteers for the brand-new Pathfinder Society, and attended the “Future of Pathfinder” seminar held that year. Now, in 2018, I was at Gary Con, when it became clear that the “Future of Pathfinder” event being held there was going to be a seminar on the direction of the 2nd edition of the Pathfinder roleplaying game. It seemed fitting to attend.

The event was hosted by Paizo Senior Designer Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Paizo Director of Game Design Jason Bulmahn. This was a two-hour seminar, which was about half presentation, half question and answer. The summarized information on the design directions of Pathfinder 2nd Edition is organized into broad themes that developed from the discussion, rather than being presented in the chronological order in which the information was presented.

The Look of Future Products

Wayne Reynolds, the artist that worked on the original Pathfinder core rulebook, as well as many other products, will be returning to detail key images for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Paizo has often used named iconic characters to illustrate various classes, as well as using them as the “stand in” adventurers for illustrations in adventures. There were a few details given about the iconics going forward.

  • Seoni, the iconic sorcerer character, will have a redesign that will be “less salacious,” but will highlight her signature tattoos more prominently
  • Characters like Valeros and Harsk will be given different gear to highlight how new class features work (for example, Harsk has two axes and Valeros will be carrying a shield)
  • An iconic goblin alchemist is being added to the core lineup, to highlight that both goblins and alchemists will be in the core rulebook
Playtest Schedule and Products

The playtest will start in August of 2018, at Gen Con. A PDF of the rules will be made available, as will a PDF of a playtest adventure, and a PDF with a selection of monsters available, which will not be included in the playtest rulebook. The playtest document will be similar in size to the 2008 playtest for 1st edition Pathfinder.

  • There will be pre-orders for soft-cover, hard-cover, and commemorative leather-bound copies of the rules, as well as physical copies of the adventure and map sheets specifically highlighting locations in the adventure
  • The adventure will have specific surveys asking directed questions about the parts of the game highlighted in various sections, to make feedback more directly actionable
  • There will be further playtest adventures as the playtest continues, with their own surveys
  • The playtest timeline will assume play of a specific section, and will move on to a new section approximately every two weeks
  • Each section of the starting adventure is predicted to take about 6-8 hours to complete
Guiding Principles of Design

Both presenters mentioned that it is very important to Paizo to capture the proper feel for the game, and for it to meet the expectations that players already have for the game. They mentioned cases where the game is not intuitive in its design, such as with skill points or in some sub-systems that only affect certain classes. All the classes and what were previously known as races will be in the core 2nd edition rulebook, with the addition of goblins and alchemists, due to their popularity.

They noted that many players enjoy the system mastery elements of a more complex system, so their goal is to design a game that is complex, but logical, where multiple systems work in a similar fashion, while still allowing players to enjoy building characters based on “corner cases.”

Core Rules and Resolution

The core gameplay experience of the game will still be the same, with characters taking actions and resolving those actions by rolling a d20 and adding a bonus to measure against a difficulty number, but the way actions work, as well as the range of bonuses and difficulties, will be changing.

  • Instead of having a move action or a standard action, characters will now have three actions they can take per round, to do any action they wish, although repeated attacks with have penalties
  • All characters will have a reaction, which may trigger under different circumstances and do different things, based on class
  • Some characters may have multiple reactions that they may set up by taking a specific type of action on their turn
  • Difficulties and armor classes will have their ranges shifted to a different range of numbers—it was specifically noted that a wizard with some armor bonus would still have a statistically relevant benefit from that bonus within the new range, which is not currently the state of the game at higher levels of play
Modes of Play

The game was stated to always have multiple modes of play, but the new edition with quantify those different modes of play with different rules to support them, and to give the GM more guidance in how to move between them. In addition to the modes of play, a bit more time was spent discussing structured encounters and initiative resolution.

Encounter mode will be in structured time, with rounds that take approximately six-second intervals, and characters keeping track of initiative order. Exploration mode will be any time where characters are taking more specific action, investigating, and moving, but not in a manner that requires strict turn order. It was stated that the GM has more freedom to state time intervals based on the requirements of the adventure in exploration mode. Downtime mode is the time between adventures, where adventurers state the way they spend this time and various kinds of training and crafting that they might engage with.

  • Some critical social encounters may be run in encounter mode, with an initiative order
  • Initiative is now primarily determined by perception, which is a score which all characters have and is no longer a class-specific skill
  • Depending on what the character was doing in exploration mode, they may use different skills to determine initiative (such as a rogue that is scouting using stealth as initiative, or a bard using perform when they attempt to assassinate a noble at a gala)
  • The core rulebook may give a suggested amount of downtime to award at each level, and specific adventures may call out specifically expected downtime allotments as well
  • One downtime activity will be retraining, so that characters are not permanently locked into the decisions that they have made at a particular level
  • One reason for increasing the importance of downtime is to alleviate the feeling that characters go from low-level characters to being among the most powerful adventurers in the world in a few months’ time
Classes, Ancestries, and Character Creation

At the seminar, it was stated that both the witch and the oracle nearly made it into the core book, but the alchemist was added so that the alchemy rules could be added as rules that anyone can interact with, not just members of that class. Alchemical items will scale over levels, and the alchemist will be using their own system instead of defining their abilities in terms of spells. Alchemists will still have bombs and mutagens as other abilities are added to them.

Races will now be referred to as ancestries, and goblins will be added to the list of core ancestries. It is noted that player character goblins will most likely be outcasts from goblin society, so that the core concepts of goblins as monsters do not change.

Character creation was stated as following ABC, picking ancestry, background, and class. Backgrounds will be replacing the trait system that was previously introduced in Pathfinder products, and in addition to backgrounds in the core rulebook, there may be adventure path specific backgrounds available to tie a character more closely to a storyline.

  • Archetypes will still be part of the game, and there will be archetypes introduced from the start
  • When asked about multi-classing, the response indicated that you would be able to get “things” from other classes—the importance of sticking to a theme instead of cherry picking rules elements was mentioned
  • Background will grant a specific Lore, which is similar to a specialized knowledge skill, such as Lore—Alcohol being granted to a character with barkeep as a background
  • Classes will have abilities that highlight what they do—specific examples given were that spellcasters will be impressive on their own turn when casting spells, rogues will have surges of damage dealing, and fighters will be able to “lock down” opponents

When discussing gear, a “dent system” was brought up. Shields are specifically being designed to take damage and to be more disposable, but also more functional. The dent system is not likely to interact with all gear, but only gear that might have specific rules interactions outside of a single purpose. The encumbrance system is also going to be reworked to measure bulk, and to be more directly based on the strength score, rather than a separate chart.

  • One of the previously mentioned actions that might “load” a specific kind of reaction is readying a shield to absorb damage as part of a reaction
  • The encumbrance system was mentioned as being similar in concept to how the topic is handled in Starfinder
  • The terms “light bulk” and “heavy bulk” were used, but not further examined
  • In some circumstances, a character may have “signature gear” that they choose which can level up with them
  • Some downtime activity may relate to repairing “dented” items

Skill point calculation was stated as being one of the most complex aspects of the game, and one of the least intuitive to process. A future blog post on Paizo’s site will be dealing with the skill system in more detail, but skill points are “kind of” gone.

  • Still a limited range of skills to pick for starting characters
  • Characters will likely pick some skills to have access to them, and pick other skills that they want to improve over time
Spells and Spellcasting

There was a broad discussion of some aspects of spellcasting, and the role that spellcasters play in the campaign. Questions were asked about whether the game addresses the usefulness of spellcasters versus non-spellcasting classes, as well as how spellcasting will specifically work.

  • Cantrips will be more broadly useful across the life of the character
  • Shield is a cantrip, and can be “loaded” for a reaction in a manner like physical shields, and can react to magic missiles
  • Most spells will cost two actions to cast—they may get an extra boost to power if another action is added, and some will only cost one action to cast
  • Spellcasting actions are related to what is currently listed as spell components—if a spell has a verbal and somatic component, it will take a verbal action and a somatic action to cast
  • The intent is to make spellcasters “cool on their turn,” then let the spotlight move
  • Some changes will be made so that spellcasters have limited ability to encroach on the niche of other classes outside of their turn in combat

The game will aim to make monsters easier to create on the fly, and to make the underlying math simpler. Examples of what a monster should have for stats at various levels will be given, as well as adjustments based on the creature’s role (for example, making a monster that is hard to hit, but goes down quickly, and how those stats should be adjusted).

Monsters will have unique reactions native to them. For example, if fire magic is used near a red dragon, they may use a reaction to control the fire magic. Jason Bulmahn also stated that he created a reaction on the fly in a game where a serpent creature received a reaction to strike anyone moving next to it regardless of turn order, because it felt appropriate to the creature. The goal is to create monster reactions that will be logical for the monsters, but will make them fresh and surprising to use in a game.

Influences It will be interesting to see what problems are isolated as the most important to address, and what the solutions to those problems might be. 

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, a question was asked about games that may have been an influence on the design direction of the new game rules. It was stated that the team looked at many games, not just roleplaying games, to help develop their direction. They also did not look at any game for rules inspirations, but for ideas on what problems they were addressing and how they handled elements like narrative structure or rules presentation.

Some specific games were mentioned, including the following:

  • Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition was not an influence, beyond seeing what problems were being addressed in that game and where similar problems overlap with Pathfinder, but they are aware of the game and interested in solving those problems in their own way
  • Stephen Radney-MacFarland mentioned being a fan of Shadow of the Demon Lord and friends with Robert Schwalb
  • The original white box edition of Dungeons and Dragons was mentioned as a source that the team consulted as they developed design goals
  • Magic the Gathering was stated as a game to look at for how to present rules and rules interactions
  • Historical miniatures games were also cited as something the team looked at, analyzing rules and how the various games resolved combat and movement
  • Tales from the Loop and Star Trek Adventures were both mentioned as games that the team looked at to see how they utilized narrative structures

In the next year, there should be ample opportunity to participate in the playtest and have the chance to shape the game going forward. It will be interesting to see what problems are isolated as the most important to address, and what the solutions to those problems might be.

Now that you’ve seen the roadmap that Paizo is following in this new edition of Pathfinder, what do you think? I’d love to hear from you, and if you are going to follow along with the playtest, participate, or wait for more news. If you left the game, are you going to come back? Looking to check it out for the first time? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks!

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Issue 23 of The Campaigner Now Available

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 3:00pm
When you want to fill up your day with gaming, you can’t go wrong with a gaming magazine. In this case, it’s the 23rd issue of The Campaigner. It’s full of interviews with game designers, articles about such things like Tasmanian radio and episodes (it makes sense when you read it), gaming news, and lots […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

True Messiah Back Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 2:00pm
Who’s your Messiah now!?! No, really, who is it? In True Messiah, it’s you. Gather your followers. Strategically place them around the map. Build temples to your own might. And, most importantly, discredit and destroy any other Messiah out there looking to take away from your power. The game is back up on Kickstarter now. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Privateer Press Moves Portion of Back Catalog to New Special Order Service

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 1:00pm
Warmachine and Hordes have been around for quite a while at this point. There’s hundreds of SKUs for the game. It can be rough for distributors to carry it all. As such, Privateer has announced that they’re moving a portion of their older catalog to a direct-sales format where they’ll sell right to stores. This […]
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Dinosaur Island: Back from Extinction Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 12:00pm
I mean… really now… who wouldn’t want their own dinosaur? I know I’d want a whole park’s worth. And while I’m no geneticist, I can live vicariously through games like Dinosaur Island. Pandasaurus Games is running a new Kickstarter campaign for the game, which has been sold out ever since it hit store shelves. Now’s […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Facebook opens up its Instant Games platform to all devs

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 14 March 2018 - 11:12am

Previously only available to developers through a closed beta, Facebook has officially launched its HTML5-based Instant Games platform. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Midweek Snippets

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 11:00am
The week’s half over. We’ve made it this far, we can make it the rest of the way. But as we keep on keepin’ on, we’ll need to have enough energy to finish the journey. For that, I suggest noshing on some bite-sized gaming stories. Today on the platter we have: Broken Egg Games Previews […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Z-Man Games Posts New Lowlands Preview

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 10:00am
Working the land is a noble profession. Obviously, I’m not the one creating all the food I eat. Others are out there, doing that for me. I’m guessing that most of you aren’t full-time farmers, either. But you can be one, vicariously, in Lowlands. This new game coming from Z-Man Games puts you in charge […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Fantasy Flight Games Announces New Star Wars: Destiny Set

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 9:00am
The Star Wars saga has has numerous colorful characters, influential individuals, and some really cool gear and gadgets. And it’s always being added to. In order to bring more of those items to your tabletop, Fantasy Flight Games has announced a new Star Wars: Destiny set. It’s called Way of the Force. From the announcement: […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Steve Jackson Posts Update From GAMA

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 8:00am
GAMA is where a lot of companies go to show off what they’ll be coming out with for the rest of the year. Steve Jackson Games is there, and they’ve had a presentation giving a look at what you can expect for Munchkin, Ogre, Illuminati, and more. They posted up a quick gallery of images […]
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Quick guide to Steam Cloud saves - by Catalin Marcu Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:24am
A quick overview on how to successfully use Steam Cloud saves, including cross-platform compatibility and demo to full version upgrades.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Building the world behind Project Empires - by Haikal Izzuddin Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:23am
Project Empires introduces new challenges for us to develop. From world generation to diplomatic actions between empires. In this article, we go behind the scenes and look into what makes Project Empires tick.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Building a Cash Flow and Budget Document - by Richard Atlas Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:22am
This blog post describes our cash flow and budget document that we use at Clever Endeavour Games, and links to it as well. It includes instructions and things to consider when making this kind of document or using our template.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Putting the "Game" Back in Video Game Journalism - by Josh Bycer Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:19am
Today's post is my chance to air my frustrations with modern video game journalism, and what it means for someone who actually wants to study how the industry works.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Developing Skirmish Line: A Tale of Two Indie Developers - by Tony Hua Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:16am
For the past 2 years, I have been working on a game called Skirmish Line, inspired by the classic flash game: Mud and Blood 2. This is not a post-mortem about for the game, but rather a cautionary tale about developing games.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Roguemance - A Rogue Full of Heart - by Nicholas Mamo Blogs - 14 March 2018 - 7:16am
Strategy conflicting with luck. Risk and decisions battling for control. Relationships hanging in the balance. It is complicated, but that is the nature of love.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Rookie League Minis Available To Pre-Order From Steamforged

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 7:00am
Steamforged is working on bringing you the new Rookie League for Guild Ball. This new format allows players to use a Rookie in their games, then build them up throughout the League, choosing several different options as they go. Steamforged is taking pre-orders for the whole bundle of players, as well as selling them individually. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Strange Machine Games To Create Robotech Board Game Line

Tabletop Gaming News - 14 March 2018 - 6:00am
Well, it’s not RPG Tactics, but there’s going to be a trio of new Robotech Board Games coming soon due to a team-up between Japanime Games, Strange Machine Games, Escape Velocity Games, and Harmony Gold. There’s 3 that have been announced to start things off, Ace Pilot, Attack On The SDF-1, and Brace for Impact. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Yes, And; No, But

Gnome Stew - 14 March 2018 - 5:30am

In writing fiction, a popular concept to make things harder on your main character is a concept called, “Yes, but; No, and.” At a high level, you present a character with a challenge and then ask the ever-important question of, “Did the character succeed?” If the answer is “yes” on the first challenge, you have a very short story. However, if you answer, “Yes, but…,” and add a complication to the story, the tale continues and become much more interesting. To really crank up the tension and pressure on the character, the answer could be, “No, and…,” which means that the character failed and something else went haywire in the scene to make things even worse.

Obviously, these are things that can happen in fiction, and if you’re constantly making things worse for your PCs, you might find yourself without a gaming group after doing this too much. These two answers can be done, but I recommend doing so sparingly.

Let’s Flip It Around

In RPGs, I encourage GMs to flip these answers around to continue the story and narrative in a more positive manner. These answers can be given as results of die rolls, decisions by the players, character actions, questions around activities, declarative moves, and many other things. By flipping the “Yes, but; No, and” concept into “Yes, and; No, but” you open doors for forward progress in your collaborative storytelling efforts. Let’s dive into this flip of the concept. Continue the story and narrative in a more positive manner. 

Yes, And

In this case, the character succeeds, and something even more beneficial than a “simple” success happens as well. It could be the case that the barbarian charges the stuck (or locked/barred) door in an attempt to get it open and the player rolled well enough to not only bust down the door, but send shards flying into the shocked Bad Guys on the other side who were preparing an ambush. Now, instead of the party being the target of the surprise attack, they can go on the offensive against the startled Bad Guys. In some games (depending on style of gameplay, rules in the book, and or simple GM fiat), the GM might declare that the magically juiced-up barbarian smashes through the worm-eaten wood and the same results happen.

No, But

Let’s take the same scenario where the barbarian is busting down the door. However, the dice aren’t quite as generous to the PC this time around. Instead of having the plot stall out because of a single roll against a single door (As a side note: I’ve seen entire campaign ideas abandoned because of a rigid GM and a series of poor dice rolls that prevented the party from moving forward), let’s shift the momentum of the story. There are several outcomes I can envision off the top of my head for this circumstance. The barbarian could have jarred the door loose from the hinges, but the door is now cantered in the frame and stuck (though not as badly as before, so a second attempt is more likely to succeed.) The barbarian could have succeeded in getting through the door, but in such a clumsy manner that she lands, sprawled out on the floor, at the feet of the Bad Guys who are well-prepared for their ambush. Time for initiative with the barbarian away from the safety of the group and face-down in a horrific situation!

Other Options  Sometimes a simple “Yes” or “No” is the best option. 

Sometimes a simple “Yes” or “No” is the best option. If the success is squarely over the target number, but not excessively so, then just having the character do what they had planned is just fine. Likewise, if the die roll is below the target, but not to excess (and not a “barely missed), there’s no need to pile on the poor PC who is now dejectedly staring down at her dice. Save the “Yes, And” and “No, But” moments for when they truly matter. They’re like a spice in the stew of gaming. You want them in there to enhance the core ingredients (e.g.: story), but not there to take over or overwhelm the main course.

Have You Done This?

Are there any other author-type people out there? If so, have you heard of these concepts? Have you applied them (in any fashion) to your game? How about alternative takes on these ideas? What steps do you take to continue the story regardless of what the dice dictate? What ya got?

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Q& A: How Epic pared down Fortnite Battle Royale to be fast and approachable

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 14 March 2018 - 1:58am

Epic's Eric Williamson & Zack Estep open up about the pedal-to-the-metal development of Fortnite Battle Royale & how the team pared down Fortnite's systems to make it approachable & quick to play. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design


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