Looking Back on Four Years of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Last week, a bunch of us attended the GAMA Trade Show, the hobby game industry's annual spring showcase event. I did a few interviews there, including this one from noted Pathfinder ACG fan Eric Summerer of the Dice Tower, where I lead off with some information on Mummy's Mask, Goblins Fight!, and Goblins Burn! before launching into other stuff Lone Shark Games is doing.

Going to GAMA always makes me reminisce, because it was four years ago almost to the day when I walked into GAMA 2012 with a wine box containing a humble prototype called "Saints" under my arm. Lead Developer Chad Brown and I had whipped up a set of cards based on a concept by me and my friend Rian Sand. It carried with it a modern horror story, but fundamentally it could work with any sufficiently adaptable story-based property. We weren't sure what we were going to do with it, but we resolved that we would know that by the end of the show. My first meeting was the one I wanted to work out the most, with Paizo's Erik Mona and Jeff Alvarez.

Across the table in my hotel room, I said something like, "Now, this game isn't Pathfinder. But you guys are smart enough to know what it would look like if it was Pathfinder." After playing for an hour, Jeff and Erik looked at each other and—after a bit of uncomfortable silence where they figured out who was gonna talk first—Erik said, "This is amazing. We have to talk to Vic and Lisa, but I think we want to do this."


Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
Cover Image for the Rise of the Runelords Base Set

A week later, our team had a plan to make a game with our friends at Paizo. It would require a year of investment as we rebuilt the game to work with the richest set of material we could imagine. The game expanded in its reach: Originally designed to scale from low-level metahuman to moderate-level metahuman, now it had to scale from fresh-faced cub adventurer to near-godlike titan of sword and sorcery. The stories would be big, based on Paizo's vaunted Adventure Paths. And we picked probably the biggest story we could right out of the gate: the modern classic Rise of the Runelords. This set would take Chad's personality: expansive, complex, and all-inclusive.

By the GAMA Trade Show of 2013, Chad, Gaby Weidling, Paul Peterson, Tanis O'Connor, and I had finished design on the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set, edited by Vic Wertz and Judy Bauer, and made into a real-looking game by Sarah Robinson and her team. I showed up to GAMA with a pre-production copy—the only pre-production copy. Sales savant Cosmo Eisele and I tucked ourselves in a tiny room in the top floor of the conference center at Bally's. I mean, it was no bigger than the interior of a VW Beetle. We showed the game to distributors and retailers five at a time at a nonstop clip. At this point, we guessed we had a pretty good game. Maybe a minor hit with people who'd stopped playing the Pathfinder RPG. Maybe bigger, if the cards broke right.

I think you know how that went. To our surprise, the Rise of the Runelords Base Set blew the walls off Gen Con 2013, becoming the number one hit of the show. It was a vastly bigger reaction than we imagined we'd get. Most interestingly, only a small portion of the game's fan base had ever played the Pathfinder RPG, or for that matter any RPG. What Paizo and Lone Shark created was a new genre, if only we managed to get more of it done.

As we came home from Indianapolis, our teams agreed we needed to make another base set that could show off some more tricks that the system could perform. We settled on the pirate-themed Skull & Shackles—and were already two months late on our design. With ships and sharks galore, this would become Gaby's set: rollicking, inventive, challenging to figure out. Emblematic of the set was our first promo character, the highly popular goblin Ranzak.

To make our lives more difficult, we also began a line of seven Class Decks that would allow for a new style of organized play. What that style of organized play would become was anyone's guess. Tanis hopped over from Lone Shark to Paizo to figure that out. What emerged was the groundbreaking Season 0 of the Pathfinder Society Adventure Card Guild. Season of the Shackles was Tanis's "set": adventurous, clever, mildly strange [also winning and fun at parties—Tanis]. I don't mind saying that we barely knew what we were doing, but it worked. People came out in droves to play with strangers at conventions and retail shops.

By GAMA 2014, we had picked up some new friends along the way. UltraPRO created a line of boffo accessories, including playmats, deck boxes, and deck protectors. WizKids gave us six sets of miniatures in which we embedded promo cards for all our iconic characters. And DriveThruCards constructed a fantastic community card creator so that all our fans could make their own cards.

Meanwhile, the Lone Shark team grew. We added designers Liz Spain and Keith Richmond to the club right as we were developing Wrath of the Righteous. GAMA 2015 saw the release of Paul's set: gigantic, intricate, over the top. Everything that could happen in a PACG set happened here: army battles, mythic power, retainers, characters introduced midway through the adventure path. Wrath had no limits.

We continued pounding away at the corners of the game with three new waves of Class Decks, now available in a monthly subscription. We followed up Season of the Shackles with a new tier system for Season of the Righteous, written by Keith, Tanis, and I. And Tanis introduced a whiz-bang new format for tournaments at Gen Con: the PACG Open.

Oh, and there was this cool thing from Obsidian, developed in collaboration with us. Pathfinder Adventures is the digital realization of everything that's cool about PACG, without any of the less cool fuss and bother of setup and cleanup. You'll get it in just a few weeks.

By GAMA 2016, we were closing the books on Mummy's Mask, which became Liz's set: crafty, historical, just a little insane. The team also started work on wave 5 of the class decks, bringing our total of developed class decks to a mind boggling 20 decks. (You don't know yet what #19 and #20 are. Stay tuned.) By GAMA 2016, adding together all the sets, expansions, class decks, guild adventures, accessories, and miniature sets, we were almost at 100 different things we'd designed or approved for PACG. It's a very big game with a whole lot of ways to play.

All that in four short years. More soon, I promise, including what we hope will be Keith's set in 2017. It's been a fun ride, so thanks for coming along!

Mike Selinker
Adventure Card Game Lead Designer

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Tags: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Wayne Reynolds

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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Hard to think it has already been so long already.

Silver Crusade

May it continue for 4x4 more!

Scarab Sages

I still recall playing the demo for Rise of the Runelords at my first Paizocon, running Skull and Shackles in 2014 (along with a marathon run of the Rise of the Runelords set), and 2015 with the Wrath of the Righteous demos with the Season of the Righteous kickoff. I am looking forward to what surprises are in store for Paizocon 2016 when I volunteer for the ACG.

Time sure does fly!!


Mike, what are the class deck "waves"?

Like this?
Wave 1: The first seven (RotR base set)
Wave 2: The 4 from the RotR character add-on
Wave 3: Oracle, Alchemist, Inquisitor, Witch
Wave 4: Goblins Fight and Goblins Burn
Wave 5: #19 and #20

Pathfinder ACG Developer

When we work on the class decks at Lone Shark, we work on multiple at the same time; we design, develop, test them all together, then hand them off to Paizo. It's a bit less visible to you guys, because they then get put on a monthly schedule.

Grand Lodge

Amazing that's been so long already!


What is in wave 6?

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
Hard to think it has already been so long already.

It is hard to believe. I remember hoping the Rise of the Runelords box would arrive in time for us to play it with MD on Labor Day weekend, 2012. I sleeved them all in penny sleeves that first time. Hope the game keeps going and getting better for years to come.


Being blind, I have never played the card game, but I always wish it well! Good luck to many more expansions!

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game, Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Myfly wrote:
What is in wave 6?

I think they said #21, #22, #23 and possibly #24.

Adventure Card Game Designer

zeroth_hour2 wrote:
Mike, what are the class deck "waves"?

The waves are the groups in which we write the decks. From the design team's perspective, the waves are thus:

Wave 1: Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Wizard
Wave 2: Paladin, Monk, Druid
Wave 3: Barbarian, Oracle, Alchemist
Wave 4: Inquisitor, Witch, Gunslinger
Wave 5: Goblins Fight, Goblins Burn, (something else), (also something else)

Turns out Gunslinger will follow the Goblins decks, but that's the order in which we designed them.

Adventure Card Game Designer

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Valantrix1 wrote:
Being blind, I have never played the card game, but I always wish it well! Good luck to many more expansions!

If you are ever at a convention I'm at, let me know and I'll teach you how to play. No reason you shouldn't be able to join the fun.

Adventure Card Game Designer

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Theryon Stormrune wrote:
Myfly wrote:
What is in wave 6?
I think they said #21, #22, #23 and possibly #24.

SPOILERS!


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Wow! it has been that long already?

I hope for the PACG line to continue, grow, and improve for more years to come. I'm one of those guys who would dedicate a whole wall of shelves full of just PACG stuff. Granted I earn the money to do so first.

My PACG collection is not nearly up to date with what's already released, but it's definitely in my budget plans.


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My bet on why PACG blew up is because it filled an otherwise empty niche. It's this niche that I, and my group of friends, found this game to fill. That niche is a middle-ground between board (or card) game and full-blown pen & paper RPG. As experienced gamers (of all types) we've played Dominion, Catan, etc, and wanted something a little more complex, but no one wanted to invest (time or money) into a D&D or Paranoia that required serious dedication as well as a DM/GM.

Although there are other attempts at making "shorter, card-based D&D" with games like Thunderstone, they all lacked the impetus of serialization (i.e. continuous stories / campaigns) that kept peoples interest.

Considering how long it took us to finish the Runelords campaign (note: very long), this level of required dedication is perfect for us while maintaining our interest because of developing individual characters.


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I purchased PACG when it first came out looking exactly for that "shorter, card-based D&D" that Gwyns mentions. And looking through the cards and the first three adventures, I really thought I had found nirvana. :) I played it solo and took a couple times to get past the bandits and then couldn't get past the Poison traps and realized that the game just didn't click with me. It didn't really tell a story like my D&D sessions of old had. It sat on the shelf for quite awhile - I think until S&S came out - even though I had purchased AD2,3 and 4. Then my oldest son and daughter tried playing it with me and eventually my youngest son and, armed with the RotR hardcover book, suddenly I could see the story. And suddenly there was a great game here.

We have since played S&S as a family (well, my youngest only played a couple of scenarios). My daughter and I played the first set of WoTR OP scenarios with our local group. And I'm currently running two online sessions - Season of the Shackles and WOTR - here on the forums. To me, now that I can see past some of the warts of the game's mechanics, there really is a story and it really is a "shorter, card-based D&D".

Thank you very much Mike and team!


jduteau wrote:
And I'm currently running two online sessions - Season of the Shackles and WOTR - here on the forums.

Woo!


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When my wife and I were engaged, and dating before that, we facilitated a game night for our friends. Something to provide a safe, fun environment for people to meet and have fun between her friends and mine. I had a gift card for Barnes and Noble. Now, I've never liked their pricing strategy especially when I used to have Border down the road and eventually Amazon. But I had the card so I went shopping May two years ago.

One friend had been talking about running Pathfinder and had loaned us books to build our characters (since I begged him because I like to learn before I do). So naturally I looked at those books first at the store. But then I saw PACG. I had been trying to decide between the main Player's Guide and maybe a board game and just off to the side were these in between things. It was a knee jerk decision but I picked up just the base set to try it out as an alternative between Catan, Hero Quest, and the promise of a Pathfinder game.

Well, two years later, we had been married that June (Friday the Thirteenth with a full moon and all!), we still have game night with the same core group plus or minus some new folks, and we've been subscribing to PACG ever since! My wife and I decided not long after the first game together that we wanted to keep playing this game and make it our regular game. Actually, she didn't let us play anything else until after 2015 started!

So thank you guys. You have given us almost 2 years of fun and camaraderie which has gone from a tiny one bedroom apartment with strange people making strange background noises, zero space so we were crawling over each other and the cats were too, and super hot summers to our new house where we have a nice kitchen for keeping our food off the table (and cards...), I can put the leaves in the table for larger groups and games, there's space for the cats to run around and not even be in the same room let alone all over the table, and we foresee many more years of PACG enjoyment together with each other, our group, and all of you :-)

Haha, just as an extra, last year at our one year anniversary the only thing that worked out was getting together with one of our bridesmaids to go through the first few scenarios of Season of the Shackles! :D

And for super extra bonus points, we've extended this into my other game night with a group of guys Fridays where one of them liked it so much he bought and soloed Shackles. Our bridesmaid went and got her own copies of Runelords and Shackles for when she moved down south briefly (and she got us into the OP from her time there). And I've even had -another- session with family.

The moral of the story is? Don't get PACG... or it'll get you...


Mike Selinker wrote:
crafty, historical, just a little insane

Is that Mummy's Mask? or Liz?

I was glad when they announced the breather between APs, but I'm ready for some new content now - I know we've got a while until Mummy's Mask arrives, but I look forward to hearing something soon [Hint, Hint]

Adventure Card Game Designer

MightyJim wrote:
Mike Selinker wrote:
crafty, historical, just a little insane
Is that Mummy's Mask? or Liz?

Pointing out for the record that I said "just a little."


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If you check the community use registry here on Paizo.com you'll find links to Adventure Guides for Rise of the Runelords, Skull & Shackles, and Wrath of the Righteous. Each guide has an introduction and conclusion for every scenario in the PACG games and provides the complete Adventure Path story. Enjoy!


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I pictured Mike dropping the mic and walking off stage as he casually finished with "More soon, I promise, including what we hope will be Keith's set in 2017."

Adventure Card Game Designer

Mike wrote:
Season of the Shackles was Tanis's "set": adventurous, clever, mildly strange

This is the second-nicest thing Mike has ever said about me.

Adventure Card Game Designer

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Tanis O'Connor wrote:
Mike wrote:
Season of the Shackles was Tanis's "set": adventurous, clever, mildly strange
This is the second-nicest thing Mike has ever said about me.

Nope, just the second-nicest you're aware of.

Silver Crusade

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My husband and I just got into this recently, but we love it! Two organized play sessions and once through the base 3 scenarios in Rise of the Runelords and we are HOOKED! Thanks so much for making this game. Got excited shuffling in the Adventure Deck 1 cards for more RotR this weekend :)


It's a good solo game, thanks.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

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Mike Selinker wrote:
I walked into GAMA 2012 with a wine box containing a humble prototype called "Saints" under my arm.

I thought it was called "Snints."

Adventure Card Game Designer

Vic Wertz wrote:
Mike Selinker wrote:
I walked into GAMA 2012 with a wine box containing a humble prototype called "Saints" under my arm.
I thought it was called "Snints."

Vic is referring to this ambigrammatic logo.


So, any chance that 'soon' is near and we will get to know more about MM and the possible projects beyond? :)

(I hope it's Jade Regent - bring on all the Samurai and Ninja I can take!)

Silver Crusade

Doppelschwert wrote:

So, any chance that 'soon' is near and we will get to know more about MM and the possible projects beyond? :)

(I hope it's Jade Regent - bring on all the Samurai and Ninja I can take!)

I hope it's Jade Regent too! My sister-in-law loves things with an Asian flair, so I think it'd be easier to get her to play a Jade Regent set.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Jade Regent would be fun - I hope for either that or Iron Gods, so we could have some laser pistols and robots action.

Adventure Card Game Designer

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For the MM preview, not until we send it to the printer.


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In mid 2006 my roommate and I took a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up a new game to play. We ended up picking up Heroscape. By 2012, I had every expansion and promo figure with multiple base sets (for the land). This game became my core group of friends go-to game. Once a month 3-6 of us would sit down and dominate.

I met my wife in 2009, married in 2013, and soon moved halfway (Kansas) across the country (work).

My wife was uninterested in playing a game that expands across all space and time...

So... there sits at least one copy of every Heroscape piece... on the shelf.

Months passed as she and myself attempted to get adjusted to a new city with new people. All of our loved ones 800+ miles away. My monthly gaming group of 8 years gone...

I had grown bored and started trolling around websites looking for "great solo play tabletop games". I stumbled upon DC Deckbuilding game. I watched a few "let's plays" on youtube and it seemed enjoyable enough.

There on the sidebar (recommended) was Grey Elephant Gaming doing a Let's Play of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I had played Pathfinder RPG, but only played a few games as I was not excited about having to have a GM.

I watched the Let's Play and soon did hours of research (watched videos and reviews). Tom Vassel from Dice Tower sold me after his review.
I begged the wife for the base set, and she eventually said "yes."

Oh, I played through the base box and adventure one with every character. Soon I was buying the second adventure Skinsaw Murders. And this continued through the fourth adventure.

Then it happened.
A storm.
A nasty storm that blew the power to my apartment complex.
A storm so nasty, my fireplace leaked.
A storm so nasty and fierce... my wife looked over to me and said "Hey babe (it's pretty cute), I'm bored, (I was playing PACG by candle light [do it, it's awesome]) will you teach me to play?"

Over 18 months later:
We now own a home.
Have 2 base sets with all expansions.
Have 3 games currently running in our basement (1 RotR, 1 SotRL, 1 S&S)with a mix of friends (we didn't have friends before)
Have successfully completed multiple runs through RotR.
And my wife still enjoys playing (Ranzak) so I do not have to play alone (I still do anyway).

So, to wrap this all up.

Mike and company, thank you. Thank you for your creative ideas, hard work, dedication, optimism, open ears (community), and commitment to excel. This game did more than just become a game on the shelf for my wife and I. It helped bridge a difficult time in our lives. It helped her and I gain a mutual interest, helped us pave new friendships and have something to do on any day of the week.

Again, from both her and I, Thank You.


Mike Selinker wrote:
For the MM preview, not until we send it to the printer.

Got it. And what about the possible projects beyond?

I take your silence as a confirmation that something is coming up in the near future ;) (if only it worked liked that...).

Adventure Card Game Designer

Codcake wrote:

Mike and company, thank you. Thank you for your creative ideas, hard work, dedication, optimism, open ears (community), and commitment to excel. This game did more than just become a game on the shelf for my wife and I. It helped bridge a difficult time in our lives. It helped her and I gain a mutual interest, helped us pave new friendships and have something to do on any day of the week.

Again, from both her and I, Thank You.

You're both welcome.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

During the last 4 years, PACG got more play time at my home that any RPG, collaborative game (incl. Captain is Dead or Zombicide) or competitive game (incl. Ticket to Ride or Lemmings Mafia). It even got more play time than Tarot (I'm French... remember?).
But wait...
During the last 4 years, PACG cards got more sorting time than Pathfinder minis.

What can I add to that?

Yes just one thing: Apocrypha or Ninth World are great but you are totally forbidden to waste any time on those vs building the PACG set after the next PACG test. I know it's unfair, but there you have it.

Hope to have the opportunity to shake hands one day Mike.

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