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The Season of Gaming: Pathfinder

The Season of Gaming: Pathfinder

Since its release at 2019 GenCon, the RPG Pathfinder Second Edition has been growing in popularity. With a character creation system that allows for immense character customization, it has won over many converts among the scores of existing fans of the game’s first edition, even with all of the difficulties involved in getting those fans together to play the game during a global pandemic.

It’s worth a quick recap of what Paizo has put out to support and expand this game in just a little over a year:

You can get the harcopies of these gaming resources through pretty much any game shop, but digital copies (as well as the hardcopies) are available directly through Paizo.com. If ordering Paizo products – including First Edition Pathfinder, Pathfinder Adventure Card, or Starfinder products – through their website, there’s a one-time promotional code of “holiday21” good through January 17, 2021.

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Character Options Explode in Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition

Character Options Explode in Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition

PathfinderAPG

Last year at Gen Con Paizo released their Pathfinder Second Edition. The reception, from those I spoke to, was generally positive. People hadn’t been particularly displeased with Pathfinder First Edition, though after a decade of the game there were some balance issues. When people gave it a chance, many players transition to Second Edition without looking back.

In my experience, people are only thrilled about a new edition of a popular roleplaying game if there are serious issues with the existing edition of the game. For example, the flaws of 4th edition D&D paved the way for widespread enthusiasm when 5th edition was released.

The big stumbling block for a previous First Edition Pathfinder player to transition to Pathfinder Second Edition is the sheer volume of content that Pathfinder First Edition has available. Pathfinder is known for the sheer number of character options. An almost dizzying array of character options, one might say. The sort of character options that almost necessitate third-party software like Hero Lab in order to track it.

While Second Edition still allowed for extremely diverse character options right out of the gate, it was nothing compared to the options available for First Edition. One major step toward expanding those options is the recent release of the Pathfinder Second Edition Advanced Player’s Guide (Paizo, Amazon) providing new ancestries, backgrounds, archetypes, spells, equipment, and the Second Edition versions of four Pathfinder class options: Investigator, Oracle, Swashbuckler, and Witch.

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Starfinder: Enhanced Starships, Exploring Near Space, and Other New Goodies

Starfinder: Enhanced Starships, Exploring Near Space, and Other New Goodies

StarshipOperationsBack in 2017, when Paizo was ramping up for the launch of their new space fantasy RPG Starfinder, we were fortunate enough to offer exclusive previews on two of their new ships months prior to the release of the game. Since the 2017 release of the game, we’ve been keeping a pretty active eye on what Paizo has been releasing and, though there have been some fantastic additions to the game, there hasn’t been a major emphasis on new options for starships. That all changes with the release of the new Starship Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), a July 2020 release that was slated to coincide with Gen Con 2020. (Which, you may recall, is happening online this year.)

There have been some previous supplements in the past that dealt with starships. The Starfinder Pact Worlds setting book (Amazon, Paizo) has a chapter with various starships representing groups and societies, like the robotic Aballonian ships, the militant Hellknight ships, and the living ships of the Xenowardens, that weren’t in the original Starfinder Core Rulebook (Amazon, Paizo), and also provided some related new starship options like biomechanical ships, hydroponic bays, and drift shadow projectors that could be incorporated into other ship designs. The recent Near Space setting book (more on that in a minute) also had a chapter in a similar vein, including ships of the aggressive Veskarium. The mechanics of starship combat itself was addressed more deeply in the Character Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), released last winter, by creating the Chief Mate and Magic Officer roles to enhance starship combat for characters who were not well supported under the original set of rules.

So is the Starship Operations Manual just more of the same? While it does contain a ton of these sorts of options – starship weapons utilizing 20 new weapon properties, expansion bays, and security systems – it also goes beyond that, introducing fundamental variations to the core starship mechanics. It is worth recapping here that the core design of Starfinder, as a campaign, is that as the group progresses, the ship itself also “levels up” as the players do. The idea is that you’re constantly tweaking the ship and scrounging/bartering for parts and upgrades, and so you get a set number of Build Points as you level up that you can spend to buy new features for your ship. So the ship really gets tailored to the specifications of what the crew wants out of it, both in terms of mechanics and in terms of thematic feel. A group of mercenaries may have an armored battleship, while a group of smugglers might have a sleek and maneuverable transport, while more honest businessmen might be piloting a diplomatic passenger ship. And with the Starship Operations Manual, you really have the ability, as both players and GMs, to make the most out of the starships within the game.

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Pathfinder Second Edition and Virtual PaizoCon

Pathfinder Second Edition and Virtual PaizoCon

PathfinderGodsMagicSince GenCon 2019, there have been a number of great resources and supplements coming from Paizo to support their Pathfinder Second Edition roleplaying game. Last November, I covered the first two setting supplements, the Lost Omens Character Guide and Lost Omens World Guide. Players and Gamemasters alike have a slew of options available already, with even more slated to come by the end of the summer.

For those who don’t have time to plan or create adventures from scratch, they have one full Adventure Path, Age of Ashes, released, with the second, Extinction Curse, releasing its final volume in the next month. Each 6-volume Adventure Path for Pathfinder Second Edition takes players from level 1 through level 20, creating a truly epic campaign. Age of Ashes (Paizo, Amazon) involves the heroes discovering the secrets of an abandoned Hellknight fortress and its connection to an ancient evil force. Extinction Curse (Paizo, Amazon) is a circus-themed adventure, where the heroes must save the show while also investigating a plot to unleash an ancient curse, with a volume entitled Siege of the Dinosaurs. The upcoming Agents of Edgewatch (Paizo) is a fantasy cop adventure, as the heroes take on the role of law enforcement officers in and around the city of Absalom.

In addition, Paizo also releases a steady stream of smaller adventure scenarios to support the extensive Pathfinder Society Organized Play organization. Those adventures, available exclusively on PDF through Paizo.com, run about 4 hours per scenario, and players who play through them gain chronicle sheets that determine the amount of XP gained, as well as Fame & Reputation with various in-game factions, and of course gold and treasure. Characters also gain a variety of boons from these chronicle sheets, providing unique in-game benefits based on the previous adventures that they have completed. The structure of Pathfinder Society means that players can take the same character across a series of adventures at local game stores and conventions, and have the feel of being part of a larger adventure campaign.

Of course, that all assumes that game stores are open and conventions are taking place … but Paizo and gamers have stepped up to make sure there are opportunities to play, even in the midst of the dreaded “new normal.”

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Starfinder Update: Space Fantasy in the Future of Pathfinder

Starfinder Update: Space Fantasy in the Future of Pathfinder

StarfinderBeginnerBoxFor the last couple of years, one of my favorite games has been the science fantasy RPG Starfinder from Paizo, the makers of the Pathfinder RPG. Starfinder has all the magic and adventure of Pathfinder, co-mingled with high technology and a wild space setting. The best way to describe the feel of the adventures is a mix of Dungeons & Dragons with Guardians of the Galaxy.

The game has expanded at a steady pace over the last couple of years. Two Alien Archive supplements have been released, with a third slated for a GenCon release in August. They’ve released the Pact Worlds setting book and an Armory supplement, and a Character Operations Manual focusing on increased player options is coming in October 2019. They’ve also just announced a collaboration with WizKids to produce a Starfinder Battles series of prepainted miniatures.

The setting focuses on the solar system that once housed the planet of Golarion, the main Pathfinder setting, but Golarion itself no longer exists. In its place is Absalom Station, a giant space station that houses the Soulstone and is a hub of travel for shifts traveling through the Drift, the mysterious dimension that allows for rapid travel across vast distances of space. Among many other things, Absalom Station is the headquarters of the Starfinder Society, a group of explorers and adventurers who travel throughout the Pact Worlds and beyond into the Vast to discover new worlds and civilizations, occasionally running afoul of the undead Corpse Fleet or other threats, from space pirates to alien menaces like the vicious Swarm.

For those who haven’t yet explored the setting, and are looking for a guided introduction, the new Starfinder Beginner Box offers a great springboard to get into the game. It comes with a streamlined rule set, some cards that help provide rule and condition reminders, pregenerated characters, a variety of cardboard pawns representing characters and creatures, a gridded map for play, and an introductory adventure module.

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Pathfinder Playtest Update

Pathfinder Playtest Update

PathfinderPlaytestSince Gen Con 2018, the Pathfinder Playtest has been in full swing, testing the new rule system that will form the basis for Pathfinder Second Edition, slated to release at Gen Con 2019. The game looks to streamline the system, and create a more coherent play experience across the diverse options that players of Pathfinder have available.

Participating in the Playtest

The major materials – the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook and the Doomsday Dawn adventure book, as well as supplements like the Playtest Bestiary and pregenerated characters – are all available for free download from Paizo.com, so that anyone can participate in the playtest experience. Feedback is provided through the messageboards on the Paizo forum and also by entering survey data when you’ve run someone through an adventure or scenario.

In addition to the download of the Rulebook, you should also download the Rulebook Update sheet. This is updated regularly – every couple of weeks so far – and includes ongoing modifications to the rules, which are to be incorporated immediately. The biggest change was a pretty comprehensive revamp of the Death & Dying rules, although they’ve since gone in and modified some of the classes a bit, added an additional healing option for the Medicine skill, and made other changes as needed.

The Doomsday Dawn adventure book has a series of 7 adventures that are linked together in a campaign style, set over a period of ten years, but you don’t always play the same characters. The adventures begin at first level and then skip levels as you proceed. The characters you play at first level show up in subsequent adventures, at higher levels, but in between you play with some different characters, with some adventures focusing more on outdoor adventures or healing characters. The goal is that playing through the entire adventure, you’ll have an opportunity to test out lots of different play styles and aspects of the game.

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Lock and Load with Starfinder Armory … And Beyond

Lock and Load with Starfinder Armory … And Beyond

StarfinderArmoryOne of my favorite games over the last year has been Starfinder, the “Dungeons & Dragons in space” game from the makers of the Pathfinder RPG. I’ve covered this game since its initial announcement, and was thrilled to begin playing it when it was initially released at Gen Con 2017.

Pathfinder typically releases a torrent of rulebooks and supplements over the course of the year, at least two softcover supplements a month plus an adventure module, but by comparison Starfinder was much more modest in its approach. As a new game, for one thing, they really had no idea exactly what kind of demand there would be. Since the release of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, there was  a quick release of the Starfinder Alien Archive and then the Starfinder Pact Worlds setting book, both welcome additions. And they’ve released their bi-monthly Dead Suns Adventure Path over the course of the first year, providing an extended adventure campaign, setting information, equipment, and adversaries.

While the array of equipment originally offered in the Core Rulebook was impressive, a science fantasy game of flying between worlds in spaceships calls out for cool gadgets and robots and weapons and power armor, not to mention magical items. Some have been dropped here and there among the creatures and setting information, but Gen Con 2018 saw the release of the Starfinder Armory (Amazon, Paizo), which provides ample options for anyone who felt that their character’s inventory was lacking.

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Origins Game Fair: Pathfinder Society Organized Play

Origins Game Fair: Pathfinder Society Organized Play

PathfinderPlaytestEarlier this week, I spoke briefly about attending my first Origins Game Fair event in Columbus, OH, over last weekend, and about the Origins Awards they handed out for best game products of the year. But I wasn’t there for the awards, of course. I was there for the games themselves.

Origins gave the one of the first real opportunities in the wild to see the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest in action. (It has previously been available at GaryCon, PaizoCon, and the UK Games Expo.) We have previously discussed the announcement by Paizo to release a public playtest at GenCon 2018 for their Second Edition, which will then release at GenCon 2019. Unfortunately for me, those events were fairly consistently sold out, and busy enough they didn’t want too many loiterers around the table to slow down the game for those actually playing. The tables were in a fairly accessible location, though, and the people playing seemed to be really enjoying themselves, but my attempt to get a glance at the character sheets were consistently thwarted. (I am signed up in one of the first Playtest slots at GenCon, though, so that I can provide feedback at that point.)

I’ve been following Paizo’s releases about the Pathfinder Playtest on their blog with interest, though, and was able to have a discussion with Paizo’s John Compton and Tonya Woldridge, to get some answers to the questions I had about how this would all play out … so to speak. John and Tonya are focused on the Pathfinder Society (and Starfinder Society) Organized Play program, so that’s where we spent the majority of our conversation. But before getting into the Organized Play questions, I wondered what to expect from a story-based perspective: Will Pathfinder Playtest (or Pathfinder 2nd Edition) come with a realm-shattering storyline?

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Modular: Explore Starfinder’s Pact Worlds

Modular: Explore Starfinder’s Pact Worlds

PactWorldsThe Starfinder RPG allows for literally a universe full of original settings, giving Gamemasters the opportunity to create their own worlds and societies as the basis for their games. For those who like working with a framework of existing source material, though, the Starfinder development team has done a great job of presenting exactly the sort of rich, diverse system of planets, races, and societies that one could hope to find: the Pact Worlds.

Starfinder is set in the distant future of their Pathfinder RPG fantasy setting, after the dominance of magic and superstition has given way to science and technology (and, of course, technomagic). The planet of Golarion, the center of the Pathfinder fantasy setting, has vanished. In its place rests the massive Absalom Station, surrounded by the remaining planets of its solar system. No one knows what happened to Golarion or who built Absalom Station, due to a break in history known as the Gap.

The planets of the system have joined together with Absalom Station to form the Pact Worlds, a loose defensive alliance formed against external threats. These fourteen locations (not all are planets, as they include the Sun and an asteroid belt) get a couple of half-pages apiece in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, but the newly-released Starfinder Pact Worlds sourcebook (Amazon, Paizo) fleshes them out and provides a variety of related starship and player options for Starfinder characters. Both players and Gamemasters will find much to love about this newest installment in unfolding universe of Starfinder.

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Modular: Starfinder Under the Hood – Character Creation

Modular: Starfinder Under the Hood – Character Creation

256 Starfinder CoreWhen playing Dungeons & Dragons or other fantasy RPGs, have you ever wanted to play a space wizard? A gnome with a jet pack? Or a fighter with a flaming laser sword and a force field?

These options are all available to you in the new Starfinder RPG (Paizo, Amazon). Paizo has built the new science fantasy game to explore the distant future of their Pathfinder universe. Though I’ve been excited about it for over a year, since it was first announced, I’ve only just gotten the opportunity to play a full game of it.

So now that the game is more than an abstraction … now that I’ve actually rolled the dice and taken some damage … does it still hold up like I was hoping? Honestly: Even better.

But rather than just singing the praises of the game (which I’ve and others have already done here and here and elsewhere), I’m going to dive a bit deeper into how the game is similar – and different – from the Pathfinder game that we know and love.

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