Hello! My name is Chad, and I'm here to talk to you about converting to the Church of... wait, wrong spiel. This is about converting existing PACG materials to the new rules and conventions of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set and beyond. The Core Set rulebook includes some guidelines for conversion already, on page 26.
Here, I'll talk about the rhyme and reason for conversion guidelines, and also discuss some new, more specific changes from the new Conversion Guide we just released today. (There's a link to it at the bottom of this blog, but we'd love it if you finish this blog introducing it before you click!) I'm going to touch on several high-level topics in no particular order; let's get started!
With the release of the Core Set, we were given a chance to streamline the game a bit and clean up both card and rules text, to remove murky or confusing corner cases. As you probably know, we knew right from the start that we wanted to maintain compatibility with all the previously published Adventure Paths and Class Decks, but we were ok with making some high-level changes, just so long as we could easily explain to everyone how things should be updated—ideally without resorting to a gigantic list of individual card changes.
The first of these changes I want to talk about here is recovery. When we launched the PACG with Rise of the Runelords in 2013, there were a few areas of the game that could get a little more complicated than we'd hoped. (Who would have thought that adapting a tabletop roleplaying game with thousands of pages of rules and an active human moderator to a card game could lead to complexity?) To help navigate these waters, we eventually shared our guiding principles.
Unfortunately, there was one pretty common situation where it seemed like the principles didn't entirely agree. It had to do with playing cards during an encounter when the card played wanted some extra steps for resolution. This includes nearly all spells, as well as a smattering of effects across other parts of the game. The issue is basically "What do I do with these cards that are ‘in flight'? Do I stop what I'm doing and resolve them, or hold them in abeyance while I finish the task? In the meantime, are these cards in my hand, in my discards, or something else?" The vast majority of the time, things work out exactly the same either way, but when things get really tight (usually because your deck is low and the bane is especially mean), suddenly you can find situations where you really care precisely where those cards are at specific points in time.
Our answer to this issue is recovery. When cards that need these extra steps are played, now they go into a special, designated place (so you're no longer wondering where they are), and then they're processed at the end of the current turn. This last part also helps with overall game flow, because the next player rarely needs to wait to start their turn while others are doing recovery. As a nice side effect, it lets us clarify and simplify the wording on spells:
Using the former approach, we would tell you to discard the spell, which to most people means "put it in your discards." Then, after playing it, you'd check to see if something happened to make it go somewhere else. Internally, I called this the "banish-discard-or-maybe-recharge" effect, and when that mouthful is the shorthand, you know you don't actually have a winner. That said, when people were learning the game, they'd often go through the process of seeing spells, and then saying "My character isn't a spellcaster, so I don't care about these cards at all...", and then follow that with "wait a minute, I can use these spells as one-shot effects. They're like scrolls!" (In game design, when you can help new players ignore a chunk of the game while learning and later come to understand that it can help them after all, it's nearly always a good thing.)
Since we'd been playing with these concepts for many moons, it was clear to us what to do, and thankfully, it was also clear to most of you, most of the time. But... What happens if there's a bane that buries cards from your discards, or counts the cards in your hand? What about a location effect that takes cards that would be banished and instead shuffles them into the location? What about a scenario power that forbids you from recharging cards? As we (and you!) made more and more interesting, varied, special powers, the answer "it works out the same either way" started being untrue more and more often. Eventually, we resolved these questions in an explicit way, but that also required a pretty deep understanding of the game, and practically speaking, usually required one to review the FAQ/errata with a hawk-sharp eye.
Starting with Core and Curse of the Crimson Throne, spells just tell you how to play them as if they were scrolls, a usage available to everyone. The rules tell you "Hey, after you wring the juicy goodness from that card, just toss it into your ‘clean it up at the end of the turn' pile, and go on about your business."
Once we'd implemented this for spells, we also pushed it through to alchemical goodies, which have more prominence from now on thanks to Fumbus, the new iconic Goblin Alchemist. We think this approach is cleaner (that is, fewer murky rules corners) and often results in shorter, clearer wording, so we're also going to use it on other things with similar functionality.
Repetition: the Key to Comedy... and to Bad Gameplay
That gets me to the other big impetus for recovery, something near and dear to my heart as a game designer: avoiding repetitive play. This part is good medicine for making the game healthier in general, and like other medications, it's sometimes a bit bitter, so prepare yourself. There are several ways to express this principle. The one we talk about during PACG development is a statement Mike stole from designer Jonathan Tweet: "Never pay the player to do what you don't want them to do."
I'm talking about repetitive play—i.e., a situation where game design allows a player to be effective just doing the same thing over and over again. In a game with character- and deck-building elements like PACG, I'm talking specifically about playing the same card repeatedly.
In the short term, this can seem great. You get to use your cool, powerful effect every time, and you're mostly flying through the scenario. Over time, though, it's usually bad for the game. You start to view every challenge as a spike to hit with your sledgehammer. You mostly stop caring about new cards that you see, because they're not your sledgehammer (rarely, you find a better sledgehammer, but that's not enough for a bunch of reasons). You stop making decisions because the answer is always "sledgehammer." Sometimes, your sledgehammer takes you all the way to ultimate success, and sometimes it crashes down around you because you run into a sledgehammer-proof wall, but neither outcome is much fun. In general, the job of the game designer is to create challenges for the players to overcome and opportunities for their choices to matter. The sledgehammer is bad for both, so we try to make sure we don't make them. In other words, we try not to create situations where the players get a payoff for always using the same singular tool.
This comes up in the concept of recovery (no, I didn't forget). To make this a bit more concrete, let's talk about spells and spellcasters (if you've played a PACG alchemist, you should recognize everything I'm about to say). There are character builds that let you play a spell and then get it back. If you get it back "pretty soon," that's usually ok; you invest in a few different options, and you choose whichever one gives you the most fun and the best chance of overall success at any one point. Awesome. If you get it back "right away," that's less ok. If you get it back "immediately," that quite frequently leads to repetitive play. No bueno.
I'm sure that some of you have seen this before in PACG, the Pathfinder RPG, or other games. At first, it seems neat and exciting, but most of the time it becomes boring quickly. Sometimes it leads to an arms race, or a table agreement to soft-ban certain combos, or an update that rebalances relative options. For our cooperative game with physical cards, we spend most of our preventative effort avoiding the problem up-front, and occasionally errata things later (I'm looking at you, RotR Restoration spell!). In this case, recovery provides us with a useful general tool to avoid "playing the same spell/potion in every encounter." By moving the opportunity to get the card back to the end of the round, we avoid a whole swath of bad-gameplay options.
This impacts some pre-Core characters, in that there were ways to build them such that they could potentially play the same spell over and over again within a turn. In general, that ability is removed by the Core rules, which does sometimes hurt the raw effectiveness of those characters. Most of those characters are still playable, and we believe they'll be more fun in the world with recovery. Witches and alchemists need some extra help, though.
For witches, recovery interacted badly with temporarily taking their familiars out of play. We were able to use proficiencies and markers to solve the concern. Alchemists are a bit more complicated, as they each have specific wording that resists the creation of general guidelines. During testing, people had little trouble "doing the right thing"—it was just the particular wording that got tricky. While we were adjusting these powers, we noticed that sometimes the former wording had impacts beyond what was appropriate—the powers were turning out too broad, getting things that didn't fit or feel right for the characters. Since we needed to add specific wording for each character anyway, we took the opportunity to clean up some of these concerns. Bottom line, these adjusted alchemist characters aren't always exact mechanical equivalents to their former selves, but we feel that they're a better fit for the character concepts, and the changes result in better gameplay. If we happened to shut down your favorite alchemist "combo" exploit (*cough* Hi, Liz! *cough*), I'm sorry, and you're welcome.
It's possible that we'll need to make further small adjustments to other characters to account for recovery, but we feel that most are fine. With that in mind, if you find another character that you feel is severely impacted, please bring it to our attention, and we'll take a look. Thanks in advance!
The next big change I want to talk about is an expansion of the concept of proficiency. Proficiencies have been with us since the beginning, where we had just three: Light Armors, Heavy Armors, and Weapons. We picked this set to model the proficiencies of Pathfinder, but with the upcoming changes to proficiencies in the new edition of the RPG, we decided to broaden the concept. Moving forward, there are more proficiencies in the game, and they have an expanded role. Characters can be proficient with card types and with traits. This lets us make characters that are proficient with Alchemical things (including Alchemical items and armors, but not ALL items or armors). Or Arcane things (including spells and wands), or spells (getting both Arcane and Divine spells, but not wands or staves).
On the other end of this change is an expansion of what it means to be proficient. We still can add special effects to cards for proficient wielders, and you're sure to see that going forward. We've also generalized a concept from existing spellcasters and Alchemists that proficiency is what lets you keep a card that would otherwise be banished, like a spell or a potion. This expansion of the concept of proficiency is a better match for the new Pathfinder RPG, and it's incredibly flavorful. For example, bards can have proficiency in Instrument (we approximated this before, but it's cleaner now). Varian can have proficiency in Sword, Drunken Master Sajan can have proficiency in Liquid, and Yoon can be proficient with Fire. The Conversion Guide adds new proficiencies to two dozen characters.
One of the changes to proficiencies we made was to consolidate armor proficiency down from Light and Heavy Armors into just Armor. At the same time, we rebalanced armor boons so that they're more useful for all characters, with extra perks kicking in for characters that are proficient. In a sense, you can imagine that there are now two levels of proficiency with armor rather than three. We think this will result in a better balance for this not-exactly-beloved card type, and in testing, the new approach to armor and proficiency was almost universally liked, so we're optimistic that you'll like it also.
This change created one of the most significant conversion issues for pre-Core characters: what to do about characters with armor power feats. In general, our approach for conversion is to make a few general changes, because nobody loves huge lists of card changes—at least, I don't. We looked at several options, and here's where we came down:
Characters and roles that have a feat for Light Armor proficiency should be given an additional hand size feat instead.
This is probably the fuzziest change we've introduced via conversion, and it might result in a few odd character builds. We settled on this approach because it gives us a general adaptation, and it's a generally useful feat. The change to gaining role cards one adventure earlier means that characters have fewer power feats that they're "forced" to take on their character cards, so if you really dislike hand size feats, you should just take a power feat on your role card—something that you probably wanted anyway.
Another big rules change has to do with closed locations. In Core and Curse, locations lost their back "closed" state and gained a rule that cleans them up as you go, pushing characters to move and encouraging interaction in the game in general. In the Core Set rulebook's Transition Guide, we tell you to just ignore effects involving interaction with closed locations. This solution proved to be controversial, I think for a few reasons. We're introducing a different way to handle these that I think will help address some of the concerns, and I'll try to talk about some of the others after. The idea is simple: use the pre-Core rules with pre-Core locations and use the new rules with new locations. More precisely:
When you would put a location card back into the vault, flip it over. If it does not have a Pathfinder Adventure Card Game logo on the back, it stays in play and local characters do not automatically move. Closed locations are automatically guarded.
This change supersedes the page 26 rule for these locations, and we think it will prove to be less disruptive for older Adventure Paths, especially those from organized play. (If you play a homebrew scenario with a mix of old and new locations, we recommend banishing the new locations and flipping the old locations.)
One common bit of feedback that we've heard about the new rule for closed locations is that established players don't understand why we changed it. In other words, "it's not broke; why did you fix it?" This is a pretty broad question, so my response will also be broad, but I hope it will help nonetheless. My answer is threefold:
- It was slightly broken.
- Rarely, it was confusingly broken.
- It makes a lot of small things a little simpler and a little better.
For the first point, it mostly comes down to "You could learn to accept it, but it was often confusing to people learning the game." The second point has to do with a small set of tricky corner cases. Behind the curtain, we use bug-tracking software to deal with issues, errata, etc., and I've been told that the change to banish closed locations immediately closed a shocking number of them. While it may not be obvious, this is good for everyone simply because it lets people spend more time focusing on things more likely to create more fun. The third issue is sometimes part of the other two, and sometimes all its own concern—moving forward, being able to say just "location" rather than "open location" seems like a small change, but when wording around it gets complicated, it still helps. (The move from "temporarily closed" to "guarded" is another such improvement.)
In addition to more straightforward wording, the change has the effect of grouping people together more as the game moves toward conclusion. While older scenarios made use of the former approach, this new approach gives us better tools for managing the tension in the game, creating more dramatic effects, some of which comes from increased challenge. At the same time, it increases the impact of player choices during the game—the decisions about which locations to close and when become more important.
...And the Rest
While most of the changes in the Conversion Guide relate directly to recovery, proficiency, and closed locations, there are a few things related to smaller changes, like the one character who cares about cards that don't have adventure deck numbers, and the one monster that cares about the Basic and Elite trait. There really aren't many of those, though.
Now go ahead and check out the Conversion Guide! It's entirely possible (read: likely) that there are obscure corner cases that we haven't yet found; when we (or you) find them, we'll update the guide, and maybe even write another blog post on the topic. For now, we're all very excited to have you all get a chance to play with the Core Set and Curse of the Crimson Throne. Thanks!
Adventure Card Game Lead Developer