Old School Role Playing, and Pathfinder by the Pound: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part I

Monday, March 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Gary Con 2018 Black Gate report-small

My favorite gaming convention is Gary Con, founded in Gary Gygax’s home town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 2009, the year after he passed away. I attended many of the early Gary Cons, but regrettably have missed the last few years. I’d heard the convention had outgrown the lodge outside of town and was now being held in a much larger venue a few minutes outside town, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, and I was very curious to see just how big it has become. So I packed up my car on Saturday morning and made the 90-minute drive north from St. Charles, Illinois, to Lake Geneva.

How much has it grown? A lot. Just a few years ago Gary Con was a few hundred gamers who gathered to remember Gary and celebrate all that he brought to gaming. But on Saturday morning I walked into a sprawling modern gaming convention, with thousands of folks happily throwing down dice in multiple buildings and numerous gaming rooms. I’m delighted to report that, while it had gotten much grander, Gary Con has lost none of its friendly atmosphere — or its focus on the kind of old-school role playing pioneered by Gygax.

The highlight of the con for me is always the Exhibit Hall, which has always felt more like an intimate gathering of friends than just a place to hawk wares. In past years I’ve met many some of the most creative minds in the OSR (“Old School Revival”) community there, including Jeffrey Talanian, author of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG, Daniel Proctor, creator of Labyrinth Lord, Stephen Chenault, creator of Castle & Crusades, and Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing (OSRIC). Every year I also take the opportunity to meet up with friends such as Dave Kenzer and Jolly Blackburn of KenzerCo.

The tiny Exhibit Hall has grown enormously since I’d last attended, however. In fact, there were over 50 exhibitors spread across two halls, including Frog God Games, Goodman Games, Kobold Press, Northwind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Hammered Game Tables, Inner City Games Designs, Pacesetter Games, Total Party Kill Games, and many more. Truly an old-school role player’s paradise!

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Modular: Pathfinder 2nd Edition Announced – Never Say Never

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pathfinder_PlaytestrulebookYesterday, Paizo announced an upcoming playtest for a 2nd Edition of Pathfinder. Wow.

For years, Paizo officials have said that there would never be a second edition. I suspect that all evidence of those statements have been scoured from the Internet. A quick search didn’t find any. There might have been qualifiers along the way, such as ‘unless the demand is too great’ or some such. But I remember the message as ‘We won’t do a 2nd Edition.” With the inference, ‘Making you buy all of your stuff over again.’

I thought that they might be adhering to that pledge when they put out Starfinder, a science fiction RPG. That seemed like a smart approach if they couldn’t update the original Pathfinder.

But I believe that events conspired against them. The best thing that ever happened to Pathfinder was 4th Edition D&D (granted – it was the impetus for Pathfinder). The worst thing that ever happened to Pathfinder was 5th Edition D&D.

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Modular: Picking Pathfinder

Monday, September 11th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I’m curPatfhinder_Corerently running a Swords & Wizardry (S&W) campaign for a few friends. I wrote here about why I chose S&W instead of my preferred system, Pathfinder. In fact, that post served as the genesis for this Black Gate feature,  Modular. But now, I’m going to look at some of the strengths of Pathfinder and why, when this S&W campaign is done, I’m going to transition the group to a Pathfinder adventure.

So, though I had both played and run Pathfinder, I chose S&W for reasons I talked about in that prior post. I wanted a more story-driven, less mechanics-based system. Also, because two-thirds of the party was new to pen and paper RPGing, I wanted something lighter in the rules department. And there’s no comparison between the two in that regard. The S&W Core Rules comes in at just over 140 pages. The Pathfinder Core Rulebook is almost 600!

Now, I explained in that first post that while I was still reading RPG products, I had stopped playing during 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D): there simply hadn’t been time for it.

But I wanted to get back into playing, and the choice seemed to be between Pathfinder and the newly released 4th Edition. Now, I had only ever played D&D, going back to 1st Edition. I mean, it was synonymous with role playing games and 4th Edition was the natural choice. But as I researched both systems, Pathfinder clearly seemed to be the way to go.

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New Treasures: Pathfinder Tales: Through The Gate in the Sea by Howard Andrew Jones

Friday, February 17th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Through The Gate in the Sea-smallHoward Andrew Jones’ fourth Pathfinder Tales novel, Through the Gate in the Sea, will be released in trade paperback by Tor Books next week. I made the long journey to his wind-swept writing tower to get the skinny for Black Gate readers. Here’s what he told me, in tiny script written on yak hide, lowered down on a long rope.

I love the lizardman. Everyone’s favorite lizardman Jekka is a point-of-view character this time. And there’s a pirate captain, Ensara. He’s not as bad as he thinks he is, but he’s not as good as you’d like him to be. He gets caught in the middle of things, and he has to choose between helping Mirian and Jekka, and staying with his crew. He’s down on his luck, and gets hired by a sorceress to hunt down Mirian and get these magical artifacts. I really enjoyed writing Ensara’s chapters.

It’s got a little bit of a hard boiled tone. While I was writing it, I was reading a lot of Chandler and Ricard Stark and Wade Miller. It’s got the usual journeying through weird places. If I’m reading a fantasy novel, give me interesting people in interesting places! There’s a chance to find an lost city through a magical portal in the middle of the ocean, and if they do, Jekka and his people will have a place to live.

But the devil-worshiping empire of Cheliax hasn’t forgotten its defeat at Mirian’s hands. On the other side of the portal are all these powerful artifacts. And an ancient, undead child-king wants the one that’s kept the lost lizardfolk city safe for centuries.

Whatever, man. You had me at Lizardman POV character. Through The Gate in the Sea will be published by Tor Books on February 21, 2017. It is 352 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.

New Treasures: Pathfinder Tales: Reaper’s Eye by Richard A. Knaak

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Reaper's Eye-smallI’m not much of a fan of game tie-in fiction, to be honest, but I’ve been consistently intrigued by the Pathfinder fiction line, Pathfinder Tales.

Tim Pratt’s tales of Rodrick the thief have been called “Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser-style sword and sorcery adventure” (SF Signal), and Lightspeed and Nightmare Managing Editor Wendy N. Wagner has been praised for her “Pathfinder meets Lovecraft” series featuring the notorious pirate Jendara, and Black Gate‘s own Managing Editor, Howard Andrew Jones, has produced four highly regarded Pathfinder novels, including Beyond the Pool of Stars and Stalking the Beast.

The latest Pathfinder Tales novel comes from Richard A. Knaak, author of the bestselling Legend of Huma series for Dragonlance, the War of the Ancients trilogy, the Aquilonia trilogy for Age of Conan, and much more. It was published in trade paperback by Tor on December 6th.

Daryus Gaunt used to be a crusader, battling to protect civilization from the demons of the Worldwound, before a battlefield mutiny forced him to flee or be executed. Pathfinder Shiera Tristane is an adventuring scholar obsessed with making the next big archaeological discovery. When a talking weasel reveals that a sinister witch is close to uncovering a long-lost temple deep within the Worldwound, the two adventurers are drawn into the demon-haunted lands in order to stop him from releasing an ancient evil. Now both fame and redemption may be at hand… if they can survive.

From New York Times bestselling author Richard A. Knaak comes a novel of exploration, betrayal, and deadly magic, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

As an added bonus, the book also contains a chapter from Howard Andrew Jones’ upcoming fourth Pathfinder Tales novel, Through the Gate in the Sea, scheduled for release February 21st.

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Tabletop Terror: Pathfinder Edition

Saturday, October 1st, 2016 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Pathfinder Occult AdventuresHumans hate to be frightened … except when we love it. There’s a small, sinister part of our brains that love terror and menace, not in real life so much as in our entertainment. This shows up regularly in our fiction and films, of course, as shelves are stocked with horror and thriller novels, as well as slasher flicks and suspenseful films and television series (some of which, I hear, even feature zombies).

Over this month leading up to Halloween, I’ll be focusing on how this horror element manifests itself in some great tabletop games which, among other things, can add immense fun to the Halloween holiday seas. (Am I the only one who celebrates all month long?)

To begin, I’d like to focus on some recent releases from one of my favorite RPG systems: Pathfinder RPG. While there has never been a shortage of monsters in the Pathfinder world of Golarion, over the last year they have had two major releases that really up the ante on the terror quotient, by introducing dynamic new game mechanics related to exploring these horrors. These manuals, together with their current Lovecraftian-themed horror Adventure Path series Strange Aeons [Paizo, Amazon], means that if you want to dive directly into a world full of terror and occult mysteries, you’ve got everything at your disposal to do so.

Occult Adventures

Released in August of 2015, Occult Adventures [Paizo, Amazon] formally introduces a psychic-based magical system into the Pathfinder RPG. These powers draw from the internal mental powers of the individual (or other individuals), rather than from the sources that fuel arcane or divine magic, and they provide a wealth of new approaches to magic to mix things up for people who have been playing wizards and clerics for several decades. In addition to six new psionics-based occult classes, and a variety of archetypes to offer psionic variations on existing classes, it introduces psychic magic, various new occult rules and mechanics, and occult-related equipment and magical items.

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Why I Went Old School — or Swords & Wizardry vs. Pathfinder

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Swords&Wizardry_CoverWhen I got back into playing RPGs, I chose Pathfinder over 4th Edition D&D (as a whole lot of people seemed to do). I was familiar with 3rd Edition and the plethora of rules, skill checks, etc… I’m still pretty well versed in Pathfinder, which is a great product, and I’m a big fan both of Golarion, the campaign world, and of the company, Paizo.

Two members of my gaming group have never played an actual pen and paper RPG. One (she) is a hardcore World of Warcraft player, and the other (he) is a veteran PC gamer, with a lot of hours on Baldur’s Gate and Oblivion (among others). Both have also played the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (which I LOVE!) with me. So, they get the skill check concept.

I decided to run them through a dice-rolling, paper mapping, minis on said paper, character-sheet adventure.

I initially considered Pathfinder. I have a lot of resources available, and I definitely know the system well enough to teach it to them. I even have a Beginner’s Box, still in the plastic (how about that, John O’Neill!).  But I quickly discarded that system.

Pathfinder is extremely rules heavy. I’ve seen it grow over the years and, as seems inevitable for any ongoing, lively edition, suffer from rules bloat and options bloat. The last game I ran, I limited players to the core rulebook just because I didn’t want to deal with so much “stuff.” Also, I’m not particularly interested in half-angel, half-goblin mammoth-riding gunslingers.

BTW – Gary Gygax had some very specific thoughts related to the expansion of the game (presumably through options), in his book, Role Playing Mastery:

Too often, new material purporting to add to a game system is nothing more than a veiled attempt to dominate the game milieu through power, not skill. Such creativity, if it can be called that, amounts to a perversion of the game. It is much like cheating at solitaire. Understanding the scope of opportunity offered to PCs by the game system will certainly discourage the intelligent player  from such useless activity.

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GenCon: The Pathfinder Post (featuring Starfinder)

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarFinderFor years, the publisher Paizo has been one of the major presences at GenCon. I still remember years ago (2009, I believe) coming upon their booth and seeing a pile of hardcover books for their new (at the time) Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook (now available in paperback, as well). I didn’t realize at the time that it was transforming the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons into a completely new and improved system of mechanics, and how many hours I would spend in the years to come pouring over their manuals, supplements, and novels.

Though they had some new releases this year, I was really interested in getting more information about their big 2017 release, the science fantasy game Starfinder RPG. We covered this when it was originally announced back in May, but a lot of questions were left open.

I sat down with James Sutter, the Creative Director of Starfinder, and author of two Pathfinder Tales novels, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine. He is also continuing his work as the editor of the Pathfinder Tales line of books. Together with the work as the new Creative Director of Starfinder, this means it may be hard to fit in the writing of a third novel, but as a fan I’ll keep my fingers crossed. For now, he’s definitely got his hands full in bringing Starfinder RPG into the world.

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Pathfinder Meets Lovecraft: Starspawn by Wendy N. Wagner

Monday, August 1st, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Starspawn-back-small Pathfinder Tales Starspawn-small

Wendy N. Wagner is the Managing Editor for Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, as well as an editor for the fabulous Destroy series of anthologies, including Women Destroy Science Fiction, Women Destroy Fantasy, and Queers Destroy Science Fiction. She’s also the author of one previous Pathfinder Tales novel, Skinwalkers.

The sequel to Skinwalkers, Starspawn, will be published next week by Tor Books, and follows the notorious pirate Jendara as she returns to the cold northern isles of her home to settle down and raise her young son. When a mysterious tsunami wracks her island’s shore, she and her fearless crew must sail out to explore the strange island that’s risen from the sea floor. The marketing copy describes the novel as follows:

From Hugo Award winner Wendy N. Wagner comes a sword-swinging adventure in the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Pathfinder meets Lovecraft? That’s definitely worth checking out.

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Sample Three New Pathfinder Tales Soundclips from Macmillan Audio!

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Hellknight audio-small Pathfinder Tales Bloodbound audio-small Pathfinder Tales Beyond the Pool of Stars audio-small

Two weeks ago we shared three Pathfinder Tales soundclip samples from Macmillan Audio with you, from the audiobook versions of Pirate’s Prophecy by Chris A. Jackson, Dave Gross’ Lord of Runes, and Liar’s Island by Tim Pratt. They were extremely well received, so we’re back by popular demand with three more — including a sample from Beyond the Pool of Stars, by our very own Howard Andrew Jones!

Hellknight by Liane Merciel
Bloodbound by F. Wesley Schneider
Beyond the Pool of Stars by Howard Andrew Jones

[Links will take you to our previous coverage of each book.]

Each clip is about ten minutes long. So sit back, close your eyes, and let professional readers Ilyana Kadushin and Steve West whisk you away to a world of magic and adventure!

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