Core Principles: Rethinking Complexity in the Pathfinder ACG, Part 2

Friday, March 8, 2019

Last time, I showed you several of the new card frames and revised wordings in the upcoming Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set. Let's keep that going!


Hey now.

Here's Amiri, our favorite barbarian. Hey—no more sideways character cards! In playtests, we enjoyed reading character and role cards like all the other cards. Paragraph widths your brain can handle. Pretty great.

We're using Wayne Reynolds' new iconic art for Amiri, which we revealed just this very week. We're proud that the Core Set is the first product that will include all 12 of Wayne's new iconic illustrations. (Yes, we said 12, not 11 like in Rise of the Runelords. There's a new Alchemist in town, and his name is Fumbus. More on him later on.)

The first part of Amiri's second power, "Closing your location does not prevent you from exploring," probably doesn't make a lot of sense to you just yet—we'll come back to that later in this blog.

Looking at the back of the card, you'll notice that the character's flavor text has moved here from the token card. That's because we no longer have token cards. Instead, you'll be getting pawns for each character, just like the ones in the Pathfinder Pawns line.

You may appreciate the clean phrasing of "Melee weapon." In previous sets, we would have to say "a weapon that has the Melee trait." Using traits as adjectives has value far beyond just making wordings more concise, though; we can now more easily use them as qualifiers throughout the game. For example, Amiri no longer has to be content favoring just any old weapon—she now favors Melee weapons specifically. And since favored cards aren't limited to types alone, "favored card type" has become simply favored card.

A change you could easily miss: characters don't have gender traits anymore. We've never actually used them anywhere in the game—not even that one time where we tried to make a Unicorn that cared—so we banished them to the ashbin. You can still figure out a character's gender from the pronouns in the flavor text (or not, as the case may be).


Enhance is the closest we got to naming a spell "Share Tattoo."

Spells and items got a very important overhaul. The most significant adjustment is how you recharge them after playing. One of the game's roughest edges—ok, it's a rusted razor blade—has been how and when you do that: these cards would go into a Schrödinger's cat-like abeyance zone while you finished whatever you were doing, then you could finally find out whether it was discarded, recharged, or banished. I've been wanting to fix this hiccup for years. So one day in the office, I quietly said, "I want to change what 'banish' means." Once everyone got done checking my forehead for signs of fever, I explained my new concept of recovery.

You will notice that Enhance gets banished when you're done using it; that's because all spells get banished now. But when you banish a recoverable boon for its power, you don't put it back in the vault—you put it into a recovery pile. At the end of each turn, anyone with a card in a recovery pile does whatever that "During Recovery" section says. Usually, this means applying your proficiencies and/or succeeding at a check to allow you to keep the card. If you aren't able to get your card back during recovery, then it goes to the vault. Recovery fixes a lot of the game's worst exploits, so we never have to worry about Restoration bollixing things up again.

And let's talk a bit more about proficiency. Previously, characters were proficient with card types, so when a card wanted to know if you were proficient with it, it would ask you by naming its card type. For example, a weapon might say "If proficient with weapons, you may add or subtract 3 from your result." But the first part of Enhance's recovery text just says "If proficient, discard this card." That's because there's now more than one way to be proficient with a card—in addition to being proficient with its type, you can be proficient with any of its traits. For Enhance, this means you're proficient with it if you're proficient with spells, or if you're proficient with Magic, Arcane, Divine, or even Veteran cards (not that any character is ever likely to be proficient with Veteran cards, but hey, you never know).

So if you're proficient with items, or with Alchemical or Liquid, you can try to recharge that Elixir of Energy Resistance. (Don't laugh about the Liquid proficiency, or Drunken Avenger Valeros will have words with you. Perhaps not entirely comprehensible ones, but words nonetheless.)

Also, check out that word freely on Enhance. That's an important word. There are new restrictions on how you play boons, most notably that the party can collectively play no more than one of each card type on each check. We'll talk about that in depth in a later blog, but the key is that sometimes we want you to be able to bypass those restrictions. So if you play a boon freely, you or someone else can play another of that type.


Sonja fit all that on one side of a location card. That’s A++ graphic design.

The first thing we need to explain here is "to close or to guard." We used to use the terms "permanently close" and "temporarily close" to mean closing a location either forever or just for the brief moment when the villain is trying to escape. But there were significant differences between those concepts, often requiring us to do some dancing to ensure that it was clear when we wanted something to affect just one of them. So "temporarily close" has become guard, as it is in Apocrypha, and "permanently close" is just close. No longer do you have to second-guess whether something that affects closing is supposed to affect temporarily closing too.

The next thing we need to explain is why we're not showing you the backs of those locations. Well, there is no back. When you close a location, you don't flip it over anymore—you banish it, then everybody there moves to a new location. There's no need for a "When Permanently Closed" power to appear on the other side of the card because there are never closed locations in play. This also means that the game cleans itself up as you go—when you win, there will typically be a lot fewer cards on the table, allowing you to get on with the next scenario that much faster.

This is also where Amiri's mysterious "Closing your location does not prevent you from exploring" power comes in. When other characters close their location, they move to a new one but are done exploring for that turn. Not Amiri—she can try to power through her new location like a raging barbarian should.

Let's talk about what it takes to close or to guard the Ruin: "Summon and defeat the danger." Every scenario lists a danger: one or more specific banes that a wide variety of effects can bring into play. This allows us to play up unique thematic elements in each scenario. Before, we didn't have a good way to throw lots of skeletons at you during a haunted castle scenario, but now we just define the danger as, say, an Ancient Skeleton, and it's restless dead till dawn.

The Graveyard has a new term: new. This just lets us bring in cards from the vault that—unlike summoned cards—stick around for more than one encounter.

And hey, all locations have traits now! Certain banes may be harder to defeat in an Urban location. Or you might be a power that serves you better at Wild locations, giving you a reason to gravitate toward them. That's a fun bit of storytelling.

Then there's the proxy card. We've been using proxies in Pathfinder Society scenarios for a long time now; bringing that concept to the Core Set means that we don't have to include six copies of a bunch of the henchmen. (Even the proxies themselves aren't truly duplicates—there are times when it's helpful to differentiate between them, so they each bear a unique designation, like our buddy A1 above.) This means we can give you more unique cards for your money. Proxies allow us to put 411 unique cards in the 440-card Core Set (and the duplicates are all level 0 and 1 blessings). It gets even better in the 550-card Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, which includes 543 unique cards (the duplicates are all of a single level 0 blessing).


These are not the nicest cards we've ever created.

This trio shows some of the many ways we hurt you. When we hurt you in myriad ways, we want to use the same verb, because we often do it multiple ways at once. Enter suffer, a word you will learn to loathe. You can suffer damage and you can suffer scourges, an evolution of the concept from Mummy's Mask. We also named the place you bury your cards the bury pile, which might lead you to believe we did so because we used it a lot. Probably don't worry about it. For all that suffering, we also coined the verb heal to describe the act of shuffling a random card into your deck from your discards—and yup, we simplified that to one word too. That'll help when you use the single copy of Cure we put in the Core Set. (More unique cards is good, right?) And while we're shortening things, "reset your hand" became just reset.

We might hurt you before acting or after acting. We changed those from "before you act" and "after you act." This should make it more apparent that these terms describe a time that something happens regardless of who actually does it. Castothrane hits you for Fire damage and gives another character a Wraith to fight, so it's clear that "before acting" can affect more than just you.

When you try to defeat ol' Ghost Rider here, you might notice his immunities, resistances, and vulnerabilities. You can't hit him with Cold because he hand-waves that away. Hit him with Fire and you'll subtract 4 from your result, because he's resistant. Hit him with Bludgeoning and you'll add 4, because Skeletons fold up like deck chairs when bashed with rocks. Hit him with a Flaming Mace and both of those apply, so it all washes out.

Oh, maybe the most obvious change: Castothrane isn't a villain or a henchman. He's a story bane, which lets him be used as either a villain or a henchman. Or as a danger, even. This flexibility lets us use these important cards for various purposes, such as Mob of Undead summoning a random Undead story bane. This will come in especially handy when you see the random scenarios that you can generate yourself.

You might be wondering about that white circle on the scourge. That's just one place where markers come into play. The Core Set includes 63 of these little discs; 7 each of 9 different designs. When you suffer a scourge, you put a marker on that circle, and you take a corresponding marker yourself. While so marked, that scourge's powers apply to you. Scourges can also mark locations, and if you're at a location when it gets marked, or if you end your turn at a marked location, you suffer the corresponding scourge. Scourges are just one fun thing we do with markers; frankly, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface with the possibilities. And wait until we tell you what's on the backs of the markers... in another blog.

As I mentioned last time, we're aware that these changes affect some extant cards. The vast majority of cards just work, and the conversion guide in the rulebook has simple rules that cover many more. For example, characters that have the Arcane or Divine skill count as being proficient with the corresponding trait—easy. A single sentence tells you how to play old rechargeable boons with the new recovery rules. And another sentence tells you how to easily determine whether effects that apply to closing locations should also apply to guarding.

A few cards will need more specific attention, though. The conversion guide includes the general rule that you ignore any effects that involve interacting with closed locations, but that might not be good enough for a few cards; when Menhir Savant Lini wants to use her Planar Tuning Fork in the General Store, we'll help her out. And we might want to give some cards additional powers to increase their usefulness in the new set, like letting some cards that currently affect Curses and Haunts also affect scourges. Let us know what cards you think need an overhaul.

Basically, you're playing the same game as before, just with a new coat of paint. A much spiffier coat of paint, in my totally unbiased opinion. We hope you enjoy playing with the new rules as much as we do.

Mike Selinker
Lead Designer, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

That's interesting, because we do the exact opposite. :)

When we pick new characters, we pull out the stack of character cards (from either the base box or from class decks that look appealing). Then once we have characters picked, I print off character sheets for them.

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