Golarion changing to a 'lighter' and more diverse setting


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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This is not a critque, but perhaps an observation I am curious if you also share. Looking back at my old Pahtfinder Campaign Settings and previous Pathfinder setting materiale it seems as if The Lost Omens line is taking a vastly more light and diverse approach to the Golarion world? Am I off track here and perhaps not seeing the more gritty aspects of Golarion / Tje Lost Omens line.
Regards


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In fairness, some locations are much lighter than others -- I don't think we have yet had a 2e book (adventure path or lost omens) that has especially touched on Golarion's darkest places.


Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I am curious about the new Mwangi book, since the old Heart of Darkness and other Mwangi supplements were quite darker in their portray of the continent. (Sorry for mistyping above..)

Regards


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I mean, the old Heart of Darkness was not so much dark as perpetuating "darkest Africa" colonial tropes.

The Mwangi expanse is full of danger and adventure, that's as true now as ever, it's just not filtered through the lens of colonial fiction, and instead includes voices of people who are actually local to that danger, rather than portraying them as just another unknowable danger in the jungle.

Golarion is not so much based on Earth as it is based on the canon of pulp and fantasy fiction, gathered by theme and earthly reference. That canon of fiction did a great disservice to anything inspired by African myth and story.

Golarion is no less full of action, often more so, it's just less monotone.


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It also important to say that "dark" in this cause implies "gritty" to me, and people describing a fantasy as gritty usually intend it to mean realistic, often while describing tired tropes of the kyriarchy that are deeply ahistorical, but conform with a subset of badly aged fiction.

A lot of people will find it hard to read this thread without suspecting this is just another face on the coin of "there were no dark skinned people in Europe" in real-life, and "women were never warriors", etc, etc. All things described as making things less "dark" and "gritty" despite being inarguably things that actually happened on Earth but never in white and colonial fiction.

I'm not saying that's what this thread is, but I doubt it will take long to devolve into increasingly charged and soon outright racist guff. Fair warning.

Dark Archive

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Also since some people keep saying "there is no dark stuff in 2e aps" I'm like "What this about Agent of Edgewatch having content comparable to Saw movies?" I've heard about :p

(not to mention, age of ashes, abomination vaults and extinction curse have plenty of dark stuff to them)


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No intention at all to start a racist thread or anything the like. I just look at my Lost Omen line products (Mwangi haven't arrived in Denmark yet) and see a difference to the campaign setting of Golarion of 1ED. Just the art seen from the Mwangi book is very different than previous depictions....
Regards


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Its not only Mwangi, see for example how Goblins, Kobolds and Lizardfolk are now accepted as normal people nearly everywhere when in PF1 seeing Lizardfolk in a city would have been highly unusual and Goblins and Kobolds were more often than not kill on sight. And that trend continues with each book that comes out.

And its also a side effect of all APs having been "solved" by now so many threats and bad spots Golarion had were removed.


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Its not the first time someone has noticed this phenomenon. If you'd like to read more, Who here misses the edginess of 3.5 Edition Golarion?. It goes some places.

The Lost Omens setting is still a place full of danger and despair. It also happens to be a place where heroes arise from any ancestry, nationality, or creed. As I'm sure we'd all prefer.

And vagrant-poet makes a good point about the perspective shift when describing the setting's locations.


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There's plenty of dark stuff in 2E, but most of it is in the adventures. I suspect it's intentional, because that's where the majority of the scary dangerous things should be.

The Lost Omens books, while they include plenty of plot-hooks and some darker elements depending on which one you read, seem to bring more of a sense of wonder and amazement at a fantasy world you'll want to take a part in (and protect from the dark stuff in the adventures), which I absolutely love. I like settings that tell me about how the people live and all the cool things you can find. It helps me care more for the world and pick out the things I think will interest players or fit with my character in game.


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Plenty of scary places are in Lost Omens. The Sarkoris Scar and the Tanglebriar are still overrun by demons, the Infernal Empire of Cheliax is still ruled by agents of Hell, Geb is still a nation of cruelty run by undead, Ustalav is still afflicted by undeath and awful cults, Alghollthu are still plotting and scheming and pitting people against one another, Razmir is still a vicious tyrant, Nidal is still bound to dark powers, and dozens of other threats are still running rampant in the setting. Some of these threats are worse than they were before, like Geb and Razmir both growing restless and the Whispering Tyrant getting up to his old tricks.

Paizo Employee Designer

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There is some pretty grisly content in Agents of Edgewatch to rival some of the darkest PF1 APs, as well as a brand new land teeming with undead that are spilling into nearby populated regions. The upcoming Monsters of Myth has some terrifying reminders of just how many dark and frightening things are still lurking all over Golarion, and there are places in Ustalav and elsewhere that have only grown more terrifying over the last decade.

There is a tonal shift that's obvious in books like the Mwangi Expanse, though, and that has a lot to do with the new edition looking at the world through the eyes of its people as opposed to a thrill-seeking resident of Absalom on safari. The Mwangi Expanse is a frightening place with some scary monsters and vile tyrants, but no more so than someone from the Mwangi Expanse would consider Avistan with its Whispering Tyrants, linnorm-infested taiga, and runelord-ruled city-states. The same way people in Absalom are going to take pride in their city despite its grim history, monster-infested catacombs, and giant beacon begging every tyrant and warlord narcissistic enough to aspire to godhood to bring in an army, the people of the Mwangi Expanse are going to have a more balanced and optimistic view of the world around them and express a confidence in their own ability to safeguard it than someone looking from the outside in.

The difference isn't really the grittiness (the entire setting is built on the premise that multiple immortal wizard-kings are stirring and rousing armies while ancient threats stir beneath the waves and demons and dragons vie for power and control), but it's in the optimism and perspective. The story isn't solely told from the viewpoint of select groups of frightened humans huddling in their cities or pompous colonialists othering the different colored "savages" surrounding them, but from the diverse perspectives of the various people who live in the world, most of whom have their own more optimistic and accurate views of who they are and how they fit into the wider picture.

The monsters are still there, we've just widened the lens a bit so it doesn't mistake people with a different culture and perspective as being counted in the monsters' ranks. Racism =/= grit and the most frightening threats Golarion has left to face haven't risen to the forefront of either edition, yet.


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The Mwangi Expanse book still has bad guys doing slavery, child sacrifice, and cannibalism. It just isn’t racist anymore.

Liberty's Edge

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It is a richer setting and the focus is more on hope than on hopelessness.

The darkness is still there though, and the need for heroes too.

Silver Crusade

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Ixal wrote:

Its not only Mwangi, see for example how Goblins, Kobolds and Lizardfolk are now accepted as normal people nearly everywhere when in PF1 seeing Lizardfolk in a city would have been highly unusual and Goblins and Kobolds were more often than not kill on sight. And that trend continues with each book that comes out.

And its also a side effect of all APs having been "solved" by now so many threats and bad spots Golarion had were removed.

Gonna need to point out where Kobolds were kill on sight.

P1 had goblins in towns not be kill on sight as well.

Also “I’ve not seen a Lizardfolk before” =/= Lizarfolk not being people.

Dark Archive

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I think I pointed it out for years by now though, but Council of Thieves had sewer goblin that thought itself to be hellknight(but wasn't officially) that hellknights gave armor to and used to guard sewer entrance to their keep.

What I'm saying that if hellknights in westcrown back in year 2009 tolerated goblins enough to do that, the talk about "1e town guards were super racist and attacked lot of races on sight!" thing is exaggeration :p (heck I don't think there is lot of examples of it happening in adventures, some books do claim that "goblins are seen as pests" and so on, but yet there is the council of thieves example)


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I do have to ask; if this isn’t a critique, why make this thread? What is your end goal with this discussion?


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, PF Special Edition Subscriber

I've yet to see a positive spin on the Wendigo.

Oh, but the dark stuff in the Mwangi book is nice. My favorite is the goings on at the River Mjer, but the Aerie of Bloodletting Songs is a great "well, that's just haunted" location, too.


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Ty for the response. Just to reiterate it was an observation not a critque regarding the tonal shift in the Golarion setting. We as GM's can always set the tone, mold the world how we see fit. Was just curious about the new direction. Thank you for clarifying that Michal Sayre. But to say the other setting was racist as keftiu blatantly suggests.. well.. I wouldn't bring out such big conceptual guns concerning a roleplaying material but that is just me... I reserve the racist concept to serious discussions not rpg forums and the like. I am sure the authors of the previous material had no such agenda in their minds when they wrote their stuff.
Regards

Paizo Employee Designer

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Drfoucault wrote:

Ty for the response. Just to reiterate it was an observation not a critque regarding the tonal shift in the Golarion setting. We as GM's can always set the tone, mold the world how we see fit. Was just curious about the new direction. Thank you for clarifying that Michal Sayre. But to say the other setting was racist as keftiu blatantly suggests.. well.. I wouldn't bring out such big conceptual guns concerning a roleplaying material but that is just me... I reserve the racist concept to serious discussions not rpg forums and the like. I am sure the authors of the previous material had no such agenda in their minds when they wrote their stuff.

Regards

I tend to assume ignorance over malice whenever possible, for sure. Social education has come a long way in the last couple decades and there are things that people just didn't realize were harmful even into very recently. Racism doesn't require malice, intent, or an agenda; all it needs is ignorance. I think that ignorance was present in several older products, not because someone was trying to be actively demeaning, othering, or appropriative of other cultures, but just because they didn't know that that was how certain materials and presentations were being perceived and received by the people who saw distorted reflections of themselves or their cultures in the mirror of the game.

Paizo's always been very committed to moving forward, correcting our mistakes without trying to sweep them under the rug, and doing better each chance we get. We still screw up just like everyone, and that's one of the reasons why having the large and diverse editorial team we have today is such a boon for the company: the more voices and perspectives there are in a room, the easier it is to tell stories that everyone can be a part of and feel welcomed in.


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I wholeheartedly agree Michael. But I still think racism (if you want it in your game) can be an experience the 'in-game' character can experience. The experience of racial bias in a diverse world as Golarion is perhaps even more likely and offers a lot of options (for the GM) to introduce that in the setting, where you are not just judged by the color of your skin, but by feathers, teeth and claw (and height!)... If the GM and the player table see fit to introduce such themes ofcourse.. The Mwangi-characters in the game I am GM'ing will have a hard time in Cheliax and similar nations and will experience racism and so will some ancestries....
regards


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Drfoucault wrote:

I wholeheartedly agree Michael. But I still think racism (if you want it in your game) can be an experience the 'in-game' character can experience. The experience of racial bias in a diverse world as Golarion is perhaps even more likely and offers a lot of options (for the GM) to introduce that in the setting, where you are not just judged by the color of your skin, but by feathers, teeth and claw (and height!)... If the GM and the player table see fit to introduce such themes ofcourse.. The Mwangi-characters in the game I am GM'ing will have a hard time in Cheliax and similar nations and will experience racism and so will some ancestries....

regards

There’s a difference between racism existing in the world (it does) and the old material presenting a racist viewpoint to the reader (the way the old Mwangi content assumed an outsider perspective, denied Mwangi characters history, agency, or depth, and treated the region as a savage, exotic place for people from Fantasy Europe to romp in).


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Well thats not what I said (not sure why you quote me for that?).. I think any attempt to try to treat or compare Mwangi to Africa is going to be problematic on so many levels and trying to fix that in a rpg setting is bound to fail ( it seems that is the comparison you are making).. Looking forward to seeing how Mwangi has changed in this iteration though. Still seems like a fun region to establish a good conflict in :)
Regards


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Drfoucault wrote:

Well thats not what I said (not sure why you quote me for that?).. I think any attempt to try to treat or compare Mwangi to Africa is going to be problematic on so many levels and trying to fix that in a rpg setting is bound to fail ( it seems that is the comparison you are making).. Looking forward to seeing how Mwangi has changed in this iteration though. Still seems like a fun region to establish a good conflict in :)

Regards

Garund being at least in part a fantasy Africa is already text; that ship has sailed, just as Arcadia is a fantasy Americas and Tian Xia is a fantasy Asia. Not much point in pretending otherwise.


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Drfoucault wrote:

I wholeheartedly agree Michael. But I still think racism (if you want it in your game) can be an experience the 'in-game' character can experience. The experience of racial bias in a diverse world as Golarion is perhaps even more likely and offers a lot of options (for the GM) to introduce that in the setting, where you are not just judged by the color of your skin, but by feathers, teeth and claw (and height!)... If the GM and the player table see fit to introduce such themes ofcourse.. The Mwangi-characters in the game I am GM'ing will have a hard time in Cheliax and similar nations and will experience racism and so will some ancestries....

regards

The difference between the setting books does not prevent racism from existing in the fantasy world. It changes the perspective so that the racists are wrong. There are still racists in Cheliax who view the country as an exotic land to be raided for treasure full of savage people who should be civilized by the Chelaxian Empire. The 1e setting book endorses this view, the 2e setting book rejects this view. So the change in perspective goes from "racists have a clear and accurate worldview" to "racists have an innacurate worldview warped by inaccurate and disrespectful perspectives of different cultures".


Yeah Paradozen I figured that as well hence my initial thread name and the tone of the Lost Omens line. Well it will be interesting to see what people will do with this setting and what conflicts they will portray. Could be interesting to see how Cheliax could be portrayed in such a new tone and in the Lost Omen line
Regards


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Drfoucault wrote:

Yeah Paradozen I figured that as well hence my initial thread name and the tone of the Lost Omens line. Well it will be interesting to see what people will do with this setting and what conflicts they will portray. Could be interesting to see how Cheliax could be portrayed in such a new tone and in the Lost Omen line

Regards

There’s no problem with this perspective and Cheliax; they’re an evil, slaving, oppressive empire, just as they’ve always been presented as.


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keftiu wrote:
Drfoucault wrote:

Yeah Paradozen I figured that as well hence my initial thread name and the tone of the Lost Omens line. Well it will be interesting to see what people will do with this setting and what conflicts they will portray. Could be interesting to see how Cheliax could be portrayed in such a new tone and in the Lost Omen line

Regards
There’s no problem with this perspective and Cheliax; they’re an evil, slaving, oppressive empire, just as they’ve always been presented as.

And importantly it's been clearly presented throughout that the people in Cheliax are not all devil-worshipper slave-owners. That's the clear and present danger, the worst of their society, and the ruling class (it rings true to me and I'm sure many others when the worst villains are the powerful controllers of the status quo rather than a group from over there that are different).

Most of the rest of the world is just getting the same nuance, slowly but surely, and that's great!


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To paraphrase Bob Dylan. Everyone has God on their side even Cheliax (or maybe devils). I look forward to 'nuanced' depictions of evil, think it is greatly needed. My pathfinder society will definately think they are right in looting everything which isn't nailed down...
regards


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Drfoucault wrote:

To paraphrase Bob Dylan. Everyone has God on their side even Cheliax (or maybe devils). I look forward to 'nuanced' depictions of evil, think it is greatly needed. My pathfinder society will definately think they are right in looting everything which isn't nailed down...

regards

How is being a bunch of murder hobos who steal everything a nuanced depiction? That's the exact opposite and is arguably a million times worst than an organization whose size and structure causes evil to happen.


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Well that isn't what I said?... Dunno what you really are talking about to be honest?
regards


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Drfoucault wrote:

Well that isn't what I said?... Dunno what you really are talking about to be honest?

regards

You’re asking for “nuanced” presentations of groups while advocating for the Pathfinder Society being shameless looters at your home table.

It’s frustrating to see you consistently not respond in good faith to replies in this thread.


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Well.. you started calling older books racist :) Which I believe is dumb on so many levels.. ununanced and stereotypical yes and from the 'explorers perspective'.. but the big R-word I use differently than you I guess. I was just hoping for nuanced depictions of other cultures down the Lost Omen line ( Cheliax) as we seemingly get now from Mwangi. And yes I do believe that The Pathfinder Society at my table is treated with nuance not as an 'all light, good and happy' society but filled with greed and desire for magical objects, explorations and fame like the explorers of old. That is untill we get the 'bad evil' society explained in detail, which I similarly hope we get (Aspis Consortium). I do believe I have responded in good faith in this thread and I am grateful for especially Michael's explanation of the new tone of the Lost Omen line. But seemingly you can't discuss such issues without devolving to flaming and 'not responding in good faith' arguments. Well that's it from me anyway..
Regards

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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One of the most awkward and uncomfortable elements for me about writing for the RPG industry for decades is that, as I grow up and learn and become a more aware person, and learn that ignorant or narrow-minded ideas I may have had when I was 20 or 30 years younger weren't great choices, no matter what sort of changes I make to today's writing, the legacy still exists. It's strong enough that on some days lately I worry that what I'm writing now will be criticized in this way as well, and that makes me, some days, consider that it might be wiser to let others take up the reins of content creation.

It's further complicated by the fact that in Paizo's case, that legacy was WILDLY successful, and as such I'm very proud of it, being able to stay afloat as a company during some events that came very close to causing us to close up shop.

I have never thought of myself as racist. Ignorant and privileged, yes, but not racist. So it's difficult for me to read rebukes of earlier projects I was involved in (even if that involvement was "just worked at the same company" for something like "Heart of the Jungle")... difficult, but important to read them.

I'm not gonna try to justify the stance we took on some of the earlier contents of the game, since they were more than just me working on them, but I do hope that where we've all come over the past few decades is somewhere that's a better place than before.

And when we discuss that stuff in a historical context... keep in mind that while it's history, and that some of the people being discussed are still here and potentially reading these threads. (It's kinda extra tough to be in person and hear hyperbolic comments like this from newer staff members, and feel the guilty need to try to defend or explain yourself but knowing that their comments are rooted in truth, even if those comments have the advantage of a decade or two of hindsight and personal growth as an advantage.) And while it's difficult to read claims that content I helped create was "racist," it's just as difficult, if not more, to see people rip and tear at each other about the discussion.

So please avoid using loaded language in the discussion. Avoid hyperbole, avoid insults, and help ALL of us learn and grow together.

I really think we've always done a great job at being open and diverse and forward thinking, but we've never been PERFECT at it. We keep growing and learning, and hopefully with each thing we publish, we get better. And hopefully as we continue to publish, and the backlist of stuff that doesn't age well inevitably grows, it won't reach the point where it kills us from the inside and prevents us from growing further.


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I don’t invoke racism casually, nor do I think that every person who writes racist material is secretly some kind of hateful, monstrous bigot; the society we all live in is steeped in cruelty to those on the margins, and has been for centuries - the work of unlearning the ideas given to us is a lifelong endeavor. At the same time, calling out problematic older material is how we ensure we all do better, and is how we get wonderful books like Lost Omens: The Mwangi Expanse, which is a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre, which has historically not been kind to those it Others since the days of Howard and Tolkien.

If you want a thorough, well-cited explanation of why I feel Heart of the Jungle is a racist text, I’ve done that work in this thread here - and I’d appreciate not voicing valid concerns being called “dumb” or greeted with a dismissive smiley face: https://paizo.com/threads/rzs43exb?What-lore-has-changed-in-THE-MWANGI-EXPA NSE#15

I look forward to Paizo continuing to do better; they’ve set one hell of a high bar for themselves, and I’d like to see the Golden Road, the Varisians, and fairly large swathes of Tian Xia treated with the same grace, care, and concern we now know a major RPG company can be capable of when it really tries. The reward of such work is a hobby that welcomes more people and books for it that offer us new, exciting material to work with.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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I saw your post in the other thread but didn't feel it was wise or appropriate for me to post there, since I wasn't involved in the decisions or development or writing of "Heart of the Jungle." Since there was this thread, which is similar in many ways, I chose to post here instead, but almost didn't because I feel gross and self-conscious about ANYTHING that is a public response to criticisms or reviews. My preference is to take in those criticisms and reviews and learn from them and do better, not to engage in them in real time, because that almost always makes the content creator look bad or opens things up to further problems.

Spoiler:
(At that time, I was working on the adventure path for "Serpent's Skull," which was, no hyberbole and no joking, the single most difficult adventure path I've ever had to run. I am still very proud of my work on the 1st adventure, particularly in my attempt to invert the gross old "island cannibal" stereotype by making these particular cannibals devil-worshiping white Chelaxians, but after that things got increasingly awkward, with fully a third of it involving turnovers that, for different reasons, had to be either fully revised or simply WRITTEN within the span of a week, which had quality-control ripple effects that affected every part of that Adventure Path—particularly a fair amount of the artwork and maps.)

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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keftiu wrote:
... the fantasy genre, which has historically not been kind to those it Others ...

This is for sure a thing, and it's not just limited to the time of Tolkein and Howard. It is, unfortunately, a thing that existed long before either, and continues to exist in force today.

Paizo has a very diverse staff, and many of us (myself included as a bisexual man) are unfortunately quite familiar with how our favorite genres other us... and perhaps even worse, familiar with cases where creators and fans of these genres do the same, so it's particularly tough to try to do our best only to not have it be our best, and then feel like "Oh if I had only been more involved in that project I could have helped us avoid making that mistake" but also not wanting to throw anyone under the proverbial bus.

Anyway... I'll be stepping back into the shadows again to let folks discuss, hoping that I didn't derail the conversation too much.


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I am glad to hear that the new Mwangi Expanse book is being so well-received. Paizo has been one of if not my most favourite ttrpg companies precisely because of the care and attention I have seen the writers and developers (as seen twice in this thread!) to producing a more inclusive and open game world for heroes of all kinds to adventure in.

Even more important to me, when mistakes have been made in the past, even if it takes time, those mistakes are corrected. I love that Paizo demonstrates that you don't have to assume a monster is evil by nature in order to have a game where you fight monsters. Monsters can be people and people can be monsters, so the emphasis is placed back on who your foes are rather than what they are for determining why you need to fight them.

This is a nuance that I personally find very important to my games, so I don't find updating the perception of free-willed fantasy creatures from a monotone (which in many respects has always been inaccurate, see Corvus' diligence) to a nuanced portrayal as making the setting less dark. If anything, making the setting more diverse and interesting only reinforces that when a creature performs some act of great cruelty, it was a choice they made, not something they did because they were made to be evil by circumstances beyond their control.

I think I'm beginning to lose coherence, but I wanted to show my appreciation that Paizo puts in the effort to get it right, and when they get it wrong, they make an effort to reinforce inclusivity and diversity as stated value and goal.

Liberty's Edge

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I hope one day the Ankou and what it represents will make it to Paizo's respectful rewrite list.


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keftiu wrote:
Drfoucault wrote:

Well that isn't what I said?... Dunno what you really are talking about to be honest?

regards

You’re asking for “nuanced” presentations of groups while advocating for the Pathfinder Society being shameless looters at your home table.

It’s frustrating to see you consistently not respond in good faith to replies in this thread.

You do understand that a person can argue or respond in good faith and still wholeheartedly disagree with you?


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Someone starting a "discussion" about how diversity somehow makes the setting less "gritty" and then stating that criticising racist media is "dumb" is probably not in good faith.

Also they're explicitly running the Pathfinder Society as evil greedy guys which is not what they are in-canon and then using that as evidence for some reason of their viewpoint, so...


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Grankless wrote:
Also they're explicitly running the Pathfinder Society as evil greedy guys which is not what they are in-canon and then using that as evidence for some reason of their viewpoint, so...

I have hard time presenting the Pathfinder Society as anything but most of the time. Certainly nothing I ever read about it particularly endeared it to me. Perhaps if I took the time to participate in the PFS games where you get to see all that they do one can come to a more nuanced opinion of the organization.

Though when adventure archeology became widely frowned upon by the customers and the creators of the product, the society's driving force has been askance and now they're in the middle of rebranding themselves, as if the National Geographic Society became a paramilitary group. The Lost Omens book regarding the society was interesting and tackled a lot of those questions and ideas but the organization still comes across as fairly shady to me. (Their leaders, sans one, have secret identities. Protected by masks. Ancient magical masks from a long dead civilization. That's pretty cult-ish.)

Dark Archive

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Thing about pathfinder society is that it has evolved through organized play campaign.

Like organized play campaign very much started out "are we the bad guys?". The organization was shady, there were multiple international factions pulling agents to do various espionage shenanigans (some extremely horrendous) and some of the scenarios themselves were questionable. Over time there have been multiple plot lines about improving society's reputation and how it treats its agents and getting rid of internal corruption and actually being responsible with artifacts, returning previously wrongly taken artifacts and taking part in good causes.

Aka, Pathfinder Society isn't N organization retconned as NG, it actually went through character arc as whole of its own throughout organized play campaign.

(and nowadays they are rededicated to archaeology and exploration rather than the paramilitary-ish stuff, just this time doing it in more respectable way)


I will say that this is undercut somewhat by the bit in the Society Guide where they mention bribing Osiriani officials to circumvent the ban on foreign archaeology - that’s kind of definitionally Not Great.

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