Tag Archive for Paizo

GenCon 2017: Talking Starfinder with Jason Keeley

Gen Con had one major release that had me all excited.


It was a science fantasy game which I had heard so much about at the last Gen Con that I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. As more information came out, I was getting more and more excited to get the game and get to playing it.

This year, my plans for Gen Con had been in flux for some time. It took until close to the end of May for things to solidify that I would be attending the show for more than one day. This state of flux meant that I would not be able to get up to the convention on Wednesday. It was not until Thursday afternoon at around 3:30 that I was able to make my way into the Gen Con vendor Hall and make a beeline for the Paizo Booth.

When I arrived, I was to discover that the giant pile of books that I had seen on Twitter for Starfinder had been decimated. There were no more core books to be had.

I was, needless to say, a bit disappointed. I was glad that the game was so popular but I still wished that I had been able to get my hands on a copy.

Luckily, I had an appointment scheduled too speak with the developer of the game on Friday at 4:30 pm with Jason Keeley.

My first questions for Jason were; “What happened and Why do you think that Starfinder was so popular?”

Jason stated that Paizo had brought to this Gen Con 50% more books than they had ever sold for a book at any prior show. The thought had been that they would still sell out by the end of the show on Sunday. They did not expect to sell out of all the books they brought within the first few hours of the convention. Jason stated that the book would most likely be going to a second printing soon. Jason went on to state that he believed that demand for Starfinder might be attributable to a few things. He believed that the good press and hype that the book had been receiving over the past year had really primed the pump for the book. He went further to state that the hobby itself had a dearth of science fantasy games that are not tied to a specific Intellectual property. He pointed out that Starfinder provides a toolbox that allows a group to emulate most of the science fiction tropes with ease. These things combined to create a perfect storm for this convention.

One of the questions that I always have in regards to science fiction games that rely heavily on exploration is the idea of a planet builder. I asked Jason if there was such a thing included in Starfinder. He stated that there were rules for generating planets. These include some charts for environments and such, but no designated planet building section. He did not rule out a future supplement that would do just such a thing, but did say it was not on the schedule currently.

One of the things that I had always noticed about Pathfinder is that the storyline was never fully integrated into the rules. The Adventure Paths are where the setting would shine while the rules were a toolbox left to the players imagination. I asked Jason about this and Starfinder. Mr. Keeley stated that Starfinder was a bit of departure for Paizo in this respect. The setting material was much more integrated into the main book. It provides it’s own hooks for the game to move forward without issue. This can be found in the races, snapshots of planets, and the legacy integration of the fantasy races into the game.

This flowed easily into my next question. “What stands out in Starfinder to make it feel like a science fantasy game as opposed to just a few extra bits of set-dressing for Pathfinder?” Jason mused on this for a moment and then said that there were two things that stood out for him.

First were the Starships. He went on to say that the game begins with the presupposition that the group starts with one. The starship design rules stand out as they not only allow the players to create a ship that fits their needs at the beginning of the game but allows them to keep the same ship while upgrading it easily throughout the levels of the game. Jason pointed out that one of the major tropes of science fiction is that the ship never changes. This would be difficult in Starfinder as the character will continue to get more powerful and need a better ship at certain points. This design systems allows the characters to have a ship similar to shows from Farscape and Firefly and still allow it to keep up power-wise.

Jason also believes that the character classes and themes carry a lot of weight for Starfinder. These two things seem somewhat simplistic but allow for the creation of characters that cover all of the tropes of Science Fantasy outside of the Doctor himself. You are able to create an analog to Spock to Obi Wan Kenobi with ease and still have the flexibility to create anything that your heart desires within the Starfinder system.

Further discussion with Mr. Keeley revealed that Starships were both his favorite part of Starfinder and one of the things he found most challenging. JAson loves the starship combat system. The hex grid system makes it easy to understand how the fight plays out for starships of different styles. The rules are clean and simple with an ease of use that he found lacking in previous science fiction games. Making this happen was the difficult part as he wanted the game to be easily picked up by new people and the starship combat rules to not be so daunting that they would never be used. Jason stated that it was a design problem that he and the team wrestled with and are very happy with what they have created for Starfinder.

I asked Jason what was something about Starfinder that people might miss that he thought were worth noting. He took a moment to think on this and then stated that it were small changes that he loved that would go unnoticed. In particular he spoke of magic in Starfinder. He mentioned that people wondered if Magic Missile was in the game. He stated that it was but that there was a mechanical change that made the spell still iconic without being as overpowering as it can be in prior iterations of the spell. He also mentioned a change to Cone of Cold. He spoke of how instead of being a blast of just pure arctic cold, it was more of a heat sink. It allowed for certain classes to then store the heat stolen by the spell to be used to power spells at some later point in the game. It was small tweaks like these that gave Starfinder that Science Fantasy flavor but that they are easily overlooked when you have starships and space stations to play with now.

It was great to get to speak with Jason at Gen Con. It helped me get a better understanding of what to expect when I would be able to get my hands on a copy of Starfinder. It is a game that embraces the big ideas of Science Fantasy with starships and light swords but does not neglect the details. Every piece was designed to create the look and feel of a space opera and allow one’s imagination to soar amongst the stars.

I can not wait to get my copy of Starfinder.


Pathfinder Horror Adventures

horror-adventureAt GenCon 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing wesley Schneider. He is the editor-in-chief at Paizo but also a contributor to their newest release, Horror Adventures. He was kind enough to give me a copy of it and the book, Bloodbound. Life has been busy but I have finally had the time to dig into Horror Adventures and share my thoughts on the book.

The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a 254 page hard bound book. The interior is full color and continues in the tradition of the other books using the iconic heroes as the subjects of the art throughout the book. I always love the art in the Pathfinder books. It is well done and evocative of the themes and mechanics that are found throughout the tome. I especially appreciate the work done on the index. It makes finding specific things much easier and in a book this size it is important.

Horror Adventures is a tool box. It gathers together game mechanics, character options, spells, monsters, and advice to allow both players and game masters to run horror games using the Pathfinder system. The book is filled to the brim with useful information and tweaks that can be made to run a great horror game or campaign.

I am just going to hit the pieces here that stood out for me.

The first thing that I love about this book is that it takes the time to address expectations from both the player and the game master side. From the game master’s perspective, it addresses the need to understand whom you are trying to scare or creep out. Are you trying to scare the characters or the players? Both are viable options but require different ways of handling the game and a different level of consent. I like that the authors of the book make this distinction. Trying to scare your players can crossover into territory that can be very uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to the players about what they can handle and having a system in place to just stop if things become unbearable it important in games like this. From the player’s perspective, it addresses the need to give up a level of control on the character. Your character has to be afraid of something and react poorly to situations or the power of a horror game is muted or lost.

The authors also take the time to address the differences between a fantasy adventure game and a horror game. In horror, the process is loss and degradation of resources. This leads to the loss of most of the characters in a horror setting save the few lone survivors. In Fantasy, the progression is the opposite direction. Characters get stronger and stronger an collect more and more resources. The authors point out how this does not make horror impossible. They show how the threats scale despite the inevitable triumph of the player characters. There are several techniques highlighted in the book for making this possible. In particular, I like how they call out players to give their characters family, friends, and goals. These things create more in depth characters and also give them things to lose in a horror game.

Another thing that stood out for me was the addition of Corruptions. These are templates that you would add to a character after they have been exposed to something horrible in the world such as Vampirism or Lycanthropy or due to choice, Lichdom. Corruptions provide a system whereby characters have certain benefits and drawbacks from these conditions. This allows for the player to struggle with both the power that comes from the whatever they have garnered as well as fight against the descent into darkness. These formalize processes that are more vague in the standard Pathfinder game or are easily overcome with a single spell. Thus, a series of games is strung together to overcome this path of destruction.

A great idea!

The books provides plenty of options for making changes to player characters. There are new racial benefits that fit better within a horror setting as well as class archetypes that create some terrifying villains for players to face. My favorite player facing changes are the story feats in this book. Twisted Love is my favorite. This is a feat that is very much a riff on Strahd from Ravenloft. You are mistaken for a monster or villain’s lost love. You gain a certain benefit for having this feat and an additional feature for completing the storyline. I love that there is this call out in the book and that this trope is something mechanically supported by this book. I can not wait to give it a try!

The book also provides a plethora of mechanics around fear, madness, curses, and setting to help create an environment that is inimical to the lives of the heroes. In particular, there are rules for creating domains for powerful evil creatures. This dovetails nicely with the story feats allowing game masters to recreate Ravenloft or any domain of dread that they may want to utilize. The rules give directions on how the domain is formed, the rules that would hold sway within it and how the borders are closed and ultimately how to destroy one. It allows cooperative group to come together and craft a story together to explore a specific trope of horror for a while within their own heroic fantasy game.

Paizo has created a great toolbox for for horror fans with Horror Adventures. It provides players and game masters with plenty of new bells and whistles to add to the game along with excellent advice on how to run any type of horror game you would like in Pathfinder.

Four bear paws out of four! A definite must have for any fan of horror or fantasy gaming.


GenCon 2016: Paizo

Every year at GenCon I stop by the Paizo booth and talk to someone about what is new at Paizon. I never have set up an actual interview. Instead, I would use the hour early entry into the vendor hall as time to talk to one of the people that works the booth about the new release at GenCon.

This year I decided to take a different tack.

When you are approved for a press badge for GenCon, you begin receiving email from the various publishing companies that come to the convention. One of the emails I received which caught my eye was the ability to request an interview with Paizo. I initially did not send in a request as I did not think that I would get accepted to interview someone from Paizo as my site is both small and niche. I finally decided to put in a request and was given a time on Sunday afternoon to speak with F Wesley Schneider.

I was both ecstatic and nervous. I was ecstatic because I was given an interview. I was nervous because I was given an interview.

This would be my second scheduled interview with a designer ever. So, I definitely had RuPaul’s line from Drag Race running through my head.

“Don’t Fuck it up!”

Wes Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief at Paizo, co-creator of Pathfinder, author of many of the Pathfinder game books including the new Horror Adventures, and author of the Pathfinder novel, Bloodbound. Wes is also one of the panelists on the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar at GenCon.

No pressure.

I don’t record during my interviews, I take notes. So any errors in information are my fault due to poor note taking or poor handwriting.

I arrived early to the Paizo booth on Sunday, the last day of Gencon 2016 because I am that guy. I took my time to wander around and look at all the neat things that were available from Paizo. My favorite purchase from past GenCons has been the Mythic Adventures book. A book that is right in my wheelhouse. The Mayfair booth across was having a final gathering of their gamers and were giving away many things so that the space right behind where the interview would be happening. The nearby space was filled with people and raucous with excitement.

Wes was very welcoming and let me know that he had checked out my site that morning. He mentioned that he remembered me from the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar earlier in GenCon. The Mayfair event that was going was very loud so we moved out into the hall by the Vendor Hall to make it easier to speak. I made to let him know that I appreciated the Queer as a 3 sided die event here at GenCon and explained that it was one of my first public events after coming out. I also gave a brief description of my connection to Pathfinder.

I know. This was most probably not the most professional thing to do but I wanted to say thanks and share how much I enjoy Pathfinder.

I was very interested in Starfinder. I have been wanting to play a science fiction game for some time and was happy to hear that Paizo would be launching something in the genre. I asked Wes which genres of Science Fiction that Starfinder would engender. Would it allow for play in the styles of Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, or all genres. According to Wes, Starfinder is smaller project that will have the Pathfinder world integrated into it. Starfinder will have it’s own aliens but will hit on tropes like the strong warrior race. By virtue of integrating the Pathfinder world into it, Starfinder will be a blend of science fiction and fantasy but will not just be an add on like in Spelljammer. Wes stated that the designers tried to answer the question, “What would the golarion be like if it was able to reach the stars?” Starfinder would be Golarion 3000 years in the future. I enquired if Starfinder would continue in Paizo’s path of diversity within its work and Wes said that it would.

I asked Wes about his first novel for Paizo, Bloodbound. He stated he was very worried about writing a novel for the company that he was kind of the boss of. He made sure he worked his way up through the fiction process. Wes stated that he had pieces in several of the adventure paths including Guilty Blood and Carrion Crown. According to Wes, Bloodbound is a dark fantasy set in Ustalav. The two main characters are Larsa, a dhampir vampire hunter, and Jadaine, a priestess of the death goddess. The two are working together to maintain and age old treaty between the vampires and the humans to keep the city safe. Wes stated that the question that underlies the story in Bloodbound is, “How would Dracula react if Van Helsing stopped pursuing him?” Wes stated that he enjoyed getting to use Ailson Kindler, Golarion’s Bram Stoker, as well as Considine, The smug self-important bastard of a vampire. Wes gave the impression really enjoying get to write these characters and play with this idea in Bloodbound. His love for the book was infectious and definitely made me want to read it.

I followed up with a question about why the diversity in Golarion was something seen in the campaign setting but not in the actual rules books. Wes stated that at the beginning, the rules books were designed to be a toolkit. You take the rules and play in whatever fantasy setting that you wished. The elves and dwarves in the main rule books were meant to be stock fantasy tropes. It was when you got to the adventure paths and setting books that the true flavor and diversity of Paizo would shine through. Wes explained that from this starting point that Paizo has maintained this separation. It has caused some minor confusion when they would release a race book for the Inner Sea region and it would struggle to find traction when readers would assume it was just another elf book as opposed to giving you the society of these peoples in Golarion.

I asked Wes what would be a good starting point for someone like me that had not played an adventure path. His suggestion was Strange Aeons. According to Wes, this path starts in Ustalav and deals with the tropes of cosmic horror. He pointed out hat it has many H P Lovecraft characters scattered throughout. The initial attack of the path is that you are locked in an asylum and are seeking sanity. Wes states that it allows you to start at level one and go follow it through to high levels.

An interesting idea that I am going to have to try and play through.

Shardra Trans Dwarven Shaman

Trans Dwarven Shaman

I closed the interview by asking him what was a question that he wished I had asked. His answer was, “What are his favorite three queer characters in Pathfinder?” Wes listed Shardra, the trans dwarf shaman. He stated that Crystal Frasier created the tradition for what a trans dwarf is in Golarion. Wes mentions Shardra often in the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar as well. The lack of a trans character in Pathfinder was something that Shardra helped fix and has done an admirable job. Wes moved on to mention Merisiel and Kyra from the Pathfinder comic. He stated that he loves that these two are in a relationship in the comic and that it isn’t simple or reductive. He states that they have their ups and downs yet it still feels authentic. Finally, he loves Considine, the queer vampire from Bloodbound. Wes states that he loves that he got to write a character that was such a bastard yet still not a stereotype. A character that you just hate but love at the same time.

It was great to speak with Wes Schneider about Starfinder, Bloodbound, Pathfinder, and diversity. He was warm and cordial and fun to talk to. His energy and enthusiasm about Pathfinder, Starfinder, and the characters that live there was astounding and infectious. I had a great time speaking with him about all things Paizo. I have a copy of Bloodbound and Horror Adventures and expect a review of these books when I finally get to finish them.



Pathfinder: Occult Adventures

PF OAPaizo puts out many supplements for the Pathfinder role Playing game every year. These tend to fall into the adventure path category which are year long adventures which release on a regular schedule. Paizo also releases a couple of books which expand on the underlying rules of the system and increase the things that players can do with Pathfinder.

This year at Gen Con Paizo released Occult Adventures. Reading the early press releases for this book had me intrigued. They spoke of allowing players to take on the roles of psychics, Kineticist, Medium, and several other new character types. These all sounded very interesting. When I was able to get into the Vendor Hall early, I did the interview that I wanted to complete and wandered over to the Paizo booth and picked up Occult Adventures.

The vision in my mind of what to expect from Occult Adventures didn’t match the reality of the book but this is not a bad thing. I envisioned psionic characters that created affects in the vein of Akira when Occult Adventures delivers psychic characters that fight hidden menaces with a much more lovecraftian feel. One of the the themes that runs through all the characters and items present within this book is power with a price. Each of the new classes has a mechanic that not only places a price on the abilities of the class but allows the player to push the power beyond it’s normal capacity by paying an even high price on the part of the character. An example would be the Medium. Their core ability is to channel the abilities of a spirit that they house within themselves for a day. They are able at give the spirit within extra influence over them in exchange for adding die to rolls throughout the day. The ultimate cost can be total loss of control of themselves for the rest of the day.

Like all the Paizo products that I have picked up, Occult Adventures is gorgeous. The book is 270 pages long and full color throughout. The binding is tough and stands up to repeated use and referencing at the game table. The art work throughout the book has the iconic fantasy feel that is a highlight of Pathfinder books and a delight to just flip through and gaze upon. The books also appears to present a diverse cast of characters through it’s art. The thing that caught my eye the most was that the iconic character for the Spiritualist was Grandmotherly and I think this is the first time outside of a Wizard that I’ve seen a character of age portrayed. Occult Adventures clocks in at a retail price of $44.99 which isn’t that bad for a book of this size and production values.

Iconic Lineup

Occult Adventures provides the basics that a group would need to begin telling stories of this style. The new character classes are specifically designed with the themes of hidden lore and the price of power at their core. There are archetypes that allow players that don’t want to jump into the deep end of the occult to dip their toes in with a fighter or other character class build that can still partake of these types of adventures without totally abandoning what has gone before. Feats, Items, and Advice round out what is need to play in this darkened corner of the Pathfinder universe.

My favorite thing about Occult Adventures is the Kineticist class. The art and mechanics of this class are definite riff on the benders from Avatar: The Last Air Bender. The design of this class makes it so that this class easily fits into an occult adventure but allows the Kineticist to just as easily join a band of regular adventurers with little to no difficulty. It just makes me happy to be able to play such a character without a lot of house-rules to make it happen.

I only have one problem with the book as a whole. Despite the archetypes and advice presented throughout the book little time is spent on how to integrate character from other books into these types of adventures. It also assumes that the group will already be interested in this time of game and spends little time in helping a new game master learn how to sell this type of game to his players. It is a minor quibble but something that would be a good addition to something with such a strong theme that runs throughout both the mechanics and stories.

I give Pathfinder: Occult Adventures four bear paws out of four. It provides a all one needs in order to run adventures in the Pathfinder universe. It has gorgeous art, a good price point , and carries the themes throughout the book. If you are a fan of Pathfinder, this a must-have for your collection.

Pathfinder Unchained

PathfinderUnchainedI am a fan of the Pathfinder game from Paizo. It uses the open gaming license that was implemented during the third and 3.5 edition of Dungeon & Dragons. If you are a table top role playing gamer, you have heard of Pathfinder.

Pathfinder Unchained is one of Paizo’s newest releases that focuses entirely on the rules of the game. The purpose of the book was to collect the different rules ideas that designers had came up with for Pathfinder but hadn’t really found a home in prior books. these rules are necessary to the smooth function of the game but still gave players and GM’s more dials to utilize in their games. The rules presented throughout Pathfinder Unchained allow for fine tuning different aspects of the game as well as design tools to help with your game. These new rules provide both the ability to down play the complexity of Pathfinder or take your game and turn it up to 11.

The production values on this book are high. Pathfinder Unchained is a 254 page full color hardback book that retails for $39.99. The artwork spread throughout is uniformly good with a few pieces that spectacular. The layout is well done and the table of contents and index are helpful in locating exactly what you need. This is very important in a book that covers so many variations on the rules. If you only one particular thing from the book, It is nice to be able to find it quickly.

Jirelle - a piece of interior art from Pathfinder Unchained.

Jirelle – a piece of interior art from Pathfinder Unchained.

The reason I picked up the book was the work that Paizo put into the four base classes. In Unchained, Barbarian, Rogue, Monk, and Summoner are revisited and reworked to be made much more accessible. I am a fan of the Barbarian class and tend to play one when I need a break from playing a cleric. The major barrier that I faced when doing this was the constant recalculation of almost all of my stats when raging. Added to this complexity was the use of any number of combat feats which would increase the amount of work that went into playing a barbarian exponentially. The changes made to Barbarian allows for a ratcheting down of the complexity without decreasing the effectiveness of the class in play. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a bit of paperwork to keep track of because this is far from the case. Instead of calculating everything based upon ability score changes from rage, the bonuses are straight to the relevant combat stats which requires no intermediary steps. With this in place, the use of combat feats is simpler to process and a little chart can be made to keep track of changes based upon what you are using at the time. I like the change and look forward to using it with my next Barbarian.

The changes to to Summoner are also my favorite. The Summoner always had the feel of a Pokemon trainer to me with out really taking into account alignment and where the eidolon might come from. The main changes made to this class are to the eidolon. A Summoner now chooses a sub-type for their eidolon which in turn provides a menu of options. The Summoners spell list was also revised to address imbalances that were inherent in the original list.

The other addition in Pathfinder Unchained that I really like is the scaling magic item. I’ve personally made these type of items up on my own for games I have ran in the past. They allowed me to create a connection to items for my players and give them reason to keep the item around. The rules presented in Unchained address how to create a scaling item and how to ensure that the addition of such items doesn’t unbalance the game. This is a valuable piece of information as I know that I tended to create overpowered items when I did this on my own. Included are example items for all levels with a varying degrees of usefulness. The guidelines for creating and implementing these types of items are easy to use and something that I will be using when I run again.

I’ve really only touched on a few of the neat ideas that are presented in Pathfinder Unchained. Within the pages of this book you will find a system that uses stamina points to allow fighter types to perform combat tricks, a way to remove alignment from the game, a way to streamline spell choices at high levels, are just a few of the options I have not mentioned. If you are fan of Pathfinder like I am, pathfinder Unchained is well worth the investment of your time and money. A beautiful book full of great ideas.