Over the past several months, there have been some growing concerns with Pathfinder Society Organized Play. As we would like to take action to correct the concerns instead of let them grow and fester, we reached out to all 395 Venture-Officers a month ago to receive their feedback on what was wrong with the campaign, what was good about the campaign, and what we could do to improve or correct things to make Pathfinder Society even more awesome. Even though there were some difficult opinions expressed, most were true and it caused us to take a hard look at the organized play program.
After receiving feedback from the Venture-Officers, we formed a team of Paizo employees to work on solutions for the concerns that were expressed. This team included Lisa Stevens and Erik Mona, Mark Seifter and Mark Moreland, John Compton, and me. There were 327 responses from our VOs regarding thoughts and feedback on the current state of PFS. I went through each and every post and listed every one of the concerns expressed on a large white board in our conference room. The meeting took upwards of six hours, and through debate, discussion, and some give and take, we came up with some solutions to most of the concerns that were expressed.
The Venture-Officers are aware of many of the initatives we have set forth to accomplish the goals. There are still other topics we are continuing to discuss on the Venture-Officer message board to make sure they are the best we can make them for the campaign at large. I wanted to write this blog to bring the player base up-to-date on some of the initiatives we have set into motion with the awesome collaboration that took place between the VOs and the Paizo team.
First, let's talk about factions and their roles. After much discussion here at Paizo, specifically on some problems that were brought up in the long discussion with all of the Venture-Officers, we agree that factions currently don't play as important a role as we would like them to. We want factions to have meaning and substance. We think our factions help to set PFS apart from other organized play campaigns. We have strategized a four-pronged plan of attack which we think will help return factions to a more important role in the campaign.
- The five new factions are receiving a professional makeover for their faction symbols. Grand Lodge and Silver Crusade faction symbols will remain unchanged. If you have suggestions on what they should look like, please start a different thread. The target goal for this to be implemented is by the end of 2014.
- There will be revised and improved write-ups of each faction for both the PFS landing page at paizo.com and the Guide to Organized Play. We plan to implement these write-ups by the end of 2014.
- We will be adding "The Story So Far" type of pages to the PFS landing page at paizo.com. John is assembling a team of writers to help him accomplish this goal for all past seasons. These will be spoiler-lite and help to sum up each season for new and old players alike. The target goal for this is end of February 2015.
- We will be producing Faction Journal cards, similar to the PAXPort or the quests cards we provide at Gen Con. There will be one Faction Journal card for each of the seven factions.
- The front of the card will list a series of goals (likely 10) to complete for the current season. These goals will be generic enough that they can be accomplished from playing not just the current season, but past season scenarios as well. For example, the Dark Archive Faction Journal may have one of their 10 goals be to find and recover five named manuals to bring back to the archives in Absalom. These could include the Inward-Facing Circle book from Silent Tide, the dozen black vellum scrolls in Voice in the Void, and any other documents or manuals that are found in sanctioned adventures. Each time you accomplish a goal, the GM will check off or initial a box on that particular goal.
- The back of the card will include three award thresholds for accomplishing a set number of these goals. For example, if a PC completes three of the 10 goals, they will receive a small favor from their faction or a unique, faction-specific item. If they complete six of the ten goals, they could possibly receive a unique title that provides certain benefits or a better unique faction item. If they complete all 10 of the faction goals, their clout with their faction is sufficent to extend benefits to other PCs at tables where the character is present, while making their presence (and that of their faction) important to every character at the table. As a working example, a Silver Crusade PC who has completed all 10 of her faction's goals on her card might be able to use the her renown to call in a favor and reduce the prestige point cost of any PC's raise dead by 4 so long as she's there to flex her faction's muscles. Although this might not be the reward that appears on the Silver Crusade faction card when we finish this project, it gives a good example of the type of reward we're aiming for.
- To reward GMs, we are considering adding an 11th optional goal that would be applied to the three different thresholds of rewards. For example, we may list 10 check boxes and for each scenario GMed in the current season, one check box could be completed. Once all ten are filled, one goal toward the a reward threshold would be met, leaving only two more to complete through playing the character.
- The back of the card will also feature a form of the revised write-up of the faction described in bullet number two above, as well as a summation of season-long goals in descriptive text. This descriptive text will explain why the PC is trying to achieve the 10 goals for the faction and how it will aid the faction in the future—likely in the form of the faction head letters.
- We realize that we are introducing this half way through the current season so everyone may not be able to complete the card for this season. On day one of Gen Con 2015, no more faction goals may be checked off from the Season 6 card. On the same day, a new Season 7 card will become available that may include a bonus reward depending on if the character completed five or more goals from the previous season. We hope this fresh approach will help to build the excitement in factions for future seasons as we plan to introduce updated faction goal cards every season at Gen Con.
- These Faction Journal Cards will be provided as a free download on paizo.com, so anyone can print one off for a new or existing character at any time.
- Every character may have one card assigned to him. If the PC changes factions any time in the future, he would lose all benefits from the card.
- The Faction Journal card would not override the primary and secondary success conditions set forth in the scenario. Those are still in place to continue enforcing the importance of being a Pathfinder. The Faction Journal card will allow for more depth by adding greater meaning to the factions.
- Use of the Faction Journal card is optional. A PC never has to take one, use one, or try to complete one.
- The Faction Journal cards should be available by the end of January.
Over time, scenarios have become longer, both in terms of word count dedicated to the adventure (rather than to faction missions, for example) and in terms of run-time. To an extent, it's also tied to the increased number of lengthy role-playing scenes and tougher combats intended to match the six-player assumption (i.e. more PCs means more enemies means more time spent in combat). In most circumstances, the longer scenarios are, the harder they are to schedule and run.
We are taking the following steps to address this issue and bring the expected run time (time from mission briefing to the resolution of the final encounter, not including set-up and paperwork) to four hours:
- Cut one encounter from Tier 5-9 and Tier 7-11 scenarios. These higher-level scenarios run over most often, and it's mostly a matter of high-level combat taking longer.
- Revise encounter expectations for Tier 3-7 to minimize long, drawn-out encounters resulting from especially high challenge ratings. If necessary, we will cut an encounter from Tier 3-7 scenarios, but preferably these can still work under approximately the same model.
- There are no changes expected on this front for Tier 1-5 scenarios, which generally fit the four-hour model without much trouble.
- You should start seeing these changes implemented in scenarios in December 2014 or January 2015.
We have heard your feedback that scenarios have become harder to just pick up and run. In part this is due to a large number of scenario-specific subsystems that require the GM—and sometimes the players—to learn a new set of rules during the scenario. In part, it's also a result of the reliance on the Pathfinder Reference Document when providing only short stat blocks for encounters. There's also the matter of the increasingly involved stories that scenarios are telling.
We are taking the following steps to mitigate these issues:
- Provide an appendix that includes the full Bestiary and NPC Codex pages referenced in the adventure as well as an un-tagged copy of any custom maps that appear in the scenario.
- Cap the number of required GM resources at four books per scenario (including the Core Rulebook). This should be relatively easy if the Bestiary pages are already included in the back of the adventure, as in most cases approximately half of the books referenced are Bestiaries.
- Include full stat blocks for creatures modified by the advanced, giant, or young simple templates. The exception to this would be modifications that appear in the "Scaling Encounter XYZ" sidebars. For example, if the adventure says that there should be an advanced otyugh, the full stats for an advanced otyugh will be there and ready to go. If the scaling notes say that a four-person group should instead face a young otyugh, those stats would not appear. This should at least cover the essential modifications and reduce the amount of on-the-fly adjustment that a GM needs to do.
- Limit the number of rules subsystems in scenarios. Subsystems aren't going away entirely, but we need to avoid relying on subsystems and simply save them for the times that they'll have the greatest impact. Should an especially large subsystem such as mass combat appear in a scenario again for whatever reason, it would be advertised on the product page. Simple point-tracking mechanics that only the GM sees (for example, keeping track of how many clues the PCs uncover) are likely to show up a little less often but are still a useful tool.
- You should start seeing these changes implemented in scenarios in December 2014 or January 2015.
Over the past four seasons, the Pathfinder Society Organized Play campaign has based its season-long plotline on the most recent Adventure Path products. In some ways this has worked well due to the new campaign setting content available to players, GMs, and authors, but nearly as often, this decision has caused problems—either by binding the story of the campaign to that of a different product (and the continuity difficulties that can arise), driving the Society to do things that don't necessarily fit its mandate, or subjecting the community to a long storyline when many participants begin losing interest after the first several months. As the list of scenarios grows longer, the list of metaplots grows as well, providing a barrier to newer players getting involved.
To combat these trends, we are taking the following steps:
- Stop tying the campaign's story to those of the Adventure Paths. Player responses suggest that the Destiny of the Sands model of using a current Adventure Path as inspiration for a three-part series is about right, and even then it's not mandatory that every Adventure Path receives this treatment.
- Provide Pathfinder Society its own storyline using its own existing plot threads and creating new ones.
- Expand the number of stand-alone scenarios that explore a wide variety of locations rather than get tied down in one location with an ongoing story that is tough to follow if one misses a few pieces.
- Provide a "The Story Thus Far" handout that provides a low-spoiler summary of each season's storyline so that a player can quickly catch up on the critical plot concepts when sitting down to an adventure that deals with ongoing metaplot elements. The working length for each handout is about four paragraphs or 300-400 words. There would be one such document for each season and perhaps one for a few of the most complex ongoing metaplots (Grandmaster Torch, for example).
- You should start seeing these changes implemented at the beginning of Season 7, though some like "The Story Thus Far" handouts are likely to appear sooner.
From our feedback about the success of the Silverhex Chronicles quest line, we are aware we need more Quests and Quest-like events. Since we already have nine different Beginner Box quests broken up into parts one and two, this was topic was a no brainer.
We have added two Chronicle sheets to the development schedule for the Beginner Box Demos. One will be for the four demos in part one and the other will be for the five demos in part two. These should allow for you to draw more interest from players wanting to try the system out, as well as give you another two sets of quest-style adventures to run, bringing the immediate total of quests to three sets with the inclusion of the Silverhex Chronicles quests. Look for these two Chronicle sheets by the end of 2014.
We have quite a few more changes and additions in the works, and I can't wait to tell you about them. However, some are more ideas than polished action plans, so we need a bit more time to make sure we get the other exciting changes to PFS in order before we release the rest of this information publicly.
As always, we look forward to trying to create the best Organized Play experience we can for all of you. Please read our collected thoughts above and let us know what you think, how we might improve upon the ideas, and what we could change to make them better. Thanks again for being the best fanbase any game company out there has. Without your input, as well as that of the awesome Venture-Officer corp, we certainly could not make PFS the best organized play campaign available anywhere in the world.
Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator