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Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign Boosts Gaming Options

Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign Boosts Gaming Options

Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign
Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign

I’m a big fan of rule systems. Throughout my experience in role playing, both as a player and a gamemaster, I’ve loved building interesting characters, worlds, and storylines on my own, rarely relying on established modules and setting manuals. But to me the rules are a guide for the game and I try to follow them fairly closely, using them to inspire new ideas on where to go. In a way, it’s the limitations of rule systems that provide the boundaries for the story to evolve off of.

For years running MUSHes, I grew frustrated with characters who would assume knowledge that had no basis in the statistics their characters had. Most of this time was spent on games based on White Wolf’s Storyteller system, in which I mainly focused on Mage: The Ascension, so had to deal with a disturbing number of Mages who assumed that, just by virtue of being a Mage, they knew all about the other supernatural races, like details about the various Vampire: The Masquerade clans. Not without the right Lore rating, buddy!

These days, I’ve returned to fantasy adventure gaming, running a Pathfinder campaign. Still, though, I like using the rules and statistics as my guide. If a character doesn’t have any ranks in Swim, then I roleplay him as if he’s never learned how to swim … and maybe he’s just a little scared of the water because of it. No ranks in Knowledge(nature), then he doesn’t know what poison ivy looks like and mistakes large dogs for wolves.

In fact, I go out of my way to buy ranks that I don’t feel will be particularly useful just because I feel the character needs to have them. A ranger who doesn’t have any ranks in Craft(bows), and is thus unable to craft new arrows while away from town, makes absolutely no sense to me. Even if I have every intention of buying my arrows with adventure loot, I spend the skill points to have a couple of ranks of Craft(bows), because it’s something the character would know!

This is my thinking on the character level, but rarely have I adopted many campaign-level rule systems, letting the overall campaign evolve a bit more freely. In part, this is just because I’ve never seen campaign-level systems that seemed flexible enough to do what I wanted, yet still provided useful guidance for characters. That is until I got my copy of Pathfinder‘s new Ultimate Campaign (Paizo, Amazon) supplement, which instantly got implemented into my current campaign and has enriched the options in just a single game session. Now if my players say, “I want to own a tavern” or “I want to build a kingdom,” I can tell them exactly what it will take, instead of just making something up.

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Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part Three

Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part Three

dragonsofautumntwilight_1984originalThis week concludes Black Gate‘s interview with author and editor James L. Sutter with a discussion of the pros and cons of media-tie in fiction, the Before They Were Giants anthology which collects the first sale short fiction of many big name writers, and a look at what James is working on now. Be sure to check out parts one and two of this interview, as well as our review of James’ new novel Death’s Heretic.

You recently wrote an informative guest post at Inkpunks about the pros and cons of media tie in fiction from a writer’s perspective. What are your thoughts on media tie in books in general, from a reader’s perspective? They seem to be more popular than ever in stores, but would you say some of the reluctance or distrust many readers seem to have for tie in work is still an obstacle in the marketplace?

I think that science fiction and fantasy readers (the only genre I really feel qualified to comment on) have a love/hate relationship with media tie-in books. Many of us start out there–I know I read plenty of Star Wars and Dragonlance and Indiana Jones books as a kid. Tie-ins are a natural entry point into the genre, because those books deal with something you already know you like–movies, games, etc. Yet as we read further into the genre, I think many of us begin to associate those books solely with our humble beginnings. We fancy ourselves more sophisticated, and begin to define ourselves by our less mainstream tastes. Books with logos on the cover start to seem too lowbrow, or like blatantly commercial cash grabs rather than true art.

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Pathfinder Tales: Death’s Heretic by James L. Sutter

Pathfinder Tales: Death’s Heretic by James L. Sutter

Death's Heretic-smallIf there’s one potential flaw in reading stories set in roleplaying game settings, it’s that the emphasis is more on the mechanics of the system and magical setting than on the development of the characters. The best stories, of course, are able to avoid this and create complex, dynamic characters that resonate among some of the most memorable in all of fantasy. Raistlin Majere, Elminster, and Drizzt Do’Urden all come to mind as iconic characters born in roleplaying tie-in novels.

Into this esteemed category steps Salim Ghadafar, the protagonist of James L. Sutter’s Death’s Heretic (Amazon, B&N), an upcoming addition to the Pathfinder Tales fantasy novel series from Paizo Publishing. Salim serves the goddess Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he does so only grudgingly. This unusual tension, together with a compelling plotline, draws the reader deeply into the world of the story.

Salim is called upon by Pharasma to investigate a man who died shortly after obtaining one of the greatest treasures available to mortals: the sun orchid elixir, which grants near immortality. The details of his death are of secondary concern, though, compared to the events that followed. Pharasma is far more concerned with why her priests are unable to resurrect him. His soul has gone missing … seemingly stolen from the goddess’s very realm of the dead, the Boneyard itself. Salim’s investigation takes him – and the victim’s orphaned daughter, who is bankrolling the investigation – from local rivals for the elixir, including a crimelord and a gorgeous half-elven brothel madame, to the outer planes and Pharasma’s Boneyard. The investigation brings him face to face with creatures who predate the creation of the world itself, with the power to thwart the natural laws of life and death.

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Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part Two

Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part Two

city-of-strangers-sutterLast week we were just getting started in our conversation with writer James L. Sutter; this week we talk more about James’ role at Paizo, the balance between editing and writing, and his early history as a writer and gamer.

Tell us a bit about your role at Paizo — not only are you shepherding the fiction line, but, as you mentioned, you’re the guy that makes sure the world stays consistent.

I’ve been at Paizo for about 7 years now, so I’ve worn a lot of different hats. At the moment, I’m the Fiction Editor, which means I’m the guy in charge of finding authors, commissioning stories and novels, developing them, solving any continuity issues, and doing much of the editing (though I’m backstopped by several other excellent editors). In addition to that, however, I still do a ton of development for the game products, usually as they relate to the world and continuity–I had the good fortune to already be on the creative team when we started Pathfinder, so while the company’s grown since then, there are a few of us who have followed and shaped the world’s expansion since the beginning.

Last but not least, I also get to do a fair bit of straight-up design work for Paizo: not just editing and developing freelancer content, but writing books and articles as a freelancer myself, which gives me a wonderful chance to create sections of our world out of whole cloth. Probably my favorite books that I’ve worked on are the two that I’ve done solo, a book called City of Strangers, which was essentially a travel guide to an anarchic, Mos Eisley cantina-style city that I invented, and Distant Worlds, which comes out in February and details the other planets in our world’s solar system. (The latter was a nice chance for me to kick back and indulge my blatant love of science fiction within the bounds of our fantasy setting.)

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Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part One

Black Gate Interviews James L. Sutter, Part One

sutterrockI recently caught up with Paizo’s James Sutter for a conversation about his work heading up Pathfinder’s new fiction line, as well as his own writing and influences.  In part one of our conversation James tells us about his new novel for Pathfinder, Death’s Heretic, and sheds a little light on one of fantasy’s gray areas. Over the next two weeks we’ll be covering a range of topics as James divulges on media-tie in fiction, early reading, assembling the killer lineup of the Before They Were Giants anthology, working in the game industry, and turning off the ‘editorial eye.’

A Conversation with James L. Sutter

Death’s Heretic is your first published novel, so that seems like a pretty good place to begin the conversation. Tell us a bit about the book and about Salim, Death’s Heretic’s protagonist.

First off, Death’s Heretic is a Pathfinder Tales novel, which means that it’s set in the campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Fortunately for me, while it’s a shared-world novel, it’s a shared world that I’ve been helping to create over the last several years, and I had a lot of free reign with regard to the book’s setting.

The book is a fantastical mystery set in the desert nation of Thuvia, where folks with enough money can bid on an extremely rare potion which acts like a fountain of youth. A lot of people will do anything for a few more years of life and youth, so it’s not too surprising when one particular merchant wins the annual auction and winds up assassinated. The surprising part comes when the priests of Pharasma, the death goddess, go to resurrect him, only to find that his soul’s been stolen from the afterlife by an unknown kidnapper, who’s offering to ransom the soul back for the merchant’s dose of the elixir.

That’s where Salim comes in. A former priest-hunting atheist, Salim hates the death goddess with a passion, yet is bound against his will to act as a problem-solver and hired sword for the church. In this case, he’s in for even more aggravation than usual, as the investigation is being financed by the merchant’s headstrong daughter, who demands to accompany him. Together, the two of them end up traveling all over the various planes of the afterlife in a race to uncover the missing soul, interacting with demons, angels, fey lords, mechanical warriors, and more.

At the risk of spoilers, to me the book is actually three stories: the mystery of the stolen soul, the story of how a staunch atheist ends up working for a goddess, and the colliding worlds of the hard-bitten warrior and the wealthy aristocrat.

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A Review of Master of Devils

A Review of Master of Devils

master-of-devils-pathfinder-fiction-dave-grossMaster of Devils
Dave Gross
Paizo Publishing (400 pp, $9.99, August 2011)
Reviewed by Bill Ward

Pathfinder’s new line of novels are making a good impression among fantasy readers, accessible as they are to fans of Paizo’s game world and the uninitiated alike. If you are not familiar with Pathfinder it is essentially Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, but with its own world that differs from existing D&D settings in various ways both large and small. The world of Golarion itself actually predates Pathfinder as a game system, and the wealth of detail and world-building that have gone into making it a fully-fleshed environment is impressive. And, while there are scads of Pathfinder supplements available at the time of this writing, the fiction end of things for Golarion is just getting started — Master of Devils representing the fifth novel set in the Pathfinder world.

Dave Gross has quickly distinguished himself as the go-to guy for Pathfinder fiction (be sure to check out Black Gate’s interview with him), having written two novels and co-written another, as well as having penned numerous Pathfinder Tales short stories available free at Paizo’s website, he has been fairly prolific. Gross’s signature characters are the adventuring duo Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan, a classically counter-balanced odd couple whose tales are told in alternating first person segments, allowing for the voice of the characters to emerge in interesting ways.

Master of Devils sees the pair in Tian Xia, Golarion’s equivalent of a politically-fragmented Ancient China, a realm as mysterious to the inhabitants of the continent of Avistan, from which Jeggare and Radovan hail, as it is to fans of the Pathfinder game, which has produced very little material on Tian Xia. Gross shows what he can do with this blank slate and admirably fills the gaps in the Pathfinder record with all manner of appealing details that bring the realm of the far east to life.

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Black Gate Interviews Dave Gross, Part Two

Black Gate Interviews Dave Gross, Part Two

the-hobbit-tolkien-ballantineLast week in part one of our interview Black Gate sat down with Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder author Dave Gross to talk about writing, gaming, and his latest Pathfinder novel, Master of Devils. This week Dave tells us more about his early influences and his transition from gamer to game fiction writer.

Chicken or egg time: what came first for you — gaming or storytelling?

Definitely storytelling. I was learning to read around the time I was learning to walk.

My first geekdom was ghost and horror stories, collections of which I’d order every time the Scholastic Books flyer came around our grade school. I can’t remember when I was first writing stories, but I’m sure it was in homeroom with a half pint of milk nearby. Later I burned through all the SF at our city library, and one day my cousin Francis handed me a copy of The Hobbit, and fantasy became my favorite. After burning through the Tolkien trilogy I devoured everything I could find by R.E. Howard and his clan. It was around that time that a classmate and his elder brother introduced me to D&D. They taught me the game from the original saddle-stitched books. Once the boxed game came out, I began DMing. Which, of course, is its own sort of storytelling.

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Black Gate Interviews Dave Gross, Part One

Black Gate Interviews Dave Gross, Part One

dg-photoAuthor Dave Gross is perhaps best known for his Forgotten Realms novels such as Black Wolf and Lord of Stormweather. He has also worked as an editor of several gaming publications, including the one-and-only Dragon Magazine, and has most recently become one of the core authors for Paizo’s new Pathfinder Tales line of fiction. I recently had a chance to talk to Dave about his writing, and about his newest Pathfinder novel, Master of Devils.

A Conversation with Dave Gross

Before things get too tangential, Dave, I’d like to ask you about your latest Radovan and Jeggare novel for Pathfinder, Master of Devils. For readers perhaps unfamiliar with Pathfinder, how would you describe the world of Golarion, and the story of Master of Devils in particular?

Golarion is a big, varied world. While many of its countries are intentional reflections of real-world places (Ustalav draws on Eastern Europe, while Osirion is a fantasy version of Egypt), others are complete fantasy inventions with little or no connection to historical sources (The Worldwound, Numeria, or Nex). That combination of the familiar and strange is one of the things that draws me to the setting. It lets you pull details out of real-world cultures and history while allowing plenty of freedom for invention and extrapolation from other fantasy tropes.

The protagonists I introduced in Prince of Wolves come from an area of Golarion’s Inner Sea region that is roughly analogous to Earth’s Southern Europe. Master of Devils takes place in Tian Xia, Golarion’s equivalent of East Asia. Since the journey takes Radovan and the Count completely out of their element, they must learn how to survive in this unfamiliar land at the same time as the readers discover it. Count Jeggare is a scholarly sort who’s read and heard much about the place, but he’s never actually experienced it. Radovan is a complete fish out of water, having left the country of his birth for the first time only a few months earlier. The third progatonist … well, let’s just say the third POV character has a completely different perspective than the others. My hope is that readers who might not otherwise snap up an Asian-based sword & sorcery novel will find Master of Devils an easy and fun journey into the distant lands of Tian Xia.

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Andrew Zimmerman Jones Reviews Pathfinder Supplements

Andrew Zimmerman Jones Reviews Pathfinder Supplements

pathfinder_rpg_core_rulebook_coverPaizo publishing’s Pathfinder RPG is both familiar and innovative, as it brings the best of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 into a fresh new approach. In this review, I explore the core rulebook and a couple of their supplements, explaining why you should look into the game system if you haven’t already.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook

Jason Bulmahn
Paizo Publishing (575 pages, $49.99, Aug. 2009)

Pathfinder Module: Crypt of the Everflame

Jason Bulmahn
Paizo Publishing (32 pages, $13.99, Sept. 2009)

Pathfinder Adventure Path #25: Council of Thieves (1 of 6): The Bastards of Erebus

Edited by Sean K. Reynolds
Paizo Publishing (92 pages, $19.99, Aug. 2009)

Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Your first look at the massive tome that is the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook can be a bit intimidating. I first ran across it piled high on a mountainous table at GenCon’s Paizo Publishing booth in summer 2009 and, I admit, I wasn’t even sure what it was. Yet another fantasy roleplaying game? Elves, dwarves, and halflings? It sure didn’t seem worth much attention, and I didn’t really get what all the hype was about.

Then I realized what it was… this was my old mistress, Dungeons & Dragons v3.5, all dressed up in a new outfit and ready to go out on the town again.

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Black Gate Interviews Howard Andrew Jones, Part Three

Black Gate Interviews Howard Andrew Jones, Part Three

Pathfinder Tales: Plague of Shadows, by Howard Andrew Jones. Coming February 2011In part one of our interview Howard talked about one of his new novels, The Desert of Souls, and about historical fantasy; in part two we discussed the works of Harold Lamb and Howard’s efforts to collect and republish Lamb’s fiction; for our third and final installment Howard tells us about yet another newly released novel, and his experience with gaming:

We’ve talked about historical fiction and historical fantasy, but you also have a history with gaming. Tell us a bit about your new Pathfinder novel, Plague of Shadows.

James Sutter, the editor of the Pathfinder line, is pretty selective about what he buys, so when I was invited to submit ideas I had to throw several his way before one finally took. I think the line in the pitch that hooked him was “Jirel of Joiry crossed with Unforgiven.” I made it clear that I wasn’t going to lift the plot or character, but that I was going to strive for a similar feel. As for the subject matter, I think that James described it pretty well in a blurb he posted recently: “It revolves around the exploits of not one but two bands of adventurers journeying in eastern Avistan, two decades apart. The parties are connected by Elyana, an elf seeking to cure her former adventuring partner (and former lover) Stelan from a curse that’s connected to events — and people — from their shadowy past. Elyana’s journey will take her and her companions from Taldor to Galt, into Kyonin and to the Vale of Shadows, where the consequences of events decades before will affect Stelan’s future.”

I wanted a story that started out with a linear feel so that it could move forward with momentum, then added complications as the adventure got under way. I think there are some nice character moments and well-motivated, though unexpected, plot turns. Personality wise Elyana didn’t end up being a Jirel of Joiry knock-off, although she’s definitely a kick butt protagonist, so she has that in common with the famous character. She’s also seasoned and clever, and she’s relentless — she simply never gives up. I had a lot of fun writing her.

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