Is PFS growing or shrinking in the Southeastern US? What about in other areas?


Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild

** Venture-Agent, Georgia—Atlanta

In another thread on these boards - about a current controversy that I'd like to try to keep out of this thread if possible - the claim was made that PFS is growing and thriving in the Southeastern region of the United States. This surprised me because my own observations, at least in the Atlanta area, are quite the opposite. Participation in PFS here is - it appears to me - dramatically lower than it was when I first started playing a bit more than 4 years ago.

I don't have any hard data to back up that assertion, but several trends have been very apparent to me over the past couple of years:

* Many of our most experienced and capable GMs, players, and (former) Venture Officers are now rarely if ever seen at organized play game days.

* The total number of venues where PFS is regularly scheduled has fallen, and the total number of tables offered has fallen dramatically.

* The player base has declined from all the normal reasons of attrition (people move away, get interested in other things, etc.) and the number of new players getting interested does not appear to be even close to keeping up with this attrition.

* When I started playing in February 2014, it was important to sign up for tables in advance because otherwise you might not get a seat. Today, except for one or two venues that are still going pretty strong, it is much more the case that it is important to sign up for tables in advance because otherwise they may be cancelled due to lack of interest.

* At the small venue for which I am the Venture Agent, we used to run two 6-player tables on our once-monthly game days pretty normally. Now we typically run one table and it's not unusual to only have 3 or 4 players at that table.

Let me stress that I am not pointing any fingers of blame regarding this situation. There are numerous possible reasons why this might be so. An incomplete list might include:
* the rise of D&D 5E
* the arrival of Starfinder (and indeed, Starfinder does appear to be thriving in the area)
* play fatigue on the part of our most experienced players (some of whom seem to be running out of things to play).
* wider societal trends that may be taking people away from participation in table-top RPGs
* failure of Venture Officers such as myself to do a good enough job of recruiting new players
* resistance to the new Regional Play system that was put in place a few years ago
* the closing of play venues for reasons that have nothing to do with Pathfinder (and that is certainly the case for at least some of the former venues where we used to play).
* rules bloat or other forms of player fatigue with Pathfinder 1.0 that 2.0 will hopefully help address
* other reasons that I'm not thinking of

Instead of trying to assign blame for this situation, I'm posting this thread because I am genuinely curious:

* Is the same true in other parts of the Southeastern region?
* Is the same true in other play regions around the globe?

And, finally, I am wondering whether Paizo recognizes and acknowledges this decline (if it is indeed a decline)? When I started playing, I was told that Georgia was historically one of the strongest areas for PFS and I've found it disheartening to watch as many of the people that I've played with have drifted away. I've even wondered if, at some point, I may have to switch to some other game system not out of choice, but simply to find other players. (And, as a digression, I'll just note that my recent discovery of PbP has really been a boost to me). I've just been assuming that this downward trend has been just part of the natural ebb and flow of things, not particularly specific to our region, and with the news of 2.0 I've been hoping that a new edition will help us revive our formerly booming community. However, the assertion that PFS is already doing great in the Southeastern region really surprised me and has been bothering me since I read it, so I come here in hopes that others in the community will help shed some light on whether I should believe what I read, or what my own eyes are telling me.

Edit: Here is the link to the post where the claim was made that "the region as a whole is going through a period of growth."

Grand Lodge ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Great Lakes aka TwilightKnight

Abraham Z. wrote:
Is the same true in other play regions around the globe

I think generally speaking it’s reasonable to expect our numbers to have gone down. There are more options now than there were a few years ago. There is D&D5E/AL and Shadowrun Missions has made a resurgence. Players have limited time so they have to divide their time. We had the addition of Starfinder last year which has had an impact on PFS play in some areas. I’ve heard that more game stores are closing than opening. There are some areas that are showing growth. What we don’t know, and Paizo is probably the only one who knows for sure, is if the overall campaign is shrinking. My local area has largely been status quo for a few years. For the people we lose, we replace them with new players. I’m not seeing a significant change in either direction.

Silver Crusade ***** Venture-Agent, Canada—Ontario—Toronto aka pauljathome

Definitely shrinking locally by quite a bit.

I'm not sure how much it is a factor but Dnd5th is quite large locally. Adventure League is considerably more popular than PFS (almost all of the Dnd5th at local cons seems to be Adventure League)

Sovereign Court **** Venture-Lieutenant, Wisconsin—Pleasant Prairie aka Brew City Crafter

We're seeing a similar trend, here in SE Wisconsin. Convention play is dominated by D&D 5E (Adventurers league tends to have at least twice as many players as PFS, at the local conventions). As far as the local game days, we went from a peak of six locations with 25 plus tables per month (two years ago), down to three locations with about 12 tables per month (including Starfinder).

As has been mentioned up thread, new player recruitment has become more difficult. Player fatigue, ten years of rules bloat, four campaigns to support, and a pending new addition, seem to have really put a damper on enthusiasm.

Hopefully, things will get better, once the new edition comes out.

*****

Despite some alarmist talk, I think that Pathfinder in the Raleigh/Durham area is pretty much as strong as it was 2-3 years ago. We've seen a huge growth in D&D 5e/AL at our game store, but with the exception of the last month, Pathfinder has been pretty stable. Starfinder has been very popular. If someone steps up to take my place as VA, we'll probably be back to normal in another month or two when I should be over my funk and start GMing more again. In my time, we've had some up and down swings, but overall I would say that it has been pretty stable.

Grand Lodge

From a player perspective, Pathfinder and PFS are booming in the Cincinnati (and surrounding) area. There are PFS games almost every day within 45 minutes of me, plus I know of at least 4 ongoing AP groups.

Starfinder is growing as well, though I know quite a few people who gave it a try and didn't care much for it (I am one of them)

5e is huge in these parts too, though most people around here that I have talked to dislike the Adventurers League and just avoid the WotC organized play.

Scarab Sages ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southeast aka DCII

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RVC Hat:
There are more retailers participating in the RSP program this year in the SE and there are more sessions being reported in that program this year than last year in the SE.

Looking forward: If the RSP program continues to progress as it has this year and if 2nd Ed is great and if the 10th season wraps up with a bang I would expect continued stability and a continued addition and attrition of players to hold steady. If there is a problem with either - I worry. SFS is growing in the SE albeit very slowly, it just hasn't had the splash here that PFS did 8 years ago with an explosive boom.

SCARAB Hat:
PFS was down at SCARAB this year by 80 tables. DnDAL was up this year by 80 tables. Keep in mind 4 years ago there was no DnD OP at SCARAB to speak of it just was not in demand. Its growth has been similar to how PFS started.

Looking forward:
My coordinators tell me to expect the PFS numbers to go back up slightly due to the highly anticipated continued ramp up 2nd Ed and with Season 10. I'm told to expect DnDAL numbers to go up about the same amount by my DnD coordinators. Table expectation for both this year is hovering around 150-180 tables total count of each. That is impressive growth in DnDAL. SFS is just not taking flight the way PFS did although there is an expectation of a few tables each of the ten sessions so maybe 20 tables offered. That is about equal to shadowrun.

Lantern Lodge **

Here in the North East (Nova Scotia, Canada), PFS is plodding along. At this point, there is one regular GM in town (yours truly), and a group of 3-4 regular players and a couple of occasionals. We've recruited a new regular player through a mini-convention recently, which is great. We also have RSP support, thanks to connecting with our RVC above, which is great!

When fellow PFSers visit from one province over (New Brunswick), we make an effort to schedule 2-3 games for that week. These occasions have been great fun all around.

Otherwise, we're looking at one table 1-2 Monday evenings a month, depending on my schedule. Plus a table at a couple mini-conventions, and a big push for Hal-Con every fall.

I will state that Adventurers' League is absolutely clobbering PFS here. There's a couple tables a week at a few different stores throughout the city. At Hal-Con last year, they had a sizable multi-table special (at least a dozen tables, probably more. Filled the gaming area!)

In no small part this is due to the tireless boosting of a couple of active organizers (good peeps). They've recruited a network of GMs to 'share the burden', and seem successful in getting people to show up and roll dice.

Here in Halifax, the PFS broader community seems... disengaged. Though part of the "problem" is that there is a strong culture of home games in Halifax. Plenty of kitchen-table Pathfinder being played, in groups which regular recruiting a new player or two. I think that eats up the weekly "gaming bandwith" for many ex-PFS (or potential-PFS) players... .


In my own case (Southeast as well), I've simply played most of the scenarios already and I believe many of our local players have too. It's hard to get signups for anything but the brand-new stuff... which, I note, is always heavily attended (even overloaded) on the first weekend of each month when it comes out.

I had thought Core would make up for this, but there doesn't seem to be much interest in doing scenarios in Core (at least, in my area). Starfinder has definitely made a major dent in PF activity as well. I've even gone to a few D&D5 sessions simply because they're available more often and don't have the "I've already played that one" problem.

ETA: It's purely subjective, but it seems some of this is happening with PFS online games as well; a lot of the announced games don't happen simply because so many people reply 'already done that one, sorry.' Again, I would have expected to see more Core games in response. Is Core unpopular for some reason?

Scarab Sages *****

I would say that Core can be unpopular for a couple reasons:

1) You don't get all the shinnies to play with that you do being able to use the majority of the PFS catalog.

2) It started later in the process of PFS, and thus hasn't gotten much traction.


It seems almost non-existent in Middle TN. Change in leadership and two venues drying up. But I also stopped playing locally over a year ago, and I'm partially going by the decreased chatter in their Facebook group. I obviously could be wrong, I haven't looked at their Warhorn calendar in over a year.

Liberty's Edge ***** Venture-Captain, Maryland— Baltimore aka Qstor

Numbers are down around me from before 5e came out.

Some venues used to have 3 tables per week and now can barely get one table together.

My friend owns a new-ish game store in the area and he says around 30 people each week show up to play DDAL/5e. I've NEVER seen that in our area for PFS. At his store we get one table a week.

A few players I know dropped out of PFS when 5e came out. Even hardcore players that like Pathfinder have dropped off. A good friend dropped out cause of rules bloat. He prefers 5e.

Grand Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

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Arizona has been holding steady, although we do appear to be down from previous years. Our main store is down to two tables a slot from three to four, but still maintains two slots twice a month. The rest of our stores tend to have one slot if any. I have not heard much on the AL front, instead blaming GM burnout on our lower turnout. New scenarios usually draw a full two tables by themselves, often with more players than we can seat. GM signups tend to be the same small group of volunteers.

I do see new faces, and we have successfully fired Solstice Scar every time we run it, with two instances bringing five and six tables respectively. Our players are out there, they just don't have as much to play thanks to six to eight gamedays a month allowing them to consume much of the PFS library in rapid succession. I hesitate to reduce our gamedays as that would also hurt our stores.

Phoenix Comic Fest was up this year with about 60 tables despite Race for the Runecarved Key being preempted by a fire alarm. Last year we had about that many tables, including the special. I have seen a lot of conversions in Warhorn signups and Facebook group adds since the event. I hope to see those players at our local gamedays, GM availability allowing.

Grand Lodge ***** Venture-Agent, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill

Participation is definitely down in Florida and specifically my region of the Space Coast. I have been coordinating/co-coordinating Organized Play in my area since as early as 2004, starting with Living Greyhawk. At our peak around 2008, we were running 2 slots every Saturday with an average number of tables exceeding 3 each slot and we ran mini-cons at local game stores that ran 5+ tables per slot for 5 slots over a weekend. In 2008 we switched over to Living Forgotten Realms as our primary offering. While we lost some people because of the system switch, we also got a lot of enthusiastic newcomers, so this initially evened out. However, as time wore on, we started seeing problems. The people we lost due to 4E were primarily invested players which made up the bulk of the organizers and GMs. LG’s limited replay options had encouraged even casual players to occasionally GM, but LFR’s unlimited replay had the opposite effect and the same people ended up GMing all of the time. These two factors, combined with how long we had been doing this, lead to a lot of GM/organizer burn out. Participation had dwindled to less than half it had been by 2011 and I was left as the sole local organizer. This, combined with my, by then, frustration with Wizards of the Coast (I was the Regional Writing Director for the Southeast), led me to start offering PFS in 2012. Initially we saw a resurgence with PFS and a new co-coordinator joined with me at this time. Although we never reached our 2008 heyday numbers, we were still averaging over 2 tables per slot. My co-coordinator had to bow out due to family/job issues in 2015 pretty much leaving me to do everything by myself. While I continued to slog on, I am sure fatigue was starting to wear on my enthusiasm, which may have exacerbated things. By 2017, we were mostly down to single tables slots and half of those didn’t make. The introduction of Starfinder did help some, but not much, and we mostly are only offering Starfinder adventures currently. Had it not been for the timely return of one of our regular GMs who had moved out of the state, I probably would have stopped coordinating locally entirely due to fatigue. Even then, our current PFS/SFS gamedays are running on life support.

I have had several talks with our FLGS owners and they have confirmed this is not simply a PFS problem. Attendance in all forms of Organized Play, including tabletop miniatures & CTGs is down, though tournament participation is still high. So I can’t even blame 5E as it too is struggling as far as organized play is concerned. But book sales are brisk, so there are definitely lots of home games in the area. Just no one seems interested in public organized play events.

The Exchange ***** Venture-Captain, Washington D.C. aka Grolick

Our attendance is about the same, honestly, in DC. We actually have been able to start up a couple of new locations than can get one table a week off, which is great for us. We are running close to the same number of tables per week as we have been in the past. Offering the latest scenario when it is released is always popular and fills up quickly, while a lot of the go-to older ones might not have a full table.

Scarab Sages ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southeast aka DCII

Meanwhile, just south of Melbourne in Plantation they have gone from 1 table to 3 tables per session rapidly and are struggling with keeping up with the GM demand with 8 new players just last month. Its weird how one area can drop off and another booms but it just goes that way.

We'll see a retailer kick off the PFS program and boom it jumps immediately and slowly falls off as card slingers push out available time slots or as they launch board gaming nights which push out PFS time slots and then another OP comes in and consumes more time and space, then minis, etc.

One interesting thing I have been seeing over the years is the wildly popular Adventure Paths consuming PFS play. I have participated in four of them myself in the last couple of years and know people who are in as many as three concurrently with different groups. Those do cannibalize PFS play especially as those players are competing for time and space and then there seem to be more and more people who just prefer NOT playing at the retailer. Noise, mess, restrictions (alcohol, swearing, etc) space, hauling stuff back and forth, other conveniences like cooking meals at home and saving money from eating out and better wi-fi, etc.

Dark Archive *

We're down from 2 tables with an occasional third, to one with an occasional second at my main venue. But at the same time, 5th ed seems to be suffering the same decrease. And the only times we have trouble getting a full table seem to be the Wednesdays before local cons, though I don't know how much of that is because many of the main GMs say that they will not be there that day.

The Exchange ***** Venture-Agent, North Carolina—Charlotte aka eddv

In Charlotte we are ebbing and flowing.

We support 4 stores (though admittedly, I have very little to do with what happens at one of them) and across those 4 locations we probably make somewhere between 12-24 tables every month. Some weeks we will make 1 table of 4, other we will make multiple tables of 5+.

This is way up from when I first moved to the area in 2014 where there was a REAL struggle to make tables of 3 plus a pregen.

I honestly don't even see 5e as a threat to us - people play 5e as kind of a gateway drug, they crave consistency and more complex playstyles and they just naturally flow to us.

Silver Crusade ***

In Tampere, Finland, PFS and SFS are pretty much intertwined, as in most players and GMs do both. So it's a bit difficult to say whether SFS has affected the amount of PFS offered. Maybe in the sense that it didn't bring new GMs in, so the old ones have to divide their time between both.

Our monthly gaming days are running okay, with 2-4 games at each. In my view there is a little bit less new faces showing up, but it might be more about the time of the year (university town, so a lot of new faces in autumn). Some of the old guard plays a bit less because of being busy in personal life, and some only have time for one of the campaigns that people in the PFS group started (I think there are three going on at the moment, and a couple in planning stages).

Our games have never been at stores, it's mostly at people's homes and the monthly gaming days are at a space owned by the university. I do know that D&D5E games are run at the local boardgame cafe, but have no idea whether they have taken potential players from us. At least I haven't heard of any one of our previous players switching over.

***

In Houston, in 2015 we had 6 PFS tables / month at 1 game store.

Now, we have 20 PFS & 6 SFS tables / month in 6+ stores.

A good portion of the SFS players are new people who didn't play PFS before.

Scarab Sages ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Southeast aka DCII

whew wrote:

In Houston, in 2015 we had 6 PFS tables / month at 1 game store.

I miss Nan's.

Lantern Lodge ***

In Singapore, we have a couple of regular PFS groups, each running PFS once every week, same for SFS.
We have some new players coming in, but there is an overall drop in PFS numbers over the years.

5ed D&D has really bloomed locally. They have like 3-5 game shop locations running games every week. Most on multiple days.
The local Adventure League is also quite well organised with chat groups in discord etc.
At a recent Con for AL, there is like 70+ over people at a time who turn up for AL. The total number is probably around 100++ total. About 5 times the number of PFS players.

There is a sort of distinction between the 2 groups tho. 5ed players are usually younger and up for short, quicker games, many times per week. While PFS players are usually a more mature crowd and able to game only once or twice a week.

Having tried both, there are pros an cons to both form of organized play.
I do hope Paizo come up with something to help us encourage more people to come play PFS.

***

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

I'll just note that at the PaizoCon Banquet, Tonya did say we need to grow (twice). That made me wonder how stagnant, or regressive, we had become.

As Bob has said above, locally we just seem to gain enough people to make up for those we lose.

***

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

I know an additional factor for us locally has been the particular burn-out experienced players have felt from the high ratio of low level adventures, i.e. only getting 4 level 7-11 adventures a year. I am hopeful Season 10's focus on higher level stories will return some people to regular play.

*

I am curious what the growth numbers are for PbP games. Anecdotally, it seems that there are more people playing PFS PbP then ever before.

Lantern Lodge ***

When PFS in my area first started, we have games constantly. Often ever day of the week. This made PFS very accessible for everyone and we have a large number of players.

One of the biggest issues we are facing now is that we can't run games all the time anymore. Older players can't replay scenarios, so they only sign up for newer scenarios. This also means that older players have a hard time playing with newer players and can't easily pass on their knowledge of the game.

Newer and older players do get to play together when new scenarios are ran, which means only about 1 game or so per week. Most GMs rarely run earlier seasons scenarios now. There often just isn't enough interest to do so.

I know replayability have been brought up before. If PFS is to stay competitive, it may seriously want to consider opening up scenarios to allow some level of replayability and get more people back on to PFS.

On a whole is not that my local PFS community want to be less active, but we simply can't be as active as before.

Liberty's Edge *** Venture-Agent, Australia—ACT—Canberra aka Arcaian

My area down in Canberra, Australia has definitely not seen noticeable decrease in PFS counts since I started. I started relatively recently - started playing PPFRPG (my first tRPG really) in mid 2015, and took on a position as VA by mid 2016. My events are run at a university, which gives us a definite advantage - we have a lot of semi-casual players. When I first started, we were doing around 2 tables a slot, with two slots every two weeks. We're now doing closer to 4 of PFS, and ~2 or so SFS - SFS definitely has room to grow, we're struggling for GMs there. Depending on the uni situation, we have pretty decent amounts of GMs - around exam time, we often struggle a bit. We also run Adventurer's League, and see similar or slightly smaller attendance there, though with generally pretty different crowds of people attending AL to PFS and SFS (which have a lot of shared players and GMs).

We do have a bunch of players that started in s0/s1/s2, and then a bunch that started in s5 or so when the club started to increase in size, and then many that started in the seasons since then. It makes co-ordinating game choices a little tricky, but it's been manageable for me.

The other areas in Canberra, however, have had some issues - game stores closing down, demand reducing, and the like. The fresh supply of uni students keeps us with constant recruits (regularly around ~10 or so people try at the start of each semester) and keeps us growing strong.

Grand Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, New Zealand—Dunedin aka dinketry

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I'd say that numbers are largely similar here on the south island of New Zealand as they were 3yrs ago with the exception of the loss of our regular ACG group. I agree with the comment of 5e play as a gateway drug: I've converted at least three separate groups who started playing [something else] first, and then switched over to Pathfinder with some help and proselytism. We've also had success in starting up a regular group in our capital city (that's Wellington).

I find that our biggest problem is keeping Pathfinder stock available. Our two gaming stores seem to have no problems with having 5e stuff on the shelves, but I have to ask them specifically to order Pathfinder stuff. I think having that stuff on hand would help us greatly with the yearly influx of Uni students looking to roll some dice.

I do think that that might be an untapped way in for college students - each year as the new students flock to our campus, we have massive student-run organisation fairs. Providing some product (like a free RPG day-style package) for the students at these fairs (and in the first few weeks of their groups' meetings) would ensure that they weren't mucking around with some other system before becoming Paizo devotees. Just an idea...

Lastly, I think many people shift back and forth between gaming store groups and home groups, and this shift might make it appear that there are less gamers. I have been quite impressed with the amount of Pathfinder Society being played by some home groups in the area, along with a devoted Starfinder group. Gamers don't stop gaming; they just get comfortable inviting people into their homes.

Grand Lodge

I know locally that when seeker level content gets run, people come out of the woodwork for it, travel in from 100 miles away, etc. We had a small local con last month that ran one of the big multi-table specials which had seeker tier stuff...we ended up with like 4 seeker tier tables, 1 low tier, and one mid tier.

People are absolutely starved for level 12+ play (even more so for level 15+, I think all but one of the seeker tables was level 15 characters), and will travel an hour or two just to get a chance to play it.


There's only a half or a third of the activity in the messagebases as their used to be.

Sovereign Court ** Venture-Lieutenant, Georgia—Savannah aka KitsuneWarlock

We continue to run an average of maybe 3.5 tables of Pathfinder Society per month.

Our veterans are desperate to play some 7-11 and 12+ material. But we have new players and it seems like so many of the newer scenarios are 1-5.

We lost all three conventions in the last year and a half due to the economy. In addition, many of our regular players can no longer play with us due to personal reasons vaguely related to the current state of the world.

With PF2 looming, our veteran players seem to be thinking more about potential new PF2 characters, so are less eager to make new tier 1-2 PCs to help support the growth of new players we've been experiencing since we shifted our primary venue.

But our Lodge is doing well! We switched primary venues last year and our new venue recently doubled in size! We get to play up front in a section of the store that is far less noisy and crowded, with great lighting and awesome support from our staff (who is very appreciative of the retailer support program).

Our local Adventuring League got burned out from the lack of character options (or so I've been lead to believe by the poor guy who signed up to run tables at Gnomecon and didn't see a single one fire).

I'm starting to convince more players that rules bloat is a myth debunked with communications and trust exercises between players and GMs. Paizo and the AR has done an excellent job minimizing the "power impact" of new options, especially over the last three years.

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