A Glimpse of PaizoCon 2015

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PaizoCon 2015

PaizoCon 2015 has flashed by in a frenzy of fun and adventure. It was held this past Memorial Day weekend with four action-packed days of gaming and hanging out with one of the best gaming communities there is. This was the eighth PaizoCon since its inception and, for the first time at four days in length in a new, larger venue, it was the biggest, and many would agree, the best PaizoCon yet!

PaizoCon is a “celebration of Paizo, Pathfinder, and the folks who play it!” and is organized by Paizo, Inc., the publisher of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. In addition to Pathfinder-related gaming, PaizoCon also offers panels, discussions, and more, including “Pathfinder Adventure Path Q&A,” “Pathfinder RPG Design Workshop,” gaming in other roleplaying systems, board and card games, drawing, and so much more. The PaizoCon 2015 schedule is still available online if you’d like to check out what offerings were available.

This was my fourth PaizoCon; my son has accompanied me for the past three, since he was ten. Usually we have three major goals when we attend. Primarily we want to scratch the roleplaying itch. Second, we are there to discover new games and have new experiences. Last, the entire Paizo staff is there and we want to interact with the people that create a game that we both love.

Some events, such as gaming sessions with Paizo staff as game masters, are in high demand, but have limited seating, so these events are distributed via lottery. Once we receive our lottery results, we then fill in the rest of our schedule with an online, first-come-first-served system on the Paizo website. There are numerous unscheduled events like the a Reaper Miniatures Paint ‘n’ Take where participants paint and keep a free miniature, a Pathfinder Online MMO demo room, Dungeon Delve mini roleplaying adventures, and the Paizo store where you can meet industry artists, authors, and third party vendors as well as purchase merchandise. There are also numerous pick-up games of all types running throughout the day and into the wee hours of the night. There would be no problem finding things to do if you showed up to the convention with nothing on your schedule.

Children are welcome at the convention and there is a cheaper Kid’s 4-Day Badge available that offers access to everything but the “lotteried” events, and there were kid’s track sessions available for gaming. Throughout the convention I saw a good number of kids having a great time.

The Convention

The amazing starts right when you check in. PaizoCon offers the best swag bag I have seen at any convention. That alone is worth the price of admission. It included two sets of random miniatures, a PaizoCon special pre-painted miniature, Pathfinder novel, class deck and special card for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a deck of cards with optional Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules, an Issue of the Pathfinder comic, the latest Wayfinder fan magazine, a one-month coupon for the Pathfinder Online MMO, a collectible button, a coupon for ten percent off your next online Paizo store purchase, and, of course, the PaizoCon schedule, badge, and event tickets. Items like the class deck and the novel are random, so my son and I received different ones and I observed participants trading swag bag products. Like I said, we could have gone home right then and have received our money’s worth!

The contents of the PaizoCon swag bag.
The PaizoCon swag bag is one of the most generous I have had the pleasure to receive. Photo by Ryan Hiller

From there, we dove right into the non-stop fun.

The Tried-and-True

For the tried-and-true roleplaying experience our main focus was Pathfinder Society play.  Pathfinder Society is Paizo’s organized play of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with some extra rules and restrictions on character creation and advancement to keep everything as equal and balanced as possible for all of the players.

Room full of Pathfinder Society Players
Thirty-five tables worth of Pathfinder Society play. The larger venue left room to walk between tables this year! Photo by Ryan Hiller

The convention offers two Pathfinder Society “Specials”: Friday and Sunday nights from seven until midnight each night. The Special is 250 players at 35 tables in one, large gaming room, everyone playing out the same scenario of Pathfinder Society play. Each table of six players has its own individual objectives, but everyone is working towards one, room-wide goal, with success or failure at every table affecting the larger group’s outcome. In the first special on Friday night, participants used their own characters they have been working on throughout this season of play and who all belong to the same organization in-game known as the Pathfinder Society. The session was five hours of intense action. Without spoiling anything for those who will play this at Gen Con, or when released to the general public sometime next year, the story centered on the Aspis Consortium, the Society’s arch-nemesis, making an assault on Society headquarters at Skyreach while the Pathfinders tried to repel them. Ending after midnight, it was an exhilarating but tiring run!

At the second special from seven until midnight on Sunday, the roughly 250 people played out the events as they happened as a prequel to the assault on Skyreach. Using pregenerated characters, participants played as Aspis Consortium members as they staged their attack on the Pathfinders.  This was a great opportunity to see things from the enemy’s side, and the first time Pathfinder Society players have ever been able to play evil characters. This was another joyride ending with an intense and complicated encounter.

PFS Special 2015
The controls put on generating and advancing Pathfinder Society characters are to maintain a balance between players. In Pathfinder Society convention play like in this picture many members at each table have never met each other before.  One of my favorite things about PaizoCon is sitting down with four to six strangers and work together through often intense and complex problems, and then, after the high fives, moving on to the next challenge and next group of adventurers. Photo by Ryan Hiller

That was the extent of our Pathfinder Society play. There were also five-hour Pathfinder Society sessions every morning of the convention. Given the late hours of the Specials, my son and I chose not to try to attend anything starting at eight in the morning! Additionally there are many Pathfinder Roleplaying Game sessions to play via the lottery events, pick-up games, and others who organized Society play throughout the weekend.

We were also able to scratch some of the roleplaying-itch by playing “delves.” A delve is a twenty-minute session where players use pregenerated mid-level characters and go up against a randomly selected big-bad. These sessions, run by Paizo staff and other industry personalities, are designed to be excessively difficult, small dungeon experiences. If players survive the twenty minutes, they win. Running all day each day, this is a good way to meet the staff, and see some animated and inspiring gamemastering techniques. Throughout the weekend my son and I played numerous delves with the likes of F. Wesley Schneider, Paizo’s Editor in Chief; Mark Seifter, a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game designer; and others.

Players participating in a delve.
While the delves are extremely challenging, we did manage to survive a couple of times and only utterly destroyed one town! These sessions can be squeezed in any time you have an opening in your schedule, and there was rarely more than a twenty minute wait to get a chance to play. Here Mark Seifter, playing an efreeti, is toying with the participants. One of us accidentally wished the town of Sandpoint into ruin. It happens. Photo by Ryan Hiller
The action in a delve.
The delves used 3D Terrain from Dwarven Forge to create the battlefield. The Miniatures were prepainted plastic Pathfinder miniatures from WizKids. Photo by Ryan Hiller

The New

This year we devoted much of weekend to new experiences.  With so much to offer, we just barely scratched the surface. One of my favorite events was “The Crayon of Vecna.” In this session, three models in cosplay were available as models for drawing. Each model posed at first for two-minute sessions, then five, and ultimately a couple of fifteen-minute sessions. Afterward, the artists had an opportunity to present their work for review by the other participants. The participants voted and prizes were given. While my children and I draw a great deal, I am not an “artist” and have no training beyond standard public education, but this session was a blast. It was the first time either my son or I have had a chance to draw live models.

Model posing for a sketch
I love to draw, and it was a pleasure to spend three hours to just draw, with talented and willing models that had beautiful costumes crafted by professionals. This session was a lottery event, and I am pleased we were able to get in. Photo by Ryan Hiller
Particiapnt drawing model in cosplay
One of the many poses we were presented during the three-hour session. Neither my son nor I had ever had the opportunity to draw live models. Photo by Ryan Hiller
Citadels card game in play.
Jessica Price, a Paizo project manager, introduced us to the card game, Citadels. Simple to play but with deep strategy, this game was a joy. Photo by Ryan Hiller

We love taking any opportunity to learn a new game. At PaizoCon 2014 we discovered Sails of Glory, an entertaining miniatures game now a recurring event at our house. A gaming session that we attended via lottery this year was Citadels, lead by Jessica Price, a Paizo project manager. In this card-based game, players build cities while each round selecting a role of King, Magician, Architect, Assassin, Thief, Bishop, Warlord, or Merchant. The game is deceptively simple to play, but has deep underlying strategy and psychological components. Another win! We both enjoyed this game and will be adding it to our library.

When we had a spare minute we tried the Pathfinder Adventure Card game. At home, we primarily play the roleplaying game, and other than a demo session two years ago we have not played the card game, so we stopped by for a walk-in demo. Paizo is on their third iteration of the game, starting their second year of organized play, and Obsidian Entertainment is soon to release a tablet version of the game. GeekDad’s Will James was also at PaizoCon and will review his experience with PaizoCon and the Adventure Card Game in greater detail tomorrow.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
Our introduction to the ‘Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous.’ With many elements from the roleplaying game, and many of its own features, this is a complex and enjoyable game. Including mechanics to level up or advance your character, it’s sure to keep you coming back for more. Photo by Ryan Hiller
Action in celebrity game two
Ryan Vaughn and Stephen Radney-MacFarland have a showdown in the hilarious Celebrity game session two.

New this year were two celebrity games: staff and industry guests roleplaying with a live audience. I attended the second celebrity gaming session. While they were playing the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game much as written, this session was a freeform, hilarious parody of multiple gaming systems. My twelve-year-old and I were in stitches from the antics. The session was video-taped and may be available on the Know Direction podcast at a later date. Know Direction is a podcast focusing on Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews.

Our last lotteried event involved mass combat in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The official Pathfinder rules for army-level mass combat are high-level and abstract. The Very Last Book About War is a non-Paizo, third-party book from Dire Destiny Books revisiting the mass combat rules. Miniatures, each representing ten troops, were grouped to form units that were laid out on the battlefield. After a brief introduction by Robert Kendzie, the creator of the rules, we jumped in and glorious battle ensued. The rules system is simple and each round is quickly resolved. What I loved about the system is that the player characters were heavily involved, either leading troops and thus providing leadership bonuses, wading through the enemy using the “bloodbath” mechanic, or challenging opposing generals to single combat. As a gamemaster It would be easy to set up mass combat encounters that provide combat and non-combat activities for all types of characters. The system also works well for one-off battles not tied to any roleplaying campaign. I found this system to be a fun, quick way to handle army-level conflict in Pathfinder. The Very Last Book About War was a great way to top off an exciting weekend.

Battlefield for mass combat in Pathfinder
Using ‘The Very Last Book About War’ rules for Pathfinder Mass combat, my son and I ended our con with a massive battle. Photo by Ryan Hiller

Interacting With the Staff

As previously mentioned, many of the gaming sessions are run by Paizo staff and industry regulars, and the walk-in, twenty-minute dungeon delves are a great way to meet the staff. Paizo’s amazing staff is completely approachable, willing to talk, answer questions, or sign one’s favorite Paizo creations. They clearly love playing Paizo’s games and gaming in general. Throughout the weekend one could frequently see Lisa Stevens, owner and CEO of Paizo, in the demo room slaying monsters in Pathfinder Online, the MMO being developed by Goblin Works.

Another way to get some good face-time with a favorite staffer or PaizoCon guest is the PaizoCon Preview Banquet where, over buffet food, they introduce the coming Paizo product for the year. Each table in the banquet hall has at least one staffer or special guest and attendees can sit where they choose. My son and I hobnobbed with co-owners Lisa Stevens, CEO, and Vic Wertz, CTO of Paizo. We enjoyed our food and numerous desserts while hearing about all the up-and-coming offerings. These were covered briefly in a GeekDad report from the convention, and Paizo now has a blog post presenting these announcements.

What I missed

There were so many panels and sessions that I could not attend. Many of these are recorded and available a short while after the convention at the Know Direction podcast website. I usually choose gaming and activities over panels so am thankful I can download these recorded PaizoCon sessions to my phone and listen to them periodically to keep that PaizoCon experience going throughout the year.

Wrap up

Photo of Veleros
While cosplay is not prevalent at PaizoCon, a few talented people did dress up as iconic Pathfinder characters. This is Paizo’s Erik Keith in his Valeros costume. Photo by Ryan Hiller

Not every convention is for everyone. If you want to peruse rows and rows of vendor booths sampling their wares and purchasing memorabilia, then PaizoCon is probably not for you. There’s some great stuff in the store, but it’s mostly Paizo and Pathfinder-related third party merchandise. Similarly, if you go to conventions to experience the crowd and the cosplayers, then PaizoCon is also not for you. There were fantastic cosplay costumes focusing on well known Pathfinder iconic characters, but just a few. PaizoCon focuses on tabletop gaming. Aside from the Pathfinder Online MMO, and Obsidian Entertainment’s demo of the tablet version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, there is no videogame presence.

PaizoCon is for interacting with the Pathfinder community and actively playing games both Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder.

PaizoCon was held in a new venue this year: the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Seattle Airport. PaizoCon’s prior venue was wonderful, but in 2015 PaizoCon was bursting at its seams! The Doubletree is a great venue with plenty of room for PaizoCon to grow into.

Is PaizoCon a convention that can be repeated over and over? Is it worth the time and effort, and are there still experiences to be had at PaizoCon after my four years attending? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding “yes!” The convention was a non-stop adventure where my son and I enjoyed some of our favorite games as well as encountered new ones. We experienced activities, such as drawing live models, and had the opportunity to interact with and meet many of the people who make the game we spend so much time with, and there is still so much to do: so many more adventures to have, and so many games still to play. I am planning to attend my fifth PaizoCon in 2016. The dates are May 27-30, Memorial Day weekend again.

The only thing I will do differently next year is play hooky from work on Friday, the first day of PaizoCon.

Pictures: Here is a Flickr album with more pictures of PaizoCon 2015. If you were a participant at one of the Pathfinder Society Specials, you may find this album from those events interesting.

Disclaimer: Paizo provided a media pass for this event. I paid for my son and the banquet.

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