In October 2017, I travelled to New Zealand to take part in PaizoCon Oz 2017. My first opportunity to attend PaizoCon Oz, the prospect filled me with lots of excitement and a bit of trepidation. I hadn't journeyed to the Pacific in almost ten years. It is a long plane flight, involves crossing the International Date Line, and meant visiting a country I was unfamiliar with outside of movies. But the lure of meeting a large group of hitherto unknown Society members, gauging their interest in our newest organized play program, Starfinder Society, and playing a game in the Green Dragon Inn at Hobbiton outweighed my trepidation and so I made my way across the Pacific Ocean.
The trip over did nothing to allay my concerns. My first flight was delayed on the tarmac to the point many of us on the plane thought we would miss the outbound flight from Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to Sydney. We got to LAX only to find the issues that had caused the first delay also delayed the Sydney flight. After waiting several hours, we boarded, but then had a medical emergency that delayed us further. Luckily I had left four hours between landing in Sydney and my hop to Auckland, so there wasn't stress about missing the final leg of my journey. At last, I boarded my final flight and landed in Auckland, New Zealand, at the northern tip of the North Island. Grabbing my rental vehicle, I set out for Matamata and Hobbiton.
My first impression of the island nation was its beauty. As I drove through rolling green hills and saw the flocks of sheep, broken now and then by a few houses, I pondered the unsettled nature of the country. There are people in New Zealand, but not like there are in Seattle. Here, we are packed in, with our green spaces protected by government mandate, zealously guarded by city councils and state governments. There, while I'm sure the government is making sure the hills remain open, it gives a sense of being unsettled, untamed land. Beautiful, but awkward when you haven't eaten in several hours and cannot find anything open. It turned dark as I made it to Matamata, found an open fast food restaurant, and made my way to the B&B on the outskirts of town that I was to call home for the next 5 days.
Morning dawned with chirping birds, lowing cattle, baaing sheep, and the smell of coffee. Breakfast entailed toast, cereal, and the freshest kiwi I've ever eaten. I reunited with a pair of UK players as well as Seattle VC Louis and his family. We spent the morning driving to the coast and dipping our feet in the Pacific Ocean. The views were breathtaking and I put my feet in the water, expecting warm water, until I remembered New Zealand was just finishing winter and heading into spring. I quickly removed myself from the chilly surf and contented myself with gathering a small handful of seashells for my collection.
After a yummy lunch of lamb kebab, we returned to Matamata and headed to the convention site, the local club. Matamata Club is a large complex housing a restaurant, pool tables, bowling greens, and meeting rooms of various sizes and shapes. The New Zealand Venture-Captains, Glen Irving and Paul Trani, previously secured use of all the meeting space. In addition, they worked with the site on an event menu; ensuring food would be delivered to starving gamers most hours of the convention. The bar stocked a variety of drinks to keep us from getting parched. Their attention to detail regarding site and food extended to every aspect of the convention. There were GM boxes on the tables, with maps, pens, Welcome boons, dice towers, and chocolate. A resources table included pregenerated characters, pawns and bases, as well as some of the more commonly used forms. The HQ table was laden with Taniwas (New Zealand dragons) of all colors, bags of dice, participant goody bags, and paperwork. Stalwart volunteers staffed the table all weekend, answering questions and keeping things running smoothly. VCs Glen and Paul have a most excellent group of people working with them on all the organizational aspects of the convention.
Thursday afternoon was Slot 0 games, as people travelled in from New Zealand, Australia, the US, and the UK. I found my table and set up for a run of Starfinder Society Quest: Into the Unknown. Four hours later, we had delved onto a mystery planet, shot some goblins in space, and returned safely to Absalom Station. There was lots of laughing, much "pew pewing" and an overall enjoyable time.
Friday morning kicked off smoothly and we had three blocks of games. That afternoon, I ran another game, this time a retired Pathfinder Society scenario, and then played Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-99: The Solstice Scar—Version A.
I love watching the multi-table interactive specials in action, seeing how people decide to tackle the obstacles and what choices they make to move the storyline along.
Saturday started with running another scenario, then participating in Writing for Paizo workshop with Legendary Games owner Jason Nelson and freelancer/RPG Superstar Matt Goodall. Of course, everyone was waiting for the big event on Saturday—the trip to Hobbiton and the chance to play Pathfinder in the Green Dragon Inn. The visit lived up to all expectations. Driving through more sheep laden hills, I imagined myself in Middle Earth, getting ready for Bilbo's 111th birthday part. I've been a fan of the Lord of the Rings books and movies for so long, and watched/read so much back matter for them, that the journey to Hobbiton took on almost a pilgrimage type quality.
Our guide mentioned that almost 33% of visitors hadn't read the books or seen the movie. They tour the set because a friend or family member told them they should. Then I remembered the movies are over 10 years old and the books written in very formal English and realized that, despite the growing popularity of what we refer to as "geek/nerd culture", there are people out there that haven't been exposed to the awesomeness that is LotR.
We spent over an hour walking the set. I started at the front of the pack, but soon lagged behind, taking photos. My poor phone battery. I ran through it once, hooked up a battery pack and then ran through it. The level of detail in the hobbit houses was superb. At each one, there were items and decorations that gave insight into who lived there and their occupation. Coming down the hill from Bag End, we gathered on the party green. There our guide noted that we needed to get into a festive mood. He would sing the Green Dragon Inn song ala Peregrine Took. We were to dance along and he would not stop singing until we all were dancing. I think he thought it would take longer to get us moving, but as you can see in this video we all were in a festive mood!
Once done with dancing, we headed over the bridge and into the inn, where we were greeted by mugs (not pints, you have to go to Bree for those) of ginger beer, cider, or ale. To accompany the drinks, we had a hobbit's feast. The sense of camaraderie and friendship in the inn made the food taste even better. I really enjoyed meeting new people and getting a chance to socialize away from the gaming table.
After dinner, the staff cleared the crockery and we set up to run Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-00: Assault on Absalom. I played at one of the high tier tables. Our GM, VC Guy Martell, kept us on point so well that we finished combats and at one point had time to stand, stretch, and use the loo. We intrigued our guides so much talking about the event during the tour that they joined in and played their first ever games. Will have to check in and see if they are continuing their Pathfinder journey.
Despite the late night Saturday, we rose early Sunday to start another full day of Society play. Once again I ran one, played one. I can now claim two GM credits as a Starfinder GM. Think I need to get a move on, if I'm ever going to reach 1 Nova. My last game was one of the new Season 9 adventures. We went really off the rails and made what should have been a brief social encounter the highlight of the scenario. Thanks to my fellow players and the GM for some fantastic roleplay and an enjoyable end to PaizoCon Oz.
After the convention, I took two days and saw more of the island. I drove by Mt. Doom, on my way to Wellington, where I visited the WETA exhibits, stood on the rocky shores of the southern tip of the island, and strolled through an 19th century graveyard. Unfortunately, the trip had to end, so I had another drive up the island to Auckland, through more of the rolling hills and green pastures. The scenery amazed me in how there are clear delineations between each type of landscape and you go from one to another in a blink of an eye.
I've chosen a few of my favorite photos to highlight in this blog, but I took many more. If you are interested, you can check out the full albums by following the links below:
Huge thanks to VCs Glen Irving and Paul Trani for taking the lead on the convention, to their team that made it happen, to the GMs that gave up their time to run games, and to the players for traveling to the site and participating in the games. Without any of the above, this event would not have been successful. I, and Paizo, appreciate the energy and effort you expend on behalf of the organized play community.
I highly, HIGHLY, recommend putting PaizoCon Oz on your travel schedule. Its moderate size gives a full slate of offerings while keeping the community feel. A little bird mentioned next year's PaizoCon Oz may be in Brisbane, Australia, though the collective Venture-Officers of Australia and New Zealand are still discussing the issues and will announce more in the upcoming months.
Meanwhile, back in North America, the team is deep into planning Pathfinder Society RPG Season 10, Starfinder Society Season 2, and Pathfinder Society ACG Season 5, as well as maintaining operations on Seasons 9/1/4 and working on program updates. I cannot wait to share some details with you in a future blog!
Until next time—Explore, Report, Cooperate!
Organized Play Manager