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Mike Selinker on the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So, there is an announcement on the Paizo blog about the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game going into semi-open playtests. The "collaborative deck-building game" (which is neither completely collaborative nor completely deck-building, but work with me) is probably the best game system I've ever designed, and I'd like to tell you a little bit about it.

The basic concept is this: It's a cooperative game for one to six players. Each player has a unique character composed of a deck of cards and a set of stats. Roleplayers will find the stats very familiar—characters have roles and numbers that define their abilities and skills. As you go through adventures, you'll improve your deck by acquiring new items, allies, weapons, and other cool things as you explore and overcome challenges; over time, you'll be customizing your deck to suit your own individual vision of your character. All adventures are composed of infinitely usable cards and decks. There's no Game Master, no recordkeeping, no expository dialogue. It's everything I want to do in a roleplaying game without the workload. It plays in an hour to an hour and a half.


These playtest cards were designed for single-sided, black-and-white printing. In the finished game, card borders will have colors instead of just shades of grey, and the charts that currently overlap the images on "Them Ogres Ain't Right" and "The Rusty Dragon" will move to the back of the card.

How We Got Here

About a year ago, Rian Sand came to me with a theoretical idea of a design space that hadn't yet been explored much: a card game that mimicked many of the behaviors of a traditional RPG, but without a lot of the time and administrative burden. I had also been thinking about some mechanics for a system like that, and Rian's enthusiasm and support made me invest serious design time into it. There were a lot of problems that had to be solved—persistence, goal development, game speed, and so on—and I'm pretty sure we solved them all.

The original game was for a new intellectual property that I'm not prepared to talk about yet. Suffice it to say that it's really cool, and Mike Vaillancourt and Matt Forbeck had a lot to do with making it cool, and you'll see it someday soon. Not sure when, not sure how, but soon.

But as we were doing this, we were thinking about what our first licensed game had to be. Various ideas were tossed around, but for Rian and me, there was only one choice. Rian was a major fan of the Pathfinder RPG, and I... well, I was a major fan of Paizo. Owners Vic Wertz and Lisa Stevens have shown considerable benevolence and respect my way over the past years, leading to such awesome projects as the Harrow Deck, the Kill Doctor Lucky color edition, Yetisburg, and the American version of Key Largo. Lone Shark has done more games for Paizo than for any other company, and if they were interested in following us down this garden path, they were going to get to do so.

It turns out that after a discussion with Paizo's Publisher Erik Mona and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Alvarez at the GAMA Trade Show, they were very interested. Pathfinder Lead Designer Jason Bulmahn saw a version of the system at the first unveiling at Gamestorm, and brought back much appreciated words of praise. I showed it to the Paizo team back in Redmond, including James Jacobs, Sarah Robinson, and Wes Schneider, and we were underway within a few weeks. And over those weeks, we were bombarded with very heavy books and offers to help from everyone on the Paizo staff. It became a project all of Paizo could participate in.

The game continued to grow and change under the Paizo stewardship. My talented developers Chad Brown, Paul Peterson, and Gaby Weidling quickly came to understand the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us. Pathfinder is huge. Paizo had given us the now-classic Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path as a template for our games, which meant we had to adapt an incredibly deep and involving series of stories into the few words and concepts that fit on cards. It was not so easy, but it made us examine and reexamine every aspect of my system to make it work. It's now much tighter and much more fun.

Under the codename "Project Swallowtail," we showed off a very raw version of it at PaizoCon, and a more robust version at Gen Con. And now we're going into a massive playtest with the Pathfinder Society to get the game exactly right. It's got a ways to get there, but it seems pretty good now. Time will tell.

How the Game Plays

You start by creating a party of adventurers. Each of you gets a character card such as Valeros, Seoni, or Merisiel. That card tells you what cards your deck consists of. A wizard might have more spells than weapons, and a fighter will likely have more weapons than spells.

You'll select an Adventure Path, which consists of several adventures, which consist of several scenarios. A typical scenario tells you what villains and henchmen you'll face (if any), and the locations in which you'll face them. Each location has a deck of cards, drawn at random from appropriate stacks, and then shuffled in with a villain or henchman. You won't know where the villain is until you find him.

Throughout the game, you'll explore locations, encounter monsters, and find new weapons, items, spells, and the like. But you're racing a clock. The adventure deck is a stack of cards that you'll flip one card off of every turn. If the adventure deck runs out of cards before you find and defeat the villain, you lose. If your character deck runs out of cards, you die.

But if you don't die, then you'll advance your character. You'll get to put new cards in your deck, expand your powers and abilities, and rebuild your deck for new adventures. If you defeat all the scenarios in the game, you'll be a mighty adventurer indeed.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you like the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I can't wait to see what you think.

Mike Selinker
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Designer

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Playtest Rise of the Runelords
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Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Have the playtests began to be sent to the printers yet?
I want to get them this weekend

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

I was just starting to send them when I learned of one more FedEx requirement. Check your email for details.

(And even if you could get the cards this weekend, you're not going to have the rules until next week! Patience, my friend!)


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
Vic Wertz wrote:
gbonehead wrote:
Will this be subscription-based?
Probably, but we're not yet sure what subscriber benefits we can offer, as we won't be distributing it in PDF form.

Probably? :(

but you promised

I know you like to offer a benefit to subscribers (I've read the various PFS subscription threads), but even if you can't find a way to provide a tangible benefit, please consider providing a "preorder everything in this line until I say stop" option.

In terms of perks, how about a nifty, subscriber-only container at the end of an adventure path's "season" for those who subscribed to all six (?) instalments?

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Steve Geddes wrote:
In terms of perks, how about a nifty, subscriber-only container at the end of an adventure path's "season" for those who subscribed to all six (?) instalments?

If costs allow, I actually intend for the Base Set tray to have places for every single card in the set, including the chapter deck boxes.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

That's a good idea - the issue of convenient storage is a real problem with games specifically designed to expand.

I don't have a good grasp of how it all works, of course, but my assumption was there'd be a kind of "core set" which then got added to, depending on which AP you were playing through. I could imagine ending up with several discrete sets (presuming there is no intention of "mingling" two separate APs).

If you do manage to find a way to make them work, I've got three subscriptions lined up, ready to go. :)

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Hopefully we'll be picking our cards up tomorrow morning. :) If I had checked my email sooner, I could have picked them up tonight. :D


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I was just contacted by the FedEx and they will not print the cards because they are copywriting so they need a release from paizo before they will print out my cards
Please send ASAP


Vic Wertz wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
In terms of perks, how about a nifty, subscriber-only container at the end of an adventure path's "season" for those who subscribed to all six (?) instalments?
If costs allow, I actually intend for the Base Set tray to have places for every single card in the set, including the chapter deck boxes.

How do we playtest this? I want to....

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Padame wrote:
Vic Wertz wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
In terms of perks, how about a nifty, subscriber-only container at the end of an adventure path's "season" for those who subscribed to all six (?) instalments?
If costs allow, I actually intend for the Base Set tray to have places for every single card in the set, including the chapter deck boxes.
How do we playtest this? I want to....

The instructions were posted in a thread a few weeks back. Vic has since said all slots are full.

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