This week marks my 19th consecutive annual appearance at Gen Con, and my 15th as a professional in the gaming field. As a fan, Gen Con is literally what they say on the tin: The Best Four Days of Gaming. For professionals, it's a chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, and a great way to recharge the batteries. It's an open secret that work in the RPG field can be tedious and frustrating at times. Meeting all the great players and fans is an excellent way to remind yourself why all of the late hours and crushing deadlines are worth it. Hearing from you about how much Pathfinder means to you and your friends literally keeps us going, and even though we work harder this week than any other in the whole year, we always come back reinvigorated and ready to take on the next challenge.
This year, I'm pleased to announce that the original artist of the Pathfinder comic, Andrew Huerta, will be at the Paizo booth all weekend long to sign comics and sketch player characters. Last year, as he sketched heroes for happy Gen Con attendees, I worked with Andrew to create special presents for many of my fellow Paizo campaigners by having him draw several of our characters.
Since it's a long-running joke among game business pros that it can be dangerous to let a fan trap you in a conversation about his characters, I figure I'd preemptively tell you about OUR characters and show off Andrew's work from last year. If you like what you see, swing by booth #203 and he'll be happy (for a reasonable fee) to create an image of your favorite character.
Here are some of mine, broken down by the campaign in question.
Shadows Under Sandpoint/Sands of the Scorpion God
This is, for my money, THE Paizo editorial campaign. I say that not just because it is the longest-running ever campaign played at the office, and not just because it involves more than a dozen players over three distinct campaign arcs. No, I say it because of all the games currently running at Paizo, this is the one that I play in, so of course it is the most important to ME.
Anyway, it's brilliant. Our Creative Director James Jacobs launched the campaign years ago with a sprawling campaign centered around Varisia's town of Sandpoint and the nearby Devil's Platter. It started with investigating a haunted house on the outskirts of town and ended with a battle against the dreaded Sandpoint Devil and the conclusion of a huge dungeon crawl near its lair. About a year ago, around when we were about 10th level, James split the extremely large group into two different games running parallel to one another on different days of the week. My half turned into "Sands of the Scorpion God," which is sort of James's way of saying "Gary Gygax's Necropolis," a diabolical campaign adventure set in Ancient Egyptian lands (or, in the case of Golarion, Osirion). James has made numerous modifications to the already insanely deadly super-adventure, and even though we're now all 15th level, there's still plenty of adventuring left to do.
Here are the group's heroes, starting with the most important (to me).
Here we have MY character, the barbarian Ostog the Unslain. Ostog uses the savage barbarian archetype from the Advanced Player's Guide and a few other tricks to pull off the shirtless barbarian look so common on book covers and in media, but which prior to Pathfinder was almost always doomed to failure in the Armor Class department.
Ostog is arrogant but good-hearted, boastful but dependable (for the most part). He wields the magic sword Gnarlfang, a +1 keen frost greatsword in desperate need of a better enhancement bonus. James tells me that there are probably about a dozen game sessions left in Sands of the Scorpion God. Ostog has already survived 42 game sessions without wearing any armor. Only. A few. Sessions. Left. I'm confident I can make it, thanks in no small part to Ostog's fantastic companions.
This is Editor-in-Chief F. Wesley Schneider's bard, Styrian Kindler. In the course of our examinations under Sandpoint, we discovered several half-formed clones of Styrian, so none of us is really sure if the one in our party is the original or simply some knock-off copy of an original that we've never met. For his part, Wes is quiet and cagey about our theories, quickly turning the topic to other subjects to avoid such delicate discussions.
More importantly to me, Styrian is the group's historian and chronicler. Ostog is always shouting to Styrian to "remember this for my saga!", but it seems like Styrian seldom writes anything down about these great feats. It must be because he has such a great memory.
PaizoCon founder and designated F.O.P. (Friend of Paizo) Tim Nightengale plays one of the group's most amusing characters, Howell Talbot III, paladin of Abadar. Tim plays Howell with the perfect voice of Mr. Howell, the Gilligan's Island character most likely to worship Abadar. Howell is good for clearing up Ostog's "witch's trails" when he spends too much time cavorting with the wrong element during the group's increasingly frequent teleportation trips back to civilization. Ostog doesn't have much appreciation for the wealth-obsessed cult of Abadar, but over 40+ sessions both Ostog and Erik are in awe of Howell's mighty powers. With frequent use of his smite evil ability, Howell is likely the highest melee damage vector in the party, and I asked Andrew to convey real martial mastery in his depiction.
When Ostog is getting in trouble in the, um, "festhalls" of civilization, he is often in the company of the group's able Chelaxian sorcerer, Velmarius Elazarin, played expertly by Lead Designer Jason Bulmahn. Jason is one of my favorite types of players—a guy who knows the rules and tactics perfectly every time, but who never lets the sheer mechanics of a situation get in the way of a good experience at the table. I've seen Jason make sub-optimal tactical and even character advancement choices simply to stay in character, and I think that's great.
I do wish he (the character to be clear) was a bit less of a bastard, but he does take Ostog to the nicest places in town on our days off…
Pathfinder Adventure Path developer Rob McCreary doesn't like to play the same character for too long. He's the most recent addition to the group, and yet he's changed characters three times. His latest, the Taldan gunslinger Thalestris, pictured above, has had a tougher run than most in Gary Gygax's Necropolis, even managing to have her soul sucked out of her body.
Naturally, Rob started talking about making a new character at this point. Since Thalestris is, by far, the highest damage-dealing character in the party, it doesn't suit my interests to let him change into something else. Thus I paid Andrew Huerta money to draw and color a picture of Thalestris, and Rob is too guilty about the situation to make a change.
So the plan is a success, is what I'm saying.
Kirin the Heretic is Senior Editor James L. Sutter's ill-fated atheist rogue. This masked fellow, prone to sleeping in alleyways, left the group during the switch between James Jacobs's major campaign arcs, but his presence can still be felt now and again. He made enemies with the Sanpoint-area mothman known as the Red Bishop, and he was poisoned more times than the rest of the party put together.
When last Ostog saw Kirin, the rogue was babbling on about traveling to Absalom to take the Test of the Starstone. I'd like to think he was ultimately successful, and that the only reason we haven't seen a new god appear on the list is that Kirin was such an atheist he turned it down.
This here is Vorn, a cleric of Gorum played by Sean K. Reynolds. Vorn was the only player character to actually die in Shadow Under Sandpoint (he got better), and at the conclusion of that arc Vorn moved into the other weekly group, who are exploring a nearby Egyptian-themed adventure completely different from the one our group is exploring.
Did I mention that Vorn is the combined group's only cleric? And that we're on an adventure called "Necropolis," which is filled with the expected number of undead, which is to say "all of them". So not having a cleric has been something of a liability for us. I'm sure he's doing great for the other team, and since Vorn and Ostog usually got along well (he was the original cure for Ostog's Witch's Trails), I miss him a ton.
This is Zandu Vorcyon, the ghoul-hating ranger creation of Paizo Editor Christopher Paul Carey. Zandu was Chris's first Pathfinder character, and he managed to make it all the way through the Shadows Under Sandpoint campaign before bowing out at the switchover due to time constraints. It was really fun and interesting to throw a first-time player into our group of seasoned veterans, and Chris always brought a freshness and interesting beginner approach to his character in a way that greatly enhanced the campaign. I just love the way Andrew Huerta captured this character.
Kings of Absalom
With all eight characters from James's campaign covered, I knew I still had two illustrations to get out of the way before my task was complete. The first would be for James Jacobs, our stalwart Game Master, without whom none of these characters would exist. But he's the GM, so which character to illustrate? Sure there were villains and NPCs aplenty, but none of them struck me as equal in cool-factor to an illustration of a player character.
To do that, I would need to switch from Sands of the Scorpion God to another campaign—my own. Kings of Absalom started last summer as a way for me to play Pathfinder with as many friends as possible. I design enough material to cover 4 or 5 sessions, play the adventure with a team of 5 friends, and then put the campaign on pause while I run several other groups of 5 players through the same adventure, roughly at the same time. I debuted my first installment, "The Lowest of the Low," last year, casting the heroes in the roles of prisoners in a duergar mining colony far below the streets of Absalom. Up first was a group of Paizo pals (James Jacobs, Jeff Alvarez, James Sutter, Rob McCreary, and Wes Schneider). After they finished, I moved on to other groups of friends, and I've now run the event five times.
I haven't managed to debut this year's installment yet, but it's a major project for when I get back from Gen Con and have a little more time to dedicate to fun rather than work. Here is one character from my Paizo group: James Jacobs's Shensen.
Shensen is one of James's favorite characters, a veteran of many campaigns. This time around the half-elf is a dawnflower dervish bard. She's smart, charismatic, and a bit impulsive. Like almost all of the characters mentioned above, you can find out more about her background in the NPC Guide. That version reflects a much higher-level character than the one currently running around in the caves below Absalom, but a lot of the broad strokes are the same. Of all of Andrew's illustrations, this one is among my absolute favorites.
The last image is a special one for me, since it represents Zarzeny, the rogue character played by my girlfriend, Danica. Zarzeny is Danica's first Pathfinder character, created to adventure with long-time players like Jason Bulmahn in my local Seattle campaign. Danica started off a bit nervous, but it's been hilarious to see her develop into the sort of kleptomaniac thief character most of us are so familiar with. She's always the character pushing the group to violate a sacred crypt ("hey, there may be treasure in there!") or ambush an NPC whose pockets appear to be laden with treasure. She absconded with at least one piece of hugely cursed treasure pilfered from said crypt (the only character out of 25 to do so, I might add) simply because she decided her character was greedy and she doesn't have the experience with the game to know when she is being set up for a fall. I can't wait for the other shoe to drop!
So, those are our characters, illustrated by Pathfinder comics artist Andrew Huerta. Be sure to stop by booth #203 this weekend at Gen Con to get your own original illustrations, and feel free to use the comment thread here to tell us about YOUR favorite characters.
We're all ears, at least until the end of the convention.
And if you do stop by the booth, please be sure to say hi to our staff. We love hearing your thoughts on the game, where we should take it, and yes, we even like hearing about your characters.
See you soon!