August 16, 2008

Path Finding into Pathfinder

The RPG bloggersphere has been quiet lately with some of us getting busy at GenCon.

As I sit here all the way from the other end of the action while reading rerun posts and eagerly waiting for someone to live blog from Indianapolis, a couple of hype and rave have cried out. Which caught my attention about something called Pathfinder and that a little company called Paizo were giving out free pdfs. So I went over to their website and downloaded my own personalized copy (which is a very nice touch) to see what this is all about.

If you haven't heard of the small publishing company known as Paizo, then you definately haven't heard of their pet project; Pathfinder. So with a little google-fu and good old handy Wikipedia, I will take you up to speed on what this is really all about.

Here's a little brief history about the company.

Paizo is the company that printed, until recently, our beloved Dungeon and Dragon magazines in dead tree format, which was established by, former employee of Wizards', Lisa Stevens in 2000. They managed to adopt the magazines through licensing from Hasbro when it decided to cut off Wizards' arm off from the printing business back in 2001.

Since then the company has endeavoured to increase the popularity of D&D's staple periodical among the fanbase. In 2003, Paizo introduced, what would be their greatest business model, the Adventure Path series in Dungeon (Shackled City, The Age of Worms, Savage Tide). It was a phenenomenal success among fans and had shifted the appeal of the magazines which turned the company into a winner of 12 ENnies and the 2004 Origins Award for Best Gaming Related Periodical.

The company has also grown rapidly with new (some unsuccessful) magazines under its publication and diversified into board gaming.

All seems to be going well for Paizo but this is where Pathfinder's story begins.

In 2007, Wizards of the Coast, as part of their Digital Initiative, have decided not to extent Paizo's license to publish Dragon and Dungeon as Wizards wanted to consolidate it IPs in anticipation for the release of 4E. Paizo, which was beginning to ride the wave of the success they had with the Adventure Paths, were being kicked out of the door of Wizards' brand name and left to decide what to do next as the company hanged in the balance.

Paizo buckled up and responded that they would continue to do their core business and what they do best; publishing magazines. Paizo had set out to make a magazine that 'marks the beginning of a new era in fantasy roleplaying' and 'with the experience of three popular Adventure Paths behind us, our peerless editorial and art staffs understand exactly what gamers need to run a challenging, exciting campaign experience,'. Paizo unveiled their newest creation in April 2007 and aptly named their new '96-page, perfect-bound, full-color softcover Adventure Path book printed on high-quality paper that releases in a monthly volume'; Pathfinder.

But the story doesn't end there.

Since then, there was no turning back for the company as Pathfinder has expanded from a monthly magazine to an entire product line. On August 2007, Paizo annoucned the title of its campaign setting as Pathfinder Chronicles and sets every adventure path in its Pathfinder magazines and Gamemastery magazines in the world of Golarion.

With the pending arrival of 4th edition and the Game System License (GSL), an effort seen by some to rein in tight control on thrid party publishers that have flourished since the OGL movement, Paizo puts its feet down and draws the line. In March 2008, Paizo reveals the Pathfinder RPG, making a stand on the side of the Open Gaming License (OGL) and refusing to join the 4th edition bandwagon, as it begins its 10 month long of open Alpha playtesting.

The aim is to create a new game that is ensured with backward compatability to the OGL d20 system and is expected to take the OGL to new heights while fixing and improving the mechanics of the 3.5 edition.

When the Alpha playtesting began, it was meet with criticism and skepticism. But on July 2008, Erik Mona, Paizo's publisher, annoucned that the free Alpha pdf document have been downloaded by more than 25,000 people, showing that there is a niche of RPG gamers who still prefer the 3.5 edition and are still looking for an outlet for the edition and system to grow further.

Paizo has also brought in the assistance and expertise of renowned 3rd edition desinger, Monte Cook (co-creator of 3rd edition D&D and author of 3.5 edition DMG) as a rules consultant who should know the in and out workings of the system that Pathfinder is trying to improve.

Other big names that are gracing the Pathfinder team is Sean K Reynolds (Co-author of 3.5 Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting) who will joining as a developer for the Pathfinder adventure paths. As for Pathfinder Chronicles, they will be worked on by master worldbuilders such as Keith Baker (creator of Eberron) and Ed Greenwood (creator of Forgotten Realms), as well as recognised designers and developers, Stan!, Wolfgang Bauer, Jeff Grubb and Owen K.C Stephens and many others.

Now we're finally there.

At this year's GenCon, the Pathfinder Beta is released as the second phase of open playtesting begins that is made available for free as a pdf and for sale as a softcover book. It would continue to be developed with input from gamers all over the world until the final product will be launched in next year's GenCon, August 2009.

As I look through the first few pages of Pathfinder Beta (yeah, I'm one of the few people who do actually read the front page!), Jason Bulmahn, the lead designer, lays it out clearly the design goals of the game. To improve the game by streamlining what was too complicated in the 3.5 system and add more new options wherever it was lacking.

I really like where they are going with this and it stirs something inside of me that does not want to say that 3.5 and the OGL is dead. It goes to show how much more potential there is left for the 3.5 edition before we go onboard the 4E bandwagon like faithful fanboys that obeys the Word of Wizards (wow, I just made another meaning for WOW!). The answer to a better 3rd edition is not 4th edition. It's another revision and there's where I see Pathfinder is headed.

I'm still going through the book slowly but so far, I like what I'm reading. At over 400 pages (plus an additional web-enchancement), this is going to be a heavy read but I really respect the layout, format and artwork that the book has presented itself. It does not even feel like a playtest document at all! This is absolutely superb quality.

Contentwise, I've liked what they have added and changed to the races and classes and there are also these sidebars which ask players to give their input on certain issues (e.g, how many HPs at 1st level?) which makes this a really interactive playtesting session between designer and the players. This means alot to me, as a player, after being fed whatever that comes out of Wizards' latest R&D and having to learn how to live with them. I do feel that Paizo wants to listen to what I have to say, as a player, who is going to be the one who uses the product in the end.

As for support, there's nothing to worry about. As the Beta playtest runs, Paizo will be sure to keep us updated and posted about any changes they have tweaked (Prestige Classes, Cursed and Intelligent Items and GMing rules) which will be made available in .pdfs and it's free! They have already started their own Pathfinder Society, which is the equivalent of RPGA's Living campaigns of organised play.

And of course, for a great lover of fluff, they have a wiki set up as well as a product line planned to supplement the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting (Pathfinder Companion).

So if you haven't picked up your copy and still think that there is something for you in 3(.5)rd edition, give yourself and Pathfinder a chance. At least it's free!

If you like it then there's alot to look forward to in the coming years.

Now I just need someone who will playtest this with me...


Geek Gazette said...

Awesome post. I like how you added the history of Paizo instead of assuming everyone knows them, like the rest of us did. I think you are exactly right about Pathfinder being the natural next step for 3rd edition players. It is much easier to accept a transitional step instead of jumping straight into 4e.

ChattyDM said...

I'm Live Blogging it all... all in one post!

Plus Twitter...

Questing GM said...

Thanks Geek Gazette!

I added the history bit just to give myself a retrospective of what Pathfinder really was, since I haven't been involved during the Alpha playtesting, so I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss out on anything.

I hope the beta playtesting receives alot of feedback and I would like to see how Pathfinder will really shape up to be in the end.

Great ChattyDM!

I have been following your post (almost by the hour) as i tap F5 every now and then.