Greetings, players! With the Book of the Dead release coming next week, we wanted to take a moment to talk about sanctioning content. The rulebook resulted in a fair amount of discussion internally, and we thought it was a good idea to take a step back and look at how our sanctioning works.
Why We Sanction Content
Regularly, the OP team is asked (directly or indirectly) why we sanction content. After all, other campaigns just let people play whatever they want whenever they want, so why don’t we? While that would be a lot less work, it’s important to us that the campaign remains as balanced and fair as possible. One of the hallmarks of Paizo Organized Play is that no matter what table you’re playing at worldwide, the players at the table are all playing with the same general rules and power level.
To that end, there are three main reasons why we might ban or restrict an option in the campaign these days:
- It’s evil. Evil options are banned by default in the campaign, so any evil deities are right out. This extends to options that have evil or unsavory flavor to them; in Book of the Dead, for example, there’s a familiar that’s made with the blood of a murder victim. That’s a little beyond the pale for us, so it’s not likely to be allowed.
- It’s unbalanced. This one is pretty rare in Pathfinder Society these days and is much more likely to come up in Starfinder Society. Still, occasionally options sneak through that skew the power balance and require us to bring down the metaphorical banhammer.
- There’s too much GM adjudication. These sorts of options are great for home campaigns where you can work with your GM to either determine their ruling for an unclear rule, or set up a legendary quest to obtain your one-of-a-kind soulforged armor. However, in a global campaign where the Organized Play staff is the GM, some of these options require too much adjudication to ensure a uniform table experience.
There are other reasons why an option might be removed, of course, but these are the three major ones. To that end, let’s talk about Book of the Dead.
Book of the Dead
Let’s start with the bad news: the playable undead options won’t be available in the campaign when the book is released next week. We discussed them extensively during our sanctioning review, and ultimately we decided that, for now, they aren’t going to be accessible. This is due to a combo of some of the reasons we discussed above: there are balance concerns with some of them, but all of them come with a little bit more evil than we’re comfortable with.
Consider the zombie archetype, which requires a zombie to consume the brain of one sentient creature per day. This has a little too much potential to disrupt scenarios in our view; we certainly don’t want to incentivize players to attack otherwise friendly NPCs just to get their daily serving of brains, and not all players will be comfortable with the idea of a fellow PC chowing down on a recently-defeated enemy spellcaster.
Despite the existence of playable undead options, the design team has confirmed that undead are still pretty uniformly evil, and universally still abhorrent to the natural cycle of life in Golarion. Certainly there are options for PCs that are both undead and neutral, but with this guidance from the design team, we felt it was best to keep the undead in the ground for the moment. All that being said, we’ve got a plan to integrate the skeleton ancestry early in PFS Year 4, so start saving your Achievement Points and stay tuned for that information. It’s also possible that some of the less-problematic undead archetypes might see play as the result of actions in a scenario, or as a charity boon sent out to conventions.
As a point of good news, we’ll be sanctioning the adventure contained within the book, “March of the Dead,” for Pathfinder Society credit in adventure mode! We’re trying something a little new with this one; we felt the adventure was longer than one session of play, but shorter than a full adventure, so this adventure will provide credit for two sessions worth of XP, treasure and Reputation. The chronicle can be applied to any of your Pathfinder Society characters. Let us know how it goes and if this level of credit is useful or if it just causes you problems.
Closing Reminders & Updates
During our discussions on the undead-related options as a whole, a couple of recurring topics came up that we wanted to remind players of or clarify.
First of all, evil characters are prohibited in the campaign. This extends beyond alignment; your characters should be willing and capable of working together with a group to complete your mission. Your characters should not disrupt play by randomly attacking other characters or NPCs, performing evil actions, or otherwise causing chaos unless such chaos is both warranted within the scenario and enjoyed by all at the table, including the GM. As options with eviler flavor come into the campaign, such as undead companions and eidolons, players should maintain the same level of respect and decorum. “But it’s what my character would do!” is not justification for mayhem and disrespect.
Second of all, a character never violates their anathema simply by joining a mission. This has come up before with superstition instinct barbarians, but once again, the undead threaten to disrupt this. Characters that follow Pharasma or other deities that abhor undead are not obligated to immediately smite a skeleton PC or a ghostly animal companion. The gods will not bring down righteous fury simply because you were unlucky enough to sit at the wrong table. (Now, if you encounter different skeletons in a tomb and don’t smite them, then Pharasma will be very displeased.)
We hope you enjoy playing with the options in Book of the Dead that are sanctioned when it’s released next week. There are still plenty of legal options for those players who want to more effectively fight against undead as well as those who want to give their characters a bit more undead flavor. Until next time—Explore! Report! Cooperate! And don’t forget to check under your bed!
Organized Play Coordinator
Organized Play Sanctioning Update - April 2022
Thursday, April 21, 2022