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Attention To Detail: The Story Behind Pathfinder's Supporting Material

Saturday, April 21, 2007

When coming up with the format for Pathfinder, one of the biggest questions we faced as a team was, "Okay, adventure path, check—but what else is going to be in there?" While we knew that the adventure that is the heart of each volume would grab people, that only accounts for a bit over half of each book. Something that's hard to grasp until you're actually staring down the barrel of a pagination is just how massive each one of these books is going to be—without in-text ads to eat up space, almost a hundred pages is a daunting amount of white space. What were we going to put there?

Ideas flowed fast and furious, and many of them quickly crashed and burned. Everything from familiar content like appendices of magic items and reports on current gaming news to outlandish proposals like a miniature Adventure-Path-related comic book in every issue (my own misguided suggestion, and an undertaking only slightly less expensive than putting a man on Mars). In the end, however, we came up with two guiding principles for all "back matter" (as we've taken to calling the supplementary pieces).

1. Everything in an issue of Pathfinder must be actively useful to a DM running the Adventure Path.

2. At least some of it needs to be fun and useful for players as well as DMs.

While one of the nice things about the Pathfinder format is that supplementary pieces have the luxury of being more free-form with their structure, much of the back matter in Pathfinder falls into one of the following general categories.

Cities and Regions: One of the strongest selling points of Pathfinder, in my mind, is that it gives you literally EVERYTHING you need to run a campaign. While we of course encourage people to adapt the Adventure Path to their own homebrew campaign worlds—some of us at the office are doing the same thing—we also think it's important to make the setting itself as compelling as the plot. In Rise of the Runelords alone, we have three extensive city write-ups detailing cities that the PCs will visit in the course of their travels—Sandpoint, Magnimar, and Xin-Shalast. These aren't just town stat blocks—these are massive affairs filled with locations, NPCs, backstory, encounters, and maps of surpassing intricacy and beauty. (You'd think I was exaggerating, but when Wes Schneider brought in the map he'd drawn of the city of Magnimar, site of the second adventure, I would have sworn he'd traced it off of Google Maps... there was simply too much detail. When asked how he managed it, he shrugged and replied, "latent obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I suppose.") In addition, we'll also have a large-scale map of the entire region of Varisia, in which Rise of the Runelords takes place, with write-ups for dozens of locations that simultaneously help flesh out the world and give you instant story starters for additional adventures. (I don't know about you, but I'm always a huge fan of provocative regional maps that give you just enough flavor to get your mind going, then turn you loose.)

Ecological Write-ups: Designing a new setting and working under the OGL means that we have the opportunity to introduce new monsters and re-imagine classic ones. (If you want a taste of where we're headed, scroll down to the last blog post on the goblins in our world.) In Rise of the Runelords, we plan to reveal our vision for stone giants and dragons in depth, taking things beyond a mere MM entry and showing you their society, their beliefs, their insides... in short, everything that makes them tick. Because while a good illustration can make a monster intriguing, it's how they think (and how you play them) that makes them great adversaries.

Gods and Demons: Similar to my feelings on monsters, I think that gods and demons (somewhat interchangeable terms in our world) are the most fun when they have engaging stories. Several times in each Adventure Path, we'll pick one of the gods or demons from our campaign setting and give you an in-depth look at everything about them, from their story and stats to their worshippers and heralds. For the first path, that'll be Desna, Song of the Spheres and patron of gypsies, and Lamashtu, the Goddess of Monstrous Birth.

Additional Encounters: What if your party skipped half the encounters in part of an adventure, or heads off in a direction you hadn't expected? Additional encounters in the region, conveniently tied to the Adventure Path, can help save you a lot of scrambling.

Bestiary: One of the few supplementary sections guaranteed to be in each issue, the Pathfinder bestiary will contain a number of brand-new monsters each month, both actively involved in the adventure and unrelated but thematically tied. For a sneak preview of what sorts of creatures you can expect to see in the first volume, keep watching this blog!

NPCs: It takes more than just a stat block to make a fun NPC, and whenever possible, Pathfinder will present the supporting cast—both heroes and villains—in an expanded format designed to be easily to cut-and-pasted into other adventures.

Pathfinder Journal: One of the other constants in the back matter, the Pathfinder Journal will explore a new aspect of our campaign setting each month and help tie together elements of both Pathfinder and the 32-page GameMastery Modules, helping to increase cohesion and give you even more options for expansion.

Miscellaneous Crunch: Ah, the joy of the miscellaneous category! Here you'll find everything from new spells, rules, and feats tied to sin magic (a magic system tied to the seven deadly sins and utilized by the Runelords) to pieces on how to run and maintain your own keep or castle.

History: I'm sure that by now you're probably getting the general gist of the Pathfinder ideology, but the history of a game world is just as important—and potentially inspiring—as it's geography. A chance for us (not to mention some of the biggest names in the RPG business) to shade in the historical background of our world? Yes, please!

Pre-generated Characters: Never again will you have to worry about players forgetting their character sheets at home. Each volume of Pathfinder will feature pre-generated characters based on Wayne Reynolds's stunning depictions of the Paizo iconics, allowing you and your party to grab the book and jump straight into the adventure with a minimum of prep time.

Whew! Keep in mind that those are only a few of the broad categories you might find in each volume—as I mentioned before, one of the things that excites me most about Pathfinder personally is our freedom to run the pieces that need to be run, regardless of whether or not they fit in with an established section. To build something from the ground up and have the authority to experiment is a glorious thing, and I believe strongly that when an author says, "how detailed should section XXX be?" and we can answer, "as much as it needs to be," everyone wins... especially the reader.

James Sutter
Assistant Editor, Pathfinder

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Tags: Iconics Pathfinder Adventure Path Portraits Wayne Reynolds
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