Paizo Publishing's 10th Anniversary Retrospective—Year 9 (2011)

Taking On the Role of Industry Leader

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This blog entry is the tenth in a series of blogs commemorating Paizo's 10th anniversary.
Click here to read the first installment.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Paizo found itself in a very interesting position as we came to the end of 2010. Never before in the history of tabletop RPGs was there a market leader that wasn't Dungeons & Dragons. Why is that important? Well, there are certain tasks that the tabletop RPG industry has always relegated to the top dog in the category—and chief amongst those was player acquisition.

Common wisdom in the industry was that only the market leader had the ability to bring significant numbers of new people into the tabletop RPG hobby. One major reason for this is an idea called network externalities. When the telephone was invented, its usefulness was limited until other people installed telephones; as the telephone network expanded, having a phone became more and more useful. The same thing goes for interstate highways, DVD players, and Facebook. And when products reliant on network externalities compete with one another, the one that wins is usually the one with the bigger network.

It may not be immediately obvious that RPGs rely on network externalities, but they do. Let's say there's a new RPG that you're really keen on trying. You can't play it yourself, so you need to find three or four other people who want to play that RPG. Chances are good that if you get a group of four or five people together and compare notes about what game they all know how to play, the answer is most likely to be the market leader. Which, for the entire history of RPGs, had been D&D. I remember when I first started working on Ars Magica back in 1987—I would have Storyguides (the Ars Magica equivalent of GMs) sending me letters lamenting the fact that they couldn't find a group because everybody was playing D&D. Matter of fact, another piece of the industry's common wisdom was that, in the odd cases that an RPG other than D&D brought you into the industry, you'd still eventually end up playing D&D because it was the one game that almost everybody knows how to play.

Network externalities also meant that only D&D had the name recognition and placement in stores to be able to attract significant numbers of new gamers into the fold. Even as D&D cycled through multiple editions, essentially creating a new branch of their network each time a new edition was released, the fact that TSR or Wizards focused on products for the current edition meant that players were incentivized to stay on the newest branch; they didn't have to compete with themselves. But then the OGL came along, and so did 4th Edition.

The fact that Pathfinder is built on the 3.5 SRD means that if you've played D&D, you can quickly become familiar with Pathfinder. 4E, on the other hand, was different enough from what had come before that it created a new branch of the network, and for the first time, gamers could choose to follow D&D to the new branch or stay on the old branch with Pathfinder. And at the end of the day, Pathfinder ended up being the one with the bigger network.

Before 2011, we never really had the reach through hobby game stores, book stores and organized play to be the game that people start gravitating to. Then, seemingly suddenly, big book stores were putting together islands of Pathfinder products. They were facing our books cover out on the shelves. They were talking to us about running games in their stores. And most of all, they were asking us for an introductory game that they could sell to folks who never played Pathfinder or D&D at all.

We had always dreamed about creating an introductory boxed set for Pathfinder. Paizo staffers each had their own story about buying one of the intro sets for D&D back in the late '70s or early '80s; the wonder of learning a new game that would become such a big part of our lives was something indelibly etched into our minds. But with those memories came expectations about how awesome our own version would need to be. And until 2011, Paizo didn't really have the clout or the reach to make our expectations a reality.

Boxed sets are complicated and expensive to manufacture. Most book printers don't make dice. Most dicemakers don't make boxes. And most boxmakers don't print books. So you usually need to deal with multiple vendors to coordinate delivery and assembly. And a lot of hands involved means a lot of cost. But an introductory box can't have a high price tag, so you need to work with pretty low margins. And that means that you need to make a LOT of them to make any money on them. And when you make a lot, you need to be able to sell a lot. Frankly, every time we'd looked into the logistics and finances of making a box set, it had scared the crap out of us. But now, we thought we could sell a lot. We had the opportunity to make the intro set we had always dreamed about.

To start the process, we had a meeting where I brought in every single D&D intro set TSR and Wizards had ever made. We opened up the boxes, rummaged through the components, scoured through the books, and made lists of things that we liked and didn't like about each set. One thing we noticed was that the earlier sets—the ones that had hooked us in our younger years—did a much better job of providing you with a simplified game system that you could actually run campaigns from. They provided young GMs with the tools to understand how to run a long-term D&D game. As the years unfolded, it seemed that the D&D intro sets moved away from that and became more and more a programmed intro that was meant to be played and discarded as the new gamer moved onward to the core rulebooks. While we needed new players to eventually graduate to the core Pathfinder rulebooks, we also wanted our own intro set to provide more of the tools we remembered from the intro sets we grew up with.

The white board becomes the design medium of choice for the layout of the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box.

Paizo staff members try to puzzle out character creation during an in-house playtest while Sean K Reynolds watches.

One of the things we knew we needed to work hard on was accessibility. When we looked at the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, we saw a reference book that was great for finding rules when you already knew how to play, but was not very friendly when you were a beginner attempting to navigate the sometimes arcane rules of our game system. We decided to approach our own intro set, which we had decided to call the Pathfinder Beginner Box, from a graphic design and layout point of view first instead of the normal process of providing our art team with finished text which they then laid out. Sarah Robinson, Paizo's Art Director, has a background in creating strategy guides for video games, and we thought we could learn a thing or two from their approach on teaching.

The process became a very collaborative (if time intensive) one. The design team would tell the art team what content they wanted to have in the book. Then the art team would create a graphic layout that they felt would be the most accessible, and they'd give that back to the design team. Then the design team would have to rewrite the content to fit the graphic design, sometimes needing the graphic design to change in order to present the rules better. This happened back and forth numerous times, each time with the product getting better and more clear.

Once we were done, we needed to do some testing to see if our theories would stand up to the test of actual use. Our first test was having some folks who were rather new to RPGs inside Paizo test out the character creation system to see how intuitive it was. When only one of the four testees was able to finish character creation without some help, it became apparent that there were problems. But it gave us some ideas, so we went through another couple of rounds of design and graphic design until we had a new iteration that we thought might work better.

The next test was to bring in friends and family of Paizo employees to create characters and run a short adventure under our watchful eyes. This test went much better, but there were still a few sticking points. After a few more cycles of tinkering, we faced the closed door playtest. In this test, an outside company that specializes in product testing recruited groups of people who didn't know how to play RPGs but, based on their other hobbies, might have an interest. These testers were given a prototype Beginner Box, and we were allowed to watch their progress through a one-way mirror. We would not be allowed to give them any help, thus simulating the experience a customer would have once they brought our product home. We took a lot of notes.

The experience was both stimulating and humbling. Some things that we thought were downright obvious weren't, while other innovations we had come up with in our iterative process proved to work very well. The best part of these tests was the disappointment on the gamers' faces when the testing came to an end and they had to stop playing the game. They were really having a good time and were genuinely bummed that they had to stop. That was a very good thing.

While design and art were working back and forth on the books, Jeff Alvarez took on the task of getting the Beginner Box manufactured. In addition to the box, books, character sheets, and dice, we had decided to include cardboard pawns similar to the ones we'd made for our Kill Doctor Lucky board game (which meant we also needed plastic bases for those pawns) as well as a Flip-Mat printed with an introductory dungeon on one side and a plain grid (for long-term play) on the other. Jeff's office became overrun with printer samples from all over the world as we tried to find the best prices and highest quality. Eventually, we found a place in China that could handle most of the components (and pack in the few things that needed to be made elsewhere), and we were off to the races. We wanted the Beginner Box out for the holidays—which meant it needed to be in stores at the end of October—and the deadline to finish up the product was tight. Many late nights and weekends were sacrificed, but we were able to get the product shipped to the printer on time.

When the Pathfinder Beginner Box came out in October 2011, we had unprecedented buy-in from the retail community. From Barnes & Noble to your friendly local game store, Beginner Boxes flew off the shelves that holiday season. Among the most rewarding things that have come out of the release of the Beginner Box are the stories we've heard from gamers who used it to introduce their children to the game, or first-time gamers who saw the product at their local store and are now gamers for life. We are very proud of the product we ended up producing, and of the group effort that allowed it to take form.

The core rules line in 2011 took a slightly different take with our first two rulebooks. With the release of the Advanced Player's Guide in 2010, we had added a number of new classes to the game. After a lot of discussion, we had decided that we wanted to get all of the major fantasy classes out early in Pathfinder's life cycle, so our 2011 books were strongly class-oriented. Thematically, we divided the two releases up into one book that focused on magical classes and one that focused on combat classes. Four new core classes were created: the magus, samurai, ninja and gunslinger, along with a wealth of archetypes that covered the fantasy gamut.

The rest of the schedule for Pathfinder pretty much followed our standard path. The Carrion Crown Adventure Path for the first half of the year allowed Managing Editor Wes Schneider to delve deeply into the haunted hillsides of Ustalav. Later in the year, James Jacobs finally got his chance to explore a new continent in Golarion with the Jade Regent Adventure Path, which took characters from familiar Varisia over the polar ice cap into Minkai.

The Pathfinder Society organized play program took an even bigger part in our marketing efforts starting in 2011. In previous years, Pathfinder Society was always part of one person's larger job, but we were never in a position where we could afford to have a single person focus on this vital part of our plan. In August, at Gen Con, we interviewed a number of candidates, focusing our efforts on people who had been in the trenches of Pathfinder Society on a local basis. After numerous interviews, we settled on Mike Brock, who had expanded the Pathfinder Society presence in Atlanta to impressive levels. Under Mike's guidance, Pathfinder Society has grown like gangbusters and now has a presence all over the world.

Will Chase surveys the first shipment of Pathfinder Battles: Heroes & Monsters miniatures from WizKids.

In our minds, one thing that a world-class RPG publisher should provide for its players is prepainted plastic miniatures. D&D Miniatures had been a huge seller in the online store, so as Pathfinder grew, we constantly talked about the possibility of doing plastic minis. The problem stems from the fact that it is exceedingly hard to do well and profitably. Paizo's competencies lie more along the paper printing line, so we were stymied in our efforts. Then, one day in early 2011, Justin Ziran from WizKids emailed me asking if we might be interested in working with them to create a line of Pathfinder preplastic minis. Maybe I came across as too excited, because it took us months and a lot of information exchange before we managed to go forward with one single product: Beginner Box Heroes, a four-pack of miniatures depicting the iconics used in the Beginner Box.

When WizKids announced the 4-pack to their retailers, the size of the orders caused them to fast-track a 40-mini set dubbed Heroes & Monsters. We were hoping to have it come out at the end of 2011, but in the end, only Beginner Box Heroes made it out by year end. But the groundwork for a long and fruitful partnership had been made.

Early 2011 also brought a most unexpected opportunity. In January, I was browsing Facebook when I noticed my friend Ryan Dancey had left CCP, where he had been working on a massively multiplayer online RPG (abbreviated to MMORPG or simply MMO) called EVE Online. I sent him a message that ended with, "So what are you going to do now?" His response was not what I expected: "Have you ever thought about doing a Pathfinder MMO?"

I actually had thought about what a Pathfinder video game might look like, but I'd always figured that someone like Electronic Arts or BioWare would eventually come along and ask for a license to make such a game. But what Ryan was suggesting was starting a new company to make the Pathfinder MMO ourselves. I was scared and intrigued all at the same time. So I asked Ryan to come up with a plan and pitch it to me.

A month later, Ryan came to Seattle with his plan, and he won me over. The fear subsided and the excitement kicked in, because Ryan wasn't asking for the usual huge bankroll that many MMOs have blown through trying to take a crack at supplanting World of Warcraft as the market leader. No, he was being much craftier. He wanted to put together a tight team to build the Pathfinder MMO for a small, organically growing audience. No need for the enormous marketing budget that would attract millions of customers at launch, or the even bigger development budget used to generate tons of content for all those players to burn through; he was looking to launch for just a few thousand customers. Ryan was also talking about a making a sandbox MMO—a game where the story is controlled by the players and set in a digital world that they can help to build... or seek to destroy. It was a plan that learned from the failures of past MMOs and blazed new trails for the future. It was a plan I could get behind.

The teaser image for the launch of Goblinworks. We later announced the company and Pathfinder Online on the Paizo Blog.

But one doesn't decide to do something as epic as an MMO without a lot of planning and a fair bit of money. Over the next several months, Ryan worked on a business plan and a design document for the MMO, now called Pathfinder Online. We wrestled back and forth over the numbers—I needed this project to be as lean as possible, and I trimmed out all the fat I could find. In the end, we had a compelling game that would cost little enough that I felt it would be feasible to find funding.

In November, we announced Goblinworks, Inc. and Pathfinder Online to the world. Why would we announce it so early considering the game wasn't even funded at the time or even a certainty? I have always run Paizo in a very transparent manner. I knew that as we went out to look for funding for our new company, word would get out about what we were doing. I never want a Paizo customer to have to try to piece together news about our company from whispers and half-truths—I would rather put the news out there so our customers know what's going on directly from our mouths.

After we announced the company, we launched a series of bi-weekly design blogs on, where we've been sharing our vision for Pathfinder Online, and we've been interacting with the growing Pathfinder Online community on the messageboards. Our plan has always been to work closely with our customers to make Pathfinder Online, much like we have with the Pathfinder RPG. Thousands of brains and years of experience will lead to a much better game than a handful of folks, no matter how talented, working in a vacuum.

At the ENnie Awards in August, Paizo won 9 golds. The awards received were:

The Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box is unveiled for the first time at Card Kingdom in Ballard, WA. Will Chase, Sean K Reynolds, Cosmo Eisele, Jeff Alvarez, James Sutter, Judy Bauer, Jason Bulmahn and Chris Self survey the cosplay outfits at PaizoCon! The first Pathfinder Society Venture Captain dinner at Gen Con. The Pathfinder Society room grew significantly for Gen Con 2011!

One specter that raised its head in 2011 was the rumor of a fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In the spring we started to hear rumblings which surprised us quite a bit. Wizards had just launched their "red box" starter product the previous year, and we thought 4th Edition was just starting to get into its groove. The idea that they were seriously considering or even working on a fifth edition was a move we didn't see coming. Just before Gen Con, we heard that they would be announcing the new game at the show. Of course, this made a lot of sense; they'd announced previous editions at the show that was built by the success of D&D. However, at the show, the buzz went around that something happened and the rumored announcement was cancelled at the last minute.

Of course, the idea of a fifth edition had our heads swirling at Paizo. It made some sense since sales of Pathfinder had surpassed that of D&D, but it also seemed much earlier than we had expected. What should Paizo do? How should we respond? Since we didn't know anything about their plans, we decided that our best course of action was to just stay the course, put out the best products we could, and see what WotC had up their sleeve. In December, we found out that the fifth edition announcement had been rescheduled for the beginning of January.

As the year ended, Pathfinder was getting stronger and stronger. Sales of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook had been growing each year since its release. The number of people playing in the Pathfinder Society program were also jumping up year after year. All signs were looking up as we headed into our tenth anniversary year in 2012, but the impending 5E announcement was waiting for us in the new year.

Employees who started in 2011 (in order of hiring date):
Megan Armezzani, Customer Service Representative
Chris Lambertz, Digital Products Assistant
Michael Kenway, Warehouse Personnel
Patrick Renie, Developer
Dylan Green, Sales Assistant
Lissa Guillet, Assistant Software Developer
Mike Brock, Organized Play Coordinator
Erik Keith, Customer Service Representative

Employees who left in 2011 (in order of their end date):
Matt Vancil
Hyrum Savage
Megan Armezzani

Lisa Stevens

Storming the White Castle

Mike Brock joins Paizo as our Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator.

Wow! I've already passed my one year anniversary at Paizo. That was fast—and the best year I have had on any job. As I mentioned when I came on board as the Organized Play Coordinator in my first blog, I am privileged and honored at the trust Paizo has given me to oversee Organized Play in general, and Pathfinder Society specifically.

I first met some of the current Paizo staff in the late '80s and early '90s. I played at Living City tables with Jason Bulmahn's character, Thalkin Talymir, human fighter of Torm, and Erik Mona's character, Ellund Torvin, another human fighter. I still have a letter dated October 1997 from Lisa Stevens, then Vice President of the TSR Brand Team, advising that she was helping to get the RPGA up and running again. It's kind of neat to look back and see that I have come full circle and actually get to work with these awesome folks who have been a part of my hobby for more than 15 years.

Like many of you, I started as a fan of Paizo with the magazines. I remember renewing my Dragon and Dungeon Magazine subscriptions only to be advised a month later that they were going away. Enjoying the Adventure Path installments in the later Dungeon Magazines, I of course opted into the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, becoming a charter subscriber. Shortly after receiving my first AP volume, and experiencing Paizo's awesome customer service (though I still haven't gotten any of Liz's cookies), I became a charter superscriber. I was hooked.

A year or so later, my home group was in its fourth year of a Forgotten Realms campaign when Wizards of the Coast announced 4th Edition. I gave my group the Pathfinder Beta rulebook and some of the other books I had added to my collection, and they voted to play Pathfinder instead of 4th Edition. Like many of you, while we awaited the finished RPG, I continued running Adventure Paths using the 3.5 rules for my home group (Legacy of Fire is still my favorite), while dabbling in Pathfinder Society occasionally when someone would miss a game.

Fast forward to Gen Con 2011. Shortly before the convention, the Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator position became available. I remember joking with my home players that if they didn't shape up their tricked-out characters in our Legacy of Fire game, I would apply for the job at Paizo. They surprised me by encouraging me to go for it. I emailed Erik and told him I was interested in the job but I didn't think it would go any further than that. Several weeks later, I was at Gen Con GMing 10 slots. I was surprised yet again when Mark Moreland came up to me and advised that Erik wanted to chat about the job with me. When Mark told me the meeting with Erik was going to be at White Castle, I thought it was a big joke my friends from Georgia had set up. Had I known that White Castle meant serious business to Erik, I would probably have been a little nervous. But Paizo bought my meal (if you can call it that), and I got to sit and chat with several employees over "wonderful" cheeseburgers, and then I went back to GMing, thinking that was the end of that.

Several weeks later, I received a call from Erik asking if I would like the job. Many would think I would have accepted it straight away. There was one problem, however: I had not told my wife, Mrs. PFS, that I was seriously pursuing it. I had to find a way to convince her that a move from Georgia to Seattle, uprooting our family, was a good thing. I eventually found a few ideas to bribe her with, and lucky for me, she accepted the position for both of us.

I've been here for several months past a year now and it doesn't seem like it. Time has flown, and Pathfinder Society is growing by leaps and bounds. The growth surpassed my 12-month goals, and I look forward to seeing how far it surpasses my 18- and 24-month goals. Even after a year, I am still honored and privileged to come into my office, with maps of Golarion and all the Pathfinder books I could ever want, sitting in front of me. And I love the tons of emails I receive about how Pathfinder Society has positively influenced people's lives. Much like my last job, making a difference in people's lives matters to me, and I am glad I am able to provide that in this line of work as well.

Thanks, Purple Golem!

Mike Brock
Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator

Swimming Lessons

Patrick Renie poses for one last picture on his last day as an intern.

It probably sounds cheesy, but that's probably because it is: ever since I was a kid, I'd always dreamed of writing these kinds of books. But I won't bore you with such a familiar tale; many of you doubtlessly already know that story. Let's skip to the middle, instead.

While studying at Western Washington University, I was originally on track to get my B.A. in a branch of journalism called Visual Journalism. I had always sort of figured that RPG writing, and by extension all of fantasy writing, was little more than a pipe dream for me; after all, I'd talked to countless talented GMs and players like me who would have loved nothing more than to work for a tabletop RPG company, and they'd never so much as scratched the surface of this occult industry, so what chance did I have? I imagined that a degree in journalism would be more marketable than one in English (I know, I know... I was young) even though I wasn't as passionate about it, but I checked the job listings on the Paizo website every week anyway, just to see if there'd be an internship open anywhere near me. At the very least, I thought, I could get to see what working at my dream job was like, if only for a few months.

I didn't have to wait long; by spring quarter of my junior year, there was an opening for the Editorial Intern position, and I leaped at the chance. When I actually landed the internship, I was ecstatic. I drove down from Bellingham to Redmond (a 100-mile journey each way) three days a week for over two months, and I couldn't have been happier. I switched my academic path to Creative Writing as soon as I got the gig and realized that perhaps my childhood dreams could indeed become manifest, and I even scored a not-inconsiderable amount of freelance throughout the year after my internship. I applied for the Developer position shortly after my graduation ceremony. Getting the job was far from a sure bet, in my mind—I worried incessantly about it, both before my interview and afterward. I remember having nightmares of getting hired, not getting hired, what I'd do if I didn't get hired, that kind of thing. But, well, I probably don't need to tell you I was eventually offered the position. Wes called me in late July while I was hiking around the Grand Canyon, and I said I could start Tuesday.

I've learned a lot since I began working full-time at Paizo almost a year and a half ago. Socrates is quoted as saying that "the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing," and while I would hardly consider myself truly wise in any sense, my first few months here served as a valuable lesson in teaching me just how much nothing one can know. Pathfinder is huge, and while I thought I knew the rules and world pretty well when I hired on, I was quickly proven wrong. Very, very wrong. It hadn't really occurred to me until I started working here full-time just how expansive Pathfinder was—Golarion, the history of the industry, the complexity of a large-scale publishing operation, the passion of the fans and employees. It all took me very much by surprise, and during those first months (when I was thrown headfirst into development with products like the Jade Regent Player's Guide and Book of the Damned III), I often wondered, "Is this what drowning is like?" Yet, with drowning, there is undoubtedly fear. Anyone who's ever swam in the ocean before knows the immensity and unbridled power of water, the strength and inherent danger of crashing waves. Paizo strikes a similarly awesome, similarly daunting figure, but I wouldn't say I was scared when I first started working here. I may have been scared or intimidated leading up to it, but once I was in the thick of the work and immersed in the culture, entrenched alongside the amazing people who worked at Paizo and the fantastic fans of our products, I wasn't scared—I was invigorated.

I've felt the same exhilarating sensation ever since, though the thought of drowning has since ebbed from my conscious mind considerably, now little more than a distant rumble of the waves that reaches my ears only when we're buried in the latest hardcover. Every day at Paizo, I get to relive the half-remembered dream-moments of my youth, when I'd spent innumerable hours crafting larger-than-life characters and building fantastic worlds for no one but myself. Only now, I get to work alongside dozens of brilliant and wonderful people, and the fruits of our labors are enjoyed by thousands of other gamers all around the world. Paizo even pays me to do the work I'd happily do for free (but don't tell my bosses that; seriously, don't—I've got bills to pay), and that's pretty nice too.

Patrick Renie

The Little Robot that Could

Overall, my experience with roleplaying games and Pathfinder in particular was relatively novice when I applied at Paizo. I had been playing in a Kingmaker game for a little over a year at that point, and while I was confident in my ability to fill the job requirements (my previous occupation was in pre-production for a printing and manufacturing plant), I couldn't help but wonder if I should have done more research on wizards and combat maneuvers. It took a few months to hear back, and right when I'd assumed that they'd probably found someone else, I got an email from Gary asking about a phone interview. I was elated and somewhat shocked, but two interviews later, found myself trying to figure out how to transplant my life to Washington.

My first week at Paizo was crazy. I'd left my previous job on a Friday, traveled with my husband, pets, and belongings over 700 miles on Saturday, unpacked on Sunday, and was at Paizo that Monday, and somehow had overlooked that PaizoCon would be happening at the end of that week. I struggled a bit at the convention, getting fellow employees names and faces switched up (sorry, Sutter and Wes!), and truthfully not really knowing what people actually did at PaizoCon (was it games? dice? booths? meet and greets? prawns?). In retrospect, this was probably the best week to start at Paizo. There were no training wheels. I found myself tasked with a fairly sizable amount of projects and a long to-do list, but was ready to tackle it all.

My role as Digital Products Assistant is somewhat split between multiple kinds of work (part website tasks, part digital product delivery, part design, and part customer service) which took some time to adjust to. Prior to the release of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, I had been working on a new product feature that we now know as the Interactive Map PDFs. This involved bending InDesign to perform tasks that it's not usually intended to do, and finding a solution that worked with Paizo's existing workflow. We also had the release of the Beginner Box, the redesign of the Pathfinder Reference Document, and a myriad of other items that ended up on before the end of the year. Being a member of the tech team also meant picking up an array of technical knowledge and valuable skills from Gary, Lissa, and Ross (and I still do).

I spent the first six months traveling 2 to 3 hours each day to and from the office (sometimes arriving at the unearthly hour of 6 AM, for which I now can thank my new coffee habit). And not only did a new job bring along the array of normal challenges, but relocation had brought it's own set of stressors to the table. It didn't really hit home until the Paizo holiday party that I had actually accomplished a somewhat monumental task. I'd moved my whole life successfully and everything else just seemed to be falling into place. And the best part: I'd found a company to work for with people that cared about the same things I did, who shared an intense amount of passion for the work they did, and who really do value each others opinions. Though I don't do anything very publicly remarkable like write rules and adventures, it's exciting to come into the office each day. I am grateful for the ability to be myself at Paizo: nerdy, somewhat awkward, but proud of it.

Chris Lambertz
Digital Products Assistant

The Other Erik

Erik Keith shows off his cosplay chops to Wayne Reynolds.

The first time I heard of Pathfinder and Paizo Publishing was winter 2008. I was trying to rework one of my favorite homebrew adventure paths for a new group of gamers and had gotten together with one of my favorite friends to ping ideas off of. While I was over that night he mentioned a new system that a friend had picked up for him at Gen Con that was compatible with 3.5. I was a bit skeptical of trying a new system, but when he presented me with the system's softcover beta rulebook, I had to admit it had my complete attention. I quickly flipped through the amazing illustrations inside of the book, went over its designer notes, and promptly asked if I could borrow the book for the next few days.

From there I went to the Paizo website and followed the game from there. I was working a job as a night auditor at the time, which left me plenty of time to browse the messageboards and take in the clever banter of the Paizo community over the next few years. One particular night, a certain thread posted by the company's "Gninja" caught my attention—she mentioned that Paizo was hiring a new customer service representative. I enjoyed my job at the time, but felt like I had been shoehorned into a niche that I was unlikely to grow from. I created a resume from scratch that very night, attempting to balance professionalism with geekiness to create a suitable blend to potentially set myself apart from the other applicants. With a little luck (and a cosplay picture) I managed to find myself a short period of time later prepping for a phone interview, but with an entertaining twist.

The key thing about working as a night auditor is that, well, you work at night. I had planned on immediately going home and getting a few hours of sleep before my phone interview, but when one of my coworkers called in sick that morning, I had to cover for them. I found my plans foiled and myself on the phone with bloodshot eyes and almost no sleep. Despite everything, I felt that I delivered a fairly strong interview. I had answered all of the important questions in a decisive manner: My class was a paladin, dexterity was my highest stat, and I was genuinely looking forward to using my skills to make Paizo a better place for everyone. My greatest flaw was that I couldn't decide if my favorite animal was a honey badger or a snow leopard, but I felt I still sounded confident in my indecision. Afterward, all I could do was sit back and see if my delivery was strong enough.

A week later, I came to discover that while it had been a very close call, they had opted to go with another applicant. I had no regrets; even if I hadn't been their choice, it was still nice knowing that I was in genuine consideration for the position. Over the next 6 months, I attended PaizoCon and met the Paizo staff in person, which was the first time I truly came to regret not having landed the job. After PaizoCon, I started planning for my next convention, which was PAX. A few weeks before that show, after fulfilling my duties at work, I found myself browsing the Paizo messageboards again. This time, I discovered that they needed volunteer GMs for the Pathfinder Society area at PAX.

I signed up on the messageboards and found myself gamemastering at PAX. I had a lot of fun, and while my player survival ratio was embarrassingly high compared to the other GMs, the players I was hosting sessions for seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. I left my number with the Paizo staff in case they needed an emergency substitute GM, and didn't think twice about it, so I didn't expect the phone call I got a few days later. Because I'd made a good impression at the convention, and had been a close call for the CS job earlier, I suddenly found myself on the other end of another phone interview, this time with a much more relaxed tone and—equally wonderful—a full night's rest. I put in my one-month notice at work the next day and found myself at Paizo not long after. The events that have transpired since then have been truly amazing, but I believe I'll leave that story for another day. After all, I haven't even started talking about the daily games I run during lunch with the warehouse staff yet!

Erik Keith
Customer Service

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Auntie Lisa's Story Hour Paizo
Dark Archive

No blog entries from Megan, Michael, Dylan, or Lissa?

Paizo Employee Developer

Megan and Dylan no longer work at Paizo. All entries by staff other than Lisa are voluntary, so it's possible Mike and Lissa didn't have the time or inclination to present their stories on the blog.

Liberty's Edge

I love this series; thanks for sharing all this behind-the-scenes stuff.

Lisa Stevens said wrote:
Some things that we thought were downright obvious weren't, while other innovations we had come up with in our iterative process proved to work very well.

Can you give examples of this, both positive and negative? I'm curious.

Grand Lodge

I like reading about how Paizo felt about the rumors of 5E D&D.

The PF passing D&D in sales is a student surpassing the master story. Even the master borrowing the beta test model of the student.

Reading these has always been rewarding this year. I just Kickstarted money to a project that I have no direct interest in - the PF MMORPG, essentially because I believe in Lisa Stevens and her company. Thanks for the history lesson, Lisa, and everyone else who has made this company possible. You guys really are amazing.

Kain Darkwind wrote:
I just Kickstarted money to a project that I have no direct interest in - the PF MMORPG, essentially because I believe in Lisa Stevens and her company.

Yeah, I'm in the same boat.

Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I know I've been working pretty hard today, but
Did all the pictures just change in this article?

The transparency and interaction with customers that Paizo has is unlike any other business I know. This series is a fantastic example of those elements. It's understandable why Paizo has such a loyal fan base.

Dark Archive

Yep, the photos changed.

On the plus side, the Venture Captains were seated at the Pope table. If it is anything like the local version of that resto, the reservation was made months, if not a year in advance. I can't remember if there is a maximum number of months out they will take a reservation. I gave up trying to sit at the Pope table about the same time I stopped going there.

Grand Lodge Pathfinder Society Campaign Coordinator

1 person marked this as a favorite.

That pope table still scares the ...... I mean it brings back fond memories...yeah that's it.

Also, bonus XPs for anyone who can find me GMing in the photo of the PFS room. Double bonus if you can guess which scenario!


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Strangely Robot Chris is far from the first to get Sutter and I mixed up.

I don't get it. Our avatars don't look anything alike.


2 people marked this as a favorite.


They gave you BotD3 as a first assignment as a developer? Is that like freshman hazing? :D

Todd 'How many obscure biology terms, scientific slang, and archaic english can I fit into this statblock let alone the ecology entry' Stewart

Todd Stewart wrote:


They gave you BotD3 as a first assignment as a developer? Is that like freshman hazing? :D

Todd 'How many obscure biology terms, scientific slang, and archaic english can I fit into this statblock let alone the ecology entry' Stewart

Because I am curious, I have to ask: How much creative freedom did you actually have to create BotD 3? Were you sort of filling in the blanks by a huge outline of the Jameses or the development team or creating something completely from scratch?

Other than that, it is a nice blog entry as usual. Have you guys planned something as a replacement for these after the anniversary is over?

F. Wesley Schneider wrote:

Strangely Robot Chris is far from the first to get Sutter and I mixed up.

I don't get it. Our avatars don't look anything alike.

Gonna make a call-back from one of the previous retrospective threads and say you should've kept the emo-look. ;)

The Exchange

I found the thoughts about the responsibilities of the industry leader most interesting, though here in Germany, since 1984, this has never been D&D. But having two kids myself I'm glad that Paizo did something like the Beginner's Box, because "our" industry leader has nothing like this (and the rules of "Das Schwarze Auge 4th ed." may well be the most complicated, clunky rules ever written for an RPG (I love it nonetheless but could never use it to introduce my kids into the hobby).


Todd Stewart wrote:


They gave you BotD3 as a first assignment as a developer? Is that like freshman hazing? :D
Todd 'How many tens of thousands of extra words can I fit into this turnover' Stewart

Fixed that for you. :)

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

wormy, what's the RPG #1 game in Germany? Warhammer?


The Exchange

Aelryinth wrote:

wormy, what's the RPG #1 game in Germany? Warhammer?


no it's still "Das Schwarze Auge" (DSA, The Dark Eye in english). Published in 1984, it wasn't much more than a D&D clone first, but in the meantime it has developed it's own setting which may be even more detailed than the Forgotten Realms.

The game is a bit more "realistic" than D&D, more medieval and even high-level PCs aren't supposed to be god-like characters who can beat the hell out of demon lords. It also shares the Paizo approach to support the system and the setting mainly through adventures.

And interestingly enough, the publisher (Ulisses Spiele) is the same who publishes the german localisation of the Pathfinder RPG. Which ironically means that, while there is a german version of the Pathfinder Beginner Box, there is still nothing comparable for DSA.

WormysQueue wrote:

no it's still "Das Schwarze Auge" (DSA, The Dark Eye in english). Published in 1984, it wasn't much more than a D&D clone first, but in the meantime it has developed it's own setting which may be even more detailed than the Forgotten Realms.

The game is a bit more "realistic" than D&D, more medieval and even high-level PCs aren't supposed to be god-like characters who can beat the hell out of demon lords. It also shares the Paizo approach to support the system and the setting mainly through adventures.

And interestingly enough, the publisher (Ulisses Spiele) is the same who publishes the german localisation of the Pathfinder RPG. Which ironically means that, while there is a german version of the Pathfinder Beginner Box, there is still nothing comparable for DSA.

Hey there, you play that as well or do you just know it?

Have you seen the latest effort by Ulisses Spiele with their survey? They will probably create a new edition as far as I can see. I hope they actually learn from their business partner Paizo because currently their quality control and their business practices are awful.

However, Paizo could learn from them as well and create big hardcover setting books about Golarion. I still dream of 300 pages just about one region or one plane.... :-)

The Exchange

Baroth wrote:

Hey there, you play that as well or do you just know it?

Have you seen the latest effort by Ulisses Spiele with their survey? They will probably create a new edition as far as I can see. I hope they actually learn from their business partner Paizo because currently their quality control and their business practices are awful.

However, Paizo could learn from them as well and create big hardcover setting books about Golarion. I still dream of 300 pages just about one region or one plane.... :-)

Yeah, the DSA region books belong to the best things ever written for any system (in my opinion at least).

DSA was what actually got me started with roleplaying and I still play it albeit with the old editions only. My kids are 6 and 8 so I need something which isn't too difficult to grasp and the 4th edition fails on this count big time.

I don't know about their awful business practices but I know some of the staff from my time at the Pathfinder translation team and I had the impression that they are genuinely interested in doing their best. I don't know about the experiences you hint at but I had never any problems with them businesswise.

What i do remember is that they had issues with quality control. I'm probably not allowed to talk too much about it but what I can say is that the german market is much more difficult regarding RPGs than the U.S. market. We germans may probably have invented shitstorms and regardless what you do, you'll get critisized 99% of the time. And especially with international role-playing games there's a large chunk of the audience who'll prefer the original version over the translation no matter the quality. I know some excellent translations from former D&D publisher Feder & Schwert who got burned by criticism just because someone disliked the translation of a specific term.

DSA also has a tradition of being very inclusive as far as fan work is concerned. Problem being that this led many fans to think that they can tell the publisher what to do and what not. So anytime a publisher tries to change anything, we've got a little edition war at hand. And Ulisses trying to reorganize the brand has brought them a lot of badmouthing by people who felt left out.

At the end this means printing relatively small runs at relatively high cost, so they have to calculate quite hard what to afford and what not. I can easily see how this can lead to quality problems in certain areas, though I also have to say that I personally like my DSA books (I'm not looking too hard for existing flaws, so I'm probably just missing them ^^).

The Beginner Box is an awesome product, and the thing that finally lured me into Pathfinder - I had been resisting for two years after being burned out on 3.5 D&D's complexity and poor balance at high levels. I'm now playing in a Rise of the Runelords campaign and own a bunch of Pathfinder product, but the Beginner Box remains my top choice for GMing. It's pretty well the perfect RPG product.

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